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    In my opinion, MO has already demonstrated itself to be a valuable resource for connecting people with different knowledge bases who might otherwise never talk to each other. It strikes me that it would extremely valuable to create a similar resource that would allow scientists from different fields to ask questions of each other. For example, connecting the right mathematician with the right biologist seems to be a very difficult task even in this day and age of instant communication. Something like MO, but with a broader charter, could fill this need.

    If others agree with me, the question is how to get such a thing started. One way, given that MO already exists and is functioning well, is to try more aggressively to advertise its existence to physicists, biologists, etc. If successful, this would at least get the traffic flowing in one direction. Another tack would be to try to get and started. As I write this I see that exists but seems to be inactive; what is the story with that?

    I'm not a big fan of trying to attract biologists, chemists, and other types of scientists to MO. In my experience, while they have mathematical questions (often deep ones), the real difficulty they have is formulating them in a manner that a mathematician can understand. While I love interacting with them in other settings, I don't think that MO is good for the types of ill-posed questions that this would likely lead to.

    I agree with Andy. I like your idea very much but if we start to change MO too much it will stop being the valuable resource it is, and probably fail to be what you want to create for the sciences. Therefore I think these should be two seperate sites.

    A more general science site could be interesting, but MO has completely different goals in mind.

    We should be content doing one thing extremely well rather than doing a number of things middlingly.

    I have to agree with most of the comments on this thread. There are a couple of science sites based on the same software that I have visited in the past: and Neither site seems to be very active. The questions are not particularly high level and hence do not seem to attract the sort of participation which has made MO successful.

    Nothing prevents a scientist coming to MO and asking a mathematical question (in mathematical language and at the right level) and that, I would imagine, is to be encouraged. Diluting the mathematical content, on the other hand, would not be a good idea.

    Having said that, I think that an MO-style site for other areas of science (e.g., theoretical physics) would be a very good idea and I, personally, would really enjoy a site based on "hep-th" and cognate areas. However the communities are sociologically very different and I am pessimistic about such a site ever succeeding.
    In reply to the original question I have no objection to scientists (or anyone else)
    visting MO as long as they stick to talking about maths. MO has been very
    largely successful in focusing on mathematics; were it to dilute that focus
    I would find participation here less attractive. I do agree that it would be good
    if there were active sites such as physicsoverflow etc. We could then suggest
    these to posters whose questions don't quite fit here.

    I recommend reading this comment from the SBS. The topic was arXiv expansion rather than *Overflow expansion, but I think the point remains.

    • CommentAuthorJeremy
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2010
    As a physicist, I would agree that we should not try to bring in other fields, including physics. Math is big enough already, it doesn't make sense to bring in other huge fields.

    Although, areas with significant overlap into research-level math I would agree with bringing in. So, I wouldn't mind seeing, say, people talking about using algebraic varieties to model protein folding, or physics motivated discussions of mirror symmetry in Calabi-Yaus, or something else, as long as it was primarily math, since it should be accessible to mathematicians.
    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeJun 13th 2010 edited

    Yes, I agree, that is totally fine. The key here is that it should be asked in a way so mathematicians can understand it.


    Thanks for linking the comment in the SBS. I had no idea that the CS section of the arXiv was not thriving. I would have expected it to, naively. Not every paper in, say, hep-th is of outstanding quality, of course, but since (pr)eprints have a strong tradition in the field, pretty much everyone arXives their work. Perhaps CS researchers do not depend on (pr)eprints to the same degree hep-* researchers do.
    The publication culture of CS is different because important papers tend to be in conference proceedings instead of journals. I reckon this is at the root of the arxiv issue.

    Another issue I've heard mentioned in connection with CS is that many computer scientists were putting papers on their personal web pages before most mathematicians had heard of the arXiv, and have simply continued doing so. So there was less perceived utility of such a repository.

    A similar phenomenon I've observed is that in the fields in which people started giving computer talks first, many people are still using Powerpoint and consequently have worse-looking presentations than the latecomers who are using Beamer.