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I hate to sound like a broken record, but closing this question as not constructive makes no sense to me. The canned explanation reads in relevant part:

We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

In fact the question has a short, simple answer that can be supported by facts: the information given is not sufficient to answer the question, and this can easily be illustrated with a couple of examples.

Not a real question comes a little closer to being a legitimate reason for closure; that was the reason chosen by those who closed the OP’s one previous question. But even that isn’t really accurate, since it seems quite clear what the question is asking, and indeed I provided an answer before the question was closed.

I said nothing when that question was closed, because it had been answered. This one has not, even in the comments, and I can see no reason to have closed it instead of answering it, let alone closing it with a specious reason. I should really like to know the thinking behind doing so. This is MSE, after all, not MO.

I’m not suggesting that the question should be re-opened, by the way: it now has an answer in the comments that is at least marginally adequate. I do think, though, that the OP has been treated rather shabbily.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess the closing was due to the question being prototypically bad and the OP not being responsive. But I think we should be slightly more permissive with new users. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Oct 24 '12 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelGreinecker: Roughly how permissive do you think we should be with unresponsive copied question askers. If the second question is too early, is the third question the right time? This is a serious question, I understand the argument that first questions should be treated with kid gloves, and I would be happy to get some sort of consensus even if it was at the 3rd or 4th question. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Oct 24 '12 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @NoahSnyder In that case, there wasn't that much that OP hasn't responded too. For the first question (if there is no deleted older question), there was merely a sarcastic comment. I usually get irritated when a new user seems to ignore any advice he or she is given. How long this takes in terms of time can vary. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Oct 24 '12 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Noah: I’m moderately generous: as long as the question can be answered reasonably easily, I think that it should be. If there’s a specific problem with it that can be clearly described, I think that we should describe it. I’d much rather err on the side of providing too much help. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 24 '12 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael: I don’t consider either of these questions prototypically bad. I consider them rather odd, especially taken together: where is the OP getting these questions that haveinadequate information? Or is he somehow consistently misunderstanding his source, and if so, how and why? I’m not actually greatly put off by the fact that they are copied questions: the OP’s competence in English may be much greater in comprehension than in production, and copying is an easy way to deal with that problem. I also try to bear in mind that it may be a reason for apparent lack of responsiveness. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 24 '12 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ This is a specific kind of stereotypically bad question: it's copied from another source which has not been cited and where the OP adds nothing to the question. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Oct 24 '12 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Noah: My previous comment addresses all of that. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 24 '12 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ Would it solve the problem to create a tag for "copied from another source which has not been cited and where the OP adds nothing"? Adding a tag like (xerox) or (problem-copy) to any such posting is faster and more reliable than closing, does not generate meta arguments, and anyone who wants not to see those types of questions can add the tag to their personal Ignore list. $\endgroup$ – zyx Oct 24 '12 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ @zyx: You know, that may not be a bad idea. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 24 '12 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ That doesn't stop people from answering the question. Closing stops, or at least delays, those answers. For questions from homeworks and exams even a delay is a significant plus. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Oct 24 '12 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Noah: I don’t want to stop people from answering the question. We already answer questions from homework, so that’s a non-issue. We don’t in general know whether questions come from take-home exams, and it’s not our business to see cheats under every bed. I’d rather inadvertently help a few people cheat than present the kind of unwelcoming face that some folks here often do, especially since in almost 40 years of teaching I’ve seen no one get more than very short-term benefit from cheating. And none of this is really relevant to the two questions specifically under discussion. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 24 '12 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ @David: If so, that’s the instructor’s or cheater’s problem, not ours save in the most clearcut cases, like the recent pair of questions that prompted a fellow student to notify us that these were questions on a major set exam and ask us please not to invalidate the exam by answering them. And I question whether it’s a real problem: I find it hard to imagine any competent instructor’s view of a class being greatly distorted in that way. The real issue is the face that we present, and I fear that some folks here present an unfriendly and reflexively suspicious one. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 25 '12 at 0:14
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    $\begingroup$ Curious how "teach" and "cheat" are anagrams. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Oct 25 '12 at 3:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry, what's more curious (to me, at least) is that they are Spooner pairs. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Oct 25 '12 at 7:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Chris: I don’t feel strongly either way about the formatting: it wasn’t bad enough to be a problem, and without looking at the source there was no way to realize that the OP actually intended nicer formatting. I actually disagree about the spelling: apart from the spelling of key words and personal names that might might be used for searching, I prefer to leave the OP’s spelling and grammar errors alone, because they can often be a useful indication of the OP’s command of English, something that is useful to know when one is writing an answer. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 29 '12 at 10:12
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One thing to keep in mind is that the software picks the reason that got a majority of the close votes. I agree that "not constructive" is not applicable to this question and is a little harsh. I voted as "too localized" as it didn't seem to me that this question is of interest to anyone not working on this exact exercise.

