I sometimes see questions asked on math.se. The questions are sometimes famous and the answers often do not explanation. Often these questions receive a disproportional amount of votes.

The particular question that stuck in my head was 'how many digits of pi do we currently know?'. I think this site encourages people to try to solve problems themselves, but such questions can often be easily answered by google. If I had this question, i'd google. Often the answerer lifted the answer off google too. I doubt many knows how many digits of pi are currently known, but many people on this site know how to find out?

A cynical way is that this is a cheap reputation hunt or badge hunt, but this issue aside, should this type of questions be encourages?

This applies, to less an extent, to questions like how do i 'prove A iff B', where A and B are very short statements. I'd much prefer the op found a proof on an online source and point out where they don't understand. Am i being unreasonable if i deem these questions distinctively lack research efforts, especially questions in the 'famous question google could have answered' category?

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    $\begingroup$ Effective use of Google is as much a skill as effective use of (say) Galois Theory. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jan 11 '14 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry Let me Galois that for you. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Jan 11 '14 at 5:06
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    $\begingroup$ One thing to think about is that if these questions are asked on our site and receive good answers, they will be the ones at the top of the Google search. So if you think you can answer it better than the current top search results (even if it's just collecting known results into one place or solidifying wording) then you could view this as an opportunity to improve the Internet as a math reference. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Jan 11 '14 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ There are few questions here that are easy to google because google does not cope well with formulas. And it also makes a huge difference if you KNOW that there is a particular resource that you are looking for. Not to mention knowing the likely phrasing that would be used. $\endgroup$ – Phira Jan 11 '14 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Phira I would argue that the majority of results in mathematics do not contain symbols or formulae - or at least can be stated without their use. $\endgroup$ – Dan Rust Jan 11 '14 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ I never understood a similar phenomenon: people asking what clearly are text book results. Even if you've never studied a subject before, some results are obviously in the books. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Jan 11 '14 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ Recent example of the above comment. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Jan 11 '14 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ @GitGud yep i had this type of question in mind when i asked the question? $\endgroup$ – Lost1 Jan 11 '14 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielRust I am not convinced by your claim, but what I am sure of is that for the overwhelming majority of mathematics result, it is very, very difficult to state them without symbols or formulae if you do not already understand them very well. $\endgroup$ – Phira Jan 11 '14 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ @GitGud Maybe you are answering very different types of questions. I recently answered this question: math.stackexchange.com/questions/634329/… I know this theorem well enough, but I actually had trouble remembering the name. I could easily google it because I know exactly what kind of phrasing one usually uses in the statement and I could immediately recognize the name from scanning the google result. I suspect that it would be quite hard for someone who has never seen the theorem. $\endgroup$ – Phira Jan 11 '14 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Phira Some are harder than others, for some you need better internet search skills. In any case, some one just gets the impression that they have to be in any book. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Jan 12 '14 at 3:43
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    $\begingroup$ My feeling is that the question you wish to ask could rather be titled "What is your opinion on questions when the answer could have been answered by google?" but I am not sure about this feeling. Am I wrong? $\endgroup$ – Did Jan 12 '14 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ I think it is called laziness? $\endgroup$ – copper.hat Jan 13 '14 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque: it's not often that I get loud belly laughs from something at mmse. thanks $\endgroup$ – kjo Jan 19 '14 at 2:54
  • $\begingroup$ As someone who's had one-too-many "let me Google it for you" flung at him let me say that it is not at all uncommon that the stuff that a simple Google search turns up is often unsuitable for reasons that, were they to be spelled out in a typical MathSE, would render the post too long for most readers to bother with. I think posters should be given the benefit of the doubt here. If, for whatever reason, you think that poster is just a lazy slob, you may be right, but you may as easily be wrong. Don't berate; if you can't be bothered, just move on. $\endgroup$ – kjo Jan 19 '14 at 3:09

A similar, relevant question has been asked on Stack Overflow. I think it is fair to make the following points:

  1. The stackexchange sites are not designed just to provide answers to entirely new questions. At least as importantly, mathSE puts answers to common questions in a concise, clear, and helpful format (even if those common questions have already been answered somewhere else on the internet). For example, I would much rather find an answer on mathSE than, say, a forum, where you would have to dig through pages to find the relevant text.

