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The top half of this posting is a response to the issue of whether this posting is itself a duplicate of a pre-existing MathSE Meta posting.

The issue was raised whether this posting is a duplicate of this already existing MathSE Meta posting.

No, this posting is not a duplicate of the previous posting. I reviewed the previous posting and saw that it debated whether specific MathSE postings should or should not be considered duplicates. From what I could perceive (perhaps wrongly), the presumption is that there is an existing standard that should be followed. So, the discussion with respect to specific postings revolved around whether the specific standard was or was not being violated.

The thrust of this posting is totally different. There seems (perhaps only in my imagination) to be a disagreement about what the actual standard should be with respect to characterizing a question as a duplicate. The characteristics that seem relevant are:

  • How similar is the question to a pre-existing question?

  • How different is the question to a pre-existing question?

  • How important is it that the question should be of general interest?

  • Are solution verification questions to be generally regarded as less worthwhile to preserve?

  • If an original poster presents a question that shows significant work, and asks a solution verification question whose background is very similar to a pre-existing question, should MathSE reviewers be discouraged/prevented from answering?

    For example, should the question be closed under the pretense of duplication, with MathSE reviewers prevented from answering, because solution verification questions, by their very nature, are not of general interest?

  • If an original poster presents a question that shows significant work, and asks a solution verification question whose background is very similar to a pre-existing question, is it reasonable to refer the original poster to the pre-existing question and leave the original poster to self-diagnose whether his alternative approach is accurate/valid?

The remainder of this posting is the original Meta posting, after the editing of Calvin Khor.


The following question was closed as a duplicate: the question. Subsequently, the question was re-opened.

I discussed the issue on the CURED chatroom and was unable to reach an agreement with the person that I was discussing the issue with.

My contention is that:

  • Since the original poster was specifically asking where he went wrong (with his direct approach), and had already indicated a knowledge of an Inclusion-Exclusion solution, then his posting is not a duplicate of the underlying question.

  • While there is some value in a posting that demonstrates the pitfalls of a direct approach, even if that was not the case, there is no valid reason to close the question.

On CURED, a rebuttal idea was voiced that the question is not of general interest to MathSE, and therefore should be closed. My reply was that there is no specific guideline that says that only Math problems that are of general interest should remain open.

The rebuttal to my opinion was that the underlying philosophy of MathSE is that such questions should be closed, regardless of the quality of the question itself (i.e. re showing work), and regardless of whether the question actually is a duplicate.

MathSE doesn't belong to me. This is your forum, so please voice your opinions. Let your opinions dictate how such situations will be handled in the future.

