19
$\begingroup$

It seems like much of of the conflicts arising here revolve around people bringing different philosophies to the table, which they have worked with and have found successful (both of them).

There is nothing wrong with each of these distinct philosophies/approaches; however, I do feel that many of the emerging conflicts revolve around improperly reconciling these two approaches. The site is less than a day old, and I fear that confronting, acknowledging, and realizing this division is necessary to do before things become more muddled and we have an unrecognizable combination of both.

The worst-case scenario would be people completely ignoring the idea of reconciliation and simply re-tagging/closing/downvoting everything as they have been used to doing, while other people are doing the same but with opposite approaches.

Here are some issues I've noticed being influenced by this divison:

  • The most surface-level, the grammar of the tags to be placed. Some argue for a very specific (and possibly less newly-accessible) style while others argue for more vague (and possibly less helpful) style

  • What answers are "too simple"? Some argue that there are questions "below" the scope of this site, for the sake of preserving quality, and some argue that there are not, for the sake of including all (presumably) honest inquiry.

And some more, as they come in. There will be more.

Now, each of these issues deserve their own separate Meta topic. But I think the purpose of this question is:

  • Should this site, as a general, feel more like SO, MO, or an even blend of both?
  • If both, what essential philosophies should be sought to be borrowed from either?

Also, before anything accusatory occurs, I would like to urge both sides to consider the background and merits of the other.

$\endgroup$
26
$\begingroup$

So I'm a little bit worried that the specific "Homework questions are bad" signal is going to be missed in the "arguing about Harry" noise. There are a lot of students out there taking calculus (a lot more than take intro CS!). If they find out that there's a website that will do their homework problems for them then they will completely overwhelm anything good that this site can do.

The solution to this problem, I think, isn't that there's a level of problem that's bad (after all, even some grad classes have homework) but rather that there's a specificity of question that's bad. If someone wants to understand why trig substitution works, fine let them ask. But if they want you to do some specific integral involving trig substitution that question needs to be not answered by anyone and closed quickly (as too localized).

A quick additional point. In CS the ratio of "people who code professionally" to "people taking a CS class with homework" is pretty good, the ratio of "people who need to do calculus professionally" to "people currently in a calculus class" is not nearly so good.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think this is a very important point. $\endgroup$ – Akhil Mathew Jul 21 '10 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that those types of questions are inappropriate, but not because they are homework. A simple 'what is $\int x^2 \ln x dx$' that can be solved by the Wolfram integrator should be asked there, and this should be in the faq. However, I feel that my integral question is an example of an appropriate question about how to do a specific integral. $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Jul 21 '10 at 19:10
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I disagree. Students who plug the question into the Wolfram integrator and see the answer won't get credit for the answer (and in fact will likely get in trouble for cheating) while students who ask here and get a nice explanation can copy it and get full credit. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Jul 21 '10 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ I do believe that the last point, the ratio of professionals:students is vastly different compared to Computer Science. However, who is to say that students will only ask homework questions? I myself am a student. $\endgroup$ – Justin L. Jul 21 '10 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ How about close any problem that can be answered by simple or widely known techniques? A possible rule of thumb: If wolfram alpha can do it, close it. However, if the OP demonstrates his reasonable effort and thoughts about the problem and point out why he is stuck, I think it's reasonable to provide help. $\endgroup$ – Chao Xu Jul 21 '10 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Justin: We speak from experience. Most of us have been involved in other undergraduate-oriented that failed because of the endless hordes of lazy calculus students. $\endgroup$ – 97832123 Jul 21 '10 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ So you are suggesting, as well, that the ratio of non-lazy:lazy students is drastically different than in Programming fields. Which is actually something I am inclined to agree with, because rarely are Programming classes GED. $\endgroup$ – Justin L. Jul 21 '10 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ Oui, precisement. $\endgroup$ – 97832123 Jul 21 '10 at 22:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Harry @Justin @Mgccl @Noah: I think the question of homework problems being asked here is important enough to deserve its own page. The question Justin asked here is much more general. $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Jul 21 '10 at 22:51
13
$\begingroup$

MU shouldn't be the ivory tower kind of community enjoyed by MO people, but a normal internet community like SO. Anyone can contribute. Yes, every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

I don't want MU to be the little brother/sister of MO. I don't even want MU to have anything to do with MO. They are completely different sites serving different purposes.

