# Why was “Rational numbers - sticks and stones” deleted?

Could some 10k or ♦ mod shed some light on why this question was deleted?

I understand that there may have been a good reason for it, but the error page I'm getting doesn't really explain it, beyond saying that it was "for reasons of moderation". In any case, I'm feeling a bit annoyed at seeing my answer simply disappear, given that I did put some non-trivial effort into it.

(Ps. I only noticed the deletion because, apparently, someone had suggested an edit to my answer just before it was deleted, and the deletion did not make the notification go away. It would be nice if the software would notify users when their posts are deleted, but I guess that's a matter for another forum...)

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Good gawd. There is more cheap drama in this thread than a very bad telenovela. –  cardinal Dec 10 '12 at 23:34
I agree with cardinal: the behavior in the discussion here was, quite frankly, shameful. I agree that the moderators here do need to get a lot better at communicating with each other - that doesn't preclude unilateral action, but it should mean there's an explanation to be found somewhere for such action. Between annotations on user accounts and chat rooms, there are plenty of tools available for both documenting such actions and requesting explanations without calling folks out in public - use them. –  Shog9 Dec 11 '12 at 0:39

Apologies for the length of this post, but as one of the organizers of an external contest (the entrance quiz for the Canada/USA Mathcamp summer program) I want to add a bit of information to this discussion. Back in February, we were alerted by a math.SE user that someone had posted five of our entrance quiz questions to math.SE. The deadline was still a couple of months away (late April). Qiaochu agreed to delete those questions for us. Until a week ago I thought that was the end of the story. However...

In the past couple of weeks, another program (with a December deadline) found that its questions had been asked and answered on math.SE. In fact they were able to identify and reject an applicant whose solutions were clearly plagiarized from the math.SE answers. They notified this applicant's recommenders, one of whom is one of our instructors; indeed the applicant had attended Canada/USA Mathcamp this past summer.

Our instructor took a look at the several math.SE accounts that posted the problems from this other program, and found that back in March-April the same users also posted Mathcamp qualifying quiz questions. (The questions had been extensively re-worded, which is how we missed it at the time, but I think we've learned enough from this situation that we could hope not to miss it next time.) We've confirmed that the applicant's Mathcamp quiz solutions match the answers that were posted to math.SE. Qiaochu has confirmed for us that the user who posted the February questions matches the user who posted in March and April.

Note that since the Mathcamp deadline is long in the past, we have no objections to the problems being or remaining posted on math.SE. As I understand this thread, the request to delete the questions at this time actually came from the applicant.

First, I want to make sure it's clear to everyone that the identity of the person who posted these questions is known to us (and to the other program, but not to the math.SE moderators), so there's no need for anyone who is tempted to do detective work to try to do so. In fact, because the person is a minor, I would actively discourage anyone from trying to do so.

Second, I'd like to put in people's minds one consequence of these events. Admissions to Mathcamp is very competitive. Because of this applicant's actions, there is someone else deserving who was denied the opportunity to attend our program last summer. As you all weigh the issues about access to mathematics that are raised in this debate, please keep in mind that as a consequence of these questions being posted, it actually happened that someone was undeservedly denied access to a five-week summer program. So there are issues of loss of access on both sides of the question.

Ultimately I do think it's the responsibility of the external contest organizers to take care of the integrity of their own contests, but at the same time this obviously requires the involvement of math.SE moderators. I'd like to outline what from my point of view would be an optimal way of handling the posting of external contest questions on math.SE.

The executive summary: I would want the questions to be deleted while the contest is live, and then reinstated after the deadline.

The longer version: posts with active contest questions could be noticed by the contest organizers themselves, or by math.SE users. It's definitely not part of the moderator's job to keep an eye out for such things, but of course it's possible that they could happen to notice. My hope would be that a math.SE user or moderator who catches such a post would first notify the contest organizer. (That's what happened in February, for instance.) It would then be the responsibility of the contest organizer to ask a moderator to delete the posts, if that's what they want. I think it would be fair for the moderator, when agreeing to delete the posts, to do so only on condition that the contest organizers send a reminder about re-instating the posts once the deadline has passed.

