I like to contribute to MO by flagging questions that I think are rather general and thus more suitable for e.g. Mathematics.SE. Recently it is becoming clear to me that my idea of "research level" is not always the same as that of the moderators. To make my flagging more accurate (yielding a higher "accepted" rate for me and less needless work for me and the moderators) I would like to get a better understanding of when I should (not) flag in practice.

For a concrete example let us consider Does this geometry theorem have a name?. I do not know the answer, yet it seems like a basic question about Euclid's geometry, which to me is undergraduate or even high-school level mathematics. Therefore I would guess the OP has a higher chance to get an answer at Mathematics.SE (which I expect to have many more active users) or perhaps "History of Science and Mathematics".SE or "Mathematics Educators".SE (whose users might be more familiar with classical geometry à la Euclid).

However, both (quite a few!) voters and the moderator(s) that handled my flag disagree with me. In fact, these two seem to be correlated: I am under the impression that flags for questions with a positive rating by votes tend to take longer to get accepted/declined, and are usually declined.

Should I avoid flagging questions that I think are not research level when they have a positive rating by votes? Should I perhaps downvote such a question instead?

I understand that the latter mean that at least some users think it is a relevant question, so it might be acceptable even if it would not be research level. (So far I have avoided downvoting in such cases since I do not think the questions are bad per se, but I just think they should be posted elsewhere instead.)

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    $\begingroup$ Re: moderator(s) that handled my flag. If you flagged the post to be closed as off-topic, there is bigger chance that your flag was handled by regular users than by a moderator. In fact, if you flag was what caused the post to get to the close votes review, then the flag was declined based on the votes in the review. You can find more details on this type of flags in my answer to another question. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ I think the phrase "research level" as applied at MO can be misleading. The way it seems to work in practice is that it refers to mathematical questions that either arise in someone's research, or whose answer is not well-known to your average research mathematician. Thus, questions in Euclidean geometry that make users pause and say to themselves, "hm, that's interesting; I don't know" have a reasonable chance of staying open, whether or not people actively pursue such questions in "modern-day research". $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ @ToddTrimble Can I take that to mean that flagging a question with a positive voting score is most likely going to be declined in practice, regardless of the level of the question? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ @JulesLamers: It's not that simple. In general, as a rule of thumb, on-topic are questions of interest to mathematicians. This includes also occasional soft questions and nice problems which are not "research level", in particular if they are presented well. Though it excludes e.g. calculus questions or questions asking for help in understanding basic textbooks. A question may still be considered off-topic if it got a number of upvotes. I.e. there are controversial cases. Once you have 1000 points, you can see how many up- and downvotes a question got, which helps to spot such cases. $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl Mod
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ Although the question was addressed to me, I think Stefan has answered well. A net vote of 1 is not an accurate predictor of appropriateness of level. Stefan has given some examples where it's clearly appropriate to flag a question; I'll add that usually commentary below a question makes it obvious when a question is controversial. Another rule of thumb that can be useful to apply is where a question may give a surface impression of being "not research level", but then ask yourself: can I solve it, no problem? If it's not clear how to solve it, consider leaving it alone. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ I'm puzzled by the discussion: it's my understanding that flags only concern highly off-topic questions such as various forms of spam, questions unrelated to maths... Off-topic questions (e.g. standard undergraduate exercise such as "show that a group with $x^2=1$ for all $x$ is abelian" just get closing votes and in such obvious cases are quickly closed, it's enough; in less obvious cases there is often disagreement on whether the question should be closed, but such questions should scarcely be concerned by flagging. $\endgroup$
    – YCor
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ @YCor Well, the flagging 'menu' certainly has a route for suggesting migration to e.g. Mathematics.SE. Do you think that is intended for something else instead then? And if so, would you suggest me to downvote the question instead? (Perhaps it's because I have not so much reputation yet, but I don't see a way to give it a closing vote other than by flagging.) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ @JulesLamers indeed, I understood this "route" outside "flagging" and indeed don't use it since I have enough points to directly vote for closing (I think if I click flag and then "should be closed" then I'm redirecting to closing vote window. So this question is not really about flagging, but about appropriateness on MathOF (I agree the term "flag" is misleading- for instance I feel uncomfortable at flagging obsolete comments which once used to be perfectly reasonable, such as noticing typos, even when erasing them would be a benefit). $\endgroup$
    – YCor
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ @YCor: Maybe your misunderstanding stems from your high reputation: for us, low reputation users, there is no way to vote for closure; we can only flag for closure and wait for the other users to confirm our flags. We may vote to close only when we get above 3000 points. $\endgroup$
    – Alex M.
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexM. yes I know and I said it " I have enough points to directly vote for closing". Thanks anyway... $\endgroup$
    – YCor
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ This is why I've always preferred phrasings like "for professional mathematicians." Questions are good if they're of interest to the community of professional mathematicians. (I count PhD students as professional mathematicians, and of course not all participants need be professionals, but that's the intended community.) So if something is of interest to mathematicians then it's at the appropriate level. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 15:00

1 Answer 1


Just relax. There are so many people who are able (and often very eager) to vote for closure, deletion, reopening, etc. directly that adding new "active flaggers" to them will do more harm than good, IMHO, especially when flagging is done on the "not research level" basis. We've got more than enough tug-of-war games and heated arguments between ourselves on that particular issue already. If you really want to become a part of them, do some constructive work first: pose or answer a few hard and interesting puzzles. That will boost your rep. points to the level when you'll have much stronger tools than mere flagging available to you to control the site and, if you are really looking forward for it, we'll cross the swords somewhere :-)

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. That's an interesting point of view. I'm curious to see whether this is indeed the consensus, that would be useful to know! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 7:50

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