At the end of 2017, I posted a question here. I was looking for references for something that is very clear and intuitive, but not really mentioned ANYWHERE. I got no answer, but a few comments which were also not satisfying. Time went on. I wrote the first reference and posted it as an answer, because I'm trying to be a good little SE member who doesn't abandon his own questions when he found an answer himself. Then, and only then (because the question was active again) I got some downvotes. I felt a little bit indignified, but ignored it, since it just means two or three particular people don't agree with me on the quality of my question and answer.

Today I saw the question was put on hold as off-topic by 5 users. Now I would like a clarification.

Given the site of on-topic themes I guess people think my question is "too elementary" and not "research level math questions", so not "the sorts of questions you come across when you're writing [...] articles". I would like to clarify that I posted this question on Math Overflow for a reason. I got ten times the reputation on Math.SE than I have here. But I was writing an article. I was doing research. I looked into at least 20 books about graph theory in persue of a reference. There is none. I agree that the problem in the question is an easy one, that can be solved fast with a little bit of thinking. But it is not like I asked "Does $\emptyset\subseteq A$ hold for any set $A$?", because THAT is mentioned in almost every book. My problem isn't anywhere.

So yes, a little bit indignified here. Given my medical circumstances it is good to write about it. But my main problem here, the one why I'm writing this meta question in the first place, is that I want to understand Math Overflow better. From my point of view, I had a question about basic research, which is, to my understanding, a legitimate area of research. Are basic research questions not wanted on Math Overflow? Or is there another reason my question doesn't qualify? Do I need to list every single graph book I can access and explain how the problem is not adressed there?

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    $\begingroup$ Not every trivial fact is stated explicitly in a textbook, but that doesn’t make it “research level”. If a question could be assigned as hw to an undergraduate who just learned the relevant definitions, then it is unlikely to be well received here (even if phrased as a reference request). $\endgroup$ – Andy Putman Jan 14 '19 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ @AndyPutman I personally would not have voted to close the question SK19 refers to, as it is asking about references for explicit formalization of things that are normally handwaved, and the experience of suitably credentialled mathematicians seems to suggest that formalizing "easy maths" is not a trivial task $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 14 '19 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ @YemonChoi: In this case (since he's only talking about finite graphs), it's really completely trivial. If you know what a graph is and what mathematical induction is, then you can do it. $\endgroup$ – Andy Putman Jan 14 '19 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyPutman Is that assuming I know how to write in MIZAR or not? :) $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 14 '19 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ @YemonChoi: I have no serious experience with MIZAR or other computer systems for formalizing mathematics. However, this is a situation where you are dealing with systems with very few axioms, and a proof that is basically completely formal. I feel confident that I (or you!) could write out a completely formal proof of this result in any reasonable setting. Also, the OP was asking for textbooks or papers that proved this; the MIZAR stuff seemed just to be a statement of his motivation. $\endgroup$ – Andy Putman Jan 14 '19 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @AndyPutman I guess that's what Russell and Whitehead thought too ;-) $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Jan 14 '19 at 23:52

I am guessing that, not knowing you, those voting to close thought you were actually blocked in your progress in solving a problem that here you agree is easy. To some extent the problem reads that way still, and so from that point of view it's understandable why it was closed as "not research level". But it sounds like you mainly just wanted a reference request.

I think you might have had more success if you had written something like "I realize that the problem is not too difficult, and I certainly have an idea how I would compose a solution myself. So I'm not asking how to solve the problem; I would just like to know if there is already a reference where the formal details (say in ZF) are written down", etc. And include the tag .

I'm sorry that you feel indignant about the way you or your question were treated. Particularly I wish that someone hadn't questioned your motivations under your answer (although I understand how that happened as well); I might delete that comment. Answering your own question is actually fine (although sometimes people here make a self-answer Community Wiki to remove any impression that they are after the points). Finally, a little piece of advice: don't publicize that you don't like a basic field like Algebra. It could easily strengthen an impression that you're an amateur.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if you're referring to my comment or not, it was meant as a aid to good style. I think the question and the answer are both fine, modulo giving an unstable url as the only journal reference. $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Jan 15 '19 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRoberts No, I removed the comment I was referring to. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Jan 16 '19 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ ok, thanks..... $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Jan 16 '19 at 1:24

I also noticed that posting a research-level question definitely does not suffice not to get muted on this site. In order not to waste the time of those new to the site, the downvoters are therefore recommended to clarify their reasons on the site topic description, allowing posters to determine if they are engaging in research which is allowed on MO, or which is not.

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with this answer: it is not "research which is allowed on MO, or which is not." but rather how what the questioner thinks of as "research level" (which, if they are not a research mathematician, is likely not suitable) vs what the research mathematics community thinks of as research level. It doesn't help that there are two definitions of the word research ("look stuff up on the internet", "create groundbreaking new mathematics") and most people in the world are ignorant of the existence of the second. Even if they know of it, they can't tell it apart from random mathematics. $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Jan 27 '19 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ At the point where university-level researchers who read up the relevant literature, discussed things with lecturers at their university, and after that bothered to ask for help on the more global MO site, it can be ruled out that the issue stems from ignorance of the person who asks the question. I cannot comment on the cases where the person is really ignorant and did not ask a question which can be objectively regarded as a "research level" question. But I could already verify that it can easily happen to get a question deleted within hours (not within days, as the help center says), if... $\endgroup$ – ternary Jan 27 '19 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ ...the research just does not match what other researchers on the site like to see. $\endgroup$ – ternary Jan 27 '19 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ And I might add that this answer also proves my point. There are already three downvotes, and only one person who bothered why there would be disagreement. $\endgroup$ – ternary Jan 27 '19 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ I think the deletion was unwarranted, btw. Also, note that perception is important. The way it was phrased looked (to those voting to close) a bit like generic just-past-undergrad musings on logic, rather than a well-motivated inquiring into a paraconistent, modal or other non-classical logical system. $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Jan 28 '19 at 6:59

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