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I'm a computer programmer, and sometimes it happens that I create a framework for an abstract area of mathematics - mostly for fun, sometimes semi-professionally. Before I can use this framework, I have to know if my algorithms work correctly. Problem is, I'm not a mathematician, and I don't know how to verify my algorithm. However, if I post the results here, experienced mathematicians may be able to tell if it's right or not immediately. Are these kind of questions acceptable?

Example: Recently, I created a framework for group-theory, and specifically, a function that generates cycle graphs. The cycle graphs look OK for small groups, I could check them on Wikipedia, or WolframAlpha. But when it comes to larger groups, say $S_7$, the output was more complicated than I had expected, and I have no idea, whether it's beacuse my program failed to simplify something, or the math is actually more complicated. I couldn't find pictures of this graph on the internet. Is it OK to post the picture here and ask if it is indeed the right cycle graph?

The biggest problem with these questions is that they are not very constructive to others, and the answer is probably a simple one-liner: "Yes, it is correct.".

Note: The questions wouldn't have any code in them, only the mathematical result, that is why I think they are more appropriate here than a programming site, such as SO.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmm. If it is purely mathematical, then fine. If this is an example, then I see no issue with the kind of question. However, the "semi-professionally" makes me uncomfortable. Someone is paying you to do maths, and you want us to verify it? This makes me...uncomfortable. It would be, perhaps, more professional if you paid a real-life mathematician to check your work for you (and it sounds better to those paying you than "I asked on some forum and they said it was fine!"). $\endgroup$ – user1729 Aug 7 '14 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ The purpose of math.SE is to serve as a repository of question/answer pairs so that other people has similar questions can find a solution. Ask yourself the question: Did "the picture you posted together with the answer received" useful to anyone other than you? If not, then you should not post the picture here. $\endgroup$ – achille hui Aug 7 '14 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ @achillehui No, I disagree that that is the sole purpose of Math.SE. You will claim the purpose is something, other people will claim the purpose is something else. (Similarly, people are here to help others while other people are here to answer challenging problems and don't care who asked them (citation1, citation2)) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Aug 7 '14 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 I too would feel very uncomfortable if I got paid for work done by the userbase of MSE. What I meant by semi-professionally is that I encounter some math while doing my job, and it's interesting, so I dive into it, and solve the problem in a more general setting than my job requires. $\endgroup$ – Dave Aug 7 '14 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729: "However, the "semi-professionally" makes me uncomfortable. Someone is paying you to do maths, and you want us to verify it? This makes me...uncomfortable." Are you saying professionals shouldn't ask each other for help? StackOverflow and MathOverflow shouldn't exist? $\endgroup$ – Rahul Aug 7 '14 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @achillehui That's a little extreme take on Stack Exchange philosophy. A kinder, gentler approach was advocated by their VP for Community Growth (to Atwood's disapproval, I might add). My feeling is that likely non-reusable (but otherwise good) questions asked in moderation are not a problem for the site. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 7 '14 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Rahul That isn't quite what I meant - MO does not involve money, while SO is one professional talking to another, but their fields are the same. This question initially sounded like a professional in one subject wanting a professional in another subject to verify their work, and also seemed like a long-term thing. Personally, I find such a scenario uncomfortable, because of the word "professional" and because it sounded like it was going to be regular. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Aug 11 '14 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ Dave: "What I meant by semi-professionally is that I encounter some math while doing my job, and it's interesting, so I dive into it, and solve the problem in a more general setting than my job requires." This is not what you said at first: "Before I can use this framework, I have to know if my algorithms work correctly." $\endgroup$ – Did Aug 31 '14 at 11:24

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