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Math SE has a long-standing policy regarding what constitutes a Good Question. The policy is intended to ensure that the collection of questions and answers here is of high quality, is searchable, and is generally of use as a long-lasting reference.

Historically, we have tried to deal with low-quality questions by closing them and encouraging the asker to add appropriate details and context. Unfortunately, it often takes longer to close a question than it does for one or more users to rapidly post an answer. In addition to making it more difficult to clean up low-quality questions, these kinds of answers reward users for their low-quality contributions, and encourage further low-quality contributions in the future. While these answers might help the individual asker, they are not good for the site as a whole.

Strictly speaking, such answers are already in violation of Math SE's policies regarding quality, but enforcement of this policy by the moderators has been relatively lax—we typically prefer to remain more hands off, and let the community moderate itself. However, this problem has grown, and it seems that the laissez-faire approach is not working.

In order to address this dynamic, we will be taking a more active role in moderating the actions of users who post a large number of moderate- to low-quality answers in response to low-quality and/or duplicate questions. Our goal is to do this in a fair and transparent manner. If we find that a user has a tendency to make low-quality contributions, i.e. if we discover that a user answers a lot of "problem statement questions" with hastily written answers, we will warn that user via private message before we take any further action.

We recognize that this looks like a shift in policy, and that some folk may be a little worried. Let me again emphasize that it has always been against Math SE policy to answer low-quality questions, and that our increased enforcement is not a change in policy, only a change in procedure. Let me also reassure all of you that we are not looking to punish anybody, and that we have no intention of sanctioning anyone without first trying to discuss the issue with them.

We would like to ask that the community help us to spread the word regarding our stepped-up enforcement of this long-standing policy. We would also like to ask that the community help us to maintain quality standards. You can help by taking the following concrete actions:

Encourage New Users to Improve Their Posts

If you encounter a low-quality question, don't answer it immediately. Instead, direct the user to the meta post How to Ask a Good Question. Help them to understand what the standards are on this site, and consider offering advice on how they might improve their question. Make it clear that there are expectations for participation in this community, but always remain polite.

Search for Duplicates

Many of the low-quality questions which appear on this site have been answered before, or are a minor variation of some question which has been answered before. Take a few minutes to search for potential duplicate questions and, if you find a good candidate, flag the question as a duplicate. If your search fails but it seems likely that the question is a duplicate then please delay answering until others have had the chance to search. This will help to organize the database, and should help the asker find the answer they need. If you find the answers to the duplicate target to be lacking, please feel free to add a new answer to the older question, rather than answering the newer duplicate.

In addition to the built-in searchbar (which has some more powerful options), you may also want to consider using the advice given in the question How to search on this site?. The math-aware search engine approach0 may also be useful.

Spread the Word

If you encounter users answering low-quality questions, please don't argue or fight with them. Politely direct them to this post, and move on. Only a small fraction of the user-base actively engages with meta, and so it is quite likely that many of these users don't even know that they are violating site policy, or that there has been an on-going debate regarding those policies.

Keep interactions Civil

Please keep all interactions on Math SE civil.

When engaging with users (old or new) who have posted (or answered) a low-quality question, remember to remain polite and courteous. Please do not issue unpleasant orders or leave judgemental comments: we will not tolerate rudeness, even when in the context of a honest attempt to improve the quality of the site. Please do not engage in long back-and-forths with other users. If a gentle, polite comment does not change someone's mind, please leave a flag and walk away.

