An example of such a question

Stigma and infity, I need help with a way to find an easy solution for ∑( 1 𝑛 ) ∞ 𝑛=1 = x More info on qeustion

Hi So im doing year 9/10 now and if just been working with stigmas. I found across an qeustion which I found quite tricky myself.

Is there an way to write doiwn the answer to this qeustion or make it easier? ∞ ∑ (1/n) n=1

Should a question be downvoted or flagged low-quality if the user in question is young in their mathematical field (high school/secondary school level)?

Should there be different expectations for such users versus users who give no indication of their academic level?

The example question has since been edited to a salvageable state by a couple of other users, but in its original state, it would be a no-brainer that the question was low-quality.

However, a brief comment in that post, JeanMarie makes it a point to disagree with the downvoting of the thread on the count of the asker being a high schooler. JeanMarie is one of the editors of the question which contributed to it being salvaged. The thread has since been leveled back to $0$ score, having been $-1$ last I caught a glimpse of it.

It seems this opinion isn't theirs alone, as JeanMarie received 3 comment upvotes as a result.

What is the site-wide consensus on this?

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    $\begingroup$ Don't be intimidated by cynical naysayers who seem more invested in passing judgement on those who they see as inferior. I do, as others do, assess quality of questions as relative to subject level, (which often correlates with age and or grade-level.) There are users here, though, that wield their newly acquired reputation-related privileges (aka power) in less than site-worthy ways. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 23 '16 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ Anyway, long story short, kudos for your concern, @Axoren! $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 23 '16 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy "which often correlates with age and or grade-level" But not always. If two people ask identical questions and one is a child and one is an adult, should we judge them differently? $\endgroup$ – user223391 Sep 23 '16 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ I think the level of mathematical maturity should absolutely be taken into account. I really have absolutely no idea what people on this site mean when they take the words of the most popular close reason, "lacks context," and use it to describe a question. There are plenty of cases where the dictionary definition of the word can't possibly apply. I kind of imagine people thinking to themselves, "How dare they put this inferior question in front of me and expect me to let other people answer it!" $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Sep 23 '16 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ @MattSamuel "I think the level of mathematical maturity should absolutely be taken into account." I agree but should age be taken into account? $\endgroup$ – user223391 Sep 23 '16 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ Axoren - the title of your question and the line "young in their ... field" seems to hint at not just physical age ... ditto some of the comments, e.g. Zachary Selk's below. DId you mean that extension? I have two friends with late teenage children who can articulate manifolds better than I can. (Yes, they're smart :)) BTW I tried an answer, but it was blasted enough that I retracted it ... $\endgroup$ – Howard Pautz Sep 24 '16 at 2:25
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    $\begingroup$ @HowardPautz Votes on answers on meta (up or down) are the canonical way to express agreement or disagreement with their content. If one posts any opinion about the workings of the site here, in view of the diversity of the opinions of the participants, one might expect some users to agree with it and some others to disagree, no? So, please, stop the drama about a mere pair of downvotes (and perhaps undelete your post). $\endgroup$ – Did Sep 24 '16 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Axoren Jeanmarie's comment has till now received 14 upvotes, quite a proof of the fact that her opinion is strictly not her own ONLY. $\endgroup$ – SchrodingersCat Sep 24 '16 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ I think it is a poor practice to link to the edited version. You should link to the original version. I think some users' opinion will depend on this. I thus include the example and updated the link. $\endgroup$ – quid Sep 24 '16 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ @HowardPautz I think your answer is great! Early on in my time at MSE, I asked the very same (almost) question (as an answer?) : Something to the effect: "Why do you participate on mse? What brought you here, and keeps you coming back" and I asked in for the same reasons, more or less, that concern you. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 24 '16 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ I was disturbed by all the time users spent complaining about the "other" users (those who ask questions). Unfortunately, as far as I'm concerned, what I saw then was far more welcoming than I see now. Your deleted answer is still visible to those who need to read it most. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 24 '16 at 22:05
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    $\begingroup$ @quid, thank you for the edits. I'd been away from my computer for a few days and unable to make necessary modifications to this question. I think the question is in a good state now. $\endgroup$ – Axoren Sep 25 '16 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ @SchrodingersCat I'd still call it evidence. Those upvotes could simply be for fun and entirely unrelated to the idea therein :P $\endgroup$ – Axoren Sep 25 '16 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ Yes you're right we do get lot of down votes because we "High school students" are not educated enough to answer all kind of answer plus we find very hard to ask a question just like math teachers or undergraduate students.. which makes us feel ashamed that leads to never asking a question again afraid of getting down votes. Further more, I'm not an English native speaker which makes it more harder to ask a good a question because I don't study Math in English. $\endgroup$ – Manuela NIEVES Oct 4 '16 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ Personally I'm always surprised to see down votes on my (noobish) questions. Why? Because there is no such thing as a 'bad' question, i.e. there are no questions that deserve a down-vote. $\endgroup$ – yokihadu Aug 9 '17 at 12:35

