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In connection with the 2020 moderator election, we are holding a Q&A thread for the candidates. Questions collected from an earlier thread have been compiled into this one, which shall now serve as the space for the candidates to provide their answers.

Not every question was compiled - as noted, we only selected the top 8 questions as submitted by the community, plus 2 pre-set questions from us.

As a candidate, your job is simple - post an answer to this question, citing each of the questions and then post your answer to each question given in that same answer. For your convenience, I will include all of the questions in quote format with a break in between each, suitable for you to insert your answers. Just copy the whole thing after the first set of three dashes.Please consider putting your name at the top of your post so that readers will know who you are before they finish reading everything you have written, and also including a link to your answer on your nomination post.

Once all the answers have been compiled, this will serve as a transcript for voters to view the thoughts of their candidates, and will be appropriately linked in the Election page.

Good luck to all of the candidates!

Oh, and when you've completed your answer, please provide a link to it after this blurb here, before that set of three dashes. Please leave the list of links in the order of submission.

To save scrolling here are links to the submissions from each candidate (in order of submission):


  1. Regarding actions by moderators, do you think that MathSE is (over/under)moderated? If so, can you elaborate on which aspects, why, and what would be your suggestions regarding this?
  1. Math.SE seems to, in practice, fulfill dual purposes: to be a repository of mathematical knowledge in a Q&A format, and a place for people to get specialist, individual help with mathematics. Often these purposes align, but sometimes they clash. Which do you see as the primary purpose of MSE? Please describe a situation, real or realistic, where the two purposes clash, and how you would preference one over the other.
  1. The CURED chatroom (formerly CRUDE) is extremely active and plays a large role in closing and deleting questions and answers.
    1. Are you aware of this chatroom?
    2. Do you think this chat room is healthy for this site, unhealthy, or somewhere in between? Please justify your answer.
  1. What do you think is the biggest problem facing Math.SE in 2020, and how do you think we should approach it as a community, and as moderators?
  1. Have you ever been suspended from this site or another StackExchange site? If so, please provide a description of the situation that led to the suspension, and how you have reacted to it. Would you have suspended a user for a similar behavior today?
  1. Moderators disagree with each other all the time on issues large and small. How will you deal with disagreement with other moderators? At what point do you reverse their actions?
  1. In discussions about the quality of questions the word "context" is frequently invoked. The perception of "missing context" is the most frequently selected reason for closure of questions. What role should "context" play in assessing the quality and suitability of a question on Mathematics Stack Exchange? Ideally, please be explicit what you mean by "context" and discuss potential actions to be taken (or not taken), rather than giving an abstract answer.
  1. When and how much do you think a moderator should get involved in activities such as undeleting, closing posts, or other stuff that normally would require more than a single user in order to be accomplished? Furthermore, as a moderator, would you change your approach regarding those activities in any way?
  1. How would you describe the primary role of a moderator? For example, is the primary role of a moderator to be...

    • ...a civil rights advocate?
    • ...a senator/congressman leading the formulation of policies?
    • ...a judge?
    • ...a UN Blue Beret, i.e. peace enforcement?
    • ...a detective, police officer?
    • ...a home plate umpire/referee (depending on whether baseball or association football is your sport)?
    • ...a janitor?
    • ...something else?

    Please explain what this means to you, and how this will influence your actions as a moderator.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?
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  • $\begingroup$ Does question 5 imply that one could still be nominated even if one was suspended before and this question on meta.SE is nothing but a suggestion that is not enforced? $\endgroup$ – T. S Jul 20 at 23:40
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    $\begingroup$ @T.S The questionnaire asks about if you've ever been suspended. The policy coming from the meta.SE thread prohibits candidates who have been suspended in the past year (though this can be appealed under certain circumstances). $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Jul 20 at 23:55
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    $\begingroup$ This has got 2 downvotes! Does that signify that some users are not satisfied with the list of questions selected? $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 21 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Paramanand The downvotes could signify just about anything, absent any comments from the downvoters. I wouldn't worry about it; Some people gonna complain 'bout anything, especially when they can do so anonymously! This is not unusual in election threads. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jul 21 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexanderGruber: So if one was suspended two years ago, in principle, one could still be nominated, in principle. $\endgroup$ – T. S Jul 22 at 4:10
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    $\begingroup$ @T.S Yes. As I recall some nominees in the past have had past suspensions for minor issues, usually as a new user, but reformed their behavior enough to make a feasible run for mod. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Jul 22 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ For those who are unable to see the vote counts, as of 05:30 UTC time, Paramanand Singh's answer has 45 total votes, Matt Samuel's answer has 49 total votes, Brahadeesh's answer has 29 total votes, and Xander Henderson's answer stands at 45 total votes. I have done this to increase transparency over the answers, as a score of 1 is not useful when the total number of votes is unknown. $\endgroup$ – Toby Mak Jul 24 at 5:40
  • $\begingroup$ @TobyMak those numbers mean nothing unless you split them into upvotes and downvotes. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jul 25 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ Well, wouldn't that defeat the purpose of the vote counts privilege? You can still gain information just from the total number of votes: for example, if the score of a post is 0 and has 50 total votes, this means that half voted up and half voted down. $\endgroup$ – Toby Mak Jul 26 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ @TobyMak: I think your comment does help users who don't have the privilege to see vote count. But it asks such users to do a little math and solve equations like $x+y=a, x-y=b$. However one also needs to keep in mind that $a, b$ are changing with time. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 26 at 1:54
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    $\begingroup$ Fine, I'll update my comment to show both downvotes and upvotes. As of 02:30 UTC time, Paramanand Singh stands at +41/-8, Matt Samuel stands at +27/-25, Brahadeesh is at +24/-9, and Xander Henderson stands at +30/-22. $\endgroup$ – Toby Mak Jul 26 at 2:27
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    $\begingroup$ I must admit that despite people having their differences, I am very happy to see that most of the responses below are well thought out, people look well prepared to defend their arguments and stances on various issues. If this election is competitively fought , and people make well-informed choices then everybody is a winner! $\endgroup$ – Teresa Lisbon Jul 28 at 9:01
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Paramanand Singh

My Nomination


  1. Regarding actions by moderators, do you think that MathSE is (over/under)moderated? If so, can you elaborate on which aspects, why, and what would be your suggestions regarding this?

I don't think that it is over-moderated but looking at some meta threads it appears that there are users who believe it is being over-moderated and there are a very few users who believe that the over-moderation will lead to collapse of the community.

Let's dispel all such beliefs. The existing moderators are doing their job fine and I gathered from some comments in meta that this election is needed to get a few more hands. So I guess that there is some minor level of under-moderation.

Based on a comment from Asaf Karagila with over-moderation being interpreted as "a lot of questions being closed and deleted" I think there is indeed a lot of questions being closed / deleted. But then most of it is non-controversial and only a few get debated in meta. And moderators have a very crucial role in resolving the ensuing conflict in such debates.

Regarding involvement of moderators in closure / deletion please see my answer to no 8.

  1. Math.SE seems to, in practice, fulfill dual purposes: to be a repository of mathematical knowledge in a Q&A format, and a place for people to get specialist, individual help with mathematics. Often these purposes align, but sometimes they clash. Which do you see as the primary purpose of MSE? Please describe a situation, real or realistic, where the two purposes clash, and how you would preference one over the other.

This essentially means whether we want the site as a repository of high quality answers for mathematical questions or do we also pay regard to the learning aspect involved in interaction between asker and answerer and this brings us to the debate of context in questions.

I do seriously believe that the site being in Q&A format inherently involves interaction between asker and answerer. And askers need to put some effort to show sincerety/seriousness before expecting a great response.

A question with more context makes the overall thread more interesting and enjoyable to read. Let's not convert the site into something comparable to problem texts and solutions manual. Also by encouraging the learning / community aspect you can encourage askers to become active / longtime contributors.

Real situations showing conflict over context are available in many meta threads and I don't want to bring all details here and neither link any specific thread (to reactivate it unnecessarily). But in recent past there was a question which was of the challenging type and it was difficult for asker to show attempt. There was context available to motivate users to answer it, but something really went out of control and question got closed / reopened / bountied and two answerers got suspended. This is something which needs to be avoided at all costs.

The demand for context is to ascertain seriousness / sincerety of the asker but one should also observe that the context varies from question to question and there is subjective judgement involved to infer the asker's intent. In such situations patience is important for all the people involved.

Also see my answer to no 7.

  1. The CURED chatroom (formerly CRUDE) is extremely active and plays a large role in closing and deleting questions and answers.
    1. Are you aware of this chatroom?
    2. Do you think this chat room is healthy for this site, unhealthy, or somewhere in between? Please justify your answer.

I am aware of this chatroom and I was involved in it for a very brief amount of time (count it as almost zero if you wish).