Raise Flags

If you encounter a user who consistently answers low-quality (or duplicate) questions over a significant period of time, and polite references to this post do not seem to be helping, please raise a flag on one of their answers. Use the "in need of moderator intervention" option and let us know what is happening. Again, please do not argue with them about the quality of their contributions, nor downvote their answers in a targeted manner. Raise a flag, and move on.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander Gruber Mod
    Apr 29, 2021 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ The fourth paragraph implies the policy concerns "low quality and/or duplicate questions" but the final paragraph only mentions "low quality", not duplicate. It would be a good idea to update the final paragraph to make it crystal clear that the policy applies to duplicates too. $\endgroup$ May 14, 2021 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque This procedure really is aimed at low-quality questions. If a question is of high quality but happens to be a duplicate, there is less of a problem if someone answers the question. Duplication is not necessarily bad, and a high-quality duplicate with an answer can later be closed as a duplicate. What is more concerning is users who repeatedly answer low-quality questions (which are likely to be duplicates, anyway). $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    May 15, 2021 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Xander That is the worst news I've heard in many years. The problem is that almost always the answers too are duplicates, and often (much) lower quality than the canonical answers. It is very puzzling that you seem to wish to place more emphasis on the quality of the question rather than that of the answers - since it is the latter that comprise the true value of the site. If this is true then I will probably eventually give up the fight against rampant duplication since it is a losing battle without mod support. $\endgroup$ May 15, 2021 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque we are all against rampant duplication. The point is, good duplicate questions are somewhat rare anyway. Let's keep it simple and focus on the clear-cut cases. If you signal somebody that answers many, many duplicates I'll also do something about it. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    May 15, 2021 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ I am siding with Bill Dubuque here in the sense that in my opinion rampant answering of duplicates is as bad as answering a lot of PSQs. $\endgroup$ May 19, 2021 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill Dubuque I do see and agree with much of this, but I really do believe there is a point in going too far in being concerned about this here. At this point after all these years really almost everything is a duplicate. For example, $x^{49} \equiv_{17} 4$ is solved exactly the same way as $x^{141}\equiv_{11} 3$, but the person asking the question may not see that yet, and it often is much easier and less cumbersome for everyone involved to just answer the question. $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    May 23, 2021 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Mike It's often impossible for questioners (or dupe searchers) to locate hiqh-quality answers because search results contain many (tens if not hundreds) of mostly low-quality FGITW answers (most users don't realize this since they rarely try to search), Due to this the site is becoming a stream of low-quality FGITW answers, vs. the design goal: to be a library of high-quality answers (easily located by search). If you have neither the time nor motivation to search and organize then please let others do so before exacerbating the problem by contributing further dupe / FGITW answers $\endgroup$ May 23, 2021 at 5:43
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I do not think there is much difference in our views in theory. However, I prefer a pragmatic approach. In any case, as I told Bill, if somebody brings up cases where a user answers many 'obvious' duplicates then I will do something about it. In practical terms I think it'll be rare that a user answers many 'obvious' duplicates while not also answering many low quality questions. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    May 31, 2021 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen I imagine that we will continue to evaluate the effect this has, and any changes which might need to take place as the situation evolves. Please also note that this post is meant to address users who answer a large number of low-quality questions (this is "low hanging fruit"). Answering duplicate questions is discouraged, and is still contrary to site policy. That duplication it is not the emphasis of this announcement only indicates that it is a lower priority than answering low-quality posts. The fact that it is a lower priority does not indicate that it isn't a priority. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 1, 2021 at 4:30
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque Maybe y'all should start downvoting low-quality FGITW answers. This would be an excellent way to ensure that people stop posting them, and that they do not show up in searches. $\endgroup$ Jun 8, 2021 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ @user21820 My view is that this policy does not have consensus given the substantial number of negative votes, and the behaviour of its promoters (including ganging up with comments on answers which I take as worse than merely passive aggressive) means that I no longer trust their motives and behaviour when trying to make this a useful and helpful site. $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Jul 23, 2021 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ I don't really know how much consensus there is or there isn't, but what I do know is that it's always the same small set of people deleting stuff and goldhammering . $\endgroup$
    – Asinomás
    Jul 24, 2021 at 1:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Henry The feeling is mutual. Actually I haven't trusted the motives and behaviors of the homework solvers club when trying to make this a useful and helpful site for many years. If you have paid any attention whatsoever, this was the situation also at the time the compromise rule was formulated. The fact that many power users totally ignored the compromise left others glenching their fists. It's high time something is actually done about the problem. $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2021 at 5:51
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    $\begingroup$ The sentence such answers are already in violation of Math SE's policies regarding quality is in the question. Where can Math SE's policies regarding quality can be found? A link to this in the question would be good. $\endgroup$ Nov 22, 2021 at 19:40

6 Answers 6

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Since this policy was announced, we have witnessed a shift in attitude from the moderators. No longer are users trusted to make their own decisions on what can be posted and what cannot, given their experience on this site. And no longer does SE respect and value its members, but rather uses intimidation and retalitatory measures such as timed suspensions to keep its users in check.

