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More times than I can count, I have had my questions on Math Stack Exchange criticized and condescended to in the comments and sometimes answers. The usual theme is that my question is dumb, makes no sense, and isn’t of high mathematical quality. Maybe it fails to express the relevant notions in a mathematically canonical way; maybe it fails to speak of mathematical ideas with the necessary precision of quality mathematical argumentation. Maybe the question shows ignorance of math, or difficulty in understanding math, or has mathematically false assumptions buried in it.

This is obviously a ridiculous criticism of someone who is a beginner in mathematics. It is also pointless and letting snide and trite armchair egotism crowd out the actually valuable potential of this site to help people learn more about mathematics.

I choose not to express myself delicately as an expression of the general atmosphere I have come to feel using this site, based on the many condescending responses I have received on here.

I believe a good Stack Exchange site does not have this characteristic. I believe Math Stack Exchange has lagged behind many, or most, of the other SE sites in cutting out the pointless irascibility that some users have towards people who are not as good at math as they are. I remember maybe ten years ago, Stack Overflow used to be like that, but it got much better. There are loads of other SE sites with extremely positive, constructive, engaged, involved communities of people that try to help the questioner figure out what it is they want to know, instead of penalizing them for not already being good enough at math to be able to answer the questions they would otherwise not be asking.

I believe it should be explicitly incorporated into the site guidelines that you should try to help questioners to formulate their questions better, even if that requires digging and extended conversation and asking lots of clarifying questions. That’s what good tutelage is. And if we want to talk about intelligence, I personally think someone who doesn’t realize this is actually pretty stupid.

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    $\begingroup$ I checked your recent 5 questions and none of them have any condescending comment. At most some users found one of your questions as unclear. Still the right way to deal with a condescending comment (based on your perception) is to flag it as unfriendly or unkind. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Commented Jan 13 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ Out of these 5 questions one has been received very nicely (and contains a great answer). $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Commented Jan 13 at 7:10
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    $\begingroup$ I think other subject forums in the Stackexchange network summarily dismiss homework questions even more stringently than math.se does. Some would say we are not strict enough here, because look at all the homework questions we still get posted here! $\endgroup$
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 13 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ @GEdgar There's also nothing wrong with a homework question since homework can still be interesting. As long as the expectation is not that you do their homework for them $\endgroup$
    – FShrike
    Commented Jan 14 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @FShrike I disagree (moderately) with your take on homework. Most homework problems are of a drill-and-kill style, where the goal is to get students to practice with some particular technique. There are probably thousands of variations of any particular problem (e.g. there are many examples of exercises designed to practice the chain rule, where the variation comes from choosing different functions to compose, or by fiddling with some constants, or by composing a couple of extra functions). These routine problems are (IMO) not interesting. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Commented Jan 15 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ When people talk about banning homework problems, I think that these are the kinds of problems that folk have in mind. Yes, there are more interesting problems which are often assigned as homework, but I don't quite think that these are the kinds of problems that annoy people. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Commented Jan 15 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson If one is bored by a question, one may elect not to answer it. That is not the same thing as feeling like one “has the right” to vote to close. Of course any reputable user has this democratic power but I do feel it is overused: just because I don’t like / don’t care for a question doesn’t mean I should feel free to ruin someone’s day and obstruct their education. I should have objective reason to do so e.g. it is very low effort or lacking context. Many homework problems fall into that category, but a priori even a routine question could be well written and deserving of help. $\endgroup$
    – FShrike
    Commented Jan 15 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ But I generally agree that most ‘kill and drill’ questions are lazily written. It is just a perhaps toxic ideology to impose a blanket ban on these [and I know we don’t here on MSE, but one day the culture could shift (as GEdgar said, there is a feeling we are not strict enough - I feel we are too strict sometimes). On other stack exchanges I’ve had perfectly well thought out questions, with ample context and own workings, closed due to a blanket ban culture. This is not right] $\endgroup$
    – FShrike
    Commented Jan 15 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @FShrike "If one is bored by a question..." I think you have missed my point. It is not about being "bored" by a question. It is a matter of such questions not being a good fit with respect to creating a repository of questions and answers. A question should be interesting or relevant for some reason other than to create an answer guide for whatever textbook some person is working out of. Routine drill-and-kill exercises don't fit well with the ethos of the StackExchange network. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Commented Jan 15 at 23:05
  • $\begingroup$ @FShrike Maybe you mean that, as a reputable user, when feeling that the power to close is overused with subjective and/or objectionable reason, they should at least be aware of the democratic power to reopen and consider participating in the reopen reviews? $\endgroup$
    – peterwhy
    Commented Jan 16 at 3:57
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    $\begingroup$ The homework angle in the comments is a distraction because this OP did not ask homework questions, but instead asked questions that lack mathematical precision (occasionally) where they wanted others to help them formulate it. Instead, some other actions were taken that offended them (I think condescending comments and answers). We can talk about those actions and what we think about them (there is an answer at $+15$ so I guess there is some consensus on an answer to this question anyway). $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 16 at 6:54
  • $\begingroup$ I think that this question is well-meaning but it should use words with a less strong connotation. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 11 at 16:23

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Looking through your past questions, I didn't see rude or condescending comments. Of course, I realize I can only see what hasn't been deleted, so there could always be comments that have since been deleted. I haven't had the experience you've had. Sorry that it hasn't been a positive experience for you.

If you do receive rude, non-constructive, or condescending comments, I recommend flagging them as "unfriendly or unkind".


Looking at one of the side comments your post on Meta here, I wonder whether it's possible there might be a partial mismatch between Stack Exchange's mission vs what you are hoping for. This is not a site for tutelage. Rather, the site's purpose is to build an archive of knowledge, in the form of a library of high-quality questions and answers that will be useful to others in the future. That means that we need questions that are clearly stated, narrowly scoped, and with specific criteria that can be used to evaluate proposed answers. The expectation is that you will already have done the work to put the question into that form before asking here. Some people might have high standards and exercise curation to maintain high quality on this site. If you need a lot of interactive assistance (e.g., "digging and extended conversation and asking lots of clarifying questions") to formulate your question appropriately, that's not the mission of this site, and it's not what the platform is good at. Sometimes you might get that help from other generous folks, but it's not the primary purpose of the site.

At least, that is how I perceive the mission of site. There is probably a range of views, and I imagine others will have other perspectives. I can't speak for anyone else.

I also perceive this site as having a particular challenge that it tends to have many questions that might be perceived as less desirable -- e.g., questions from people who want us to help them specifically but where answering the question doesn't contribute much to helping others in the future or to building a valuable archive of knowledge. (e.g., "homework questions", "solve this problem for me") That might lead to a higher level and intensity of comments that are critical. That can be done in a way that is appropriate and avoids rudeness, but it can also be done in a way that is inappropriate. I don't know what your experience has been like, but I can imagine that a typical person might have a different experience here than, say, the TeX Stack Exchange site. So I can certainly believe that your experience here might feel qualitatively differently than others, and that you're not alone in this, not by a long shot.

Looking at your questions, I notice that some of your questions on this site come off to me as a bit open-ended, "chain of consciousness", musings, rather than focused technical questions about a specific problem. Those kinds of questions aren't necessarily the best fit here -- they might be, but it's tricky to make them work well. I am wondering whether that might be a factor. Or perhaps that is a distraction. I mention it only in case you find it helpful in improving your experience on this site.

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