I strongly believe that this chatrooms is absolutely necessary but by the nature of its activities it tends to generate a lot of unhealthy comments in meta threads and we have to get rid of that aspect.

The activities of CURED can be compared with the daily household chores which are needed to ensure a conducive environment in a typical home so that kids can have a great childhood and the earning members can focus on earning in their jobs. Daily chores involve good amount of labor and to be very frank it is a thankless job. Its importance is visible only when this activity stops. Exactly the same happens here with CURED. Perhaps we should try to understand the challenges of people involved in these activities, their motivation and their frustration. IMHO their only motivation is that they can not bear the sight of math.se filled with crappy content.

Try to imagine emails without spam filtering. These people are well intentioned and investing great amount of time to filter the spam which can't be handled by software and requires manual intervention.

Like other human beings they are not infallible but their actions need to be judged taking into account their perspective.

  1. What do you think is the biggest problem facing Math.SE in 2020, and how do you think we should approach it as a community, and as moderators?

I have highlighted in my nomination about the issue of heated debates in meta and that is what I consider as a big problem. The debates (and suspensions due to them) really hamper the morale of people involved and that affects their capacity to contribute here. This is primarily due to misunderstanding and erosion of trust between various groups of users involved in debates.

As a moderator one needs to convince users for reconciliation. This is possible if the root cause of the debate (say closure of a question) is understood. Here the moderators really need to disregard the reputation (real one and not just the points) of people involved and make a decision based on facts gathered from a deeper understanding of posts and comments involved.

For the community (those who aren't moderators), I think we need to put more effort in understanding the beliefs of the people in other group (with whom there is a debate). Apart from judging the statements factually also try to figure out what forced the other side to make those statements which you disagree with.

  1. Have you ever been suspended from this site or another StackExchange site? If so, please provide a description of the situation that led to the suspension, and how you have reacted to it. Would you have suspended a user for a similar behavior today?

Luckily No!! I can't imagine spending long durations (days or weeks or more) when I am not able to use this site.

  1. Moderators disagree with each other all the time on issues large and small. How will you deal with disagreement with other moderators? At what point do you reverse their actions?

The only approach is to discuss with other moderators. A discussion with honest intentions is always beneficial. I think reversing action of one moderator by another should be a rare thing. If during the discussions you get convinced that there is great difference between "what really happened" and "what should have happened" then you need to reverse the actions. But this is something one must try to avoid and do only as a last resort.

  1. In discussions about the quality of questions the word "context" is frequently invoked. The perception of "missing context" is the most frequently selected reason for closure of questions. What role should "context" play in assessing the quality and suitability of a question on Mathematics Stack Exchange? Ideally, please be explicit what you mean by "context" and discuss potential actions to be taken (or not taken), rather than giving an abstract answer.

The meaning of "context" is also dependent on the question involved ("context" itself is context dependent! Damn!). For the typical "run-of-the-mill" exercises coming from a textbook or assignment given by a teacher the "context" should refer to "asker's attempt". Such questions are designed to be solvable by majority of students and even a below average student can start answering if not solve them completely.

For challenging questions it may not be possible for the asker to show any significant attempts, but then one should include things like the source of the question and what makes it interesting for the asker and give a compelling reason for the community to get interested in answering it. All of this counts as context.

Questions without context should be closed. If some user thinks the question is really worth answering please use all your means to improve the question (engage with asker via comments, ask a new question with context based on this) and then answer it.

  1. When and how much do you think a moderator should get involved in activities such as undeleting, closing posts, or other stuff that normally would require more than a single user in order to be accomplished? Furthermore, as a moderator, would you change your approach regarding those activities in any way?

The site is designed in such a way that closure/deletion and review processes can be done efficiently without any moderator involvement. Since moderators vote is final/binding in these matters it should be used with caution. Moderators can and should get involved if closures / deletions leads to meta debates and flags.

I will compare this with the scenario of closing as duplicate. Users having gold badge for a specific tag can unilaterally close a question with that tag as a duplicate. I have used this feature many times but specifically for those questions of which I was personally aware (or made aware of via comment). Some caution needs to be exercised while closing dupes based on search in approach0 otherwise it leads to questions starting with "I had asked this earlier and it was closed as dupe. Believe me this is not a dupe and my question is really different...".

  1. How would you describe the primary role of a moderator? For example, is the primary role of a moderator to be...

    • ...a civil rights advocate?
    • ...a senator/congressman leading the formulation of policies?
    • ...a judge?
    • ...a UN Blue Beret, i.e. peace enforcement?
    • ...a detective, police officer?
    • ...a home plate umpire/referee (depending on whether baseball or association football is your sport)?
    • ...a janitor?
    • ...something else?

    Please explain what this means to you, and how this will influence your actions as a moderator.

While a moderator can be involved in all these roles I want to focus on the following

  • a judge
  • a congressman leading formulation of policies
  • peace enforcement

I may like to get involved in detective work (to get to the heart of the matter), but not so much in role of police officer dealing with criminals. I do believe that people here act in good faith and with good intentions.

The role of a judge is most evident here as time and again moderators will need to resolve conflicts. I would like my actions in this regard to based on facts rather than some perception of the users involved (this may involve detective work as mentioned earlier).

I have already mentioned about reducing heat in meta debates and this is primarily my view of peace enforcement. Please don't go overboard in comments and you can express opinions clearly without showing temper.

Leading formulation of policies is something which I look forward to. Often this does not mean new policies, but making tweaks or changes in existing ones as the community evolves.

The role of a janitor (close/delete questions) is best handled by the community and thanks a lot to CURED for the hard work already being done. Moderators should involve themselves only when there is a specific request for moderator intervention.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

Well, first of all let us feel lucky / fortunate to have contributors who have produced a steady stream of valuable answers. And then let us analyze the reasons for large number flagged comments. What drives contributors like these to write such comments? Is there some sort of frustration, anger etc that even after contributing so much the dream/goal has not been fulfilled/achieved? Once you understand this it is not difficult to make a decision and to get the highly contributing user agree to it.

A ban is only a temporary solution in these cases and long term solution revolves around giving some sense of fulfillment and satisfaction to such users.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for running for the election! I am happy to see you affirm that you are "ready to admit mistakes and improve on them" and "ready go an extra mile trying to ensure fairness". You didn't mention those points in this questionaire because it didn't ask you about it, but I feel they are the most important for a moderator. =) $\endgroup$ – user21820 Jul 21 at 7:31
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the third question. Is there any reason (other than time itself), in not getting involved there longer? Also, you're saying that because of the nature of it's activities the chatroom generates lots of unhealthy comments and we have to get rid of that, how do you think that can be achieved? And as a last question regarding this: There's also a chatroom, GENTLE, can you perhaps answer briefly 1. and 2. (from the third question) but regarding this chatroom? $\endgroup$ – Three Sided Coin Jul 21 at 8:44
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    $\begingroup$ I will add that I'm pleased to see you in this election, especially after seeing your approach of dealing with a meta post that called you out, here. I think there's been shown a nice display of humility and desire to learn, but most of all some enormous patience and I think this should be the main quality of moderators. $\endgroup$ – Three Sided Coin Jul 21 at 8:49
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    $\begingroup$ Re (1), I suspect (or rather, it is my interpretation) that "over-moderation" does not mean that diamond users get overly involved in the business of other people's questions and answers. Rather that too many questions are closed and deleted. How would you answer the same question from this angle? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 21 at 9:28
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    $\begingroup$ If you update your answer to (1), please leave the original one too. A big part of the objective of that question was to see the interpretations of the candidates about those matters. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jul 21 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe link from the nomination posts to this answer might be useful. (If the character limit on the nomination post permits.) Perhaps the other way round, too. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jul 21 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak: let me try to update both by adding links. Its done now! $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 21 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Zacky: well the activities in Cured are mostly about closure deletion and sometimes reopen and undelete it is bound to annoy those whose posts get closed or deleted. The only way out is for more open discussions and convince people involved (those who close/delete and those whose posts are affected). $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 21 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Zacky: considering its present state, it is a PSQ and let us further add that the problem is mathematically interesting. The easy option to deal with this would be a close vote, but a more appropriate option is to add some context (the contest it came from, what are thoughts of the asker, any attempts, or a solution from the official webpage and asking for alternative approach). Suppose instead that we opt to upvote the question. Inspired by this some new user A picks at random a math contest from past year and starts posting problems at an interval of 2-3 days and earns some reps. Cont'd... $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 22 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Zacky: and then A repeats the same behavior with some other contest from past. Contrast this with another user B who participated in this contest and was able to solve all problems except two. B posts these unsolved problems one by one at an interval of one week and gives some half baked attempt which did not work and B really wants to know if it can be made to work. I would welcome users like B and try to talk some sense into A so he/she changes behavior to something like that of B. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 22 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Zacky: It is not that I am against interesting problems. Who wouldn't want to look at such problems, give a little thought and effort to solve it and also look at wonderful solutions by others. That's an experience I want to have. But posing such problems as PSQ has an undesirable effect of encouraging users like A. I believe that even you would want to discourage posters like A in some manner. Please feel free to discuss. For me its never like "us vs them" because ultimately "we and they" want to bask in the pleasure offered by mathematics. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 22 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelRozenberg: I looked at all the questions posed by that user and all the questions (except the one you linked) show some evidence of effort and sincerely. The user also engages in comments. For the linked question there should have been an attempt to engage with asker to ask for some context, but instead you answered in full. I don't think people who will close/delete this question deserve a ban. Cont'd... $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 23 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelRozenberg: why be so trigger happy? I don't think you seriously want to ban users who do not share your philosophy, it is just the emotions coming out. When one is really entrusted the job of making tough decisions things change. I think an interaction with asker or the person who votes to close delete for a few minutes will resolve the issue to everyone's satisfaction. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 23 at 1:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Batominovski: did you try to engage in discussion with them or discuss the issue in meta or flag for moderator attention? I think by mutual discussion one could reach some sort of an agreement. I have also found that discussions of this sort on meta are often very harsh and usually with aggravating tone (from both sides). This is something which has to end absolutely and my main intent for running for the election. Only then something constructive can be done. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 23 at 7:03
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    $\begingroup$ @ParamanandSingh: Exactly. I always recommend that option, at least in the case where there is only one answerer, since that answerer can post a new good Q&A. Martin Sleziak has done this before (taking from a bad deleted question and posting a new good one with a solution) on multiple occasions and it was well received. Furthermore, such new questions can be stated mathematically precisely and often generalized beyond the original question and answer, making it far better than to keep the old thread. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Jul 23 at 9:48
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TheSimpliFire (my nomination)