The effects of this policy have been unprecedented. Take for instance the day I received an email from the moderators, in my personal email, which has never happened in my 5-plus years on this site. Here is what I was sent:

"We have noticed that a significant number of your posts are answers in reply to "Problem Statement Questions." Which ones? Only the ones after the policy was announced, or including those before? Furthermore, the part about duplicate questions was not relevant to me, as I have used Approach0 to search for duplicate questions before answering, and reminded other users that the site exists for the past year (or more). The email was vague and sounded like it was copy-and-pasted (yes, I know that how to ask a good question exists), with a refusal to engage in how I could improve my posts or why their judgement of my posts should supersede mine. In short, it demonstrated a lack of care and sincerity, a top-down approach which stands at odds with Stack Exchange's founding philosophy of community moderation and decision-making through meta sites.

I cannot help but be reminded of the events of 2019, which led to moderators site-wide resigning over SE's failure to communicate. Despite their apologies, Stack Exchange still has not learned their lesson.

The effects of this policy have reverberated throughout the site. For example, during this time, the accounts of several high-ranking users have since been placed in timed suspension. But by arbitarily suspending people for their personal standards of when or when not to answer, our site will ultimately stagnate without anyone to do the meta tasks. This site is nothing without its users. Let me repeat: this site is nothing without the users who have voluntarily contributed their time and effort into helping this site grow, and have created a repository of high-quality mathematics and a place for users to expand and share their mathematical knowledge.

Contrary to what is believed, there is no single site policy with unified consensus. There have been influential policies such as the aforementioned how to ask a good question, but this was never intended to be black-and-white. These 'policies' are in fact suggestions which have helped users navigate the site and its unwritten rules, which have benefited many users, including myself. Even the seemingly obvious Is it appropriate to close every question that doesn't show efforts and/or lacks of context? is more nuanced than you think, not least because each question needs to be interpreted: is one sentence of context enough? There are still questions that have definitions and references attached being closed, not because those users who closed the question are idiots and did not read how to ask a good question, but because the question could have still been lacking in some way according to their subjective judgement. Once you open your eyes to the ethical conundrums in closing/reopening/suspending users, you start to see that these powers cannot be taken for granted, but rather should be vigorously debated and held to account. And once we fall into the mindset of "this question is bad, so it must be closed" without stopping to think about why, we risk a decline into a less fair and less open society.

My issue is not directly with the policy itself. Of course, Stack Exchange should have some kind of quality standard so that we don't become like the (now-defunct) Yahoo Answers. Yet we have indirectly created a culture of fear and self-censorship by not allowing users to judge if their own posts meet the standards, and by presuming users guilty before being innocent. In a time where democracy and freedom of speech is in decline around the world, this does not deserve to happen.

This policy is an indication that this site does not fully trust its users. And without its users, there will be no one to contribute. There will be no one to moderate, like we saw in 2019, without any real incentives for contributing, save for the gamification that includes badges, privileges and the like(s). This site is turning back on its original ideals and morphing into something that no one could have ever predicted.

I do not expect that this policy will be reversed, nor that you will suddenly change tack. This policy has created an imagined reality where the approach that has persisted for many years is now 'laissez-faire', which implies that the new normal is one where users are treated with suspicion and hostility. And dissent will always lurk under the surface, but once you start provoking users with this policy, and then double down with even more timed suspensions, there will be no way out of this mess. This is how this site will die.

This site hasn't been fine for a long time and we shouldn't deny it. Welcome to the beginning of the end.

