# Etiquette dilemma

Suppose hypothetically you've decided there's simply no point in trying to explain things to a certain user. But he's asking questions about something. Community-norms-wise, which alternative seems more appropriate?

(i) Simply not replying to his questions

(ii) Explaining why you've decided there's no point in trying to explain things to him.

On the one hand just ignoring the guy seems rude; on the other hand calling the guy a moron also seems rude, hence the question. (Don't bother suggesting that I simply try to answer his questions - that's not gonna happen.)

(Talking about the OP here. In another thread he recently spent a long time insisting that operators on a Hilbert space satisfied $||ST||=||TS||$, after I'd given him a very simple counterexample. He said it was a proposition in a certain paper. Here's what really pissed me off: He repeatedly insisted that he was not leaving out any hypotheses, the proposition applied to any two operators $S$ and $T$. A few people with access to the paper joined the discussion and explained that no, there were in fact fairly intricate hypotheses he was leaving out. Saying he'd been lying about the statement of the proposition would be awfully strong, but in fact what he was saying was simply not so, and clearly not so. Pissed me off - also seems somewhat bizarre, claiming a paper says something that it simply doesn't say. To be charitable, I suppose it's possible that he really did think that the proposition applied to any two $S$ and $T$, but if so it seems like there's not much point trying to explain things to him... Then when he finally conceded that it wasn't so it really didn't seem like the counterexample had anything to do with it, seemed more like he was just going along with the consensus...)

• This older discussion seems to be related: When should I stop answering to OP. – Martin Sleziak Mar 2 '18 at 14:37
• Don't waste your time interacting with them any longer. By the way, I suggest you remove the whole last paragraph, since it really does not matter to the question and in these matters it seems better to avoid naming the involved parties explicitly. – Andrés E. Caicedo Mar 2 '18 at 15:50
• – Aloizio Macedo Mar 2 '18 at 16:51
• Certainly seems a good relationship to discontinue. I am getting a bit better at ignoring annoying OP's of various kinds. However, sometimes I go back to my standard, which is to delete everything I may have put at a question. This loses me whatever points I may have gotten on upvotes but has usually been worth it in peace of mind. – Will Jagy Mar 2 '18 at 23:03
• There is a middle ground between "ignoring the guy" and "calling the guy a moron", e.g., telling the guy (or gal) that you don't seem to be making much progress in getting your point of view across, so you're going to leave it to someone else to come along and be more convincing than you are. – Gerry Myerson Mar 3 '18 at 3:19
• People stop replying to me all the time. Sometimes it's frustrating but as far as I'm concerned I was privileged to receive anything for nothing in the first place so there's nothing rude in it. It would probably be nice to say "you'll have to take it from here yourself" or "I've helped all I can" so OP knows not to hang on for an answer. Never good to call somebody a moron because there's frequently REVERSE Dunning-Kruger at play, which good mathematicians should always be self-watchful for. A tendency of skilled people to underestimate the true magnitude of a lesser person's incompetence. – user334732 Mar 3 '18 at 19:51
• Don't reply. There are some users where, after a while, you realize there is no real benefit to continuing the conversation. On the other hand, trying to explain why you don't want to talk to someone is rarely a successful strategy. – Carl Mummert Mar 4 '18 at 3:33

On the one hand just ignoring the guy seems rude;

It is not rude to ignore people. This is an all-volunteer site; the vast majority of us* do not get paid to interact with the OP or anyone else. The OP certainly has no right to expect, or demand, our time. That is especially true if continuing to engage would be fruitless.

But I would go further. Ignoring people who annoy you is not only not rude, it is the only way a site of this scale can effectively operate. xkcd explains this better than I can:

on the other hand calling the guy a moron also seems rude, hence the question.

You don't have to call the guy a moron. A diplomatic (but true) statement such as "I think we will have to agree to disagree" or "There is no point in continuing this discussion" would not be rude in my book. But if you want to silently disengage, without offering an explanation, you have an absolute right to do so.

