A snark, in this context, is a particular type of troll who intentionally, and usually subtly, creates a contemptuous or dismissive environment. Such a person might do this by posting and feigning interest in a complex equation just to watch us perform like trained monkeys. Snarks are usually more difficult to sniff out than regular trolls. Trolls usually attack a group at large, while a snark will target individuals.
Some snarks will go to the opposite extremes by asking for the solutions to questions like what is 1+1. While this is an obvious snark (and is actually funny), others are less so: such as, "what is the tax on 113.98." The original question may have not been a snark; but, judging by the plethora of absurd responses and additional lame questions, it became one rather quickly. So much so, I thought about snarking it myself.
The problem is, this kind of thing encourages mediocrity and conformity to intellectual and academic ignorance. It substitutes a critical vocabulary for critical thinking, and discourages people from learning because they have to wade through an ocean of detritus. It also discourages the tutors from teaching because their voice is lost in a sea of scat.
Even so, I would rather error on the side of caution and answer a (subtle) snarky, but otherwise legitimate, question because many can read it and learn from it -- even if the original author's intent was contempt.
BTW, thank you for pointing out that my obiter dictum was not directed at Marshall. Based on his response, he may have thought so. While it’s true I did not think his question was a snark or troll bait, (else I would not have replied), I was beginning to wonder if I was reaching my audience or even if there was still an audience to reach. I suspect you sometimes think this, too.
It seems sometimes that the petitioners think it’s some type of automaton replying to their question. Considering the power of modern computers programs to solve and explain complex math equations in exactly that manner, I shouldn’t be surprised. The computers lack only the ineffable and nuanced behaviors of human communication.
From the petitioners point of view there is not much difference: we teach high level science and maths: only machines and machine-like people do this. Although considering some of my peers, and large portions of my own character, I’d be hard-pressed to challenge the concept. As computers approach the quantum state we may be hearing replies like “Snark detected. Access denied!”
While a response quells most of the speculation, it also can elevate the answer to the next level. For example, a question by mbm » Sun Dec 15, 2013 7:42 am “what is the sum of digits of the number 2^1000”. I didn’t really know if he meant the sum of all digits that represent this number in base 10 (a type of CRC) or the sum of all numbers from 1 to 2^1000. If he had responded, I could have pointed him to Gauss’ summation formula. One would truly appreciate Gauss, if this were an assignment. I suspect this question was a snark.
I spent weeks perusing this site before deciding to post responses. You (your posts) were a determining factor in doing so. I really admire what you do! This site at its current state of development would border on worthless without you. Your posts represent nearly 7% of all post and close to 10 times that of the next highest registered user. (what’s the opposite of snark? Suck-up? Probably “toady?” Fair suck of the sav!)
This site has great potential. It’s unusual for a modern BB site to allow posts without requiring users to register and log in. However, this freedom will allow the trolls and snarks to eventually overwhelm the site. Troll activity seems to have increased in the past few weeks. Hopefully, the webmasters will rise to the occasion and implement modern standards and protocols, before the academically skilled get tired of it and leave. We have thick skin… we can handle any troll or snark until reinforcements arrive.
As an aside, you might be interested to know that "Snark" has a mathematical meaning too: it's a cubic graph that is connected and bridgeless. A bridge is the edge of a connected graph that does not lie on any circle (or sub cycle). Martin Gardner, an American mathematician, used this term for this type of graph. Obviously, an admirer of Lewis Carroll: a mathematician and creator of snarks.