Deleting contest questions by request of anyone except a contest organizer seems like a bad idea to me, on the other hand. Two programs have now caught this particular cheater, but it's quite plausible that they participated in other contests using answers obtained from math.SE. Among other things, deleting the rest of this person's questions denies the organizers of other programs the chance to catch possible further cheating.

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Could you please cite the specific MSE questions which you refer to implicitly above. It's not clear to me if the prior events that you cite have anything to do with the current matter (about which you probably, understandably, have very limited information, because we moderators are bound by strict SE privacy rules not to divulge such details). –  Bill Dubuque Dec 9 '12 at 19:02
Here's one of the February ones: math.stackexchange.com/questions/110261/… and here's one of the March-April ones: math.stackexchange.com/questions/128570/… (judging from the titles in the link, I think the latter may have been be a rephrasing of the former, but for obvious reasons I can't verify this). –  D. Savitt Dec 9 '12 at 19:05
Thanks, and why are you of the opinion that this old question, by a different user, has something to do with the current matter? [I now see that you have edited your comment to add a second post] –  Bill Dubuque Dec 9 '12 at 19:07
Because we have the solutions that the person submitted to our program. –  D. Savitt Dec 9 '12 at 19:09
I'm sorry, I don't understand. Could you please elaborate what you mean by that and how it relates to our site. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 9 '12 at 19:10
Are you sure you aren't being purposefully dense, Bill? The identity of the user in the current matter is known to the program with the December deadline (by comparing their application to the answers on this site), and was identified to us by that program. We then compared this person's application to our program to the older answers on this site. –  D. Savitt Dec 9 '12 at 19:15
–  D. Savitt Dec 9 '12 at 19:34
One thing is certain, though. Either one person posted questions from our contest and another contest, and then entered the contests with the answers they received. OR, one person posted questions from our contest and another contest; and then a second person (the one we caught) happened to enter both those contests using the answers to the first person's questions. Between the two, I know which way I'd bet. Though I'm not actually sure why it matters for the present discussion which one is true! –  D. Savitt Dec 9 '12 at 19:37
@D.Savitt I've reviewed the links and I agree with your assessment (though some of the obfuscations are done so poorly that I think they don't much help thwart searches). I'm happy to hear that you have no objections to undeleting the questions, since some of them have very nice answers that add value to our site. Regarding what to do about live contest questions. We've discussed this at length here. One of the issues with deleting questions with answers is that doing so means that those who have seen the answer have an unfair advantage over those who have not. What are your thoughts on that? –  Bill Dubuque Dec 9 '12 at 20:04
The issue you mention doesn't worry me, for a couple of reasons. First, the universe of applicants who have not seen the answer is always going to be much larger than the universe who have, since the vast majority of applicants are honorable and aren't going to try looking for solutions online. So the first priority to should be to minimize the number of those who have seen the answer. (cont'd) –  D. Savitt Dec 9 '12 at 20:14
Second, cheaters are rarely good enough at rephrasing the solution that they're plagiarizing to avoid detection. Having the deletion procedure run through the contest organizer lets the organizer save a copy of the posted answers prior to the deletion, to allow comparison with submitted solutions (as does undeleting the questions after the deadline). –  D. Savitt Dec 9 '12 at 20:19
Perhaps it might be worthwhile to explicitly address some of these issues in the guidelines for contest participants. Thank you very much for striving to understand the matter from the MSE perspective too. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 9 '12 at 20:46
Our quiz instructions do address some of these issues. ("You can use books or the Web to look up definitions, formulas, or standard techniques, but any information obtained in this way must be clearly referenced in your solution. Please do not try to look for the problems themselves: we want to see how well you can do math, not how well you can Google! Any deviation from these rules will be considered plagiarism and may disqualify you from attending Mathcamp.") True that they don't explicitly address what to do in the "accidentally seeing a solution" scenario; perhaps we can think about that. –  D. Savitt Dec 9 '12 at 20:58
I feel rather strongly that it’s not MSE’s collective business to worry about cheating save in the most blatantly obvious cases. I acknowledge, however, that its existence poses some real problems for folks in your position, and I could certainly live with your suggestion. –  Brian M. Scott Dec 9 '12 at 20:58

