Motivated by this question here: https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/43051/collatz-finally-solved

There seems to be a divided opinion (see comments) among users of math.se regarding the "on-topicness" of such questions.

This thread is about whether we should allow such questions.

Personally, I am of the opinion that, no matter how important the topic, or how credible the author, such questions are not real questions.

Following a similar topic on cstheory's meta site, I will be adding an answer with a proposed policy (also from cstheory) regarding such. (Note: That policy has already been accepted as [faq] on cstheory).

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Qia: This question is different! It is specifically about preprints... I even added an answer... $\endgroup$
    – Aryabhata
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ Eh, fair enough. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ There is an ongoing discussion on meta.MO on a similar issue. $\endgroup$
    – t.b.
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ Bumped because of: math.stackexchange.com/questions/107073/… $\endgroup$
    – Aryabhata
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ What could ''...questions are not real questions.'' even possibly mean? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Holowitz: Vague, cannot be reasonably answered in current form etc. Please try to understand the purpose of this site: specific questions with clear, objective and specific answers. Not everything related to mathematics would be on topic here. $\endgroup$
    – Aryabhata
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ Let's make this faq, at last? $\endgroup$
    – Grigory M
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ I think whether or not a paper is valid is as objective as it gets. The issue is that in effect these questions ask you to complete peer review, which is somewhat arduous except in the case of crankery! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 5:33
  • $\begingroup$ I also don't like how recent question of this kind quickly became a discussion of the paper's author (whether he 'appears to be a crackpot' or not, does he have enough students and publications etc) — which is, come to think of it, almost inevitable because one can't expect real peer review of the paper on Math.SE, so what else to discuss... $\endgroup$
    – Grigory M
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 9:19

2 Answers 2


This is an almost verbatim copy of https://cstheory.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/274/is-it-ok-to-ask-about-the-correctness-of-preprints-on-crank-friendly-topics/281#281

A Proposed policy for questions on preprints.

(in the form of an FAQ. Am marking it CW for further edits)

There are good ways to ask about new seemingly exciting results in Math, and there are bad ways. Below, we give two examples of each:

  • BAD: Have you read this new paper on the arXiv on (topic)?

  • Answer: Yes, we have. Please do not post this question on this site.

  • BAD: Is the new claimed proof of (conjecture) correct?

  • Answer: If it's at all credible, be assured that people are reading it and trying to determine that. In fact, why not read it yourself ! But don't post this question on this site.

  • GOOD: In this new preprint on the arXiv that claims to solve Collatz Conjecture, the author refers to holomorphic functions. What is that?

  • Answer: We can answer your question here.

  • GOOD: This new paper claiming a big result is beyond my ken to read. Before I invest the time to learn all this stuff and try to read it, I am curious: have there been any discussions of it?

  • Answer: We can answer your question here.

  • BAD: This new unpublished papers on arXiv proposes a proof of a long standing conjecture. I don't understand the paper and don't want to spend time reading it, can someone verify that the author's claim is correct?

  • Answer: If it's at all credible, be assured that people are reading it and trying to determine that. If you can't check the correctness of the paper yourself, you should wait until it is peer-reviewed and published. Discussing the general correctness of papers which have not passed the peer-review process are off-topic for this site.

-- In summary, focus your question on specific technical aspects of the work that you'd like clarification on. You can also try to rephrase your question in a way that avoids mentioning a specific unpublished work but will ask essentially what you want to know.

Remember: if your question is closed as off-topic, you can still edit your question to address the issues stated for closing it, in which case it can be reopened.

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    $\begingroup$ A major difference between math culture and CS theory culture is that our peer review process DOES take a very long time. (Mathematicians like to believe that our reviewing is also more accurate, but I don't know of any objective studies of this point.) I'm not sure how I would edit the last bullet point to address this, but some revision is needed. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ @David: I just deleted those sentences. $\endgroup$
    – Aryabhata
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ I mostly like it. "Have there been any technical rebuttals or discussions of it?" seems a little fishy to me, as the answer changes over time. However, I think MO allows "Is this still open" questions, even though if it is still open, the answer is inherently unverifiable. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ I don't like the have there been any technical rebuttals or discussions of it? for the same reason as Jack. $\endgroup$
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 10:46
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    $\begingroup$ I have edited to remove the technical rebuttal part. $\endgroup$
    – Aryabhata
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ @David Speyer, does that mean to be first to the punch people are forced to do research under the assumption of a recent possible theorem? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 5:41
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    $\begingroup$ @JacobWakem No. (1) Many people post preprints on the arXiv years before they are accepted into journals, so you can look there. (2) You (and your advisor), if you are a student) should be talking to experts in the field to see if seomone else is working in your area, and you (and your advisor) should be advertising your work to such experts so they can warn others off. (3) To the extent you can afford it, one of the advantages of going to conferences is hearing about work before it is written down. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 17:06

I agree with the point TonyK is making in the other thread. Also I agree with Qiaochu that if the discussion takes an unsavory turn it should promptly be shut down. It can be pretty hard to predict how long it will take for a new mathematical idea to be accepted or rejected, whatever are the credentials of its author or those of other interested persons, and I don't see why there should be a waiting-period or any such thing. I don't think math.SE should have the same standards as MO or cstheory and I think questions about preprints are fine. I also think the π=4 types of questions belong here.


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