Since the only other answer here (at the moment) is one I disagree with (and there are comments from others who do too) I will post the opposite opinion.

I think the quality of a question depends very much on what it's reasonable to expect the OP to know when asking. That can clearly depend on his or her age, or the courses she's taken at school or college.

When I answer questions I try to take that into account too - posting an answer that depends on stuff I know from abstract algebra won't help a high school student beginning to learn about modular arithmetic, or even a math major just starting out in elementary number theory.

If you think a question is "low quality" because the OP is confused about how to ask, and can see a way to express better what you think she is thinking, then edit the question to improve it, or post an answer that begins "If what you mean is ..." .

If it's low quality because it shows no thought or effort to begin with, then by all means downvote or flag for closure.

The question that provoked this meta question is a close call (as its history shows). The spelling errors in the original version do indeed suggest insufficient effort (or, better, insufficient care for the reader). The actual question (sadly only implicit) in @JeanMarie 's nicely edited version, is interesting and appropriate for the OP's level. The upvoted answer has several useful features. It suggests that there is no closed form for the sum or the partial sums (something the OP seems to be asking for) and shows that it can help to replace "$\Sigma$" with the sum of the first few terms and an ellipsis - in addition to the correct proof of divergence. I'm disappointed that the OP hasn't returned to accept that answer. Maybe he won't be back, but others may find the question and the answer useful.

My mantra: let's help people learn more mathematics.

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    $\begingroup$ In which category does the example question fall? "Stigma and infity, I need help with a way to find an easy solution for ∑( 1 𝑛 ) ∞ 𝑛=1 = x More info on qeustion Hi So im doing year 9/10 now and if just been working with stigmas. I found across an qeustion which I found quite tricky myself. Is there an way to write doiwn the answer to this qeustion or make it easier? ∞ ∑ (1/n) n=1 " The number and nature of spelling errors could suggest a lack of effort. $\endgroup$ – quid Sep 24 '16 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ @quid Good question. See my edit. $\endgroup$ – Ethan Bolker Sep 24 '16 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ I’m upvoting this, because for the most part I agree, but I do disagree with the fifth paragraph. I’ll not repeat reasons that I know are not widely shared, but I will point out that more than a few folks appear to confuse utter bewilderment with lack of thought or effort. (I don’t deny that there are questions that do appear to show the latter.) And in view of some of the downvotes and votes to close that I’ve seen, I suggest that one should do neither unless one understands the topic well enough either to have some idea of how to solve the problem or to be sure that it does not make sense. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 3 '16 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ So what's to stop someone from asking terrible questions and ending it with "I'm 10 btw" to get away with it? $\endgroup$ – user223391 Oct 6 '16 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ @ZacharySelk Nothing. Perhaps a few will do this. But I don't want to discourage the genuinely curious in order to penalize(?) the few bad apples. $\endgroup$ – Ethan Bolker Oct 6 '16 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ The question is how much should we balance helping others vs maintaining the quality of the site. I think the issue is that I don't believe a question is good or bad if it is sophisticated or not sophisticated. I think Terry Tao could ask a question about algebra that would be very well received. I think a question should be judged on whether it is well written, shows effort, interesting, etc. $\endgroup$ – user223391 Oct 6 '16 at 17:41

I'm somewhat new on this site and to mathematics in general, so I'm just answering this for an additional point of view.