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    $\begingroup$ I think (solution-verification)-type questions will remain a sticking point, unless another SE site is opened specifically for such questions, analogous to Code Review. However , I think I read somewhere on Meta SE that the company is not interested in creating new sites similar to Code Review any more, so this is just my wish, and not a feasible solution… $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 3:30
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    $\begingroup$ Your paragraph beginning "The rebuttal..." is a gross mischaracterization of what I said. Repeating myself: I believe that the question is a duplicate, hence I am not suggesting that the question be closed "regardless of ... quality", nor "regardless of whether the question is actually a duplicate." $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 3:44
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson " Questions on the SE network are meant to serve both the asker and future askers. If a question is of value only to one asker, it might as well be closed and deleted once answered. There is no need to amend the standards to change this---it is already part of the underlying philosophy of the SE model." The only way that I can interpret that is that you are of the opinion that the question should be closed even if it is not a duplicate. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 3:47
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    $\begingroup$ I do not see where I have said that the question should be closed regardless of quality. I stated that the question is not likely to be valuable to other users. This is a measure of quality. The underlying mathematical question is a duplicate, and the dubious value-add of "spot the error" adds almost nothing to the previously posted Q&A. If a question adds little value to the site, then it is (almost by definition) of low-quality, and can reasonably be closed (and, in many cases, deleted). $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 3:49
  • $\begingroup$ This question wasn't tagged SV(solution-verification) , I edited the tags because it's clearly an SV question. It is interesting that the same person (gold badge holder) voted to close and reopen the question (effectively, among other votes present at the time). Fun fact : the answer came $4$ minutes after the closure, one of SE's quirks with closure. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 5:05
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    $\begingroup$ The only way we can dictate these matters is to dictate that everyone expresses their opinion in the form of votes. If we keep having conversations on meta, you'll keep hearing the same bunch of opinions and eventually this discussion will look like one that's happened earlier. What we need to keep doing is ensuring that everyone is having a say on the question. For example, if person X thinks the post should be reopened, then even if they can't vote on it they can leave a comment : "I think this should be reopened" and others can vote it up and it won't be ignored. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 6:55
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    $\begingroup$ @ryang Very reasonable confusion. I was actually asserting two things: [1] That (in my opinion) this particular question is valuable because the issue of pitfalls when not using the Direct approach rather than Inclusion Exclusion have general importance. [2] In my opinion (and this is the point of this Meta-post), it should be irrelevant whether this posting or any posting in future similar circumstances is of general interest. ...see next comment $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 11:04
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    $\begingroup$ @ryang As onerous as it appears to new posters, I support the standards in this Meta-Post and it's underlying Meta-post. I don't thing MathSE should be a do my homework site. However, I do not support the added constraint that the question should be of general interest. Nor do I support the current culture of pretense involved in falsely characterizing a question as a duplicate when its defect is instead that the question is not of general interest. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 11:09
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    $\begingroup$ @ryang The whole point of this Meta-post is for other MathSE reviewers to make their feelings known, so that the moderators and other reviewers can be informed of the will of the majority, whatever that will is. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ @ryang Do you really think that it is reasonable to direct an inexperienced Math student to a question that indirectly answers their solution diagnosis/verification question? $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ @ryang I actually disagree with you to some extent. I think that deletion should err on the side of caution, but that closure should happen quickly. Close a question quickly, get feedback from the asker, improve the question, then reopen it. Closure is not an end-state. It is a way of putting a question on hold so that (a) the question can be brought up to site standards, and (b) any confusions can be clarified before a non-helpful answer is posted. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson I speculate that from the user's viewpoint, question closure is a major turn-off. Further, I think that the user won't care what happens to the question, after $7$ days. I suspect that it isn't really reasonable to expect the user to interact in the give-and-take of the question-closure-re-opening process. I feel that it is far more productive, to immediately reward the questions that show work, and then, $7$ days later, do with the question whatever seems best. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ @user2661923 "I suspect that it isn't really reasonable to expect the user to interact in the give-and-take of the question-closure-re-opening process." So when do you let users know that there are quality standards here? After they have posted a number of questions, so that they respond "But my other questions weren't closed!"? Or do you suggest that we simply allow low-quality questions on the site? Speaking specifically of the question here, there are two comments below the question asking "do this answer your question?" Why not wait for feedback from the asker before making assumptions? $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson I distinguish between questions that are low quality because the user hasn't supplied such context as background, or work shown, and questions that are (perhaps) low quality because they are not of general interest. With the former, treat the questions as they have always been treated. With the latter, one approach is for any high-rep MathSE reviewer to edit the question to include the $<$not of long range interest$>$ tag on the question. ...see next comment $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson I totally agree that closure (particularly of inconsiderately-written questions!) ought to happen quickly. By "erring on the side of caution", I'm referring not to speed of closure, but to the curation of this site. So, again: No to search-results pollution, but an even bigger No to throwing out the baby with bathwater (i.e., aggressive closures & deletions). Both these No's are in the service of a useful, high-quality Mathematics StackExchange. $\endgroup$
    – ryang
    Jul 17 at 11:33

2 Answers 2

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Ausgezeichnete Frage!

I believe that when students practice material they have studied in the textbooks, the place were most of em go wrong is the same. So, question of the sort you've given is actually of useful to general audience, the issue is to edit it in a way that if another student having a similar question came to the site and started typing, they would see that conceptual discussed in the mentioned link you have given.

I think a follow up question to what you have asked is, how does one edit the question into something a bit more searchable for another student having the issue when solving a conceptually related problem.

One way I try to do this is by adding sources to the question and editing the title. There maybe other ways to do this as well. I am not sure.

But nonetheless, I think there is such a lack of activity in lower mathematics level that we can be open to allowing questions which are more Individual centered.


For this specific question.

One commentor had requested I give my thoughts on if this question in particular is actually worth to have on the site or not.

To begin with, I think that an ideal answer on SE should be written in response to how the question is written. It should not be the goal of the answerer to write the most abstract / general answer but to write an answer aimed at helping the OP into understanding. This is also supported systematically by SE as it is of OP's choosing who is given the green tick (ideally OP ticks the answer which is written on( their level and can comprehend) (*).

Now due to this, suppose another student comes who has trouble with calculations but understand what is being calculated, then, it would be that the answer given is very helpful for them because it is written with an intent to help OP understand calculations.

The main problem to me is how could the question be rewritten such that it is searchable for someone who wants a calculation oriented answer.

*:: I have observed some exceptional OP's who frequently accept answers which seem way beyond their weightclass (judged by how question was written/ other qs on thier acc).

