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Context

Tonight I witnessed conduct from a reputable user that I find outrageous. I won’t name names, but as the individual’s identity could be determined by tracing my activity anyways, I’ll include quotes of his.

Per usual, a new user posted multiple homework questions verbatim and demanded that we help him. And, per usual, a very reputable user seized the low-hanging fruit for a total of 0.11 % rep increase. This is a problem in and of itself for reason 2 below.

What I found especially outrageous though was that this user also voted to close the question! It was, of course, eventually closed. But his answer still stands as the one with the $\color{green}{\checkmark}$. He went on to acknowledge his actions before I even saw the post:

this is one of the questions which is interesting but the asker is just posting problem statement. And then I give an answer as well as a close vote to the question.

I addressed this in the comments:

That’s outrageous! I appreciate your contributions to the site, but it’s gaming the system to post an answer and then* immediately vote to close. The purpose of voting to close is to prevent others from answering. Either:

  1. you’re trying to prevent competition, which I doubt but is still possible; or

  2. you’re willingly rewarding people who abuse this site by treating it as a homework-solution generator while recognising that they’re abusing it;

or both. And you’re doing it for +75.

That is what I intend to address.

$*$ Note: The answerer later revealed that he answered the question after voting to close. The order in this case proved inconsequential though as the question was ultimately closed anyways.


Question

What action should be taken to ameliorate this situation? The answerer intended no malice whatsoever. I do not think the solution is to delete the answer. It is much better to give a lazy student a freebie than to deprive hundreds of good students of good knowledge that they will constructively use to better themselves.

What as a community can we do to prevent this from continuing?


More receipts

If you’re curious about the rest of the exchange, it was as follows:

thanks for your feedback and +1 for the same. However that is not my motive. The close vote was based on lack of context without giving any thought about solution. Later when I started thinking about it, I could not resist the temptation to answer (it has happened in past with me and it is a typical problem with many interesting questions, typical examples include though integrals). As far the rep points are concerned they can be easily negated by deletion. The real problem is the encouragement for such askers. Let me know what can be done now.

I know you couldn’t resist—that’s the problem and my point—but in reality what you couldn’t resist was the relatively small increase in rep, which is why you provided step-by-step algebra. If what you were interested in was spreading knowledge and nothing else, you would’ve stopped at Cesaro-Stolz. As for what to do now: there’s not much you can do. You never should’ve returned to answer the problem, because as you admit it was still flawed. If you changed your mind on that assessment (which you didn’t), then you could have retracted your vote. I plan to bring this up on Meta.

