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Let me first state my general opinion (see also this discussion on meta): To keep the quality and attractiveness of math.SE at a reasonable level, I think it is important to counter questions probably copied from exercise sheets without showing any effort. But sometimes, there are little gems among them, and I feel that there should be some possibility to freely discuss these cases anyway.

Yesterday, I ran into this problem with this question on main, which was closed because of "no effort". Since I found the question quite interesting and I wanted to know the solution (which I didn't know at that point), I casted a reopen vote, which didn't make much progress in the first place. What's the proper action in this situation?

  1. Add a comment that I want to have the question reopened? (feels right for me, but didn't work too well in the first place and was countered by a 4x upvoted comment "not written in a way to match the standards of this site")

  2. Open a new question with the same problem statement, including a link to the original question, the reason for posting it again, and some "effort"? (doesn't feel right)

  3. Edit the original question to add some garnishment to void the closing reason "no effort"? (doesn't feel right either)

To tell the end of the story: Later yesterday, together with Jyrki Lahtonen, we were able to find a solution to the question. First it was given as a comment, then, as it finally got reopened, as an answer. There is a new round of a closing attempt running, which — given the discussion in the comments — I can hardly understand.


Addition

Let me give a reformulation of my question: Currently, it seems a bit like it is possible to "block" a question for all users by asking it in a way that it gets closed. If others are seriously interested in the same question, I strongly believe that there should be a way to discuss it anyway.

  • Do you agree?

  • If yes, how should it be done? By 1, 2 or 3 as above? Or is there another possibility I missed?

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    $\begingroup$ Don't tell me that other close war just moved on to another question!? $\endgroup$ – user642796 Sep 13 '13 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ @ArthurFischer: Well, I don't know if it already qualifies for a close war. :) Since it was posted, it got closed, then re-opened and now there are 3 close votes. $\endgroup$ – azimut Sep 13 '13 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ Well, now that it has been publicised, I expect the rounds to start coming faster. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Sep 13 '13 at 10:07
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    $\begingroup$ @azimut: I left a comment yesterday which explained my own concerns with the question. I notice at this time that these concerns have not yet been addressed by the asker. It is hardly surprising that, if the problems that led to the original closure are not addressed after the question is reopened, people may continue to vote to close for the same reason. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Sep 13 '13 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ Leave the most helpful comment you possibly can to the poster about bringing the statement up to snuff, and hope they take you up on it. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Sep 13 '13 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @rschwieb ...hope... $\endgroup$ – user1729 Sep 14 '13 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ Seems it's metastackflow question. they run SE and they can add new features. btw, I hope [on-hold] becomes just a tag. or any closed question reopens automatically after a while. and answers can be added (at least as deleted posts to be decided whether to be undeleted).. $\endgroup$ – user79193 Sep 22 '13 at 22:43
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I am all for closing more PSQs, but putting emphasis on the trivial ones. But I also feel that closing should not be automatic. I spewed out my reasoning earlier and those points are not worth repeating.

Anyway, I propose a policy: [Edit: Re-examining my motives, what I have written, and the reactions this received, it seems unlikely that this would win anything approaching universal acceptance. It is more like a description of my thinking/policy (and how I feel about other members behavior in this regard) rather than a serious proposal. Leaving it up here in that sense. I may still learn from the comments raising points that I forgot about. /Edit]

  1. Anyone voting to close/put on hold a PSQ (or, equivalently, using "no effort" as a reason for closure) should be able to solve the problem themselves reasonably fast.
  2. The member initiating the closure procedure should (in addition to item #1) leave a suggestion on how the OP could demonstrate genuine effort. Suggest simpler cases that the OP could work out and report on, or may be give a slight hint. Just shouting WHYT is a bit cheap.
  3. The recommendation of item #2 is lifted, if this is not the first offence by the same OP. In that case a remark to that effect will be appreciated, so that others will be quickly informed.
  4. Anything/everything else that I have overlooked.