  2. Answering such a question with just "google it" is not helpful. See here, here, here, here and here, for some reasons why.

  3. Many math questions are hard to google. This is partly because of formulas, but often people don't know what to search. For example, 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + ... is hard to google unless you know it's called "the harmonic series".

  4. There is no closing option for "duplicate of a google search result". If such questions are to be closed or discouraged, then what do we close them as? Context missing? The subtext there

    This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem and any attempts you have made to solve it. This information helps others identify where you have difficulties and helps them write answers appropriate to your experience level.

    doesn't really seem to apply, especially if the question did show effort and give context. I don't think the creators of the stackexchange network intended for easily googlable questions to be closed.

Therefore, in my opinion:

  1. These questions probably shouldn't be closed unless they have other problems. (Disclaimer: often, I suspect they will have other problems.)

  2. There's nothing really wrong with answering these questions, even if it means googling the question and posting a link or restating the answer there.

  3. If you answer someone else's question by googling it for them, tell them what you googled and advise them to google themselves in the future (don't just copy-paste).

  • $\begingroup$ IMO, situations in programming/system administrations/... and in mathematics are somewhat different. $\endgroup$ – Grigory M Jan 11 '14 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ ...Oh, and I don't see how exactly 'mathSE is better designed to be able to search formulas' $\endgroup$ – Grigory M Jan 11 '14 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ ...and 'the question did show research effort, and just didn't think to use google' is an oxymoron $\endgroup$ – Grigory M Jan 11 '14 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ It's true that stack overflow and mathSE are much different in general, but for the easily googlable questions like "How many digits of pi do we currently know?" they're quite similar in nature. $\endgroup$ – 6005 Jan 12 '14 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't state it quite clearly but I meant, the question shows effort and context, but did not google. (I've edited) Then it cannot be closed as "missing context or other details." $\endgroup$ – 6005 Jan 12 '14 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ I've edited my third point $\endgroup$ – 6005 Jan 12 '14 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ Well, yes, perhaps I agree about questions like digits of pi. One thing I had in mind is, there are a lot of questions on Math.SE that can be answered just by reading e.g. corresp. Wikipedia page — while on MSO such situation is very rare, I suspect. $\endgroup$ – Grigory M Jan 12 '14 at 8:24
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    $\begingroup$ @GrigoryM Oxymoron? There was research before Google. Before I discovered StackExchange nearly all of my research was done from books. This fact hasn't change that much since. $\endgroup$ – Geoff Pointer Jan 12 '14 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding 3: I just typed 1+1/2+1/3+1/4 + into google, and while it clearly was not as happy with it as it would have been with "harmonic series", I certainly did get something on the first page of searches that said (without even having to click on the link) that this is called the harmonic series. I'm not suggesting that "googlability" should be a closing reason, but I do scratch my head that people seem to think it's easier/faster to type a question in on math.SE and wait for people to answer it than to just google it and look a little bit at what they get. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Jan 18 '14 at 4:30

Here are relevant points.

1) Asking a good question is not necessarily trivial even if the answer can be found by Google. If the question never occurred to you, you would never try to find the answer. In that case, the chances are that you would never know both the question and its answer(s).

2) There are usually several(or many) solutions to a problem. Each solution may have its own merit. Just because you can find a solution by Google does not necessarily mean that you can find other useful solutions.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you clarify point 1 to me? Do you mean that such questions expose MSE occupants toideas they may not already have had? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Jan 22 '14 at 3:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderGruber Yes. That is exactly what I meant. $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Jan 22 '14 at 3:32

You should have Googled before starting this thread. This topic has been discussed before.

  • $\begingroup$ Funny but not true it'd return meaning results. $\endgroup$ – Lost1 Jan 13 '14 at 14:16

IMO find a link and post it. Some folks (myself included) will ask legitimate questions which have been discussed. Could they have found the answer elsewhere? Probably; but then why have SE? There is no need to go through a whole spiel when others have already done the work but there is no need to be rude either.


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