Now might be a good time to provide information that I do not think even the other moderators have. Some time ago I was contacted by David Savitt, who helps run Canada/USA Mathcamp, about an account that was posting questions from their entrance examination. More recently I was again contacted by David Savitt about several other accounts that he believed to be the same person as the first person who were posting similar contest/math program materials. Ali was one of these accounts.

Altogether there are six accounts involved and I have not resolved to my satisfaction how many people those six accounts are. Two of them have emailed me and Eric Naslund asking that their questions and accounts be deleted, and I have not determined to my satisfaction whether this is a good idea. Will Jagy received one of these emails, and I am beginning to agree with his suspicions.

Nevertheless, I would like to remind everybody that deleting questions is reversible, unlike deleting accounts and that in the long term very little is lost by keeping possible contest questions deleted until it has been determined that any relevant deadlines have passed.

Edit: All of the relevant emails have now been forwarded to the rest of the moderators.

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That's about the size of it. Certainly the sticks and stones question has that contest feel, a variant of the Ford circles revised in a way (and linguistic style) that is just not done for textbooks. People were tricked into giving quality answers to contest questions; now they are upset that those answers are invisible. There are, simply, competing concerns here, and everyone should be patient. –  Will Jagy Dec 8 '12 at 18:47
Thank you for providing more information. (+1), though I disagree with mass-(albeit reversible) deletion –  The Chaz 2.0 Dec 8 '12 at 19:16
My reading of the stats here does not agree with yours. But even if your guesses were correct (and I am certain that they are not), that still does not justify your extreme action of deleting 50 questions and 80 answers without first discussing this with other moderators and the community. This is without a doubt the most extreme unilateral action ever executed by an MSE moderator. Such actions should not be executed without very careful consideration by the entire team of moderators - with input from the community if there is any doubt about consensus or policy on such matters. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 8 '12 at 20:14
Further, as a matter of policy, if you use private emails in moderation decisions, then you should obtain the permission to forward these emails to all moderators. I have not seen any of these emails, and most of us still wait to see the email(s) from Ali that you claim somehow justifies this bizarre action (we requested these yesterday, and you still have yet to provide them). Please forward all of these emails to all moderators. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 8 '12 at 20:26
I think that the previous discussion about whether or not contest questions should be deleted only ended with the understanding that even the moderators can't agree on that. I don't think that deleting 50 questions on your own accord is a reasonable course of action, but I also don't think it's a shocking course of action. There are other moderators to undo this "damage", and it is as important to keep MSE within the reasonable mathematical world, and not to isolate it. We should work with contest organizers. We are not alone in the world. –  Asaf Karagila Dec 8 '12 at 21:41
@Asaf But the community has spoken quite clearly on contest questions. In one thread, the highest-voted answer "I propose we do nothing special for contest problems, and treat them the same as other questions" has 10 times more votes than competitors; in another "If anyone notices this happening, it is nice to inform the contest coordinators. On the other hand, I don't think it is reasonable (nor realistic) to have a policy against this" has 20 times more votes than competing answers. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 8 '12 at 21:50
