# What do you really like about working with/contributing to math-SE?

I've come across so many posts here and on the "main" math-SE site that voice complaints, frustrations, pet-peeves, grievances, or else are critical of another post/question, user, OP, etc. It is really an energy sapper! Certainly not a boost for morale.

Since I'm pretty new here, and feeling a bit ambivalent about the community here, or lack thereof, I'd really like to know what keeps others here? Given all the frustrations and pet peeves, what keeps you coming back, logging in, participating, contributing?

I really am serious: I'd really like to know, plus I think shifting gears for a moment might help balance the (recent?) discord/tension. I'm not in a position to know whether what I perceive to be as tension and impatience, bordering on intolerance, is a "fact of life" here/ "the norm"...or if it cycles, like all growing communities do, between "better times" and "worse times"...slanting toward unity, then tilting towards discord... and individually, between feeling exhilarated and feeling near-burn-out.

Just thought I'd ask. It is very likely that people here are happier than they may appear. After all, I think humans are wired to notice what's amiss and what's gone wrong than we are to noting what's going well!

Edit: (Addendum) I am reluctant to accept a single answer; the answers and comments have been overwhelmingly supportive and informative. With respect to the "post a question"/"accept an answer" norm for math.SE, is that also the norm here on meta.SE? I sought out input from all interested users regarding the subject line of this thread; everyone is unique, and so I wouldn't even think of establishing criteria with which to evaluate one user's input/answer/comment against another. I did make a point of "upvoting" a good number of contributions, however. Thanks to all who have "chimed in," and any additional answers and comments are most certainly welcome.

• I liked the idea of getting help with mathematics from people who were concerned about mathematics. However there is far more baggage attached to this website than you'd think judging by what's on the front page & because of this I'm out.
Apr 25, 2011 at 10:35

Dear Amy,

I contribute on MathSE for the same reasons that I contribute on MO:

I enjoy thinking about math, and solving math problems. I also enjoy talking about and explaining mathematical ideas. MO and MathSE provide the opportunity to do all this.

Also, as a professional mathematician (and one who is getting older every day!) I am interested in finding ways to keep myself sharp: both to practice line-by-line technical reasoning, and to keep the big picture in focus. MathSE and MO provide chances to both answer precise technical questions in a broad range of subjects, and to try to give accurate but concise and readable descriptions of the big picture, and so I also regard my participation here as part of my ongoing professional training regimen.

Yet another motivation is that my area of mathematics (number theory and the Langlands program) has something of a reputation for being technical and recondite in its aims and methods. This reputation is not completely undeserved, but I like to do what I can to counter it, and participating here gives a chance to do this.

Finally, I like the idea of mathematics presenting a pleasant face to the world, and I think that contributing here helps in some small way with this.

Regards,

Matthew

• +1 for each of paragraphs 2, 3, and 5. (Not 4 only because I don't work in number theory.) Apr 25, 2011 at 16:55
• +1 for paragraph 4, because I work in number theory. ;p
– davidlowryduda Mod
Apr 28, 2011 at 4:16
• Well I guess I wont be posting my answer(it would essentially just be "echo echo echo"). May 1, 2011 at 15:16

The signal-to-noise ratio here is great. The Stack Exchange team has worked very hard to provide a platform with tools to keep it great: the voting system, community moderation, etc. Reputation may seem silly, but it is "an important form of silliness": getting upvotes is psychologically rewarding and incentivizes participation in the aggregate whether any particular person is willing to admit this or not. Community moderation makes getting rid of off-topic posts easy and helps ensure that there is a minimum level of effort put into on-topic posts. (The criticism you see is just community moderation in action: don't worry too much about it.) It also helps individual users become more invested in the success of the site.

In addition, I am very interested in math education, and math.SE is an easy and efficient way for me to help educate others. Not only is it fun, but SE questions and answers have relatively high Page Rank, so it is relatively easy for people to find good questions and answers on Google. Thus a single good answer might eventually be read by hundreds or thousands of people. My most popular answer has 26,000 views because it was linked to in an article about Stack Exchange on TechCrunch. It is far from perfect or complete, but it was able to reach many people who (I hope!) learned something from it.

