29
$\begingroup$

I can't figure out what I think about this. Again (https://math.stackexchange.com/revisions/351591/1) someone just copied and pasted a question without showing any work at all. There is nothing about what exactly the OP is having problems with. The style of posting screams "Do my homework!".

I usually don't vote to close these questions because I can't find the right reason for closing. Questions like this are (usually) not off topic, not not a real question, not not constructive, etc. I did vote to close the above mentioned question. But I can't find reason to do this with the FAQ: https://math.stackexchange.com/faq#close.

Again, I don't know what to think about it and I know that the topic has come up several times in the past. But I wanted to suggest that we have at least an official policy on how to deal with this type of questions. Maybe there should be an official closing reason for this type of questions. After the question is closed for this reason, a note could be added saying that the OP can edit the question and provide provide at least a few thoughts on the question and then it can be reopened. Maybe the requirement could be that the questioner simply state what part of the question is a problem, or something.

I like that math.SE is so accessible and that it is easy to ask questions. I don't want to scare people away by being mean. I don't want to have policies that are impossible to enforce. I want to help people understand and I also want to help people with their homework.

So, could we have an official way of dealing with this?

And, if so, what should that policy be?

Could we at least specify that closing a question because it doesn't show any effort is a valid closing reason? If not, then I guess that I would want to vote to reopen the above mentioned question.

Could we add something to the FAQ so that one can add a comment with a link to something official?

I am aware of (among others)

  1. http://meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/4154/a-consolidated-homework-policy
  2. http://meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/1652/what-do-we-do-with-users-who-post-numerous-unlabeled-homework-questions
$\endgroup$
  • 24
    $\begingroup$ Please keep in mind that there is a wide spectrum of usage of the site. On one extreme we have users who like to engage in serious teaching. On the other end of the spectrum are users who strive to write answers that are "proofs from the book", and to collect and organize such beautiful proofs on this site. The latter type of usage requires no work to be shown in questions. Of course many users engage in both activities at various times. For the site to prosper, it would be best if none of these usage modes were restricted in any way (lest it alienate valued contributors). $\endgroup$ – Math Gems Apr 5 '13 at 2:12
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @MathGems: These people can also formulate their questions better than copy-paste from books. For example, by adding a short explanation that they seek proofs for one reason or another. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 5 '13 at 6:25
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Thomas I've add TeX to that particular question, so you might want to change your link so that it points to the first version of that post. I think it is good to go easier on the newbies and help them learn how to use the site; but in this case the closure is definitely appropriate; no real question was given there. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Apr 5 '13 at 6:33
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Just for general sake of clarity, both the linked threads are from a year ago and two years ago (respectively, at time of commenting). The site has grown a lot since then, and whatever is in there need not be as relevant as it was back then. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 5 '13 at 9:28
  • 15
    $\begingroup$ @MathGems: The last sentence of your comment is rather contentious. And the parenthetical suggests two glaring omissions with the train of thought: the first is that the permissive approach also suffers the problem of alienating (or otherwise repulsing) valued contributors, and the second is that there are things to be valued other than the quantity of valued contributors. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 5 '13 at 11:00
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ I am leaning towards becoming more aggressive towards these question than I have in the past. Unfortunately I cannot completely filter out my annoyance about people piling up tens of thousands of rep by doing HW for freshmen. As that is clearly a wrong reason to base such a policy shift on, I will refrain from taking the lead here. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 5 '13 at 17:29
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ Some people were attracted here by a site whose focus is things like "Understanding mathematical concepts and theorems", "Hints on mathematical problems", "History and development of mathematics", "Solving mathematical puzzles", or "Software that mathematicians use". The prevalence of cphq, however, shifts the focus away from these things and towards MSE being an on-demand answer service. I find this rather displeasing. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 5 '13 at 22:30
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ I also find it unethical; seeing cphq offends my sense of integrity, and seeing complete answers provided in response triggers feelings of righteous outrage that a site I frequent and care about is engaged in such activity. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 5 '13 at 22:33
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: There is nothing intrinsically unethical about cphq. A specific instance may be, but unless you can prove that you’re a long-distance mindreader, you’ve no business painting them all with that brush. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 5 '13 at 23:00
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Brian: You're not simply presuming them innocent -- you are using your presumption of innocence as a reason to dismiss probable cause to the contrary. And quite frankly, "It looked wrong, but I couldn't prove it for sure therefore I assumed it was fine and did it anyways" is not ethical. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 6 '13 at 8:12
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: JDH's post is, in my mind, actually irrelevant to this thread. He's advocating for students who are actually trying to participate in their own learning process; asking questions, studying answers, and the sort. However, in a large fraction of the posts that fall under the category (that I believe is) being discussed here, the poster hasn't even be bothered to ask a question! $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 6 '13 at 10:00
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Brian: You appear to have very strange notions both about how one should respond to signs something questionable going on (ignore them; one should never investigate suspicions unless you already know what the result of investigation would be), and about what constitutes ethical behavior (it's ethical to assist someone, no matter how questionable it may seem, so long as you don't have proof it would be unethical... and in such a situation you don't even have a burden to straighten things out before you assist). I doubt we can resolve our disagreement. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 6 '13 at 23:52
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ I see on another thread that we have had a series of questions from a take-home exam posted here recently. If more of us adhered to a policy of voting to close no-effort (unmotivated, unsourced) questions on sight, these questions might have been closed before any damage could be done. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Apr 7 '13 at 4:23
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ I love how whenever someone disagrees, the other side often tries to equate their disagreement with totalitarianism, judicial process, extreme violence, and death. It really paints the discussions on meta with some deep colors. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 10 '13 at 11:39
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: It is indeed a matter of principle. The principle is that it is not acceptable to take any action that effectively presumes guilt that has not been proved. If you wish to say that this is simply a ‘mundane evaluation’ that only proven guilt ‘merits action’, feel free, but it’s a distinction without a difference. // Your first sentence is a real gem: it seriously misrepresents what I’ve said in this discussion (unless your understanding of questioning is accusing of cheating more or less in so many words) and calls me a liar to boot $-$ without even pinging me. I’m trying hard ... $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 11 '13 at 8:42

10 Answers 10

53
$\begingroup$

My opinion is that we should be substantially more aggressive about closing questions than we currently are. In particular, I think we should be substantially more aggressive about lazy homework questions than we currently are. The community currently disagrees with me about this in aggregate, or at least as measured by the most vocal of people who have responded to my expressing this opinion in the past.

