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• CommentAuthorquid
• CommentTimeJan 1st 2013

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.)

• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 1st 2013 edited

Just one comment (I'm user TB on MO, this name was taken here) on how I got into this problem: a few weeks ago, I was teaching a probability class, and at the end, since we were done with theory etc, I started to tell students about various stuff on "random numbers", that these are never random, etc etc.

And at one point I said: "listen, for instance if you ask people on the street, you will get.. (oops).. well, an interesting distribution, you guys should look for it on the internet, I remember I saw it somewhere". A bit lame all this - happens, right, when you get embarked in such philosophical comments.. - and afterwards I looked for it on the internet, couldn't find anything. I also asked my collegues here, no one knows, and they all found the problem interesting.

So, that's it, I'd be still interested in any reference or so, if anyone knows.. among others, for better teaching my next probability class :)
1.

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.

• CommentAuthorquid
• CommentTimeJan 1st 2013

@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.)

2.

@quid: are you going to justify your decision, besides saying you "somehow like it"?

• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 1st 2013

@quid, thank you very much, I see that now it's reopened, just great.

@Todd: yes it's a reference-request + more if possible, I was interested in knowing whether (1) such experiment was conducted, and what the output was, (2) if the mathematical model was understood, (3) and so on, more math I mean, (4) all this for instance for teaching my next probability class, cf. above.

Now (1) is not math, (2) is applied math, (3) is pure math, and (4) is math too.. what can I say. Anyway, now that it's open again, let it just live, as a question! We can see later, depending on the precise answers, if any, what amount of math, potentially interesting for the MO users, is inside.
• CommentAuthorquid
• CommentTimeJan 1st 2013 edited

@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 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.

3.

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.)

• CommentAuthorvoloch
• CommentTimeJan 1st 2013

I don't think this is a suitable question for MO. One thing that is easy to find online is statistics about which numbers people choose as PINs.
• CommentAuthorquid
• CommentTimeJan 1st 2013

@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.

4.

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.

• CommentAuthorquid
• CommentTimeJan 1st 2013

@Qiaochu Yuan: Your 'this' in the first and second sentence seem to refer to different things. This is a bit confusing.

• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 1st 2013

Hello, sorry I'm not very familiar with how this works, but I can only see now that I have 2 closing votes on MO, and as well 2 negative comments here - does it mean that you, voloch and Qiaochu, already voted? Anyway, in case no, let me defend my question..

@voloch, no I don't think the PIN number problematics is the same, psychologically speaking there you don't have to choose a random number, but something "worse" (if you want your PIN not to be detected), or, totally in an opposite way, something very simple (like my 0000 PIN on my phone!)

@Qiaochu, sorry my English is not very good, I don't understand what "priming" is. What I can say however is that my $\mu$ *does exist*, as a mathematical object.

Anyway, this is it, just asked a question, couldn't even imagine that this will take me to countless discussions here on meta, which are off-topic (off-math) I mean. Btw I find quite nice the fact that you can still discuss on MO in the comment thread, once the question is closed: good enough for doing the math!
• CommentAuthorAlex Bartel
• CommentTimeJan 2nd 2013 edited

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.

• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 2nd 2013

Looks like it's closed again now.. what a mess!
5.
@Teo I was surprised when I was new here why not offensive questions get closed, and why people close instead of just not looking at those questions which they do not like. The only reasonable reason is that some afraid that they generate followups and site as whole become too soft. I do not agree, but at least there is some logic.
So questions having some degree of softness or whatever are always under pressure.
6.

@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!

• CommentAuthorquid
• CommentTimeJan 2nd 2013

@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).

• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 2nd 2013 edited

@quid: Todd's post is obviously a bad joke, based on the fact that he's a native English speaker, and Alexander isn't - spam, ignore.
• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 2nd 2013

@Alexander: yep, plenty of things to be learned here! On the other hand, the MZ 2012 question, posted by an experienced user, didn't do any better :)

You're right, there's this pressure of not being "too soft", that can be felt a bit everywhere here on MO: probably comes from the fact that on one hand the site is not encrypted, and on the other hand that most users use their real name - this is quite unique, we're somehow here in the middle between FB and Wikipedia!
• CommentAuthorquid
• CommentTimeJan 2nd 2013

@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.

7.

Whoa, Teo! You are absolutely wrong about that. It was my misunderstanding, based on reading too quickly.