This would have the consequence that the community gets a degree of control over the level of PSQs. We probably won't agree on whether that is a good thing or not, but at least for me the proliferation of low level PSQs is exactly what's wrong with the PSQs in the first place. I think that a vast majority of us will welcome the newbies who are serious about math, irrespective of their level, and a policy like this would seek to ensure that those newbies who posted a PSQ "accidentally" (without knowing that this will press people's buttons) will get a signal as well as clearer instructions. Item #3 has the effect of quickly turning the thumb down on "do-my-homework" posters.

Also the questions that are sufficiently non-trivial will remain open as people are discouraged to vote to close out of pique. Or at least the more promising ones will remain open a bit longer, so that somebody may try to make the question more interesting than it superficially seems. After all, a great answer may turn a dull question into an interesting one.

That last remark does apply to elementary questions as well. The chances of that happening do go down (IMHO) with lower level questions.


The spirit of this proposal is to place a heavier burden to the member who casts the first stone, and also to keep a rein on those who want to use "no effort" as reason for closure without having a clue as to what kind of effort it would take. But I don't want to grant the answerers of PSQs a free pass either. If you answer a PSQ, the answer should prove the question interesting (have non-trivial mathematical or educational merit) - under the threat of downvotes.


Here I try to practice what I preach. I welcome comments on this approach, its viability etc. I have not yet collected enough data to say anything about its effectiveness. At the very least I think it is less rude on a newcomer, who needs clear advice how to make their question more appealing. Granted, it is a waste of bandwidth with those posters who only want a copy/pastable solution to their HW.

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  • $\begingroup$ I disagree quite strongly with the first point. It would mean that if someone posts a famous open problem as if it was an exercise from a book (I know at least one book with Goldbach as an exercise), then I should not vote to close it? What if the asker has copied it carelessly enough that a typo makes it impossible? Should I also not vote to close that? $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Sep 13 '13 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ It is a difficult issue. For example I did not vote to close math.stackexchange.com/questions/492842/… because it has a certain sense that I cannot explain precisely, even though it is a PSQ. I left a comment instead. I do think that it is related to the level of the question in some sense - if I can solve the problem (for example, because it is one of those "standard exercises"), I take that as an argument in favor of closing, but I don't view it as necessary. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Sep 13 '13 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Tobias: If some one posts Goldbach, I think we should use a close reason other than "no effort". Such questions are outside the scope of this suggested policy. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Sep 14 '13 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ Typos can be recognized and confirmed after a dialogue (not necessarily involving the OP). $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Sep 14 '13 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ I agree in the strongest possible terms with the second point (on leaving comments). If you are going to criticise someone for showing no effort then you should show some effort yourself and give them some helpful advice. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Sep 14 '13 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ I am not going to upvote this, because I disagree utterly with the first sentence. That said, however, I agree very strongly with (2), and I agree with the intent of (1). $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Sep 14 '13 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ (I also believe that that advice should be given in a friendly manner. However helpful Carl Mummert's comment in the post is it is a tad cold. It sounds like he is giving a speech to the community rather than giving the OP a helping hand.) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Sep 14 '13 at 11:04
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with most of this, but I love "Suggest simpler cases that the OP could work out and report on". I think that's likely the response most likely to be truly helpful. $\endgroup$ – dfeuer Sep 16 '13 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ @dfeuer: It is also helpful in the sense, that you will quickly get an impression, whether the OP is at all responsive. There have been a couple of pleasant exceptions, but mostly I have been disappointed. The sample set is still too small. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Sep 16 '13 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ Can someone translate "PSQ" into English? $\qquad$ $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Apr 8 '16 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHardy "Problem statement questions" (i.e. just the question, verbatim) $\endgroup$ – Mathmo123 Apr 8 '16 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Mathmo123 : How were people supposed to know that that's what "PSQ" meant? People here are acting as if that's a standard part of the language known to everybody. Is it a term used elsewhere than on meta.math.stackexchange.com? Or only here? In the course of accumulating a reputation exceeding 140,000 on m.s.e., I've never encountered that abbreviation before. $\qquad$ $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Apr 8 '16 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHardy I also had no idea what it meant - I found it by searching. This is highly relevant! $\endgroup$ – Mathmo123 Apr 8 '16 at 15:54
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Personally I don't care whether this is a homework question or not. I find the question interesting.