$\endgroup$
  • 41
    $\begingroup$ I think that this site has grown large enough as it is without the need to attract more transient effortless homework questions. I recall people foreseeing a possible overrun by homework, and it certainly does seem to be the case. I would hate this to be an overrun by copy-paste homework questions. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 5 '13 at 6:24
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Completely agree. $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan Apr 5 '13 at 6:27
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: No one is arguing to ban all homework questions from the site (well, certainly some people do, but everybody should realize by now that it's not going to happen). What Qiaochu, and me, say is that people who just post copy-paste questions from a book (with perhaps the generous addition of "how to solve?" or some variant of this sentence) are less welcome on this site than they were two years ago. And this is exactly because there is a lot more traffic with good questions that work was put into. This is exactly the kind of questions I'd be happier with. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 5 '13 at 8:06
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: I also have to ask: have you ever taught a class? have you ever stood by the board with the vacant stare of 3-35 students mindlessly droning what you write and explain? Have you tried to stimulate them in any way? To help, with your own two hands, to see a person struggling to understand? Later to have some of them in your office asking questions and trying to get the answers, or sometimes even understand the mathematics behind it? I ask because often I feel that some people who argue in "complete favour of any question" haven't had a lot of experience in that. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 5 '13 at 8:09
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila, my number of years of teaching experience and non-academic (or "adult life") experience probably are several times (or for some aspects, close to an order of magnitude) larger than yours. What I wonder, since you ask, is how much of the second category you and Qiaochu have. $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 5 '13 at 8:12
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: It's likely. Admittedly I don't have so many years behind me. This is my third year of teaching, but I taught (except this semester) only freshmen. But I can tell you that I put into my teaching roughly the same amount of energy I put into this site, which is a lot. And in those five semesters of vacant-eyed freshmen staring at me fumbling by the board I have learned a lot about teaching and explaining. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 5 '13 at 8:14
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila, I have no doubt the vacant freshmen are fortunate to have you as instructor, but don't be too hard on them for their vacant-ness or lack of interest in mathematics or whatever (you said something about the non-HUJI teaching being awful). I always considered it a happy experience to face students, no matter what. If you don't naturally like it (and you seem like a social enough person) -- consider the alternatives! $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 5 '13 at 8:18
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: I don't think that MSE should be receptive of all questions. There are plenty of questions being deleted, either by users or automatically because the site is not receptive of all questions. I think that we have a huge amount of questions per day, and I prefer to spend more time helping those who try to help themselves. This is not a "political argument" (I really don't see how politics is involved), but rather a call for revisiting the norms about homework. It's been a year and more, since those threads in the main post were debated. In this year a lot has changed. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 5 '13 at 9:10
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ A few minutes ago I went through all 48 questions listed on the main page. 15% of those were 'no effort' questions, according to (IMO) a very conservative judgement of what counts as a 'no effort' question. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 5 '13 at 11:48
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @vonbrand: Too late: by the time you've seen that there is no real interest and no work shown, you've already wasted your time. But you seem to be missing the point that there are more far-reaching concerns: e.g. the association of the site (and its contributors) with academic integrity (or lack thereof), or even more modest things like the proportion of questions there will be in the future that aren't a waste of time. If you don't want to spend time on a kind of question, then surely you should support others who want to spend time getting rid of them so that your time doesn't get wasted. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 5 '13 at 13:04
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Can we be sure the great majority of the comunity disagrees with Qiaochu's suggestion nowadays when his post is the highest-thumbed on this answer stream? $\endgroup$ – The_Sympathizer Apr 6 '13 at 1:16
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: People who stay off meta, stay off deciding and debating norms and policies. Much like I avoid voting and politics in real life, and I have no say in how the government wastes their money not granting me a tenured position (yes, I want to be the first tenured Ph.D. student). $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 6 '13 at 7:08
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: Who are the people you count as belonging to the "community"? And how in the world is JDH's post relevant to this (which I upvoted, btw). Nobody, here argues that homework problems are inherently bad. JDH made lots of points, he certainly did not said nothing in defense of copy pasting questions and not showing any effort. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Apr 6 '13 at 11:42
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: I don't know why JDH and Matt E have stopped using the site on a regular basis. In the case of JDH I can only guess it has something to do with meta drama which somewhat drove him off (the MO 2.0 migration thread). But given the situation, the remaining users have the absolute right to form their own consensus. If this consensus is that CPQ are bad, then so be it. If and when JDH returns he could voice his opinion on CP(H)Q, and then we can agree or disagree with him. But what you really have to stop saying is anti-HW/cheating bloc. NO ONE IS AGAINST HOMEWORK JUST AGAINST COPY-PASTE. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 10 '13 at 7:39
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: Then why do people keep complaining that they see more CPQ posts than before? Explain that, if you would. And "lying for political reasons because they belong to the "burn all the HW questions" bloc" is not a correct answer. Assume, for a moment, that people say that without an agenda -- but because they really do feel that way. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 10 '13 at 9:02
32
$\begingroup$

I am so frustrated with no effort, copy-paste homework questions that I would support a one-flag close/delete policy on them. In my opinion, these are not on topic for MSE, and if they are, they damn well shouldn't be.

It's important to keep in mind how many of these questions we're getting. In the past month I've found myself posting fewer and fewer answers because it's so difficult to find non-terrible questions.

I see a lot of comments here discussing precidents being set, slippery slopes, etc. but frankly that's a load of crap. This line isn't blurry. It's very clear when someone just wants us to do their homework for them. We shouldn't sit around pretending there's nothing we can do about this problem.

I for one will vote to close; those who disagree can vote against. That's why we have voting.

