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    I had problems with a question (closed in 9 min, 10 down votes and finally deleted) about mathematicians,
    neurosis and all common stereotypes among non-mathematicians on that.

    I warn you that I'm not talking about severe neurosis as schizophrenia (John Nash...), it's not at all my point.
    My point is about mild neurosis, allegedly widespread (by non-mathematicians) among mathematicians.

    I think it's an extremely interesting question (also sensitive...) and a good idea that the mathematicians could respond freely on that.
    But after this bad experience, I dare not open a new question on this topic ..., and I prefer asking you directly:

    Is it possible to post such a question on mathoverflow ? how ? what would be an acceptable shape ?
    What is the red line not to cross about questions on mathematics and psychology ?

    I apologize once again.

    • CommentAuthorvoloch
    • CommentTimeJun 9th 2013

    Whether or not it is an interesting question is completely irrelevant. MO is not a place to discuss all topics somewhat connected to mathematics. It has a very narrow focus. You should read the FAQ.

    @voloch, as a response to your comment, I ask you about the tags "mathematics-psychology", "math-philosophy"... Do you think also these tag irrelevant too ?

    The [mathematics-psychology] tag has five questions, none of which are related to the psychology, at least not in the academic sense. Anybody object to deleting that tag? Perhaps just a renaming to something better? (In the latter case, please make a suggestion.)

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 9th 2013 edited

    Welcome to meta.MO, glad to see it worked out.

    First, for the specific question I think a main problem was really that it was easy to understand it not as the question of a mathematician asking about how to understand or deal with stereotypes they might face, but rather as willful provocation of an "outsider". And, I think this is what happened to some extent and explains the very negative reaction you experienced.

    Second, the above being said, even without this misunderstanding it could well have happened that the question is closed. If you want to make sure you never face a problem with closure or negative reactions to one of your questions, I think 'the red line' is a considerably before you even arrive at any type of such questions.

    The only questions that are really "safe" are specific research-level question in mathematics (provided with context and motivation), everything else could by considered as off-topic by somebody.

    This does however not mean that you must limit yourself to these types of questions, but only that you should not be surprised to face some opposition if you ask other types of questions, but might well also find some support. And then the final outcome ca be either way. There are no clear rules.

    What you should try to avoid is causing the impression of trying to be provocative or just trying to stir-up some discussion or promote a point of view, as opposed to asking an honest question in answers to which you have some actucal interest. It can also help to point out why and how having answers to the question would be helpful to you, as opposed to leaving the impression this is just asked as it is sunday, the weather is bad, and there is nothing interesting on TV or somethin along these lines.

    I am quite sure there was once a question a long the lines "How do you reply to somebody saying ''I was always bad at math'?" But cannot find it momentarily. This worked then for some time, but standards got rather stricter regarding this over time so it might not work now. But also it might.

    I think there also was once a question fairly close to what you asked, which also did not work then. And, we had all kinds of things 'Mathematics and marhiuana', 'Mathematics and pacifism',... Essentially all closed. Though the two mentioned also suffered the problem that some did not perceive then has 'open' questions, but rather as promoting some opinion.

    A final point: the tag math-psychology, on the one hand seems to be used for quite different things, rather psychology of learning and communicating math then the psychology of mathematcians, and also there being a tag for something does not mean much at all; it merely means at some point in time some user with 250+ points (so you for example) thought there should be such a tag and used it (and it is still used somewhere, ie, the question did not get deleted or the tag changed). So, please do not infer from there being a tag for something it is alright to ask about it (for example, there is a tag 'latex' but meanwhile most any question on latex is considered off-topic among other things as there is a Q&A site for it specifically).

    You shoudl also wait for other input. I think many think I am very strict regarding MO; this would IMO not be quite true yet then it is likely true that my opinion on MO are rather to the puristic end then the open of the spectrum of opinions.

    Also, if you eventually decide to reask something like this, you should definitely not do this too soon. Reasking something that just got closed is considered against etiquette. So you should avoid causing this impression.

    Added: written before seeing any other response, but it seems still relevant.

    Regarding François G. Dorais's question on deleting the tag: I am not just not against it I am actively in favor of deleting it.


    Sébastien, I deleted your question since it was no longer relevant on the main site.

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeJun 9th 2013 edited
    I want to make sure the following point is emphasized.

    Your question is not a bad one, nor is it uninteresting to
    some of the mathematical community. With respect to
    this forum (MathOverflow), your question is a poor fit
    and not of interest to the general forum community.

    As the forum and its community grow and change, its
    mission might broaden to include or support more
    diversity in the nature of questions tolerated. Right
    now, my fear is that lack of vigilance will lead to this
    forum becoming like sci.math, which used to be a
    decent forum and now is a wasteland with respect
    to mathematical endeavour.

    With regard to your question, you might try one of
    the stackexchange forums. You can at least ask on their
    meta about the propriety for that forum of your question.

