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Some questions have been undeleted that... frankly, shouldn't have been. 10k users can see the whole list here, but here they are for the pleasure of everyone else:

I especially encourage you to look at the first revisions of these questions. I think they speak for themselves. Then some people edit these questions to add some basic layer of words around the math symbols, so that they don't look like utter garbage. But they're still zero-effort PSQ (that WolframAlpha can answer in most cases). Can someone explain what's going on?

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    $\begingroup$ I looked at the 1st of the 5 questions. I noticed that it had three answers, all with positive scores. Maybe the posse that wants to delete mathematical content from m.se has met up with a posse that wants to preserve mathematical content on m.se. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Dec 22 '14 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ Ah yes, the sacrosanct "valid mathematical content". All the content on this website is mathematical, this doesn't mean there isn't any cruft to delete. What makes mathematical content so holy that we don't have any right to delete it, @GerryMyerson? The umpteenth duplicate of "Why 0! = 1?" is mathematical content, must we keep it? How about a crank's attempt to solve the Riemann hypothesis? $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Dec 22 '14 at 8:43
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    $\begingroup$ Such questions should be closed as abstract duplicates of answers that explain the general method. We cannot afford to have a question with specific solutions for every quadratic equation out there. Such questions add zero value to the site and make it more difficult to find interesting questions. That said, we have no such consensus in the community, and some users want to continue to answer such zero value questions and undelete them when they get deleted. $\endgroup$ – Ayman Hourieh Dec 22 '14 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi The point is, 10K+ users should know better than to answer yet another quadratic equation question. We already have excellent answers explaining the general method. Adding an answer, and reopening/undeleting the question (potentially to preserve reputation) is not a positive contribution to the site. $\endgroup$ – Ayman Hourieh Dec 22 '14 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ The first revision should not really be a factor here; if someone manages to put a question into a respectable form, that's great (be it OP or someone else). This never really happened with the linked posts, though. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Dec 22 '14 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ I have come to consider myself a moderate in the PSQ debate: the line is harder to draw than it first appears. But questions which amount to a single application of the quadratic formula are perfect examples of questions that are obviously and definitively over that line. They should NOT be allowed on MSE. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Dec 22 '14 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson it seemed to me the question even had reopen votes but it might have been another one. Anyway, it is incomprehensible to me why somebody on the one hand undertakes quite some effort to get that undeleted and at the same time does not care enough to fix the question. Besides keeping unclear questions uncorrected is harmful on many levels. Loosing an answer would be a well-deserved fine for the earlier neglect. It is simple: do not answer poor questions or at least fix them, if not you might loose your answer. This seems simple, fair, and good for the overall quality of the site. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 22 '14 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque If you just learned this, you might try to pay a bit more attention. Anyway, I fail to see what this has to do with the question at hand. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 22 '14 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ Since Matt E was mentioned, I'll add that he stopped participating in MathOverflow and Math.SE at the same time, in June 2014. Whatever his reason was, it is not specific to this site. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Dec 22 '14 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque while you are correct re Matt E leaving MO earlier (and you can see I even mentioned it before you) it seems a bit far fetched to link a meta thread started 29 june to Matt E leaving June 16. Further, if one wants to look for a specific motivation it seems more reasonable to take the one where it is clear he was not at all happy with both sites very close to him leaving, namely the events around Makoto Kato. But I do not know. Anyway, various users leave for various and completely contradictory reasons. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 22 '14 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque there are users that made quite clear why they left, why they never joined (I mean MO users never joining here), why they made a break and so on. If you are interested in a serious discussion about users' motivations we might try to compile public statements on that matter and proceed from there. Idle speculations on an isolated case, based on vague temporal coincidences, are not constructive, especially when the main point seems to be finger-pointing to support your current position. Let me add, indeed there are some such statements that support your position but not at all all. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 22 '14 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ The situation would be much improved if certain answerers spent a tiny bit of time searching for duplicates. The high volume tags: high school level, Elementary number theory and Calculus are possibly the worst offenders in this regard with prolific "crank-turners" exacerbating the problem by adding legitimacy to those questions. I find it reprehensible that 10k+ members take the approach of "Answer first and leave checking of duplicates to others". $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Dec 23 '14 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian I agree that many students have problems applying a technique spelled out in an example to their problem. But my 25 years of teaching experience, though less than your 40, also have taught to me that the problems those learners have run deeper. Having one more example explained to them is not going to make them see the light, because the gaps in their background won't allow them to add that piece of knowledge to the big picture of this beautiful jigsaw puzzle. Fixing that is the job of their teachers/tutors, and cannot IMHO be adequately done in Math.SE. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Dec 23 '14 at 8:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill: Will you please open your new and superawesome platform already? I'm sure that everyone will be excited to join it if it's as good as you say that it is. It's been two years since you've said "soon" the first time on this issue. How much more do we have to suffer in this horrible horrible site, where teachers are forced to teach people who may or may not want to learn, and students are forced not to have their questions answered unless they are trying to learn from the answers, and people come to your house and force you at gunpoint to post answers on set theory tags... SAVE US! $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 23 '14 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian Definitely, examples are crucial for good understanding. This is why a canonical answer should contain some examples in addition to the general theory. Here is a canonical answer on integration by partial fractions; it contains plenty of examples. I think students would learn a lot more if they were referred to this question, as opposed to seeing their particular exercise solved for them. Alas, some of our 10K+ are willing to answer hundreds of such questions, adding very little value to the site, and burying good questions in the process. $\endgroup$ – Ayman Hourieh Dec 23 '14 at 10:48
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This continues to be a divisive issue with neither side willing to compromise at all. Mathematicians being idealists of the purest kind that is hardly a surprise.

