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    For a recent example, see

    People I know and respect as well as people I respect answered through comments. The trivial question itself is, IMO, obviously not appropriate for MO and those who commented apparently agree. Again IMO, answering or commenting substantively just encourages people to ask such question.

    I guess I am out of step with the mainstream as I am the only person to vote to close or to vote down the question. Can you convince me that I am wrong?

    By my count, it has four votes to close. Admittedly, I added the fourth after seeing this post. (For any conspiracy theorists out there, I hadn't seen this question before and had I done so I would have voted to close.) I agree with the sentiment that answering in the comments is something that should be done with a bit more restraint than is often done, but also recognise that it's an easy trap to fall in to: you make a quick statement that ought to show why it's trivial, but then the questioner keeps coming back with questions and you don't want to seem rude but ...

    Oh, Yemon must have voted to close just before I did. There were no votes to close when I commented.
    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeJan 26th 2011

    Bill, my thought processes (addled by some form of cold/flu) were roughly as Andrew Stacey has surmised. Perhaps I was also unduly swayed by the fact that the question displayed basic competency in its formulation, unlike some things I've seen on MO.

    Yes, there is that, Yemon. Still...

    For my part I guess I gave a hint because at times it's hard to turn off the teacher. I suspect I was also unduly swayed by the fact that the question, although trivial, was completely coherent.

    Also, I hadn't actually noticed that I can now vote to close.


    Many people who come to MO and see their questions closed leave with a bad impression, and they badmouth us to the rest of the internet, especially elsewhere on the SE network. I think this is unnecessary bad publicity so if the question is easy enough for me to answer in the comments I will at least give a hint so as to ameliorate the sting of the closure.

    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeJan 26th 2011 edited

    Qiaochu, to paraphrase Franklin Delano Roosevelt,

    Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one website as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for us – and I welcome their hatred.

    (Make sure to read with tongue firmly in cheek and grains of salt at the ready).

    • CommentAuthorGreg Marks
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2011
    I must confess with some shame that I've answered trivial questions myself. On at least certain occasions I regarded the question as an excuse for offering an observation that might be of interest to actual mathematicians. The example Bill Johnson adduces suggests another argument against anonymity: the latter seems to correlate rather strongly with students asking us to do their homework. As regards the "problem" that Qiaochu Yuan cites: that's why I don't read the rest of the Internet!
    I confess the same, Greg, most recently a question from a confused engineer. I would have ignored the question if the OP had not explained his background. At the same time, I voted to close the question.
    I've only just seen this, but I was one of the guilty parties. My motivation was similar to Andrew's and Yemon's. And also, it was out of "frustration" with the other "hints", which seemed to me to be no use, if the questioner really was stuck on this question. I would give a similar response to a student who actually bothered to knock on my door (which is probably equally bad...)

    But, in hindsight, I agree with Bill-- this just encourages people to ask homework problems, and I shall resist the temptation in future.
    • CommentAuthorpeterwshor
    • CommentTimeMar 3rd 2011 edited

    Let me point out that triviality depends on your area of mathematics. This question: would have been closed as homework-level (it wasn't actually homework) fairly quickly on tcs stackexchange, but it's been open for 18 hours now, and only has two close votes. (And yes, I'm guilty, too, since I gave a reference containing the answer in the comments.)