I'm in middle school, and I'm only taking geometry this year, so I'm certainly not very experienced in math. I'm trying to teach myself linear algebra. While I've been able to figure out a decent amount, I have had questions, and I've asked these here once I'm well and truly stuck. Some examples of these questions are below:

To a good deal of people, these questions might seem idiotic (and after I figured out the answer, most of the time I was like, "Oh, duh"). Thing is, they were all legitimate questions for me, and I had trouble figuring them out. I appreciate everyone who helped me answer those questions, and I don't think that because a question is on the simpler end of a subject it should be flagged/closed. If that was true, where would I (and other people in my situation) be? I have indeed gotten downvotes on a few of the questions, and a couple got edited for increased clarity.

While I understand the original of the question being closed/downvoted, and I do think there should be some minimum level of clarity (i.e., decent spelling/grammar, some attempt at understanding/work) allowances should be made for ability level. If someone said to me "Your question is so simple, downvote" I'd be disappointed, because I'm trying. If it is so simple to you, answer it.

I hope my viewpoint makes sense.

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    $\begingroup$ The point is that the downvotes were not done due to the question being "simple", but it being poorly phrased (as any other low-quality question. In fact, worse than the average low-quality question). Your questions are well-phrased, therefore the parallel does not apply. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Sep 25 '16 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ Furthermore: if the asker didn't care enough about the question to ask it with proper spelling-- of course, it would only make sense not to care about coming back to accept it. $\endgroup$ – Alex Oct 4 '16 at 1:33
  • $\begingroup$ This seems rather advanced for middle school geometry... $\endgroup$ – suomynonA Oct 5 '16 at 0:23
  • $\begingroup$ @suomynonA, well, the questions weren't really for geometry; I was (well, am) trying to teach myself linear algebra. $\endgroup$ – karatechop Oct 5 '16 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ @heather I see, good luck in your learning then :) $\endgroup$ – suomynonA Oct 5 '16 at 22:57
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    $\begingroup$ +1 The sentiment "and after I figured out the answer, most of the time I was like, "Oh, duh"" is chronic among mathematicians at every career stage. It's hard to remember that every problem is hard until you know how to do it. $\endgroup$ – Ethan Bolker Oct 6 '16 at 0:02

Ok, I'd like to address this directly, but with a few tangents that I think apply. I consider myself partially meeting the OP's criteria:

"Younger students of mathematics" posting "low-quality questions."

(However, I miss the full "younger" criteria since I'm 60 - but meet the "young in their field" ... young at heart :), love math, and have been studying it on my own all my life.)

I'm not tooting my horn here in this following paragraph - just trying to create a context for you all to understand the potential frustration of trying to form articulate questions on Math.SE. --- I've had only four university-level calc classes and one linear algebra, but I have a 20 foot by 8 foot wall of shelves filled with math texts - some are classics. I've managed to plow through elements of higher math which have allowed me to study e.g. Non-Euclidean geometry and enough differential geometry to have at least an intermediary handle on e.g the Einstein metric, Minkowski space, etc. (I certainly could not teach the courses.)

The problem for me and for high-school, or entry-level university students is we don't yet have the jargon or the formulations down yet. Simple as that.

So I in turn ask you: what are you here for?

  • Isn't this a place to assist others less knowledgeable and skilled to do better?

It certainly isn't (or shouldn't be?) the one SE place for professional mathematicians only. Afterall, those of you fortunate enough to be professionals or academicians have MathOverflow.

I, as a noob, feel rather weird reminding everyone that:

"Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields..." [My emphasis]

So when one of us "younger" noobs posts a malformed question, we do so because we are interested, but we may well be exposing our ignorance.

Please be nice --- math is hard --- and you all know that better than we do!

