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    • CommentAuthorgilkalai
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2012
    1) Are soft/conceptual/non-technical questions about mathematics like "Proofs that require fundamentally new ways of thinking" or "Demonstrating that rigour is important" or "Thinking and Explaining" welcome/acceptible on MO?

    2) Is there a stricter closing reality (or rigor enforcement) towards such questions?

    3) Is this a threat to the future of MO?

    4) Is there a sense of decreased excitement in MO?

    While at it,

    5) How are we doing regarding applications of mathematics and connections with other areas?

    6) How are we doing in terms of balance and presentation of different areas of mathematics?
    By talking to some number of people, I think that there is indeed, a sense of decreased excitement about MO. I don't think that this is related to the tendency of some questions to get closed quickly. Rather, I think that it's because there are many people asking many questions (often technical questions), and that the really cool questions, of the form "what's the good way of thinking about (Blah)?" don't show up that often any more.
    • CommentAuthorOlivier
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2012
    I think that the existence of has pushed upward the level of the modal question. This might be seen as a good thing by some, but personally I very much enjoy(ed) questions of a rather moderate level and even questions which are of interest to research-active mathematicians mainly in the sense that research-active mathematicians tend to have teaching duties. The problem to me seems to be that for these questions, MSE as it exists does not seem to be an appropriate venue: there has been many anecdotal reports of people asking a question on MO, being told to ask it on MSE and, having found no satisfying answer there, came back to MO. All in all, I do have the feeling that MO is less welcoming to easy (for experts) instructional questions now than it was before MSE.
    • CommentAuthorplhersh
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2012 edited
    @Andre: I just posted a "how to see" question in your honor. I'd been thinking about asking this question already and am happy to hear that people welcome these kinds of questions.
    • CommentAuthorNoah Snyder
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2012 edited

    I'm certainly less excited about MO than I was a while ago. Partly this is to be expected with anything, as one tends to spend time differently different years. Partly though, I think it's that as the size of the user base of MO increases beyond a certain point the average quality of question goes down. It's a rather general phenomenon on the internet that early adopters to internet social spaces tend to dislike them as time goes on. Once everyone's on Facebook people stop liking it.

    • CommentAuthorbsteinberg
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2012 edited
    I think MO could perhaps be helped quite a bit by requiring 15 rep to post a question. This essentially means 2 upvotes or 1 upvote plus accepted answer. This would force people to become familiar with the customs and practices of the site before posting a question. It would also make it less likely that total cranks or people looking for help with calculus questions would be able to post. I don't think a 15 point min will dissuade most anybody else. I guess though that this cannot be implemented since the software is no linger supported.

    If this were implemented then I think people woud feel less of a need to close questions and hence there would be more possibilities for medium level or soft posts.

    Yes, the trash questions are more of a turn off than that lack of good questions. Eliminate the trash questions and the good questions will hang around longer on the front page.

    I quite agree with both bsteinberg's and Bill Johnson's remarks.
    I'm reminded of the restaurant review attributed to Yogi Berra: "That place is so popular, nobody goes there any more."
    • CommentAuthorFaisal
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2012 edited

    Having also discussed this issue with a number of people, I've arrived at the impression that the lack of "soft/conceptual/non-technical questions" is not at all what is making MO apparently less fun to browse. Rather, it's the overabundance of highly specialized questions that is the issue: it's hard to be enthusiastic about scrolling through a long list of questions in search of the proverbial needle in the haystack. (A similar issue was recently raised by djordan.) In the earlier days of MO the haystack was at least interspersed with other interesting things, in the form of "medium-level" questions accessible to a wider audience. It seems though that the number of such questions has been in decline since the advent of MSE. This is unfortunate, if you ask me...

    It's worth noting that one can always filter the questions viewed on the home-screen to avoid areas that one has little interest or knowledge in. Maybe this feature should be advertised more heavily?
    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2012

    Dylan, my problem is that I don't want to filter by tags, I want to filter by quality. And since I am a generalist I really want to use the front page, rather than only the fa.functional-analysis tagged questions, say.

    Let me comment on orginal Gil Kalai's question:

    1) Are soft ... welcome/acceptible on MO?

