# Homework user who deletes their questions - what to do?

A certain user posted a question today, received an answer (from myself), accepted the answer, then deleted the question sometime afterwards. I now find that a very, very similar question has popped up from the same author. It seems as though they are working through a series of homework excercises, are having Math.SE answer their questions, and then deleting the questions to avoid suspicion. Not to mention, users who write answers to these questions are wasting their time because of the deletion. It's not generating Q&A content for the site when it's deleted right after the OP gets their answer...

I don't have the capability to check whether the user has engaged in this behaviour in the past or not, so admittedly I am speculating.

Nonetheless, what's the protocol to deal with this situation? I can find other questions on Meta about users posting homework questions, but nothing about what to do when they are engaging in this deletion behaviour.

• See also Why do some users delete their questions after receiving an answer? (And maybe also some discussions linked there.) Oct 17 '16 at 7:59
• @MartinSleziak - Thanks. The answer there says to let a moderator know, so I will do that. Oct 17 '16 at 8:02
• The question is now undeleted. Oct 17 '16 at 8:22
• @JyrkiLahtonen - Thank you. Am I imagining that my answer was accepted, or did it become unaccepted in the deletion process or by the user? Oct 17 '16 at 8:24
• No. Your answer has not been accepted. No checkmark. No upvote as of now. Oct 17 '16 at 8:26
• I upvoted so that the OP can't delete the question again. Oct 17 '16 at 8:26
• @JoelReyesNoche - Nice idea, cheers. Oct 17 '16 at 8:30
• To cut the problem at its root, one can also avoid answering questions that smell like homework exercises.
– Did
Oct 17 '16 at 11:25
• I tend to flag people like this for moderator attention. It's an abuse of the site and I find it pretty offensive. Oct 19 '16 at 14:36
• @Did I think that is a bad idea. I am self reading a book and need help with exercises sometimes. I think the risk is worthwhile, after all the harm is just not generating content and perhaps a waste of time. This does not happen very often I think. The questioner of course only thinks this is beneficial; trying and failing exercises graded and correct answer later given is supreme tool of learning. Not every minor problem needs remedies. Oct 20 '16 at 11:11
• @alireza If you are indeed "self reading a book" and trying to solve the exercises in it, then you most probably have tons of remarks, asides, parallels with other situations, failed tries, whatever, to say about the exercise you are trying to solve when you post a question about it here. If you simply include these in your post, it will definitely not "smell like homework exercises". The phenomenon the present question asks about is quite different and the "harm" it causes to the site is real (if you happen to live in an academic context, just ask around you about the site...).
– Did
Oct 20 '16 at 11:36
• I was under the impression that this kind of behavior gradually penalizes the person asking the questions until they can't ask anymore. So it kind of takes care of itself? Or was I misunderstanding?
– John
Oct 20 '16 at 16:05
• @Did yes that has been mostly the case but not always for me, you can check my questions and see that I even found a math error in Bott and Tu. But as a matter of principle I am opposed to punitive measures unless the problem is determined to be significant. We should limit "police" action in any community. It must be a minimal. It does not mean we condone the action or we do not advocate remedies by other means. There must always be a determination of significance before broad "police" action is taken. I have a PhD and never found this to be a serious problem. just one data point. Oct 21 '16 at 1:41
• @Did ps: this includes "community" policing. Answer the questions, unless the problem is determined to be significant maintain honor system. Take no action when in doubt. Do not worry about remedies. Oct 21 '16 at 1:54
• I would leave a comment. "I'd answer your question, but since you're going to delete it afterward, I won't bother. And who knows, maybe someone else gives you a wrong answer, you copy it down and delete the question from here so no one can let you know that you've been led down the wrong path." Oct 27 '16 at 21:36

The answer and comment on the first question were totally, misleadingly wrong, and useless to anyone trying to solve the exercise.

That may have played a part in the OP's decision to delete, but in general I think it is a good idea to inform users that

being unsatisfied (or satisfied) with answers is not a reason for deleting a question.

