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    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2010 edited
    If two other people suggest deleting the question (not that you did) I will do so. I would rather do that and ask it in the future (with credit to answers already given) than close it.
    • CommentAuthorTom LaGatta
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2010 edited

    @Harry, some of us appreciate big-list discussions. If you don't like them, ignore the "big-list" tag and pay no attention to them.

    Aren't you supposed to be focusing on math for a month and not spewing your opinions all over the place?

    @Steve, remember that although Harry is the loudest voice on MO, he's only one of many. He is far from speaking for the entire community.

    @Tom--I don't agree with Harry (esp. w/r/t the intent for discussions versus answers) but I think he has a valid point that should be addressed here. I am more than willing to accept the community's judgement, which is likely to be better than my own during the time that MO is going through growing pains.
    • CommentAuthorAnweshi
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2010 edited

    Harry has a point. But for greater common good, I do not want to encourage Harry either even if I share his feelings. So +1 to Tom also.

    What about the following.

    biglists can be moved to, and soft questions can be moved to Or both could be in one name.

    These can be running on SE, or vanilla, or whatever Anton prefers.

    I think for big lists, soft questions and other such subjective and prolonging stuff, the older platform of bulletin boards(in vBulletin, phpBB, or vanilla as in is more suitable than stack exchange anyway.

    So we create another sub-community within mathoverflow, to channel these old-school stuff away from the main screen.

    What say?

    I do not want to see MO decomposed into different pieces. I would rather this be enforced culturally.
    • CommentAuthorAnweshi
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2010

    Well, the admins can think of it. The headache is theirs anyway. I have already dissolved into an amorphous entity in MO, no longer using the "Anweshi" username. I won't be around to help with the resulting administrative complications; so the people who are responsible can decide themselves. Just put my 5 cents in, regardless.

    • CommentAuthorbbukh
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2010 edited
    Personally I dislike the proliferation of soft, big-list, community-wiki, and philosophical questions, i.e. I would prefer most questions to be focused, and have a definite answer. My favorite questions are of the form "Is X true?" closely followed by "Where can I learn Y?", and as much as I myself enjoy mathematical jokes or like contemplating mathematical Platonism, I prefer the site to remain more to-the-point rather than slowly become a discussion forum. There are of course, exceptions that should not be discouraged (there was a question from someone who considered starting the study mathematics at a late age, for example). But these are exactly that, exceptions. Thus, I generally support Harry's plea against big-list questions. However, my opinion on this is not too strong, and I am fine with just filtering out big-list questions if their number increases too much.

    However, what annoys me greatly is the treatment that Harry receives from some of the regulars of this site. Quite a few times, he has been publicly mocked, and treated as if whatever he says has no merit. It is true that Harry is direct about expressing his opinions, and on more than one occasion this directness detracted people from paying attention to what he says to how he says it. However, it is not a justification for the number of times he was insulted.
    I have decided to construe Anweshi's and bbukh's comments as also supporting deletion of my particular question in the interests of keeping the number of big-list questions down, though I want to stress that there was a) no explicit statement by either to that effect and that b) I have no hard feelings about this.

    For the answers, thanks in particular to Kevin for his answer mentioning Sturmfels' paper "Can biology lead to new theorems?" I was glad to learn of this paper.
    I see now to my chagrin that it can't be deleted. I have voted to close as "no longer relevant". Please feel free to do the same if you can.


    I'd encourage you to try to stick to your goal of staying focused on only the mathematics for a while. In this case, I wouldn't have minded if you'd just posted a link to meta at the very beginning. I've deleted the comment thread between you and Steve (sorry for not asking permission, Steve) and replaced it with a short comment explaining what the link to meta is for, which I think should be a good model for you if you have future complaints about posts: a short sentence explaining the subject matter of the discussion behind a link to meta. Ideal would be if it wasn't even clear which side of the discussion you were on, until the reader clicks through to meta.