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    $\begingroup$ I knew this would get promptly downvoted. It'll be fun watching it go down the tubes. (What is it with some of you??) $\endgroup$ – Howard Pautz Sep 24 '16 at 1:52
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    $\begingroup$ Why are you doing the downvoting without comments? This was an honest post ... it just seems like intentional mean-spiritedness! $\endgroup$ – Howard Pautz Sep 24 '16 at 2:03
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree to downvote a relevant perspective. $\endgroup$ – Axoren Oct 3 '16 at 23:56

Personally, I don't think we should vote on who the poster is, only on the quality of the question. If it is a low quality question I don't care how old or young the student is, I will downvote and/or vote to close.

It is entirely unenforceable. Every person who posts a low quality question can just say they're a child.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'd be more apt to consider what you're saying if you can provide me with an objective definition of a low quality question. As I see it, there's low quality with respect to algebra/precalculus, and there's low quality question from students in a first course in real analysis. Surely we can hardly expect the same quality of questions from the one compared to the other? Yes, quality IS relative to the asker's level of mathematical maturity. Perhaps you've become too cynical to be objective, yourself? $\endgroup$ – amWhy Sep 23 '16 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Of course I can't provide an objective definition of a low quality question because it's subjective assessment. That really isn't the point of this question. I do agree that how I judge questions changes a little based on the level. But that isn't the question. The question is "should low quality (however you define it) questions be downvoted if the asker is young?". $\endgroup$ – user223391 Sep 23 '16 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy If a 10 year old and a 40 year old ask the same question about algebra, I see no reason why I should be more lenient towards the 10 year old, and I don't believe taking age into consideration is practical. $\endgroup$ – user223391 Sep 23 '16 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy "objective [...] As I see it [...]" This strongly sounds like either you know very well that objectivity here is impossible or you think your view is elected the objective superior one. Either option is not a display of proper debating style. Calling others you disagree with "cynical" is also not exactly the high road... So what are you trying to achieve here? $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 24 '16 at 7:28
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    $\begingroup$ The notion that the quality of a question is independent of the background of the person asking it is absurd. A fourth-grader who can ask a meaningful question about the harmonic series is asking an exceptionally good question; a ninth-grader is asking a reasonable question; and a junior math major shouldn’t have to ask. As for practicality, I have no trouble taking age and experience into account to the extent that I’m aware of them. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Sep 24 '16 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ This is reducing the quality of a question to its level of mathematical sophistication, a position not many are ready to support. $\endgroup$ – Did Sep 24 '16 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Did not at all. I think anyone can ask a good question about any topic. Is there ever a circumstance when you would read a question, think to downvote it then see "I am 5 btw" and change your mind? $\endgroup$ – user223391 Sep 24 '16 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ @ZacharySelk Sorry, my comment is not addressed at your answer (which I upvoted, by the way) but to the comment before mine. I can see the ambiguity now, apologies for that. No, reading "I am 5 btw" does not make me change my mind, ever. :-) $\endgroup$ – Did Sep 24 '16 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ I know that mentioning 5 years old and 10 years old user are just hypothetical and not the main point of your post. But it might still be worth mentioning that it is quite reasonable to expect SE user to be at least 13, see here and here. This is related to COPPA. This ruled might have concerned some users of this site, too. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Sep 25 '16 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott: It is absolutely true that a fourth-grader, a ninth-grader and a junior math major can all ask the same question, and that question can be exceptionally good, reasonable, and should-have-been-unnecessary. But it is also true that all three instances of the question have the same effect on the site. Helping fourth-graders is a noble goal, but preserving a tone that will attract others is also a noble goal. Sometimes these goals conflict. I think we will do more good in the long run if we emphasize the latter. $\endgroup$ – WillO Sep 26 '16 at 3:57

Just as another point: One of the main reasons I come here is to hone my skills as a professor of undergraduates. I deliberately look for poorly asked questions as an exercise in dealing with the sort of questions I get in lecture and in office hours. If a question is tagged "pre-calculus" or "calculus", I really have no interest in the mathematics itself. But I do have interest in the exercise of 1. figure out what the person is really asking, 2. figure out what he should have asked instead, 3. supply an insight that will improve his perspective of that bit of mathematics.

