# Serial close votes on pronunciation questions

I have noticed that since, an hour ago, I asked for my question on how to read a formula aloud to be reopened ( http://meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/22189/why-is-my-question-on-hold ) at least one user has begun casting close votes on dozens of old questions on pronunciation.

As far as I can tell, there has been no open discussion of this on Meta that would support this action. I wonder if this approach to matters is appropriate.

Edit: For example, this question is fully in line with the consensus answers here and here on the acceptability of questions on the pronunciation of mathematical notation.

• Do you know the term "meta-effect"? – Daniel Fischer Dec 14 '15 at 11:01
• No concertation necessary. Draw attention to X on meta, people will act on X on main. – Daniel Fischer Dec 14 '15 at 11:07
• X can well be a class of questions. Regarding on-topicness, the help centre doesn't mention such questions, so there's no official stance. If there are clear community norms, those should be respected, but in the absence of those, it's not clear-cut. And people can and will try to shape community norms by voting to close/reopen in accordance with their views what the norms should be in the end. – Daniel Fischer Dec 14 '15 at 11:16
• There has been previous discussion of this, as I mentioned in my Meta question, and the majority view was that pronunciation questions are okay. At some point, it becomes annoying for users who would like some consistency so that they don't have a fight on their hands when they want to ask a simple question. – David Dec 14 '15 at 11:20
• @David: the challenge is that there are very few real "rules" on this site. A meta discussion cannot actually establish anything - even if 1000 users all voted on a meta question to indicate they think pronunciation questions are OK, it would still be possible for just 5 users to close them all. It is an inherent problem with sites like this (and Wikipedia as well) that only extremely disruptive actions can lead to sanctions, and so there is not likely to be any firm policy on any matter where there could be a real difference of opinion. – Carl Mummert Dec 14 '15 at 22:47
• @CarlMummert If that's the way things are, then I can ask more questions about pronunciation, no matter what anybody besides a moderator says. Nobody can complain, "you've been warned repeatedly not to ask these low-quality questions" because the people doing the warning evidently don't feel themselves bound by any rules. And my continuing to ask them doesn't in any sense make me a "problem user" or whatever other epithets people seem to enjoy using here. Everything is a cat-and-mouse game that way. – David Dec 15 '15 at 11:48
• @David: yes, indeed - the lack of rules also makes it difficult for the moderators to do anything about users who post questions or answers that aren't spam or nonsense, when those users know that that kind of question or answer is discouraged by a large number of other users. The goal is to rely on each person's good faith not to keep doing something when others complain, but as you can imagine not all users are receptive to that kind of system. – Carl Mummert Dec 15 '15 at 12:04
• @CarlMummert It is a good thing that mathematicians don't succumb to illogical arguments of the masses. For example, if they did then Cantor would have succeeded in abolishing any thought of rigorous approaches to infinitesimals, and many of the beautiful approaches we know now (e.g Robinson's nonstandard analysis and synthetic differential geometry) would probably have been long stymied. – Bill Dubuque Dec 15 '15 at 15:28

For the general answer: the only kind of serial voting which is forbidden is serial voting that targets an individual user. Voting to close many questions of a certain tag is certainly not forbidden.

Also do not forget that it takes five (normal) users to close a question, so even if someone went on a rampage and decided for themselves that differential geometry was now off-topic, it would take at the very least four other users to agree with them for their actions to have any effect.

As for the specific case, I'm the one who cast a lot (probably all) of the first close votes you saw. It's called the meta effect: you brought attention on an issue, someone acted on it. The very same effect that got your own question reopened.

Why did I do it? I know that the tag attracts a lot of bad questions. What's a bad question you ask? It's a question which is off-topic, or primarily opinion-based, or too broad, or unclear. If it fails at any of these criteria, it should be closed. Several tags tend to attract such bad questions: , , , , (probably the worst offender), and in this case . So I took some time to go through the tag and see if some questions hadn't passed through the cracks.

You have linked to a discussion where people argue about on-topicness of pronunciation questions. I disagree with the result, but it seems that most people who voted on this issue think that pronunciation questions are generally on-topic. Fine. But many pronunciation questions happen to also be opinion-based. Some of them are blatantly off-topic (one of the questions I voted to close was "How to pronounce the word tableaux in English?" – plainly there's nothing mathematical about this question except for the fact that tableaux is a word sometimes used in mathematics). Some of them are too broad (asking how to pronounce six different symbols in the same question is not OK). Some of them are unclear. Some of them even lack context, too: asking "How to pronounce this weird symbol?" without even saying where the symbol was encountered, or why the simple name of the symbol doesn't work, is not OK either.

In case it's not clear, here's what I'm saying: pronunciation questions may be generally on-topic, but they need to be good questions anyway, and tagging a question is not a shield that prevents a question from being closed.

