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    • CommentAuthorWillieWong
    • CommentTimeAug 22nd 2012

    (I seem to remember another post of similar nature from a few months ago; if it is not appropriate I ask that the moderators remove the post.)

    I just heard through the grapevine that we've unfortunately lost user 9062 to the inevitable ebb of time. Since many members of MO are acquainted with him, I hope it is not outre to share this sad news here.


    I just found out through an email to the topology/geometry group at my university. It is indeed very sad. I did not know him personally. His contributions to MO never failed to impress me fot the deep insight they revealed and, not wishing to offend anyone, he is so far unique in this regard. It is the second MOer I know of who has passed away "in action", so to speak, and I wonder whether we should be thinking of honouring them somehow in the site.


    I have requested that the MO question, "Wikipedia story about Bill Thurston’s death," be deleted. I feel it does not set the dignified tone with which this community wants to remember the great man's passing.




    Joseph, I have closed the question. Other users had also expressed similar concerns.

    We are all saddened by this news and we all have our own ways to mourn. I urge users to be mindful of each other's sensitivities and avoid postings that may be misinterpreted by others.


    @François: Thank you.


    José: I was thinking the same thing (with regards to your last sentence). Facebook allows the profiles of users who have passed away to be turned into memorial pages and I wonder if it might not be possible to do something vaguely similar here...

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeAug 22nd 2012
    I think it is more appropriate to leave the pages as is. However, I think a page to indicate the passing of some MathOverflow contributors is appropriate. Memorial pages with more content should be left to others outside of MathOverflow.

    Gerhard Paseman, 2012.08.22
    • CommentAuthorIgor Rivin
    • CommentTimeAug 23rd 2012
    This may be the wrong discussion, but I would suggest a new icon to indicate members who are no longer with us.
    I'd be very hesitant about setting any sort of precedent for memorials. Although Bill Thurston is unambiguously memorial-worthy, and while, say, deliberate repeat spammers are probably not, there's a vast area in between and I doubt that anyone wants to be in charge of drawing the line.
    Igor's idea is nice. It may be something as unobtrusive as the little diamond symbol that identifies moderators.
    @SteveLandsburg: We could nominate and require a certain number of upvotes (say 5-10): the community can safely judge this sort of thing for itself.
    • CommentAuthorJDH
    • CommentTimeAug 23rd 2012 edited

    In regard to Igor's proposal, I would suggest that a simple change in the user name to Bill Thurston (1946-2012) would be both clear and informative.


    +1 JDH. Ditto for Torsten E?

    • CommentAuthorJDH
    • CommentTimeAug 23rd 2012

    I don't really see the problem with making such a user name change whenever it is requested and it can be reasonably verified by the moderators that the user has actually passed away. This wouldn't even bump a question, and this change by its nature would alert other users in comment threads and so on that they should no longer expect to interact further on MO with that user.

    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeAug 24th 2012

    JDH's proposal sounds great to me (whereas I'd avoid nomination and voting for this).


    What about adding the text "Bill Thurston (1946-2012)" to the top of the user profile, rather than modifying the user name? It seems weird for the signature of every post to indicate that the user has passed away.

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeAug 24th 2012
    I would have said something about modifying the user page, but Anton got there first.

    In Europe (and perhaps elsewhere), there is a dagger symbol that often indicates deceased, which might be used analogously to the diamond symbol for moderator. (Check Wikipedia, where it is also used for Hermitian adjoint, or so they say.) I suspect most of the members will be able to infer the correct meaning, especially if the user page is modified. While I suspect the families would not object to such a change, again they should be asked and their wishes respected.

    If this idea is not accepted, I think it reasonable to provide a separate page created by part of the MathOverflow community that contains a list of participants to be memorialized, with a few links to some of their contributions.
    I hope the list currently stands at two members, but perhaps others will correct me.

    Gerhard "Suggesting A Moment Of Reflection" Paseman, 2012.08.24
    @grp : Uh, you know that the "dagger" symbol is really a cross, don't you? While I am personally religious, I don't think that it would be appropriate to use a religious symbol in this context.

    I like Anton's suggestion of adding text like "Bill Thurston (1946-2012)" to the top of the user's page.

    I also like Anton's suggestion. And as with JDH's suggestion, it would be reasonable to apply this in other cases in which the moderators can verify that it is appropriate.

    • CommentAuthorTom Church
    • CommentTimeAug 24th 2012

    I like Anton's proposal in this case. But perhaps we need not spend a lot of time debating future situations, since I'm not sure that any of these ideas will be possible after the currently-in-the-works move to StackExchange 2.0...


    I've added the bits of text to Bill Thurston's and Torsten Ekedahl's user profiles.

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeAug 24th 2012
    Actually Andy, I don't know that. Also, the Wikipedia page on dagger takes pains to point out that it is a dagger and not the same symbol used for the Christian cross. I have also seen it used in articles published after the author's death in some journals. I personally don't mind if a small skull and crossbones is used, but some might confuse those members so marked with the more piratical members of MathOverflow. I imagine most labels will admit problems.

    Gerhard "Knows More Letters Than Arrrr" Paseman, 2012.08.24

    @Anton: A very nice solution; thank you. I am pleased that Bill's remarkable statement remains intact! Especially this sentence:

    "I'm happy when I can admit, at least to myself, that my thinking is muddled, and I try to overcome the embarassment that I might reveal ignorance or confusion."

    ---from one of the most insightful humans on the planet!

    • CommentAuthorEmil J
    • CommentTimeAug 25th 2012

    @Anton: Wouldn't it also be a good idea to delete Bill Thurston's date of birth (not publically shown as such) from his profile? I'm worried the software will start to display "Age 66" in two months.


    @Emil J: done.