@Asaf I don't agree that we should attempt to enforce the rules of some external site, most especially when doing so causes great harm to our site. The above action comes with great cost to our site. We have lost 80 answers and we may lose users after they notice that their answers have been deleted for highly dubious reasons. Some folks love contests and competetive-based teaching, but many others hate them. It is neither our job nor our prerogative to force folks to accept one position or another. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 8 '12 at 21:53
@Bill: Before this gets any further tangential and unsettling for me, I will remind you that I have absolutely no intentions of trying to reason and discuss with someone who doesn't want to reason or discuss, but prefers to simply bash his own point of view until it is the only one left in the discussion. You are being demagogically dramatic, and I can assure you that no one is going to commit suicide in their bathroom over these temporarily lost posts. The fact that you didn't even notice that means that this is not really a huge deal for now. Stop making it such. Have a nice day. –  Asaf Karagila Dec 8 '12 at 22:00
@Bill: Riiiiiight. Backed by bold and italics and overdramatization that makes Braveheart seems almost historically accurate. Let me point out that the organizers contacted the moderators; and that in that thread there was so much drama that I don't think that the voting represents anything. Please, if you wish to keep this on topic, let me be. –  Asaf Karagila Dec 8 '12 at 22:12
@Asaf Get the facts straight. Both you and Qiaochu have used more bold emphasis here than have I. The only drama I see here is that injected by you in your two recent comments. So, you "don't think that the voting represents anything" when it disagrees with your opinion, yet you emphasize these meta votes when it does agree with your opinion. What kind of logic is that? You work in foundations, but I see no foundation supporting your arguments here. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 8 '12 at 22:20
@Bill: As usual you prove that you cannot really look back. Not everything that ever happened lies within this thread, unfortunately. Yes. On this particular page you haven't had the chance to be dramatic and bold or italicized. But alas, the meta is older than this thread, and contains more than just this. I often find the fact that I have a memory which allows me to remember things from previous conversations with you a good thing. It helps me to foresee your response. So far, you're spot on. Keep it up, maybe you'll end up somewhere. –  Asaf Karagila Dec 9 '12 at 0:18
This will surprise no one, but Bill is completely cherry-picking which old threads he's linking to. When the exact question of whether ongoing contest questions should be deleted the vote was overwhelming yes: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/6209/… –  Noah Snyder Dec 9 '12 at 11:33
Not only cherry-picking, the last link where he says that the linked answer has "20 times the votes than the competing answer", the votes were 24 versus 11. (The upvotes were 26 versus 16.) –  Phira Dec 9 '12 at 12:58
Qiaochu, while there will be differing opinions on the initial action you took and possible alternatives that did not happen, I want to commend you on the manner in which you have handled yourself in this thread as things have played out. I doubt I am alone in recognizing this, but I do want you to know that someone is appreciative. In a difficult, confusing, and heated situation, you have managed to conduct yourself with considerable grace. Cheers. –  cardinal Dec 11 '12 at 0:03
@Qiaochu I would like you to know that Cardinal is not the only one who appreciates your efforts, and civility. –  Old John Dec 11 '12 at 0:51

In order to clean things up, and identify which questions are from contests whose deadlines are past, and which (if any) are from current contests, here's the list of known contests and questions so far. I've made this CW so that people can add information I'm missing. As mentioned by Dave, the person has been identified, and organizers of all three four of these contests are aware of the situation. However, there may be questions from other contests in addition to these (e.g. 169366 might be copied from somewhere but I can't find a source).

A lot of credit is due to Eric Naslund and Gerry Myerson who uncovered the problem.

PRIMES-USA (application problem set):

USAMTS (competition):

OMO (competition):

Other identified questions: 177868 (internal Mathcamp competition), 167253, 167360, 167263, and many more (Mathcamp homework)