  1. Regarding actions by moderators, do you think that MathSE is (over/under)moderated? If so, can you elaborate on which aspects, why, and what would be your suggestions regarding this?

I do not think Math.SE is considerably undermoderated since issues raised in the Math Mods' Office are usually resolved quickly and so are most questions on meta. Secondly, five of six review queues on the main site are consistently cleared and the only undermoderation with regards to the queues would be the Close Votes queue. On the other hand, I do not think Math.SE is overmoderated (for example, I believe the criteria for asking a good question are reasonable given the volume of traffic this site handles daily, and are not so strict that it would become extremely difficult to post a question without its eventual closure). Overall I would place the needle of the moderatometer at slightly under.

  1. Math.SE seems to, in practice, fulfill dual purposes: to be a repository of mathematical knowledge in a Q&A format, and a place for people to get specialist, individual help with mathematics. Often these purposes align, but sometimes they clash. Which do you see as the primary purpose of MSE? Please describe a situation, real or realistic, where the two purposes clash, and how you would preference one over the other.

I believe the primary purpose is to be a repository of mathematical knowledge.

A common conflict between the two purposes arises due to the closure of questions, when users who wish to retain and answer questions to offer help clash with users who wish to curate the site (since closure deprives the opportunity of answering). This is a very real situation and happens frequently. Overall, I believe the upkeeping of the site through curation is preferable to unchecked answering of questions, and I would contribute to the former by preserving good, high-quality content whilst encouraging low-quality question askers to make improvements (see question seven) and closing depending on the situation.

  1. The CURED chatroom (formerly CRUDE) is extremely active and plays a large role in closing and deleting questions and answers.
    1. Are you aware of this chatroom?
    2. Do you think this chat room is healthy for this site, unhealthy, or somewhere in between? Please justify your answer.

I am aware of the chatroom. I was a room owner for about a year there (while it was still CRUDE), and helped with the closure and deletion of many low-quality posts as well as the reopening of improved questions. This can be an efficient process especially with multiple members active in the room and can catch questions that have not been sent to the Close Votes review queue.

What goes on in the room is mostly healthy as it aids the curation of content through closing/reopening, (un)deleting and editing as the name suggests. Of course, this does not always go without disagreements and controversy as not everyone would agree to the principles set out in CURED. It is a right for each person to express their opinions, but it is equally important to ensure that there is no harassment to users in said expression. Over the duration in which I participated there, I did not observe many flags being raised.

  1. What do you think is the biggest problem facing Math.SE in 2020, and how do you think we should approach it as a community, and as moderators?

One of the main problems every year is the volume of low-quality questions posted on the site. I believe this may be exacerbated this year (and in upcoming years) partly as a consequence of the current health crisis, since assessments provided to students remotely allow for more cheating to occur. As a community we should continue to ask questions askers to improve their question, for example through adding context (see question seven), to flag and vote to close, to tackle review queues, and to potentially identify live contest problems posted on this site.

It should be remembered that moderators are still community members and thus the actions listed above should still be done (see question eight).

  1. Have you ever been suspended from this site or another StackExchange site? If so, please provide a description of the situation that led to the suspension, and how you have reacted to it. Would you have suspended a user for a similar behavior today?

No.

  1. Moderators disagree with each other all the time on issues large and small. How will you deal with disagreement with other moderators? At what point do you reverse their actions?

Communication is key; if a moderator disagrees with me I will try to understand their viewpoints and then identify any commonalities we share towards the situation. Where possible, I would propose a compromise between our viewpoints but if this doesn't work a vote on the two sides between the team could resolve the situation. This also helps to prevent the risk of escalation of tensions. Of course, for small and insignificant disagreements this would be unnecessary.

I will only reverse the actions of another moderator in extremely serious circumstances; that is, if

  • there is strong consensus within the team that this is necessary to do so;

  • their actions break the Code of Conduct.

  1. In discussions about the quality of questions the word "context" is frequently invoked. The perception of "missing context" is the most frequently selected reason for closure of questions. What role should "context" play in assessing the quality and suitability of a question on Mathematics Stack Exchange? Ideally, please be explicit what you mean by "context" and discuss potential actions to be taken (or not taken), rather than giving an abstract answer.

In my opinion, context plays an essential part of the quality and suitability of a question. This can come in the form of background, motivation (especially in recreational and original problems), the asker's attempts and identifying relevant works as well as explaining in detail how and in which parts they are relevant to the problem posed (this may more relevant to research-level questions in which case posting on MathOverflow would be a good option too).

Providing any of these shows that the asker has made some effort into tackling the problem, and in doing so any answers they receive may be understood much better (context allows users to answer at a level understandable to the asker).

I would expect that at least for homework problems, the asker's attempts would contribute much of the context of the question. Even when the asker is completely stuck, background can be given as homework problems are typically handed out after the relevant material has been taught.

Where no context is given, such as in a problem-statement question, I would encourage the asker through a comment, to provide as much context as they can. Apart from the generic "What have you tried?" et al., some specific guidance as to what to include is also useful; for example, asking the OP whether they know the relevant definitions.

If the asker engages with my comment and goes on to provide context then I'd say that this would be a win-win situation. If the asker does not make any efforts to improve their question despite advice, a close vote would be in order.

  1. When and how much do you think a moderator should get involved in activities such as undeleting, closing posts, or other stuff that normally would require more than a single user in order to be accomplished? Furthermore, as a moderator, would you change your approach regarding those activities in any way?

Closure on the main site:

  • If a post is an evident duplicate then it can be closed as such by a moderator immediately. This can be done whenever the moderator is active.

  • If a post is evidently not about mathematics/can be migrated to another site then it can be closed single-handedly. However, for borderline cases the community should decide first.

  • If a post is a problem-statement question and the asker does not engage in efforts to provide context (see question above) within a short period of time then it can be closed as missing context by a moderator. Usually by that time there will already be a few close votes so the moderator will not be the first to (vote to) close. This method can also be applied to posts that require further clarification.

Deletion on the main site:

  • Spam/rude or abusive posts warrant immediate deletion by a moderator.

  • For problem-statement questions a moderator should only cast the last deletion vote after evaluating the scenario.

As a moderator I will close/delete as said above, but they aren't hard rules. As for the frequency of such actions, I would say they can be done whenever the moderator is active on the site.

  1. How would you describe the primary role of a moderator? For example, is the primary role of a moderator to be...

    • ...a civil rights advocate?
    • ...a senator/congressman leading the formulation of policies?
    • ...a judge?
    • ...a UN Blue Beret, i.e. peace enforcement?
    • ...a detective, police officer?
    • ...a home plate umpire/referee (depending on whether baseball or association football is your sport)?
    • ...a janitor?
    • ...something else?

    Please explain what this means to you, and how this will influence your actions as a moderator.

I believe the primary roles of a moderator are a janitor and a peacekeeper, based on my experience as a moderator on Operations Research. So, speaking from that site, I mostly check that each question is up to standard and perform routine cleanup activities such as closing, deleting and editing posts (I've also developed a habit of editing poor MathJax in comments).