$\endgroup$
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ My enjoyment is also going downhill for a similar reason that the more interesting questions are fewer and fewer. However, that is also partly because the overall volume has gone up. Within the tags that I follow, there aren't too many CPHQs. If I could filter ignored tags away (as opposed to having one half of the front page white out), the site would be more enjoyable. About the CPHQers? It is pointless to blame anyone much. The askers, the answerers and the upvoters of those answers are all enablers of this. Trying to hunt them down and starting downvoting will just make me angry and... $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 6 '13 at 20:23
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ (cont'd) waste my time. The answerers? I will just quitely ridicule them in the privacy behind my screen: "So the site has determined that you are an expert on HOMEWORK and PRECALCULUS. Congratulations, are you planning on graduating some time?" $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 6 '13 at 20:25
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen To completely hide ignored tags, go to your profile, click prefs and check "hide ignored tags." $\endgroup$ – Ayman Hourieh Apr 6 '13 at 21:17
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I have neither understanding of nor sympathy for your frustration. I find it incomprehensible. And it is flatly untrue that ‘It’s very clear when someone just wants us to do their homework for them’, if $-$ as seems to be the case $-$ you’re talking about copy-paste questions with no further comment. (And as I’ve said before, calling them CPHomeworkQ is prejudging the issue.) $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 7 '13 at 18:42
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott I think it's obvious when a student is, essentially, trying to cheat using the site, rather than trying to get help understanding something. There's a difference between copying someone's solution and getting tutored - I feel the latter belongs here and the former does not. This is how I feel homework questions should be phrased. I don't see how you can find that "incomprehensible" - perhaps you disagree, but surely you must understand what I mean. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Apr 7 '13 at 19:18
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ And yes, admittedly there are occasionally "grey area" cases with respect to the whole cheating vs. tutoring thing, but the vast majority of the time I think it's quite clear. If the asker really is a motivated student, it shouldn't be hard for him to take 10 seconds to improve the quality of his question. I think that's fair to ask considering we volunteer our time to write quality answers. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Apr 7 '13 at 19:29
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Alexander: And I don’t think that it’s obvious. I think that you are falsely claiming to be able to read posters’ minds. How do you know that an unresponsive poster is just copying a solution and not learning from it? How do you know that the homework is even being turned in for a grade? In lower-level courses I assigned a great deal of homework for practice, to be discussed in class if there were questions, and none that was for a grade. Moreover, when I’ve given hints to these posters, a significant number of them have responded appropriately to the hint; you’d deny them the chance. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 7 '13 at 19:32
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Alexander: Fair? Why? If you don’t like the question, ignore it! I also volunteer my time, and I may want to answer that question. Or I may not. But I don’t want you deciding for me. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 7 '13 at 19:36
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott I don't want either of us to be alienated, which is why I support an official change in homework policy, i.e. on the FAQ. Those cooperative students would benefit much more if they mentioned what specifically they needed clarified. It is always more helpful to be tutored interactively than to read a full solution, whether it's for a grade or not. An improved homework policy would benefit everyone with an honest interest in learning. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Apr 7 '13 at 19:48
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Alexander: If we get an official change, I will seriously consider leaving. // Of course interactive tutoring is better. And as I pointed out, I’ve had it happen more than a few times when your policy would have closed the question. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 7 '13 at 19:57
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott So you'll leave if a compromise is made? Go ahead then. I appreciate your answers but this is a place for open discussion, not ultimatums. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Apr 7 '13 at 20:15
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @Alexander: (1) As I read your previous comment, you weren’t talking about a compromise: you were talking about a policy that would be at least very close to the one that you want. (2) I did not say that I would leave, and I might not do so; I said that I would seriously consider it. Your characterization of my comment as an ultimatum is as offensive as it is inaccurate. My comment was in fact intended to point out that I’m already more than a bit alienated, and that a policy strongly skewed in the direction that you favor is hardly likely to change that! $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 7 '13 at 20:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen, while no expert, I am planning on graduating sometime! :) $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Apr 8 '13 at 13:51
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ For the record, Alexander and I had a very pleasant discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 9 '13 at 23:58
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ To tell you the truth, I find this heated discussion heartwarming in a way. It is a sign that we all truly care about this community we have. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 10 '13 at 12:53
19
$\begingroup$

I usually stay away from meta matters, but this is an issue I feel strongly enough about to want to contribute something to the discussion on. To make this actually an answer to the original question, you should see it as an attempt to explain why, if it were solely up to me, I would have a policy requiring that users posting "homework" questions (broadly interpreted) should indicate that they have spent some reasonable amount of time (generously interpreted) thinking about the problem before posting. (As I have stated in the comments, I'm not actually in favour of such a policy without more community support than there seems to be).

My experience of the education system in the UK is that during primary and secondary education (everything pre-university), a huge number of students are taught, ususally a little indirectly, that the most important thing when given a mathematical problem is to be able to get the answer correct. Actually understanding what the question is asking, or what the answer means, is not important at all, and nor is the ability to solve problems in a creative way. This attitude seems to be promoted in two main ways. The first is that students are constantly made to sit exams, and the schools rise and fall based on the exam results. The second is that the exam questions very rarely require any deep understanding or creative solutions - the actual content of the syllabus varies a little between exam boards, but the general theme is that even at A-Level (I think high school level is the US analogue), no proofs are required, and most of the syllabus consists of differentiating and integrating various expressions - the result being that the act of answering a question and the act of thinking about and understanding a question are more removed from each other than they generally would be, and the latter isn't much of a prerequisite for the former.

When these students go to university to do mathematics degrees, they regularly don't recognize the subject compared to what they did at school, and reactions to this are often either very positive or very negative. Those who react negatively tend not to like questions asking them to prove things, and prefer situations where all the questions they are asked have the same basic structure, and they can perform an algorithm to solve them (such students tend to be good at a lot of first year linear algebra - computing row echelon forms, sifting spanning sets, computing determinants and inverses and so on). However, what all the students (at least at the universities I've taught at) have in common is that they got very high marks in school, and are often extremely embarassed to find that they're now getting things wrong, or not understanding what they're being taught.