I am somewhat impressed by the fact that hardly anyone is bringing up reputation in this discussion. In spite of our love/hate relationship with these internet points the rep game is a strong driving force here. Oversimplified: As we cannot change the fact that everybody's upvotes give the same +10 rep, the problem with easy PSQs persists

  • one faction is seen by the other as protecting their ego point gravy train, and
  • one faction is seen by the other as wanting to levy high taxes on the Joneses instead of keeping up with them (simple jealousy comes to mind also).

Some posters are blaming Behaviour's campaign for the current state of the affairs. That is IMO another oversimplification. The sentiment against LHF/PSQ/HW/whathever you want to call them (and their FGITW answers) had been growing for a long time. Behaviour was simply the first to find a way of attacking these that actually managed to make a dent to that wall. When T. Bongers brought the matter up in Meta, it had the (possibly unintended) consequence that many members who were unhappy about the situation (raises hand) realized that they actually have efficient Tools to fight the problem. The deletion of PSQs then picked up speed.

This caused a change in the site dynamics. The prolific answerers had gotten used to nothing ever disappearing. As it was a statistical certainty that even their answers (many objectively quite good, but to objectively bad questions) would become collateral damage, the change naturally came as a shock. This was evidenced in André's outburst. Undeniably IT WAS A CHANGE - the site became a bit different. And conservatives are never happy with a change. Do remember that the increase in the frequency of PSQs was also a change. But that was a more gradual change, and had to reach a certain point to make conservatives of a different kind come out in the open.

Of course, at the same time the defenders of those questions also learned about the tools. Deletion/undeletion wars have commenced. I predict that we will be behaving like kids for quite some time still, fighting for territory in this sandbox. Eventually an uneasy truce will be reached - in the form of a thermal equilibrium between delete/undelete votes. But we are not there yet.


I have also been toying with the following

GEDANKENEXPERIMENT:

  • The pro-deletion party ceases deletion of PSQs for a time being, and instead flags the PSQs to moderators' attention upon sight, and
  • the moderators turn the PSQs into Community Wiki -questions.

This has the known effect of eliminating reputation gains from such questions. With ego points removed from the equation, we can then test, who is sincere and who is not. The possible outcomes are:

  1. Nobody bothers to answer a CWified elementary question, but the complaints about PSQs continue. Case proven - the answerers were only doing it for the sake of internet points, and the anti-PSQ party wins.
  2. The answers continue to come in, but the complaints stop. Case proven - the complaints were only about internet points, not really about the quality of site. The pro-PSQ party wins.
  3. No answers + no complaints. Everybody should be ashamed.
  4. The steady stream of answers continues as do the complaints. This is IMHO the best possible outcome, because everybody learns that the other side is sincere. May be mutual respect will begin to grow?

Of course, there's the alternative to acknowledge that you (yes, I mean you, my dear reader) cannot have it all your way. The sooner we realize this (yours truly included) the better off we collectively are.


