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I flagged this question since next to each problem there is a point value assigned which is indicative of it being a grader assignment.

I was greeted with the following response and flag rejection: enter image description here

However, when I flagged another post that appeared to be a graded assignment, the mod response was different: enter image description here

Out of the recent question and the older question on topics of plagiarism, we only have one moderator response and no status complete on the what the moderators are going to due which is apparent from the different flag responses. That is, the moderators are floundering on making a universal decision on what the course of action is going to be on posts that are obviously questionable.

So my question is Moderators what consensus are you going to come to since the current course of action depends on who see the flags or just avoiding meta questions on the topic all together. It would be nice to have a status complete on this.


I don't want this to get lost in the comment chain of the answer by Pedro.

From A Theory on Moderation: Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen. So you are saying potential cheating should normally happen and you shouldn't look into it at all? That is what should normally happen on the site?

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    $\begingroup$ After so much time on M.SE you should have known that the mods actions are sometimes erratic. Similar things happened with my flags to some comments here where I've got 9 "declined" and 7 "helpful"!!! $\endgroup$ – user26857 Jan 17 '15 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ @user26857 that is why I am asking for a collective mod response and status complete on this topic especially when it is apparent something is fishy. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 17 '15 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ Although I don't think you will get a satisfactory answer, let me wish you "Good luck!". $\endgroup$ – user26857 Jan 17 '15 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ On the other side, the M.SE policy to encourage the posting of homework questions is not a secret anymore, and many (very) high rated users support this. So, I think the declined flag is more on the spirit of the site. $\endgroup$ – user26857 Jan 17 '15 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ @user26857 it is really about their policy on cheating in these cases not homework problems. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 17 '15 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ Is there a difference between posting your homework and cheating? (Well, I can see one if the OP explains clearly what he tried and where got stuck, but this happens seldom.) $\endgroup$ – user26857 Jan 17 '15 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ @user26857 minor homeworks usually dont have point values assigned to them in my school experience. It was either a take home test or a homework being graded differently. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 17 '15 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe this should be tagged (homework), see the tag-info. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jan 17 '15 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak homework questions that have effort don't bother me as long as they aren't a test grade or anything important since I believe students should be able to learn. Whenever any problem set had point values assigned, it was usually due to there being more bearing on that assignment then a mere homework set. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 17 '15 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ When the "campaign" was on I promised not to close/delete questions unilaterally (for a suitable meaning of "unilateral"). This was discussed in meta at the time (and many times earlier), and IIRC many people insisted that this should be the norm. Closing and deletion of posts is to be left to the community. The moderators can (and should?) accelerate the process in clear cut cases, but the community should take the lead. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Jan 17 '15 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen I am not saying close the post right of the bat. I flagged the post so a mod could look into and determine if action should be taking. The decline response of the nature received implies that it isn't worth it to examine the situation. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 17 '15 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ It may sound like that but I don't think that's what it means. Flag a moderator when something needs to be done that cannot be done by regular users, is how I have always read it. Flag for low quality, if you haven't earned the privilege to vote to close, then other regular users with that privilege will decide. If the LQ reviewers votes are split, then moderator intervention will be needed. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Jan 17 '15 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ dustin: If a moderator decided to close and delete a question upon being flagged that is exactly the kind of unilateral decision that traditionally is considered to be (according to some vocal critics) "extreme abuse of moderator power". As a rule a moderator should not rule on A) on-topicness (unless it's spam or belongs to another SE-site), B) mathematical correctness/usefulness of answers. That is your job, and a normal function of the site. The exceptions occur when fixing the problem requires tools only mods have access to, or when the users cannot agree on the application of a norm. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Jan 17 '15 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ My initial thought would be that the question is from a past paper not a take-home exam. So I do not think the mods should be involved here as it is not as clear-cut as you are making out. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jan 19 '15 at 13:27
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First, let me say I am opposed to moderators acting like a single entity. After all, we're all different people from different parts of the world, and we have different opinions on matters. I do not think it is unfortunate for the mod team to have different view points. For example, some of us prefer to be more active, other prefer to be more laid back and let the community act. Some think the community should decide whether a question is to be closed, and some prefer to close them (unilaterally -- shiver?). As a consequence, I oppose to the idea that the mod team should make "a universal decision on what the course of action is going to be on posts that are obviously questionable."