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    $\begingroup$ I am curious only: you've written "...the accounts of several high-ranking users have since been placed in timed suspension. But by barring our most valued users from contributing..." and I've seen similar statements from other people. What criteria are you using to decide that they're "most valued"? I assume it's not reputation, since it's clear that anyone can gain a lot of reputation, deservedly or not, by answering PSQs and duplicate questions. $\endgroup$
    – postmortes
    Jul 20, 2021 at 8:06
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with your criticism of the email. I think taking the time to write to fewer users in more detail (including five, say, specific posts) is better than messaging more users with no detail. (Or even something which is obviously generic, like "lots of your answers have been brought to our attention regarding the EoQS, which may be because of...") $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Jul 20, 2021 at 8:47
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    $\begingroup$ While the problem can probably communicated by clearer message I totally disagree with the sentiment of your first paragraph. The site is a mess exactly because the relevant users always posted what they wanted. Ignoring the compromise reached in meta after a discussion spanning several years. Also, the stricter enforcement was well advertised in advance. And not in a bulletin board in Proxima Centauri but in a featured meta post. If you have other ways of making these users comply with the compromise rule, you have had many years to suggest one. You still can! $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2021 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ This was a local decision and has nothing to do with SE per se. The "nothing learned" is besides the point. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Jul 20, 2021 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ Good point. I quit after receiving a timed suspension and seeing a quality answer of mine be deleted because the question turned out to be a duplicate. The ease at which my valuable content was destroyed (instead of moved to the other question) triggered me. Occasionally I check to see if anything changed. Recently I saw actively moderating users cheer when a 200k user (Yves Daoust) deleted their account. Such disrespect for user's time and efforts as well as holding on to this QS policy will not win me back. $\endgroup$
    – bobby.608
    Jul 20, 2021 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ @bobby.608 For your information: Community moderators cannot move your answer to the duplicate thread. No one can, that functionality does not exist. Only you yourself can delete the mistakenly posted answer and repost it as an answer in the duplicate target. That delete/copy/paste takes only a few seconds, so what's the problem? The diamond moderators can merge two threads, but that requires the two versions to use identical notation (among other things), and is a bit delicate to manage, so it's rarely done. $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2021 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen I can give you a ton of problems, but here's one to get started: many users don't even realize that their answer dissapeared. $\endgroup$
    – Asinomás
    Jul 20, 2021 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Yorch That has also been explained in meta many times. Expand the list of answers on your profile page. At the bottom there is a link titled recently deleted answers (I think that only the user in question can see it, but I may be wrong about that). Also, if the deleted answer was recent, the rep points it earned are deducted, so users can tell that something unusual has happened as that can be noticed in many ways. Of course, it is possible that such users don't keep an eye on their rep score at all. $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2021 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ I want to (one more time seems to be required) comment on the use of presumed guilty... THIS IS NOT A CRIMINAL COURT. The policy is more about keeping a contract. If you prefer a sport analogy, the disagreement is more about some group of soccer players choosing to ignore the rule on off-side, and then acting bewildered when others complain that most of the goals you scored should not count. Or, if you prefer baseball, some thinking that it is totally ok for the pitcher to balk and/or ignore infield fly rules. $\endgroup$ Jul 24, 2021 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I disagree with the new normal - rant in your last paragraph. The problem has existed nearly from the beginning. A kind of compromise was reached after much heated debate many years ago. But it was not enforced. When pleas and information campaigns about the compromise, ignored by more and more high volume answerers, failed to make any kind of an impression, this is what you get. In other words, you made your own bed... $\endgroup$ Jul 24, 2021 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ If you think the site has been going downhill for two months. I think the site has been going downhill for 8 years. With the homeworker solvers club collecting rep and turning the site away from its original purpose. $\endgroup$ Jul 24, 2021 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ As John Stuart Mill said, societies stagnate when the tyranny of the majority prevails and when they create inflexible rules that can neither be discussed nor questioned (dead dogma). This requires that we investigate why users are still posting answers to PSQs rather than assuming they all have evil intentions. In short, please be civil and make an effort to understand the other side like I have done, no matter how hard it is. $\endgroup$
    – Toby Mak
    Jul 26, 2021 at 3:07
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Because I've changed my stance on this issue since I wrote it. How else can I respond to comments saying I've ignored the compromise on meta? $\endgroup$
    – Toby Mak
    Jul 27, 2021 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ @TobyMak +1 Well said. The lack of trust is very much a problem and I think the John Stuart Mill quote in the comments is particularly apt (I've had similar thoughts, but have been unable to put them so eloquently). "Dead dogma" perfectly describes not just the quality standards, but indeed the perceived purpose of this site and its role within the mathematics community. Much reference is made to Jeff Atwood's initial vision for Stack Exchange, but sites like Code Golf and Puzzling have revealed this to be more flexible over the many years since. Perhaps our purpose has evolved as well? $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2021 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ @TobyMak I think the trust issue with our answerers is, in a sense, an overflow from our much deeper trust issue with our askers. They are the "feet" of our site, driving us forward. I guess it was inevitable that this toxic mistrust has spread up through our body (our answerers) and will next attack the brain (our moderators, official and unofficial). Welcome to the beginning of the end indeed. $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2021 at 21:14
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A week has passed since this post, and I'd like to leave some useful pointers for everyone, which I think will help everyone continue to have a positive experience in the site, and keep the community healthy.