    Obviously these are top-voted questions. These means that community highly welcomes them.
    On the other hand they contradict some strict understanding of FAQ, on the other hand
    FQA says that site is community driven. So I see that FAQ are self-contradictory and would suggest
    to cure the FAQ. My own opinion is to clearly set the prioriy of community opnion over FAQ. Although I do not actually think these are big issues.

    2) Is there a stricter closing reality (or rigor enforcement) towards such questions?

    Sorry, I do not actually understand the question.

    3) Is this a threat to the future of MO?

    I think critical points passed long time ago and so MO is mature creature I do not see reasons to worry about its surviving. Some people will lose interest, new guys will come - overall I think it will keep growing for may be 5-10 years.

    On the other hand we can always worry about "quality of life".
    As for me main threat - that we will get too many questions - like on MSE now.
    So questions go off front page so quickly that if you are not sitting here all the time,
    you cannot fillter intersting questions for you.

    I am not sure what should be the solution - probably some development of recomendation system
    which will keep on the front page questions which are more intersting (e.g. if some Fields medalist
    mark it by intersting it might be better to give it bigger weight, I do not know, ... just idea.)

    4) Is there a sense of decreased excitement in MO?

    Personally I am here actively about 9 months. I do not see "decrease excitemen" on my own, but may be I am just not so long here.

    On the other hand I think that we have definitely bad signs - that this recent ugly question "MO will die ? " (I do not remember exactly the name) got quite many upvotes - it was more than 10,
    moreover Dennis Serre's comment "I almost agree with the last sentence" also got about 10 upvotes.
    In there comments above Noah Snyder and Andre Henriques say about decrease of exicitement.

    I think some reasons are irrational - we played the toy when it was new - it was intersting, latter we got tired. And I guess some number of people will leave for that reasons, however I do not it is of big issue for MO existence in this - some will come - some will leave. Life is life.

    5) How are we doing regarding applications of mathematics and connections with other areas?

    How is math community is doing about this ? I do not think well.
    So MO, may be, just represents community and may be since everything has algbraic geometry incline,
    applications are even less welcome than in math. community.

    But what can be done to cure ? Just wait when more people will come, I do not see other solution.

    6) How are we doing in terms of balance and presentation of different areas of mathematics?

    AG inclined :) But I think it will be cured when more people will come.
    It would be great if experts in other fields will come to MO,
    but how to speed the process ? the only solution coming to my mind if someone influential like Fields Medalists will invite them here, but may be it is not worth ...

    To my taste there is certain amount of reasonable questions which are being closed, by the
    quite narrow party of people who "want to keep MO clean".
    Which seems to me contradict 1) "principle of community driven" 2) reality - similar questions
    are being closed and open depending on some random reasons, e.g.

    Almost all other "collect open problems" questions are open.

    Although I do not think this is a big issue.
    • CommentAuthormarkvs
    • CommentTimeJun 14th 2012
    I consider MO as a tool. A tool (think of a lawn mower) should not necessarily generate "excitement". I think that instead of complaining about a lack of interesting questions, one should just post an interesting question. That would increase the number of interesting questions by one. I do not like questions which can be called "chinwag" in English but could be best described by the Russian word "трёп". I am glad that more people agree with me now than a year ago and these questions are closed. On the other hand, I think that lists of open problems (like the question cited by Alexander Chervov) are very useful.
    It would be great if there was a way of selecting all most recent/active questions that got at least 5 upvotes.

    +1 markvs


    @Andre - the problem is then people who are most likely to upvote questions with serious mathematical content won't see them if they don't already have 5 votes. One would need to operate with and without several filters (subject-specific, minimum vote threshold etc) to find questions that don't quite fit through.

    • CommentAuthorRyan Reich
    • CommentTimeJun 14th 2012

    @markvs: In math, useful tools (such as category theory) generate much more excitement than pure subjects (like axiomatic geometry). The former field is viable because it can attract people to just hang out there, and in their idle fascination they become comfortable turning to it for answers to all their questions. And that leads to people like Jacob Lurie doing what they do with it, which is (by some accounts) considered a good thing. It also leads to people actually using Lurie's ideas, which is why it is a good thing.

