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I feel bothered by questions where the body begins with a problem statement and then is followed by a giant solution and then succeeded by the question: "Can someone please tell me whether or not this solution is correct?" Here is an example of what I'm talking about: Example.

Here are my complaints:

(1) Although I have no statistical evidence or arguments, (yet), I feel like posts that I have described detract from the overall quality of the website. On the whole, these questions provide for more variance and inconsistency throughout MSE. Furthermore, they do not fit the current intended model of the website which is Q/A, i.e. IMHO, the website should not deviate from the current intended model. (I know, I know, what the current intended model is is definitely subjective). Bear in mind, that my definition of a question is precisely the type of question that occurs most frequently. (I realize that my definition of a question has a bit of a recursive flavor, but please humor me.)


Honestly, I realize that this topic has been discussed already here and most probably other places. In fact, upon reading about this topic, at the above link, I learned that it is the general consensus that questions of these types are "perfectly valid and do not need improvement."

It is not in my opinion that we should incorporate "solution reassurance" into the model of our website and it is precisely due to the above aforementioned reasons.

If a particular user has doubts about their solution, a healthy alternative to "Is my solution correct", is to highlight the particular doubts in their argument and ask more specific questions in regard to these highlights, because I feel this particular action increases the overall quality of the question. I believe that this sort of alternative should be encouraged and that MSE has something to gain from inviting potential answerers to suggest this alternative. Moreover, another solution to satisfy doubting mathematicians is to encourage them to join a chat room hosted by MSE where they could, (possibly), have the chance of consulting with an expert from the chat room about their solution to a problem.


The purpose of this post is to re-open the discussion of this theme, and so that I can get feedback. Perhaps some of you can help me to realize that "solution reassurance" questions are a good thing. Or, maybe it is in the interest of the community here at MSE to view "solution reassurance" questions as a problem that needs to be solved.

Thank you for generously considering my thoughts on this matter,

-Rustyn

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    $\begingroup$ Downvote? You don't have to explain your reasoning behind it, but if you would like to, why did you downvote my question? $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 24 '14 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ Downvotes on meta often indicate simple disagreement with a post. The downvotes on this post may indicate that. $\endgroup$ – MJD Oct 24 '14 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I understand that, but I would like to hear about the disagreement. I want to learn about things that I haven't considered, so I can have a better perspective. If the downvoters feel at all inclined to share their perspective, it would be greatly appreciated. – $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 24 '14 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ There is also an older post suggesting creating a separate site for this: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/13373/… $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 25 '14 at 8:41
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    $\begingroup$ you are a bit penilizing OP's for showing (misguided) effort, but l i like OP's showing effort even if it is misguided. $\endgroup$ – Willemien Oct 25 '14 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ Related. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Oct 25 '14 at 11:12
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry - I know this is completely unrelated, but since I have seen "OP" mentioned several times, what does it mean/stand for? $\endgroup$ – Pakquebchsoflwty Oct 25 '14 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ It means "Original Poster", or at least, that's how I read it. $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 25 '14 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Willemien How is asking the OP a question about their doubts a penalty? It causes them to think critically about their solution--which is probably what they need to do in the first place! $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 25 '14 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Pakquebchsoflwty The acronym OP is used in two meanings: original post or original poster. See here. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 26 '14 at 5:51
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    $\begingroup$ Despite the fact that you say that you want to re-open the discussion of this theme it is worth pointing out that we have several older questions on the same topic. (At least 5 of them can be considered very close to this post.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 26 '14 at 7:07
  • $\begingroup$ Ah well. I certainly don't want to reinvent the wheel. Looks like I'm wasting my time. $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 26 '14 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ I will also point out that there are tags called (solution-verification) and (proof-verification). If you feel bothered by such posts, you might add these tags among ignored tags. (But it will not help that much, since many questions on this site are not tagged correctly.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Nov 2 '14 at 11:19
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When I first started studying rigorous mathematics I couldn't tell a proof from a carrot. I wasn't in a formal educational institution at the time and relied heavily on feedback from mentors in my personal life that were well trained in mathematics. If it weren't for them I would be at a very different place professionally today.

The reason I share this anecdote is that if math.se had existed back then the mentors would not have been a necessary ingredient to successfully study mathematics. One of the great things about this site, in my opinion, is that it has the ability to connect non traditional students of mathematics with professionals that can guide them in the early stages of their studies.

If this falls outside of the scope originally intended for the site it tells me that the creators of the site didn't actually understand the potential for the platform (as is often the case with experiments on the internet).


Another issue is that these users are providing context for their questions. Many people close questions that don't have enough context or show enough effort. So if the community decides that these types of questions are unacceptable then we are penalizing them both for showing effort and not showing effort.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hey Spencer, great answer. I learned a lot from your perspective. I'm not saying we should penalize people when they ask a "solution reassurance" question, I'm saying that we should encourage OP's to elaborate on what their doubt(s) are about their solution. This, in my opinion, has the affect of increasing the overall quality of the question. Regards, $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 25 '14 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ I completely agree that the OP's in this circumstance are indeed showing effort. That is not to be disregarded! However, I truly believe that we can more efficiently help OP's if we know of their doubts. If we don't really understand what their doubt is, the answerer may end up, (in some cases), just posting an entire solution. This may be at the expense of the answerer, because an entire solution requires more work and effort. $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 25 '14 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Rustyn: I don't think you understand what Spencer is saying. When you start to do proofs, it is hard to even point out where your "doubts" are. Sometimes it is hard to even ask to right question. The student might have come up with a proof by mimicking a proof from class. And in that case I think it is good to have someone take a look at the proof. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Oct 25 '14 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ Thomas, Thanks for your comment. I think I see more what Spencer is getting at. $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 25 '14 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ I agree, how can the OP post elaborate on their doubts when they can't really pinpoint them in the first place? $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 25 '14 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ On a more philosophical point, however, I don't think it is a good thing for us to enable OP's toward external validation. At some point, a student needs to work toward internal validation. While I agree with the idea, that for some, (perhaps most), external validation comes first, but in general, I just don't agree with the whole concept of external validation. $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 25 '14 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ There's also the point that "solutions" to a "homework problem" are most likely checked/graded by an instructor. Why is it necessary that we validate, (grade), their solutions on this site in those cases? It undermines the instructor and takes away their value. $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 25 '14 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ I should retract my previous point about "undermining" the instructor. Anything helpful probably adds more value to the instructor as (s)he might not be able to give feedback to every student on solutions. However, simple "Yes this is correct" answers/comments are not useful, because, perhaps the OP does not really understand why their solution is correct and need help understanding their own thoughts. $\endgroup$ – Rustyn Oct 25 '14 at 18:28

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