Did you noticed that recently multiple homework questions are posted? Just a few examples:

As one of the comments suggested at least two of those could have been actually posted during an ongoing exam!

Any ideas what could be done?

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    $\begingroup$ What's your targeted outcome? The OPs didn't get what they wanted and I would like to know on top of that what other results or effects you are envisioning. $\endgroup$ Feb 17, 2015 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ We get occasional spikes in these sort of question. It looks to me like the site worked much as it should ... one thing to keep in mind is to keep reminding answerers to stick to offering guidance and hints on questions which follow the self-study guidelines (at least where it still could still be current, and sometimes even then) and to not directly answer anything that looks like assigned work. We should just close the "tell me the answer to this question" ones every time... and not rush to give information away too fast on the questions that do follow the rules. $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Feb 18, 2015 at 2:27
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    $\begingroup$ This is an occupational hazard of being what we are. Presumably there is a spectrum from those totally happy if others will do their work for them to those very confused or unclear about the limits of the forum, but it's hard to tell and these posts are not acceptable either way. It just needs the vigilance of users with sufficiently high reputation to catch these posts, including yourself Tim! $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Feb 18, 2015 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ I'd suggest post an incorrect solution, just to liven things up for the OP. $\endgroup$
    – wolfies
    Feb 19, 2015 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ That's not a good idea wolfies. Also others who do the required work but get stuck in between for the same question may see such a wrong answer and follow its lines. $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Feb 19, 2015 at 8:23
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    $\begingroup$ Andy is correct; mischievous thoughts are better not implemented; otherwise you just create work for others cleaning them up. I am all for bringing a sense of humour to CV but that would be going too far. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Feb 19, 2015 at 10:52
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    $\begingroup$ That's what the Malicious Mallard is for. :) Alright alright, I won't use it. Used another meme on Academia and got my hand slapped pretty badly by the mod even I had gotten glorious 35 upvotes. $\endgroup$ Feb 20, 2015 at 15:59

2 Answers 2


As discussed (rather extensively and accurately IMO) in the comments, there isn't much more that we can do. I think our homework policies are good ones. We just have to be vigilant. (For example, on a recent SS Q, a new user gave an answer that I thought was possibly too complete and I left him a quick note, but a more experienced user gave a good SS answer later.)

Beyond vigilance, we need to be unafraid of closing such questions. It is best that such questions always get a comment to help them use the site more productively (for both us and them), and that will help cue potential answerers to the fact that full answers should not be given. If a user repeatedly asks questions that violate our policy, downvotes and closevotes, coupled with more strongly worded comments, is the best we can do.

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    $\begingroup$ +1. Good summary as usual. We, the community, can close their accounts but if and only if a moderator does that for us. I suspect that many of these characters do not return if they get no reply quickly, but I have no data. Sometimes the questions are so outrageous that they provide minor amusement, but never to offset the nuisance. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Feb 22, 2015 at 23:52

My opinion on this might be in the minority, but I am going to post this anyway, as a suggestion. If this is inconsistent with policy, consider it a suggestion for a change of policy. As a premise to my opinion, I note that there is a general consensus that "textbook problems" are valuable problems for statistical learning, and so we do not close or ignore these problems. Our present practice for self-study questions is to require the user to show what they have done, and where they are stuck, and then provide a "hint" for further progress.

I agree that it is sensible not to provide contemporaneous solutions to self-study problems, since this gives the user a facility to have others do their homework for them, and it encourages students to post homework or assessment problems. However, setting aside the issue of contemporaneous answers, I see no particular problem with this site gradually accruing a large repository of full worked solutions to textbook problems. That actually seems to me like a valuable resource, for exactly the same reason that worked solutions in textbooks and courses are valuable resources for learning. As I see it, the issue is to avoid giving contemporaneous worked solutions to the student for their homework/assessment. Thus, once the question is "old" (e.g., at least six-months old, which is past the assessment point) I think it should be okay to post a full worked solution to the problem. Indeed, at that point, I think it is desirable to give a full worked solution, to build up a repository of worked solutions to simple problems.

This proposal retains the property that it does not incentivise students to post homework or assessment problems, to bypass solving these themselves. By imposing a delay of six months on posting worked solutions, we ensure that the full solution comes too late to be used as submitted homework or assessment in a course. (I actually think this issue is a bit overblown anyway, since students almost always need to replicate performance on an in-person exam, and SE solutions cannot be used as a substitute in that environment.) At the same time, it allows us to build up a good repository of worked solutions to simple "textbook problems" which is a useful pedagogical resource.

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    $\begingroup$ In practice this hinges on an old question resurfacing or someone setting a diary note to post an answer if the question is still there 6 months later and unanswered. In principle I note that posted answers could frustrate a teacher setting the same question in a later year and/or teachers using the same textbook! In practice I doubt that would happen often. In practice if it's really elementary why would the question be worth the time of anyone active here? $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Mar 8, 2020 at 8:23
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    $\begingroup$ As a teacher too I want there to be no support for students trying to outsource their assignments, although a clever idle student can often disguise the assignment flavour. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Mar 8, 2020 at 8:24

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