In rare occasions, arguments between users can develop. Usually they are quickly resolved by my posting a few comments but when things are not so well I invite them to chat (private if the situation deems necessary) to further mediate the situation. So far this has worked very successfully and the end outcomes have been positive.

Since Math.SE has many more users I would expect peacekeeping to play a larger part of moderation activities as there are greater chances of disagreement.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

I have dealt with this situation before, and my approach is generally that outlined in the second half of my answer to question nine. The exception is that if the comments are consistently rude or abusive then a suspension may be warranted.

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    $\begingroup$ Why did you wait to nominate yourself until the last possible day that you can? That gives some users, who can't make it here everyday no opportunity to consult you wrt your answers. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jul 26 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I have had several deadlines + meetings the past two weeks, I did not try to do so and do not see any benefit either. $\endgroup$ – TheSimpliFire Jul 26 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ I have a question, you are already a Mod on another SE network, why do you want to become a Mod here also? I mean what benefits we get, we can obviously choose a candidate who is not already a mod and give more time to MSE $\endgroup$ – Arjun Jul 26 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy voters have the entirety of next week to question a nominee's points and all of that. Please, this is unnecessary. $\endgroup$ – Catija Jul 26 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Arjun The reason I want to be a moderator here is help the community (partially to repay the help I've been provided over the past three years) -- MathSE has been the site I've dedicated most of my time. (My interests in operations research are naturally due to mathematics). I hope that my period of experience as a moderator elsewhere will be useful here as it has helped me improve my communication and teamwork skills, and OR.SE doesn't really take much time to moderate usually. By the way I'm glad you asked as I'm sure others might be thinking the same. $\endgroup$ – TheSimpliFire Jul 26 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ Actually I don't have anything against being a Mod on two SE networks, i just wanted to know the answer to why? .quid is a mod on more than one SE networks and he manages things pretty well, infact in the best way one could imagine of! So good luck ahead $\endgroup$ – Arjun Jul 26 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Arjun I didn't think you did, it was actually a good question that you raised. $\endgroup$ – TheSimpliFire Jul 26 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ @TheSimpliFire Since I asked this to other nominees, it's only fair that you get asked too. "Do you think my attempts at adding context to contextless questions because there are valuable answers at risk of being deleted an appropriate response to delete votes? If not, what can users who care about keeping knowledge repository do to prevent deletion? Are my actions too extreme? Should I be punished for such actions?" $\endgroup$ – Batominovski Jul 26 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Batominovski I think there are two cases here. The first case arises when the asker of a contextless question responds to comments asking to provide context, and insufficient context is provided such as "I know the epsilon-delta definition of a limit and have plugged in the parameters but don't know what to do with the inequality." Perhaps then you can edit the post, transcribing the definition and writing the inequality in full with the parameters plugged in, and that may save it from deletion. (1/2) $\endgroup$ – TheSimpliFire Jul 26 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ The second case is when the asker totally disengages or takes disregard of such comments, and I believe in this instance the question would not be worth saving. What could be done is to post the problem in a new question and then providing the context required, and self-answering can occur too. I understand your position on the repository of knowledge, but in my opinion it is important to balance such a repository with good content. (2/2) $\endgroup$ – TheSimpliFire Jul 26 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ I am happy to see that you are running again. I notice that, over the last year, your meta participation has been relatively low (my recollection is that you used to be quite active). I think that it is important for moderators to engage with meta. Do you intend to increase your meta participation in the future? Is there anything which explains your lack of meta participation which is likely to change if you are elected moderator? $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jul 27 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson Over the last year I've been much less active both on meta and on main (though more on meta) due to my MSc thesis submitted last year. This year I've been working on a few important projects with other people but expect to resume/significantly increase my activity from early September. Incidentally my PhD starts then but I had discussions with my supervisors and I should actually have more time than before. This doesn't give a complete excuse/justification; I have been very active on OR.SE but due to my mod status there I set out time for that and if elected will do so here. $\endgroup$ – TheSimpliFire Jul 27 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Several things to clarify here and I'll be as concise as I can. I believe I've already answered your first comment: "I have been very active on OR.SE but due to my mod status there I set out time for that and if elected will do so here." For your second comment, I am optimistic as my time management skills have dramatically improved since my disastrous timings of MSc projects and the like but if I do require so much time during the third year of my PhD that I simply can't moderate adequately I will let the team know I'm inactive which will probably be at most 2-3 months. (1/2) $\endgroup$ – TheSimpliFire Jul 28 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ And as for your last comment, you know that ever since I joined CRUDE I stopped answering PSQs following advice from people including yourself -- there may have been extremely rare exceptions after this time but as far as I remember I don't think I answered any. So please don't try to paint me as a continued culprit. I think I've been very clear on my stance on PSQs at least since 2019. (2/2) $\endgroup$ – TheSimpliFire Jul 28 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, @TheSimpliFire, you are right about the last point. In fact, I was temporarily confusing you with another user in that regard. Thanks for your replies. You have set my mind at ease, And I will vouch for the fact that you've been very selective in your answers for more than a year. Thanks for running. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jul 28 at 20:11
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Brahadeesh

Nomination profile


  1. Regarding actions by moderators, do you think that MathSE is (over/under)moderated? If so, can you elaborate on which aspects, why, and what would be your suggestions regarding this?

Overall, I think our site is moderated at the right level.

The current group of moderators seem to handle issues promptly and reasonably, and someone or the other from the team is usually available for a quick chat when required. As a team, they are neither invisible nor are they dominating. But, considering that elections are called, it seems they could use another hand on deck.

In some specific cases, I would have liked a different level of involvement from the team. Since this question asks to elaborate along with my suggestions, here are two examples:

  • The HNQ block-list. The discussions could have been handled much better in my opinion. I think the moderator team could have proposed the idea of a block list after coming up with data that a block list could be effective. I believe that the heated debates that we saw around that topic could have been reduced this way. This was an instance where the moderator team gave me an impression of being overbearing.
  • Reviewing. I think the current moderator team could take a greater role in reviewing questions. There is no doubt that the high rate of incoming questions means that several off-topic questions or duplicates slip through the gaps. Taking care of the clear-cut cases to begin with should be very helpful. So, reviewing is an area of under-moderation in my opinion.
  1. MSE seems to, in practice, fulfill dual purposes: to be a repository of mathematical knowledge in a Q&A format, and a place for people to get specialist, individual help with mathematics. Often these purposes align, but sometimes they clash. Which do you see as the primary purpose of MSE? Please describe a situation, real or realistic, where the two purposes clash, and how you would preference one over the other.

I think our site cannot be viewed as being primarily a repository.

The early questions and answers have created a peerless body of mathematical Q&A on the internet, no doubt about that. Today, however, in some areas we are faced with iteration after iteration of the same questions with minor changes (and sometimes not even that much). The abstract duplicates project is a great attempt to remedy this, but the task is too great for just that to be a solution.

The way I see it, we are firmly on the path of being a help site for individual learners with specific problems. Consequently, there is an important onus on the OP to provide the necessary context for the question. At the same time, I am sympathetic to the notion that good mathematical content in answers should be preserved.

So, I would close off-topic questions, but I would not delete a question if there is good mathematical content in the answers. I would reopen the question if sufficient context is added.

That was a general outline; as for a specific example, there are many instances of this kind of back-and-forth seen in the Reopen Requests Thread — maybe a good representative could be this recent one where sufficient context was added to a closed question to have it reopened. This is the kind of instance I would approve of.

  1. The CURED chatroom (formerly CRUDE) is extremely active and plays a large role in closing and deleting questions and answers.
    1. Are you aware of this chatroom?
    2. Do you think this chat room is healthy for this site, unhealthy, or somewhere in between? Please justify your answer.
  1. Yes, I am aware of the chatroom CURED.

    I have not posted in the chatroom, except for one or two instances, which are negligible. But I regularly read the transcript, so I am aware of the kind of requests posted there. I add my votes whenever I am in agreement, and refrain from voting when I disagree.

  2. I think the chatroom serves a healthy purpose, but the tone in it can be too abrasive for my liking at times.

    I think that CURED, just like the Reopen Requests Thread on meta, is a natural consequence of the site's large volume of daily questions — there are simply not enough eyeballs on new questions to catch all problems unless a coordinated effort is made.

    It is not unexpected that the room activities draw heated discussions. But it is the responsibility of everyone involved in a discussion to maintain civility. Perhaps having a moderator readily pingable in the room to weigh in on controversial requests would help ease the atmosphere in such instances. This is something that I am willing to devote time and energy to. I would gladly encourage more people to use CURED, and I would also not like to see anyone belittled there — whether they are a regular user of the room, or a newcomer who just had a post closed/deleted; all would benefit by gently recalling that reasonable people can also disagree.

  1. What do you think is the biggest problem facing Math.SE in 2020, and how do you think we should approach it as a community, and as moderators?

I'll go with the quality control problem as the biggest issue currently facing our site. This is because the pandemic has made so many institutions switch to online instruction. Our site is probably going to be flooded with even more low-quality questions due to this, but even worse is that a significant proportion of these would probably be cheating attempts. (Perhaps this is already happening, but I don't have any statistics to back that claim up.)

So, I think the biggest problem is whether we will be able to step up and ensure that not only does our site quality not drop, but will we be able to prevent blatant cheating on our site.

  1. Have you ever been suspended from this site or another StackExchange site? If so, please provide a description of the situation that led to the suspension, and how you have reacted to it. Would you have suspended a user for a similar behavior today?

No, I have never been suspended on this site or any other Stack Exchange site.

  1. Moderators disagree with each other all the time on issues large and small. How will you deal with disagreement with other moderators? At what point do you reverse their actions?

A disagreement usually means that we are approaching things from different points of view. The key is to find out through dialogue whether the differing points of view are fundamentally incompatible or not. Usually they are not, so some kind of a middle ground can be arrived at. I will always approach a discussion by believing in the good intentions of the other party, and try to see where they are coming from, while trying to make the reasons behind my position as clear as possible. I am sure that I will not lose my patience easily in a disagreement. It may take me a while for me to convey my intentions clearly, though, since English is not my native language.

In the rare case that the differing points of view are truly incompatible, things become difficult, of course. Any such disagreement would have to be very serious. I can't imagine such a disagreement arising except on points related to principles of mine that I hold very dear. Should such a scenario actually arise, I will evaluate whether I can follow through with the other moderator's view with a clear conscience. If so, I will go with it, but perhaps with some sadness. If not, I will present my resignation without any fuss or animosity, and request forgiveness from the team and the community for my inability to fulfil the duties I was entrusted with.

  1. In discussions about the quality of questions the word "context" is frequently invoked. The perception of "missing context" is the most frequently selected reason for closure of questions. What role should "context" play in assessing the quality and suitability of a question on Mathematics Stack Exchange? Ideally, please be explicit what you mean by "context" and discuss potential actions to be taken (or not taken), rather than giving an abstract answer.

Context is crucial, in my opinion.

If we were a repository of mathematical knowledge, then a contextless question would be quite alright so long as experts can give excellent canonical answers to it. Indeed, this has been the case several times in the site's early days as seen by the kind of content that was generated then.

Today, we are definitely offering something more close to a tutoring service. This makes context crucial. I understand that some questions can be inherently interesting, without the need for any context to back them up. But such questions are few and far between, and there is no harm in asking for some kind of context to be provided for them, to help everyone separate the wheat from the chaff. I think this is a reasonable compromise for everyone.

To give a related, but perhaps controversial, example, we expect that when people post a request on the Reopen Requests Thread, they should clearly reveal whether they have asked or answered that question. This is not because we suspect everyone of being motivated by reputation and that they just want their lost reputation back. It is because we recognize the reality that without such an agreement, people motivated solely by rep may very well flood the threads with dubious requests, and this will cause a huge pain for everyone, having to sift through the requests to try and determine which ones are genuine and worth giving attention to. Rather, we say, let everyone be upfront about whether they have some personal stake in their request or not.

Analogously, if a question is inherently interesting, that's great! Let's not be shy to add context for it, which should be fairly easy to generate anyway when compared to doing so for other unmotivated questions. It's a win-win for the community if we can agree to always have and request for context in our questions.

As for what context means to me, I subscribe to the types of context described in the FAQ for How to ask a good question. But, I would like to reorder the items listed there to give a different emphasis.

Firstly, I consider answering the following questions:

  • What is my background?
  • Where did the question come from?
  • What are the relevant definitions?

to be a must in nearly every question initially formulated as just a problem statement. Providing these pieces of context vastly improves nearly any such question. It's just a short step from there to:

  • Showing my attempts,

and from there to:

  • Pointing out where I'm stuck.

Covering this much ground would surely provide sufficient context for a question.

If the last two steps are difficult or not applicable, then another good method of providing context, especially for questions of a higher level, is to:

  • Describe the motivation behind the problem.

This should be possible (and encouraged) especially for questions about higher level mathematics.

Somehow, it seems to me that it is the OP's attempts that are always at the forefront of any discussion on context (maybe because it is the first item in the list in the FAQ linked previously?). Perhaps one way to encourage users to provide other forms of context is to create one or two templates of questions and add it to the FAQ. New users who look at that can then get a better sense of how and where each piece of context fits, rather than reading huge walls of text, which may be daunting for those whose first language is not English.

Lastly, regarding what kind of actions to take (or not to take), I think the baseline should be that a question that is precisely a problem statement and nothing more should be closed immediately. The close reason already provides information on how to provide context, but adding a comment when possible would also help. Since the laziest way to cheat is to directly copy a homework problem verbatim with no other effort, moving quickly to close in such cases would at least prevent the most blatant forms of cheating.

In general, if a question lacks sufficient context, I think it is important to engage the OP in the comments in order to tease out the relevant background. There is no shame in not knowing how to formulate a good question the first time around, since typically one can develop a sense for what is relevant context and what is not only with experience. If the OP does not wish to engage in the comments at all, then the question should be closed for lacking context.

I have seen that question askers who are genuinely interested in learning do provide context in the comments in replies to other users, even when they struggle to phrase their statements properly, either due to a lack of understanding or a language barrier. Such statements can be edited into the body, so I think this process would indeed benefit those who deserve it most.

  1. When and how much do you think a moderator should get involved in activities such as undeleting, closing posts, or other stuff that normally would require more than a single user in order to be accomplished? Furthermore, as a moderator, would you change your approach regarding those activities in any way?

I think if the particular case is clear-cut, then it is good for a moderator to undelete/close/etc. immediately. Since moderators are trusted to enforce site policies, I think doing this much is completely fine and should even be encouraged. The edge cases can be decided by 5 community votes, or with a moderator casting the final vote. For the edge cases, unless a close/reopen or delete/undelete cycle breaks out, there is no need to weigh in prematurely.

A further word: since a moderator's vote is binding, it would be preferable to leave feedback for the OP regarding why their question was closed (say), either before or after the vote is cast. With the new "follow" tool, it is possible to monitor questions more easily for updates, so closing quickly and reopening quickly should be within reach now, more so as compared to before.

While now I freely cast my votes without needing to know whether I am the final voter or not, I will change my approach along the lines I described above when voting as a moderator.

Lastly, there is always an element of subjectiveness in these criteria, and one also has to account for human error. So, while I promise to not be rash with my votes ever, I cannot claim infallibility merely due to the presence of a diamond next to my username. So, I will always be willing to re-evaluate my position if a user presents their arguments for why my vote was incorrect. If I am convinced, I will readily apologize for the inconvenience and reverse my vote, and keep the incident in mind to guide my future behaviour.

  1. How would you describe the primary role of a moderator? For example, is the primary role of a moderator to be...

    • ...a civil rights advocate?
    • ...a senator/congressman leading the formulation of policies?
    • ...a judge?
    • ...a UN Blue Beret, i.e. peace enforcement?
    • ...a detective, police officer?
    • ...a home plate umpire/referee (depending on whether baseball or association football is your sport)?
    • ...a janitor?
    • ...something else?

    Please explain what this means to you, and how this will influence your actions as a moderator.

Certainly a janitor, primarily.

As a close second, an umpire/referee, but the context might differ based on how rough the sport is... so, let me say a cricket umpire. Even in a 'gentleman's game', things can get heated up on occasion, but an umpire doesn't pull out red cards and yellow cards on the players. Similarly, a moderator is expected to intervene and defuse situations by smoothing things over as best as one can.

I think I will primarily spend time keeping the site clean by handling flags — the equivalent of mopping the floors, say. When I need to put my umpire cap on, I will be polite but firm, and impartial towards all the involved users. If I am not sure of the right action to take, or of whether my action will be viewed as unbiased, I will take the help of the other moderators on the team. (Even in cricket there are second and third umpires, after all.)

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

This is a difficult question.

I suppose I would start by alerting other moderators about the behaviour that I have observed, or have brought to my attention by some other users. Since they have been around for much longer than me and have more experience in dealing with such issues, I will request them to handle such issues, at least in the beginning. By observing how they successfully handle such events, I hope to gain experience and confidence to handle such situations in the future.

While I genuinely think this will be the most ideal way for me to learn to handle such situations as a moderator, it (a) sounds like a cop-out, and (b) may not be practical, in the sense that it's not everyday that one finds a valuable yet problematic user whose behaviour needs to be addressed.

So, based on my where I stand now, here's what I naively think I could do in such a situation:

  • Firstly, I would start by gathering evidence of a pattern of behaviour. Flags by other users would certainly be a useful starting guide, but I have seen some frivolous spam flags raised in chat, so that makes me wary of trusting flags blindly.

