I am a researcher working on computational physics, chemistry and materials science. I have the kind of math background that you would expect from a general physics graduate. Some times a problem arises related to my research that I do not know how to solve myself in a reasonable amount of time, since my main goal is to solve the physics problem, and math is usually just a tool to that end (so I don't want to spend too much time on a problem which is just tangentially related to my research). In a few occasions I have posted a question when I got stuck and could not solve the problem myself, after searching through the literature, online, etc. Every time, my question has been ignored - not downvoted, just ignored.

Yesterday I posted another question (Optimal orthonormal basis to represent a Gaussian) and before doing so I checked if Math Overflow would actually be a better place. After reading that MO is for research in mathematics I concluded that Mathematics is the right place for the questions I have. Since, again, my question has received no attention, I would like to know what is going on. Let me make the point clear: this is not a rant, I am truly interested in knowing how I can improve my questions and the chances for them to receive some attention. So, are my questions too niche (too applied)? Are they poorly written or researched? Is the Mathematics community not interested? Is this not the right venue for the questions I have?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There’s also Physics. Maybe your questions are more about the math, but since they are motivated by questions in physics, they may be well received there. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ I would guess that your question is not sufficiently self contained and is more conversational in nature. This is, of course, how many interesting problems begin, but a Q&A site is not the optimal forum. For example, what does 'representing' mean, what does 'as complete as possible' mean, what does 'optimally suited' mean? Without knowing how you want to use the 'basis' it is difficult to give answers. $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    Commented Aug 25, 2018 at 2:01
  • $\begingroup$ One reason you are not getting answers on that particular question is probably because nobody understands why you would like / need to do it like that (and hardmath’s comments perfectly summaries my own reaction to this question). I might be off, but it also kinds of feels like an XY problem. You encountered a problem X and you seem to think Y is the way to go so you formulate a question around Y instead of asking directly about the underlying problem. Adding more context and being more concrete could help. $\endgroup$
    – Winther
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Winther This will always be an issue when dealing with a large research problem. If I give all the context needed to understand why I need to do this, I will write an extremely long question. Perhaps the math community is special in that you need to pick their curiosity if you want them to look at your problem. Anyway, I already replied to that comment that I need the expansion coefficients to compute a rotationally-invariant representation of the Gaussians in 3D space. $\endgroup$
    – Miguel
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Winther I have added some context at the end of my question. $\endgroup$
    – Miguel
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 12:46

3 Answers 3


Possibly your issue is with the tags. Often users will "follow" only a few tags. When you ask a question you need to choose the tags wisely so that the correct people will see your question; that is, so that the followers of the tags you chose are the correct people!

Two of the tags you chose ("normal-distribution" and "change-of-basis") only have a handful of watchers (42 and 2, respectively - hover over the tags to see this number). The third tag, "functions" has more watchers but isn't particularly relevant to your question.

Quickly glancing at your question, I guess "linear algebra" may be better - it has thousands of watchers, and seems to be mostly relevant.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Thanks. I actually spent some time trying to find the right tag, but couldn't, maybe because they don't exist or from my lack of familiarity with the site. I have experience with the SE system in general, but not with this particular site (and I know from experience that different SE sites can have vastly different cultures). $\endgroup$
    – Miguel
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 14:42

I think the problem is that you are asking difficult questions. Some users do not know how to answer them, so they move on. Also, your questions all have a computational, applied flavor, while perhaps many (but not all) math.se users here have brains which are more wired for pure math problems (at least mine does).

Your questions are definitely on topic here, but you might find a better suited audience on Computational Science Stack Exchange.


Don't lose heart---unfortunately, outside of some elementary tags that are commonly "farmed," such as algebra-precalculus, calculus, linear-algebra, and elementary-number-theory, tumbleweeds are common, especially in applied areas, even if the question itself is well-stated and interesting. You can try answering some questions to build up reputation, and assigning a bounty: I've found a bounty does help a bit with question visibility.

  • $\begingroup$ yes, farmed indeed. $\endgroup$
    – Nick
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 19:27

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