Vanilla 1.1.9 is a product of Lussumo. More Information: Documentation, Community Support.
1 to 31 of 31
Reently JSE posted a well-received question (though meanwhile with one vote to close)
More recently, Gerry Myerson
which is not so well-received (3 votes to close in half an hour)
In any case, since in particular the latter might cause some discussion I create this thread.
I don't agree with the characterization of JSE's question as being self-congratulatory. In his question JSE explained that he is writing a mathematically-themed piece for the general public, in which he wanted to explain some advantages, outside mathematics, of a mathematician's perspective on things. Presumably mathematicians have flaws as well, certainly individually, and no doubt as a collective tendency as well. This was not what was asked about, though. Knowing JSE's writing style, I also doubt that his actual piece, when it is written, will be of a self-congratulatory nature.
In any case, he gave a sensible and well-articulated justification for his question, and I think that it was an appropriate use of MO.
I don't have a strong opinion on Gerry's question, although I don't think the motivations are spelled out as clearly as in JSE's question.
In brief: in my opinion, both questions are not MO questions by usual standards as they are highly subjective (and thus argumentative).
One can (and perhaps should) sometimes make an exception to usual standards. I agree with Emerton that JSE had in some sense the 'better' motivation (which is why I wrote 'very little' and not 'no' in my first comment); though I wonder were the people are that typically send such questions to blogs. Still, I think Gerry's question would have been a nice counter-balance. While JSE question itself is perhaps not self-congratulatory, in my opinion some of the contributions are (to a certain extent this is perhaps inevitable) and this at least needs a counter-balance.
So, now that the one is closed, I voted to close the other one; as subjective and argumentative.
Finally, I second Thierry's second paragraph.
Although I agree these aren't really MO questions, I love Gerry's question and hope it stays around for a while!
I agree with David White that the tone of Gerry's question is off-putting. Not only is it a little off-putting, it's also clearly argumentative. I'm not a huge fan of JSE's question, but it is clear why the question is being asked (to help with writing a journalism piece) and it's although it's certainly phrased in a way that's "subjective" it does a good job of avoiding being "argumentative." In short, JSE's question is a "big list" question while Gerry's is more of a statement of opinion.
Finally, I would be inclined to close followup soft questions because they run the risk of compounding and causing too many soft questions on MO.
Noah, one could start a lot of arguments on the math-habits. Just a small example: the alphabetic ordering thing right a top of the comments, plenty to argue here whether this would make sense in some other disciplines (and even if it is optimal in math), or the arXiv-posting; even for math some people think it can be not a good idea (cf. the closed MO question and the subsequent discussion on your blog).
Actually, on the other one there is IMO much less 'to argue' as it is conceived in a more playful way.
Now, not to you specifically: Perhaps this episode is a great illustration just how good mathematicians are at being self-critical, and of course also humble.
I've cast the 3rd re-open vote (my first ever re-open vote).
Mainly out of general interest: is the to be written article about the self-perception of mathematicians/the math community or about actual recommendations based on mathematicians/the math community?
I'm sorry for conflating your opinion of the answers to JSE's question with your opinion of the question. Also, I enjoyed your topological joke.
In the past, we've left open "soft questions" in the spirit of Jordan's and Gerry's when, among other conditions, they satisfied the property of being best answered by research mathematicians. For example, I imagine it would would be hard for a non-mathematician to describe precisely what it is about how a mathematician thinks that would prove advantageous in other contexts. On the other hand, it would take only a mildly non-comatose person to identify inadequacies in the sort of mathematician that Gerry portrays in his question. I'm also not sure mathematicians of this sort exist, making Gerry's question at least mildly vacuous. So while I enjoyed Gerry's question (to an extent -- it was at least mildly offensive to mathematicians), I vote to close it and leave Jordan's open.
Cam McLeman: several people said similar things as you. But I cannot see this point at all; to the extent that I started already to wonder whether JSE plans an article completely different form the one I at first assumed. More precisely, I do not understand why a research mathematician would be particularly well placed to answer what "would prove advantageous in other contexts."
Of course, they are uniquely well-placed (essentially by definition) to answer what they believe would prove advantageous in other contexts. But this is something quite different.
Indeed, I would go so far as to say that to get good answers on JSE's question (in the interpretation most seem to have) one should rather ask people close to mathematicians that are not mathematicians. While for Gerry's answer one could say the mathematicians collect together what they individually learned in there interaction with non-mathematicians.
Genral: My personal stance is that both are sufficiently far from the usual standards that any detailed analysis which one is more/less on/off-topic is a bit pointless, but still since it came up repeatedly I wanted to point out that even this is perhaps not so clear as some like to make it look.
quid: "Of course, they are uniquely well-placed (essentially by definition) to answer what they believe would prove advantageous in other contexts."
I don't understand. Mathematicians don't have to speculate as to what might prove advantageous were they to ever find themselves in a non-mathematical context, since the vast majority of their lives are thusly spent!
