Why does mathoverflow encourage only "research-level" questions while stack overflow encourages "all-level" questions?

I understand that the two communities seem to have different mentalities towards the sophistication level of questions and I am trying to understand why.

I have read and understand that the guidelines for asking math questions And found the accepted answer on what "research-level" means

It seems weird to me that someone cannot ask something trivial like "how I multiply two numbers together?" on mathoverflow.

On stackoverflow someone can/did ask "How do I make a for loop in python?" ( equally as trivial as multiplying two numbers together ) https://stackoverflow.com/questions/10440493/python-for-loops-novice

Why is the stackexchange mathematics community against simple/googleable questions, while the stackexchange software community is not?

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    $\begingroup$ You already seem to have found what MO is about, and what MSE is about. Why do you insist that both should be the same? Does that make any sense to you? $\endgroup$
    – Lucia
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Lucia I didn't realize math.stackexchange.com existed. Which is exactly what I was looking for, and thought (wrongly) that mathoverflow was the closest thing. I do suggest not deleting, or putting this question on hold, as it will direct more poorly informed people in my situation to the other site, and thus waste less of your time. $\endgroup$
    – D A
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ This would have helped me: meta.mathoverflow.net/questions/519/… $\endgroup$
    – D A
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ I see. From your question I didn't realize that you didn't know about MSE. Glad you found it, and perhaps it'll be of use to you. $\endgroup$
    – Lucia
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 0:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Lucia Stack Overflow is the Stack Exchange site for programming. (Tangentially, MSE is typically used, by most everybody in the network but some math-sites users, to refer to Meta Stack Exchange and not the Mathematics Stack Exchange.) $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 6:08
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    $\begingroup$ Whoever vote to close this as off-topic could they please explain how this question is not about MathOverflow? $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ Why all these downvotes? Calm down, guys. This was a sincere if naive question, asked on meta as it should be. $\endgroup$
    – Joël
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 3:44
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    $\begingroup$ @user9072 The official acronym for Meta Stack Exchange is mSE, by the way. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Joël: I’m not sure if it’s still official the case, but at least in the distant past, the convention was that downvotes on Meta are often used to mean just “I disagree with this (implied) proposal”, not to be taken as “I think this is a bad question”. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 8:08

3 Answers 3


The purpose of MathOverflow is to serve as a resource for professional mathematicians. If we allowed questions of any level, the vast majority of questions would be low-level questions (as is the case on MSE). As a result, it would be harder for research-level questions to get noticed and answered by the right people, and many mathematicians would be less interested in contributing to the site. For these reasons, even if MSE did not exist (as it did not when MO was first founded), MO would still not allow questions of all levels.

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    $\begingroup$ MSE = math.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$
    – D A
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ Note that one can search and filter questions by tags on Stack Exchange sites. So it is not clear to me why MO could not exist simply as a tag [research-level] on MSE. There are surely a few details to be ironed out, and the interface can be improved, but I believe the general idea is not as crazy as you may think. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 13:09

I think what my new downvoting friends were trying to say, is that there exists a stackexchange site for non-research MATH questions here:


I was not aware that this site exists and will now attempt to ask all my questions there.

I am more than happy to avoid asking myself if questions are research-level, despite being certain I will use the answers I get in my research.

This would have helped me: Explicitly pointing out math.stackexchange when (new?) users ask a question

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    $\begingroup$ If you make the research angle (i.e. what it has to do with your research as a mathematician) manifest in your question, then the question often does get better reception at MO than if you hadn't. It's true that on average the threshold has risen over the years, but it's still largely true that questions that could plausibly be asked by a graduate student past the qualifying exam stage are on-topic, but most especially so if it seems to be coming from a mathematician who although not expert in the area has a genuine need to know. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ On your remark what would have helped you. In principle there is the close reason "MathOverflow is for mathematicians to ask each other questions about their research. See Math.StackExchange to ask general questions in mathematics." And often it is pointed out in addition via a comment. Of course, this does not help you if it did not happen in your case, but just to say that it is fairly wide-spread practice. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ Not that it much matters, but I'm going to dissent from the suggestion that it's okay for MO to be research level because MSE exists. It's always okay to try to keep a discussion on topic, and if you want to have some other discussion, it's nobody else's job to provide that whether or not an alternative venue happens to exist. $\endgroup$ Commented May 11, 2017 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ Well - I hope I contributed to the successful execution of that job by asking this question :) The context of my confusion was that there exists a large list of StackExchange sites and its not super clear which question belongs where in general. I had falsely assumed there was a single computer science question site and a single math site. Now of course I am aware there are many for both. stackexchange.com/sites $\endgroup$
    – D A
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 19:07

The last question "Why is the stackexchange mathematics community against simple/googleable questions, while the stackexchange software community is not?" has not been answered, and it can be answered.

The reason is the same as why TeX stackexchange is much more tolerant of near-duplicate questions than the math sites.

Questions about software (including TeX related software) are usually much more detailed, and concern much more specific situations than math questions. All that detail makes it legitimately harder to search questions on Google, harder to recognize when one question is a variant of another, and harder to tell how general facts answer the specific question.

In short you really can learn a lot of math from Wikipedia. Wikipedia is not nearly that useful for learning to use software.

  • $\begingroup$ It is true that you can learn a lot of true facts about math from Wikipedia, but you can also learn a lot of false or misleading (non-)facts, and it is not easy for a non-expert to tell when this is happening. $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 20:10

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