I was reading around the extensive topic minefield of homework policy in order to come to better understand the community's attitude (not provoked by anything in particular), and came across a slightly old reference to the homework policy of the SO network. This led me to the page The homework tag is now officially deprecated on the main meta site.

My question is

Why is it that the perception of and approach to homework problems is different within math.SE to that at SO/elsewhere in the SE network?

Is this because mathematics students 'exploit' the network more? Why is this, if it's true? Is it purely a perception in the community?

  • 10
    $\begingroup$ Deprecation of the homework tag becomes more compelling as size of the site increases. Stackoverflow is further along the learning curve. Meta.MSE warfare over this issue is illustrative. Essentially, questions with actual or superficial homework-like features are being used as a scapegoat for changes in the size of the site and the type of users. Late adopters must disproportionately come from the broader population, not eager mathematicians and problem solvers. The daily closed list shows that shutting homeworkoid questions is an ineffective ritual sacrifice to the warrior god "Psq". $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    May 23, 2013 at 21:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: Why not post an answer? $\endgroup$ May 23, 2013 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ @JonasMeyer, weariness from earlier discussion. I guess it is true for some other participants, too. $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    May 23, 2013 at 23:16
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: Either you've been reading/watching too many fantasy films recently, or you're just being overly dramatic. "warrior god" and "warfare" make things seem as if we are fighting in the seven kingdoms, and I'm not sure which of the sides is deserved to be called "The Others", and whether or not it's an insult. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    May 23, 2013 at 23:23
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @asaf: or the comment is accurate, and phrased colorfully to make a point (or for humor, or some other reason). Have a nice day - as the comment to Jonas should tell you, I am not "up" for a digression on comment posting styles. $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    May 23, 2013 at 23:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks, @zyx. I appreciate any enlightenment, esp. given how tedious arguments become. One thing I'm not sure I understand is specifically why you say "scapegoat" there. Who is blaming what when the problem is really what? (I understand your argument about expansion $\implies$ newbies fine.) $\endgroup$ May 23, 2013 at 23:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Sharkos, a scapegoat is something expelled from the community in the hope of removing some (other) problem. There is a sometimes articulated, sometimes not, idea that if only one or another bad sort of homeworklike postings could be closed/deleted, their posters suspended, posters' IPs banned (these are all suggestions that were made), we could somehow return to a purer, prelapsarian state from the days of Junior MathOverflow with fewer of the cheating, homeworking, factory (ab)users working the system. But inexorable size/demographic shifts are driving the perceived quality levels. $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    May 23, 2013 at 23:53
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @Sharkos: Why does zyx use the term "scapegoat" and "warfare" and "sacrifice to the warrior god Psq"? Because zyx, like many other people on meta (myself included) enjoys drama. And good drama doesn't come off easy, not without comparing this website to a tribal, medieval society, where tribes fight one another for gold, women, and land. And in time, these tribes evolve into kingdoms, and knights, and religions, and websites, and communities on stackexchange. That is why zyx uses "scapegoat", and that is why dramatic words are often spill around the controversial topics on meta. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    May 24, 2013 at 0:38
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @asaf: speak for yourself. I chose the word "scapegoat" because it is, as far as I know, the only term in the English language for (not) solving a problem by excluding certain people or things from the community. It is a very close, and in many ways literal, description of the situation with the homework-oid closing discusions. If you or others like to dramatize, those are your decisions for your own reasons. $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    May 24, 2013 at 0:44
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @zyx: Correlation does not imply causation. I am everywhere on meta. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    May 24, 2013 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ Umm, that meta post has to do with the HW tag on SO, afaict. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2013 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ I was slightly unclear. I'm motivated by a SO page to ask why mathematics is different to some other exchange(s). This was a motivating example, to put it another way. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2013 at 14:08

1 Answer 1


You're mixing up two fundamentally different topics: the tag itself and the topic how to deal with the homework questions themselves.

