As the following link shows, I thought "publishing" a mathematical idea in a form of Q&A is being encouraged in this site.

Since Stack Overflow launched, we've been trying to explain that it's not just a Q&A platform: it's also a place where you can publish things that you've learned: recipes, FAQs, HOWTOs, walkthroughs, and even bits of product documentation, as long you format it as a question and answer."


However, some say this site is different from other SE sites. And the above is not necessarily true. If so, answering own question is not a good thing here?

What I was doing is as follows.

(1) I asked a question. I had no pre-answer when I posted this.

(2) After a while(almost a month), I got an idea which could solve (1). So I posted a series of questions. I answered each of the questions. Sometimes other people's answers helped greatly.

(3) I answered (1)

(4) I generalized the question (1).

(5) I repeated a similar process.

Edit Another reason why I'm writing proofs is that they can be reference. When I answer to other's questions, I thought I'd be able to use them.

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    $\begingroup$ A long list of related questions: meta.math.stackexchange.com/q/1839/1543 meta.math.stackexchange.com/q/2244/1543 meta.math.stackexchange.com/q/1401/1543 meta.math.stackexchange.com/q/2637/1543 where you will see a policy evolving and developing over time for certain subcases. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ Can you edit your question to explain how what you are doing is different from "simplying answering your own question"? I feel that perhaps some fundamental assumptions about what we are discussing are different. Also, please try to spell my name correctly. This is not me insisting on decorum: this is because if you spell my name wrong the software will fail to notify me of your comments. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato: Please don't be discouraged! Your posts do have an appreciative audience, here. It is their efficiency, and your perceived standoffishness that is at issue, here. Keep your answers, but if you want to get them off this site, then condense them and put them elsewhere, such as arXiv or MathOverflow. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato, you say «If most of the moderators opinions are against me, I'll stop doing it, of course»... Moderators are not the ones to keep happy, it is the users of the site. Read through the previous meta threads and try to see if you see what the users think. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ You have to evaluate that yourself. My opinion on what other users think of you is as irrelevant to pretty much any matter as my preference for white tea. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ Okay you think most users don't like "publishing". $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Makoto I recommend that - for the time being - you not worry so much about these meta matters. They were sparked by a confluence of exceptional circumstances - which occurs only very rarely. Instead, concentrate on mathematics. As you gain more experience here, you will develop a better feel for community norms. There is no need to attempt to rapidly accelerate that natural learning process, esp. now that the primary problem has been resolved. Be patient and all will come in time. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato, I have not stated what I think about what most users think about anything. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ Please be aware that we have had very few prior posts that push the boundaries of the SE model - very few self-answered posts, few if any blog-like Q&A's (and probably no posts that push multiple boundaries simultaneously). Many of our users were not even aware that SE encourages these activities. Part of the reaction you are seeing is due simply to human nature: resistence to change - here to software evolution. Please don't take such reactions too personally. We have already solved the biggest problem. The others are more minor. We can address them one step at a time, as need be. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 23:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill: I don't think that you are right. I think that in fact more than a few people are aware of the SE policy to encourage certain things, but I also think that people are also aware to the fact that this community is very different than, say, the StackOverflow community. Much as Willie explained, we allow things other communities don't, and it is just as likely that we will frown upon things that other won't. In particular using MSE for a publication model seems rather selfish and self-indulgent (as I remarked before) when these results can be put on arXiv and cited as well. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf After following these recent threads, I'd wager large sums that there we have far more users unaware of the SE recommendations. Probably because very few of our users actively follow the SE blogs, and they are rarely publicized here. Indeed, we cannot get most users to read the FAQ let alone an offsite blog. In any case, these matters have never before been discussed at length here, so it remains to be seen if there is any community consensus on such matters. And of course I know our community is different - I've emphasized that many times to SE folks - perhaps more so than anyone. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this, but you talk too much. Here the emphasis is not on the content of the (many) comments, but on the fact that you - repeatedly - spout out line after line of rhetoric without listening to and without responding to the previous comments of other MSE users. I'll finish with an old proverb: "even a fool can appear wise if he remains silent". (I talk too much as well) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 0:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill: Are you aware that if this site were to exist eighty million years ago, you were probably get eaten by a dinosaur? Please try and be constructive. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 0:42
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    $\begingroup$ ^I rest my case. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ I am getting tired of this soap opera --- and I'm addressing all the vociferous commenters here and in the numerous meta threads that have been wasting the time of many people over the past week. Seeing that the most important issues seem to be settled now, I urge everyone to simply let the petty exchanges rest for a week, focus on the maths again and see how things work out. Heavy downvoting here and on main, and exchanging inflammatory remarks sometimes dangerously close to insults is not going to lead anywhere. Please calm down. $\endgroup$
    – t.b.
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 3:22

5 Answers 5


My opinion differs from that of most of the moderators, but for what it's worth: I had no problem with you answering your own questions about proving things without the axiom of choice, although I did think it was slightly annoying that you kept editing your own answers, and I also think this is not an optimal use of math.SE and that it would be easier to do on a blog.