The "any level" in the definition "Q&A site for people studying math at any level & professionals in related fields" caused me to commit to this site.

There is no need of elitism to prevent simple questions like 0.99999... = 1 to show up(some high schoolers have asked me the problem before in person). I know it sounds stupid for anyone who has some training in mathematics or has the power to use google and wikipedia. A problem like this has to be answered somewhere. If it's a honest inquiry, why stop them from asking it here? This IS a Q&A board for math.

SO is about matching people who have questions and people who want to answer them. I believe MU should have the same purpose. One fear if the "any level" is taken literally, it will be flooded by low level problems. No one will be interested to answer them.

I have been to math communities where anybody can ask any question (even anonymously), for example, the Chinese math community in baidu(btw, it's in Chinese). Low level problems show up everywhere. There are questions involving proof of |a+b| \leq |a|+|b|, how to get 24 using numbers 3,4,5,6 and arithmetic operators(I opt to close this kind of problem), middle school geometry problem(clearly indicated as homework). All of them are low level, and all of them has been answered. We shouldn't assume no one will be interested in low level problems.

In my opinion, that community is successful. It have a bunch of core users, answering problems of any difficulty they have interest. Non-regulars join discussions once in a while, sometimes answer problems in specific advanced field. All topics related to math, even philosophical ones, are welcomed and discussed. Some people ask one question and never seen again. Occasional crackpot post once in a while.

SO accepts homework. My idea on MU having hw problems is the same as the most voted answer.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ That's basically my position, except for one thing: I disagree with the "using 3,4,5,6 to get 24" example, that to me is below the threshold of something that should get an answer. That's not to say I'd be terribly unhappy with someone giving that question an answer (even better, a direction), but it is something I'd want closed. $\endgroup$ – Edan Maor Jul 21 '10 at 14:00
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Although I don't think this site has to be anything like MathOverflow, we might learn a lot from the way they've handled certain issues (tagging, for instance). To ask that they be completely unrelated is somewhat impractical, as I know the sites have some overlap in users, and I am sure they will be sending their more basic questions here. Once the site goes public, anonymous question-asking will be possible here, too. $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Jul 21 '10 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Edan: that problem is a bit of a stretch, I would opt to close it too. I'm using it as a example that there are people going to answer low level questions. $\endgroup$ – Chao Xu Jul 21 '10 at 14:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Mgccl, just a site usage point, please don't refer to other posts by their number of votes, as that can quickly cease to identify the post you mean correctly. $\endgroup$ – Jamie Banks Jul 21 '10 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ It's important to note that once you open the homework floodgates, there is no going back. $\endgroup$ – 97832123 Jul 21 '10 at 17:13
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think SO's policy works for CS (where assignments are typically writing a program, and so it's easy to demonstrate that you've worked on the problem and to ask a specific question) and would probably work for upper level math classes (here's my argument, here's where I'm stuck) but does not work for Calculus where the questions are too direct and computational. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Jul 21 '10 at 19:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ For people that are worried about 0.999...=1: that question gets asked on every math-y site, and the fact that it's been asked once means that future incarnations of it will be closed as exact duplicates. $\endgroup$ – Akhil Mathew Jul 22 '10 at 3:42
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Just to give my two cents, I deal with mathematics every day of my life, in spite of the fact that I have no formal training in the subject bar high school education, which in Brazil isn't all that strong. Yet, if someone had asked me yesterday whether 0.9999...=1 I would have said no without even thinking. So maybe this is simple to some of you who are doing a maths degree, but this website is not targeting only maths students, but also people in related fields, like me. $\endgroup$ – Vivi Jul 23 '10 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Noah: Any purely computational calculus questions could be answered by wolfram anyways. @Akhil: My only worry is that someone typing in 0.999 9 won't see it come up as a dupe! $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Jul 24 '10 at 1:49
10
$\begingroup$

I think it would be best to have at least one moderator with some experience at SO and at least one moderator with some experience at MO. That way when decisions are being made there will be two different data points to use in trying to determine what's best for this site.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

As someone who is in a position to answer many of the questions here, I can guarantee you that you will scare me away for good if you allow every Tom, Dick, and Harry (no relation) to ask any pointless or stupid question and refuse to filter out the inevitable white noise.