  1. If you already commented a post regarding the EoQS and the behavior did not change, do not rinse and repeat. Please leave further interaction to the moderators. We know that seeing a user going against site policy may be frustrating, but we insist you do not escalate the situation, and refer to the post above regarding a better alternative action. If you feel like the pointers above may not be clear enough, feel free to ask for clarification, but when in doubt, err on the side of caution.

  2. It goes without saying that one should not systematically go through a users posts to comment on their answers to low quality questions. One flag and one comment is enough: give users time to respond to those comments, and give us time to reach out to them.

  3. Seeing changes to the site will take a while (perhaps some months). There are many flags and a few mods. The new enforcement only started a while ago, so please be patient. We are definitely looking at all the flags, and we appreciate all of you pointing to the posts. I hope that in the future there will be a visible improvement to the experience of everyone in the site.

  4. Regarding the above, you may always consult your own user flags on the link: https://math.stackexchange.com/users/flag-summary/current. This may help you keep track of your activity regarding this new EoQS and give you a more concrete picture of how you are contributing to the site. For example, you can check whether your flag has been accepted or not, or whether it yet pending. You may also find this in your profile in the "Impact" box, as the image below shows:

enter image description here

Wishing everyone a pleasant experience in math.SE,

Pedro

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  • $\begingroup$ There's a link to the flag summary on the user profile page. It's under Activity - you click on the number of helpful flags. $\endgroup$
    – E.P.
    May 5, 2021 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ Dear users: please do not edit this post to change the instructions it is giving. If you'd like to discuss the instructions, it can always be done. $\endgroup$
    – Pedro Mod
    Jun 1, 2021 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ @PedroTamaroff How is the situation now w.r.t EoQS from your (or other moderators') point of view? I think the community has helped you out and you have also done a lot in enforcing QS, but is this a point of time where we can evaluate how much this enforcement has worked out (more concretely, do the statistics suggest that the number of closed questions answered by established/high-rep users has come down? Has the number of closed questions per day gone down/up?)? It's been five-and-a-half months, hence the request. $\endgroup$ Oct 12, 2021 at 6:16
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The real problem with so-called low quality questions and answers (which are often duplicates) is that the incentive system is set up to encourage it. If a user has several tens or hundreds of thousands of reputation points, then they are obviously a highly accomplished mathematical professional. They don't care about getting more reputation points, so they can be exclusively high-minded and focus on the perceived quality of questions and answers, and gripe when those don't meet high standards. But users of lesser accomplishment get a sense of contributing when they see an answer and get points for helping an OP with an immediate issue, as opposed to directing that OP to a more general previous post, which effort gets them no recognition. If you want the less mathematically accomplished user (say, users with less than 10k reputation points) to do the work to search for previous posts and duplicates, then reward them with reputation points when they link to a previous post which the OP agrees helps with or answers the posed question. I realize this creates a need for another layer of accounting, but if a user can get nothing for doing fifteen minutes of work looking through previous posts, but might get ten or twenty five points for presenting an answer which the OP finds helpful or accepts, the incentives are heavily slanted toward skipping the work of searching and simply answering the question.

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My concern, while related to another answer, is the timing of such things. I have seen many times in the past on others', and again today even on an answer I gave, a near-rabid rapid descent of the vultures on putatively bad questions.

But where does this put users who don't have time to just check their inbox every five seconds? In this particular case, it was an absolutely brand-new user, and within one hour the question was closed, even though mathematically it was a very reasonable one and I didn't see any obvious dups (though as an occasional user I did not use EVERY one of the search tools above).

If the people wishing to close it had really cared about the user learning math (what I thought we were here for), they would have looked up what an NFA was and given suggestions for how to improve the question. As I saw on another meta post somewhere (and I'm sorry I couldn't find it now, it was a good one), if you don't know what the tag is about, maybe you should wait to let the hammer fall.

In any case, it seems to me that there should be some additional guidance in this question above for how long to go before following through on close/delete votes. I understand there should be a way to remove truly bad questions quickly, but the editors here are meanwhile nearly as zealous as Wikipedia ones - and that's not necessarily a good thing.