Known user numbers include: 35199, 35173, 48480, 48470, 42811, 26070, 35172

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Thank you very much for doing this! robjohn and I have undeleted the relevant questions. I am somewhat concerned that there is no way to make official moderator notes; the notes currently on those problems are just text edited in and can be faked. If any SE people are listening... –  Qiaochu Yuan Dec 10 '12 at 20:53
@QiaochuYuan: Unless I am losing my memory (which is possible), I think all the credit goes to you. I don't remember undeleting questions (recently). –  robjohn Dec 10 '12 at 22:51
@robjohn: ah, never mind, I guess some of these were never deleted and you only put in the notices. –  Qiaochu Yuan Dec 10 '12 at 23:07
@GerryMyerson: Are all those from Oct or Nov, or are there any Jan ones? –  Noah Snyder Dec 10 '12 at 23:18
@QiaochuYuan Do you plan to eventually undelete all of the questions that are not from ongoing contests? (which, apparently, is almost all of them) –  Bill Dubuque Dec 11 '12 at 0:12
@BillDubuque: While the deletion of some constructive comments is, perhaps, a (slight) blow to transparency, I (for one) very much appreciate the improved tone in your recent revised comment. Thank you, sincerely. Cheers. –  cardinal Dec 11 '12 at 0:30
@cardinal Thanks for your constructive input. Certainly we don't need any more drama here. Hopefully with everyone's help we can quickly clean things up and move forward, learning from the experience. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 11 '12 at 0:33
@Noah, I don't know. –  Gerry Myerson Dec 11 '12 at 3:24
@QiaochuYuan: regarding the moderator notes on these questions... We could probably add a moderator-only notice for this purpose if there's a need for it; throw up a separate [feature-request] if you think this will be an ongoing problem. –  Shog9 Dec 11 '12 at 4:09
@QiaochuYuan In principle, it is very easy to check whether a moderator noe cam from a moderator by looking at the edits. Maybe, the community can simply decide that someone pretending to be a moderator who is not should be swiftly punished. –  Michael Greinecker Dec 11 '12 at 6:47
@QiaochuYuan: I have identified at least one more source of questions, fortunately from a low stakes competition. I think two things are clear. First, essentially all questions asked by these users are attempts to cheat at something, it's just a matter of figuring out what. Second, anything asked before Dec 1 is almost certainly not from an ongoing competition and can be safely undeleted. –  Noah Snyder Dec 11 '12 at 11:16

It appears that all of Ali's questions have been deleted. The ♦ mods are discussing this.

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Thank you for the update. –  Asaf Karagila Dec 7 '12 at 18:00
I got an email from Danielle Huang intended, i guess, mostly for Qiaochu and Eric Naslund who actually are moderators. Something about contest problems and sock puppets. I was not part of it. However, i note that those who try to cheat using these websites do like to erase the evidence when possible. There was a note about penitence as well. –  Will Jagy Dec 7 '12 at 20:31
@WillJagy: My stance is not to delete questions that are decent and have good answers. These requests seem like track covering to me. –  robjohn Dec 7 '12 at 20:36
Exactly. I wrote about this on some other Meta thread, we tracked a guy trying to get a free dissertation/publication of an open problem using MO. In the end i saved about 55 screen captures of related sub-problems under a dozen user names. The plan was to put a selection on a blog, i do not believe that ever quite happened, although the shell for the blog was set up and the jpegs available tot the blog guy in a joint dropbox account. Different for contests in that they have deadlines. –  Will Jagy Dec 7 '12 at 20:41
@rob: that is a fair point. I would be open to the questions having good answers being undeleted if it can be verified that any relevant contest deadlines have passed. –  Qiaochu Yuan Dec 7 '12 at 20:56
@Rob You wrote: "The mods are discussing this". That's news to me. I have not seen any discussion of this. Where can I find such? I am still scraping my jaw off the floor after the shock of learning of this unprecedented mass unilateral deletion of 50 questions and 80 answers. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 7 '12 at 21:55
@BillDubuque: I put a math mods call from TL (around 1730Z) and I have chatted with Mariano and mixedmath in MathMods. I put out the call because of the mass deletion, at which I, too, was unhappy. –  robjohn Dec 7 '12 at 23:05
@robjohn: Just to say, I love your Icon. It makes me laugh :-) –  Babak S. Dec 9 '12 at 18:55
@robjohn: Does the TL message expire? I did not receive that particular call. (It would have been Friday afternoon my time and I haven't checked messages until this morning but I didn't see it just now.) –  Willie Wong Dec 10 '12 at 12:27
@WillieWong: I don't think they expire, but if you were offline at the time, it may only show up in your inbox. –  robjohn Dec 10 '12 at 16:44
@robjohn I don't recall getting it either, but it's possible I may have missed it. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 11 '12 at 0:50
@robjohn: that's what I meant, it wasn't in my inbox yesterday morning. –  Willie Wong Dec 11 '12 at 8:47

