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What is our policy concerning contest questions on the Mathematics Stack Exchange?

  • Why do we have a policy?
  • What is a contest question?
  • How we deal with on-going contest questions?
  • I see a question that I know is from a contest, what do I do?
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Why do we have a policy?

First and foremost: we believe that the responsibility for the integrity of an exam, contest, competition, etc. ultimately falls on the shoulders of the organizers.

That said, the Mathematics Stack Exchange community is not an island unto itself: rather we exist within a larger macrocosm of people who do or are interested by mathematics. So in the occasion when our purpose (essentially: providing mathematical answers to mathematical problems) butts against that of others, it helps to draw some reasonable boundary to play nice with other members of the larger community. In short, we want this community to have a reputation as a Good Citizen.

What is a contest question?

For the purpose of this discussion, a contest question refers to a question that is

  1. originally published by a third party, for the purpose of inviting submission of solutions: this could be an actual competition where a prize of some sort is given, or this could be a qualifying examination.
  2. publicly available: the questions themselves should be publicly available.
  3. time-limited: the "contest" should be active for a fixed, finite duration of time, with a definite start and end date. Before the end date of the contest, the contest is said to be "on-going"; after the end date the contest is said to have "finished" or "expired."

Note a couple caveats:

  • If the question is not original (for example, if the math.SE question was asked before the start of the contest), then we do not consider it as a contest question. This is to prevent ex post facto stifling of discussion.
  • If the "contest" has no definite duration, then we do not consider questions on it as contest questions for this discussion. This is to prevent indefinite lock-down of information.

How we deal with on-going contest questions?

First, moderators will not actively patrol for contest questions.

However, if the moderator team is made aware that a question posted to the Mathematics Stack Exchange is from an on-going contest:

  • We will lock the question until after the end date of the contest. Note that due to granularity in the locking system the expiration of the lock may not coincide exactly after the expiration of the contest; if you see a contest problem locked past the contest end date, feel free to raise a flag and let the moderators know.
  • We will soft delete all answers on the question; they will be restored after the contest finished. (Again, if you are a 10K user and see deleted answers to an expired contest problem, please raise a flag.)
  • We will, in the case not already present, provide links to the contest and its duration in the comments so the status of the contest can be easily verified.

I see a question that I know is from a contest, what do I do?

Let the moderators know. This can be done in multiple ways (I list here in order of speed of handling):

Please include:

  • Publicly accessible source where we can verify that the question does come from a contest.
  • Publicly accessible source where we can verify that the contest is currently on-going.

It will also help if you post a comment indicating also the above information to make the community as a whole aware of the situation.

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    $\begingroup$ Hear hear! I'm happy to see that the general opinion is that we are not an island in the sea of mathematical communities, but rather part of a subcontinent of "mathematics enthusiasts". $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Sep 10 '14 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ Separate issue: what's the rationale behind limiting this policy to contest questions which are publicly available? I'm sure there are contests which do not publish their questions until after the contest is complete, or perhaps not ever; does it make sense to exempt them from this policy? $\endgroup$ – David Z Sep 11 '14 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ: that is for transparency. We want to be able to document the situation in a way that can be verified by community members. Beyond that, the above is a document of what we currently do; and we have not had the need to deal with any private contests yet. If this does become a significant problem we can modify the policy after soliciting community opinion. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Sep 11 '14 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ What is the policy to a question that is trivially equivalent to an ongoing contest problem but stated in such a way that is not obvious from first glance (e.g. this question, the contest end at 2014/09/15 15:00:00 ) Should we treat this as an ongoing contest problem or not? $\endgroup$ – achille hui Sep 13 '14 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ @achillehui: most users I've seen posting contest questions are at least smart enough to paraphrase the question so they are not a word-for-word identical copy of the contest question. So we already have to always make a little bit of judgement call (based on the timestamp etc.) $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Sep 15 '14 at 9:31
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    $\begingroup$ I don't agree with the public contest part. In my opinion, what we should do in the case of a non-public contest problem is to allow users to report a contact address of the organizer, after which a moderator should temporarily lock the question and send its link to that contact, and if there is no response within a week unlock the question again. This would serve the intended purpose of preventing cheating but preserve verifiability. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Oct 31 '14 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ @user21820: as I mentioned above, part of the goal is transparency. The SE communities are largely self-moderated, and we would prefer to have publicly available trails so that the users can monitor and verify the actions of the moderators. I agree that it is unfortunate that non-public contests are left out by this policy, but we have to strive for a balance between accountability, the reasonableness of the implementation (whether it will cause a lot of extra work for the moderators), and how the site interact with the larger social aspects of mathematics community. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Oct 31 '14 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ @WillieWong: Yes I fully understand, which is why I am fully in support of the policy as it currently is, just that I thought it could be extended to non-public contests. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Oct 31 '14 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ @user21820: To put an extreme case concerning verifiability: what is to prevent a user from maliciously locking contents on the website by impersonating a contest? In terms of reasonableness of implementation: even if we were to implement something like you suggested, I would vastly prefer that the user contacts the organizers themselves and the organizer contacts us and directly provides all necessary information. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Oct 31 '14 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ @WillieWong: Ah yes I thought about that, which is a valid point even though I think it's actually hard to impersonate contests because contest questions have that sort of flavour and such a malicious user would have to be good in coming up with such questions! As for your suggested method, I agree of course, but I feel it is better to put a quick lock before a blur user comes along and provides a solution, and then wait a few days for an organizer to contact you. The worst that can happen is that the question is delayed a few days. How bad can that be? $\endgroup$ – user21820 Oct 31 '14 at 10:11
  • $\begingroup$ @user21820: look at the number of questions we get per day. And look at how quickly questions disappear from the front page. Locking a question for 3 or 7 days can have a rather large impact on the amount of interest it receives. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Oct 31 '14 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ @WillieWong: You mean there is no way to bump it back up if it is unlocked? $\endgroup$ – user21820 Oct 31 '14 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Gabriel: If I'm not wrong AMC (like most other worldwide contests) have very specific explicitly stated regulations (you should have read them) that say that the questions are not to be discussed in any form whatever during a certain period. Over and above the contest rules, we should just make sure that we do not create any opportunity for cheating. The very fact that you're inquiring about this means you'll probably be fine. I know this is a late reply but I thought it would be beneficial for anyone who has the same kind of question as you. =) $\endgroup$ – user21820 Jul 5 '15 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ To forestall further back-and-forth: yes, I agree with @TheGreatDuck that the aspect of the question which is about "policy on asking questions from completed contest" is essentially answered above. But as one can see from my response to the user and from that of user21820, there are other portions/interpretations of the question (such as "is MathSE the best place to ask about AMC contest questions" and "besides MSE policy, are there any rules preventing me from asking AMC contest questions") which are not addressed by the general contest policy discussion. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Nov 6 '18 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ Finally @TheGreatDuck, when in doubt I would always advocate asking a new question. It is easier to close a duplicate as a duplicate than to split off a non-duplicate discussion into a separate question. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Nov 6 '18 at 3:36

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