This is related to this post, please read the comments.

What is the usual way of dealing with that kind of problems on math.SE? (By "that kind of problems" I mean someone posting tasks from an ongoing contest.)

I mean I did email the contest coordinator and flag the post, but it seems that there is more than one user and more than one question involved. Also, I do not know whether the OP is a contestant or e.g. a friend that wishes to learn the answer himself. The whole situation is not trivial and I do not see any way to prevent such abuse on future occasions (one cannot possibly be aware of all the contests in the world).

Any comments/ideas/explanations will be appreciated.


If anyone notices this happening, it is nice to inform the contest coordinators.

On the other hand, I don't think it is reasonable (nor realistic) to have a policy against this.

  • $\begingroup$ I've cleared the flags on the questions dtldarek pointed out. $\endgroup$ – Zev Chonoles Apr 22 '12 at 3:10

Since the recent comments on a posted contest question links here, let me state my answer:

While there can be no obligation of this site to do detective work and be responsible for never answering a contest question, I strongly feel that if someone provides a link that it is a contest question, it should indeed be swiftly deleted.

It is not reasonable to check each question for being a contest question, but it is quite reasonable to not answer a question known as a contest question.

Yes, in an ideal world, contests should not be organized in an easily breakable way, but in many countries, the conditions are not ideal and knowingly answering an ongoing contest question is sabotage.

This is a much easier call than Project Euler that wants to protect its questions indefinitely.

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    $\begingroup$ This is not what my sentence says. It is the awareness of the situation that makes it sabotage. The non-ideal conditions explain why organizers would risk this. $\endgroup$ – Phira Sep 28 '12 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this. I view cheating on math contests on math.SE as similar to cheating on a take-home exam on math.SE, even though it's not for a grade. Besides ruining the contest for all the noncheaters, it does help get into college/grad school etc to win math contests, and so has a similar effect as cheating on a take-home exam. $\endgroup$ – Zarrax Sep 30 '12 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ I generally agree with this, except for one small detail: as André Nicolas points out in another thread, it's better to close or lock such questions than to delete them. Both will prevent any new answers from being posted, while neither can retroactively prevent the asker from having seen previously posted answers. However, deletion does have the effect of "hiding the evidence", and also makes it less likely for any reposts to be recognized as such. $\endgroup$ – Ilmari Karonen Sep 30 '12 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ In view of recent events, let me say that I did not post this answer on every other thread on the topic, this does not imply that I agree with the upvoted answers on every other thread on the topic, and it does not imply that I go around downvoting every answer on every other thread on the topic I disagree with. $\endgroup$ – Phira Dec 9 '12 at 13:02

In my opinion, one thing that should be done is to make an effort to change the culture from one of posting complete solutions to problems to one of posting hints and general strategies that explain the methodology behind the problem. This does not directly address contest cheating, as it is still possible to post questions and make use of hints, but it at least makes it take more effort to cheat and thus provides a disincentive. A large number of cheaters are very lazy individuals (as the recent example illustrates) and will resist doing the last 20% of the work even if the other 80% is done for them.

Overall, it is a very big negative for this site if lazy students view the site as a source of easy access to people providing full solutions to their questions on demand, regardless of whether they are contest problems or homework problems. And for students who are legitimately struggling and post questions because they are stuck after making a good faith effort, it seems to me that they usually benefit more from well thought out hints and nudges than from a completely posted answer. Math is ultimately learned by doing (with a large amount of reliance on ideas others have developed), not by watching others do. Of course, many questioners make an effort to understand a fully posted solution, not merely copy it, but it still is not the same as if they had come to part of the discovery of how to solve their problem on their own.

As far as more practical suggestions, I think you did the right thing by alerting the organizers of the contest. To a certain extent, the onus is on them to weigh the pros and cons of having such an open contest where cheating is certainly possible. Given the nature of their contest, one would hope that they would have put some forethought into how they would deal with such a situation as developed here. Hopefully, they can investigate the threads and perhaps get IP address information that helps them identify the guilty person(s).