I'd like to start off by saying I hate politics; and this thread is about politics to the extent that people's past interactions and personalities are coming into it. I wanted to acknowledge the two main moral impulses here. The first moral impulse is to preserve the integrity of contests so that good work is rewarded and cheating is punished. The second moral impulse is to respect the amount of work it takes to answer questions on math stack exchange and to support the free flow of information even if it inconveniences others. So essentially, my first point is both of these moral impulses are good.

My second point concerns this question: of these two good impulses, which one does a moderator of this site have a duty to uphold? It seems to me that as a moderator of math stack exchange, one's first duty is to math stack exchange. Much like a parent is most responsible for his child or a president or prime minister's first duty is to his country. A moderator's first duty should be to the math stack exchange community. Preserving the integrity of external contests is someone else's job unless it somehow furthers math stack exchange to preserve the integrity of external contests.

Sometimes one has personal commitments or moral beliefs that make it impossible to serve just one group. If one's personal commitments or moral beliefs are incompatible, the way out is to avoid leadership positions.

Further, being vested with power entails some moral constraint on the use of that power. Groups usually give individuals power with the implicit expectation that whatever is done by that individual will benefit the group. I would argue that using that power to help people outside of the group requires broad consensus before it is permissible.

I say all this not to accuse anybody, but I realize everybody is trying to do the 'right thing' and I wanted to put forward a framework that hopefully makes sense to others.

