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There is a considerable amount of questions of the type

Can you see if my proof/solution is correct?

My question is simple: are they on-topic?

My point is two-fold: I think they fail usefulness (and even create confusion) and may not be on-topic.

With regards to the first aspect, sometimes what happens is as follows:

  • User posts this type of question, has a really convoluted solution which admits something cleaner. Now, as an "answerer", disregarding completely the user's proof (and also his question) is probably not recommended. At the same time, trying to "verify" a particular proof of a particular person for a particular purpose seems to be very... particular, and not useful in large scale. Furthermore, the result of such labour is frequently... "Yes, you are right".

Now, to the other part: The Help Center tells us that

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

  1. Understanding mathematical concepts and theorems.
  2. Mathematical problems such as one might come across in a course or textbook. (First read our how to ask a good question page.)
  3. Solving mathematical puzzles.
  4. Software that mathematicians use (except Mathematica, which has its own Stack Exchange site).

At first glance, this type of question seems to fit $1.$ But is this so? Is it really a tentative of understanding mathematical concepts and theorems? For instance, one question which I would say that satisfies the first "requirement" is this one. Now compare it with this one, and also this one.

Today, MSE seems to be disencouraging questions with a low amount of effort. I think questions of the type mentioned in this post are (almost always) a direct result of a low amount of effort: you "just" need to verify your arguments in order to know if you are right or wrong (of course, there are extreme cases where it may be not at all clear, but in most of them it is).

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    $\begingroup$ This has been discussed quite a lot on meta; see the tag solution verification $\endgroup$ – Milo Brandt Dec 1 '15 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ @MiloBrandt I understand this has already been discussed, but the discussions have different purposes. For example, the most recent question I could find was this one: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/6193/… , which does not get to the point I'm trying to get (neither does any other question): My intention is to deliberately consider those questions off-topic, and I'm opening a discussion if this is harsh/inappropriate etc. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Dec 1 '15 at 3:14
  • $\begingroup$ By the answers in meta (take the one in this link for example: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/1878/…), it appears that people take for granted the fact that these questions are on-topic. Actually, most people have a certain dislike for those questions, but still implicitly assume (without ever justifying) that they are on-topic. This seems to me a case similar to the "Questions with no context" paradigma that MSE is following recently: (conti...) $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Dec 1 '15 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ (nuing...) the community is trying to abolish the pollution caused by those questions, but questions with of "Is my proof correct", although of a different nature, seems to me as harmful as the lack-of-context ones... and I'm not even sure if the Help Center supports them. If I recall correctly, a tag called "Homework" used to exist and was excluded. I'm asking if this isn't the case for this proof-verification tag. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Dec 1 '15 at 3:22
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, proofreading the entirety of a solution is not really a good use of the site. On the other hand, if there is some specific step that a user is unsure of the validity, or has conflicting doubts for whatever reason, that is a good candidate for an actual question. We should shift the burden of localizing the actual query to something concrete. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Dec 1 '15 at 4:37
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    $\begingroup$ This was not so long ago also discussed in this thread: What do you think is the largest problem facing Math.SE today (July 2015)? $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 1 '15 at 6:08
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    $\begingroup$ Re: "a tag called "Homework" used to exist and was excluded. I'm asking if this isn't the case for this proof-verification tag." But removal of the homework tag does not mean that homework questions are disallowed. Whether we should have tag for solution-verification questions and whether such questions are on-topic are two separate issues. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 1 '15 at 6:11
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(Too long for a comment, but this is not really an answer).


You're right - these are not typically good "archival" questions. Later users benefit somewhat less from stumbling across these questions compared to a standard well-defined question+good answer.

But many users here view MSE as a teaching platform, and worry a bit less about the later user and focus instead on each OP. This philosophical divide has many manifestations, including: the (now obsolete) homework policies, how high we set the bar for asking a question, and whether solution/proof-verification are on topic.

I ask: what is the ideal case here?

MSE has extreme value as a learning resource. Students can benefit from attempting their own solution and seeing how others view it. But I would abhor a site containing mostly proof or solution verification questions. In fact, I typically ignore these tags. Perhaps part of the strength of tags is that one can ignore them as well as focus on those you like. This was noted when the tags were first created.

In my ideal, I think once a proof-verification or solution-verification question is resolved, the question be rewritten for better archival purposes. This has been discussed in the past, such as here and here. The OP gets a full learning experience and later visitors have the benefit of uniformly organized Q&A structure. But this is a relatively large editorial burden.

You might notice that this too-long-of-a-comment is also guilty of almost presuming that solution and proof-verification questions are on topic. I consistently turn to the chorus that questions should be asked where they will receive the best answer; I suppose I implicitly think these questions are on topic as long as we're willing to answer them.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the people who decide to ignore the later users and focus on each OP would benefit from realizing that the overwhelming majority of users come here through search engines. By answering a solution-verification question they help one user, yes, but they miss out on the opportunity of helping hundreds more. And sometimes it's even actively harmful for these other users, when they search for a problem and all they can find is someone's overly complicated proof answered with a mere "yes that's correct' with no explanation. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Dec 1 '15 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi I agree completely. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Dec 1 '15 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi: If the asker gives an overly complicated proof then "yes that's correct" is in my opinion not a good answer. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Dec 31 '16 at 8:30

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