This reaction can be so extreme that ocasionally students will try to get a correct answer to a problem in whatever way they can - at the university I currently teach at, the problem sheets don't change too much from year to year, and one or two students usually manage to obtain the previous year's solutions, and even though the problem sheets do not count for credit, will write these model solutions down and hand them in to be marked. This demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the fact that the problem sheets only exist for them to practice problem solving and to get feedback on their work - the model solutions are always provided anyway after the deadline, so they still get a "perfect" solution at the end of the process.

Students will also sometimes ask TAs (such as me) to just tell them the answers to problems - when a student does this I will always ensure that they've spent time thinking about the problem before I tell them anything. Often they haven't, to the point that they haven't even looked up the appropriate definitions. Once they've done that, I usually proceed with hints. The reason is that, as I've said in the comments, my attitude is that the process of thinking about the problem is more useful than getting the answer (and they'll get the answer later anyway). Being able to solve problems creatively is both significantly more useful in university level exams than school level exams (and students don't realise this at first), and I would guess is usually much more useful in "real life" after they finish their degree. I certainly find the problem solving skills I learnt on my degree programme significantly more useful than the actual information, and I do mathematical research for a living... Asking (politely) what somebody has tried is also a good way of starting a useful discussion on the problem.

These students will also ask questions online, and I try to respond in the same way (although the process of giving hints is a little more difficult on a platform like this). This is the reason for my WHYT comments. They aren't meant to be snarky, or accusations of cheating, as some users have suggested (although I take responsibility for the fact that the tone and motivation was appparently unclear), but are intended to be genuinely helpful in encouraging questioners to think before asking - while it may seem obvious to some of us, I genuinely believe that some questioners have not yet internalized that this will be helpful, and instead are satisfied with receiving a correct answer whether they understand it or not. I also believe that anybody providing full answers to such questions, as good-intentioned as they might be, is actually harming the education of the asker. I also think this is true independent of whether they got the question from a problem sheet given to them on a course, or if it was from a resource they are using for self-study.

To clarify my views on this slightly, I should also make plain a few things that I don't think. The primary one is that I don't think every user that copy-pastes a question from a textbook or an assignment does so without thinking about it. However my feeling is that the cost to such users of having to provide some indication of this is outweighed by the benefit to those who haven't thought before asking of being encouraged to do so. This is particularly true as this extra information is often helpful to answerers in ways that have been regularly pointed out by other commentators (neither of my two questions are "homework", and I tried to give an indication of my thoughts on both problems). I imagine that this could really be the main point of conflict here, that some users feel that requiring this additional effort on the part of askers is intrusive and outweighs any benefits. I can't really give an objective justification as to how the pros and cons on this point stack up - nor even imagine what such a thing would look like - so I can understand this just being a difference in priorities between different users.

Brian's point about askers for whom English is not a first language is a very good one, but I would hope that my requirement to indicate some effort is sufficiently minimal that they could get by without having to explain in detail what they did. If nothing else, an indication that English is not their first language could maybe be taken in lieu of an indication of prior thought, and would encourage answerers to write in simple English. Either way, I accept that this particular issue is a tricky one that my suggestion does not address very well.

The other thing I don't think is that users who copy-paste homework problems without thinking about them are necessarily cheating, or committing any kind of sin by doing so. As I said at the beginning, at least in the UK there are certain features of the education system that actively encourage this kind of behaviour, and I think many students who are harming their own education by doing this don't realise it - some polite encouragement to think before asking can be useful in this case I think. This is also why I described the assignment system at my own university, to emphasize that I still think this behaviour is harmful even when cheating is technically impossible because no credit is awarded.

Sorry this turned out to be so long - I hope at least it clarifies where I'm coming from on this issue and adds something to the debate.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It isn't the length, but the content; nice one, this answer. I liked it. I can only hope people who ask questions could always put as much thought-effort as you did in just writing this... $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 11 '13 at 14:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you for taking the time to write on the other aspects of the issue. There is a wide variety of benefits to having a more restrictive policy in place, but it's easy for the totality of the issue to be overlooked when discussion gets bogged down over individual points of contention. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 11 '13 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ I agree. Nice input to the whole discussion. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Apr 11 '13 at 16:07
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I have been active on another site that did have a more restrictive policy; both that askers should show their efforts on a problem (and should have the expectation of working along with those helpers), and that answerers should write answers that explain or suggest, rather than writing posts that look like they are submitting their homework to their teacher. And there it has been effective, and has gotten much positive feedback (both from students and their teachers)... $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 11 '13 at 16:09
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ ... I had not seen any indication that students thought it an undue burden (aside from the implication of such when a student goes through a dozen iterations of posting a question and not doing anything more on the problem before finally getting banned), nor have answerers seemed troubled when they were reminded of policy (in fact, they agreed, and were a little embarrassed at giving into the temptation of showing off). So I was (and still am) quite mystified by the reactions here that act like the world would end if even the slightest restrictions were in place. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 11 '13 at 16:12
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Yes. Especially to that part where it seem to outweigh the extra-work from those who did think about it. And I don't think that closing questions is that big of a deal. Especially if this is accompanied by polite comments. We are way beyond the point where reopening a question is difficult. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 12 '13 at 7:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: Here as everywhere I am opposed on principle to any rule, regulation, restriction, or policy for which there isn’t a very good reason, and I don’t consider any of the reasons advanced for this one nearly adequate to justify it. Under-regulation is almost always preferable to over-regulation. // I can draw no conclusion from your experience on the other site: it’s not clear that the site was sufficiently similar in scope, purpose, and demographics to be very relevant. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 13 '13 at 11:21
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Brian: I think that it's a good way to educate people. To retort all the judicial metaphors, we are not executing them. We merely give them a minor fine (which is fully refundable once they correct their ways), and if a user hasn't learned after three times then it's likely they will never learn and that they are not that interested in learning. I don't know if I want such users using the site. I have seen enough places being ran over by people who insisted not to learn. If this is a teaching site, it should commit to this teaching, rather than prance around it. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 13 '13 at 11:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I was thinking of writing up my thoughts on this matter, but this answer is very close to my own thoughts and very well put, so thanks. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kildetoft Apr 15 '13 at 15:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato I haven't said anything that requires me to know that (see the end of paragraph 6). $\endgroup$ – mdp Aug 19 '13 at 9:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato I don't - I'm guessing. I expect that I will be correct most of the time, but (crucially) I also don't believe it is actually a problem if I get it wrong. If the OP has come up with the problem themselves, then they probably have some context, and providing it is useful to people answering. $\endgroup$ – mdp May 19 '14 at 9:31
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato OK, then we disagree, which isn't really a problem. If I'm helping someone with a problem, I like to know what they've already thought so that I know how to pitch the explanation, avoid duplicating things they've already done, etc. The context is not usually relevant to the mathematical content of the solution, but it does have a large effect on how I phrase an answer, and therefore (probably) on how useful that answer is to the OP. $\endgroup$ – mdp May 19 '14 at 10:52
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato I'm not demanding anything - I'm describing how I use the site, why I use that way, and why I would like to be able to continue to do so. I think the cons of allowing context-free questions outweight the pros, so I like to be able to vote to close them - but I'm not saying everybody should do that, or that I should be able to close questions without input from other users, or that other people shouldn't be able to vote to reopen them. Accepting an answer doesn't prevent further answers, so I don't understand your example. $\endgroup$ – mdp May 21 '14 at 9:45
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It is true that my responses focus primarily on the person actually asking the question, and on people reading later only secondarily, but I also usually find that the answer I think is most useful for the OP is also the answer I think is most useful for people reading later. $\endgroup$ – mdp May 21 '14 at 9:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato To a good approximation, I do think this - but I do make an individual judgement on each question, and my record of voting to close no-effort questions is not 100%. $\endgroup$ – mdp May 27 '14 at 8:54
13
$\begingroup$