    By analogy, I would say that if MO only brings people in to ask specific technical questions, they will be less inclined to look for the odd specific technical question they would like to answer. That would lead pretty quickly to people using MO as a last resort, rather than their favorite destination. Sure, the site can be primarily about technical questions, but the big lesson of the modern internet is that people gravitate towards total involvement in their online interests, so if there's a little room for fun diversions, the site as a whole will flourish; otherwise, it will stagnate.



    perhaps a comparison to StackOverflow is appropriate. Being an older version of MO it has probably settled down even more. I know people who use it just as a reference tool, and would never spend time there and so accumulate thousands of points, dozens of badges etc, as well as such an online presence in a vibrant community. SO is developed to the point where if you have a problem in writing your program (or whatever), it is likely that someone has had a similar problem, and asked it before, or have had a similar problem and solved it themselves (and hopefully are there at the right time to see your question whizz down the font page). For technical MO questions, and I speak from experience, they are often asked because it is the coalface of research and touching a facet of mathematics which the OP is unfamiliar with. (I discount people asking technical questions from papers they are reading). As such, I don't know if MO quite has the potential to become a go-to repository that SO is. It can in some respects, but the sort of things people do in programming are by and large the same over and over again, with variations and in different languages; mathematics on the other hand has unlimited scope for expansion.

    @David: Let me defend my proposal (of having an option to only see most recent/active questions that got at least 5 upvotes). The main point that this has an auto-regulatory feature: if too many people skip the usual front-page and only look at the \ge 5 votes page, then the latter with stagnate, as no new questions will end up there, which will then prompt people to look at the usual front page to find new questions. I'd also like to dismiss your claim that there is such a category as "people who are most likely to upvote questions with serious mathematical". Everybody (with ability to upvote) is on equal footing here. If a question is nicely formulated, provides background, is interesting, then any MO user is just as likely to upvote it.

    Finally, let me point out one feature that I dislike about the way MO currently works, and that would be fixed by my proposal: **good questions disappear too quickly from the front page**. I really hate it when there's a question that I found cool, and whose answers I want to follow, but the question is already buried. This also discourages me to spend the time to carefully formulate my questions: it will anyways be gone very soon, so why bother. Mathematics is full of questions that require thought -- questions that will receive significantly better answers if they stick around for longer (as such, MO is not really comparable to SO). In the current system, unless a question is immediately answerable, it had no chance: it will get buried and forgotten.
    • CommentAuthorplhersh
    • CommentTimeJun 15th 2012 edited
    You could include in the "frequently asked questions" a topic of "Strategies to search for questions that interest you". This could help with this issue of questions vanishing off the front page and also make it more likely for new users to give answers to interesting old questions. When I got frustrated at questions vanishing off the front page, I noticed that by just clicking on the word "Questions" on the top, then clicking on the word "Active", I could get access to the full list of questions in the order they were most recently edited or answered, not just the front page -- I assumed everyone was doing this. Also, by clicking on "Tags" and then finding ones that interested me and clicking on those, I could get specialized lists of questions very close to my interests. Maybe a list of a few of these strategies somewhere like in FAQ could help people, especially new people?

    It also took me a while to realize that questions eventually scroll off of the list on my profile of questions for which I have voted -- at first I had assumed that was a good way to mark questions I wanted to revisit later; now I see that the (publicly visible) "favorites" works better for this purpose. These are a few things that I think might help a newcomer or occasional user to use the sight more effectively and perhaps also might lead to interesting old questions getting good answers from new users.

    p.s. oops! I just noticed that off to the right, there is a list of "tips and tricks". But I still think the FAQ might conceivably also be a helpful place to say something about this.
    @Andre the tab "week"
    may be gives something like you want ... I am not sure but may be the difference between 5 upvotes and "week" is not so big...

    @markvs I partly agree -- as a tool to get help in research problems I also do not need "excitement".
    But I think for many of us it is not the only role of MO.
    Actually I am not sure that everybody means by "excitement" the same and gets excitment from the same things...
    May it is worth to ask Dennis Serre to comment on what he mean...
    And thanks for understanding with "open problems" questions.
    • CommentAuthorLee Mosher
    • CommentTimeJun 16th 2012
    @Noah: you wrote "Once everyone's on Facebook people stop liking it", which to me is amazingly close to "That place is so popular, no-one goes there anymore" :-)

    But seriously folks, I have a suggestion regarding deterrence of off-topic questions. Many of us are tempted to answer the really easy ones here, with a reminder that the question is more appropriate for math.stackexchange, and yet then we answer it anyway. How about this: "Your question is more appropriate for math.stackexchange. I will look for it there and post an answer."
    Just recently I checked MO questions rate for comparison with closed theoreticalphysics.SE. MO looks very stable during long period of time and so I even wanted to ask someone, if some special measures used to limit number of questions or behavior like
    N(t) = a t
    is the natural one. I myself expected something like
    N(t) = a exp(b t)
    for non-supervised case until some “saturation”, but for MO it looks stabilized already after the first month.
    @qubeat how did you take data?
    @AlexanderChervov I had to write small Delphi program to parse MO dump
    @Alexander Chervov:
    Here's an example of what I'm talking about.