Anyway, I'm of the opinion that MU should be MO's little brother/sister (I guess this will depend on the color scheme). As I've said before in a number of places, I have participated in a number of below-research-level message boards that did not filter content. They were eventually inundated with homework questions, and we all left to hide in a secret channel on IRC (IRC, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, stands for "secret volcano base"). MO is the first community of which I've been a part that aggressively filters content. It is also the first successful online (mathematical) community in which I've participated.

The SO model of "anything goes" does not work for math. I speak from experience, and I can present the testimony of others as well.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Harry, you don't have to answer (or even retag) all questions. Ignore the "obnoxious" ones, and contribute to the harder ones. I am sure there will be people who wouldn't be able to answer the questions you can answer, but would be more than happy to answer the questions you feel are below your standard. $\endgroup$ – Vivi Jul 21 '10 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ If there were an "ignore button" on each question, then I might do this, but at the moment, there is not. $\endgroup$ – 97832123 Jul 21 '10 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, come on, you don't expect to answer every single question the website has, there will always have to be some sort of choice process, be it to eliminate quantity, hard questions, or easy questions. $\endgroup$ – Vivi Jul 21 '10 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ I never claimed I was going to. I want to get rid of questions that suck so I don't have to bother reading them. $\endgroup$ – 97832123 Jul 21 '10 at 10:15
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Harry: There is no ignore button for questions, but there is one for tags. So how about a "beginner" tag that you can ignore? $\endgroup$ – sepp2k Jul 21 '10 at 10:57
  • 20
    $\begingroup$ Harry, either way and no matter what the decision will be: Calling people "stupid" or the like will never have a business on the site. $\endgroup$ – balpha Jul 21 '10 at 12:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Once we get a good tag system in place, that and the automatic duplicate detection features of the StackOverflow engine will go a long way towards reducing the annoyance of the inevitable flood of homework questions. Please consider other ways to avoid having to read questions that bother you before you decide that such nobody should have to read such questions. $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Jul 21 '10 at 12:34
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I think that Harry is saying more than "I will be annoyed by HW problems". I think what he means is more-so "The site will become nearly unusable due to the high percentage of HW questions." I don't necessarily agree or disagree, I just want to clarify what I think some of you are misunderstanding. $\endgroup$ – BBischof Jul 21 '10 at 15:00
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ on homework questions: The best way to avoid users being annoyed by their proliferation is to have something like a homework tag, IMO. But I think that's something many askers will either not think to or be unwilling to use, and if other people retag as such it introduces a complicated power dynamic that I think likely to create ill will. I'm not yet sure what we should do about this. $\endgroup$ – Jamie Banks Jul 21 '10 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Katie I believe that the homework tag was used on StackOverflow with little or no dynamic repercussions. I've only been there for a few months, so correct me if I am wrong. $\endgroup$ – Justin L. Jul 21 '10 at 21:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Katie: @Justin: The homework tag works well on StackOverflow. In general, non-tagged homework-looking questions have an "is this homework?" comment within a minute, and are usually tagged appropriately soon after, absent a negative response. That said, I think the question of homework problems on math.stackexchange is important enough to deserve its own page, to avoid cluttering the more general question being asked here. $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Jul 21 '10 at 22:53
2
$\begingroup$

Just a comment -- I really love the scope of math.stackexchange.com so far (7/21/2010) -- it's a nice mix of simple stuff and really obscure stuff, both open to beginners and experts. I consider myself an amateur math expert but there are still questions I have no idea what they mean.

I was afraid it would be kind of like what chiphacker.com does for electronics; it's just a little too hobbyist/simple to attract the more interesting questions + answers.

great great great -- keep doing what we're doing!

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .