The following thirteen(!) users:


(and, I believe, a couple more besides) have the following characteristics in common:

  • They've all joined in the past few days.
  • Each has asked exactly one question
  • Their questions are closely related to each other
  • Their writing styles are very similar
  • After posting their questions, they never return to engage with commenters, or to acknowledge answers

I think it is not too much of a leap to conjecture that these are all the same person.

As far as I know, there's no actual rule against having fifteen different identities (or for that matter, a hundred, as seems likely if this keeps up at this rate for a few more weeks), and no actual rule against asking questions and then systematically ignoring responses, but I still find it troubling in ways that might or might not be entirely rational on my part. Do others share my discomfort?

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    $\begingroup$ I have over ten accounts on the Stack Exchange network myself. (This account is the one that I use most frequently as of late.) While I understand your concern, I think the content of the questions should be the issue, not the manner in which they were asked. Also, as user names can be changed, you might list user IDs instead. Gerhard "No, I'm The Other One" Paseman, 2019.05.01. $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman May 1 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ @GerhardPaseman : There are some relevant differences, though. For one thing, I'm not counting "accounts on the Stack Exchange network"; I'm counting accounts here on MO. For another, you have multiple accounts under names that are recognizably yours, which seems a little less suspicious. For another , your multiple accounts did not (I believe) all spring forth full-blown nearly simultaneously. And for yet another, you have no substantial history of hit-and-runs, where you ask a question, a commenter responds, and you're never heard from again. $\endgroup$ – Steven Landsburg May 1 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that there are differences. However, it is the behaviour that should be the focus. If there are thirteen hit and runs which result in thirteen average but worthy questions from which the community can benefit after improvement, that is better than one individual who gives thirteen poor questions and does not get the message on how to improve them for the forum. Gerhard "How Good Are The Questions?" Paseman, 2019.05.01. $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman May 1 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ Gerhard: Well, one issue you're overlooking is that I might not want to put much effort into this person's questions in the future, given the likelihood that my responses will be ignored. If the username keeps changing, it's a little harder to identify the questions I prefer to skip by. $\endgroup$ – Steven Landsburg May 2 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ BTW the users you mention are unregistered user. Registration would decrease the likelihood that the asker looses access to his account. (Although it's not clear whether this is what happened here.) Past discussion related to registration: Should MathOverflow require registration to ask a question? $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak May 2 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ Another explanation might be: MO was mentioned by the instructor in some math class somewhere, and as a result 10 of the students decided to try it. $\endgroup$ – Gerald Edgar May 2 at 10:37
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    $\begingroup$ Having multiple accounts is not really prohibited. But it's a different case if it's used for malicious purpose, like trolling, avoiding ban, or even voting fraud. At this point, mods can check if they are related or not, and do something about it. $\endgroup$ – Andrew T. May 2 at 10:51
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to say in defense of these questions that several of them are interesting, such as mathoverflow.net/questions/330337 , mathoverflow.net/questions/330178 , mathoverflow.net/questions/330168 , mathoverflow.net/questions/330159 , and all of them are at least reasonable. This is different from other times when we've had a flood of what are clearly low level homework questions. $\endgroup$ – David E Speyer May 2 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenLandsburg I don't think either of us are disputing each other; I just want to make sure people who are looking at this thread have a good understanding of the situation. $\endgroup$ – David E Speyer May 2 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't be very surprised if (at least some of) these are a computer program. $\endgroup$ – Martin Rubey May 4 at 7:14
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinRubey I would love to see the code if all of these were written by a program. It got at least some of the semantics right. $\endgroup$ – user138661 May 4 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ More of the same: mathoverflow.net/questions/330731/… $\endgroup$ – Steven Landsburg May 5 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ Possibly mathoverflow.net/questions/330793/…. $\endgroup$ – Noah Schweber May 5 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ @GeraldEdgar, I hope that any instructor who prompted these will encourage the students to accept appropriate answers! $\endgroup$ – Matt F. May 6 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ @schematic_boi: I strongly believe that you are the one behind all these usernames. $\endgroup$ – Alex M. May 21 at 17:08

I believe that I can give a partial answer to your question. Looking at some of the profiles that you have listed, they seem to be all unregistered users. I used to do something similar (but with only 4-5 names) in 2012, at my beginnings on MO: not in bad faith, but because I was viewing my asking questions on MO as only a temporary thing. Plus, I was relying on the cookies mechanism to remember me between browsing sessions. Alas, somehow those cookies used to disappear after some time, which forced me to create a new unregistered name every such time. When I decided that MO is a useful community where I'd like to stay, I merged all of my unregistered usernames into the current, definitive one.

The solution to your question would be to tell this person in a comment to do the same: register and then ask the SE staff to merge all these usernames into a single account.

The longer-term solution has been previously discussed, but has been decided against: that unregistered questions should no longer be allowed, following the example of Math.SE. (Back then the issue was settled in the negative based on the consideration of solely the quality of the questions.)

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    $\begingroup$ Alex, that was prior to the merge into the SE network. This made merging unregistered accounts a bit slower, a bit more cumbersome, and out of the hands of local moderators. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila May 11 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ You are right that when I posted the question about registering I should have stressed this aspect too - if a question is posted by an unregistered user and they lose the account, it makes more difficult for them to follow the question, add comments, etc. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak May 12 at 8:58

I think it is reasonable to be concerned, if only for the fact that we do not know what the ramifications of this behaviour are.

However, I think it is better to describe the behaviour and call out what might be problematic about the behaviour. Right now, it seems we are getting OK to good quality material for the forum, and we have the ability to improve upon and respond to this material. There is no suggestion of copyright, homework or exam flaunting, or other misbehaviour.

Bringing the situation to the attention of the community is good, but I don't see the quality or quantity a reason for concern.

Gerhard "Having One Name Is Boring" Paseman, 2019.05.02.

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    $\begingroup$ Gerhard, you have so many middle names, that it would take a small book to write them all. Asaf "This is not my real middle name" Karagila, date of comment is written after my name is written again by the system. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila May 3 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ I look forward to the publication of The Many Middle Names of Gerhard "Whose Idea Was This, Anyway?" Paseman. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson May 3 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ Volume II-M is available here: meta.mathoverflow.net/users/3402/gerhard-paseman?tab=activity . Gerhard "Nine Other Volumes In Preparation" Paseman, 2019.05.03. $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman May 3 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ How about the following: Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong Gerhard "Recursion never goes wrong $\endgroup$ – user138661 May 4 at 13:16

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