  • Then, assuming a pattern of behaviour is established, I would invite the user to a private chat. I would start by informing them of the fact that complaints have followed their behaviour on various threads, and I would describe to them general and specific instances of where their comments or actions were perceived poorly. I would allow them to speak freely about how they view these instances, because I will approach them not from an accusatory position, but one of trust in their good intentions (that are perhaps poorly conveyed).

  • I won't expect them to agree with my assessments in every or any instance. I will view my first goal to be to make sure that the views of the community (as defined by the various complaints) are conveyed and understood, and my second goal is to hear that user's response/objections/feelings to the community's feedback; more specifically, to hear and also make the user feel heard.

  • Then, I hope to be able to provide concrete, actionable feedback that they can make use of. I will listen to what they think of said feedback, and respond to them. I will encourage them to contact me first (and to remember to contact me) the next time they are involved in an interaction where such behaviour could repeat.

  • I view my broad goal as being to provide an avenue for the user to be a productive member of this community, not merely prolific.

I fully expect such interactions to be tiring and/or draining. Even so, I choose to run for moderator because I have a desire to help make this site succeed. I also trust in the moderator team to have my back should I require a breather at any point of time.

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    $\begingroup$ Can't see how the moderator could participate more in reviewing. They could close/reopen vote singlehandedly. $\endgroup$ – Arctic Char Jul 21 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ @ArcticChar I close vote in the review queue single handedly on a regular basis. The size of the queue grows exponentially without diamond participation. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Jul 21 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderGruber I really do not know this, I thought you and quid mainly close vote via CURED. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Arctic Char Jul 21 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ @ArcticChar No one can directly close from CURED. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jul 21 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the third question. Is there any particular reason why you refrain from voting when you disagree there? Also about this phrase: "I would also not like to see anyone belittled there", have you seen such a case there? If yes, would you approach the situation differently as a moderator than like you did at that time? $\endgroup$ – Three Sided Coin Jul 22 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ I would also like to put a more direct question in order to understand your view regarding contest question. How would you deal with this case? And in particular what action should be taken towards that post? (I'm asking about the actual state, and taking into consideration that it was answered at the time the contest was active). $\endgroup$ – Three Sided Coin Jul 22 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ I'll also add that I'm glad to see you running here, seeing your activity in meta especially, I've formed a impression that you certainly have what it takes to accomplish what you said to be the primary role of a moderator (janitor), moreover I always felt impartiality and patience coming from your posts and I appreciate that. $\endgroup$ – Three Sided Coin Jul 22 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ Even though you don't have 10k reputation, given that you already have an opinion formed: "I would close off-topic questions, but I would not delete a question if there is good mathematical content in the answers. I would reopen the question if sufficient context is added." I think there will be no problem adjusting to new deletion/undeletion privelegies. $\endgroup$ – Three Sided Coin Jul 22 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ Please feel free to ask follow-up questions if anything I said requires more clarification. And thank you for your support @Zacky :) $\endgroup$ – Brahadeesh Jul 22 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ (2) I am aware that GENTLE exists as a consequence of the activities in CURED. I am sympathetic to the notion that off-topic questions having good mathematical answers needn't be deleted, though they should be closed. I believe this stance places my views in alignment with the stated goal of GENTLE. So, I think the activities of GENTLE are also helpful to the site; the fact that the same requests sometimes appear in both CURED and GENTLE does not contradict (in my mind) the fact that both are working for the good of the site. $\endgroup$ – Brahadeesh Jul 22 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ I think some users feel that it is better/more honest to re-ask such a question with your own context, and then request merging if need be. I think it's great if someone goes the extra mile and does this, but I don't think your approach is incorrect either. One caveat I would like to add is: I don't intend to suggest that my stance gives someone the license to answer off-topic questions of any sort just so that they can be improved and undeleted later in this manner. Sticking to only improving "old" (for a reasonable definition of "old") questions in this manner might be good. $\endgroup$ – Brahadeesh Jul 22 at 20:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Brahadeesh: Thank you very much for your responses! I don't have any more questions for now. Also thank you for your desire to have open and detailed discussion on these issues. It makes my questions disappear. =) $\endgroup$ – user21820 Jul 23 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ ...even in the face of disagreement from some users. Being wishy-washy and trying to tell everyone what they want to hear, when you will never be able to side with every one of them, is not the sign of a good leader. I want to know where you stand, not what you say to please everyone. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jul 24 at 1:34
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I’m sorry you feel that way. I did not mean to give an impression of being a people-pleaser. I understand that even though I meant all my words, there could be blind spots in my thinking. I take it that you find my stance on large edits designed to add context to be wavering? $\endgroup$ – Brahadeesh Jul 24 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ @vidyarthi No, that user was never a moderator. You can see the list of all former moderators here. $\endgroup$ – Arnaud D. Jul 30 at 12:34
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heropup

My nomination link

  1. Regarding actions by moderators, do you think that MathSE is (over/under)moderated? If so, can you elaborate on which aspects, why, and what would be your suggestions regarding this?

In one respect, Math.SE is under-moderated in the sense that there appears at times to be a backlog of flagged content that should be relatively straightforward to resolve. Having more moderators might reduce the response time. I’ve not personally encountered a situation in which I felt over-moderation was occurring. I suspect that what some users (in particular, new users) interpret as moderator activity is actually the action of other users without moderator intervention.

  1. MSE seems to, in practice, fulfill dual purposes: to be a repository of mathematical knowledge in a Q&A format, and a place for people to get specialist, individual help with mathematics. Often these purposes align, but sometimes they clash. Which do you see as the primary purpose of MSE? Please describe a situation, real or realistic, where the two purposes clash, and how you would preference one over the other.

The primary purpose of Math.SE is to be a resource for those interested in mathematics at a non-professional level. To the extent that the “knowledge base” and “interactive forum” paradigms facilitate this objective is not as important as having users understand that the most effective way to do and learn mathematics is to try. What I mean by this is that mathematics is about the application of ideas in search of a solution, many of which will fail, and it is imperative that one not be discouraged by those failures. Therefore, we are right in expecting that the asker of a question should be open to this mode of learning, irrespective of whether they choose to go about it by developing a well-posed, self-contained question, or by trying to engage in a dialogue with other users. Within both approaches, there are good and bad examples of user behavior.

  1. The CURED chatroom (formerly CRUDE) is extremely active and plays a large role in closing and deleting questions and answers.
  1. Are you aware of this chatroom?

Yes, I am aware of, but have not participated in, this chatroom.

  1. Do you think this chat room is healthy for this site, unhealthy, or somewhere in between? Please justify your answer.

I do not think the answer is as simple as calling this chatroom “healthy” or “unhealthy.” The existence of CURED is a natural consequence of the way question closure due to lack of context is currently designed to work on Math.SE. No system of review is perfect, in as much as no site in general is perfect with respect to achieving the goal of facilitating learning. Ideally, such a chatroom would not need to exist because users will take the time to first acquaint themselves with the Math.SE model of discourse and its community guidelines, and to take the time to step back and think about what it means to ask a good question and to show effort. If those who wish to ask a question do not have this time, I believe other sites employing a different approach would be more well-suited for their needs. But that is not to suggest that the Math.SE model ought to be changed to serve those needs, because there are (many) others who are clearly and abundantly well-served by what is done here.

  1. What do you think is the biggest problem facing Math.SE in 2020, and how do you think we should approach it as a community, and as moderators?

The debate over how to address PSQs and the closure of questions deemed lacking context is, I would say, a longstanding one, and one that remains the primary point of contention today. Ultimately, the philosophy against PSQs is, for myself at least, rooted in a firm belief that answering questions lacking any earnest effort is ultimately a disservice to the one asking the question, and inconsistent with the fundamental principles of mathematical pedagogy for the reason stated above. To learn math is as much, if not more, about developing problem-solving skills and honing one’s mathematical thought processes, as it is about building knowledge of theorems and arriving at answers. As such, the student or learner is not served by obtaining a fully-formed answer to a question that has not been given much, if any, prior thought or careful examination.

I consider the argument that closure of PSQs or the like is primarily an anti-cheating measure to be largely beside the point. Those who wish to cheat on homework or exams or contests have no shortage of ways of doing so within and without Math.SE; many questions already answered and stored here, for instance, have been reassigned as homework problems. We are not, and cannot serve as, enforcers of the student’s conscience. What we are, however, is a resource that strives through example (with the occasional firm nudge) to reinforce the aforementioned philosophy of learning mathematics. If that is not palatable to the student, we cannot force them to comply; but that is not in itself evidence that this philosophy is wrong and must be changed.

