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This is the meta thread of What is a random number (poll experiment)
It is a reference request regarding data what numbers people name when asked to name some number.
It was closed quickly and has now three votes to reopen. The main (only?) objection seems to be it is not a mathematical question.
Personally, I somehow like the question but can see why one might not consider it as mathematical enough for MO (although this would be a debate to be had, but I can see why somebody would say so).
It was closed and now has three votes to reopen. (I did not yet vote to reopen, but am considering it.)
The question is (a little bit) interesting to me as well, but wasn't the specific question about where the experiment might have actually been conducted, and what the empirical results were? That kind of question doesn't seem like a mathematical question.
If the question were about constructing a mathematical model, as Alexander Chervov thought, then that might be appropriate for MO. But even for that, I think Teo might get better results by asking elsewhere. If there were a stackexchange site for statistical applications, then that might be a good place to take it.
@Teo B: thank you for providing the context. I just cast the final/fifth vote to reopen. The question is (at the moment) open again. (As general advice, to provide this/such motivation in the question might have avoided closure.)
@quid: are you going to justify your decision, besides saying you "somehow like it"?
@Todd Trimble: Sorry, I did not see your comment before sending mine. I agree that the question might get better answers elsewhere. However, the question is a question that directly came up in an (advanced) mathematical context, which was originally not so clear. Depending on ones notion of a mathematical question one might or might not come to the conclusion it is one. However, here we might also see an effect of the 'field bias' recently discussed.
A request for reference to certain type of data seems to me (without being an expert there) as something a mathematician working in probabilty/statistics might want to ask on MO. Perhaps, the question is written in a slightly to playful way, but in the end it seems a quite precise reference request and well within (at least the extended) scope of MO.
Added: Now I missed Teo B's comment, sorry about that.
Added 2: Until now I missed the second comment of Todd Trimble. Sorry, again. More or less I provided the justification. So just the justification why I provided no justification right away: since Teo B provided the context and I thanked for this, I assumed it implicitly clear that together with this context (which changed the situation a bit) I considered the question as on-topic. The sole objection was it is not mathematical (enough); the context in which it arose is clearly mathematical and there is also a direct link to this mathematical content. So, in my mind, the context made the sole objection raised obsolete.
let it just live, as a question!
It's out of my hands now, since I voted to close earlier and can't vote twice. But let others decide whether the question is appropriate. (Someone had a promising-looking link to an article on psycnet or something, so maybe you (Teo) will get some useful information.)
@Todd Trimble: since I "added" while you commented, I hope you still noticed the totality of my response. In case there is need for additional clarification of my rational, please, let me know.
I agree with Todd that this is not a mathematical question. For example, answers to questions of this sort are heavily influenced by priming, which is a psychological effect.
@Qiaochu Yuan: Your 'this' in the first and second sentence seem to refer to different things. This is a bit confusing.
Teo, I think you are confusing the words "distribution" and "statistic". You seem to agree that the statistic mu will depend on the place, and although you don't say it, also on the time of the day, in short on the precise sample of people that you ask, plus these peoples' precise states of mind at the moment of asking. In other words, your mu is not a probability distribution, it will be merely a finite table once you run such an experiment (and before you have run it, there is no mu), and it is not clear at all whether it will posses any predictive powers or any other information beyond the one that it purports to collect.
In light of the above, I don't think that the question is about mathematics at all, applied or otherwise.
@Alexander: If you know of any examples of offensive questions that haven't been closed, then you should definitely bring them to attention on meta!
@Todd Trimble: I am quite sure Alexander Chervov meant to say non-offensive. In particular, he wondered why certain questions, namely non-offensive ones, got closed (as opposed to wondering why not).
@Teo B: In fact, this interpretation occured to me, too. However, I know Todd Trimble since a while (here on MO), and while for some others around here I would go with your intepretation anytime, I do not for him. Indeed, I could well imagine that for a native English speaker it is really harder to catch the meaning or easier to misunderstand it on quick reading than for me.
Whoa, Teo! You are absolutely wrong about that. It was my misunderstanding, based on reading too quickly.
The question is closed at the moment so I'm going to give my (partial) answer here.
What I think Teo B didn't realize when posing the question is how sensitive human random-number generation is to seemingly insignificant changes in context. For example, it will probably make a significant difference whether, in the proposed subway poll, one says "please tell me a number" or "please tell me a random number." It also makes a difference whether you ask for a single random number or whether you ask for a sequence of random numbers, or a sequence of random digits.
A good entry into the empirical literature is Towse and Neil's 1998 paper (and the references therein), which you can find by typing "human random generation" into Google Scholar. A quick glance did not yield an exact match to Teo B's proposal of sampling a single (random?) positive integer, but I'm not sure how wedded Teo B is to that precise question versus other related questions, such as human generation of random sequences of digits. There is quite a bit more empirical literature on the latter.