In the long run, I hope math.SE will be a step towards a larger dialogue between mathematicians and non-mathematicians facilitated by online tools. The public generally has no idea what mathematicians do and what mathematics is really about (in stark contrast to, say, physics, where they at least have some vague idea); one of my long-term goals is to help change this, and I think math.SE is as good a starting place as any.

• @Qiaochu: Great answer. Aahhh...I too am deeply interested in math education: and in answer to my own question, that is a great motivator for me, as well as my love for math. I wouldn't have even "crossed the threshold" of this site's "doors" if I wasn't inspired by the breadth and depth of questions, coupled with the open invitation to people at all levels of mathematical engagement. Apr 25, 2011 at 16:35
• @Qiaochu: I'm not so sure about how great the "signal to noise" ratio is here. I haven't yet encountered a Q&A community with as much asymmetry, or what strikes me as intolerance of (and hostility toward) what seems to be the perspectives of a minority of folks here, growing smaller with each resignation, migration, of key folks. Just growing concerned, that's all. Certainly, I can migrate elsewhere (clearly, I'd hardly be missed). From what I've seen on Math.SE, confirmed here, I believe this site is failing miserably to extend an "open invitation to all levels of mathematical engagement" Apr 28, 2011 at 0:30
• @Amy: I'm not sure we mean the same thing by "signal-to-noise ratio." I mean two things by this: 1) that the average question is more interesting than the average question on other math forums. This comes about as a result of moderation. 2) that the average answer is more helpful than the average answer on other math forums. This is partly because we absorbed a decent population of users from MathOverflow in the early days, as well as moderation and the voting system. I don't see what any of the things you pointed out have to do with signal vs. noise on the main site, as opposed to meta. Apr 28, 2011 at 0:34
• (cont.) I also fail to see what any of the things you pointed out have to do with levels of mathematical engagement. I have seen no evidence that we discriminate against people based on mathematical level, if that's what you mean. What we discriminate against is a lack of effort on the part of the questioner, which is correlated to, but conceptually distinct from, mathematical level. Our goal is not to degenerate into a place filled with homework questions and spam, and while this requires aggressive moderation and other policies on our part, I think it is justifiable for the sake of... Apr 28, 2011 at 0:39
• ...preserving a useful resource. I am not sure what you mean by intolerance of and hostility towards a minority perspective; could you be more precise? Apr 28, 2011 at 0:40
• @Amy: I would like to help address these issues you are bringing up, but I am still not sure what you mean. Which users and perspectives are you referring to? If you are hesitant to be more specific about your concerns in public, feel free to email me at qchu@mit.edu. Apr 28, 2011 at 1:49
• cont. This site is welcome to those with high reps (who automatically are exempted from scrutinizing questions about "source of question"..Though "high brow" questions can also easily be seeded), to those who "know enough" to LaTeX their question, who don't ask questions in the imperative, who (if they have low rep, since high rep users aren't asked what they've already tried) map out the question, their attempts at solutions, who correctly tag their questions, who bow down and ensure to accept an answer lest the answerer be deprived of "rep"...who have read the FAQ etc... Apr 28, 2011 at 1:56
• cont....who have searched Wikipedia, MathWorld, and searched the math.SE questions already answered, who...and...and...From all the gripes I see, there are so many expectations held for questioners, most of which an OP can learn only after making the mistake of not doing the above, and hence, "scolded"...literally...Yes, I realize this is not going to be welcome, as a comment. I'll cease here, perhaps post a question/topic for discussion after taking a breather from this site, if I decide to return, for the sake of questioners. (Unlike most here, I could give a "darn" about rep. Apr 28, 2011 at 2:00
• @Amy: I agree that these expectations look hostile, but some of them are geared towards preventing users from getting free answers to their homework questions, and I personally believe this to be sufficient justification for a little hostility. Accepting answers has less to do with reputation and more to do with showing respect for the answerer, who after all is a total stranger and has no obligation to help you. Searching Wikipedia, Mathworld, and the list of existing math.SE questions takes very little time; all three are indexed on Google, and Googling should already be the first thing any Apr 28, 2011 at 2:09
• (cont.) person, in almost any situation, does first when trying to answer a question. Certainly we don't expect a new user to be aware of all of these things; that's what comments are for. I agree that they are often phrased in a hostile manner, and this is something we should work on as a community. Apr 28, 2011 at 2:12
• @Qiaochu: Thanks; yes, I realize it would help if I could be more specific; I will make a point of contacting you by email. I apologize if I "cluttered up" this page with excessive comments. And given what I've said here, today, I'll expect to see some "downvotes". Thanks for extending the invitation to contact you directly. Apr 28, 2011 at 2:13
• @Qiaochu: I'm not contesting the expectations held; yes, ideally, we would hope that learners have done a preliminary search, have made an effort, are not expecting to have homework done "for" them, etc. It is reasonable to make such suggestions in the form of comments to the OP. It's the tone in which the comments are often made: short, curt, scolding, etc. I have a PhD in CogSci (mathematics & Cog), a PhD in Philosophy, but returned to math to earn my MS, now working to PhD. So I bring with me an acute sensitivity to the factors that best promote (or inhibit) mathematics learning. Apr 28, 2011 at 2:26
• @Amy: point taken. I would be happy to see a meta thread on this subject; I think this is well worth bringing to the attention of more users. Apr 28, 2011 at 2:43
• @Qiaochu, concerning "exemption for high rep users": I'm not sure if this is true for math.sx, but on tex.sx I've seen bad questions, bad answers and wrong comments (with lots of upvotes!) by high rep users, which are usually not followed by curt and scolding comments. This can indeed leave the impression that double standard are applied. Apr 28, 2011 at 7:13
• @Amy: Your last comment sums it up very well, it's really the tone that makes the difference. (And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one appreciating your comments here.) Apr 28, 2011 at 7:14