Now more than ever, we should remain steadfast in our conviction that the best way to help others learn mathematics is to show (through upholding examples of good questions and answers) how this problem-solving process unfolds. The more we answer PSQs, the more we send the wrong signal that developing mathematics proficiency is simply a matter of being fed answers to textbook questions; that intellectual laziness will be rewarded, hence one never needs to struggle and fail because someone else will solve your problem.

  1. Have you ever been suspended from this site or another StackExchange site? If so, please provide a description of the situation that led to the suspension, and how you have reacted to it. Would you have suspended a user for a similar behavior today?

No.

  1. Moderators disagree with each other all the time on issues large and small. How will you deal with disagreement with other moderators? At what point do you reverse their actions?

Disagreements should be resolved through communication. I would not reverse the actions of others unless it is a clear abuse of Stack Exchange guidelines, or unless there is substantial agreement from other moderators that such action is necessary. Rather, it is more fruitful to engage in dialogue to arrive at consensus or mutual understanding.

  1. In discussions about the quality of questions the word "context" is frequently invoked. The perception of "missing context" is the most frequently selected reason for closure of questions. What role should "context" play in assessing the quality and suitability of a question on Mathematics Stack Exchange? Ideally, please be explicit what you mean by "context" and discuss potential actions to be taken (or not taken), rather than giving an abstract answer.

Please first refer to my answer to Questions #3 and #4 above. That said, I think that “context” is ultimately an inherently subjective notion that exists on a spectrum, and the standard to which any individual user considers a question to lack adequate context varies from person to person. This is one of the reasons why it takes 5 votes to close a question. I personally feel that PSQs do a disservice to the asker as well as to the site. The proliferation of such questions is undesirable, and answering these questions encourages further PSQs. I do not think it is too high a bar to set to expect that users should read and understand the community guidelines, and to make a good faith effort to explain not merely what they tried, but what they know. I have seen numerous instances of users having their questions closed, only to repost the exact same question with no modifications, thinking that this site works like a forum. This suggests that we have failed to make the expectations of participation sufficiently clear. I would recommend finding ways to further encourage new users to take additional time to understand how the site works and what is expected of them. Many new users are in a hurry to have their questions answered—“help me, my homework is due tomorrow and I have no idea what any of this means”—and it is not our job to try to rescue them at this late stage. Students should know better than to wait until the last moment to ask for help, and furnishing instant answers only reinforces their misguided belief that there exist easy solutions to all problems in life.

  1. When and how much do you think a moderator should get involved in activities such as undeleting, closing posts, or other stuff that normally would require more than a single user in order to be accomplished? Furthermore, as a moderator, would you change your approach regarding those activities in any way?

Aside from addressing content flagged for moderator intervention, I think moderators should have relatively minimal involvement in actions that are typically performed by established users. This is the reason for having a reputation system and tying user capabilities to reputation. Moderators cannot and should not do all the work of curating content; all Stack Exchange sites are designed with this in mind, and for the most part, this works well. I see no urgent reason to change this approach.

  1. How would you describe the primary role of a moderator? For example, is the primary role of a moderator to be...

    • ...a civil rights advocate?
    • ...a senator/congressman leading the formulation of policies?
    • ...a judge?
    • ...a UN Blue Beret, i.e. peace enforcement?
    • ...a detective, police officer?
    • ...a home plate umpire/referee (depending on whether baseball or association football is your sport)?
    • ...a janitor?
    • ...something else?

    Please explain what this means to you, and how this will influence your actions as a moderator.

The moderator’s primary role is to ensure that the site operates according to the community guidelines; to maintain civility, resolve disputes, and be open to user feedback. Unlike some other SE sites--and perhaps this is due to similar cultural attitudes among mathematicians--Math.SE moderators seem to take a hands-off approach in areas of advocacy and policymaking, preferring instead to leave this to regular users to shape. I see no reason to do otherwise. One other thing I have observed is that users who have become moderators seem to post fewer answers than before they became moderators, presumably due to having additional duties. I think that is unfortunate, as I greatly enjoy explaining and teaching mathematics. I hope to continue to do so.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

Honestly, I don’t know because I have never been a moderator. I would need to first discuss the matter with other moderators as well as the user in question, to explore potential avenues for resolution; and should there continue to be such behavior, then we would proceed according to what the moderators as a whole believe would best serve the community. On a personal note, I do not think that one needs to be argumentative or rude in order to be a productive community member, and that a corpus of valuable answers is not a defense against lack of basic courtesy.


Edit to address the variant of Question #1 posted in the comment below:

Re (1), I suspect (or rather, it is my interpretation) that "over-moderation" does not mean that diamond users get overly involved in the business of other people's questions and answers. Rather that too many questions are closed and deleted. How would you answer the same question from this angle?

As I have previously stated, Math.SE is not and has never been designed to be, a web forum. The model it uses is intrinsically different than the more conversational quality of, say, the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS), which is itself a very fine site and a fantastic resource for many students. The reputation, question-asking, answering, and moderation systems are designed to maintain certain standards of quality, not only in order to be an effective resource for those seeking assistance, but also to facilitate efficient and thoughtful responses from subject matter experts. Although there is some flexibility built into this model (such as comments and chat), the core functionality has been in service of this objective, and I suspect that the disagreement about "over-moderation" in the sense of closure and deletion of many posts is due to differences in philosophy regarding what constitutes an effective Stack Exchange site.

Throughout such conversations about how Math.SE should operate, there has been one constant truth, which is that virtually everything that is posted here is contributed voluntarily. Nobody can force or coerce anyone to ask a question or post an answer. The knowledge stored here is the result of a vast amount of volunteer effort. People freely give their own precious time and knowledge out of a desire to be helpful, and that desire should be held with respect and appreciation. To demand or expect that the model be changed because it doesn't meet one's needs, when there exist other resources that might be more suitable, does not strike me as appropriate. That is not to say there is no room for improvement, but to say too many questions are closed or deleted, when the expectations for what constitutes a good question are very clearly laid out from the very outset, does not seem to be a suggestion made in good faith.

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    $\begingroup$ I have added a link to your post in the meta question here as per the convention being followed. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Jul 27 at 1:48
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    $\begingroup$ Re (1), I suspect (or rather, it is my interpretation) that "over-moderation" does not mean that diamond users get overly involved in the business of other people's questions and answers. Rather that too many questions are closed and deleted. How would you answer the same question from this angle? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 27 at 7:37
  • $\begingroup$ @heropup Since I asked this to other nominees, it's only fair that you get asked too. "Do you think my attempts at adding context to contextless questions because there are valuable answers at risk of being deleted an appropriate response to delete votes? If not, what can users who care about keeping knowledge repository do to prevent deletion? Are my actions too extreme? Should I be punished for such actions?" $\endgroup$ – Batominovski Jul 27 at 10:44
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    $\begingroup$ "The more we answer PSQs, the more we send the wrong signal that developing mathematics proficiency is simply a matter of being fed answers to textbook questions...." And what, if anything, do you propose to do, as a moderator, about this? $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 27 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ As far as I can tell, you have not been terribly active on meta. According to your profile, you have asked 1 question and provided 5 answers. Your last comment was more than a year ago (though I think it is a good one :D ). Do you think that your lack of engagement with meta is going to be an issue? $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jul 27 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson Part of the reason why I have not participated much on meta is because I felt that most of the discussions were on topics that I did not think I had much to contribute. It's easier for me to talk about concrete things like mathematics, and not so easy to navigate more subjective issues. But when I do see something that is important, where my input is likely to be welcomed, I do try to provide a fair assessment of the matter. $\endgroup$ – heropup Jul 28 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I think discouraging the answering of PSQs through the existing closure mechanism should continue. I also think there ought to be a better way to be more responsive to obvious PSQs, because many are answered well before there are enough close votes cast. This, I think, is the reason for CURED; but it is by no means an ideal approach. Perhaps a change in whether answers are visible based on a combination of reputation, number of close votes, and days elapsed? Above all, I am open to suggestions. $\endgroup$ – heropup Jul 28 at 1:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Batominovski I think it really depends on the specific circumstances of the post, so it is difficult for me to make generalizations. That said, I do wish to point out that "context" here is not merely a product of the question itself, but also the person who originally asked it. What was their specific issue they struggled with? What level of mathematical knowledge did they have? You could add your own context after the fact, and in some cases this could justify retention, but this doesn't address the original intent, and in some cases, could distort it. $\endgroup$ – heropup Jul 28 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ @heropup Thank you for the reply. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jul 28 at 2:54
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    $\begingroup$ What means PSQ? $\endgroup$ – J.-E. Pin Jul 28 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ @J.-E.Pin It means a Problem Statement Question (so something of the form "solve this", with no context or effort shown). $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jul 28 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, that's surprising. I previously thought that PSQ means Poorly Stated Question. Thanks for clarification @user1729 $\endgroup$ – user811107 Jul 29 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe adding link to this post might make navigation for users a bit easier. (I think most of the candidates have already done that.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jul 29 at 8:18
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Matt Samuel

My nomination post


  1. Regarding actions by moderators, do you think that MathSE is (over/under)moderated? If so, can you elaborate on which aspects, why, and what would be your suggestions regarding this?