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    $\begingroup$ Ok the answer is mine. I would like to know what is best possible way to deal with this conduct of mine. I fully trust the community to do the proper thing here. To err is human, not to forgive it is justice. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh May 26 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ I know there is no malice here not with me or you. Malicious people will seriously dislike math (my belief). But I appreciate that such occasional mistakes on my part need to be corrected / reduced. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh May 26 at 6:25
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    $\begingroup$ Shouldn't you first ask the community if this is behaviour they do/are willing to support before you ask how to stop it? It's clear from your description that the system permits it, so any action taken will have to be a community (i.e. manual) one. Plus, given the indignation in your question, will you be happy with anything that isn't a concerted community effort to support your suggestion? $\endgroup$ – postmortes May 26 at 7:04
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    $\begingroup$ @gen-zreadytoperish I think you've written a leading question that is implicitly seeking agreement -- I don't actually care about that -- and I'm concerned that without something you perceive as a meaningful answer you might disengage with the site, which would be a shame. From your comment though it now seems less likely :) Thank-you $\endgroup$ – postmortes May 26 at 7:10
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    $\begingroup$ “Closing is a democratic voting process where the community identifies questions that duplicate existing content, are unreasonable to answer in their current state, or do not belong on the site.”. So answering a question after considering it as off-topic clearly goes against the purpose of the close-vote. This has also been stated on META, see e.g. meta.stackexchange.com/q/133552/196432 and the linked questions. $\endgroup$ – Martin R May 26 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ “The answerer later revealed that he answered the question after voting to close.” – If you vote to close and later change your mind and consider the question answerable then you can always retract the close vote (but only until the question is finally closed). $\endgroup$ – Martin R May 26 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ Outrageous? really? $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo May 26 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ @AndrésE.Caicedo It’s not careless. I considered several other adjectives, including ridiculous, and that’s what I settled with. Something can be outrageous without being a human rights atrocity. You’re allowed to disagree, but that doesn’t entitle you to assume that I choose my words carelessly. $\endgroup$ – gen-ℤ ready to perish May 26 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ Poor choice. To talk about "entitlement" around such an absurd nonsense is also a poor choice, by the way. $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo May 26 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ @gen-zreadytoperish the title is shown on the main page and it is not desirable to have overly tabloid-style titles there. I kept the "outrageous" in the body, but for the title it is not needed. If somebody is interested in discussing "User answering poor question while also voting to close" that's fine, if somebody comes here for the outrage that's not ideal. Please don't go overboard. $\endgroup$ – quid May 26 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ The main feeling I come away with from this post is feeling sorry for ParamanandSingh, for being dragged through the dirt for something I could see myself doing without having thought through all the implications, i.e. both voting to close and giving an answer. I hope he isn't feeling too badly about all this. $\endgroup$ – JonathanZ supports MonicaC May 26 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ @ParamanandSingh "The best way to deal with a mistake (small or big) is to admit it." I truly respect your efforts to be forthright! Thanks for participating here. Everyone of us has made mistakes on this site; only those with character can admit as much. You showed you have great character in having done so. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 27 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that simultaneously voting to close a question and also providing an answer to that question sends, at best, a mixed message. I think that it is somewhat inappropriate to do both (whatever the order). Aside from issues of attempts to "game the system" (which, I think, require to much impugning of motives), a vote to close indicates that a question is not appropriate for the site (in its current form), while an answer indicates that a question is appropriate. This is a confusing message to send, and is likely to encourage poor behaviour (e.g. repeated PSQ posting). $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 27 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ On the other hand, I find the catastrophizing tone of this meta question to be entirely off-putting. The actions of the voter/answerer are not "outrageous". The are inconsistent, confusing, and, perhaps because of this, mildly inappropriate. At best, a quick comment of the form "Hey, thanks for your contributions to this site. I noticed that you answered this question and also voted to close it. I feel like this sends a mixed message. Maybe you would like to retract your close vote?" suffices. Then duck out of the thread---there is really nothing more to say. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 27 at 2:45
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    $\begingroup$ Can site-software address this? The system knows when you've made a close vote, if you then try to submit an answer, the system prompts you to retract your vote. Posting an answer would not be allowed without retraction. $\endgroup$ – Deepak May 28 at 2:56
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This is perhaps a little slanted towards the user who answered the question. Here goes:

I've been caught between a temptation to answer and a desire to close before, and I agree it can be an uncomfortable place to be! If only the asker had taken the time to write a better question, but alas, here you are, with a solution burning a hole in your pocket and a question that might be of too low a quality to deserve an answer.

Here are some things I think are acceptable responses to this conundrum:

  • You decide to vote to close and withhold your solution until the post is improved. You can write your solution in a text file on your computer (or as a draft in your email program, or in your notes app, or wherever) so that you get the thrill of solving the problem and writing up the solution now, and then you can post it when appropriate. (This can also be paired with other efforts to improve the question, like leaving comments or editing. H/t to Milo Brandt in the comments for pointing out that I missed the comment/edit portion in my first go-round with this post.)
  • You decide that your answer can help save the question from the scrapheap. It is certainly possible that a good answer to a poor question can result in saving the question: this is the entire purpose behind the lifejacket and lifeboat badges, after all.
  • You decide that you can make a good post which deals with the same question, write up some reasonable context about why the question is interesting and relevant to the community, and self-answer your question with the solution you prepared.

I think the first option is probably the safest and lowest-effort, while the other options will require more work but will definitely scratch your itch to share the parts of the question and its answer that you find to be valuable.

Here are some things I think are unacceptable responses:

  • Answering the question without giving any thought to the question's quality. Please don't! This encourages poor-quality questions here and makes the site a worse place for everyone.
  • Voting to close and then writing an answer (and doing nothing else!). If one votes to close a question and then is later compelled to answer the question, one should remove their close vote. Close votes are for questions that are questions that should not be answered, either because they're duplicates, unreasonable to answer in their current state, or belong on another site (see the help center page on close votes). Voting to close and writing an answer would then seem to be incompatible signals, and the combination makes reasonable people suspicious that you are just here to play the reputation game.