I started the close votes on the question that triggered this post, so I'll share my thoughts on it first. When I voted to close, the question consisted of two scans from a book. The first scan had a question of two parts, and the second scan had a proof for the first part of the question. The OP didn't indicate whether they didn't understand the proof they posted or they needed help with the second part. It was difficult to tell what was asked there. This is why I chose "not a real question" as the closing reason.

In general, I do think that we have a problem of low-effort, do-my-homework type of questions. Judging from Stack Overflow and MathOverflow, it seems that closing such questions is the right way to go. When we close a question, we should tell the OP why their question got closed. This would give them a chance to fix the question and try again.

What we need here on MSE is a well-defined policy on what a low-effort homework question is. This isn't an easy task, and I'm not sure we have consensus on this. For now, I do think that ambiguous book scans should fall under this category.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Just book (or personal, handwritten notes) scans with no further elaboration I just don't look at twice. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Apr 5 '13 at 12:57
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @vonbrand: You could at least do the rest of us a favor and click downvote before moving on. Or at the very least, refrain from trying to dissuade others from doing the rest of us a favor! $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 5 '13 at 13:15
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: I disagree utterly. If you don’t want to answer a question, ignore it. Closing it interferes with my freedom to answer it; ignoring it interferes with nothing. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 5 '13 at 22:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Brian: Even if you ignore all of the other concerns -- ignoring the question does still directly interfere with something: my ability to find the questions I am interested in. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 5 '13 at 23:00
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: You can work through or around that minor interference a hell of a lot more easily than someone else can work around a closure. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 5 '13 at 23:02
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Brian: It's not minor interference. What do we want MSE to be? The things stated in the FAQ? Or an answer service? I want the former. I have been on another site that became much more successful once its moderators decided to stop falling for the "if you don't like it, just ignore it" argument. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 5 '13 at 23:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: As far as I’m concerned it is minor interference. I’m reasonably happy with MSE just as it is $-$ or I would be if there were fewer people (a) looking for excuses to close questions and (b) snapping at newcomers. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 5 '13 at 23:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Brian: If someone came here posting a question looking for suggested was to protect one's self from the Wronski Feint, do you think the "if you don't want to answer it, ignore it" argument would hold any water? Your argument only makes sense if we both believe the sort of question under discussion is something that we actually want on the site. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 5 '13 at 23:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl, many of these questions are among the things we (or many of us, extrapolating from meta conversation and votes) want on the site. You are in effect demanding that your personal satisfaction or taste be elevated to a site-wide survival criterion for questions. I posted an example in the comments under the question; should that question have been refused, in your opinion? What about the other one I cited, where there was a coy refusal to answer the WHYT, and then the OP pulled out a complicated and certainly original proof after the answers were in and accepted? $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 6 '13 at 2:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: You’re substituting a straw man for my actual position. That hypothetical question is obvious nonsense and can be closed as off-topic, unless it contains a definition of Wronski Feint that actually turns it into a meaningful mathematical question. And your last sentence is false: my argument makes sense as long as a significant number of us either want or don’t mind such questions. (Actually, it makes sense to anyone who feels that way, no matter how many or few they are.) $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 6 '13 at 3:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Prompted by a comment here, now deleted, I checked the top of the users list for fraction of answers in the [homework] tag. I was surprised that my rate of HW answering is half the rate of several of the people complaining about homework-ish postings on meta, and closest to @Hurkyl's rate. Most other anti-HW folk are generally answering [homework] at a rate consistent with its fraction of all questions. One interpretation is that homework questions are about as engaging as the rest. If the untagged homework is less mathematically interesting than the tagged, the difference is probably small. $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 6 '13 at 6:42
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: I'm not sure what the last comment means. What's " a rate consistent with its fraction of all questions"? Am I included in your list of anti-HW people? I don't think there are many of those on the site, and you seem to keep confusing anti-HW with "anti-CPHQ with no effort whatsoever shown". That's like confusing all those who support eating meat with mass murderers -- sure, you can do it and to some extent a slippery slope argument shows the two are the same; but it's really just a distortion of the truth. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 6 '13 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ How do you know that a question is homework if it's not tagged as homework? $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 17 '13 at 23:00
11
$\begingroup$

I don't agree with this. I don't think we should close all question without shown effort. Let's look at an recent example.

Here the OP doesn't show any effort, but some of the 17 (!) answers are absolutely great. If questions like these would be deleted, those 17 answers would never have been written.

I actually like many pages at MSE where the question is some sense bad (no shown effort). Note that such question also invite users to give answers from different "angles". If the OP would have written here, I'm trying to solve this algebraically, and I'm stuck here, then there may be less variation in the given answers.

