I enjoy the rewards system on the Stack exchange network. I learned some time ago that you can easily earn gold badges on all sites by picking the most interesting questions and using the "Share" button to get a unique link to post on the high traffic site reddit.

This works out well for Reddit, where such things get many votes, and for Stack exchange, whose business model is driven by traffic. However, many MO users want a site that is more like a Speakeasy or exclusive club, and who shudder at the idea of reddit.

Should this badge and its bronze and silver counterparts be removed?

The questions I posted on reddit included a big list of free online graduate lectures, a discussion of the importance of rig our, a list of simple conjectures, and a post of mine on modeling human antibodies.

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    $\begingroup$ I think there are more 'doubtful' badges -- think e.g. of someone trying to get the 'copy editor' badge (mathoverflow.net/help/badges/33/copy-editor) as quick as possible ... . $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl Mod
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ I hope nobody here goes around on all sites picking question in order to earn gold badges... come on, that's not real gold $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ Another way to get a gold badge (and cheating the system) is to reload your own question 10000 times. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ @DagOskarMadsen: This requires a certain waiting time (some minutes, but how long exactly?) between two reloads, since otherwise the counter is not incremented for each reloading of the page from the same IP address -- so you'd need to be pretty patient! $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl Mod
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ The tag (badges) seems to be appropriate for this question. (I do not have enough rep to edit your post, so I am posting a comment instead.) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ An example: I have seen some links to MO and MSE posted on Google Plus by Andres Caicedo. I guess he has among his followers/friends many mathematicians, so exactly the audience MO is aimed at. I think that similar thing might be true if you find links to questions here on a blog by some known mathematician. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ Speaking only for myself, we could do without all the badges. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ @PietroMajer Fields medal is also not real gold, and I think there were some people who actively pursued it (some even were successful; my source of information is autobiographies, not super-accurate but accurate enough I think). Would you also say "come on" to them? $\endgroup$
    – user140765
    Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ Excuse me for only giving the short answer to your question, which is the following: no. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @user140765: The Fields medal is real gold: mathunion.org/imu-awards/fields-medal $\endgroup$
    – Mark Grant
    Commented Aug 22, 2021 at 11:39

3 Answers 3


Of course we want the badge. If 1000 people use the link and come here, but 997 of them never come back, we have lost very little. But if the other 3 find out about MO and do become regular participants, then we have gained something.

SO ... I don't intend to do it, but if someone wants to get lots of gold badges by this method: Go for it!

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    $\begingroup$ This is a bit too simple a view. The issue is that somebody visiting the site (without posting) never coming back and somebody becoming a regular participant (in the sense of contributing valuable content) are not the only possibilities. These three might just as well (actually quite a bit more likely, in my opinion) post yet more off-topic questions. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ My answer stands. Even if we get 997 people posting off-topic and 3 people posting on-topic, it is worth it. We do not want to keep out those 3, even at the expense of the 997. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ How many people would leave because of 997 off-topic posts? $\endgroup$
    – Boris Bukh
    Commented Dec 11, 2013 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ If people post off-topic content their posts will be closed, and they will learn what's not appropriate for the site. These aren't automata you're talking about-- they're real people. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 18:38

Very interesting method. I think that the benefit that 1000 people get to know about the existence of MO far out weight the nuisance that someone gets a yellow dot after their name.

As a new user and I am also motivated by the yellow dots, so i know how you feel. It must be like someone can break the game, it is easy to get them, and it is not fun anymore. But in the past few months i experienced that the majority of great mathematicians here don't really care about this stuff. So for example for them there are no disadvantages of your actions.

One can think that such actions attract users who post low quality questions, but there are badges for flagging questions, and reviewing...

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    $\begingroup$ I think you misunderstand. The nuisance is in attracting many visitors who don't really understand the site and post off-topic questions. $\endgroup$
    – HJRW
    Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think i misunderstood. My last sentence was intended to mean that we can already deal with off topic questions. Speaking only for myself, but i am willing to read and flag and vote on tens of off topic questions, just to read that (weekly) 2 or 3 very interesting ones! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 10:41

"publicity" is an important/integral part of scientific research and thereby also mathematical research, but it seems there are not that many scientists and mathematicians who are known to especially epouse it. there are rare exceptions. Carl Sagan comes to mind as a great model/mass popularizer of science who was still held in high esteem within the scientific community. but note that publicity is a concept that also applies within a narrow coterie eg among experts sharing amongst themselves.

in science it is largely handled with the "publication" system [papers], but that is only the more predominant form. conventions, talks, lectures, awards etc (and yes, driving traffic to a site about scientific research via this particular badge you mention) are other forms of publicity. there are some who disparage so-called "promotion" or "advertising" of scientific research/results but that seems backward to me.

an example/case study of a famous mathematician with words/actions that can be interpreted as against publicity: Perelman. but, he's regarded by many within the field as eccentric in this way [among other ways].

speaking of publicity, the general chat room on this site seems somewhat underutilized. maybe the larger community here is not aware of it. my understanding is that the pre-stackexchange version of MO did not have a chat room so maybe this is not widely known. it seems an opportunity for the many elite experts on the site to talk about their research or other aspects of math they would like to popularize. it is easy to post a few brief lines & it supports inline images so graphs or other diagrams can be easily shared. alas it does not support latex but there are installable extensions that support it. would like to see creative uses of it! have posted a few musings already, check 'em out if you have a spare moment.

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    $\begingroup$ the poster mentions in comments he is concerned about users being drawn to the site who dont understand stackexchange or MO ettiquete to begin using the site haphazardly. but stackexchange/MO already have many, many mechanisms, many quite powerful almost to the point of suppressing, for restricting newbies.... so then, "let em all visit and let the collaborative filtering mechanisms sort 'em all out" $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 2:38
  • $\begingroup$ a 1st rate mathematician who was interested in publicizing the field, but felt that in this way he was atypical or not-tasteful, to the point of apologizing: Hardy in the famous book Mathematicians Apology. the Apology is in reference to his publicizing mathematics. $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 2:41
  • $\begingroup$ also, blogs can be a key mechanism of publicity. initially seen somewhat warily by "pros", they've really taken off over the years, to the point that an elite crowd uses them quite prolifically at times. two standouts that come to mind, also MO users: Tao and Gowers. publicity helps draw the next generation of students to the field. if anyone feels that their niche branch of math is underappreciated and would benefit from more exposure/participation, publicity is [at least part of] the answer. consider SE community blogging too! $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 3:25
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    $\begingroup$ I just read this. It's perhaps a side issue, but I believe "apology" in "A Mathematician's Apology" isn't in the sense of begging one's pardon, but more in the sense of apologetics (please look up this word if it is not familiar). So I believe you've misunderstood here. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 0:21

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