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    $\begingroup$ There is no guidance on timing needed. It's fine to leave that to the folks who are casting a vote. If the question doesn't meet the standards, it's a good thing to put on hold immediately, to give a chance to improve the question before anyone answers. Putting a question on hold is not permanent -- it is a temporary pause to give the poster a chance to remedy the situation by editing the question. It is important to do it immediately, before it accumulates answers. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    May 20 at 2:31
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    $\begingroup$ @D.W. "it's a good thing to put on hold immediately, to give a chance to improve the question before anyone answers" $\;-\;$ Many questions get deleted, not just closed, before the OP has a chance to even see the objections and act on them. I think you grossly underestimate the effort it takes for a closed question to get reopened, let alone a deleted one. $\endgroup$
    – dxiv
    May 21 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ @dxiv correct. And more to my point, a newcomer may not at all be someone conversant with the lightning pace of internet forums of this type - or someone working three jobs with three kids and three elderly parents who might have better things to do than hang out waiting ... At least, we should not assume that the ability to respond within even a day or two to be the case. $\endgroup$
    – kcrisman
    May 22 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ @dxiv, this answer appears to be asking for a delay on casting close votes (i.e., putting a question on hold). I am responding to that part of the answer. I am well aware of the challenges of re-opening a question. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    May 22 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. sorry, I was imprecise there. I meant the following through part - actually voting for a close is fine, but the actual closing (again for the demographic I mention) seems to happen very quickly. $\endgroup$
    – kcrisman
    May 23 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ PS interesting that two of my (unrelated) questions on MSE got downvotes within an hour of the one actually referred to here getting a downvote as well. Whatever ... $\endgroup$
    – kcrisman
    May 23 at 20:49
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    $\begingroup$ It isn't interesting, it's an established phenomenon, by the way you can probably use SEDE to find the people on this site that downvote the most (it's staggering), it is not unreasonable to consider the downvote came from there. It is almost as established as the factthat if you have a question you want undeleted or reopened that isnt very good but still undeserving of what happened to it, you should never put it in the requests for reopening and undeletion meta thread. $\endgroup$
    – Asinomás
    May 23 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, by "interesting" I meant "sadly predictable", but point taken. $\endgroup$
    – kcrisman
    May 24 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Asinomás s referring to this SEDE query then sorting by Downvotes. $\endgroup$
    – ryang
    Jun 27 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ "If the people wishing to close it had really cared about the user learning math (what I thought we were here for)..." I'm not convinced that's what everyone thinks we're here for. The goal of building a searchable library of high quality questions and answers could indeed be at odds with that. I'm here to have interactions in which people, who want to learn, end up learning. (cont. below) $\endgroup$ Aug 10 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ (cont. from above) I fear that moderators might therefore see me as a "rep farmer". If they were to eliminate rep entirely, though, I'd do the same thing; I like helping individuals who ask for help. Such behavior seems less and less welcome here. If it is indeed welcome, then there's a disconnect with communication. The scoldings I've received lately (only twice, to be fair) don't even try to address the matter of helping people, only enforcing a standard that I don't think most users care about. If the enforcers even pretended to care about individuals, we'd see less static. $\endgroup$ Aug 10 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @GTonyJacobs The way SE began, it felt like (leaving reputation aside) the goals of "help an asker" and "create a library of high quality answers" could be synergized into one platform. When I threw my support for EoQS forward, it was for two reasons. One , that duplication was ruining the organization of the site. Two was that rampant answering was reducing the quality of answers and the amount of attention good questions received. I still believe that (generally) enforcement of quality standards are the reason that this site has managed to mix quantity and quality till now. $\endgroup$ Sep 7 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Without reliability and organization, I cannot see a difference between MSE and other websites. Discussions, help etc. can all be accommodated (in fact, I'd say encouraged), so long as organization and reliability continue to be the main facets of discussion for users performing such actions. Lopsided contributions on each side of the debate is the reason we're in this situation, so either our actions are balanced or we hope that our opinions balance each other out sans trust : something that, post EoQS, seems to have improved personally. $\endgroup$ Sep 7 at 14:37
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Ideally, the EoQS gets a revamp with a proper manifesto/playbook with a more rigorous delineation such that the community's interpretation and upholding of it will become more homogeneous and consistent and feel less capricious.

Theatre productions undergo a preview period (the public performances that precede the official opening), during which tweaks and major adjustments are continually being made, before being frozen on opening night. This is not just to ensure the most effective show possible, but also so that the cast and crew can settle into, and evolve, their roles throughout the show's run without their creative environment feeling erratic and unconducive.

Any future rewrite of the EoQS will simiarly benefit from a preview (intensive feedback-loop) period.