I don't care whether the excellent answer given by amizut and Jyrki is helpful or not to the original poster, after all I cannot judge. But it is certainly very interesting for me. I hope the question will be re-opened so I can offer a bounty to the answer.

Now it would not hurt to tell the OP how to ask the question in a more polite way. Or somebody could re-arrange the question to fit de the standard here ? After all, if I understand correctly, the question once asked, does not belong to its poster anymore (cf. Common Creative Licence etc).

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    $\begingroup$ The last two sentences undermine the point of asking the OP to show effort... $\endgroup$ – user1729 Sep 15 '13 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Cantlog, I really appreciate your bounty. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – azimut Sep 15 '13 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 What's more important to us, asking the OP to show effort or keeping an interesting question on the site? And if a question has already been closed, how likely is the OP to still be on the site when it is re-opened or re-asked? I doubt re-asking or re-opening will significantly contribute to the total volume of poorly asked questions on MSE. $\endgroup$ – Brett Frankel Sep 24 '13 at 22:07
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I do not think any of the other answers have actually offer a solution to this problem. So I will offer one. It is, essentially, the second option from the question but with a twist or two.

Step 1) Try and engage with the OP. Coax them into editing their post or even just giving comments which show effort. This means the question can be reopened in a way agreeable to everyone.

Step 2) If the OP does not bite then wait a week.

Step 3) Re-post the question whilst showing some effort or explaining why it is interesting. Link to the original.

Let me explain Step 2. There needs to be a balance. The question is interesting and azimut wants the answer. This means azimut has a question and so should at some point be allowed to ask it. However, azimut needs to wait! It is bad form to just post it the same day (as azimut points out in the question). I believe that a week is a reasonable amount of time. If the question is a homework question then the work will probably be due in no more than a week after it was set, unless it was assessed work. If it was assessed work the OP was probably doing it the night before the deadline (otherwise they would have put in some work and so would be willing to show some effort). Probably. I believe these assumptions are reasonable though, and that this is the best compromise. I am sure that azimut is a patient fellow/lass and can wait that long.

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  • $\begingroup$ Uhh, I must have skipped his #2. Thanks. And I see your point. $\endgroup$ – user1551 Sep 16 '13 at 10:09
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A lot of this discussion seems to hinge on the idea that we don't want to encourage PSQ's and homework problems with zero effort shown. But how often are these questions actually interesting?

Re-opening or re-posting those few problems that actually capture the interest of other users may help the OP, but I don't really think we need to worry about unintentionally encouraging poor questions, since this probably doesn't happen too often.

If an individual consistently posts badly stated questions that turn out to be interesting, I'd rather have that person continue to contribute than potentially turn them away by closing their questions. We can always encourage them to improve their questions by other means.

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If used in moderation, the method followed in this particular case could be a good solution to the problem of interesting questions without effort.

Surely, they won't be "excellent questions" by Carl Mummert's scheme, but I contend that there is added value in them nonetheless.

A comment of the kind you left could be used as an indication for this.


But, it should be made clear that:

  1. The question formatting is not exemplary for this site;
  2. That we (the community) are not approving of, merely tolerating, the way the question was phrased;
  3. The reopening is an agreed-upon exception clause to the "PSQ be closed" mentality. (The agreement ought to evolve from this thread.) That is to say, propagators of this (non-universal) mentality agree to not close the question again on "no effort" grounds.

In order to ensure this, I suggest:

  1. Closing the question initially (even when people already voice their interest). This makes 1. above clear to at least the OP;
  2. Posting a comment (possibly in need of a template) indicating 2. and 3. above (this will sort of automatically cover 1. as well).

Of course, there's room for improvement in this suggestion, and there's a lot that still needs to be filled in. Please comment.