What I had a problem with was you starting a question about the point of avoiding the axiom of choice and then answering it yourself. This was clearly an attempt on your part to justify your previous questions, and I did not think it was an appropriate use of the main site. The main site is not for soapboxing. It is for asking and answering questions. If you wanted to justify your previous questions, you should've done it on meta (like you're attempting to do now).


Is answering your own questions OK?



This may be something that needs to be discussed separately from the Makoto Kato drama, but as a general matter, I think that the "yes, answering one's own question is okay" doctrine needs to be qualified a bit before it is useful as a guidance for new users.

Of course there can be no doubt that if somebody asks a question that one doesn't know an answer to, honestly hoping that others will supply one, and then the asker later finds the answer from other sources or additional thought, then they should be allowed, and explicitly encouraged to submit their resolution as an answer.

It gets trickier when one asks a question with the intention of providing one's own answer. We probably all agree that there isn't and shouldn't be any blanket proscription against this (for full disclosure, I'm "guilty" of such a question myself), and it is totally acceptable to ask-and-answer oneself in the spirit of "I wish the site had already contained an answer to this so I wouldn't have had to reserach the answer I give below". On the on the other hand, we wouldn't allow someone to ask

Is Cantor's diagonal proof of the uncountability of the reals valid?

only to answer himself immediately with a long bloggy screed explaining that it isn't.

Most of us probably think we can distinguish between helpful additions to the site and unwanted soapboxing when we see them, but the distinction must look quite a bit fuzzier to a new user who wonders whether what he plans to write will be welcomed. And there does seem to be a genuinely grey area when somebody's motivation for asking-and-self-answering is "here is a new result I discovered which deserves some eyeballs".

I would propose that a minimal criterion for posting a question one intends to answer should be that one can honestly imagine someone else searching a Q&A website in the hope of finding that answer. It's a bit subjective, but it's still better than no guidance.

(I withhold judgment on which side of this criterion Makoto's questions should fall on).

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    $\begingroup$ What's worse is when the person writing the anti-Cantor question and its answer are the same person, but the user is different... $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf: From a line-drawing perspective that's actually an even easier case, because the sockpuppetry is frowned upon in and of itself, and implies that the poster is actively aware he is abusing the system. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 0:11
  • $\begingroup$ Oh yeah, that is trivially true. I just remarked on some events that transpired which were very... difficult in a whole other aspect than line-drawing. :-) $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ I remember that one, yes. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm You seem to think that "here is a new result I discovered which deserves some eyeballs" questions are not always totally acceptable. Could you tell us that what type of this quesion is not acceptable other than your mentioned "Cantor" case? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ I'm observing that opinions on the propriety of such questions seem to be divided. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 15:50

My view is that M.SE is a place where people searching for answers and people able and willing to give answers can meet. I consider this to be its primary purpose. We are here to help each other out.

Questions should have answers, and once a question is posted, it is better if it is answered eventually (provided, of course, the question is admissible on M.SE to begin with). So if I have a genuine question, post it, and then figure out the answer myself, I should post it. If it happens very often that I find the answer briefly after posting, I would take it as an indicator that I should ponder for longer before posting a question.

Now there can also be questions that I might know the answer to, but that I consider worthy posting for the goal of helping people find and give answers more easily. To given an example, Bill Dubuque has many answers in which he shows how to solve a problem using telescopy. If he would ask the question "How to apply telescopy?" and write an exposition as answer himself, that would be a great contribution in the spirit of the site. He could then link it whenever he gives a concrete application. As an other example, Asaf's exposition of forcing is IMO a bit too well-hidden and maybe wasted in its current place. Forcing is a method that is both interesting to a large (advanced) audience and quite inaccessible. If Asaf would aks "How does forcing work?" and give this as an answer, it would be a great ressource.