I do agree that MSE should not be a "do my homework" like website. But I think that closing all question that doesn't show effort is NOT the solution. Because I would like to have place at MSE for questions like "here is a nice question, can you show me (different) ways to prove this?" such as the example I have given.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think this is an exception, hardly the typical case. I also feel like that question is a duplicate anyway. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 11 '13 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ The example you have given does not say "here is [a] nice question, can you show me (different) ways to prove this?" $\endgroup$ – Did Apr 11 '13 at 7:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila I don't thing this is an exception. If I only look at the questions asked by this user I see many question (no effort shown), but great answers ! math.stackexchange.com/questions/334686/… math.stackexchange.com/questions/334692/… math.stackexchange.com/questions/328586/… math.stackexchange.com/questions/322993/… $\endgroup$ – Kasper Apr 11 '13 at 8:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think it would be sad if all those question would have been closed just because the OP doesn't show any effort. $\endgroup$ – Kasper Apr 11 '13 at 8:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Then this user is an exception. But wouldn't it be great if the user would write better formulated questions? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 11 '13 at 8:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila I think for the OP it would be better, because he/she could have a chance to get some personal tutoring about the concept he/she doesn't understand. But for me? I think I like it that those question are not so "personal", as that invites users to give many different answers. I think the reasons there are so many different (great) answers at some of those questions is actually because the question is so "bad". $\endgroup$ – Kasper Apr 11 '13 at 9:04
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I think it's luck, or coincidence, rather than a particular property of the question. Writing a better formulated question could have included "if there are other ways to see this, I'd be glad to hear them as well". $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 11 '13 at 9:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Kasper: I'll see your example and raise you this one $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 13 '13 at 12:48
9
$\begingroup$

I'll only adress the issue on which close reason to use. This is an issue for many sites that have some specific rules that are not captured in the network-wide close reasons, e.g. game recommendations on Arqade or the notability requirements on Skeptics. The proper way to handle those is in my opinion:

  • Create a Meta post detailing the official policy on these questions and why are closed
  • Add a short entry about it in the FAQ
  • Close as "off topic"

Using "not a real question" or "not constructive" is just plain wrong in most cases, those questions don't fit the close reason. "Off topic" might be somewhat confusing at first as well, but the scope of the site is something the community can decide, and if the community decides that such assignment dumps without any own effort don't belong on the site, then they are off-topic.

There are some improvements for that in the works at SE, they are currently overhauling the whole close system and rewriting the close rules. From what is known so far, there are some ideas to add site-specific sub-reasons for closing for the "off-topic" reason. This would enable the sites to make their own special rules official directly in the close reasons. But there is no timeframe known on these changes, and we don't know if they will even happen like this.

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ This is the only answer to which there are no comments. (Whoops, not any more!) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 12 '13 at 7:48
8
$\begingroup$

After metawalking over to the tex.stackexchange list of canned comments, I find the ideas they state under I want to do something very complicated: "Just do it for me" appealing to this situation.

The core idea, that a question should revolve around an abstract issue (e.g. "How do I solve quadratic equations?") rather than a concrete application (e.g. "Tell me the roots of $x^2 - x + 2 = 0$."). I believe makes for an excellent summary of crucial points on one side of some aspects of the issue.

(the actual application of this idea there is somewhat different than the situation considered here)

Reflecting on the comments, I'm leaning towards agreeing that closing as "too localized" is the correct response.

I believe the main (reasonable) objection boils down to there's a chance answerers could still give useful responses to the abstract issue making the topic useful to others.

There is a straightforward response to this objection: even when that actually happens, it's not the question posted that's useful to others: it's the imagined question the answerer decided to answer that's useful, not the one that was actually asked.

There are numerous benefits to pushing the state of affairs towards one the questions asked are the ones that can have useful answers, and where the useful answers are attached to the questions they actually answer.

$\endgroup$
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I flatly disagree with the notion that a question should ‘revolve around an abstract issue’. And anyone who has actually taught knows the benefit of concrete examples even when abstract issues are involved. You are proposing a limitation that is not just artificial, but counterproductive, and one that would prohibit a great many excellent and interesting questions $-$ clearly stated questions showing thought on the part of the querent $-$ that deal with specific problems. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 10 '13 at 0:04
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ At physics.SE they actually enforce such a rule, but my experience at tex.SE suggests they don't actually enforce this (here's a "Just do it for me" question of mine with a score of +5). Skeptics.SE also have strict rules regarding the quality of questions. $\endgroup$ – Douglas S. Stones Apr 10 '13 at 12:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am wrestling with this issue. Even if answerers give an answer that would be useful to others, I think it unlikely the others would find the answer. There is a huge amount of useful information here. Many times I know there is the perfect answer to a question, but I can't find it even having read it in the past. How will somebody who hasn't seen it find it? $\endgroup$ – Ross Millikan Apr 27 '13 at 3:25
5
$\begingroup$

In some ways I agree with you, certainly there is a problem with people posting on this site without providing any indication of what they've tried (I don't think anyone would deny that). I'm also fairly confident in saying that this is a problem for the site, rather than just an observation. Questions like these waste answerer's time since they have to try and glean the thoughts from the asker. As well as this, it is my opinion that they detract from the overall quality of the site, questions like this tend to be uninteresting, and the answers rarely provide the poster with better understanding, but just... provide an answer. As maths gems points out in a comment above, "there is a wide spectrum of usage of the site" but questions like this aren't good for either of the two extremes described.

However, with all that said, I don't think questions like the one in the link should be closed. I think that allowing questions to be closed because the asker doesn't show much effort is a dangerous precedent, because it is very subjective to say how much the asker has or hasn't thought about a question.

A lot of the time it may be the case that the asker has thought about the question but doesn't even know where to start. In this case, they would be unable to provide anything showing that they've thought about the question, even if they have.(As Brian M. Scott points out in the comments, it may also be the case that the asker's grasp of English isn't strong enough to provide an explanation of what they have done without a lot of effort.) As well as this, sometimes with questions of the kind described, they aren't actually that hard for someone who has a basic grasp of the material. In this case, no matter how much the asker thinks about the question, they will have nothing to show for it. This is simply because it is not deep enough to get a partial solution and the asker isn't familiar enough with the material to be able to think about it in a worthwhile way. I know I have left a few answers (as comments) along the lines of "Recalling the definition of thingamie is such and such, applying this to specific case in question, can you see how to arrive at the answer?".