    This question was asked yesterday:
    ... and now it's already gone: It's not on the front page, not on,
    and also not on, despite having received ten votes.

    (I guess it's still on, but you see my point)

    There's a limited number of people who can answer that question,
    and if none of them happens to be looking during those 24 hours, when the question is
    visible, then it's just too bad for the question.

    Also, I can very well imagine that someone needs some time (e.g. a couple of days) in
    order to formulate a good answer to that question.
    The fact that one needs to dig back the question is really an issue, and certainly
    diminishes the odds of the questions eventually getting answered.
    I think some of the MSE questions should really be on MO instead. I never browse MSE and a lot of activity has migrated there.
    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeJun 16th 2012

    As a somewhat lesser example of what Andre Henriques has pointed out, I'll sheepishly point out my own question on terminology, which is probably not of interest to most people on MO, but is where I was hoping for people who've been in the business longer to weigh in.

    Also, +1 for

    In the current system, unless a question is immediately answerable, it had no chance: it will get buried and forgotten.

    @Andre the question is in hot and week now (in "hot" on the pre-last position so will disapper, but in week I guess it will stay for long). But any way I mean
    one particular question is not big reason to change
    system . The question how many "worth" questions disappear from front pages (week hot...)?

    I somewhat disagree with the immediate answer sort of thing. While personally I cannot say that I am capable of answering even the majority of the questions presented here which are related to my work - when I see a question which interests me I remember it/add a favourite/write it down and attempt to solve it. If I see someone had posted an answer I read to get clues, hints, ideas, etc. and had I done some work which I find worth posting - I will post it, and bump the question.

    While this is surely not the process of most people, I expect that I am far from being unique in this aspect. Questions which interest me are questions which interest me. Similarly on MSE (where I am much more active). Some questions would take a day or two to solve and MSE has a front page which changes every few hours (while MO is far slower in that aspect).

    Regardless to that, I do agree that some questions will essentially be buried deep within the archives of the internet. However this is how the world behaves...

    Do people really spend a lot of time thinking about questions on MO? How do they find the time to do that? I personally only answer questions if I know the answer off the top of my head.

    I confess to wasting time on MO, Andy. But it is a better way of wasting time than my other ways.

    A naive question: can anybody explain me here why the questions like "Demonstrating that rigour is important" must be worse than the ones like "Is the category of rings co-well-powered?" I am teaching mathematics, as I think most of people here, so I find the examples or ideas about teaching which people share here to be very interesting and useful. It's a big mystery for me what idea can have in mind gilkalai, or 'quite narrow party of people who "want to keep MO clean"' (as Alexander Chervov wrote) when trying to keep this kind of "cleanness".
    @Sergei Akbarov I think some people have the following ideas (which seems to be wrong to me, but I fully understand that this is just my subjective and argumentative opinion):

    1) "Success of MO due to its narrow-mission". (Which probably means that main aim of MO is to discuss narrow technical questions. I think that is fully wrong idea - just look on the list of top-voted questions we will see mostly "soft-questions").

    2) I guess people are afraid of intrigues, self-group-promotions, battle-fields, "chinwag" ("трёп") ... whatever, which might probably be associated with some kind of "soft-questions".
    If you put strict rule - only techincal math - then of course nothing like this will be here.
    I understand this concern, however, seems to me: 1) reality is that we have many
    soft questions and they are top-voted 2) I think MO will be dull, if we would have only techical math.