So it disappoints me when such questions are put on hold or downvoted out of existence before I get a chance at it.

I'm much more in favor of downvoting well-posed, well-typeset homework problems. I know every theorem and exercise of Ken Rosen's Number theory book and Boyce and Diprima's DE book, and when I see them posted here ver batim, with no background or explanation, as if the poster just "happened" across this really weird question, then I want to nuke.

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    $\begingroup$ I do not see the problem. So you come across such a question that is on hold. Then you "1. figure out what the person is really asking, 2. figure out what he should have asked instead," based on this you (help OP) improve the question. Then it gets reopened and you can proceed to 3. This is how the process is intended to work. The advantage is that in the end there is a reasonable question, too. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 3 '16 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ You don't see the problem because there isn't one (yet.) But if a newbie posts a bad question and gets 3 downvotes within a couple minutes, it's likely that he's already left forever. Then your above scenario is moot. $\endgroup$ – B. Goddard Oct 3 '16 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that piling on down-votes is usually not useful. Yet, I think one can also put on hold a question in a constructive way. Now, this might not always be the way it is done. But here I feel those in favor of such questions could play a more active and positive role. It often happens that users rather than to focus on how to help the poster or just to explain to the poster what is happening are preoccupied with criticizing named or unnamed third users. This also contributes to an atmosphere that might make some new user leave the site. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 3 '16 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ "[...] look for poorly asked questions as an exercise [...]" - wonderful, I'd +5 the vote if I could and can only hope your insightful approach becomes standard practice. Sadly, I wonder if you're in the minority - not that other teachers don't care enough - rather, I'd bet they burn out on hearing the same stuff over and over! $\endgroup$ – Howard Pautz Nov 15 '16 at 21:27

I'd like to add a minor point: the original post was also low quality in terms of spelling, grammar, and clarity too. Whenever I see a post like this, it feels very disrespectful. When asking a question on this site a certain amount of humility should be expected. Even if the OP is starting high school, they should be capable of forming coherent sentences and avoiding (most) spelling and grammar errors.$^*$ Some things are pretty understandable, like mistaking stigma for sigma. But the OP should know that im should be I'm, and should certainly be attentive enough to write the summation the same way in their title as in the body of their post. If OP is not engaged enough with their own question bother trying to ask it coherently and legibly, then it's really hard for me to feel engaged enough to help.

I would say that this is sufficient reason to vote to close a question. A certain amount of respect and effort should be expected from people who use this site, regardless of their aptitude in mathematics or the sophistication of their question.

$*$ Of course this point doesn't apply if the OP's primary language isn't English, in which case I'm not really sure what the right action would be. But certainly it wouldn't be fair to vote to close such a question.


My background: Im not mathematician, Im an amateur reading books of math and trying to learn and take fun.

From my point of view the question about the downvotes in low quality questions depends of the knowledge that the user have about the way this site works. If someone is new I think it is a good practice to let him comments saying that his/her question is not clear or well done in a windows of time prior to some downvote.

To me the downvote is a warning, a way to say to the OP "hey, this is important, dont be lazy! Learn the rules of the site". In this sense putting more than two downvotes in a question seems too much for a new user.

If I would be the administrator of math.stackexchange I would put as a condition to cast a downvote that the downvoter leave a comment. The downvotes would not be used without comments, it doesn't make sense for a learning site.

Finally: this site is supposed that exists to help people learn math... so being so rude with people that clearly don't have some background or conscience about the context of the site (or life, making someone lose time by example) doesn't make sense, this is related with age in many ways.

Of course if in this site all people that post were mathematicians this problem would not exist.

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    $\begingroup$ "Of course if in this site all people that post were mathematicians this problem would not exist." That made me smile. But, there is a lot of empirical evidence to the contrary. :-) Really, the problem is not only, not even mainly, lack of mathematical skill. On enforcing comments, this comes up very frequently as a proposal, but it just does not work. It'd be easy to force somebody to write some comment, but how to force them to write a meaningful comment? This likely would require manual checks and open a can of worms. Other than that I agree with a lot of your answer, and upvoted it. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 4 '16 at 11:10

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