8.

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.

9.
In my opinion, the question has more to do with the social and behavioral sciences rather than with the mathematical, engineering, or physical sciences. In short, it is a question for cognitive sciences (psychology, education, sociology, etc.) or at least for statistics. If the original poster is seriously interested in getting a good answer, he should post it in a different forum, either the Cognitive Sciences StackExchange or in the Statistics StackExchange. (I already posted this as comments to the question.)

Edit: On second thought, the question is probably off-topic at Statistics StackExchange.
• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 2nd 2013

@Timothy, Joel: Thank you for the comments. To answer first Timothy's post, my original question had some flaws, but I edited it yesterday - after receiving all these interesting comments and answers, here on MO - and the revised question is now: "Go every day to a Times Square subway exit, and ask 1 million people the question "Tell me a number" - what is the distribution \mu on the positive integers that you get?" Looks quite decent, I think it's interesting, and open.

Regarding now the audience for such a question - in answer now to Joel's post - I agree that this basically belongs to cognitive sciences, but I still think that MO has the good audience for it. We're all mathematicians, right, many of us face the notion of "random number" in our work, teaching or research. Regarding teaching, I gave an example at the beginning of this meta thread - true story, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one to whom this happened!

As for research, here is another story, true story as well: I attended in the last years several conferences on random matrices (rather pure mathematics-oriented) and it happened, not just once, that late-night discussions get into this question "what is a random number", with passionate, sometimes technical, and definitely never-ending discussions about it! In short, when it comes to "random" stuff, many mathematicians get suddenly interested, and have interesting things to say.

Let me end (as a good statistician :) with the stats of my question, which IMO prove that there was a clear interest in this question, here on MO:

- not to forget the present 24 meta posts.
10.
@Teo On MO there is small number of people who are involved in close-open activities and meta discussions.
There are something like two parties: some think they should care MO stay clean only for technical math and others (like me) think some percent of soft questions is Okay. There are endless discussions about this and I do not think there is an agreement, so usually it is case by case. My questions are closed not rarely :)
• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 2nd 2013

@Alexander, good point, that was my impression too. On the other hand, all in all, this close-open activity is definitely an important structural component of MO, with much energy and neuronal activity going into it. It's actually such a pity that all this activity is not that transparent - for instance it doesn't appear in the "recent" activity of users. At least, there should be a badge for it! Say a "Terminator" badge, that could be awarded multiple times, for closing 10 questions :)
11.

@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.

12.
@Todd I changed games to activities.
• CommentAuthorquid
• CommentTimeJan 3rd 2013

@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.

13.

@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.)

• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 3rd 2013

@quid, Todd, nice to see that this thread got now this philosophical twist. I've always wondered why certain MO questions, which are nicely formulated and can provide some interesting intellectual "fuel" for the various mathematicians here, get however closed. It's helpful to see now all these details, coming from two users who are very involved in this closing activity. My point of view on all this is generally very different, and here are a few thoughts:

(1) One issue, clearly formulated by quid, is about the MO attitude towards applied mathematics. IMO here the things can only be evolving. MO was founded by pure mathematicians (or perhaps not so pure, some coming from mathematical physics..), the general audience still seems to be very pure-mathematics oriented, a quick look at the most popular tags can only confirm that. On the other hand, things are slowly changing IRL, and for some time already, and they can only change here as well, right. This remains to be seen - but, in the meantime, why not being more cool and modest about it?

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.

(2) The other issue, quite present in this thread, is about teaching. Let me quote here first from Thurston's question http://mathoverflow.net/questions/38639/thinking-and-explaining, which is one of my favorite MO discussions:

"Here's a specific example. Once I mentioned this phenomenon to Andy Gleason; he immediately responded that when he taught algebra courses, if he was discussing cyclic subgroups of a group, he had a mental image of group elements breaking into a formation organized into circular groups. He said that 'we' never would say anything like that to the students. His words made a vivid picture in my head, because it fit with how I thought about groups. I was reminded of my long struggle as a student, trying to attach meaning to 'group', rather than just a collection of symbols, words, definitions, theorems and proofs that I read in a textbook."