Bill is probably right in that the site software cannot be bent to handle abstract duplicates well. I think that collecting/merging existing abstract duplicates to Community Wiki threads is the best available approximation. The merging will necessitate quite a bit of editing by hand. Martin has been hard at work already (see his links under this) - sans CWification. If elected I could also give it a try. I would start by listing a representative sample of questions, move the answers to the umbrella thread, and edit in the number of the specific example handled in that answer. Unfortunately the amount of work may be overwhelming, and I'm not sure about whether that is a satisfactory resolution.


Moi? Confession time! I know that it is silly to worry about internet points, but I'm not completely at peace with the fact that noobs here think that (for example) Lab Bhattacharjee is twice the mathematician that I am, because he has accumulated twice the rep. Against that the same noobs may think I know more than, say, David Speyer or Noam D. Elkies, which is just ridiculous. Sue me! This may be a good reason for me to run for a moderator position in that I lose the power to cast delete votes on contentious threads.

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    $\begingroup$ I think that collecting/merging existing abstract duplicates to Community Wiki threads is the best available approximation. It is probably not exactly the same thing as you have in mind, but I have tried to create some threads collecting frequently asked questions. See this post on meta. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 23 '14 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @Martin. We should do that in main, too. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Dec 23 '14 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ Well, the post I've made so far are posted on the main. The meta posts only contains the list of posts. (Although very short.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 23 '14 at 9:47
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that answering PSQs is often driven by reputation. However, I have an observation to make. Most votes on PSQs happen early on during the question's life cycle. Reputation already earned isn't taken back when the question is converted to CW. I don't think that flagging and manual conversion to CW would be quick enough. Answering PSQ would remain an effective way for harvesting reputation. $\endgroup$ – Ayman Hourieh Dec 23 '14 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ @AymanHourieh: Yes, that is a problem. We would need to have several moderators working on this. Also users commenting and voting to steer the development in this direction. Needs more work. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Dec 23 '14 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ The CW suggestion is interesting. My main objection has been to the campaign to make answers disappear. $\endgroup$ – André Nicolas Dec 23 '14 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ Raking my brain and trying to find a way for the two factions to co-exist somewhat peacefully. I know that this suggestion doesn't address all the relevant concerns. And as an anti-PSQ activist I may be the wrong guy to suggest anything and call it a "compromise". Also this probably means using CW in an unintended way. Thank you for the voices of support. Ideas for improvement? $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Dec 23 '14 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ (a) "Ceases deletion" is a non-starter. My votes are not something I negotiate over. (b) Having users routinely raise mod-only flags is an unsustainable workflow. (c) Since P(reward) will remain strictly between 0 and 1, as it is now, those motivated by points will keep answering. (d) I do believe that many of those answering are driven by genuine desire to help, so they will keep on answering. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Dec 23 '14 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ Hence, (e): SE needs to recognize that deletion/undeletion wars are in fact possible, and add a check for repeat votes, as they did for closevotes. Mods can lend their support to the feature through Mod-SE team channel if they perceive this a real issue for the site. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Dec 23 '14 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Behaviour: Thanks for the comments. Your suggestion is one possible future (if the repeat votes are disabled) that will resolve the disputes by vox populi. I was hoping that after a learning period the regulars (on both sides of the aisle) would know when not to bother unless one braces for a delete/undelete war. Not ruling out the possibility that a similar uneasy truce would emerge out of your approach, too. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Dec 23 '14 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ Let me contest the "internet point" issue. I have a real world reputation as "that choice guy" or "that guy who answers set theory questions on MSE" particularly because I have these internet points, earned by answering all those set theory questions. These points might be nearly meaningless, but they carry meaning to real life in some sense. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Dec 24 '14 at 12:21
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PSQ are only an issue when they boil down to doing someones homework for them. If the hypothetical hand-in deadline has passed, and someone makes an effort to improve the post, then there is no reason for the question to be closed. To back this point up, the StackExchange model is built on editing - noone "owns" a question, and so the original form should not matter, no matter how poorly the original question was formed.

All the posts you link to are over a month old. Therefore, (in theory) I have no qualms about undeleting these and similar questions.


This one is still odd. I probably wouldn't cast a vote either way. The questions should still meet the minimum standards, whatever you or I or whoever is voting deem them to be.