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  • $\begingroup$ P.S. This post tangentially sprouted from another thread, so isn't particularly concrete, and isn't any urgent call for action as the situation seems to have somewhat improved since a year ago. $\endgroup$
    – ryang
    Aug 5 at 10:38
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Well, it's been over a year. How is the EoQS going. Really. I'd say personally that it is going badly and is in need of a rethink.

I did express my opinions about the ludicrous EoQS here with a little bit of satire and humor in one of the answers What does "low quality contributions" mean and who decides this? [+33 upvotes to -12 downvotes as of 6/6 16:48 EDT]. But maybe it is worth restating in another way. The EoQS seems to misjudge the cause of the problem and maybe even the problem itself. I'll elaborate.

To quote the OP: "Math SE has a long-standing policy regarding what constitutes a Good Question. The policy is intended to ensure that the collection of questions and answers here is of high quality, is searchable, and is generally of use as a long-lasting reference."

Well, that sounds fine and grand, and there are indeed some great questions and answers here. But in reality, that is NOT quite how this site works. In actuality, we get a lot of elementary homework-style questions from students who are not yet proficient in the basics yet but seem to be putting in the effort. Many such students who have asked 30,40,50 such questions in a semester. In reality, almost each one of these questions are 'low-quality' as per the paragraph I quoted in italics above, and cannot be 'improved' into a so-called high-quality question, because it has already been asked before on here time and time again. And yet, the general consensus on here is that these types of questions are still to be respected. And indeed they are respected--most of these questions draw a thread of comments where the question is answered somewhere in that thread of comments [and do not get downvoted or voted to close]. And so the students asking these questions keep coming back.

That these homework questions get respect is not the issue with me, I get that this is the consensus of the forum. The issue I have is this: EoQS as enforced is pretty inconsistent. On the one hand, EoQS as enforced says those rather pedantic homework questions that are all basically duplicates can stay. But then EoQS as enforced has to make scapegoats out of someone, and it seems to be those who answer the next-level-up questions, as if they are driving the problem [whatever the problem may be exactly I'm still not sure and I don't think anyone else is either]. It all seems so arbitrarily and capricious.

I've seen a few other posters who have made all sorts of brilliant contributions put into the corner by EoQS, for varying lengths of time. Some effectively banned. Examples have been cited in Meta time and time again. It is truly MSE's loss as far as I am concerned, as THESE are the posters who can answer the questions that stump everyone else. I'd say these posters rare and valuable. Why do you think these posters were put in the corner? I have 700+ answers accumulated over 4 years. Yes some of my answers were shorter and quicker. Enough of my answers though, are novellas to some questions on here that seemed pretty challenging. I myself was given a slap on the wrist from EoQS about a month ago, and in so the moderators actually even pulled as evidence answers that I had deleted myself beforehand. Also pulled as evidence was a thread where the person asking the question mutilated their question and deleted their post. Kinda felt like they were really digging.

Meanwhile, while the homework questions that are all duplicates get to stay, it is the 'sign-post' type questions in each field that have nontrivial proofs that highlight important techniques are marked as duplicates. [An example of such a question is proving that $\gcd(n,2^{2^n}+1)=1$.] Such a shame, as a well-written proof for such a question come up with from scratch would probably be good for both the person asking AND the person answering.

If you still support EoQS, I'd ask you how well you think it is actually working. Is all this effective for MSE? What was even the problem again? What we seem to have now is, instead of a repository of high-quality questions with high-quality well-written answers, you have mixed in a bunch of lower-quality questions with the answers hidden in a stream of comments. It seems to be happening even more now than before EoQS came to be. You still have a bunch of high-quality questions with some very clever, well-written answers, but that is IN SPITE of EoQS, not because of it.

Anyway Moderation, can we rethink EoQS?

ETA I think most of us, myself included, recognize the really low-quality question when we see them, and want to see those closed/not answered. The lowest quality questions aren't getting answered by anyone. They were ALREADY being shut down.