Wonderful as a quote, isn't it? And the further comments and answers to that magical question or Thurston are worth the reading as well, with weird things like numbers which become stationary sequences, and so on.. So, all this for supporting the following observation: even if you stay inside pure math, when coming to "thinking and explaining", you can quickly get "off-topic", and drawing a line between what's math and what's not math is not an easy question! Once again, we should perhaps be more cool and modest when trying to draw such a line.
14.
If someone had asked a question in MO about, say, how to implement floating point arithmetic on a certain processor that has no hardware floating point unit, would that be on topic here? Some would say no. Now, what if there was a StackExchange that was created to answer questions like these (for example, an Electrical Engineering StackExchange). Would the question be on topic there? The answer is clearly yes. Then it would be best to ask that question there because clearly there are more experts on the topic there.

If someone had asked a question in MO about, say, why 7+1 is easier for young children to calculate than 1+7, would that be on topic here? Some would say no. Now, what if there was a StackExchange that was created to answer questions like these (for example, a Cognitive Sciences StackExchange). Would the question be on topic there? The answer is clearly yes. Then it would be best to ask that question there because clearly there are more experts on the topic there.

Why should MO accept a question that (in my opinion) is clearly more appropriate at an existing alternative site? Why should I ask a question at a site that is clearly less appropriate than an existing alternative site?
• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 4th 2013

@Joel, a bit off-topic, your 7+1 vs. 1+7 reminds me of an excellent joke by Arnold, about school teaching in France, and pure math in general:

Professor: What is 2+3?

Student: It's 3+2, Sir, because the addition is commutative!
15.

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.)

16.

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.

17.

Actually, I thought the question on the human body's random number generator was just excellent. Fascinating, in fact.

• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 4th 2013

Thanks for the comments. Getting back now to the original question, besides following the various opinions expressed in the present meta thread, I've been checking as well the reopening votes for my MO post, that's stable +1 in the last 24hrs, so I guess not much point in discussing all this anymore.. Probably time to close this thread, and delete my MO question as well, I'd be fine with both.
18.
and actually I heard it from other sources (and also feel on myself that it is true:)

"(Another relevant fact: scientists - mathematicians included - almost always take themselves and what they do far too seriously!)"

Let us do not take all this too serious, no one will die if we are wrong here.
Hope question will not be deleted, hope it will be reopened.
• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 4th 2013

Lol, I perfectly agree - let's be pragmatic indeed, that's exactly what I was proposing!
19.

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.

• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 4th 2013

Well, thanks - but I'd like however the question to be deleted if possible: I'm using a pseudonym but everyone knows who I am, and I find quite embarassing to have this "closed as off topic by Qiaochu Yuan, Felipe Voloch, Chris Godsil, GH, Alex Bartel yesterday" accessible from my user page.

Of course, no problem either if that's not deleted (as Alexander was putting it, we shouldn't take this too seriously :)

For the rest, see you soon on MO, of course - great website.
20.
• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 4th 2013

@Alexander, yes, I know, I already did this kind of search.. on the other hand I'd really prefer that stuff to be deleted, being controversial and off-topic is something that my vita doesn't miss, that's for sure :) Anyway, as I was saying, can stay closed as well, I can live with that of course.

Btw nice meeting you here, it was a pleasure, after all these years, and good luck with your work! Will get now some more coffee, then try to finish a terrible computation I'm stucked with.
• CommentAuthorquid
• CommentTimeJan 4th 2013

@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.

21.
@Teo Thank you for your kind words, wish you also all the best !

PS
Concerning the deletion - below the question should be button "delete" (same place as "cite" "edit")- I am not sure, may be one needs to have some reputation to use it.
Otherwise only users with reputation more than 10K can delete it,
if some number of them vote so. Or moderators.
But really it would be pity to delete it.
• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 4th 2013

@Alexander, thanks, just tried but doesn't work, apparently there are too many comments/answers for that question to be deleted. Guess it will stay like this, so I changed instead my user name (something "random", that after a Google search turned actually to be.. a certain protein!) All the best, T.
• CommentAuthorquid
• CommentTimeJan 4th 2013

@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.

• CommentAuthorTeo B
• CommentTimeJan 4th 2013

@quid, thanks for the explanations, and good point indeed, deleting is not a good solution, in view of the people who spent effort in answering it. So, no special request, I'll just get back now to my new protein status, which is more than ok. I might pop up on MO sometimes later, under a new identity.
22.
For reference, I've asked a related question at Cognitive Sciences StackExchange: http://cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/3129/how-people-choose-at-random