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    $\begingroup$ Have you read the question linked in this meta question, and the older dupe target? Can you quickly identify exactly where the new asker went wrong, and how their issue is not addressed in the older question? Do you believe that future students at the same level as this asker are likely to be able to answer affirmatively to the previous two questions? This is not a question about the level of the question (contrary to your assertion, the most activity on this site is at a lower level); it is about how likely the question is to be useful to anyone other than the asker themself. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 4:11
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    $\begingroup$ Could you justify your claim that most activity is at level 0? @XanderHenderson $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 4:14
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    $\begingroup$ I cannot justify the claim that "most activity is at level 0", and that is not the claim that I made. However, if you look at the most active tags, you will see a lot of tags which relate to elementary questions, e.g. calculus, algebra-recalculus, probability, combinatorics, and so on. I'll note that all three of the tags on the question brought up here appear on that first page of active tags. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ Can you answer the questions that I asked you? $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ It is not that I have ignored it. I'm still thinking how I would format a reply which would describe my view point most clearly. I'll write back soon. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 5:06
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    $\begingroup$ Ah... There was a typo. That should not have been a zero, but, rather, a close parenthesis. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson "it is about how likely the question is to be useful to anyone other than the asker themself." The whole point of this entire Meta-post article is to debate the importance of the question being useful to others. For one thing, such a standard seems very subjective and wide-open to abuse. For another, while I support the idea that MathSE should not be a do my homework site, I do not support the idea that questions that lack general interest should be routinely closed. The point of this Meta-post is to determine whether most reviewers agree with me or agree with you. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ @user2661923 You seem to be rebutting my concerns in isolation, when my point is that, with respect to the question being considered here, it is not that any single one of my points makes the question close worthy, but that, in toto, the question is of little value to the site. The underlying mathematics is asked-and-answered (the question is a duplicate), solution-verification questions are an already controversial problem, this particular question is unlikely to be of much help to anyone else.... $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ ...(assuming that the error made in that question is a common one, it is buried in the original question, not prominently highlighted, and not very easily searchable---it is a "check my homework" question). In this particular case, I think that the question adds very little (if anything) to the site, and can be safely closed (as a duplicate). $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ Moreover, it is not even clear that the original asker believes as strongly as you do that this is a new, novel question. The point of closing a question as a duplicate (as this question was) is to connect the asker with an answer. What evidence do you have that this asker was dissatisfied with the answer they got (in the form of dupe-closure)? I have already argued that this question is of little-to-no value to anyone other than the original asker. Is it even of value to them, in light of the linked duplicate question? $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson The original poster indicated that he was already familiar win an Inclusion-Exclusion oriented solution to the underlying Math problem. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ @user2661923 That doesn't answer my question. The question was closed as a duplicate. Is there any evidence that the user was dissatisfied with the answer they got via the linked duplicate question? You are making a lot of inferences, which don't seem to be supported by the evidence (they are not inconsistent with the evidence, but other inferences are valid, too). Based on the way that you have misrepresented my own statements here, I wonder how well you are representing the asker's intentions with respect to that question... $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jul 16 at 12:18
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Posting as an answer, for clarity, and because it is actually tangential to the underlying issue.

Suggested compromise:

Employ a mechanism that will automatically close the question, and then delete it, after $7$ days. Then, have experienced MathSE reviewers vote for the delayed closure/deletion.

Personally, I would be very much in favor of such a mechanism, since it seems like a Win-Win. Good for the site, and good for the original poster.

Yes, rep-whores, such as myself will lose the 10 rep pts temporarily received after they answer the question, but who cares?


One possible approach is for an experienced MathSE reviewer who feels that the question should (eventually) be removed, should simply add the tag : $<$not of long term interest$>$ to the question. The poster, when examining the meaning of the tag will read the explanation in the tags section, and realize that they have a 7 day grace period.

Then, any question that has the $<$not of long term interest$>$ tag will automatically be scheduled for closure/deletion. Any other MathSE reviewer who thinks that the question should be preserved can go to the Cured chatroom and make his case.

Meanwhile, the original poster is not treated with abrupt undeserved discourtesy.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree with this proposal, but the underlying question remains somewhat : say you're an answerer on such a thread, and you don't believe the reviewer's assertion that the post has "long-term" value. How can we hold debates around "long-term value"? What are some characteristics of questions that don't have "long-term value" or "lack general interest"? The lack of being able to justify these things is a problem. For example, this question was closed as a duplicate, but unless we hear back, we cannot debate whether or not the user was "helped" by the duplicate. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ @SarveshRavichandranIyer I agree that my proposal leaves the underlying issue unresolved. However, it also leaves the underlying issue irrelevant. If the question is (otherwise) a high quality question (i.e. where work is shown), I think that in general MathSE reviewers won't object to the original poster receiving a customized answer to their obscure question that may not be of general interest. Then, the original poster has 7 days to indicate whether there confusion/uncertainty has been resolved. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ @SarveshRavichandranIyer Further, my personal view is that even if I disagree whether the question is of general interest, I won't really care if it is deleted. This is because the original poster, who I feel deserved to be helped with his education, has in fact been helped. $\endgroup$ Jul 16 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ "Employ a mechanism that will automatically close the question...." Great!. When you have finished developing that mechanism, maybe you could work on something to transform lead into gold. Then, after that, I'd like a pony, please. $\endgroup$ Jul 17 at 1:33

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