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    $\begingroup$ How do you judge for others what is of interest to them? $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Oct 24 '12 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that too localized is better than not constructive. Still, had it been a typical question of its type, with a specific numerical answer, a thorough answer could have served as a model for questions of the same general type. (Indeed, I believe that we have at least one such, to which people with similar questions have been pointed.) I don’t think that too localized can really apply to any exercise that is representative of a common type of exercise. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 24 '12 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Noah: Why close it at all? It can be answered, and with very little work, at that. You make it sound as if you were looking for a reason to close it; why not just answer it, or leave it alone? (I don’t mean to pick on you: you’re here, and responding.) $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 24 '12 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott Because m.SE shouldn't be a website which just hands out solutions to anyone who wants to copy a homework problem. The world is a worse place if such a site exists. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Oct 24 '12 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Noah: What makes you think that either question was homework? Neither was so marked, and if the questions were reported accurately, I think them unlikely to have been homework. If they were homework, the OP needs help either in seeing why they have no numerical answers or in discovering what he’s omitting when he relays them to us. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 24 '12 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott It's obviously copied directly from somewhere as it has specific irrelevant "word problem" details that no one would come up with on their own. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Oct 24 '12 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Noah, can you finally explain why "the world is a worse place" if a technology appears that can solve homework problems? Isn't there a much worse practical, pedagogical and ethical problem that instructors assign homework from books without giving the students solution manuals? Do you also prefer that Wolfram Alpha be shut down because it can do most homework integrals from calculus (now with "show derivation" feature)? $\endgroup$ – zyx Oct 24 '12 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ A corollary of @BrianM.Scott 's observation that "copied doesn't necessarily make it homework" is that the Close vote is being abused as a (homework) tag. $\endgroup$ – zyx Oct 24 '12 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott: Whether or not it makes it homework it does make it lazy and unethical (since no attribution is given). $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Oct 24 '12 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx I think most people here are quite fine whith someone writing "I'm trying to learn Blah from the book Blah and I'm stuck with this exercise...". And many people ask for homework help in a perfectly fine way here. I think your point is really besides the issue. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Oct 24 '12 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Noah: It may or may not make it lazy, depending on the English competence of the poster. And I find your assertion that it’s unethical incomprehensible. No one is harmed by the lack of an attribution except possibly the poster, if the missing attribution could have helped us provide a better answer. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 24 '12 at 22:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: Do you seriously believe that a poster quoting a typical problem from some unnamed book, set of notes, or problem assignment is in any way problematic? Does anyone? In most cases the problem or its functional twins exist in any number of sources. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 25 '12 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl and Noah, I don't quite understand your point about the ethical and legal implications of unattributed questions. Most of the problems in mathematics textbooks have appeared in earlier works, often as word for word copies with the same names of variables. For example, James Stewart is a multimillionaire from calculus books with few, if any, completely original problems and numerous problems that appear in earlier books. How do IP/ethics/attribution issues arise for individual problems in MSE but not authors of books, homework, exams and other places where there is no attribution? $\endgroup$ – zyx Oct 25 '12 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Noah: I still don’t see the slightest ethical problem. I seriously doubt that anyone has an ethical claim to intellectual property rights in any problem that is likely to be posted here: these problems are either generic or so well known that most of us could put them on a homework assignment off the tops of our heads. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 25 '12 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Noah: I’ve no quarrel with ‘I think that it’s a bad idea and want to close those questions’ as an expression of opinion, albeit one with which I strenuously disagree, but it’s not an argument for that opinion. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 25 '12 at 13:36
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I personally voted close for the reason that the "question is not a good fit for our Q&A format." I feel as though a user, especially one who has asked previous questions, should understand that MSE is not a dumping site for homework problems on which that they wish to avoid actual work. In particular, because the user had other questions (and rep), even given the short time frame between questions, they were obviously active on the site, and consequently had opportunity to read any comments, etc. on their other questions, or other questions in general.

Personally, I don't feel like "Too Localized" is an appropriate reason for closure for any homework-tagged or otherwise obvious homework problem. Homework problems are always going to be too localized.

I also don't feel as though NARQ is a sufficient reason, since there was a clear question being asked.

To reiterate, I think that the use of MSE as a dumping ground for homework problems on which the OP has literally put no effort is by definition "not constructive" -- not to the community or to the OP. Finally, when these questions do get posed -- as they frequently do -- they are often met with as many sarcastic responses as earnest efforts to help the user understand the MSE community. (The post in question indeed contains such a response). I feel that closing the question is more productive in such a case.