• The reasons you are giving have the appearance of being pretexts to deny the acceptability of pronunciation questions in practice while paying lip service to the fact that that they have been accepted in principle. The "opinion-based" argument is particularly egregious in this regard. Generally the facts on which such a question is based are how mathematicians most often pronounce a word or notation. That is a matter of fact, not opinion. – David Dec 14 '15 at 13:02
• @David It's interesting that you felt the need to qualify your statement by starting it with "Generally". At least it's not inconceivable to you that a question about pronunciation could be opinion-based. Anyway, instead of trying to assign motives to my actions, why don't you say whether you agree or not with what I've written? What part of my reasoning do you disagree with? – Najib Idrissi Dec 14 '15 at 13:09
• What I disagree with is that: (1) What is being done in practice exceeds what can even remotely be justified on the basis of the exceptions you note. (2) Pronunciation questions are clearly being singled out for stricter scrutiny than others. (3) Motives count: if this is being done to set precedents, then I would view it as a form of manipulation. Closures of old questions will more easily escape the notice of the broader community than will Meta discussion. – David Dec 14 '15 at 13:21
• @David (1) When I look at a question, either it needs to be closed, or it doesn't. If it does, I vote to close it. It doesn't matter if I've voted to close zero or ten similar question today. The tag pronunciation isn't a person whose feelings I can hurt, or that should be "given a break" or whatever. (2) Yes. As I explained, some tags attract bad questions, and I thought it was a good use of my volunteered time to look at it (and others) more closely. So what? It's not forbidden for me (a volunteer like you) to decide how I can best contribute to the site. [cont.] – Najib Idrissi Dec 14 '15 at 13:29
• (3) Users with 10k reputation can track recently closed questions, and everyone can see the history of the review queue. It has already been discussed to impose some kind of bureaucratic overhead on closing/deleting to "make it more transparent" (in truth, make it so painstaking that people are reluctant to do it), and it was universally rejected. There's already plenty of transparence in closing, and people not taking the time to check is no excuse to leave old, bad questions open. – Najib Idrissi Dec 14 '15 at 13:30
• Anyway, it doesn't seem like you're listening to my arguments at all, so forgive me if I'm tiring of this discussion. – Najib Idrissi Dec 14 '15 at 13:31
• @Najib The nontransparency claims in prior discussions were not about closings but, rather, deletions - which are far from transparent to most users (in fact they are difficult to track even for 10K users). – Bill Dubuque Dec 15 '15 at 18:01
• @BillDubuque there were also varied discussion about additional restrictions on closures, for example remarks such as closures not being sufficiently visible to allow users to act and prevent later deletion. In any case, the comment you seem to refer to says "closing/deleting." That you now see fit to comment on this is especially astonishing given you conflating closing and downvoting (that are less related) on another post in this thread, and insisting at length (in fortunately mostly deleted comments) on this being desirable. – quid Dec 15 '15 at 18:29
• @quid My remarks here concern only the point addressed, viz. the level of transparency - which is clearly quite different between closures and deletions. The rest of your comment makes no sense given that. – Bill Dubuque Dec 15 '15 at 19:55
• @BillDubuque nobody made the claim that the level of transparency is the same. Indeed the comment you referred to say 'There's already plenty of transparence in closing,[...]' while no such claim is made about deletions. In any case it is good to know that it seems you think there is no problem with the transparency of closures. David seems to think otherwise, as did some other users before him, in discussions that might have escaped your attention. – quid Dec 15 '15 at 20:11
• @quid I have no idea what you are attempting to say above, As with many of your comments, it has little to do with what I wrote or what I think. Best of luck with that strawman. – Bill Dubuque Dec 15 '15 at 20:13
• @BillDubuque Do you see a problem with the transparency of closures? – quid Dec 15 '15 at 20:26

General aspects are discussed in other answers already. Let me just comment on the specific question linked (and some others), and let me explain why I do not consider it not a suitable question. I think it is "primarily opinion based" in the sense that there is just not enough substance to this matter.

Let me recall an abridged version:

How do you pronounce $\Sigma^+$ or $\Sigma^\dagger$ (as used in Moore–Penrose pseudoinverse)?

Is it simply pronounced as ‘sigma plus’, or ‘pseudoinverse of sigma’, or ‘sigma pseudoinversed/pseudoinverted’?

Sometimes it is also written with a dagger ($\dagger$) instead of a $+$ in the ‘exponent’, which would then be pronounced ‘sigma dagger’?

What type of answer should there be? Each of those could plausibly be used. Some will say the one some will say the other, and most will use several depending on context. The notion is a bit rare, but really it is not different from the situation for $A^{-1}$. Now is it "A to -1" or "the inverse matrix of A" or "A inverted" or "the inverse of A" etc.

Or what about $2+3 = 5$? Is it "two plus three makes five" or "two plus three equals five" or "the sum of two and three is five" or "summing two and three gives five" etc. Depending on what one wants to stress one will want to say different things while writing it on a black-board for example. In that sense one could also argue there is not enough context to give a proper answer.

