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Splitting off the first item from the main 6. Currently, the 'off-topic' reasons are:

  • This question does not appear to be about research level mathematics, within the scope defined in the help center.
  • This question belongs on another site in the Stack Exchange network
  • Other (add a comment explaining what is wrong)

We can edit them (except the last two) and add more. What do you suggest?

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    $\begingroup$ "Drunken post full of nonsense" :-) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jun 26 '13 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ As a guideline, the suggested wording is Questions about X are off-topic because Y. For more information, see [Z](link to meta post). Feel free to change it, but it can be helpful to have as a starting point. $\endgroup$ – David Fullerton Jun 26 '13 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ Note: The first one is the "default" off topic reason. It will disappear the moment you add another. You can have a total of three active custom reasons (see: meta.stackexchange.com/a/186042/178438) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ Do you guys get a lot of research level homework questions? $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth, graduate level homework questions are often acceptable. $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Jun 26 '13 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais "often" .. so are you picky about these? In that case you may want an "non-conceptual homework" close reason (or something like that). We have a homework policy and associated close reason on Physics, for example. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ We've had tons of discussions about this in the old days. Closed homework questions are usually undergraduate level and therefore unsuitable for other reasons. $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Jun 26 '13 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ A "do your research before posting" reason might be handy though. $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Jun 26 '13 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais ah, I see. So no need for a separate reason. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais Yeah, "do your research" sounds much more like it :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ The homework issue is less important to me than "did you try hard first, using the skill-set and initiative that are necessary to do research in mathematcs" $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jun 26 '13 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure if this is the right place but I think it would be good to bring back the no longer relevant closing option to close questions answered in comments or old big list questions getting spammy answers. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Steinberg Jun 27 '13 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ Old big-list questions should get the new historical lock treatment. $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Jun 27 '13 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ @François, I think protect can sometimes be a better option for old big-list questions than locking, it would prevent spam answers, see for example this cstheory question. Locking with for historical reasons implies that similar questions are not welcome anymore. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 27 '13 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh I'd be happy with that inference! (Speaking as someone who would find quite a few of my early questions being "locked".) $\endgroup$ – Loop Space Jul 5 '13 at 8:50
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We may want to have something like:

"Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Tell us what you've tried to do, why it didn't work, and how it should work. See also: [good question checklist]"

For questions where the person asking the question doesn't seem to understand the basics or the person asking the question has not done their homework (e.g. the answer can be found on the Wikipedia article for the topic).

Based on one of custom close reasons for SO

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Please do your research before posting. We expect questions to have at least a minimal amount of work put into them on this site.

Or something along those lines.

Being a site for researchers, "insufficient research" may be taken the wrong way too, alternate wordings welcome.

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    $\begingroup$ Surely mathematicians will prefer to say "at least a minimal amount of work" or simply "some work". I wouldn't want to have to undo some of my work if it turned out to be more than minimal. $\endgroup$ – Andreas Blass Jun 26 '13 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreasBlass Psh. ;-) I'm not a mathematician. Anyway, edited, good catch. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 22:11
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The "duplicate" closing text now says that "This question has been asked before and already has an answer." In many cases actually the reason for closing is that the same question is posted multiple times without an answer. Can we have a text that just states that the question is closed because it duplicates an existing question?

an example: https://mathoverflow.net/questions/134932/the-intuition-behind-a-matrix-of-a-hamiltonian

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    $\begingroup$ You can't close a question as a dupe of another that has no upvoted or accepted answer unless you are a mod. In such cases, flag asking for a moderator to close or delete. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 27 '13 at 13:50
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Reposted from another thread at Anton's suggestion:

I just voted to close this question as off-topic.

On the old MathOverflow, I'd have voted to close as "Not a Real Question". But in the current version, the closest I can come to "Not a Real Question" is "Unclear What You're Asking", which requires me to invite the OP to "Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details". I do not want this poster to clarify his specific problem or add additional details. I just want his question closed.

This issue has arisen for me a few times since the transition, and I've dealt with it by always choosing "Off Topic". But I'd be much happier if we had the old "Not a Real Question" option.