One big difference between Math Stackexchange and Mathoverflow is that you don't need to be a mathematician or even a math graduate student to participate and contribute to math stackexchange. I am an electrical engineering grad student and I love this community. It gives me a chance to not only learn new things every few days, but it also helps me remain sharp in the few math topics that I have some knowledge of.

I feel that moderation and the general management of the site is pretty good. As Qiaochu Yuan mentioned, the Signal to Noise Ratio is very high here and this partly due to the maturity of the community here. All online communities have disputes and disagreements and squabbles. Don't be too worried by those kinds of things. Take advantage of the fact that there are so many knowledgeable people here who are willing to spend their time and effort to answer math questions. This site is great simply for the wealth of knowledge that its participants have.

I've um'ed and ah'ed about contributing to this, but having just left my 9th answer, I'll pitch in.

The reason why I hesitate is that I don't consider myself to be a contributor to maths-SX, so in the strictest sense I can't answer this question. However, I'm a "conscientious objector" in that my non-participation is based on a deliberate choice rather than apathy, so perhaps my reasons for not participating will be of use to you.

I probably need to start by explaining that, since the first two paragraphs are apparently contradictory. I keep an eye on this place as I think that it is a great idea in principle. I do participate in two other SE sites (MathOverflow and TeX-SX) and I really like the model. But as yet, I haven't figured out exactly how to participate here and until I do that then I'm not going to do more than what I currently do. And that is to drop by every now and then to see if there is a question to which I happen to just know the answer. Certainly, I don't put any effort in to answering questions here beyond the effort of writing it out. On MO or TeX-SX then I will willingly take up a challenge and work at something, but here I won't. That's what I mean by "not participating".

My reasons for doing that are nothing to do with the atmosphere here on meta. I'm a veteran of MathOverflow's meta (indeed, I suggested it and was the first non-moderator to sign up) and have had many blazing arguments with many different users (including the guy who set up MO) so I'm not afraid of a bit of fire on meta. But I think that the atmosphere on meta is another symptom of what keeps me from joining in fully.

The truth is that I haven't worked out yet what this place is for. And I'm afraid that the answers given previously don't help me figure that out.