Cam McLeman: The question is a bit what precisely is to be understood by 'contexts'; at least some of the answers go into the direction of other professional contexts. Yet, even in general, I maintain an individual/or a group is not particularly well-placed to judge their own ways of operating.
By analogy, if you want solid information on the merits of the programme of some political party, do you think that representatives of that party are the best source for this?
Or would you rather ask somewhat neutral people that are only familiar with said party but not directly involved?
In particular, I observe that so far it seems nobody came up with a real-life 'success story', that is a situation where they made a math-habits suggestion and somebody later or immediately said this was good advice; that is something I would consider interesting. For the opposite phenomenon there are examples. And, on the other question there is an individual success.
quid: I think your interpretation of the question seems as unforgiving as possible, in a similar vain to that insinuated by Gerry's question, that mathematicians think they know better and would gladly suggest how historians/bankers/etc. are not doing their job as well as they might have had they been inclined to think like a mathematician. To the contrary, the actual wording: "Which habits of mathematicians would you recommend that non-mathematicians adopt, at least in certain contexts?" is much less imposing, asking mathematicians to brainstorm things that they do that they feel could be of occasional benefit to others.
I find your analogy a little disingenuous, kind of like asking "If you wanted solid information, would you prefer an opinion or a fact?" Of course a fact is preferable, but such as is with like well-informed neutral parties, they need not necessarily exist. But if I had a choice between a biased expert answer, and an not-particularly-informed neutral answer, I would choose the former. In any case, the topic of "general strategies for conducting one's day-to-day business" falls, to my mind, in the "very few facts exist" category.
Here is (what I would interpret as) a "success story": academic departments/colleges/universities very frequently have to spend much time debating the precise wording of rules and regulations for various bodies (undergraduates, transfer students, professors on leave, visiting professors, etc.). I have not infrequently noticed, in line with Emerton's top-rated answer to Jordan's question, instances of wording ending up significantly clearer because a mathematician (or similarly-minded individual) testing the proposed wording against the extremes of the definitions involved. (e.g., "The worst-case scenario is a transfer student who has taken X classes here, leaves for Y years, and then files for a z% financial aid award. Our proposed procedure would have have us borrowing money from her!", or some other such thing.) I don't think it's particularly hubricial* to believe that this mode of thinking can lead to an objectively better state of affairs.
*: sadly, not an actual word
Cam McLeman: As I said earlier I do not have that much of a problem with the question. And, yes, as collective brainstorming, and I assume it was perceived as such, it can be useful for the OP and perhaps some others. And, of course, if I were to write something on mathematics/the math community for some general audience I would also emphazise positive aspects, so that as a consequence if i'd prepare for it I'd ask for this. And earlier I even acknowledge that to some extent there is a certain inevitability to make this (the outcome of the collective brainstorming not the piece written based on it) look a bit self-congratulatory.
Yet, the problem is with some of the answers and comments. Also, 'problem' is perhaps to strong a word, but I don't particularlly like them. Because they precsiely suggest that 'mathematicians think they know better.' For example, they seem to 'know' that one should order authors alphabetically. In which context or for whom is this a useful suggestion?
In any case, it seems to be of immense importance (with 50 something upvotes for the comment).
Perhaps this is an unforgiving interpretation, but the main (only?) message here seems to be that 'we mathematcians' are such a nice egalitarian community while others are not.
And, with slightly less assertive formulations, IMO this could have been avoided.
I am willing to admit to a bit of silliness in insiting on precise formulations, and each contribution alone would be fine, but the collection creates a general tone that somewhat annoys me. But, perhaps I am also over-sensitive here.
quid: Yes, I am not blind to the irony of defending the in-principle non-imposingness of the generic mathematician in the wake of some at-least-mildly-presumptuous comments/answers. I think your point distinguishing between between the individual comments/answers and the collection as a whole is very well put. For example, I myself upvoted the alphabetical-author comment early on, partly because it's mildly a mathematician in-joke and I know Mariano to make light-hearted humorous comments, and concede that with 50 upvotes it obtains an air of "Everyone else does this stupidly." So to me, this is not what the question was after: while I'll admit to strongly preferring this mechanism -- I've never had to have an awkward discussion with a coauthor about naming priority, and colleagues in other disciplines cannot say the same -- I wouldn't presume to tell people in another discipline that our method is better for them. So it sounds like we're in relative agreement (if I'm not presuming too much...): The phrasing of the question admits a variety of interpretations, some in the spirit I was hoping for and some in the spirit you were worried about, and so a tightening of the language in the question to coax answers towards the former would not be misplaced (if it is even salvageable now).
Cam McLeman: I agree with the relative agreement. Thanks for the interesting discussion!
JSE's question has been closed, and now has a few votes to reopen. I would vote to reopen but don't want to cast a moderator vote; maybe if I see it at (4).
Sorry to steal your final vote, Scott. I cast the fifth before I saw this.