    Note Tom says you are still the loudest voice on mathoverflow! Personally, I'm pretty happy with your role on mathoverflow at the moment (some reservations about on meta, I admit), but the more you can do to limit complaints about you being the loudest voice, the easier our lives as moderators will be.



    if you'd really like it closed or deleted, I can do that. I don't think it's necessary or even best, however. As you can see, there is some resistance in the community against too frequent big-list questions, and stronger resistance against discussion questions. At this point in time, I don't think there's actually much of a problem, and we have a good mix of questions. The thing to be aware of, however, is that if this mix changed much, the moderators (I think) have a fairly strong consensus that we should limit the rate of such questions.

    "Discussion" questions are pretty much verboten: there might not be a better place for them, but they still don't belong on mathoverflow. Your question didn't particularly set off my "discussion" radar.

    @Scott--No worries re: deletion of comments. I am OK with the thread itself being closed or even deleted, having got one answer in particular from Kevin Lin that was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. I will internalize the big-list frequency, buffering such questions of mine for the future if I've asked one recently or if MO is unusually awash in them.

    That said, what is a decent interval before popping a big-list question? 2 weeks? A month? I suspect others besides myself might want to set a buffer length.

    Good question. We should have some guidelines for this, but it seems a difficult question. Some people are going to get annoyed anytime they see 2 big-lists on the front page at once, but that's a hard thing to control.

    One possibility would be to habitually close any question that gets more than X answers, say X=30. I very much doubt that anyone ever reads the tail end of the answers -- there's some evidence for this in that late answers to questions with very many answers rarely get many votes. It would be nice to be able to quantify this if we had the database dump.

    This would solve the problem of "big-lists" cluttering up the front page for weeks.


    To begin with I want to say that I'm quite happy with many of the big-list questions, that being said I think we do not want MO to lose focus. I don't think a guideline on a period between big list questions is necessary but maybe a stricter guideline on what constitutes a good big list question is in order.

    • CommentAuthorRyan Budney
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2010 edited
    Steve's question does have compactness problems. What is a connection between two fields for one person is a new field for another person. So the answer-space to this question is a complete graph such that every edge is a new vertex. :) There's no way the thread can even approximate being "done" let alone being balanced.
    @Ryan--That is amusing. I had in mind fields at the coarsest level (biology, chemistry, etc.). Though it's not the big-list of big-lists, I see now that there are echoes of Russell's paradox in certain readings of the question.


    I would really strongly discourage deleting a question after it's been answered. People put real work into those answers, so they should be kept. You will just have to come up with a nice technical question as penance.

    But seriously: it's clear that a lot of site users like "big list" questions, and honestly, I've learned some cool things from reading the answers to some of them. They annoy me from time to time, but I think on the whole, they're a net positive for the site.

    • CommentAuthorWillieWong
    • CommentTimeJul 25th 2010 edited

    [this was entered in response to a comment that has since been removed. Moderators should feel free to remove this also.]

    @DragonCat: -1. The insult against Harry is unnecessary and irrelevant. Nor does it sound like the rest of the post was intended to be taken seriously.

    @DragonCat, post deleted.


    What did dragoncat say?


    I'm actually no longer sure: I deleted in haste, oops.

    • CommentAuthorjbl
    • CommentTimeJul 25th 2010 edited
    The climax included the phrase "undersexed 20-year old." I don't recall the rest of it. (Edited slightly following WillieWong below.)
    • CommentAuthorWillieWong
    • CommentTimeJul 25th 2010 edited

    DragonCat gave an argument that big list problems are useful because he likes LISP/Scheme and that computer languages based on lists are useful.

    He then conceded that that there maybe a need for 'undersexed 20-somethings like Harry' who sit in front of the computer all day (or some phrase to that effect; I don't think it was "unsexed" as JBL says) to police the place so the number of big list questions don't get out of hand.

    @Scott: bad Scott no cookie. The non sequitur response is a bit funny on hindsight. The insult not so much.

    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeJul 25th 2010 edited

    Ah, it's someone (originally from SO) who's sore about the acrimony over at MU. That's about as far as I can tell without more information.

    • CommentAuthorVP
    • CommentTimeJul 25th 2010

    Why not politely ask whether the authors of the follow-up comments agree to have their comments removed? This makes no sense whatsoever without the original comment.

    • CommentAuthorjbl
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2010
    I wouldn't object.

    I don't care either. My question was answered. Thanks, Willie.