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I know this is a relatively old question, but the fact that it got such a negative reaction seemed very strange to me. I hope it's not in poor tact to bring attention to this, but I feel like it might be something worth addressing.

Here a user posited an observation, and asked if it was a new discovery. It was closed as "not a real question". But was this really a valid closure? The question seemed perfectly valid, and on topic. The question seemed to be clear: "Is this a new mathematical discovery?" So I can only speculate (based on the comments and number of downvotes) that it was closed simply because people didn't like the question. Which seems like a perfectly valid reason to downvote, but not a good reason to close. But this is just speculation, and I could be completely wrong.

Does anyone know why this question was closed?

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect it was closed so as not to promote crankery. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 27 '13 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 What is crankery? And more importantly, how can that be a valid reason to close, if it's not on the list of close reasons? $\endgroup$ – Ataraxia Jul 27 '13 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ Broadly speaking, crankery is when someone claims a famous result but using elementary means (see the prime crackpot index or the orginal (physics) crackpot index, and for a scary example see the Indiana Pi Bill). I don't think this is crankery, and I don't think that the question should have been closed. However, the comment "Also, one cannot copyright a theorem." starts alarm bells ringing. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 27 '13 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ The broader conclusion I draw from this is that it's sometimes better to not post a formal answer to questions of this kind. If there was no answer posted, the question would have been auto-deleted in a month, and we would be doing something more useful right now instead of having this discussion. $\endgroup$ – 40 votes Jul 27 '13 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ @40votes I'm wondering why though. Which part of the FAQ indicates that those kinds of questions are not allowed? $\endgroup$ – Ataraxia Jul 27 '13 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @40votes I disagree. It is a valid question with a valid answer. I do not understand why you think it would have been better for it to be auto-deleted? $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 27 '13 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 (1) What's written there has no value to anyone other than the OP; (2) We would not have this meta thread if the question was deleted. (3) I'm not saying the question is not allowed. I'm saying it's worthless, and should have been deleted. $\endgroup$ – 40 votes Jul 27 '13 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ @40votes Half of the questions on this site are only of interest to their respective OPs! $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 27 '13 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ @40votes How do you come to the conclusion that it has no value to anyone other than the OP? When someone says they may have made a new mathematical discovery, it's at the very least of interest to me. $\endgroup$ – Ataraxia Jul 27 '13 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ @user1729 I agree with 40 votes that questions that are only of interest to the OP are not of any value to the site, but it is far too subjective to come to that conclusion. If it doesn't violate any terms of the FAQ, you literally have to be a mind reader to determine that it's of no interest to anyone but the OP. $\endgroup$ – Ataraxia Jul 27 '13 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729: Just for reference, this is the copyright notice the OP put on their "book" and this is how the introduction starts. $\endgroup$ – Zev Chonoles Jul 27 '13 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ The answer to the question in your title is plainly no: it is clearly a real question, albeit a naïve one and not very ... diplomatically ... presented. I thought at the time that a lot of people were reacting to the baggage with which it was encumbered instead of to the question. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Jul 29 '13 at 10:01
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It is a real question. (It's got a question mark at the end.)

On the other hand, it's a very bad question. It shows no attempt at research into the area, for a start: the OP is not aware that this is a fairly trivial and very classical result in arithmetic, and is also not really aware of what a mathematics paper looks like. (It reads a lot like the GCSE coursework that 15-year-olds are forced to do in the UK: lots of 'checking' that your theorem is correct by plugging numbers into it.)

It also has a disappointingly arrogant and non-mathematical feel to it. Not least in the use of the word "theorem", and the compilation of this result into a "paper" or a "book", and the alleged "copyright" at the start (the author accepts no responsibility for errors?!). It's not clear to me that the OP is really asking a mathematical question, even though on the surface that's what the question says.

A comment on that post:

-18, seriously? Am I missing something or is that really how we think about an honest attempt at mathematical creativity...?

Now, don't get me wrong. I fully support all 15-year-olds who want to reinvent theorems that are many millennia old - of course I do, for reasons of mathematical development and maturity - and I'm confident that this was an honest attempt. At least right up until the OP planted a flag and said "right, now all of this is mine".

I've seen a thousand of these, from correct proofs of elementary results to nonsense proofs of Fermat's Last Theorem - my inbox gets spammed up with them on occasion - and they all more or less smell the same. In my experience, it is not how interested schoolchildren or undergraduates talk. The creators of these 'papers' are all looking for a quick route to fame. I think this attitude kind of stinks. And while it could have been handled more tactfully, "not a real question" is perfectly appropriate.