I am a professional mathematician. That means that I get paid for doing maths. Actually, I get paid 45% for doing maths, 45% for communicating it, and 10% for ... er ... for helping ensure that the university runs well. So when I do a mathematical activity, I have at the back of my mind "If my employer walked in right now, would I quickly change to a different tab in the browser, or not?". Now, I can justify lots of mathematical activities. MathOverflow is fairly easy, but this place is hard. It seems to fall between two things. Let me deal with them separately.

Teaching: This seems obvious. By answering questions here, I am helping people to learn. Except that the part of my job that is teaching is not "teaching anyone who wants to learn" (would that it were!) but "teaching the students at my university". There aren't that many students from my university here (are there any?) and if there were, it would be an incredibly inefficient way of teaching them. I would be wiser to invest my time in trying to reach the students right in front of me than those half the way around the world.

Problem Solving: There are no end of problems in mathematics, and whilst we only write up the ones where we think we have something new to say, I'm sure I'm not the only mathematician who doesn't really care if a problem has been solved before or not, the important thing is: can I solve it? But with so many, how does one choose which to solve? An easy way to choose is: someone else wants to know the answer. So this site seems perfect for that. Except that the level of the problems here are not the level that I particularly want to get my teeth in to. Basically, I already get my "problem solving" hit from MO. I don't get it here. Moreover, since there are so many problems out there that I could spend time on, it would be wiser of me to invest my time in trying to solve those that might help me with my actual research than just those I happened upon whilst reading some bizarre website.

I have a suspicion that this site is far more "Ask an expert" than any other of the SE network sites. I don't know enough about the data explorer to do this, but I'd like to compare the various sites on their "questioner" and "answerer" populations. A quick look at the top users shows that very few of them ask questions here. Certainly, I can't think of a single question that I could ask here (where I really wanted to know the answer). On MO and TeX-SX, I feel that I am both an asker and an answerer. Here I would be/am just an answerer. At the risk of seeming a bit cold-blooded, what's in it for me?

Now, I am an expert in some things. There are a couple of things about which I am one of the best people in the world to ask. But they don't come up that often here (they don't come up that often on MO either), and there are certainly plenty of experts already here in the wider area that I know about. So you don't need me here. My not participating doesn't hold Maths-SX back in any significant way.

So, in summary, why should I participate in an SE site?

1. To learn. But as a mathematician, there are more efficient ways for me to learn.
2. To help. But there are more immediate people who need my help.

Now, I realise that this all reads very cold and calculating. It has to be precisely because I am not very good at being cold and calculating when faced with a problem to be solved. If I jumped in here, I would be going crazy trying to answer questions left, right, and centre; sure that I had the right answer that was going to enlighten the questioner and open their eyes to the beauty of mathematics. On TeX-SX and MO I can be like that because I know that I will also gain: they are true exchanges. Here, I don't see the exchange.

As a last ditch attempt to dispel the calculating nature of this, let me add that second to proving a sneaky theorem is that moment when you see an explanation hit home with a student. To watch their face when it all becomes clear and, for a moment, they glimpse Mathematics with a capital Mathematics is a wonderful experience. To quote:

Rose: I can see everything. All that is, all that was, all that ever could be.
The Doctor: That's what I see. All the time. And doesn't it drive you mad?

When teaching, those are the moments that make it worthwhile. Show me how I can get that hit here, and I might just join in.

• Sadly, the point about "Ask an expert" / no exchange is all too true... (and thanks for writing about it) Apr 30, 2011 at 19:12
• Andrew: There are at least three of us here. May 1, 2011 at 13:44
• @Raeder: Ah, but if the third is like the two that I (now) know of, then you three aren't the students I need to reach! May 1, 2011 at 17:29
• I think in some sense the right people to be answering questions here are undergraduate math majors. They still have some questions that they can ask and so it's more of a real exchange. May 1, 2011 at 23:42
• @Noah: which prompts the question: what are you doing here? May 2, 2011 at 18:13
• Like you I pop in now and then. My reputation is almost entirely from questions and answers during the first week and a half of the site (when I was the top rep user). I was involved then because I wanted to make sure math.SE got off the ground. May 2, 2011 at 18:41
• @Noah: Ah, I had a false impression of you as one of the "high octane" users - possibly garnered from those first few weeks. May 2, 2011 at 18:47
• @Noah: Dear Noah, There are questions here that only a very select few undergrads would be able to answer, e.g. on algebraic and differential geometry, algebraic and analytic number theory, and algebraic and differential topology. On the other hand, at least some of those same questions (although not all) would be closed if they appeared on MO. Regards, May 3, 2011 at 14:53

