Some tags are about topics that are blatantly not on-topic here. Let me quote the FAQ (I realize this is not the be-all and end-all, but it's better than nothing):

Mathematics Stack Exchange is for people studying mathematics at any level and professionals in related fields. We welcome questions about:

  • Understanding mathematical concepts and theorems
  • Hints on mathematical problems (but please read our FAQ about homework questions)
  • History and development of mathematics
  • Solving mathematical puzzles
  • Software that mathematicians use (except Mathematica, which has its own Stack Exchange site)

Examples of such tags include or . Many of these tags are used on questions that would be better on other, newer SE sites such as academia.SE or workplace.SE, for example.

  • What to do with questions using these tags? I think it's fair to say that a large percentage of them could be closed as off-topic, but that seems a bit drastic... I also understand that it's possible to make big migrations of questions happen for newer SE sites -- academia.SE and workplace.SE are already well-established, would that still be an option?
  • What to do with the tags themselves? On the one hand they help identify problematic questions, and it's possible (though unlikely) that a question using these tags could be on-topic here (but such a question would certainly have other tags). On the other hand they deal with off-topic subjects, and their existence could be seen as a sign by question askers that their questions are, in fact, on-topic here.

  • Another option: give a warning when such a tag is used. It's less drastic than outright banning them / migrating all the questions, but it would probably have a greater effect than a tag excerpt that people don't read. For example could point out the new HSM.SE, could point out physics.SE, could point out academia.SE and workplace.SE... I think I've already seen these warnings come in orange, if some feel the red color is too aggressive.
  • $\begingroup$ An option for such tags could be to deprecate them more or less, saying that such things should go to this or that other site. This is what was done on MO for the tag latex (before tex.SE latex questions were somewhat common and permitted, while now they tend to be rare and less welcome). The tag was still preserved, so that the old questions are tagged properly and for exceedingly rare case of math question that also involve latex. See mathoverflow.net/tags/latex/info $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Nov 13, 2014 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ I can agree that sometimes some of the tags can be almost always given a better home on another site. But consider [publishing], for example. On MathOverflow there had been discussions about these sort of tags, and the result was usually some sort of agreement that while these can be considered on-topic on other sites, if the topic of the question is remarkably close to the Mathematical community, it will be considered as on topic. While MSE is not quite a community of professional mathematicians, there are plenty of amateurs that might want to ask about publishing their results [...] $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Nov 13, 2014 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ [...] and they might not be professional, and their results might not be at a professional level, or in fact they might not even be correct at all. So in some sense, these sort of questions might not be exactly at home on academia.SE or other sites. But those questions might be still considered relevant to MSE in a strong way. Just to be clear, I'm not advocating one policy over another, I am glad to see this topic brought up for discussion, and any concrete decisions would be a good one. I am just making the case for why blatantly off topic questions might be very much on topic after all. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Nov 13, 2014 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Asaf In this case, it should be clarified exactly what these tags are to be used for in the tag excerpt. One problem is that not many people take the time to read the tag wiki, and detailed instructions in the tag excerpt isn't exactly possible. career-development already mentions academia.SE, for example, but I don't know if that's enough. There's not exactly a strong record of tags being used for their intended purpose in many cases. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2014 at 7:18
  • $\begingroup$ PS: The two tags I quoted are just examples. I just hate the physics tag, for example -- either you can formulate the question in a way that it's purely a math question, or you can't and it's off-topic here. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2014 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ Oh yeah, with that last remark I completely agree. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Nov 14, 2014 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf and Najib: see meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/13217/… $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2014 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ +1 specifically for the last bullet point. I don't think those tags are blatantly off topic in all their incarnations, but I think that users should be alerted to be extra careful to make sure they're in the realm of on-topic-ness. $\endgroup$
    – apnorton
    Nov 15, 2014 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ As far as career-development and publishing go, I think it should depend on the specifics. Im fine with questions of those natures being posted here as long as they relate to pure math. Publishing books or papers in pure math, or, for example, teaching pure math in college or related academia professions. I would direct the science teachers and applied math teachers elsewhere though. $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2014 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ This DESE query returns the tags with the most closed question (percentage-wise). It might help in finding trends. $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2015 at 8:59

1 Answer 1


I don't think the five bullet items should be considered the exhaustive list of what is on-topic. For example, it does not include mathematics education, which seems to be still (somewhat) on topic, as acknowledged later on the page. The philosophy of mathematics is not mentioned there either; this was discussed on meta and some thought it's on topic.

I do not consider either or to be blatantly off-topic. Not all of these fit on Academia: e.g., career-related questions from undergraduates are frowned upon there.

please do not ask questions about ... Undergraduate-specific issues that could not apply to graduate or post-graduate academicians

Even if these questions are considered mostly off-topic, the tags should stay to properly label existing content. (I assume we are not deleting Can I use my powers for good? any time soon.) As quid remarked, tag excerpts can be used to redirect most such questions to another site, without necessarily banning them here. This was already done for .

But the on-topic page of Help Center may be due for an update in any case. History of S&M, while a very new site, is quite successful and I think its success warrants moving "History and development of mathematics" from "on topic" to "on topic, but".

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, some updating definitely needs to be done. I think that wouldn't necessarily be enough though; as I mentioned, many people don't read the FAQ/the tag wikis at all. Maybe a warning like there was for homework (or like there is on other SE sites) when someone uses a "debatable" tag to consider other options? $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2014 at 8:30
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    $\begingroup$ As a side note (which I think you are already aware): if you have concrete suggestions to improve the on-topic page in the help center, it is best to post as a new question on meta to increase visibility. (Regarded HS&M, it does look like it is growing well, I am a bit conservative so I want to wait a bit more, but I agree with you in principle that it should at some point be mentioned in our on-topic page) $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2014 at 13:59

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