Furthermore, as such questions show the answers are not really clear. So it got asked if $f'$ could be referred to as "f dash" some said "certainly no" some said "certainly yes" which gives...well maybe still some useful information but really can you blame somebody if they say this is "primarily opinion based"?

Or, then take the question about "Young tableaux." Really, it came down to transcribing entries in dictionaries and comments saying roughly speaking "I always hear this." and "No, never like this!"

Don't get me wrong I in fact argued on occasion for such question being considered as on-topic in principle, but really many of them turn out not to be good or work well. There are frequent closures in that tag since a long time, and no precedences are being set by some more closures.

• (1/2)The fact that there are many possible answers to the question "How can/does one say this?" doesn't mean the question is ill-posed. Many questions, in life as in math, have multiple answers. Also, what is an "opinion-based" question? It is one that by its nature cannot be given an objective answer. But a question about pronunciation has an objective answer based on a set of facts, which is the actual spoken usage of mathematicians. That no-one has sat down and written a careful linguistic study of how "tableaux" is pronounced by mathematicians doesn't make the question itself subjective... – David Dec 15 '15 at 13:54
• (2/2) What it means is that people answering the question need to rely on their own particular, imperfect perception of what actual usage is. But there is nothing unusual in this state of affairs: if the only questions permitted on SE sites were those that were either capable of being answered with a mathematical proof or those which had been the subject of experimental study, then the usefulness of the sites would immediately be divided by ten. This is the situation with most questions that are not purely math questions (e.g., history of mathematics). – David Dec 15 '15 at 13:58
• "Many questions, in life as in math, have multiple answers." Right. And this site is just for those that don't. (This is of course a bit of an oversimplification, but the point is this site is just not for any type of question even if it might be reasonable in a way.) – quid Dec 15 '15 at 14:03
• I'm sorry, but if I ask you how mathematicians say "tableaux", and your answer is that 30% say it without a z sound, and 70% say it with a z sound, then that is the same as if I asked you a question like "Find $x$" and you answered that $x$ could be 2 or 5. So far, I haven't seen anybody say that equations with multiple solutions are banned on this site. – David Dec 15 '15 at 14:09
• First of all, you need to be careful what the actual question is. Is it what is correct or what is done? The two are really not (always) the same for such questions. Now, if you really want to ask about how mathematicians pronounce "tableaux" in practice (as opposed to how they should pronounce it) you'd first have to make precise who is to be considered a mathematician and what is the exact context, if not the question is indeed ill-posed. In the same way, if you ask how many solutions to $X^4 = 4$ are there, then you better make precise what the ambient structure is. – quid Dec 15 '15 at 14:32
• Furthermore, and this brings us back to something already discussed, several of these questions are just not mathematical questions at all. The expertise and culture on this site is just not right to address them properly. If somebody wants to know how "tableaux" should be pronounced in English (and why this is so) then this is a question on English, it might be asked on English Language & Usage or English Language Learners depending on precise context and background, or also can be answered by consulting a dictionary. In any case, it is just not a math question at all. – quid Dec 15 '15 at 14:32
• If the questions are about spoken usage in the mathematical community, then this is probably where one can find the right expertise, not on an English learners' site. Mathematicians will in most cases be the best placed to say how language is used in communicating mathematics. It is also frustrating to see the expression "opinion-based" applied to practically any question less precisely posed than mathematics. Since, in practice, so many such questions are accepted, it opens the door to an "I like it/don't like it" approach to a wide class of questions. – David Dec 15 '15 at 14:41
• I do agree that there is a potential for conflict around question is this gray-area. However, while there is some friction from time to time, this was navigated more or less successfully since years. On "If the questions are about spoken usage in the mathematical community, then this is probably where one can find the right expertise, not on an English learners' site." Again, you do not say what "the mathematical community" is supposed to even mean. Furthermore, most questions are not about polling what the mathematical community does, but about what is correct or how things should be done. – quid Dec 15 '15 at 14:53

The only question I can find in your post is: "Is this approach to matters appropriate?"

Sure, why not? If a user finds questions that they think should be closed, they should vote to close them. It doesn't matter if this is en masse (you only get so many close votes per day, after all) or if it's voting to close questions from three years ago, or if they learned about these questions from meta. If a user feels a question shouldn't be open, then it doesn't matter when it's from, they should feel free to vote to close it.

I have no opinion about whether or not those particular questions should have been closed, just that one should have a right to vote to close them.

• You reasoning also applies to serial downvotes aimed at a single user - which is not allowed. So why do you think that the above should be different? Is abusing a tag a lesser evil than abusing a user? – Bill Dubuque Dec 14 '15 at 22:42
• @BillDubuque: I think closing sprees that vote to close every question in a specific tag will probably be treated similarly to the same against a user. This particular closing spree did not do that. To my understanding of this event (which I have little desire to clarify further; this post is about the general question, not this event), it became clear to one user that there were a lot of bad questions in a specific tag, so he looked through that tag and closed bad questions. How is this different from someone who only reads differential geometry posts, and closes a lot of those every day? – user98602 Dec 14 '15 at 22:49