Despite my annoyance with imperatives and homeworks, I like answering the questions here. There is very little noise here; even what you seem to notice as discord here at meta is at least -substantive- disagreement. The questions are all about math from easy to hard. I find it a good way to learn about math that I never studied, and to help out in places where I have.

As to frustrations and pet peeves, I think it is mostly just that they are not big enough a deal to really affect things; we are just pursuing doubts here. (though of course some people are reasonably perturbed by much bigger things). Anyway, meta.math.SE is not the same thing as math.SE.

• Thanks for the reminder...that meta.math.SE isn't the same thing as math.SE. For me, in general, I "do" and "think about doing" simultaneously, e.g. math and meta-math for me go hand in hand...but they are distinct, albeit over-lapping at times. Yes, I do need to disambiguate discussions about math.SE (here), and the math.SE forum itself. I guess it's just a bit frustrating because many of the sentiments expressed here seem to spill over to the math.SE sight, or start there and continue here... Apr 25, 2011 at 15:57
• Perhaps you've hit on what I think could make a difference. Perhaps we could be more judicious about the comments we leave on math.SE. I'd like to see comments on math.SE to be more directly related to the post at hand, with uncertainties of the merits of a post expressed directly to the one who posts. In short, I'd like to raise the level of direct interaction with the individuals posting questions, and less in the way of "side-line" conversations "amongst ourselves" about non-mathematical content, as though the OP isn't present. Those conversations belong here? Apr 25, 2011 at 16:23
• But we keep seeing pleas for exactly the opposite, e.g. when people vote to close posts (a controversial issue on all the big SE sites), it is considered by many to be polite/constructive to explain in a comment why you voted to close. This is necessarily a "meta" comment regarding the post. The system doesn't have a "meta" page for every question in the way Wikipedia does, so there's no easy way to keep those comments separate.
– Matt
Apr 25, 2011 at 19:42
• @matt I think our network guidance is, only leave comments when you consider the post "close to the edge" and not clearly out of bounds. The interesting cases in the network are the ones where it is almost on-topic but not quite; everything else should be covered by the standard close descriptions and voting itself without need for excess (meta) verbosity cluttering up the page.. Apr 28, 2011 at 5:09

Personally I am pretty new here as well and probably is not in a position to speak for the community, but from personal experience with other sites having civil debates and some doubts is a good thing and is a sign of maturity.

The most interesting aspect for me is the "elementary puzzle questions", questions which are natural, require some thought, and are elementary in nature. In that respect, the advantage of Math.SE over MathOverflow is that the questions are actually elementary, whereas in MO they usually involved subjects I know nothing about.

The next best thing is "elementary nuggets", which are similar to the previous but are easier. Good examples for me are questions of the sort "find a combinatorial proof of this nice identity". These are also enjoyable, and their advantage is that they don't take up as much time.

What I like least are questions of the sort "how do I simplify $\sqrt{27}$?", which I don't usually bother to answer. Fortunately, there are lots of questions whose level of difficulty lies between "trivialities" and "nuggets", which are interesting enough to spare a thought while being easy enough to not distract me from "real" work.

I wanted to revisit a very old question of mine, asked when I was relatively new to math.se., if nothing else, to remind myself why I participate here (and why I returned after a very long sabbatical from math.se). Two points:

$(1)$ I participate and returned because I learn a lot here (or rather, math.se): about math from other users, about common "stumbling blocks" encountered by students, and about what helps people learn and come to understand concepts with which they are struggling.

$(2)$ I participate and returned because I savor those precious, albeit sometimes rare, moments when those posting questions experience an "Aha!!!" moment.

