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    • CommentAuthorHailong Dao
    • CommentTimeNov 22nd 2010 edited

    This user has been posting a series of increasingly sophisticated questions (judging purely by the number of upvotes!). My feeling is that they are not HW, since who would assign two open problems in a week ?

    However, these do feel like some kind of honors thesis or even starting point of something bigger. For example, one part of his latest question turns out to be sandwiched between two well-known conjectures, and I have not seen it raised elsewhere. It is possible but unlikely that idle curiosity leads to these group of questions.

    Normally I would not think too much about this. After all, sunshine is good (or something like that, sorry English is not my native tongue). But in light of recent events I think I would post this here to see if the moderators and the community have some opinions on this matters. In particular, do we answer such questions? If so, how much should we give? What if a bigger stream of questions arrives?

    As I said above, I have nothing against the OP posting these questions. They are nice, I like them and I would probably give similar answers if some graduate students emailed me those questions. What I would like to know is what the community thinks, and whether some consensus has formed over this (somewhat delicate) issue, especially since the OP is anonymous.

    I would appreciate your thoughts and comments.

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 22nd 2010
    Certainly appears to be trying to get MO to write a thesis for him at some level. The choice of language is what I think of as selfish, giving nothing unless he is getting a handout. Also answering nobody else.

    Presumably there is no single rule that covers this. But I think this is an abuse, worse than homework because harder to see and eventually important. The bad news is that you may need to take some sort of lead on this, as you know the material.
    • CommentAuthorAlex Bartel
    • CommentTimeNov 22nd 2010 edited

    Personally, I have stopped answering questions from anonymous users, except for basic reference requests or common knowledge. These kinds of situations are my main reason for it, especially after somebody here not so long ago tried to delete all his questions after they were answered. I also really wish people woudn't jump to answer a question if somebody asks in a comment what the motivation is and a satisfactory answer is not provided. I sometimes even downvote such answers, even if they are mathematically ok (or should I say especially then).


    @Alex, Will: I actually raised a similar point in the first thread that touched on this issue. It seemed to me then that most people on that thread did not consider this to be serious enough to stop answering such questions. The community seemed to agree then that having a public record is good, and the only people who may lose are the people who post the questions.

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 22nd 2010
    I go along with Alex about the anonymous users. I had two series of contacts from a graduate student at a prestigious university in Scandinavia, looking for help with what eventually turned out to be a series of take-home tests. Eventually contact with computer staff there led to identification of the student. So I was quite annoyed when contact resumed some eight months later, this time with a female computer I.D. and waking me up by telephone early on a Sunday. Turned out to be the same person. Long story.

    Eventually I decided that she was probably mentally on the edge, and that I did not have a deep need to hear that she was booted out. But the whole thing really, really pissed me off while it was going on. I don't like cheaters.

    @Will: I think the issue is a bit more complicated. First of all, "cheaters" is a little strong. Sometimes there are languages/cultural differences. Also, inexperienced users may not be sure what are the right protocols for MO. Finally, I am fairly certain there are serious mathematicians on MO whose usernames are "unknown".

    In any case, as I wrote above, my recollection of Martin's thread was quite different from the points of view expressed so far, so I am curious to hear more comments.

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 22nd 2010
    Hailong, right, this one is more subtle.

    Finally, I am fairly certain there are serious mathematicians on MO whose usernames are "unknown".

    That's certainly true but then asking for motivation usually clarifies the situation a fair bit. If the poster doesn't react, then this should raise an alarm flag. But for some people, the hunt for reputation points is just too tempting (I am not referring to the particular posts in question and not blaming you for answering, since the situation really does seem less clear here).


    I think it would be reasonable in this case to insist (say, the moderators via private email) that this person changes their username to their real name. What do people think?

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 23rd 2010
    Scott, since you put it that way, first I can say that I support your idea.

    This also gives me an opportunty to put my strong feelings in milder words: a multiple-question fishing expedition by correctly named Professor ___ is likely to be acceptable to me. The same sequence of questions by an unknown who seems to be getting a free thesis is not.

    I like Alex's point about OP's not responding to requests for background/motivation. This happens in so many different types of questions, it is not always a sign of anything unsavory, but it is a sign that the OP just wants something and is not engaged in the conversation.

    I guess my position is further left than most people here: I think sunshine is good. Attempting to rig MO so that it cannot be used to solve a thesis problem feels like attempting to rig words so that they cannot be used to lie or to rig a knife so that it cannot be used to cut oneself. Some precautions are a good idea, but it quickly becomes ridiculous. It's fine to suggest that this person change his username to his real name, but we have absolutely no way to enforce it. Supposing the username was "David Folbers" (a name I just made up) as opposed to "David" and the profile said he was a professor at the "University of East Turiland" (also just made up), would this thread never have been started?

    If a question is poorly motivated, asked by an anonymous user, or the asker is not engaged, you're welcome to not answer it. But if it is coherent and interesting, it seems strange to insist that nobody answer it based on the speculation that it is an attempt to cheat in some way. If somebody is cheating, I think it's far better to make it clear that they won't get away with it than to try to prevent them from doing it in the first place. I can't think of any better deterrent than providing a completely public and searchable record who contributed what on MO. The reason to use your real name should not be because you are forced to, but because you want to lay claim to your contributions.

    Not only is transparency probably the best solution, it also happens to be easy to implement and unobtrusive.


    ... especially after somebody here not so long ago tried to delete all his questions after they were answered.

    That was a weird situation. The software normally won't allow the OP to delete a question that has a substantive answer (one with at least 2 upvotes), and those cases the software just barely failed to recognize the answers as substantive. I'm still planning to write a script to walk through the database each month to look for questions with substantive-looking answers that have been deleted by the OP, but I've been pretty busy lately.

    • CommentAuthorHailong Dao
    • CommentTimeNov 23rd 2010 edited

    Dear everyone,

    Thank you for your comments. I would like to emphasize that I did not want to make a spectacle out of this and especially did not want to create more tasks for the moderators. Following Anton's lead in the last thread, I will remove the link in the original post. After all, my reason for starting this thread was not about these particular questions but more academic: I was really curious to see if there are protocols on these matters. All your comments raised excellent points, and perhaps at this point the best solution is to use our common sense and let the sun does its job!



    PS: if you are new to the thread and would like to see the actual link in my post, please feel free to email me.

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 23rd 2010
    I think I can see that a public record is potentially an important deterrent for someone sufficiently advanced that they can be located.

    But on to something really important, I am watching a same-day replay of Real Madrid-Ajax, and there are quite definitely extra officials standing on the goal lines to judge whether goals have occurred. I do not believe I know what those lines are called, the side lines are called touchlines as far as I can tell.

    @Will: they are called, well, goal lines, I believe. Funny I am watching the highlights too.

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 23rd 2010
    They have been so slow on this. And UEFA is not the same as FIFA anyway. But they have been using goal line officials (rather than cameras) in the Europa Cup for a year or two already. So inclusion in the Champions League, with four seasons to show by the next World Cup, suggests fewer bizarre calls in 2014.

    Note that I have no idea whether it is Champions League or Champions' League or some other thing.

    I can finally confirm that there is also an official on the Real goal line, Ajax have rarely gotten close enough for the television camera to show that goal.
    Can you take this to FootballOverflow?
    I am curious about this user: . His question is not unreasonably for a small project. On the other hand, he gives no motivation or information.
    Andres: me too. Bit of a fishing expedition, from the looks of it.