Not signed in (Sign In)

Vanilla 1.1.9 is a product of Lussumo. More Information: Documentation, Community Support.


    Can I advocate caution in using the "spam" label when closing questions?

    Say someone posts a high school level homework problem. It's not spam; it's someone having totally the wrong idea about what the site is. Yes, they've been inconsiderate by not bothering to find out what the site is for. But that's not spamming. If someone leaves a question saying "Visit!", that's spam. If someone repeatedly posts copies of the same question, which has already been closed, then maybe that's spam.

    Mostly, I think that saying "spam!" is needlessly derogatory. It's an inflammatory word. Why raise the temperature needlessly? Those who have questions closed are, apparently, mostly first-time users who are never seen again once their question's closed; even so, I don't see any point in being nasty. And sometimes they're not first-time users, and the label "spam" really bothers them — understandably. I think there was some instance of that recently. If I made a genuine but misguided attempt to contribute to some community forum, I'd probably be quite hurt to be called by the same name as junk emailers.

    So, I'd like to encourage people to use "off-topic" instead.


    +1 Tom. I tend to use 'off-topic' instead of 'too localised', in order to reinforce the fact the topic is research mathematics (and stuff of interest to research mathematicians). This is as neutral as the options get for closing 'too-easy' questions ('too localised' implies 'too easy', which may be taken as 'too stupid'). Coupled with a polite pointer to either the FAQ or MSE this is probably as inoffensive as we can reliably go.

    I tend to use "off-topic" for legitimate sub-research-level questions, but "spam" for peremptory demands for the solution of homework problems. Polite requests for the solution of homework problems are a somewhat greyer area.
    I agree that we should not close high-school level posts as spam. Such users should be gently steered to a more appropriate website.

    However, I think it is fine (and good!) to close the posts of mathematical cranks as spam. They know exactly what they are doing, and no amount of gentle reasoning will cause them to change their behavior. Also, there is a 0% chance they will reform and become useful members of the community. All we can do is drive them away...

    I would prefer if nothing except blatant nonsense (!@#@#@!!!!!ZŽ), multiple duplicates, and posters whom we have explicitly asked to leave should be closed as "spam". Everything else is just "off-topic".

    • CommentAuthorAngelo
    • CommentTimeMar 19th 2012
    To Andy: of course you right that cranks are not going to be reformed, but there are borderline cases, and one should exercise caution. I completely agree with Tom and Scott.
    In view of Scott's request, I'll change my policy. But it does seem to me that it would be better if we had a way of distinguishing between "not at a research level" and "homework you really ought to be doing yourself".
    • CommentAuthorbsteinberg
    • CommentTimeMar 19th 2012 edited
    @David, I somehow interpreted too localized not as meaning too easy, but as meaning of interest to too few people. In other words, I think too localized is intended for a question of the sort "In my paper [insert link] I define a widget to be a vector space with [insert lots of extra structure] and classify all 1-dimensional widgets; can you help me classify all 2-dimensional widgets." In this case, likely only the OP and his/her coauthors are interested in widgets and so the question is perhaps too localized.

    I used to have Steve's policy for spam, but some time ago I opened up on meta a discussion and was convinced that spam should be reserved for multiple offenders as Scott suggests. I think it would be nice if all closures were due to either off-topic, not a real question, exact duplicate or, in the case of certain big list questions, subjective and argumentative --- except in extreme cases. For not a real question, it may make sense to let a few comments go by in case the OP or somebody else can turn it into a real questions.

    I have to share a story about a crank...

    In some Israeli forum the administrator was extremely open to all sort of people, and allowed one famous Israeli crank to post on the condition that he may only post in the confines of one thread (this actually worked).

    He argued that the harmonic series converges to 137. Never he did specify why that value (which happens to be the value of the word Kabbalah in gematria). He would argue that it is impossible that the sequence itself approach zero but the sum is not finite. He never gave a clear argument and would always write his ideas in the form of a dialog which was never too comprehensible.

    One day, however, he suddenly announced that he was mistaken and that the harmonic series does in fact diverge. Everyone were sure he's going to accept the fact that mathematicians knew since the middle ages. Alas, a few days later he returned and announced that once again it converges to 137...

    I never knew if he was a real crank or a bored troll... I can believe either one (and various middle-grounds or other explanations which would snap Occam's razor).

    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeMar 19th 2012
    137 is related to the constant of fine structure and not to Kabbala. See "Arthur Eddington argued that the value could be "obtained by pure deduction" and he related it to the Eddington number, his estimate of the number of protons in the Universe.[45] This led him in 1929 to conjecture that its reciprocal was precisely the integer 137."

    But it does seem to me that it would be better if we had a way of distinguishing between "not at a research level" and "homework you really ought to be doing yourself".

    We do. It's called commenting.

    With the possible exception of "exact duplicate", all of the closing reasons can be taken negatively. However, in all cases except "spam" that negativity can be offset by a comment explaining the vote-to-close.

    Andrew Stacey:

    Point well taken!
    • CommentAuthorWillieWong
    • CommentTimeMar 23rd 2012

    Off topic: What markvs didn't include in the bit of history, and which is the part that I like more, is that Eddington's epistemological argument originally concluded that the reciprocal should be 136, which agreed extremely well with the then measured value of alpha. When the measurement changed to be more approximately 137, Eddington managed to find a "mistake" in his original line of reasoning to correct it to the updated value, earning him the nickname "Sir Adding-One".

    One should note this bit of irony whenever "crank" and the number 137 is discussed.

    • CommentAuthorAnixx
    • CommentTimeMar 23rd 2012
    I think laballing something a spam has an aim at stripping somebody of reputation. If the question is deleted as spam, the user gets stripped of 100 rep points. I has been stripped this way twice on this site, each time by 100 rep. points.

    One of the questions that was deleted as "spam" I reposted at Stackexchange here:

    It earned 5 votes and still remains unanswered.
    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeMar 23rd 2012
    @WillieWong: I did not know that. Thanks! Perhaps that episode was the motivation to the well known joke from the Russian book "Physicists joking":

    Angel: God, physicists discovered a new trans-uranium element. How are we going to react?

    God: Let's add a new non-linear term to the True Equation of the Unified Field Theory.

    @markvs: It is possible that it is the reason, it is possible that it isn't. No one knows. The fact stands that Kabbalah (קבלה) has the gematria value of 137 and that the forum is an Israeli forum where Hebrew is the most dominant language.

    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeMar 23rd 2012
    @Asaf: It would be very nice if Kabbalah explained the fine structure equation! It looks like there is a possibility. I spent several hours 35 years ago trying to understand the equation when I was preparing for an exam on quantum optics. The explanation in Landau-Lifshits did not seem adequate.

    @markvs: Try replacing "several hours" with "35 years" in your previous message and you will see how a man who did not drink his morning coffee sees things! :-)