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    $\begingroup$ There now it's elevated. The main problem with PSQ isn't just the OP getting the solution to their homework in time. It's also the filling of the site with low quality questions, and then people finding these questions via Google and thinking the site is a homework factory. They also haven't been answered just today, they were answered immediately after being asked. If they had been answered today, they would have taken frontpage space from other, more deserving questions. There have been dozens and dozens of meta threads about it, I'm not going to repeat everything here. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Dec 22 '14 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ Also, define "low quality"? I rather like this question. It is a really pretty problem - it is...deserving. But the person who posed it didn't give context and yadda yadda yadda DELETE! $\endgroup$ – user1729 Dec 22 '14 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ My point about (2) is that "easy" questions are not easy to everyone. Last week I had a student get 1 mark out of 80 in their final exam. 1 mark! And yet because this student is struggling with basic stuff, they will not find any help here. Not if your deletion votes have anything to say about it. And yet, this is the student who needs the most help. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Dec 22 '14 at 10:54
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    $\begingroup$ This is not a "help site." $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 22 '14 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ @quid It is a site which answers students maths questions. If you ask a sufficiently well-posed question, someone will help you with it. That is all I mean when I say "help" - I do not mean "walked through" or anything like that. I just mean...help. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Dec 22 '14 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to be mixing up "quality" and "difficulty". A question does not have to be difficult for it to be worth answering. (FYI I do not receive a notification if you do not include something like "@Najib" in your comment -- it's helpful if you're directly talking to me...) $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Dec 22 '14 at 11:00
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    $\begingroup$ The site does not only answer students math questions. It answers questions of everybody able to ask a proper question. This might not include all students (not even in tertiarty education), which, while quite unfortunate, is not a problem to be solved here. In addition, the quality of not few answers is such that a student, especially a weak student, might be better of without them. Let us better work on this aspect. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 22 '14 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Najib: The fact remains that easy questions not infrequently quickly attract downvotes and votes to close no matter how they are formulated. It is quite clear that some users do to a large extent subsume easy under low quality. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Dec 23 '14 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill I find the suggestion that Matt Emerton stopped participating, because low level questions are getting deleted quite hilarious. IIRC he was not seen answering those. Why do you keep bringing up the absence of such members in this context? You have blamed the anti-PSQ party, in turn, for the absence of Arturo Magidin, Brian M. Scott and now Matt E. This is pure speculation, and also a strawman. Do you want me to list names of people no longer active, who I suspect to have left because the site is ovewhelmed by trivial things? $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Dec 23 '14 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ And while we are at it, why do answers obviously copy/pasted from textbooks get a lot of upvotes ;-) $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Dec 23 '14 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Jyrki: The activities of the anti-PSQ party were in fact one of the main reasons for my departure. And given the deliberate vandalism that apparently started last June, I'm not at all sure how long I'll stick it out this time around. \\ Far more people take freshman-level math courses than take upper-division math courses, so of course we get more elementary questions. Why on earth would you expect similar numbers statistically?! $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Dec 23 '14 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian I know that US is different from us, but apparently forgot. Yet I don't think the numbers of questions at various levels reflect the numbers of students taking math seriously at various levels. Admittedly that is difficult to substantiate. Anyway, the point that we are not overwhelmed by low effort point-set topology or Galois theory questions still stands. Vandalism? The flood of low level questions is also seen as a form of vandalism. And some members actively encourage it. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Dec 23 '14 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ While I knew that for @BrianM.Scott the assertion that he had taken a break due to such activities is correct, it would be blatantly false for Arturo Magidin. Indeed there is a comment by him on meta.MO where he explains that it was in fact the anti anti-PSQ/HW activity that annoyed him most. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 23 '14 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque I also have an honest request. Please stop bemoaning the "cancer of SE" and that it is "a shadow of what it once was" and various other elaborate and unconstructive gripes about today's math.SE. I think we can stand the wild theories, the debate team handbook dismissals, the equivocation and other tools of desperation you need to fight against the large chorus of opposition, but next time you feel like taking a universal dump on the site, and trampling all of the good work that's been done in spite of the site's problems,just pass it up. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Dec 23 '14 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque Please pay attention to the examples. I am not referring to complaints like that. I hope and expect everyone to continue following their conscience to complain. I gave specific examples of the type of generic doom and gloom that we can do without, and they had nothing to do with gamification, debating or constraints. The point is to stop making melodramatic comments that sow negativity. They don't help, and they do disparage the hard work of those who work to make the site good today. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Dec 23 '14 at 21:15

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