It seems to me you're too obsessed with pursuing questions that look like assignments or exams. How do you know this was not a user copying a take home exam from 2005, say? My university has open access to previous exams, and take home exams, too. It is unfortunate the OP didn't provide any more information, but I don't think it is a moderators duty to be on the hunt for potential threats to academic honesty (I didn't happen to decline your flag, however.) Some other moderators might agree with this, too. Sure, I look at those posts with a critic eye, and do not condone academic dishonesty at all, but as I have said before, I don't think it is my duty to pursue people that engage in such practice. If they do so, well shame on them. I have no desire to spend an evening playing detective.

So far, it seems I am diametrically opposed to your views. Let's try to even things out: if you see a post that is questionable, you can always downvote and leave a comment explaining the issue, so that the OP is aware that part of the community is expecting people to give sources of their problems. Don't underestimate your power as a user to make a change. Good practices usually stay, and it is up to users to make the trend catch up. It is the users that answer questions (we mods are just a tiny portion!), so if a decent volume of users agree not to answer and/or close questions that are (well!) questionable things will work better. Then again, cheaters will find their way. If the OP is half clever, the post will be not an image of a graded assignment, and probably more of a question in the lines of "I've been stuck with this problem for days. I know I have to use theorem X, and a friend suggested I try Y, but nothing is working." that makes us think the OP is a nice hard working chap. Sadly, it is very hard for anyone to try to fight internet academic dishonesty.

As a bonus, let me add this thread on StackOverflow. You can click on the link for further discussion, but let me quote the answer to the question How to deal if the user asks for code in online programming competition?

If you ignored the fact that these were questions from a programming competition, are they still good, on topic technical questions? If so, I have no problem with them remaining on the site. This is similar to homework questions, where the fact that something is homework is secondary to whether or not they are actually good questions.

Do not flag questions because they are part of an ongoing competition, a homework assignment, or they somehow violate someone's honor code.

It is not up to moderators to enforce the terms and conditions of another site, and we will decline these flags (as I have for these questions).

You may choose to comment and point out the source of the question, decide to refrain from answering, or choose to answer differently than you would if this wasn't a competition question. That's up to you.