* The rest are Stack Exchange employees, who presumably have their own rules for what does and does not count as a productive use of their time. I would fully expect them to disengage after a while just like we do, because their jobs presumably do not include "arguing with people who are wrong on the internet."

• The XKCD strip seems counterproductive. I'm pretty sure my phone won't work after doing that. So it's a one-off. I'm not made of phones, dammit! (And it's a good thing too, I would have died in the first rain if I were...) – Asaf Karagila Mar 4 '18 at 11:03
• @AsafKaragila, have you tried immersing yourself in a bath of rice, just to see? – LSpice Mar 6 '18 at 14:32
• @LSpice: It's known that the rice thing doesn't really help as much. One can use these small silica packets you get in boxes sometimes. That's better. – Asaf Karagila Mar 6 '18 at 15:04

I agree with Kevin's answer, but let me emphasize something I find important: You have no obligations to do anything. If you find interactions with some user counterproductive, you are free to ignore them. If you feel that some kind of question or user often has no gratitude or respect for what you have to offer, you don't have to do anything with them. If you end up disliking a Stack Exchange site you have been using, you can go.

Usually, when I have to leave a third comment under my answer, it's not going anywhere. I would be happier if I knew how to disengage earlier. After all, I'm not here to win or lose arguments. A user whose question you ended up answering but who turns out to be difficult is a bridge you can actually afford to burn — apart from very rare coincidences. In the specific case I recommend making a mental note to ignore this user and carry on.

Although I say that there is no obligation to do anything, there are some things I would consider you obliged not to do. Don't make ad hominem arguments, don't deface posts, don't vote because of the user instead of the post, and many similar things. But I cannot think of any way to do harm passively. When in doubt, do nothing at all is a pretty effective (leading order) maxim for this site.

You second option sounds a little like an ad hominem attack. Instead of describing what is wrong with the person, you might explain what is wrong with a particular discussion. But even this can be taken as an insult. A simple way out is a comment like this: "If you want that detail explained to you, please ask a follow-up question. I prefer not to elaborate on my answer here." I would consider it polite to leave a comment like that and never respond to their comments under that post again. Just make your case and leave.

I have elaborated on doing volunteer work on your own terms in an earlier answer.

All good points in the comments and answers (to this point in time).

What I attempt to do is look how easy it will be for me to answer the question conclusively and convincingly, an answer that takes an hour to compile source links and struggle with MathJax (which I'm still learning) only to receive less than a few upvotes and a few hours of back and forth really isn't rewarding to me and apparently not of much interest to others.

Sometimes it's difficult to assess the true tone or intention of the comments and sometimes it's clearly an attempt to chat in comments or frustrate the answerer; to get a rise out of them.

I try to give the benefit of the doubt while keeping an eye on the clock, progress needs to be clear and going in circles avoided - all too often it seems clear that they either didn't read as many times as necessary or their ability to scrollback is malfunctioning.

The most effective tactic when you get to a point where the commentor's progress seems shaky is to: ask that they clarify which point they have trouble with, mention if you've addressed that point already, or ask them to cite a source. Strangely that silences almost everyone, not sure why; unless it exceeds their ability to comprehend and they are satisfied that it amounted to an answer.

Recently I've explained that the OP has received a few similar answers and they are free to choose whichever one, and in another instance I've explained that I've addressed each point that they have asked about and that the question has been answered.

Is it "rude" to not reply or explain that they have a poor understanding of what's being said - Yes, but at the same time you're not obligated to work for free.

Is it "rude" for them to not understand to read as many times as necessary and formulate questions that provide answers that they would understand, to make productive followup comments - I guess not.

But I have a budget for my time and an expectation for a rate of progress, and that's not "rude" it's just common sense. Everyone else is free to provide their better answer and reap the rewards for themselves. If the OP feels they have not had their questions or complaints dealt with fairly it hardly makes sense for them to continue.

• I agree with the time budget point of view. Let me add that posters are not entirely on their own. Often Community help will work to clarify a point of confusion for the OP when he or she is unable to articulate what in a well-done Answer remains unclear to them. So a period of silent repose may work to everyone's benefit. – hardmath Mar 9 '18 at 23:43