The common arguments for and against the tag are roughly:


  • Allows users to ignore all (correctly-tagged) homework questions
  • Might indicate to users that not a full solution should be given


  • It is a meta tag, it does not tell us what the question is about, only what type of question it is
    • Such meta tags are used very often if they are tolerated, so they tend to end up in the HTML title of the question (where they are completely useless and replace other, more useful tags)
    • Meta tags tend to be useless for searching, as they don't provide useful information
    • Allows users to only tag questions with homework, and omit any actually useful tag about the topic of a question
  • Causes noise in comments and additional potential for conflict if the tag is applied by other users than the asker, if they disagree whether a specific question is homework or not
  • Allowing users to hide a tag that contains a disproportionate amount of low-quality questions is just a way to hide the actual problem and makes it harder to actually improve the quality of the site.

Meta tags have been strongly discouraged for a while, was just the last major one on SO to survive for a bit longer. There are still a few sites that use the homework tag like Physics, but the SE-wide consensus seems in opposition of the tag now.

My impression is that here on MSE the number of users that filter out homework is rather high, which would explain why there is no serious effort to remove the tag here. MSE also seeems to have a greater distance to the SE network as a whole, and diverges in some aspects from the network-wide consensus. My suspicion is that how closely a site follows the general SE consensus is determined by a large part on how much previous experience with SE the initial core community on a new site has. Once some practices are established, it is much harder to change them.

The other part of this problem is the question on whether to allow homework questions at all or where the minimal requirements in quality and effort should be set. This is a controversial topic SE-wide, though here on MSE it tends to be discussed with too much hyperbole and provocative language, and that tends to make the discussions more personal and less constructive.

The position that seems to have the strongest support SE-wide in my observation is that the problem should not be framed in terms of homwork, but of low-quality and low-effort questions. SO for example does not allow "Gimmeh teh codez!" questions that just expect the answerer to do their work for them. This distinction is reasonably easy to make on SO, it is a bit fuzzier in many other topics in my opinion.

Pure "assignment dump" question that consists of nothing but a copy-pased problem are not allowed on any of the scientific sites. That is one aspect where there is a reasonable consensus SE-wide in my observation.

So I don't think MSE is that far from the SE consensus, it is pretty much going through the same discussions as SO did and the arguments are rather similar.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Meta tags are discouraged, except where they are useful. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2013 at 7:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ MSE is in the minority in the use of such meta tags. Only a handful of sites allow the questions that would be tagged soft-question and big-list anyway. This is a point where MSE diverges significantly from the SE consensus. With the exception of negative filtering for tags like homework, those meta tags provide no value in my opinion. $\endgroup$
    – user9733
    May 24, 2013 at 7:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks+1, though I'm not sure I'm mixing up two topics. My question is simply broader than either specific issue. $\endgroup$ May 24, 2013 at 8:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The math SE is doing it exactly right by adjusting "network wide" policies, consensus, rules, etc to the needs of people in the local community and I pity that for example Physics SE does not the same but adheres too strictly to network wide (or more exactly MO/MSO determined) rules, policies, etc (for example concerning the strict disallowance of any study material, reference, or small list questions) which counteracts the (even in meta posts expressed!) needs of a community of active physicists doing physics at different levels :-/. $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    May 24, 2013 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ "end up in the HTML title" - isn't the selection of title tag done on the server side, and therefore adjustable by SE any way they want? I assume they are not perpetually committed to most-popular-tag as the only possibility for putting a tag into the title. From the ignorant user point of view this looks like one of the less complicated things for developers to modify. (Another question: is the title tag permanently assigned, or changes with the relative popularity of tags?) $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    May 24, 2013 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ @zyx Any alternative solution would add some complexity, and I doubt SE would do that if their position is that you shouldn't use this kind of tag anyway. There are some sites (q.g. Arqade) that run hard into the limitations of the tag system and I'd like to see some changes there, but I really don't see the value in these meta tags. $\endgroup$
    – user9733
    May 25, 2013 at 11:51

You must log in to answer this question.

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