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Recently there have been a rash of questions of the form "What is 48/2(9+3)?", the most recent of which being here (and other examples are linked to in mixedmath's answer). I think most of us can agree that this really isn't a math question, merely an issue about poor communication. But this is actually a common question on the internet, and a lot of people are genuinely confused about it. I think this confusion in fact stems from a larger misconception that math is about manipulating symbols which have no real meaning, and that perhaps these questions could be a valuable opportunity to help dispel this misconception. However, they certainly can be annoying and their repeated asking does warrant closure under Math.SE's rules. So what should we do about them?

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    $\begingroup$ Hopefully soon there will be an SE philosophy forum to which we can migrate such questions. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Apr 30 '11 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ As you well noted on the linked question, this is a meme that has spread through out the internet lately. If judging by past experience it means that soon enough it will die out (although even two weeks ago is not soon enough...) and once in a while be brought back by half-witted trolls, or folks discovering the internet several years too late. Hopefully at least the flood of six a day will be over soon enough. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 30 '11 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ Questions with the symbol "÷" in the title should be closed automatically ;-) $\endgroup$ – Fabian May 5 '11 at 9:44
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This question should be added to the list of generalizations of common questions, and a definitive answer should be given to it. Then we can close all the others as duplicates of one answer.

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    $\begingroup$ It's not clear how general we should go, e.g. unique readability? $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 1 '11 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ That's probably a little too general. Something like "how do I parse an expression such as..." and the general answer "you can't, use parentheses" would probably be fine. $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan May 1 '11 at 5:05
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    $\begingroup$ Here is my attempt at a generalization. Please freely edit/improve both the question and answer. $\endgroup$ – Isaac May 1 '11 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Isaac: IMHO, to most of the audience interested in such a question — note that all the questions in recent days are in the specific form "a/b(c+d)" rather than a general question about order of operations — it's better to point them to the answers to one question involving specific numbers (say this one about 48/2(9+3)) and leave them to make their own analogy with say 6/2(1+3), than to point to something "general" that they may not understand (or more likely, not read :p). $\endgroup$ – ShreevatsaR May 2 '11 at 13:55
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Perhaps the FAQ should be updated to contain some information about order of operations type questions and have a link to a thread where an example problem like the one you stated is answered. I've seen these types of questions popping up in other random places, like facebook so I wouldn't be surprised if they continued to pop up here. Other than that, I'd just suggest voting to close these types of questions and linking the askers to a thread where this question is adequately answered.

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