Just thought I'd share.

Cheers!

I participate in math.SE because

(a) I have learned an incredible amount here by reading answers to others' questions and especially by asking questions. From my very first question, it's amazed me that people are willing to take the time to engage thoughtfully with technical stuff.

(b) Because of (a), I have the feeling I should "pay it forward." Sometimes I answer questions just for fun, or to distract myself from something else, but the main reason I answer questions, which is also the principled reason, is to "earn my keep" for the questions I ask. I don't know if any other user thinks this way but I try to keep my question-to-answer ratio approximately 1:1.

I joined math.SE shortly before entering a math PhD program that I have now completed. Over time, more of my questions have become appropriate for MO, and my questions on math.SE have tended to get more technical. Nonetheless, it still often happens that I have a question that I expect will be regarded as basic by experts: either it is not in my field, or else it is a fine point that just seems textbook-level not research-level. It has now happened at least a couple times that I ask such a question here and it doesn't get any traction, and then I cross-post to MO and it gets a great answer. But it still seems respectful to me to ask it here first. So I envision continuing to use math.SE as a question-asking place even as a working mathematician.

As an aside, you wrote this question a few months before I joined math.SE, and it was over six years ago, so maybe I'm speaking to something that's personally ancient history, but, I share your feelings about the way that the site's culture treats new users. Obviously different users have different priorities, but I myself am much more distressed by snark toward people who are not "mathematically enculturated" than I am by poorly-formed questions. I don't find the culture of this site uniformly pleasant. (To me there is a striking difference with MO: over there, the atmosphere is more collegial and less policed. Reading in, I experience this as a consequence of MO operating from the presumption that we are all already "in the club.") Nonetheless, the cost-benefit analysis for my use of the site is clear: what I can learn here makes it worth it.

(As a last aside, I should say that although I don't find the culture of the site uniformly pleasant, there are many many individuals whom I really appreciate everything they do here and I like being around the way they treat others.)