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  • $\begingroup$ I understand now. Might this call for a new addendum to the FAQ? While I don't entirely agree that the linked question is as you described, I agree that such a question would be worth closing. But as it stands, there's nothing in the FAQ to suggest that such questions aren't welcome here. So perhaps something should be added to the FAQ to account for this? $\endgroup$ – Ataraxia Jul 27 '13 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I agree. I have fallen foul of other stackexchange sites' poor FAQs in the past, and had my questions closed for seemingly absurd reasons. On the other hand, a FAQ can't comprehensively include every type of nonsense this site might receive. Maybe making this more transparent is actually harder than it seems. $\endgroup$ – Billy Jul 27 '13 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ This sums up my feelings on the question quite well. $\endgroup$ – Alex Becker Jul 27 '13 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ So people are not allowed to ask naive questions? People come here for help, and we should be willing to either give it, or at least to allow other people to assist! $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 27 '13 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 Is this really how you summarize this post's stance? $\endgroup$ – Did Jul 27 '13 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ @user1729 I don't think you read what I said carefully. (I am very happy to answer naive questions. I ask a lot of naive questions myself.) $\endgroup$ – Billy Jul 27 '13 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Did I do not know how I would summarise this post's stance. But I will try: Someone proved something which they thought was exciting. They thought it was new! It wasn't, and it actually follows quite quickly from something well-known. But no-one seems to have written it down...so it is understandable that they thought that this was new. The author doesn't understand copyright, but then who does? (If we are assuming the author is 15, then this is doubly-understandable.) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 27 '13 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ I understand what you mean, @user1729, but I don't agree. When a schoolchild goes to a teacher, or an undergraduate to a teaching assistant, or a graduate student to a supervisor, and says "hey, I found this. This is kind of cool/weird/interesting. Is it new?", they normally ask precisely that. They do not normally tack onto the end "by the way, here's a 50-page paper I wrote on it; you're not allowed to use it, and if you try to, I'll sue you. Just so you know". If the author is 15 and a budding mathematician, it's also important for them to know they can't talk to their peers like this. $\endgroup$ – Billy Jul 27 '13 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Billy: Naive perhaps isn't the word, I perhaps just mean "bad". Badly posed with an easy solution does not make it an invalid question. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 27 '13 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ To confirm: bad questions or naive questions or easy questions - I'll answer them all. But mathematical questions, please. The reason I dislike the question linked to is because it stinks of money and fame and ownership and flag-planting, not mathematics. It may be a difference of viewpoint, and you may disagree, and that's fine. Still, I hope we can agree that a question whose main content is non-mathematical is clearly not a real (mathematical) question. $\endgroup$ – Billy Jul 27 '13 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Did Which important features? I think the only feature I omitted was the fact that they had attached their proof in a file. I don't think that this should be taken into account (showing their working is a good thing, and you don't have to read it to get a gist of the post. They were just trying to be helpful!). $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 27 '13 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Billy maybe I am missing something, but I think that the question is wholly mathematical. It is as mathematical as a reference request. There is no other site which would be better suited! $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 27 '13 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ (Just to say - I do not mean to come across as hostile in these comments, and I hope I am not. But I apologise if I am. Discussions such as these are easier in real life...) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 27 '13 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 (You're not coming across as hostile.) It doesn't seem mathematical at all to me. There's a slight difference between "is this known?" (a question) and "this is new, right?" (which may be a plea for validation of an achievement). Attaching your proof in a file is fine; giving that file an introduction and a copyright statement and calling it a "paper" might just be a 15-year-old acting how they think researchers act; talking about newly resolved ancient mysteries and practical applications, though, is not only misguided - it's actively seeking praise. $\endgroup$ – Billy Jul 27 '13 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ Or, to put it another way: if I want to know if something is known, I first check on wikipedia or google for at least a few minutes. I think any computer-literate 15-year-old would do the same. The OP clearly knows enough mathematical words to string together a google search which will bring up a million hits for this result or many almost identical results. $\endgroup$ – Billy Jul 27 '13 at 17:35
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The previous "close" system had a problem that the close choices were very limited. So "not a real question" was often used as the "official" reason for closing when there was no better fit. So the bold reason displayed on closed questions cannot be taken too seriously.

The newer closing system that was recently introduced has a slightly better set of options, especially with the ability to write a custom reason under "off topic".

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