    I guess that FAQ was written and the beggining of MO - when it was not clear - will it work or not.
    So I understand that people were very much afraid of any things which may cause some troubles,
    and create bad smell.
    But now I think the situation is different:

    1) I think MO is quite stably growing and have excellent reputation - and there are no threats for its existence

    2) In practice it is the only big forum for prof. mathematicians - so if question is of big imporatance for community I think it should be allowed to discussed here - does not matter is it soft or hard...
    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeJun 17th 2012 edited
    never mind. sorry i put in the effort.
    @Will Jagy: sorry, it's not clear to me whether the last paragraph (with "Have people begin to think...") is written tongue-in-cheek or seriously. If seriously, having people treat MO as a vehicle to advance their careers is the best way to destroy the thriving community. Are you suggesting that people should get genuinely concerned with such aspects as e.g. reputation points etc.?
    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeJun 17th 2012 edited
    onward and outward.
    @ Will Jagy: Thank you, the similarity in style between gilkalai and this version of bourbaki clarifies some things.

    @ Alexander Chervov: You say intrigues, self-group-promotions and battle-fields? I would claim that focusing at technical results does not eliminate all this, moreover, in some sense it facilitates doing unseemly things (under the slogan that "this is not a technical question").

    For example, two years ago I asked at google groups a question concerning identities in elementary mathematics:!topic/sci.math.research/dt3GA2H4S_w (I got interested in this because I am writing a textbook). The moderators let it pass, but later, when I tried to explain people, who replied, that what they write does not answer my question, one of the moderators (by the way, that was Kevin Buzzard, he is also active here, at MO) closed the possibility for me to write there. Later I found some specialists who explained me that this is an open problem, but what I am talking about is that google groups did not help me with this question. And I dare to say, that was mean, and exactly the idea of "technical questions" was a justification of this behavior: since what I am talking about looks too close to teaching, “this can't be acceptable for serious mathematicians”.

    Another example is what happened here at MO when I asked a question about axiomatization of quantum mechanics: It took me a lot of time and nerves to protect my right to ask this question. The logical chain of those who contested this was, as it could be understood, the following (Alexander Woo can correct me if I misunderstood his ideas posted at ):

    Hilbert and his followers did not manage to axiomatize physics =>
    Only an idiot can ask questions about axiomatization =>
    Even if a person sees a system of axioms in a mathematical book, he can't ask whether this is an axiomatic system, since this would be a sign of idiocy as well.

    What I am driving at is that technically it is impossible to separate teaching (or what is the same, explanation) from investigation (=obtaining new results). Because if you insist in this, you must verify every time whether the aim of the questioner is “to get a new result” (and this would be acceptable, since this is an “investigation”), or “to explain the others how this is proved” (and this would be unacceptable, since, by definition, this is “teaching”). But how can one get a new result without explaining how it is proved?

    And similarly, it is impossible to separate obtaining new results in mathematics from thinking about things which are still not well-defined as mathematical objects by now (i.e. from “vague things”). Because before building a new theory about something you are thinking about, you have to analyse which system of axioms and definitions describe this phenomena better, and if you want to learn what other people know or think about this you inevitably will ask them “vague” questions, at least you will start with a question like: “if such a system of axioms is already found?” But how can you ask this question, if what you are asking about is not well-defined (and as a corollary, is forbidden)? It was a great surprise for me when I found out that there exist “mathematicians” who believe that mathematics can be developed without such questions, but if we accept their view, we must forbid any help in building new theories in mathematics. I don’t think that such a policy will kill this activity, but evidently this will not add respect to MO.
    @Sergei Akbarov Okay, you are right, so let me soften the claim "absence of soft-questions gives lower chances for ... "

    @michalkotowski "having people treat MO as a vehicle to advance their careers...", come on, any activity which will be known to community:
    popular blogs, or popular posts on MO (even if there is no reputation points here ), may have a chance to advance careers ...
    Although this chance is not so big, but I think, totally neglecting it is not correct point of view.
    P.S. I forgot to say the following. One could think that the idea of "newness" can separate investigation from teaching: if the result you are asking about is new, then your question can be treated as a part of investigation, otherwise it is a part of teaching.

    But again technically this leads to incompetence, voluntarism and misuses in making decisions of which questions are appropriate and which are not. Even if we don’t take into account the obvious difficulties in defining “newness”, we can just look at a typical example: a question like “is this known?”, or "did anybody consider this?" A person who asks this can’t know whether this question is new or not (otherwise there would not be a question for him here), so there is no possibility for him to estimate the acceptability of his question. On the other hand, the specialists can't do this before moderators (or people who make this decision) decide whether this question is “enough new”.