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I think upholding the integrity of contests, math programs, etc. is substantially more important than protecting a small handful of answers on math.SE. If people don't think this is an appropriate attitude for a moderator to hold, again, I would be open to being unelected. As a moderator, I am privy to more knowledge about how often this happens on math.SE than the community (many incidents of this nature are dealt with in private). The worst version so far is graduate students who post questions from their take-home exams. In one case this led the University of Washington to... –  Qiaochu Yuan Dec 9 '12 at 6:43
... invalidate the results of an exam (because of a single cheater) and stop offering take-home exams in the future. The damage that cheaters on math.SE can do to other people is substantial and I feel no regret about erring on the side of doing too much rather than too little to prevent this damage. –  Qiaochu Yuan Dec 9 '12 at 6:47
As far as furthering the interests of math.SE, I simply do not want to be associated with a community with lax standards towards cheating, and I am sure I am not alone in this. –  Qiaochu Yuan Dec 9 '12 at 6:52
I will remove my account from this site without a second thought if this site would become synonymous with a cheater's paradise. The homework area is a gray zone and I believe that it is fine to help with homework when it is done in a pedagogical way; but alas contests are something different. Furthermore the analogy to a child is somewhat wrong. You are not only responsible to your child well-being, but you would also like to help him be accepted by others as a good person and a reliable person. Keep your child in a box, he'll be safe, but no one will like him when he gets out. –  Asaf Karagila Dec 9 '12 at 11:23
My view is somewhere in the middle. I think it is not the job of M.SE mods to figure out which contests are going on (they might still look for their nfo, but I don't see it as their duty), but can respond to reasonable requests to temporarily delete or lock questions from ongoing contests. I think Q did a bit too much in this case, but an abuse of power is something entirely different. Hopefully, this will be eventually sortd out. It seems a lot of these question can be undeleted soon. –  Michael Greinecker Dec 9 '12 at 11:52
I would like to emphasize that this isn't personal for me. I entered the discussion with the intent of reducing conflict not increasing it. I did not like the sniping I was seeing between moderators. This is a site that has people from all over the world on it. Moral intuitions will differ. It seems to me we should keep the focus on what we are all here for: asking and answering math questions. That seems to me to be the first principle because that's what brought us all together. Starting with that, lets just build outward to other principles slowly and most importantly democratically. –  Henry B. Dec 9 '12 at 12:32
Assuming that asking and answering questions is why a lot of people came here, removing questions and answers seems like a big step. The concern is over removal and the procedure by which things are removed; not so much cheating. I think everybody including myself agrees cheating is wrong. –  Henry B. Dec 9 '12 at 12:44
@HenryB. For other people, who came here to answer questions, cheating and specifically, becoming an accomplice in cheating, is a huge concern, which will impact their future contribution. –  Phira Dec 9 '12 at 13:15
@Phira: Imagine leaving sections out of the dictionary or the encyclopedia because some of it is an answer to a contest, qualifying exam or final somewhere in the world or selectively turning off access to parts of Wikipedia for that purpose. I don't think the comparison is overblow, MSE as an information resource, is quite invaluable. –  Henry B. Dec 9 '12 at 14:40
@HenryB. Your comparison completely ignores the fact that these questions are constructed specifically for the contests and exams and it takes work to do so and that they are very welcome here after the contest. Have you ever constructed an original question for gifted contestants if you compare it to pre-existing factual information in an encyclopedia? These questions are not here before and then deleted because they turn up on an exam. We know that they have been lifted from the contests because they are highly original. –  Phira Dec 9 '12 at 15:17
@HenryB. Noone asked to "turn off access" to all parts of M.SE on eigenvalues because the University of Washington asked an exam question on eigenvalues. You will be destroying MSE as an information resource if you do not give minimal respect to the people who actually invent the content, and inventing a good contest question is harder than solving it. –  Phira Dec 9 '12 at 15:24
@Phira: I think you make some good points and a temporary embargo on contest questions seems reasonable. Ultimately, the problem of such contests is the information age and I believe this struggle is a losing battle. –  Henry B. Dec 9 '12 at 15:47
"Preserving the integrity of external contests is someone else's job unless it somehow furthers math stack exchange to preserve the integrity of external contests." Henry, I'm not sure how you think that's supposed to work. At least part of this story involves external contest organizers working to preserve integrity of their contests by asking for the assistance of math.SE moderators (for explanation see the post that I'm about to make). This is obviously a necessary step since an external organizer can't do anything about cheating on math.SE without the help of a mod. –  D. Savitt Dec 9 '12 at 17:48
@D.Savitt: The point of my post wasn't really that you or other people who run contests shouldn't ask the moderators for help. Nor, was it my intention to imply that moderators shouldn't help you. I was intending to address the moral quandary of what a moderator ought to do when the community wanted one thing and an external organization wanted another. In that case, I think the thing to do is uphold the will of the community (or at the very least the stack exchange system). –  Henry B. Dec 11 '12 at 11:24
@D.Savitt: I think elevating the duties of one's formal position (such as moderator) over one's personal moral inclinations is more in line with professional ethics. What can a person do if professional commitments don't fit one's personal morality? One can resign that position or it occurs to me that one can recuse one's self in particular cases. –  Henry B. Dec 11 '12 at 11:30

Ali was posting questions from contests and requested that all of their questions be deleted as penitence.