So questions one intends to answer oneself should in my opinion have a somewhat expositionary character and be of interest to others. They should be well-motivated, reasonably self-contained and make an effort to make the topic accessible. I don't consider M.SE to be the appropriate place to talk to myself, the communication should be between people.

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    $\begingroup$ I thank you for reminding my post about forcing here. I do think that forcing in particular is a borderline topic for MSE anyway, and indeed there are only 36 questions in over a year. In this aspect I'm not sure that this is truly needed. I should also point out that I also wrote another somewhat expository answer like this on forcing some time later. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 21:54

There are two issues here.

In so far as the abstract question of "asking and answering one's own question", I think it is in general okay. While those questions you asked about "How to prove X without AC" may be of limited interest (both in terms of the subject matter and the level at which you gave your answer), inherently there's nothing wrong with that. The major complaints I've seen about what happened in the past week is not about your posting answers to your own questions, but

  1. Your editing habit which has some annoying side effects as explained to you in the other thread, such as taking up space on the main page. I understand that a technical solution has been found to this and so it won't happen again.

  2. Your refusal to yield when other users challenged your editing habit (granted, some of the comments were provoking) and tried to describe to you the community norm.

  3. The use of one particular Q&A as a soapbox (as Qiaochu described above) and discussed in a now closed thread.

So if you confine the question to "is it okay to ask a mathematical (as opposed to non-mathematical and meta-mathematical) question and answer it yourself", I think we'll largely agree that there's nothing wrong with it.

The second issue, however, is that I think you are doing yourself a disservice by choosing to publish your results here instead of somewhere slightly more mainstream (like the arXiv for example). You are of course free to ignore the following opinion, but I couldn't help but notice that your posts seems to be building toward a nice survey paper or monograph. For the sake of the readers it may be best to collect them all under a single publication.

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    $\begingroup$ It's called "Spillover". Your attitude annoyed many (including me), and given that you continue to try to justify both your actions and attitude ex post facto, you ain't exactly trying to smooth things over. Comments such as the above, where you insist on blaming others and proclaiming your inocence to the four winds, don't help. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ @ArturoMagidin I just asked about your proof politely. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato: I have no idea what it is you are talking about. My animus towards you comes entirely from your general attitude and is cumulative. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Arturo Whatelse other than editing? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Arturo You know what I'm talking about. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato: Soapboxing. Misreprenting complaints in comments. Dismissing everyone's concerns. Annoying comment practices such as multiple comments (such as you just did). And, no, I don't know what you are talking about; what "proof"? And it is precisely that kind of comment that annoys me. If you want to call me a liar, go ahead and do so explicitly instead of throwing innuendo my way, but I'm not lying when I say that I don't know what you are talking about. But thank you for demonstrating so clearly just the kind of thing that piles on and makes you so annoying to me. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Arturo Do you want me to say it clear? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato: Are you %&*$()@#!&* kidding me? You want to insult both my intelligence and my integrity, have the courage to do so explicitly. I don't know what "I just asked about your proof politely" refers to. Don't believe me? Fine. I don't give a damn whether you believe me or not, $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ @ArturoMagidin Either Makoto's skills in social interaction are lacking, or he is trolling us all (I am inclined to think it is the latter). $\endgroup$
    – user5783
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 6:47
  • $\begingroup$ @WillieWong If publishing an mathematical idea as Q&A is okay, I wonder why your so called "soapboxing" is not okay(I'm not saying that I was soapboxing). Please note that my question on AC is a mathematical soft question. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ Your question is what I called meta-mathematical. It is not a question about mathematical fact. It is a question about mathematical taste/value. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Makoto: I made my stance very clear in this answer. I don't have the time to answer the same question over and over again for you. In the future I will just ignore repeated questions which I've already addressed. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertMastragostino Please show us some evidences to support your opinion. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 22:05
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    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato really? you ignore everyone who tries to help you, twist everything we say, and need to be told where you were disrespectful? Questions with no motivation or context are in general not appreciated because they're far less educational that way. Answering your own hardly improves the matter, especially when they're so dense and spread out. And you edit a ridiculous number of times, post several nearly identical meta threads, and need to be told how that's unnecessary disruption? I frankly can't believe you're being genuine at this point. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato Yes. You're being an attention hog. Questions at the front page get the most attention by far. Frankly I have no idea how you don't understand this concept. If the newspaper had your name as a headline every day, would that be okay so long as there were other stories in the back? If you posted on a physical billboard and put your posters almost overtop of everyone else's? How do you not get this? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 2:14

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