    So we come to a situation, where a narrow group of non-specialists must make main decisions, and neither the people who ask questions, nor the ones who answer them can facilitate their work. This narrow group of dilettantes obtains a hypertrophied power in making voluntaristic decisions, and they must use this power, because it is their job to separate acceptable questions from the rest. Of course, as always happens, when decisions are made by dilettantes with hypertrophied power, the misuses inevitably appear.

    You can oblige moderators to motivate their decisions, but in this case they will just talk bunkum in their justification, simply because, being dilettantes, they can’t give reasonable answer. As Kevin Buzzard wrote to me in justification of his decision, “Trying to figure out if f=g is precisely trying to figure out if f-g=0.” Как хочешь, так и понимай. (It remains to make guesses on what could Kevin have in mind by this deep thought.)

    Of course, no appeals are acceptable, because no appeals are acceptable in a zoo. A scientific discussion turns into a demonstration of “who is the alpha male here”.

    And this comes from an innocent idea of separating investigation from teaching.
    "incompetence, voluntarism", "dilettantes with hypertrophied power", all that combined with explicit names.... @Sergei Akbarov: please, please, don't be more rude than necessary. I think that you are really crossing a border here.

    You might have a point: when a question is closed as exact duplicate, this is often felt as an unfair punishment to the OP, who presumably didn't know that his/her question had been posted already -- or even worse, sometimes a question is closed as exact duplicate even though the original question didn't get very good answers. But this by no means allows you to use the kind of language that I see above.

    You are way out of line, Sergei. Kevin Buzzard (whom, by the way, I have never met) is a well respected, prize winning mathematician who is doing the mathematical community a great service through his work on MO. You owe him and the other moderators an apology.

    • CommentAuthorAngelo
    • CommentTimeJun 18th 2012
    Sergei, take a deep breath and calm down.

    The moderators are doing their best. I happen to think that they are doing an excellent job; but even if you disagree, you have absolutely no right to insult them. I also strongly urge you to apologize.
    Let me apologize for Sergei saying 1) temperature of discussions in Russia is traditionally higher than in the rest of the world

    2) the "strong words" (cited by Andre) seems to me NOT addressed to Kevin Buzzard and certainly not to moderators of MO,
    Sergei considered ABSTRACT situation: IF narrow group of people should decide on whole math then there will be some degree of
    incompetence - I guess no one will argue with this abstract claim.
    Sergei mentioned example of his disagreement with Kevin Buzzard decision on sci.math.research,
    which from my point of view was unnecessary increasing temperature... Hope Kevin will forgive him...
    I think it is unnecessary to discuss who was right Kevin or Sergei in that particular example,
    cause Kevin as a moderator of sci.math.research has right to make mistake, which does not mean he is not excellent moderator.
    (судья имеет право на ошибку (Russian saying: "moderator (judge) has right to make mistake")...
    @Andre Henriques: “You might have a point: when a question is closed as exact duplicate” -- that is not my point. In both cases I described (with google groups and with MO) nobody told me that my questions duplicate something. The differences in culture (which Alexander Chervov refers at) indeed hampers the possibility for me to feel the border, but in turn I am speaking the truth.

    @Bill Johnson and Angelo: When I was in England I asked people there, how can this happen, that when I write a letter to some colleagues in the West asking them questions about our common interests in mathematics, they don’t reply? In Russia (at that time, this was in 1990-s, and before) such a behavior was unbelievable. (You can trust me, I know shortcomings of Russians, but this is not the one.) And English colleagues answered me: “you know, Sergei, actually, the custom is that for asking questions you must be a member of club…”

    Being grown up at the examples of corporative generosity (like the story of Ramanujan), I was surprised. Because this meant that you can count neither on generosity, nor even on equal rules of a game. I was born in Uzbekistan, almost all my life I lived in Russia, and during my studies and later I asked different mathematicians in the USSR (or former USSR) about different things by mail or by telephone, and IT NEVER HAPPENED THAT SOMEBODY DIDN'T ANSWER MY QUESTION, NO MATTER WHO HE WAS, WHICH TITLES HE HAD OR WHERE HE LIVED (WITHIN USSR). A lot of people, including very, very famous mathematicians were willingly answering my questions, although I was very, very young at that time. (That was, by the way, the only source of moral support for me at the times of communists. )

