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I see quite a few MSE questions where the OP says "I keep reading blah blah blah" without any reference to what they've been reading. I commented on the following question:

How does one do differentiation on Lie groups

asking for the OP to provide a reference and got what feels like a a very vitriolic exchange accusing me of being an elitist in reply. Was I being unreasonable or abusive in any way?

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    $\begingroup$ Going through the conversation (excluding some deleted comments, I believe?), my opinion is that you were being quite reasonable. However, faced with an adamant OP as in the linked post, it might be better to disengage after just a comment or two. Not everyone can be helped, sadly; especially not when they choose to dig in their heels in that manner. $\endgroup$ – Brahadeesh Apr 18 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ My answer to the titular question in generality: I believe the consensus is that it is entirely appropriate to request for references, and mentioning references is a part of writing a good question. I recall this being spelled out clearly in at least one of the Meta discussions around here, but I don't have a link immediately at hand. $\endgroup$ – Brahadeesh Apr 18 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ You are fine. What you are asking is essentially what your colleague will ask you when they don't know what you are talking about. If the other user react that strongly, the "problem" is on his/her side. Just down/close vote and move on. $\endgroup$ – achille hui Apr 18 at 12:22
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No, it is not unreasonable. In fact, it is recommended to do so. Countless times a question has been made comprehensible/answerable even for simple matters such as correcting typos.


The above is the response in general. For this case in particular, the question is absolutely incomprehensible. The contents lead me to believe that indeed there is no reference and it is all based on the understandings of OP along their studies, so I personally would not insist in inquiring them for a reference. You seem to have been reasonable in the exchange, even though I'd personally avoid making some observations which you did as they could be taken as confrontational.

In this particular case, perhaps it might have been more effective to ask for an specific, particular and explicit statement that they do not understand, and why.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks to you for that and to others for you supportive and helpful comments. I'll try to walk away rather than rise to provocation next time. $\endgroup$ – Rob Arthan Apr 20 at 20:51
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Of course it's not unreasonable to ask for references, so I assume that this is the real question you're asking:

Was I being unreasonable or abusive in any way?

I think that's a great question to ask, and well done for asking it. I hope that what follows doesn't come across as too harsh and that you can learn from it.

I've read the chat transcript and it's pretty clear that the level of aggression and confrontation rose pretty quickly. In my opinion, though, it was mainly you who were raising the level of vitriol, and that the OP was only responding to it.

You start off with a perfectly reasonable response for a reference. The OP responds with a reasonable sounding argument as to why they think that's unnecessary. Then we get the first of the more confrontational posts.

RA Well that renders your question unanswerable. If you cannot come up with a specific instance of what you mean by the very vague statement that "a Lie group has some relation to a differentiable manifold", then how can we help you? Why are you not prepared to cite a specific instance of an article that is giving you problems?

Instead of raising concerns about the question, you're now raising concerns about the OP themselves ('you cannot come up with a reference', 'Why are you not prepared to cite...' etc.) I'm sure you didn't intend to come across as confrontational, but I can understand the OP feeling a little attacked, which is why their first instinct was to double down on their position:

OP If you're an expert then it's definitely not unanswerable. An expert has the knowledge to understand the material in different contexts and thus especially has no difficulty with a mere layman question. If I cite a specific article then you will inevitably reduce the entirety of the question as being specific to that article and thus you will inevitably fail to address the generalization the question is actually asking about which is not and cannot be specific to that one article. I asked a general question, I'm fine with a general answer, that's exactly what anyone would expect.

OK, now they're making it personal as well ('if you're an expert'). But your response takes it to a new level.

RA That earns your question a close vote. I suggest you try to think about what math.stackexchange.com is for. If you think it is a service where highly qualified experts provide free tailored advice disregarding your arrogance or unwillingness to help them help you and correctly second guessing your ill-explained questions, then you have come to the wrong shop. It is a service where, perple with an interest in mathematics at all levels of experience and knowledge try to help each other. It doesn't sound like the right community for you.

Well that escalated quickly. This is quite a serious accusation: that they treat the members on the site like their servants who will just give them answer to their questions. I'm really not sure that that kind of allegation is justified here. You've also dismissed their question as 'ill-explained', called them 'arrogant' and 'unwilling to help' and even claimed that the community is not for them. I don't think you're in any position to complain about them calling you 'arrogant' or 'elitist':

OP You're being arrogant right now by being elitist. You want every question to look technical because that's what appeases your personal pride, you don't actually care if anyone learns anything, you're just an elitist. The reality is no one cares about that, this isn't some ground breaking paper we're writing here, it's a basic question that many people have. If you actually cared about providing material for the benefit of the public, this wouldn't be an issue for you. Any actually accredited "expert" is capable of addressing such a layman question as this.

By this point, the conversation has already become uncivil and vitriolic.

Then we come to this very question, which also suggests that you are unwilling to consider your own part in the dispute.

Is asking for a specific reference to an article mentioned in an MSE question unacceptable?

This is a straw-man fallacy: what caused the OP to react the way they did was not the (totally reasonable) act of asking for a reference, but the confrontational way you approached the subsequent discussion.

asking for the OP to provide a reference and got what feels like a a very vitriolic exchange accusing me of being an elitist in reply

This account of the conversation skips some very important steps in between which you should take responsibility for.

I'll try to walk away rather than rise to provocation next time.

In my opinion, the one who rose to provocation was the OP. They probably should have walked away as well.

I don't mean to make you feel bad about any of this, and I'm sure that none of it came from a place of actively trying to attack the OP. But I hope also that you can see why that might have been how it came across to them.

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    $\begingroup$ I had not seen the "That earns (...)" comment. (Sometimes comments are confusing in deleted questions for moderators.) I agree with most of your assessment about it, it is indeed quite problematic and we like to avoid those. (Indeed, we frequently delete such comments.) $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Apr 21 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the rest of the answer, it is usually not very helpful or even objective to find out "who stroke first", and I get this undertone on your answer. It is always a game of cat and mouse: "But OP made a poor post! -> But he/she was rude -> But OP was not responding to the requests for clarification etc -> If he/she asked nicely I'd have". At the end of the day, it is more productive to follow the principle that nothing should justify vitriol. It is best to point the problems independently so that each side can avoid them in the future. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Apr 21 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the input, but I don't agree with your blow-by-blow analysis of the comments. My very first comment contained the main point: "Please help us to help you". The OP essentially rejected that and argued against my comments. I should have given up a bit earlier, but the OP started the confrontation by prevaricating about my request for more information. $\endgroup$ – Rob Arthan Apr 22 at 0:09

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