To sum up, I don't think that questions like this should be closed. However, I do think that the problem does need addressing, and I also think that this sort of question should not be answered until the asker provides some indication that they've done more than copy and paste. I would suggest one approach would be to give more of an indication to new users as they sign up to math.SE of what is expected from their questions. I do agree that it is undesirable to do anything that might scare off new users, but given the number of users who sign up to ask a few low-quality questions and then cease to contribute, I think there is room for some changes to be made.

$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I "would deny that" it is necessarily a problem. We have people who don't indicate what they tried because they are experts asking focused questions; people who do indicate what they tried but it is useless bloat because the efforts are completely off track; and people who are pushed to state what they tried and then nobody comments on those efforts. One guy just posted his own solution to a problem (written before the question) after being pestered, requested evaluation of the work, and received none! If people are not going to utilize the "work" when answering, it should not be requested. $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 5 '13 at 5:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Also, the interesting/uninteresting nature of the question is mostly independent of "what have they tried", and has to do with subject matter, difficulty, novelty and so on. The average school homework problems will usually be less interesting than conundrums exchanged between experts, real life applications, or polished competition problems. Contest problems are, by convention, nearly always stated without hints or prior work, and often in the imperative mood (though of course they can be posted with extra information, or de-imperativized, and some people do that). $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 5 '13 at 5:28
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @zyx The original question did not request evaluation of personal work. So this is a two-phase procedure. Phase 1: OP asks "How to prove result R?" and receives answers answering exactly that. Phase 2: later on, OP modifies post, adds own proof of result R and asks "Here is my proof of result R, can you evaluate it?" This seems squarely out of the way the site is supposed to operate, to begin with, because this makes inappropriate every answer posted before phase 2 (and rather illogical to accept any of them, I should add). So, the lesson here might not be the one you try to make us believe. $\endgroup$ – Did Apr 5 '13 at 7:51
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @zyx I was surprised that you see WHYT comments as "passive-agressive", I certainly never meant them that way. It's exactly would I would say IRL to a student who asked me about a homework problem in a tutorial without indicating that they'd made any effort to think about it at all, although in that case I'd hope it would be clear from my tone of voice that it's a genuine question, rather than a veiled reprimand. It seems this doesn't come across properly when typing it instead. $\endgroup$ – mdp Apr 5 '13 at 10:43
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @zyx I did read quite carefully, thank you, and what is actually written does not contradict my analysis. (As an aside, I suggest that you stop using derogatory terms to characterize MSE members, their WHYT-comments, or their analyses about the problem of zero-thought-questions, when they do not wish to join you in your crusade.) $\endgroup$ – Did Apr 5 '13 at 11:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Did, you should display some examples of derogatory statements about MSE members or their analyses, especially when you don't seem to consider charming phrases like "zero-thought questions" (or the earlier one to another user about "these Grand Principles of yours" ), or the thousand and one drive-by snarks you are known for in comment threads -- total coincidence that it correlates with champion downvote rate -- as in any way troubling. If I and others (e.g., the OP) consider WHYT comments to be a negative for the site, the explanation of that will necessarily involve negative concepts. $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 5 '13 at 17:10
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @MattPressland, it may be a subject for a separate thread, but to begin with, answering a question with a question, one that is very much used snarkily on the site (e.g., accompanied by explicitly negative continuations like "we are not here to do your homework for you") is not a good starting point. For most questions where WHYTs are launched, the information is not needed or all that helpful for answering the question, and it is often not apparently used by any answerer, and typically not used in any way by those who asked the WHYT. It is, more often than not, an enforcement ritual. $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 5 '13 at 17:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ A lot of the time it may be the case that the asker has thought about the question but doesn't even know where to start. It may also be the case that the asker’s command of English (production, as distinct from comprehension) isn’t up to describing partial or failed attempts, at least without inordinate effort. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 5 '13 at 23:06
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Does anybody except @Did seriously dispute the assertion that "we have ... people who are pushed to state what they tried and then nobody comments on those efforts"; that this is a recurring phenomenon; and that it is very likely that someone who posts a WhatHaveYouTried request will not respond (even to say thanks, or at least delete the comment) when that material is posted? Does Did dispute that this pattern is demonstrated in the thread that I cited? It would seem to be a clear and objective set of facts, but I have learned to never be surprised by what some people will contest online. $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 6 '13 at 4:23
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @zyx While that is often true, I teach tutorials where attendance is compulsory, and students will attend with problem sheets they haven't looked at before they arrive, expecting me to hand out answers. From my point of view, the main point of them being given problem sheets is to make them think about problems (even getting an answer is secondary to spending some time thinking hard about the problem), so my reason for asking is to make sure they aren't skipping that part of the process - often that's what they're trying to do. $\endgroup$ – mdp Apr 6 '13 at 9:42
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @zyx Obviously you have an infinite amount of time at your disposal to discuss these matters and you are ready to use any and every rhetorical trick to push your very specific agenda. These are two decisive advantages in fora such as this one. Hence you win. (Two points: in actual fact, the chronology you give in your last comment is simply false, not by accident. Also it needs some dose of chutzpah to mention "scolding" when you are the one who first scolded and rejoiced that a honest commenter was "cleverly" "silenced".) Now, if you shall excuse me from this page, enough is enough... $\endgroup$ – Did Apr 6 '13 at 10:42
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Did, since you were not able to come up with examples of "derogatory remarks" about MSE users, perhaps you could explain this time what you are claiming as rhetorical tricks and deliberate chronology falsification. As far as I could determine by checking the time stamps, you are kicking up dust about the meaning of the word "then", in relation to events that are two minutes apart, and for which my account can be read as being either correct as it is, or as infinitesimally incorrect in ways that make no apparent difference to the discussion. $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 6 '13 at 12:56
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @zyx Sorry but I am not at your service. Anyone interested can read your contributions and decide for themselves what they think of your crusade and of the ways you use to lead it (which, according to me, include intimidations, non sequiturs, and evasions when taken to task for what you actually write about actual specific cases). For the reasons already explained in my last comment, I will not reply to your next comments/orders/fallacies/strange reasonings/whatever. Happy excommunications. $\endgroup$ – Did Apr 6 '13 at 13:11
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The Charm Offensive continues its relentless march. It might occur to you at some point that habitual use of pre-emptive descriptions like crusade, Grand Principles, agenda (repeat $\times n$), rhetorical trick and such, are themselves rhetorical games that block discussion. Telling users of the site -- less frequent than yourself, I might add -- that they spend too much time, and pulling out whenever inconvenient questions are posed, are not good signs either. Good luck and enjoy the downvoting championship. It is surely unrelated to anything I just wrote. (@Didier. Did I Err?) $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 6 '13 at 13:35
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Did: zyx’s comments were not a diversion. You’re the one making accusations and refusing (‘I am not at your service’) to back them up. And while zyx is certainly pushing his point of view, you are pushing yours, and you are the one using emotionally loaded language. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 6 '13 at 19:40
-3
$\begingroup$