    The situation dramatically changed after the fall of the iron curtain. I found unexpectedly that it is normal when a mathematician doesn’t answer another mathematician, or plays a strange game with him. The google groups are just one in a series of examples for me. I understand that among those who ask mathematical questions there is some per cent of maniacs who don’t understand rational reasoning, but it is hard to imagine for me that the moderators of google groups had been attacked by maniacs so ferociously, that this became a reason of why even a question “where can I read about this?” –- a holy question for all mathematicians -- became forbidden in google groups. That was exactly what happened to me at Initially I asked a question concerning measure theory, then one person replied, but when after that I asked him where can I read about this, the moderators did not let my question pass. That was at least two times. Of course I tried to contact the person (who replied) directly, but without success. I also sent a protest to moderators, and again without success. Later I found some specialists who clarified me the situation (i.e. the mathematical part of my question), but again, like in the case I described in my previous post, that was not because google groups helped me, that was independent.

    I foresee that there will appear people here who will say that my question was not enough deep for keeping it in mind and recalling it here. It was indeed elementary. But for specialists. The problem is that when you write a textbook, you inevitably face a lot of questions which did not occur to you before, and inevitably you find yourself in a situation where you must ask specialists questions which are elementary for them. At that time this (very elementary) question was very important for me.

    Another objection I foresee is that “of course, this was just a strange coincidence". I would claim, that this was not a coincidence, because, first, I sent a protest to moderators, and nothing changed after that. And, second, this was proved later in the story with elementary functions which I described in my previous post. A much more plausible hypothesis for me (of what was that) is that this was a realization of the idea, which English mathematicians opened to me: the problem was that I am not a member of club, wasn’t it? Do I need to develop this thought, or this would be an unnecessary increasing of temperature, as Alexander Chervov writes?
    So, Bill, what you write about apology looks amazing for me. When moderators at a mathematical forum don’t allow me even to ask “where is this written?” – this is not me, these are them who are out of line. And I must apologize after that? Is the difference in culture between the East and the West so enormous? I understand that moderation is a difficult work, it takes a lot of time, etc. But a profession of a mathematician in my country, for example, is also a difficult work, or to be more precise, it presupposes that a person must hardly work in several places. I hope there is no necessity to increase temperature by explanations of why the difficulties in our work don’t imply that people outside of the system (i.e. not “members of the club”) must bear mockeries (“хамство”, in Russian). Anyway, if you, or Angelo, or anyone else will find some resources (in their soul) for investigating who of us, me, or Kevin, was wrong in that story with elementary functions, I will be grateful for your efforts. What I can guarantee, however, is that if somebody will undertake to prove that my question at goggle groups was elementary, this will not be an easy task for him, see e.g. , or as introductory material.

    @Alexander Chervov: "moderator (judge) has right to make mistake” – the difference between a judge and a moderator in google groups is that one can appeal against the decision of a judge. Even in Russia this is possible, and you even can send an appellation to the European Court. In google groups there was no such a possibility.

    A CONCLUSION: What I am writing here can be treated as impressions of an external observer. But in his opinion what is seen from the outside is not less important that what the members of the club used to see inside the building.
    • CommentAuthorAngelo
    • CommentTimeJun 19th 2012 edited
    Dear Sergei,

    I still find your behavior in this debate hard to justify. Also, your words about being an outsider don't make much sense to me. Even if one of the moderators, or Kevin Buzzard, should have made a mistake in a specific instance, it has certainly nothing to do with your being Russian, and does not justify your unseemly reaction, nor your insults.
    Sergei message is ( I think) the following: we all are mathematicians - we should help each other. USSR culture was community centered, Western culture is much more individual. So Sergei is unhappy that he feels some division of mathematicians into "clubs". Probably this is important issue, but it seems it is not the right place to discuss it.

    Life of scientists out the West e.g. in Russia is sometimes very difficult (e.g. ) , so those who are still doing it hope for some support and understanding from those who are in better conditions, at least on the level of moral support to be allowed to ask questions on forums (it is not so much is not it?). So having denied this opportunity may cause some degree of unhappiness.... @Sergei But still it is not the reason to use "strong words". I was also denied to ask some question on sci.math.research (not by K.B.) , but later I understood question was not quite correct, I think moderators there really have some pressure refusing questions which are not appropriate and it is not very pleasant service.