    Gerhard "Or Drink Coffee With It" Paseman, 2013.06.09
    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeJun 9th 2013
    You have, in any case, asked about nine questions in ten days. On the other hand, you are a postdoc and do have some knowledge to add to the community. i suggest you stop asking questions for a week or two, answer a few if any operator algebra items come up, and get a better idea of what the website is actually for. It is certainly possible that no, or very few, questions in your area come up. That it an ongoing problem with the site. Still, answering other people helps give an idea of what you would like to see in a question.
    Thank you very much to everyone. I read all your comments with a great interest and I learned a lot on the running of MO.
    • CommentAuthortheojf
    • CommentTimeJun 9th 2013

    @François: I recommend simply deleting [mathematics-psychology]. I don't see how it contributes a tag to any of the posted questions. "Where to publish a paper on the Mafia game?" is qualitatively different from the other three; I could imagine removing the tag from that one, and changing it on the others, but deleting the whole tag seems a lot simpler.

    • CommentAuthorWillieWong
    • CommentTimeJun 10th 2013

    @grp: I don't really think the question is a good fit for Math.SE either. Cognitive science is the closest, but I don't know how they will react to Sebastien's particular question.


    Tag deleted.

    I also have my doubts about the appropriateness of this question
    for MO and am somewhat surprised that it hasn't been closed. Is there a research level *mathematical* question being asked here?
    Also, does MO really want to become a forum the "String Wars" that have led to much heat and little enlightenment in the blogosphere?

    Those doubts make sense, Jeff: asking to have something from the culture of physics explained so that it is understandable to mathematicians does not make it a mathematical question. On purely selfish and non-principled grounds, I do not plan on voting to close myself, because I want to hear what people like Urs Schreiber and Peter Woit have to say. (But if it gets too heated, then I will vote to close.)

    Thank you @Jeff for this comment. What do you think of the following :
    Maybe, the reason why this question "have led to much heat and little enlightenment", is because it has not be asked to research level mathematicians.
    @Sebastien, I'm afraid I think your statement is rather naive. In my opinion the status of string theory is complicated and subtle and not amenable to short precise mathematical answers and hence not a suitable subject for MO. @Todd, I doubt Peter has anything to say on this that you couldn't read on his blog.

    Jeff: I primarily want to hear how mathematical physicists who are sympathetic to string theory, particularly Urs, respond to Peter. I am aware of Peter's blog, book, etc.

    @Jeff, I apologize if I have afraid you. Thank you I think your comment interesting. I'm not a specialist of string theory on the physicist side, but I have worked on the mathematics side: Virasoro and Neveu-Schwarz algebras, representations, bimodules, fusion category, subfactors... So as a mathematician working on the mathematics side of string theory,
    I think this question is very interesting. I think also, because of the "war" you are talking about, it needs more precise formulation and answers, more mathematics ones. Of course, the mathematics are as complicated and as subtle as we want, it's its strength.
    • CommentAuthorJeff Harvey
    • CommentTimeJun 10th 2013 edited
    @Sebastien What do you hope to accomplish by cutting and pasting comments I made here on meta into the comments under your question? The comments I made are not answering your question, they are "meta" comments about the nature of the question you asked. I don't know if your doing this is against MO policy, but I think it should be. I intentionally put the comments here and did not comment under your post on MO for a reason. I would very much appreciate it if you would delete the comment you posted that quoted my comments here. I have also flagged the comment where you quoted me for moderator attention.
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeJun 10th 2013

    Regearding the downvote discussion on main: it is considered alright to use a downvote to express general disapproval (regarding off-topicness for example) with a question. Also, look at it like this. If somebody think the question should not be on MO having the question on MO is not useful in their opinion (thus downvote). [They might still consider it as perfectly useful elsewhere, but not here.] (Disclaimer: I did not vote on the question but on some of the answers.)

    @Jeff, I apologize once again, I deleted all my awkward comments.
    Thank you @quid for your comment.
    • CommentAuthorpeterwoit
    • CommentTimeJun 11th 2013
    I agree with the decision to close this question. I provided an answer since I thought that as long as it was going to remain on mathoverflow, it would be a good idea to have an answer reflecting the actual state of affairs better than what was there.

    I disagree however with Jeff that the status of string theory being a "complicated and subtle" issue means it can not be discussed on mathoverflow. Ideally, discussion of complicated and subtle issues is exactly what mathoverflow is good for. I've learned a huge amount from this site precisely about issues that could be characterized this way.

    The fact that something is complicated and subtle just means that a high level of knowledge and a respect for and honesty about the subtleties is required to have a useful discussion, and that's something very hard to achieve on this topic (which is a shame). It would be a great thing to hear from experts in the subject about exactly what "string theory" is, and exactly what the state of understanding of the subject is. Given accurate information of this kind, others could then decide for themselves in an informed way about the more contentious issues.