• 'To me there is a striking difference with MO: over there, the atmosphere is more collegial and less policed. Reading in, I experience this as a consequence of MO operating from the presumption that we are all already "in the club."' Not sure if those askers would share your judgment, mathoverflow.net/questions/288967/factorial-of-sums mathoverflow.net/questions/288958/… mathoverflow.net/questions/288988/… And these are rather harmless example. There may be some selection bias at work.
– quid Mod
Dec 21, 2017 at 18:36
• @quid - Was suppressing that matter because my perception is the volume is small, but - right, MO sometimes gets users whose questions lie way outside the scope of its mission. The number seems small to me (though you know better than I) and they are easy to recognize. Their cold treatment also don't bother me in the same way because MO's mission explicitly excludes those users while math.SE's mission explicitly includes them. (Though I don't see a reason why people shouldn't be polite across the platforms.) Cont'd... Dec 21, 2017 at 21:42
• I suppose my comment was insufficiently contextual. My experience is that questions that pass "initial muster" on MO get a more generous, thoughtful, expansive reception than on math.SE. I grant it's a totally subjective point, in addition to which I guess it was confusing in context because the rest of the paragraph was about questions that often don't pass "initial muster". Dec 21, 2017 at 21:46
• The volume of questions there is much lower, and on average the readers are more qualified. In that sense it is unsurprising that questions that are considered as good there get a better response on average; just comparing the average number of views per post makes this plain. It is also true that here one can be faced with users commenting "out of their depths" more frequently, which can be exhausting and annoying. It is also true unorthodox but potentially reasonable questions are sometimes treated poorly here. That said:
– quid Mod
Dec 22, 2017 at 16:47
• This site also imposes restrictions on the questions that can be asked. I'd be interested if you see many posts that comply with all those restrictions and are still received poorly or if not why exactly you have a problem with this site imposing and enforcing its restrictions while there is no problem with MO doing the same. Moreover what about this user's reception.
– quid Mod
Dec 22, 2017 at 16:55
• @quid - You know both sites better than I do and my subjective experience of the greater expansiveness and generosity of MO toward "pass initial muster" questions is nothing more than my subjective experience based on a lot of time on MSE and a lot less on MO. I don't want to be taken as making a strong case I'm attached to. Maybe there is absolutely nothing to it beyond one user's (my) experience. (meta.mathoverflow.net/questions/3518/… ?) In which case, maybe it was irresponsible of me to read in. I don't know. Dec 22, 2017 at 21:53
• But I would like to address your question "[if not...] why exactly you have a problem with this site imposing and enforcing its restrictions while there is no problem with MO doing the same." I believe this question is important and I care about what I am about to say in answer: Dec 22, 2017 at 21:54
• On neither site do I have any objection to the idea that there are quality standards for questions. As Amy brought out in an exchange with Qiaochu in the comments below Qiaochu's answer, what I have an objection to has to do with tone: abruptness, dismissiveness, and the absence of an attempt to engage the newbie positively toward a better outcome. This is the thing to which I don't object on MO, or not nearly as much as on MSE, and the reason is that that newbie is outside the scope of MO's mission but explicitly inside of the scope of MSE's mission. MSE says it is for Dec 22, 2017 at 22:03
• "people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields." Do we mean this? If so, a fact of life is that people studying math at any level are very often not mathematically enculturated. The culture here is very particular - its own flavor of the already very particular culture of academic mathematics. We value professional presentation. We value traditional mathematical aesthetics like elegance. We are offended by a sense that somebody has just walked in off the street and thinks they can engage as an equal with people who've paid their dues. Cont'd... Dec 22, 2017 at 22:09
• We value more specific things like knowing how to spell and how to mathjax one's equations. We don't like it when people seem "disheveled." I can go on. I am a part of this culture and I have had every one of these reactions. I'm not trying to act morally superior. But I do think that this culture tends to be invisible to us i.e. we don't act like it's our culture, simply how any civilized being should behave, so we treat people who are not enculturated as though there is something wrong with them. Cont'd... Dec 22, 2017 at 22:16
• As above, even this doesn't really bother me on MO, because we didn't say that place was supposed to be for them. If I walk into a place I'm not invited and people are mean to me, well maybe that was mean, but then again I wasn't invited. But here, we invited them. It doesn't say, "MSE is for people studying math at any level and who have also spent sufficient time around mathematicians to know how they like to be engaged with." Yes there is guidance in the description, but people don't in practice instantly adopt a community's culture by reading its welcome pamphlet. So, in Cont'd... Dec 22, 2017 at 22:23
• practice, will this site be what it says it will i.e. "for people studying math at any level"? If so, since people studying math at any level are not in general mathematically enculturated, we need a culture that successfully enculturates them. My subjective impression of what happens now is that a fraction of them are successfully enculturated and the majority are alienated. I believe in the stated mission of being a resource to people studying math at any level, and to me this adds up to failing it. This is why it bothers me on MSE and not on MO. This completes my answer to your question. Dec 22, 2017 at 22:29
• p.s. just for the sake of clarifying that I am really not trying to judge anyone individually: I was once scolded by Amy for a curt comment toward a low-rep user. (I can't find it now but it definitely happened.) I remember feeling stung and misunderstood, because I hadn't meant to be rude. That said, it's ultimately more important to me that the pov Amy was sticking up for in that exchange gain currency than how I felt that time. (a) As in my answer, I acknowledge these are my priorities and they aren't everybody's, and (b) I have no idea how to get there from here. Dec 22, 2017 at 22:41
• p.p.s. I guess I'm hoping that explaining myself so fully here is some sort of at least personal first step along that path. Dec 22, 2017 at 22:42
• Thank you for the detailed elaboration. Let my start with this "We value more specific things like knowing how to spell[...]" You seem to think this is a non-issue at research-level. Yet there are plenty of mathematically qualified individuals that do not know how to spell, in English. It is not clear what you meany by "studying math at any level" I am on record as saying that to me it means following some higher education involving mathematics, if it does not mean something restrictive the combination with "professionals in related fields" makes little sense.
– quid Mod
Dec 23, 2017 at 1:37