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    $\begingroup$ The greatest improvement would be to Let’ fix the PSQ be closed mentality. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Sep 14 '13 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott I could do without you bringing up your stance on this every time when someone tries to resolve the impasse. I was not implying that the mentality was universal. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 14 '13 at 7:38
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    $\begingroup$ That sounds an awful like this would be much easier to resolve if the other side would just shut up. (And it’s obvious that you weren’t implying that the attitude was universal, so I really don’t see the point of the second sentence.) $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Sep 14 '13 at 8:05
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott No, it sounds like if we can agree to disagree without starting over every time, maybe we can end up somewhere in the middle. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 14 '13 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ Only if you think that the middle is next door to one extreme. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Sep 14 '13 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott I'm not advocating that my proposal is "the middle"; "somewhere in the middle" is usually a quite broad range. I'm welcoming any constructive input, and other answers, to get a better sense for what is possible and tolerable for all, or at least most, people involved. A pragmatic stance from both sides is required to have any chance of success. Hopefully, you're willing to take such a stance. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 14 '13 at 9:45
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    $\begingroup$ I, for one, am starting to believe that the only way we're going to get out of this pit is to invest more time in guiding question posters and explaining what can be done to improve the question. Those who do not invest the time to respond to these calls are (IMO) not worthy of our time, and (provided their question doesn't fall under the topic of this meta thread) the question should be closed. A response after closure will usually instigate reopening. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 14 '13 at 9:48
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know what you mean by "bringing up your stance every time". The number of answers and comments (and campaigns, and pressure tactics around the time of moderator elections, and vilification of dissenting users, and ...) has always been much higher from the pro-closing camp than those of the opposite persuasion. This may well reflect some of the asymmetry in opinion levels. But it also makes it fairly pernicious to constantly attack the expression of disagreement, per se, on the meta site. There is a lot that is crazy in the world of closing logic, and it will be discussed sometimes. $\endgroup$ – zyx Sep 14 '13 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx I'm sorry, but that's not relevant. We're discussing a particular subclass of questions here, not polling the global pro vs. contra mood. That's why I objected to the comment in the first place: this comment thread is not the proper place for it. It has nothing to do with me propagating a curfew of any kind. Just trying to keep the discussion focused -- "Don't fall" is not relevant as a reply to "How to avoid injury when falling off a bike?". $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 14 '13 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ There is a bad habit visible on the meta, of telling others when to (not) speak, what they may speak about, and making conclusory determinations of what is relevant. If you post something, the direction of discussion underneath it may not end up being what was intended, partly because your posting may not be understood in the way you had hoped. This is, however, not necessarily a misunderstanding or a digression by the commenters, nor off topic. Posting your ideas does not create personal command over the comments that follow. $\endgroup$ – zyx Sep 14 '13 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ So, do enlighten me. What relevance (in your opinion) has the behaviour of pro-closing propagators in the last election have to the observation that we are not discussing the closing issue itself, but rather a consequence of it? Your plea (which is certainly something to keep in mind, rest assured) is coming across as dodging the issues I voiced with your earlier comment. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 14 '13 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't see an issue to answer, nor did I plead for anything. It is self-evident that when you post something that includes the explicit assertion that there is a global "PSQ be closed" mentality and that no way, no how, can anything be done that could be construed as reducing that, there is no viable pragmatic content as you seem to think. Rather, you appear to be trying to protect, reify and make permanent a sentiment that was expressed by some on the meta, as an "enforced consensus" [an expression from one of the pro-closers, perhaps you]. Your post is what raised the global issue. $\endgroup$ – zyx Sep 14 '13 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ Did you even read? My first comment here says "I was not implying that the mentality was universal." The first version of my proposal had a similar indication. // Also, I interpreted saying something is "a bad habit" as pleading against it. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 14 '13 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx I can see now how particularly point 3. could be misread; I doubt even the keep-open proponents object to 1. or 2.. I should also apologise for a wrong word choice in 2. due to my non-nativeness in English (in casu, a misunderstanding of "condone"). I have edited to make clearer what I wanted to convey from the outset. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 14 '13 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ In fact I do object to (2). I don’t find such questions objectionable in the first place, and I think that if a user requires a noteworthy degree of tolerance just to ignore them, the problem is much more the user’s than the OP’s. I don’t object to (1) as a statement of fact, but formatting that is ‘not exemplary’ is obviously not adequate reason to close a question: it’s absurd to expect all questions to have exemplary formatting. If you really meant ‘very poor’, then I don’t agree with (1), either. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Sep 14 '13 at 23:37

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