@Alexander: let's not use the word "games" to describe this activity. I don't think anyone relishes closing questions, and moreover I think the people who come here to discuss such matters have, by and large, honorable motives -- so that the word "games" does not apply and could even seem insulting. Let's try not to accuse others of bad motives (as Teo, who is a relative newcomer here, did to me a few comments back), or even appear to accuse others, unless there is no doubt.
Generally, it's healthy to have rational discussions about MO norms, which are continually evolving. The closing of questions can cause some feelings to be bruised, so it's important for people to see that people who vote to close are generally reasonable and are frequently open to discussing their reasons. In the long run, discussion leads to less misunderstanding than would be the case of simply going back and forth between opening and closing without any discussion at all.
@Todd Trimble (or perhaps more general): It is meanwhile I think mainly an abstract discussion, but in the sense of mutual better understanding:
To me your precise final objection is not completely clear. From what you said at the start of this thread it seems to be that the question only asks whether such an experiment was done and what the result was, and this is not a mathematical question.
However, no reference request is ever a truly mathematical question. Even, Is this [insert mathematical result] written somewhere would then be an inadmissible question. And, sometimes (though rarely) even the still less mathematical: how can I find [insert particular document] is tolerated. Or, I doubt would the question have been for data on the imaginary parts of zeros of the Riemann zeta-function anybody would have said this is not a mathematical question this asks just for a table of numbers.
Now, not to make anybody believe I am willfully 'stupid' here, let me add that of course I understand (or assume to understand) that you mean implictly in addition it asks for a reference on something that is not "a mathematical thing" (for lack of a better word).
Yet, going away from this particular question a bit, I think this is not a good criterion. In particular, not if MO should be a welcoming place for applied mathematicians (which is, according to recent discussions, a concern of many or at least some). As an example (I hope it makes somewhat sense, I have no real expertise), I assume somebody working on time-series/data analysis (from a research mathematical but not totally pure point of view) might sometimes have need for certain types of real-world data (stock-market, weather, number of infection with a certain desease, or whatever). Now, I assume typically they will then have some contacts or collaborators in the respective field and no need to ask on MO; however, there could be circumstances (perhaps the real real-world data is inconvenient to handle and one would rather search for somehow already half-digested real-world data in some particular format or whatever, for preliminary tests). Then, it could be convenient to ask colleagues doing similar things (other mathematicians!) whether they happen to have this or know where one can get it. Why not via MO?
Of course, we cannot admit every question on any kind of data, this would be absurd, too. But, to me the context or the intent of the question is the better criterion. And, to further continue, as I assume you know, I am strictly against "of interest to mathematicians" as (main or sole) criterion for MO questions. However, here the context was then (after the first meta post of Teo B) a lot more narrow. The question directly came up in the course of teaching a class on mathematics and it was in addition if perhaps not immediately mathematical still something scientific and/or related to the content (not about the chalk, the whiteboard pens, or whatever).
Personally, I was truly astonished that after this context was given (which was when, and why, I voted to reopen) there remained much opposition. (Before I was, too, a bit undecided; I personally found it somehow interesting, but then this is not the right criterion.)
tl;dr version: I think the better criterion than some absolute notion of "mathematical" is the context or intent (if available or knowable), and this was in this case a mathematical one.
@quid: I agree that reference requests (hopefully on mathematical topics!) are not, in a strict sense, mathematical questions. That wasn't the precise source of my discomfort.
I'm afraid that I don't find the stated context nearly as impressive or compelling as you do, quid. To me it sounded like the context arose from a very offhand, informal conversation in the classroom. The general topic was "random numbers", a pretty tricky subject. If you asked a probabilist or statistician how one would generate "random numbers", you might get answers that referred to roulette wheels, or results of a quantum physics experiment, etc., and there are various methods to evaluate whether a stream of data is likely to be random or pseudo-random (for example, there might be a "tell" if one uses a computerized random number generator). As several people have commented, the result of polling people "at random" would almost surely not produce "random numbers" in that sense (e.g., poll a bunch of people to give odd numbers between 1 and 10, and notice a bias toward the number 7; this sort of thing cropped up in JSE's reference to the presumptively rigged Iranian elections, as a "tell"). So the word "random" is being used in ways which might be confusing or conflicting.
But that isn't the main issue. The key issue is that Teo thinks there is nevertheless a meaningful distribution of answers with mathematical (e.g. number-theoretic) content, and he wants to know what it is. Of course, one would have to run the experiment (you couldn't just introspect as a mathematician to answer the question) -- this was my immediate objection. But digging a little deeper: as Alex Bartel and Timothy Chow have pointed out, the description of the experiment is, as stated, way too imprecise: there is no indication that such a poll as loosely and vaguely described by the OP would have any predictive value whatever for pointing to a specific distribution. If results depend on time of day or time of year, or if they are "sensitive to seemingly insignificant changes of context", etc., then different experimenters might obtain statistically very different-looking results, suggestive of very different conjectures for distributions. Thus, the description of the experiment is not exact enough to consider this yet "a real question" (a precise question).