As for responses from the community to this issue, I am not so comfortable making pronouncements about what the community policy ought to be. Certainly one can ask the user who has answered and voted to close to refrain from doing that, and if one is worried about the reputation-chasing aspect, then it may be useful to know that if the question or answer is deleted sufficiently quickly, that rep doesn't stick around. I'll wait for one of the mods to chime in with possible remedies, but telling the user that what they're doing is bad for the site is probably a good first step, and the standard close -> delete pathway that is applied to low-quality posts is going to be your friend here too.

There is a larger problem on this site (and indeed on the StackExchange network in general) about users answering questions that they know (or should know) to be low quality. It seems to me that this close-and-answer issue is an extension of that problem, and we have not yet located a solution for it. Thus, a comprehensive solution for close-and-answer issue may also be difficult to find and implement as a community. (I think I would be in favor of a dialog which asks/prevents you from answering if you have an active close vote on the question, but this may be too much to ask for from the SE architects.)

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    $\begingroup$ Good answer, +1. I agree mainly with the suggestions you provide. $\endgroup$ – Teresa Lisbon May 26 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ Good points here +1. I wish I had been more careful with my actions. Anyway I did flag the mods for deletion when the current meta asker gave feedback via comments. Let's hope mods take proper decision. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh May 26 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ Worth noting that leaving comments on the question or editing it are options too - there's fairly often questions I see that are too vague to answer, but where I have a good guess about what the OP meant and can give a good answer to that once the OP's intention has been clarified. (It's also generally good to take an active role in salvaging a post - it's not that hard to get an author with good intentions to improve their post and to ensure that it gets reopened once the post is fixed) $\endgroup$ – Milo Brandt May 26 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ "you get the thrill of solving the problem and writing up the solution now" I have to say that having other people read the solution is a big part of the thrill $\endgroup$ – John Gowers May 26 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ @MiloBrandt you're right, this is also a worthwhile activity. I've added a little bit about this with a credit to you for pointing out that I had not talked about it. $\endgroup$ – KReiser May 26 at 19:07
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I would like to summarize the key takeaways from this meta thread here. I will be brief (as I am not an expert meta poster, see my meta profile if you need proof).

So here it goes:

  • If you vote to close a question then don't answer it even if you feel that the math involved is interesting and gives you a high.
  • Show patience while voting to close and if you think you can provide a nice answer to a low quality question, then first improve the quality of question (some suggestions are there in one of the answers here)
  • Meta trials are not against any person, but they are about specific behaviors (at least in my case here). So try to assume good faith.
  • Mods are more responsible than some people might think. Thanks to them.

As far as the deletion of the answer is concerned, I think the answer was just a few steps away from being trivial so we don't really need to worry about preserving it for humanity :).

In a long and interesting journey on Math.SE there may be some occasional bumps. Just move on and enjoy.

Thanks to everyone who participated here.

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    $\begingroup$ I really appreciate the open-mindedness and humility with which you have approached this discussion. Personally, had my behaviour been called out in this manner, I would have been quite upset and probably have become defensive and reactive. While I ultimately agree that answering and voting-to-close is mildly inappropriate, I really don't like the way that you seem to have been raked over the coals. Thanks for being a mensch. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 27 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson: actually i don't like the heated discussions which happen sometimes on meta. I am not an expert in heated discussions. Also choice of the word "outrageous" by the meta asker was not really the correct one, he/she did convince me that there was no malice. Perhaps it was more of an overreaction. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh May 27 at 2:56
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson Totally agree, Paramanand has handled himself very well. Much better than I would have, I'm almost certain. $\endgroup$ – Deepak May 28 at 2:58
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If one really wants to answer a closable question, one might consider editing the question to make it conform more readily with the site's standards. This works especially well when the original question lacks background and motivation, which is often the case, and often the question's only flaw (i.e. the question is mathematically sound). I have seen many questions tracked for closure resuscitated in this fashion.

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I agree with the following statement in KReiser's answer (italic mine):

Voting to close and writing an answer would then seem to be incompatible signals, and the combination makes reasonable people suspicious that you are just here to play the reputation game.

In this particular case (since the involved user has left a comment under OP, let us save everybody's time of searching), the post is a well-defined answerable mathematical question. What is possibly frowned upon is that it is nothing but a statement. In order to be consistent, the user could

  • either give a correct and clear answer and, instead of voting to close, leave comments under the post for possible ways of "improvement";

  • or vote to close the post and answer the question as "community-wiki".

Besides the "incompatible signals", I don't consider this as "outrageous conduct".