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    $\begingroup$ Why be a moderator if you aren't willing to play detective to get to the bottom of an issue? You are a human exception handler. When I debug my code, I have to play detective. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 17 '15 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ @dustin It is not my duty to do such detective work. Moderators mainly are there to prevent or mitigate disruptive behaviour in the site, let it be from quarrels, spam, poor quality contributions, abusing the vote system. Questions that arise from assignments are not disruptive. You might look at them with a bad eye from a moral point of view, but I am not here to tell you what your moral is supposed to be. Perhaps you can say that users that are using the system to get answers to assignments are "playing the system". They are rather playing themselves, and I don't intend to waste time on it. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Tamaroff Jan 17 '15 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ According to what are moderators you have to play detective. Exception handling is about responding to weird things happening in your code. How do you think programmers solve those problems by refusing to not play detective?? The answer is no. Based on the definition of moderators, you should be playing detective. As long as you mods are referred to as human exception handlers, you aren't going to get me believe you shouldn't be looking into situations. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 17 '15 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, no. I insist on my last comment. Someone asking a question from an assignment is not a "human exception", in fact it is pretty natural. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Tamaroff Jan 17 '15 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ I am sorry then that you don't know your job description. From A Theory on Moderation: Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen. So you are saying potential cheating should normally happen and you shouldn't look into it at all? That is what should normally happen on the site? $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 17 '15 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ @dustin: If there are so many questions posted from homework and exam assignments, as YACP notes in the comments to your question, then either (1) this case is not an exception; or (2) the entire system is broken, and it is not the fault of the exception handlers, but rather the programmer who wrote the code in the first place (although it's hard to blame the community at large, since three years ago, I doubt many people on the site thought this is going to be the MSE reality). $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jan 17 '15 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila I don't see how promoting academic dishonesty is the norm. It comes up maybe a few times a month. That seems like exceptional instances that need to be handled. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 17 '15 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ @dustin: Promoting? I am absolutely not going to respond any further, because I see that this is going to be another one of those discussions that you have your viewpoints, and you will try to enforce it on everyone else; rather than understand that other people might have different standards than you. Sorry, maybe next time. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jan 17 '15 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ @dustin Many people disagreed with Jeff Atwood's points of view. That post is not a moderator's manual for me to follow.The phrase "potential cheating" is already pushing things. Every question on this site can be seen as potential cheating. Asking questions is normal. Being constantly worried about people possibly cheating is not. Regarding "So you are saying potential cheating should normally happen and you shouldn't look into it at all? That is what should normally happen on the site?" and "I don't see how promoting academic dishonesty is the norm.": you can do better than this. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Tamaroff Jan 17 '15 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ It is unfortunate you keep fixating on that blog post. Incidentally, the post says "But what do community moderators do? The short answer is, as little as possible! (...) Stack Overflow is run by you!". At any rate, I do look at the exception, but I choose not to purse the matter further. Norms are not necessarily "okay". It is the norm children day of starvation every day, but it is by no means something I approve of. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Tamaroff Jan 17 '15 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @dustin: What, exactly, prevented you from doing any investigation to see if this recent question actually came from an ongoing assignment/exam? If you were able to provide better information to the moderators the actions taken may have been more to your liking. But effectively saying "something might be wrong, you look into it" makes for a really poor flag. (The other flag was marked helpful as a result of the moderator casting a close vote on the question. Not being that moderator, I cannot say that your flag was a deciding factor in that moderator closing the question.) $\endgroup$ – user642796 Jan 17 '15 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ @dustin: Please answer my question. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Jan 17 '15 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ @dustin Private messages are meant to be used in very serious situations. Moderators cannot be sending private messages every time they suspect a user is making a question from a problem set. Most of them are, and it is not easy and sometimes impossible to determine if they are getting credit from them. Instead, users (like you) can comment, vote and flag. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Tamaroff Jan 17 '15 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ To elaborate on that, private messages notify all mods and are CCed to Stack Exchange. They are not really meant for that kind of inquiry. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Jan 17 '15 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ @dustin Yes, you might be wasting your time. Flags that are not immediately obvious are reviewed by at least three or four mods and depending on who these mods are, the choice might be different. Questions and people vary, so we cannot have a protocol that says "if question has words X and Y, but not Z, then accept flag." $\endgroup$ – Pedro Tamaroff Jan 17 '15 at 20:07
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I think the reason for the declined flag says it all:

flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires [moderator] attention.

The posts you link to really don't need a moderator; you would be better off raising a close flag (and leaving a comment if you had additional information). For one, such a flag will almost certainly get dealt with faster - the close vote review queue is very efficient at closing bad questions. However, moderator flags can easily take hours to be seen. If your worry is academic dishonesty, a close flag is going to be more effective - who cares if a moderator deletes the question after it's answered when a normal user could have closed it before? After closure, there's no need for immediate deletion either - it's not like such questions are offensive or otherwise detracting greatly from the quality of the site - normal users can easily hurry along the deletion process of such a question or just wait until the system cleans it up.

In short, I do not think that flagging for moderator attention is appropriate in such cases, given how well normal users can handle the case. However, that said, I would not blame a moderator for any action they take on such a flag - the flag is merely useless, not necessarily wrong. If a moderator is made aware of a question that is of very poor quality by such a flag, they might as well close or delete it - it is the intention that bad questions have such a fate. However, their action is not necessary, and they would be equally justified in allowing the community to decide whether there is a problem and to deal with it accordingly.

(Also, though the second question is quite clearly off-topic, lacking context, the first question doesn't really look like it'd deserve closure. I don't really care where the question came from - it's a valid question, as the OP is not directly asking the question off their homework (or whatever the paper is), but asking for some clarification. I wouldn't miss the question were it deleted, but I don't mind that it's here either)

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