There may be carefully controlled studies in the general neighborhood of the type of thing Teo is groping after, but careful design of controls and protocols to get a meaningful and repeatable experiment gets us into difficult questions in the human sciences (where elements of human psychology, sociology, etc. must be accounted for), and Teo even agreed to this (see his comment in response to Joel). So here we are outside the ambit of mathematics. In other words, by making it a "real question" (i.e., a precise question with some hope of real scientific content), one has to move to human science domains which are off-topic for MO. (And if mathematicians on MO happen to be familiar with such studies, then this is no different in nature with a mathematician who happens to be familiar with the details of some physics experiment which is also off-topic for MO.)
I'm particularly thinking here at the "keep MO clean" mantra, that can be seen all around the place, often proudly formulated by users. I know that this can have several meanings, but one of them - hope we agree here - is simply "keep MO pure". And isn't that rather hate speech? Wrt applied math, I mean.
Ugh! "Hate speech". One thing I would like to keep MO and MO meta pure and clean of are cheap shots.
I'm not an applied mathematician, and as far as I can tell you aren't either, Teo. So I can't accept that this is a good applied math question just on your say-so. But I'll tell you what: if a respected MO contributor who works closer to applied mathematics, such as Steve Huntsman, comes forward and explains why he/she thinks it's a good fit for MO, I will happily defer.
(There is an ongoing discussion of bias at MO meta, e.g., why are there relatively few women participating, or why aren't more applied mathematicians participating? I find that discussion of great interest and concern. But at the current moment, I am not convinced that the question under discussion is a good example.)
Teo, I've argued for more openness towards applied mathematics questions, and I think MO users should err on the side of caution when considering voting to close applied questions. See, for instance, my comment on The human body's random number generator. To that extent, I agree with you.
Nevertheless, I think you'd be more persuasive if you moderated your language. In this thread alone, you've used the phrases "hate speech", "what a mess!", and "spam, ignore" (about an entirely reasonable comment that you happened to misunderstand). This is unlikely to win people to your cause. It also raises the temperature unnecessarily. I for one want to keep MO and meta as places for calm, rational discussion, not invective.
Actually, I thought the question on the human body's random number generator was just excellent. Fascinating, in fact.
Nice quote, Alexander. Good to bear in mind!
I don't think there's any need to delete the question. I think we can afford to wait and see what happens.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge that Teo has a strong professional record (as one can see by following the link on his user page), and I hope this episode will not turn him away from using MO. I am sure he could be a very valuable contributor.
@Teo B: I think there are various effects at work why some subjects have a harder time than others; however, I do not think that some willfull negative attitude against applied mathematics is a sigificant reason. One more general advice: informally written questions are always risky. The current one reads a bit like a transcript of the conversation with the colleagues you had. Perhaps having it written like the body of a mathematical email to somebody you do not know well would have worked better. (I do not mean regarding formalities/etiquette, but rather regarding the level of detail, context and motivation.)
@Todd Trimble: It might not be a very well-phrased question, but I think some objections miss the point a bit. Yes, the result of such a poll should depend/could depend on details not specified. But, so what? The question was precisely not what the result could/would be (then this would be a valid objection) but where the data of such a poll (in these sense of something roughly along these lines, the details are not so relevant at first) can be found (if anywhere); and the data would come with the specific details attached and presumably with a discussion of things to keep in mind. [This was clear in the question and Teo B reiterated it in the comments when he rather tried to stop 'wild speculations' by some, including me] Also, noone ever postulate any particular predictive power. Teo B was interested what the data would look like for such a poll. To get some rough idea and perhaps to see if there is something interesting to be found (from a mathematical point of view) or somebody did so already. Timothy Chow's comment does not seem all that critical, indeed it seems he would have answered the question had it been open.
@Joel Reyes Noche: I appreciated the links you gave and followed most of them. I also agree if one would like to further follow up on this idea it could be good to use other resources than MO. But still to get some initial input and pointers MO seems like a useful start for this and similar things. Generally, only that there is a better place for me is no reason that MO is no place (though such consideration can and should play a role). Also 'better' would need further qualification.
@Teo B: Regarding the technicalities of deletion:
Yes, it's true for self-deletion there is too much activity on the question (I do not know the precise threshold but it is not very high, one/two answers with two upvotes or so suffices).
For 10k+ users, it would still be possible to delete it (after it was closed for two days). Typically it would not be done by convention, as there is relatively highly voted answer. Moderators could delete it anytime.
The main reason against deletion is somehow to invalidate the person's work that spend effort answering via deleting it. But, this is also not such a big deal at least I think so. So if you really want it deleted quite likely it would/could be deleted. (You could either wait what this discussion turns up, or flag for moderator attention with that request, or write them an email.)
In any case, sorry to hear you feel somehow a bit pressured into pseudonomity.
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