Edited to add: The more general principle, it seems to me, is that the reasons for closing should not invite another round of participation from posters who are very unlikely to contribute anything other than an additional waste of time.

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I agree with Andreas on both counts. It is enough to say that the mathematical level of a question should be sufficiently high to be interesting to professional research mathematicians.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Interesting" is a subjective matter, while you can have a close reason "Not about research level mathematics", this is a bit more confusing and won't help much imo. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 27 '13 at 13:49
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If you get a fair number of pitches for crank theories, you may want the following close reason (we use it on the Physics site)

We deal with mainstream mathematics here. Posts on topics don't belong in reputable journals is not appropriate on this site.

(you may want to say "mainstream research level mathematics", too)

@Kaveh suggested this one:

Questions about the general correctness of unpublished preprints and solutions of major open problems are off-topic. For more information, see [our policy for questions about preprints].

However, it only applies to questions that ask for correctness. It may be necessary for the close reason to cover posts about crank theories as well.


The best word that describes such posts is "crank", It's accurate, and quite unambiguous. However, it's quite rude and unprofessional to use the term, for obvious reasons. I feel that giving an objective definition to mainstream may work:

We deal with mainstream mathematics here. Posts should be about topics that have been published in reputable journals. Questions about the general correctness of unpublished preprints and solutions of major open problems are off-topic. For more information, see [our policy for questions about preprints].

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    $\begingroup$ The second sentence would have to be edited; "reputable journals" are taboo these days... $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Jun 26 '13 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais O_o Care to clarify? I'm not a mathematician and I'm not sure if you're joking :S $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ Not kidding - thecostofknowledge.com $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Jun 26 '13 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ I also wouldn't want people to read in: "your research is not fit for publication." We're not referees! $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Jun 26 '13 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais oh, the Elsevier business. Have any alternative wordings? It's got to be as clear and objective as possible. (And having the word "crank" may not be a good idea in a close reason) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais that too. On Physics, we usually don't care much for kook theorists. These are the guys posting about perpetual motion machines and various other crap; so we don't mind if they think we told them it's unsuitable for publication. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ Since our user base consists mostly of high-level researchers, they have different sensitivities. (Though the underlying issues are often the same as elsewhere.) $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Jun 26 '13 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ I conjecture that none of the answers I've given on MO could be published in a reputable journal, and very few could be published in disreputable journals. MO questions and answers very rarely rise to the level of publications. $\endgroup$ – Andreas Blass Jun 26 '13 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreasBlass Oh, we're not talking about the posts being published, we're talking about topics. Is the question/answer about something mainstream and publishable? Then OK. I'll edit it. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ How about: "Questions about the general correctness of unpublished preprints and solutions of major open problems are off-topic. For more information, see [our policy for questions about preprints]." $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 26 '13 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh you guys have that policy? Great! (I'll edit it in) However, this doesn't cover posts (especially answers) which are about a crank theory, clearly seeking to get attention. (Or do you not get that type on MO?) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth, there is a policy about open problems, don't know if there was one about preprints. What I wrote in the comment above is what I have written for cstheory. It might be better to make the answer CW so others who are more familiar with the exact policies on MO can edit them. :) $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 26 '13 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh ah, I see. Also, done. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jun 26 '13 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ Leaving open problems and preprint-checking to others, let me comment again on the problem of cranks. We certainly want to exclude them, as a matter of policy, but we (or at least most of us) are too polite to use the word "crank" or synonyms in the policy statement. "Publishable" and "mainstream" seem too restrictive. Having "publishable" refer to topics (rather than the post itself) seems not to work either; cranks like to work on topics where correct work would be publishable. (To be continued in another comment as I'm running out of space here.) $\endgroup$ – Andreas Blass Jun 27 '13 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ Many people have a narrower idea of "mainstream" than I would like. For example, I think many people would consider ultrafinitism to be outside the mainstream, yet I can imagine a perfectly reasonable MO question about some aspect of Ed Nelson's work. (On the other hand, I'd want to exclude confused posts like those of WM and sock puppets.) $\endgroup$ – Andreas Blass Jun 27 '13 at 2:13

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