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    $\begingroup$ -1; I am not with this philosophy of changing the culture of those who answer. I believe that is what differentiates this forum from most others. We should discourage questions that are from contests IMO. I don't like to be restricted to write an hint, except when the problem is homework. And, I give very elaborate hints. I am chatty in writing answers. Because that's what helps get the idea through the screen. It's different when you give hints in person than through the internet. But, well, this is just my opinion. $\endgroup$ – user21436 Apr 18 '12 at 23:40
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes I just provide hints. At other times, I provide very careful writeups, in the hope that the student will at least learn to imitate, and go beyond the mere production of an answer. $\endgroup$ – André Nicolas Apr 19 '12 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ To me, it's a tough call how much help to provide. I certainly don't criticize the generosity of anyone willing to write up a complete answer. And I definitely do not want people to start limiting answers simply because a person may conceivably be cheating. But I think some of the best answers I have seen on the site involve a responder giving a hint or series of hints that addresses the questioner's obstacle, but lets him/her continue from that point on. That takes more work from a responder (and not all have the time or desire to do that), but imo it should be more strongly encouraged. $\endgroup$ – Michael Joyce Apr 19 '12 at 1:32
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    $\begingroup$ +1, for what it's worth. But it would seem I am out of touch with the MSE consensus here :-( $\endgroup$ – user16299 Apr 19 '12 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Yemon: Me too. I don't really understand it. But I'm quite new here. $\endgroup$ – Tara B Apr 19 '12 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ It would be good if those who downvoted could, like @Kannappan, leave some explanation. $\endgroup$ – user16299 Apr 19 '12 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ +1 from me as well. I'm baffled that this wound up with a negative score. $\endgroup$ – David E Speyer Sep 30 '12 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidSpeyer, the +43 -6 vote on this ( meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/1652/… ) answer from JDH has a larger sample size, and points more extremely in the same direction. And the same in the voting here: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/4154/… $\endgroup$ – zyx Oct 1 '12 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ @zyx I suspect that David and others proposing restrictions on contest questions are not aware of these earlier threads - where there was much support for not imposing any restrictions on homework problems. Given that, it should come as no surprise that many folks may think similarly about contest problems. It will be impossible to reach any consensus in either case. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Oct 3 '12 at 16:18

Sequence of same or almost same math questions (possibly from online math contest). I have flagged the moderators for attention. Unfortunately, I do not know what online math contest it is to email the coordinators.



What is the density of the sum $Z = X+Y$?

Probability with real number


The first two have been deleted after I intimated the OP that it is incorrect to post such questions.


If someone posts a task from an ongoing contest as a question, you may mention it in a comment. Or not, since the fact that the question is a contest task is a related bit of trivia but not particularly relevant in answering the question.

If the question is original from the contest, you should comment or edit to provide attribution. A question taken from somewhere else (a contest, a book, a blog…) without attribution is plagiarism. Note that contest questions are not always original — don't attribute a question to contest organizers if they took it from an earlier book!

Acknowledging the source of a question is required by academic traditions. Refusing to answer questions is very much against academic traditions.

As a (former) scientist, I am deeply appalled that a part of the Math.SE community seems to consider that it is ok to suppress a question because it is part of an ongoing contest. This amounts to giving the contest organizers a monopoly on the question.

Scientific tradition is strongly opposed to a monopoly on ideas. Even the law in most countries, which is less liberal than mathematicians tend to be, recognizes a monopoly (with limitations) on a particular way to express an idea (copyright) and on the practical use of an idea (patents). A monopoly on the ideas themselves is not acceptable to our society in general, nor the narrower community of mathematicians.

As an answerer, you are entirely free to refuse to answer a question. But you are not entitled to decide this for others. If a question is otherwise acceptable to this site (on-topic, reasonably scoped, etc.), the fact that it has also appeared elsewhere is not grounds to prevent others from answering it.

I don't see any point in flagging the question: what do you expect a Stack Exchange moderator to do with it? As a moderator on the sister site Computer Science, where a similar issue has been raised, I would have no idea what to do with such a flag, it would only be a waste of time. You may contact the contest organizers if you wish; correlating the contest participants with Stack Exchange users is their problem (and not one they can solve — even if everyone made their real identity apparent, someone could post a question through a front).

To reiterate, I find the very idea of acknowledging a monopoly on the discussion of a scientific idea unethical, and I am deeply troubled that a community of scientists even considers it.

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    $\begingroup$ -1 Patents and "scientific ideas" have nothing to do with math contests. $\endgroup$ – user31373 Sep 29 '12 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @LVK How does a math contest not involve mathematical ideas? (And if this is a quibble on words: I am using “science” and “scientific” in the wider meaning that includes theory as well as applications, including mathematics.) $\endgroup$ – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Sep 29 '12 at 16:16

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