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I am not to familiar with the procedures at meta and hope this is the right place to formulate a request concerning help with rephrasing a question. The question Is mathematical history written by the victors? was put on hold on grounds of "opinion" and subjectivity. The question presents a historical viewpoint of Boyer, contrasts it with a more recent viewpoint published in a reputable journal, and requests input on this historical issue. Why do the closing editors feel that "answers to this question will [be] based on opinions"? Boyer presents "expert" arguments in favor of his view; similarly, the NAMS article cited presents expert evidence in favor of a "dual continua" view. I don't know if the history of linear algebra is written by "vectors", but the popularity of this tongue-in-cheek comment indicates that some of the opposition to the question may stem from a rejection of the arguments opposing Boyer, rather than issues of "opinion rather than fact". I would appreciate help with rephrasing the question so as to make it fit better with SE guidelines.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't the question be more appropriate on a forum of historians of mathematics? At least the answers there would come from actual experts. $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 17 '13 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ An example is the math-history list. $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Jul 17 '13 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ If I understand the notation correctly, no questions were asked there since february :-) $\endgroup$ – Mikhail Katz Jul 17 '13 at 15:16
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  1. The question you asked in the title: "Is mathematical history written by the victors?" is not really answerable. The answer is either a tautological "yes" (by definition, if your version of the history is the one that is accepted, you are a 'victor' in some sense), or non-existent (victory? What game is involved here? How do you win in the game of mathematical history?)

  2. The question you asked in the final sentence: "Have the historians systematically underplayed the importance of the infinitesimal strand in the development of analysis?" is clearly asking for opinions. Importance, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.

  3. The way you formulated your question really is soliciting for debate. What do you expect to get out of this question? An assessment of the number of people who agree with the NAMS article and the number who agree with Boyer? There's no factual question involved as stated.

  4. The only question that I can imagine being buried in your question, and which is appropriate for Math.SE, would be to ask for additional examples from history that supports either Boyer's viewpoint or the NAMS viewpoint. That is, limit the question to facts and not opinions.

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    $\begingroup$ I do not think the title should be taken into account. Titles are meant to grab the reader and suck them in. They should give a rough description of the question, but artistic license should be allowed (or perhaps, encouraged?). $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 17 '13 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729: I agree that titles should not be taken into account if the question is otherwise answerable/on-topic. But in the present situation the provocative title does not help the OP's case. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Jul 17 '13 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ I agree, but then it should be point (4) rather than point (1) in your post... $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 17 '13 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ Why? I never said anything about the ordering of my comments. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Jul 17 '13 at 12:14
  • $\begingroup$ When you write comments it is implicit that you are putting the most important first. Also, in a certain sense, your point about the title is an after-though, as it is only made relevant by the other three points. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 17 '13 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729: You meant "I" not "you". I see absolutely no reason that the first problem I see with an abstract something must be the most important problem. In fact, I will not even pretend that everyone agrees with me on what is important and what is not. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Jul 17 '13 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I meant "implicit to the reader". $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 17 '13 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ OP asked for help rephrasing a question. Willie gave that help. Why are you giving Willie a hard time? $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 17 '13 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Willie Wong: thanks for your comments. Your last point, "ask for additional examples from history that supports either Boyer's viewpoint or the NAMS viewpoint. That is, limit the question to facts and not opinions" is precisely the kind of answer I had in mind, as opposed to "opinion" pieces. Both Boyer's book and the NAMS article are based on such facts rather than mere opinions. $\endgroup$ – Mikhail Katz Jul 17 '13 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I wasn't meaning to give him a hard time. I just wasn't sure why he agreed (roughly speaking) with my first comment but then the point about the title was still prominent. When writing, it is important to help the reader to understand what you are trying to say, and Willie's answer seems to pick out the title as the most prominent reason. Even if that is not what was meant, it is what I read it to mean. I am sure others will do the same. (Also, in what I write above I do not mean to imply that I am good at communicating what I mean. I am not, but not being good makes me wary.) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 17 '13 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Willie Wong: Even if the argumentative part at the beginning of the question was excised (which it has not been, as I write this), leaving only the bare request for examples, I am not convinced at this point that the question would fit into the scope of this site. Perhaps it could be, but the present version is not there, in my opinion. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Jul 18 '13 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert: I have not voted on the question either way because my vote would be binding. It may be better if you leave your comment above on the main post, now that it has been re-opened by five community members. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Jul 18 '13 at 7:06

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