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    $\begingroup$ The OP had one other question and at the time had a rep of $1$; the other $10$ were added yesterday. As of right now he has been a member for only four days. Apart from my answer to his first question, the only response was a sarcastic comment; he got no guidance on how to ask questions. There is absolutely no way to tell how much effort he put in; we saw none, but that is far from dispositive with a brand new user. I fail to see how closing a question is preferable to counterbalancing a sarcastic response with a helpful one. But I do thank you for taking the trouble to respond. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 25 '12 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Brian: I noticed the lack of a typical "here's how to post" comment (on any of the POP's questions) after reading this meta question. Will try to hold back the snark :) $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Oct 25 '12 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ Building a database of solutions to most problems that could appear in textbooks, classes, exams etc, and with a freely accessible interface like MSE, would be a large benefit to any community I can think of. What could be more constructive than that? It is troublesome that many textbooks and classes do not provide solutions (and rarely is a chatty high quality solution or multiple approaches provided) to the problems posed. Education in mathematics will become more effective, fair and rational if well-organized databases are available online. $\endgroup$ – zyx Oct 25 '12 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that would be constructive to the mathematics community at large; I am not certain that is a role best assigned to MSE, or that the SE software would fulfill that role with any particular efficacy. Nevertheless, my judgment was based less on the availability of a solution, and more on the non-constructive nature of treating MSE as a dumping ground. Asking fundamental questions is awesome, and a really good use of this community. Pawning your work off in hopes of receiving an answer worth copying verbatim is not so awesome. $\endgroup$ – Emily Oct 25 '12 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ The majority of questions here and in any practically-oriented parts of the SE network can be suspected as possible "pawning off work". Many of them surely are, and we know it must happen often. We don't know exactly which questions are pawnage or not, and that suggests evaluating questions on content alone and not how they might or might not be used. The only problem I have with any kind of homework posting is that they are often boring, but answering them reduces that problem over time through a referral to duplicates, and consolidation into more interesting "abstract duplicates". $\endgroup$ – zyx Oct 25 '12 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ @zyx See, I think my views differ fundamentally on that regard. While the solution to a homework problem can indeed be eventually reduced to a framework of "abstract duplicates," that viewpoint is, as you say, one of judging the question based on its content alone. Rather, I regard homework questions as a pedagogical opportunity, which is user-centric, and so is resistant to the idea of abstract duplication. Even if an identical question has been previously answered, that solution may not address the specific deficiency by the new poster. $\endgroup$ – Emily Oct 25 '12 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ (@ previous remark on verbatim copies ... ) The extra content like "I have this problem from class on [subject] / Am stuck at [trivial detail indicating zero progress on the problem] / Would appreciate any help / TIA XOXO " can make the question worse than a verbatim copy. Especially if the question rambles into a long discussion of failed and (unknown to the OP, un-completable) paths toward a solution. A published source for the problem improves it, as everyone agrees. At least with verbatim we get a clean copy of the problem. $\endgroup$ – zyx Oct 25 '12 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Ed: Exactly how do you propose to determine which users are just hoping for a solution that they can copy? Once again, lack of additional input from a new user is hardly dispositive. Your approach smacks of guilty until proved innocent. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 25 '12 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ @zyx: I don’t mind the homework questions: I enjoy tutoring. My main problem is that using hints often leads to enough interaction to invoke the Too Much Discussion golem. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Oct 25 '12 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott In my experience, someone interested in constructive self-learning has the self-awareness to frame a question in a way that exposes the particular area of weakness, or at least has the presence of mind to say, "I have no idea where to begin." Yes, perhaps it is a bit of guilty until proven innocent, but the effort required to ask a question is typically less than that required to solve the problem. If one cannot conjure up that effort, then what is to be expected of that individual? $\endgroup$ – Emily Oct 25 '12 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ Regardless, I think the close option is the best option, because there is at least the chance to discuss and re-open. $\endgroup$ – Emily Oct 25 '12 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ We don't know that the answers from SE will be "copied verbatim for homework points", instead of: studied; fleshed out; compared to asker's own work; serve as a confidence builder; used as a gauge of difficulty or how close asker's attempt was; or other completely positive purposes. Or positive use of the Q/A by later readers, such as instructors linking to particularly good answers. The automatic negative assumptions are poisonous for MSE. $\endgroup$ – zyx Oct 25 '12 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ In fact, I kind of wish there was a "suspend" option, that would block activity on a question and flag the user that s/he needs to add additional supporting information or exposition in the question. $\endgroup$ – Emily Oct 25 '12 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @zyx I agree that reflexively negative assumptions are poisonous for MSE, but closing a question at least enables the OP to comment as to why the question was closed. Conversely, acidic commentary tends to make the OP think that we're just kind of jerks. I don't mean to single out chaz or anyone else -- just that a closed question is somewhat easily re-opened. $\endgroup$ – Emily Oct 25 '12 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ Didn't Bach learn music initially by copying? There is a lot of value in seeing correct solutions and how the solvers write and think about the material. A chattier version of a solution manual can be extremely useful. Instructors should work in an environment where solutions are available before the homework solving begins, precisely because the point is not to deliver an answer. A lazy game of Hide The Knowledge does not help anyone. $\endgroup$ – zyx Oct 25 '12 at 20:44

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