Asking a so-called PSQ on a Q&A site is not committing a crime. Voting to close a question is not imposing a death sentence. Voting to close a question, if not off-topic/duplicate/spam, means users who cast the closed votes consider the question has yet to be "good" for the site and should/could be improved. Closing is by no means equivalent to a prologue of deletion.

This is a Q&A site for mathematics. Answers to a well-defined mathematical question should be judged and only judged/voted by its mathematical correctness and clarity. The answerer only has the responsibility of ensuring their answer is mathematically correct and clear, and nothing else.

Judging/voting a mathematical answer by the moral responsibility of the answerer is rather absurd. It not only puts the unnecessary burden to the answerers but also brings chaos to the site.

It is much better to give a lazy student a freebie than to deprive hundreds of good students of good knowledge that they will constructively use to better themselves.

Students can hardly be categorized simply as "lazy" or "good". If there is anything to improve the situation, it should focus on objective content instead of the personalities of users.

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    $\begingroup$ Your fourth to last paragraph is an opinion, and should be stated as such, and not stated as a matter of fact. So are your third to last and and second to last opinions. Meta, too, should focus on objective content, and not the answerers' opinions. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 26 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ Those sentences, as well as your last, sound an awful lot like you holding others morally responsible for opinions other than that ones you hold. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 26 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ I would argue that the linked question is not a "a well-defined answerable mathematical question." I agree that the question is well-defined an answerable, but, devoid of context, it isn't really a mathematical question---it is a computation. It is the college-level equivalent of the second grade question "How do I compute $114 + 912$?" The asker has not highlighted any particular mathematical principle, thus the question is not well-posed. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 26 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ Moreover, even if I accept that "Answers ... should be judged ... only ... by [their] mathematical correctness and clarity," it is difficult to determine if an answer is both clear and correct if the context provided by the asker is insufficient. This is particularly true with respect to clarity: if the asker does not provide context for their question, then how is it possible to know if an answer is sufficiently clear? Even with the green check, there is a mis-match between the clarity of the question and answer which is likely to create difficulties for future readers. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 26 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ Finally, I disagree with the statement I quoted above. Questions and answers on Math SE should be assessed not just on clarity and correctness, but also on whether or not they serve the goal of this site, which is to create a high-quality repository of knowledge. A fantastic answer to a terrible question fails to serve that purpose, and I have no problem downvoting clear and correct answers to poor questions (I almost always indicate that this is what I have done, by the way). If XP is really that motivating, then the answerer can delete their answer. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 26 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson: "it is a computation... $114+912$". I would be very surprised if anyone else interprets the linked question as a "college-level $114+912$". Unfortunately, people cannot downvote a comment. I doubt that how many participants of this site would agree with such judgment. $\endgroup$ – T. S May 26 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ @T.S The computation $114+912$ is difficult to a second grader, but at the end of the day, it is a computation. Similarly, showing that Cesaro summability implies the summability indicated is a difficult question for an advanced undergraduate, but, at the end of the day, it is a computation. Nothing in that question gives any kind of mathematical motivation or insight, hence the content of the question is essentially automatable, not really about mathematics, and out-of-scope for this website. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 27 at 2:37
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson: your "argument" above identifying "mathematical question without context" with "non-mathematical question" is completely invalid. (I have no idea how you prove your assertion like "The asker ..., thus the question is not well-posed.") I can understand how inappropriate you think the so-called PSQs are for this site. And I do agree that adding context would improve the question. Nevertheless, saying a PSQ like the linked one not mathematical is nonsense. $\endgroup$ – T. S May 27 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ One can easily come up with 100 questions that were like the linked one and well-received before on the main site. Of course, you could say that opinions about PSQs are changing. But it does not at all affect the objective fact whether a question is mathematical or not. discussion of PSQs is not really what this thread is about. $\endgroup$ – T. S May 27 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ To summarize, you seem to have a very narrow definition of "mathematical questions"; I believe it is fundamentally different from mine. This is the reason why you hold a strong different opinion regarding the linked questions. $\endgroup$ – T. S May 27 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 27 at 22:24
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Answering provides a short-term benefit. It helps the person who came here looking for some information and who doesn't want to leave without it. It also helps us, because people don't leave angry and say unkind things about us.

Voting to close provides a long-term benefit. It improves the quality of the site as a repository of information, which benefits future visitors, and cleans up clutter, which helps retain contributors.

Doing both is a double benefit, not a contradiction.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm a bit disappointed that this answer's score is in the negative. Supporters of the other answers are fighting a losing battle $\endgroup$ – Mike Pierce Jun 8 at 15:59

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