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I got an email from Danielle Huang intended, i guess, mostly for Qiaochu and Eric Naslund who actually are moderators. Something about contest problems and sock puppets. I was not part of it. However, i note that those who try to cheat using these websites do like to erase the evidence when possible. There was a note about penitence as well, which strikes me as horseshit. –  Will Jagy Dec 7 '12 at 20:32
@WillJagy: stinks to me, too. –  robjohn Dec 7 '12 at 20:38
-1 I strongly disagree with your unilateral deletion of these 50 questions and 80 answers; most didn't involve active contests. This is grossly unfair to all of the MSE folks who took the time to provide well-thought answers to these questions. Further, it robs MSE of much useful content. If memory serves correct, from prior discussions, there was an informal policy that we do not delete questions at the request of a user if there are already answers. Why did you violate this en masse? Unless there is good reason for this heavy-handed action, I think this should be reversed. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 7 '12 at 21:49
@Bill: Ali sent an email to some but not all of the moderators indicating that most of the questions were from contests or contest-like sources (e.g. entrance examinations for summer programs). Again, I would be open to the questions having answers being undeleted if it can be verified that the relevant deadlines have passed. –  Qiaochu Yuan Dec 7 '12 at 22:37
@Qiaochu I see no deadlines, nor do I see any evidence whatsoever that any significant percentage of these $50$ questions were from open contests. Perusing them, I have a hard time believing that this could be true. Could you please revert this unprecedented extreme action, so that we can regain the $80$ answers that enrich the content of our site. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 7 '12 at 22:47
@Bill: I would like to remind you that, as a moderator, you yourself have the power to undo all of these deletions. You talk a lot of talk but you have not yet done anything to rectify what you profess to be an unjust situation. –  Qiaochu Yuan Dec 8 '12 at 6:38
Qiaochu, for the sake of status quo, please don't suggest that Bill will suddenly undelete 50 questions at once. It would be an extremely inappropriate thing to do. If anything the moderators should discuss this, then bring it to the community in a meta thread with the explanation of the incident and whatnot, then after some debating we can try and decide what is the proper action. –  Asaf Karagila Dec 8 '12 at 14:09
@QiaochuYuan: Isn't the point that you all might want to discuss this so that you don't just keep undoing each others actions? –  Thomas Dec 8 '12 at 16:43
There is no automatic deletion of downvoted answers (unless you delete your account). You're thinking of the automatic removal of downvoted and unanswered questions, which doesn't apply here. –  Mad Scientist Dec 8 '12 at 17:42
@Michael Please don't change meta downvotes to upvotes for reasons like preserving the answer (or sympathy, etc). We moderators need to read the votes to help judge community opinions, and if folks change votes like that, then it becomes impossible to use votes to gauge community opinion. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 8 '12 at 20:41
Note $\$ For the record, this post probably has more downotes than displayed, since Qiaochu edited the question to ask folks to stop downvoting it, mistakenly believing that it would cause it to be deleted. This caused at least one user to change his downvote to an upvote (cf. above comments). So the actual vote tally is at least 2 less than displayed. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 9 '12 at 0:43
From Bill's random sample, many of the questions deleted are quite old, and unlikely to be from anything ongoing. I note that suspicions as to their provenance were raised at the time they were posted. –  Gerry Myerson Dec 9 '12 at 6:06
@Bill, did you see the comment after the reply by OP, "@Ali Do you have a scan of it or something? Because actually there are suggestions that this problem comes from this contest. – dtldarek" with a link to some other site? –  Gerry Myerson Dec 9 '12 at 12:01
@Gerry The point is that your prior comment is quite misleading. It conveys the impression that contest suspicions were raised for all questions in the random sample. But this is true for only one question. Further, for that one question, the purported contest site "purplecomet.org" no longer exists. Hardly a compelling reason for deleting an 8 month-old question and its answers. Ditto for the 130 other posts that were unilaterally and surreptitiously deleted - with no notice/discussion whatsoever. –  Bill Dubuque Dec 9 '12 at 15:48
@Bill et al, my comment was poorly worded. I was referring to just one of the five questions, not to all five. I'm in no position to determine how many of the five (or the 50) were from then-current competitions. From the wording of my comment ("Where are you getting these questions from?") I think it's clear I was suspicious about more than one question at the time. I like to let my mistakes stand as warnings to myself to do better in the future; please don't edit my earlier comment. –  Gerry Myerson Dec 9 '12 at 23:29