• If this is the case, why have you not downvoted my answer? Or anyone else for that matter. Oct 17 '16 at 20:16
• I consider downvoting on the main site to be unproductive, and don't do it. @Myridium
– zyx
Oct 17 '16 at 21:14
• What makes it unproductive? If you are worried about discouragement, I think saying "totally, misleadingly wrong, and useless to anyone" is far worse than a downvote. Oct 17 '16 at 22:47
• It's unproductive because downvotes are relatively rare and hard to interpret compared to upvotes. That turns them into a form of noise in the (up minus down) totals. The criticism of the answer is provided here because the quality of that answer may have played a role in the OP's decision to delete the question and try again with a related post.
– zyx
Oct 18 '16 at 0:08
• Mathematics is not a democracy where correctness is decided by votes. "Hypothesis testing", the subject and tag of the MSE question, is a specific concept in statistics. When you write things like "the hypothesis is clearly false" because it fails for one number in the sample, or "I don't understand why you bothered calculating the mean $\mu$ or the variance $\sigma^2$. Please think about what you're doing, rather than plugging in numbers." those are exactly the same as saying that everything you write has nothing to do with hypothesis testing.
– zyx
Oct 19 '16 at 2:34
• Neither is Mathematics an autocracy where corectedness is determined by one person's interpretation of the question. Refereeing is akin to voting, is it not? Anyway, I think you're right about your assessment of my answer in this case. But your intial method of feedback (criticism without suggestion) was initially unconstructive. I am trying to help someone, and like everyone I make mistakes. The best thing you can do to let me know is to downvote and leave a comment explaining what the mistake is. A simple "this is wrong" stinks of ego inflation, as it does little to actually help. Oct 19 '16 at 2:42
• Before your comment was adjusted to explain the mistake, all I was left with was your opinion. Did you not just say that mathematics is not a democracy? Your opinion alone means nothing. Less than nothing when you are not even willing to back it up with a downvote. Oct 19 '16 at 2:48
• "The best thing you can do to let me know is to downvote and leave a comment explaining what the mistake is.". I left you a comment explaining two of the mistakes, answered your subsequent questions (explaining other mistakes in the process), and did not downvote. The problem is that you fought the corrections under the question, calling it my error of making unfounded assumptions, and are further debating it here. My opinion, which I did not want to state so bluntly at the time, was that your answer was nonsense that condescended to the OP.
– zyx
Oct 19 '16 at 3:05
• I think we have very different points of view on the situation. My intention was not to condescend (though I did assume that the OP was a student who did very little research or effort-- turns out I was right. This is a pet hate of mine, so maybe I was a bit mean), and of course I'm going to fight against your suggestions! That's part of natural discourse; I do this to figure out whether I am wrong. Oct 19 '16 at 3:07
• I do not think my answer is a masterpiece; my focus on this meta question has little to do with the specific instance. If you read the comments here on my question, you will find I care more about preventing others (and myself) from wasting their time in the future. I have little investment in this specific question-- I don't care about this specific instance. I care about the process to follow in dealing with people who delete their answers in this manner. Oct 19 '16 at 3:07
• "Before your comment was adjusted to explain the mistake, all I was left with was your opinion".... Sorry, no. You were provided with two pieces of information in the original comment (retained as the beginning of the current comment) that were a lot more specific than mere opinion. (1) That the answer was unrelated to the question. (2) That the answer had nothing to do with (hypothesis-testing). That was more informative than a downvote, and was enough hint to browse that tag, look up "hypothesis testing", or open a (statistics) book before contesting the input.
– zyx
Oct 22 '16 at 20:56
• There was an answer by the User Of Many Names with something like +-30 in both directions and he joked that a "balanced" badge should be awarded for those.
– zyx
Oct 23 '16 at 7:11
• @Myridium Your answer was blatantly rude. There, I said it. zyx is trying to beat around the bush and be nice about it, but what is basically saying is that the question isn't about proving/disproving a hypothesis. It is about actually using statistics to prove it. Sometimes, obviously wrong hypotheses are used in homework questions to test one's ability to prove/disprove hypotheses.I'll be frank: between the little snippets I see here regarding your answer, and the fact that the OP deleted it...it sounds like you made the person believe they should've never asked their question to begin with. Oct 26 '16 at 23:16
• Grown men fighting. Grabs popcorn Oct 30 '16 at 10:50