Maybe there should be an official closing reason for this type of questions

If that happens, there should be a complete ban on "What Have You Tried" meta-comments that do nothing except discuss the level of effort, with all such comments flaggable as spam and subject to deletion at any time.

Given direct channels for the WHYT/effort-related signals, including specialized close votes or flags or automated comments that link to an FAQ, the OP has ways to receive all those communications without polluting the environment for the other 99 percent of readers.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Speaking of which: I presume you're well aware that they already have a WHYT ban over at SO? $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 5 '13 at 3:01
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, we were just discussing that ban, and the wisdom of bringing it to MSE, in the comments to a currently active question: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/8947/what-have-you-tried (@J.M.) $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 5 '13 at 5:08
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I'm surprised at the downvotes. Maybe they are about the unspoken premise rather than the actual content of this answer? Or maybe the tone? (?!) $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 5 '13 at 13:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It may be worth noting the difference between somewhat WHYT-like comments that have useful content, such as "have you tried separation of variables" where that is the obvious method, and what is discussed in the answer: meta-comments that do nothing except discuss the level of effort (or whether it is homework, or other meta-issues that carry implied criticism and no contribution to balance that). $\endgroup$ – zyx Apr 5 '13 at 17:35
-21
$\begingroup$

I don't agree with banning a non-homework question showing no effort. What if someone asks a question like the Fermat's last theorem without showing no effort? This is an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Maybe you think that importance of a question is self-evident. How can you be so sure?

Edit My point is that you could ban important/interesting/useful questions with the policy.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Please post your opinion explaining the downvote. $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 17 '13 at 23:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Makoto: First please remember that a downvote on meta just means that someone disagrees with you. And you can probably see all the other answers/comments for reasons for why someone might disagree with you. Second, you of course see some problem-statement-only questions where no one complains. The reason for my asking this specific meta question was that I didn't see any official policy on whether or not one can close a question just because it is statement-only. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Aug 18 '13 at 0:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ About the FLT question, I would also note that one still can say something about it. Often what is desired is just that the OP gives a little about what they have tried. Even with FLT one can try things. If one feels that one just fails at every attempt, there might still be something good in the attempt. And besides attempts, one could simply state what thoughts one has. Can the OP for example explain what about the problem is causing the most confusion? $\endgroup$ – Thomas Aug 18 '13 at 0:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sorry about the string of comments. Maybe a thing you could do would be to first make clear whether or not you think it is any problem at all when someone just copies down a problem and demands that a solution be given. Is it a problem is math.SE is a place that without hesitation hands out solutions to homework assignments? If you don't think that is a problem, then fine. If you do think it is a problem, then I would like to know what you believe we could do about it. Closing the questions is one obvious way, but maybe you have a better idea. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Aug 18 '13 at 0:06
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Thomas I'm talking about non-homework questions, okay? I have no idea what's wrong with borrowing a problem from a textbook and posting it here as long as the OP writes the source. $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 18 '13 at 0:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So how should we deal with homework questions? (no one is by the way saying it is wrong to "borrow" a problem from a book). $\endgroup$ – Thomas Aug 18 '13 at 1:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Thomas I think they should not be banned. The reason is the same. A homework question may be important/interesting/useful. You could ban such questions with the policy. It is not true that every homework is of low level and unimportant. $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 18 '13 at 1:11
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ No one is saying that we should ban homework questions. I think that you have misunderstood the problem. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Aug 18 '13 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Thomas No, I have not. We are talking about the policy banning a question showing no effort, aren't we? $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 18 '13 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Thomas I correct the above comment as follows: I think homework questions showing no effort should not be banned. The reason is the same. A homework question may be important/interesting/useful. You could ban such questions with the policy. It is not true that every homework is of low level and unimportant. $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 18 '13 at 1:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You write: "It is not true that every homework is of low level and unimportant." and just to be clear: no one is claiming that. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Aug 18 '13 at 2:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I might misunderstand you, so just to to help me understand: Are you saying that you see no problem whatsoever in a student just posting his homework (just the statement) on math.SE expecting to just receive an answer? Is there nothing unethical in a student trying to use math.SE for cheating by having other people do the work? (I am not saying that this is the whole issue, but it is part of it). $\endgroup$ – Thomas Aug 18 '13 at 2:28
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Come now, @MakotoKato. Wanting to cheat on homework is one thing, but deliberately mistagging questions on MSE? That takes a special flavour of sociopathy. I don't think people like that really exist. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Aug 18 '13 at 7:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderGruber [Come now, @MakotoKato. Wanting to cheat on homework is one thing, but deliberately mistagging questions on MSE? That takes a special flavour of sociopathy. I don't think people like that really exist.] Do you think if someone wants to cheat on homework, he would tag it as homework? $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato Aug 19 '13 at 23:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @MakotoKato Alexander Gruber was clearly being sarcastic. You should stop pinging him asking for him to defend a point he wasn't making. $\endgroup$ – Alex Becker Aug 20 '13 at 1:32

You must log in to answer this question.

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