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    $\begingroup$ EoQS is about people who answer low-quality questions. If people really want to answer those questions and believe that answering them will be valuable, perhaps they might consider editing the question to improve its quality before answering. Or, post a new question that is high-quality, inspired by the low-quality one, and then answer that new question. That might be more effective at advancing the mission of the site. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Jun 7 at 3:32
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    $\begingroup$ @D.W., users who edit low quality questions to bring them up to standards get told they can't do that, they can't add anything that the OP didn't intend to be there. Posting a new high-quality version of the low-quality one, I've tried that a few times, sometimes it has the desired effect, sometimes it gets a lot of blowback. I think if a question, low quality or otherwise, is truly a duplicate of an older question, it should be closed, and anyone who can write an answer that adds something to what's already on the site should add it as a new answer to the older question. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 5:06
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    $\begingroup$ "... THESE are the posters who can answer the questions that stump everyone else, and are a big part of the appeal of MSE." This is a claim that would need a good poll of lots of of the users, so all I can do offer my personal opinion against this answer's personal opinion, and say that this is a small part of the appeal MSE has for me. I also don't understand why these people would be affected by EoQS, as a good stumper shouldn't fall under EoQS. Unless the implication is that these whizzes don't seem to be able to follow the same rules as others w.r.t. bad questions? $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 5:10
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson, Good points. Perhaps better advice would be to determine whether the question has been asked before; if yes, mark as a dup and answer the prior question; if no, ask a new high-quality question, self-answer it, and mark the low-quality question as a dup of the new high-quality one. (As an outsider here, I find the site culture surrounding editing disappointing. I'm familiar with the reasons for that culture, but it still seems like a missed opportunity to me. But oh well, I know that others disagree with me there, and I can see that's not a debate I'm going to win.) $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Jun 7 at 5:23
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know if our thoughts about whether EoQS is working are relevant. I think we need a clear statement of what problem(s) EoQS was implemented to solve, and some numbers on whether it has, in fact, contributed to solving the problem(s); also, a detailed analysis of any unintended consequences or side effects of EoQS. We need data, not opinions and speculation. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I don't get what you mean by "blowback" when reposting a new question, as long as you rectified whatever was wrong with the previous one. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 5:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Sarvesh, I mean I was of the opinion that I had rectified what was wrong with earlier question, but other users disagreed. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 5:58
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    $\begingroup$ Mike, you made some interesting observations. An underemphasized aspect here is the fairness of the rep game, and controlling the farmers. Some of your observations make me want to promote the old half-baked idea of restricting everybody to 50 posts per month. That would also address many of the problems EoQS does. The users "who can answer question stumping most others" would then be encouraged to use their skills where they matter the most. And also to polish their explanations rather than copy/paste banal textbook knowledge. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 7:39
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    $\begingroup$ (cont'd) Alas, that would not solve all the related problems. If only user X can answer a certain question, and only two other users can understand the answer, how many upvotes is X gonna get? $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 7:41
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    $\begingroup$ (cont'd) Anyway, I think EoQS has suffered somewhat from a learning process of all the parties: the flaggers, the answerers, the moderators. Understandably the posts of the long-time answering machines got flagged by many. Simply out of name recognition. The large number of flags on the same user will, again understandably, overwhelm a moderator. If the three strikes rule was not observed (I would not know exactly how to implement that), then the affected users may feel understandably confused. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ Mind you, I trust the moderators to know who the frequent flaggers are, and to take that into account. As Xander Henderson explained in a comment under this deleted thread. The goal is to affect the future of the site rather than take punitive actions motivated by the past. My interpretation of that is that they take the time to filter out EoQS flags on old answers because it was not realistic to assume that the flaggers would forget the past immediately when EoQS was announced. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 8:03
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen I have an issue with what you are saying here. 1. The presuppositions coming from your posts to be that someone who answers a lot of questions is a 'rep-farmer', and that their answers are low-quality. The people who were put in the corner by EoQS made a lot of high-quality contributions to this site. 2. What is the point of EoQS again and is it working? If it is to put some prolific contributors in the corner, then maybe it is working. If it is to improve the quality of the questions, then I would say not. $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Jun 8 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Mike I do not respect the answers to those banal questions. But the voters apparently appreciate the ability to regurgitate pages from textbooks. Some of those users even call their posts authoritative answers :-) Yes, a few users capable of producing excellent math have been hit. But to get hit by EoQS you must also produce volumes of less than stellar material. And, anyone posting a lot of answers automatically becomes a rep-farmer. It may not be what motivates them, but the end result is the same. I don't see them converting their answers to CW either, denying interest in rep. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ And, I agree with you in that EoQS does not work optimally, but it is a lot better than doing nothing. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ Where we may differ is that I wont answer in the comments. I think if a question is going to stick around, then it should get an answer in the proper box. $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Jul 3 at 2:26

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