Current answer, updated after comment : It seems to me that people are too eager to close questions with the missing context close reason, and this is evident in the review queues, where many questions that in my opinion are fine are in the queue. I do also think a large amount of deletion is going on that is unwarranted, mostly facilitated by the CURED chat room, where dozens of requests to delete are posted per day.

I can't control what users do, nor could I as a moderator, and everyone has their own opinion. I feel though that people could be more forgiving to askers who post their first question without "context" and not vote to close immediately (or at all). Give them a chance. Regarding the deletion, I think questions with good answers should not be deleted, regardless of whether they have "context" or not.

Original answer: I have encountered, anecdotally, moderators that have deleted questions when there were votes to reopen, rendering the question dead because no one but a moderator could undelete it. I think deleting as a moderator is something that should be done sparingly because it cannot be undone. It should not be done solely because the moderator thinks the post is of low quality, if there are people who disagree; low quality posts should be deleted by users.

  1. Math.SE seems to, in practice, fulfill dual purposes: to be a repository of mathematical knowledge in a Q&A format, and a place for people to get specialist, individual help with mathematics. Often these purposes align, but sometimes they clash. Which do you see as the primary purpose of MSE? Please describe a situation, real or realistic, where the two purposes clash, and how you would preference one over the other.

I see the primary purpose of MSE to be a repository of answers to questions about mathematics, and I see the individual help as a byproduct. I'd guess it's fairly common for a person to be unable to find what they want because of lack of access to proper search tools, so they may come to this site and ask a question that perhaps ends up being a duplicate. If it is closed as a duplicate, they may feel that they did not receive help, but the repository is kept clean.

  1. The CURED chatroom (formerly CRUDE) is extremely active and plays a large role in closing and deleting questions and answers.
    1. Are you aware of this chatroom?
    2. Do you think this chat room is healthy for this site, unhealthy, or somewhere in between? Please justify your answer.

I generally leave a browser window open to this chat room so I can monitor the activities. I have also participated, mostly in requesting reopenings and undeletions, requests that are sometimes accomodated. I think the idea of the CURED chat room is fine, but in practice I think there are too many closures and deletions. On the healthiness scale I'd say it is leaning more towards unhealthy due to the removals I've seen of many questions that I believe do not deserve deletion. It is somewhat mitigated by the rule that only 12 closure requests and 12 deletion requests can be posted per user per day.

  1. What do you think is the biggest problem facing Math.SE in 2020, and how do you think we should approach it as a community, and as moderators?

I think the main problem is the poor treatment of new users, especially since there are so many new users these days. Even if we are to assume that context in the sense used on this site is required, little chance is given for context to be added before the question is closed, and anecdotally from the reviews I've observed many users do not vote to reopen even after context is added to a closed question. The idea that a poor question can be improved and will subsequently be reopened seems to me to be very far from the truth in most cases. Only one chance is given to improve the question before it can be reasonably expected to be reopened, and afterwards further improvements will not end up on anybody but the most interested's radar. The "one-chance" aspect will not change as that is built into the software, but I think reviewers could stand to be more open to reopening.

  1. Have you ever been suspended from this site or another StackExchange site? If so, please provide a description of the situation that led to the suspension, and how you have reacted to it. Would you have suspended a user for a similar behavior today?

I have never been suspended from any StackExchange site.

  1. Moderators disagree with each other all the time on issues large and small. How will you deal with disagreement with other moderators? At what point do you reverse their actions?

I would hope the people who are elected as moderators should be cool-headed enough to reach a consensus given disagreements. I would bring up my concern with the moderator in question and discuss it. I think it is only worth reversing it if we can reach an agreement, since otherwise the same moderator could redo the action I undid.

  1. In discussions about the quality of questions the word "context" is frequently invoked. The perception of "missing context" is the most frequently selected reason for closure of questions. What role should "context" play in assessing the quality and suitability of a question on Mathematics Stack Exchange? Ideally, please be explicit what you mean by "context" and discuss potential actions to be taken (or not taken), rather than giving an abstract answer.

I have a definition of "context" that is different from what most users who close questions using the "missing context" closure reason mean. I think a question has sufficient context if it is clear enough to answer. I think the alternative definition of "context," that being thoughts on the problem, an attempt, a reason why a problem is important, or otherwise some justification that would make these users feel justified in answering the question, is often not useful to apply to determine whether questions on this site should be closed. I think a reason for the problem being important need not be included, though it cannot hurt. I also think an attempt, while sometimes useful in determining how to answer, is generally not necessary and may even muddy the question to make it harder to answer. I think that if a user feels that a question is lacking some detail that they would rather it have, they can downvote the question and leave a comment rather than vote to close it. I don't think that if I am elected my policies will suddenly be implemented universally and likely for many users not a lot will change, but I think it would at least be good that the camp that thinks that a question being clear is sufficient context will be represented.

  1. When and how much do you think a moderator should get involved in activities such as undeleting, closing posts, or other stuff that normally would require more than a single user in order to be accomplished? Furthermore, as a moderator, would you change your approach regarding those activities in any way?

As I've said above I think deletion by a moderator should be avoided unless it is of obviously inappropriate posts. Closing by a moderator can be undone, so a moderator may go through the review queue and if there are already several votes to close the moderator could cast the last vote. Deleting by a moderator may be appropriate if there is a delete/undelete war, but I think more often it would be appropriate to lock the post.

As a moderator as opposed to a normal user I would definitely change my approach to these activities and intervene minimally. I'd expect to cast the fourth or fifth vote on closure if at all, and only delete truly problematic posts.

  1. How would you describe the primary role of a moderator? For example, is the primary role of a moderator to be...

    • ...a civil rights advocate?
    • ...a senator/congressman leading the formulation of policies?
    • ...a judge?
    • ...a UN Blue Beret, i.e. peace enforcement?
    • ...a detective, police officer?
    • ...a home plate umpire/referee (depending on whether baseball or association football is your sport)?
    • ...a janitor?
    • ...something else?

    Please explain what this means to you, and how this will influence your actions as a moderator.

I think a moderator's primary purpose is to resolve conflicts and in general handle flags. I think formation of policies would also be an important aspect of the job as a representative of the user base, and I think my views would allow for representation of a group on the site that is currently, in my opinion, underrepresented.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

I think regardless of whether a user produces this steady stream of valuable answers, primarily we all have to get along with one another. I think this also depends on the nature of the arguments/flags. Sometimes a back and forth discussion is appropriate, but it should be moved to chat. If the flags are along the lines "rude/abusive" or a large number of "unfriendly/unkind" flags, I would approach the user and remind them of the "be nice" policy. If the problem persists and is bad enough, I may threaten a suspension, and subsequently proceed on further persistence.

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    $\begingroup$ How do you propose to allow more time for new askers to improve their questions, while barring home-work-solvers from answering? One is not going to happen without the other. Your stated position in this case reveals you don't understand the complexity of the problem. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jul 21 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I don't think people should be prevented from answering such questions. I think we have different goals here. What you see as improvement, i.e. adding "context," could be seen by others as unnecessary noise. $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Jul 21 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ I sympathize with some of your points; however, this, to me, is a bad sign: I can't control what users do, nor could I as a moderator, and everyone has their own opinion. Moderators must be leaders. Do you intend to abstain from influencing the community? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Jul 21 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderGruber I would certainly want to influence, but influence $\neq$ control. In the end everyone makes their own decision. $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Jul 21 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I was simply making my name more prominent and separating it from the nomination link. No substantive changes. $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Jul 22 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ "I think the main problem is the poor treatment of new users, especially since there are so many new users these days." That statement alone might be enough to secure my vote. +1 $\endgroup$ – Theo Bendit Jul 22 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ @user21820 No, I do not support cheating. You should see my responses to Asaf Karagila's questions on my nomination. I think we should not assume cheating with no proof, but I think if there is proof we should shut down the cheating. I don't think we should automatically assume that a PSQ is cheating. $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Jul 22 at 9:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Batominovski I've been following your case. I saw in the math mod chat room a user ask if it was appropriate to flag questions edited to include context that was not provided by the OP, and a moderator said yes, it was appropriate. I assumed this was about you. I don't see an issue with adding your own context to someone else's question to prevent it from being deleted, as long as you don't change the nature of the question. The only harm I could see would be ending up with upvotes on the question that the OP didn't "deserve," but I personally don't see an issue with that. cont. $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Jul 22 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Batominovski The only purpose of this policy that I'd see would be to "punish" users who ask "bad" questions, which doesn't seem constructive to me, because I don't see that that necessarily makes them problem users. $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Jul 22 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your support, @HarishChandraRajpoot. $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Jul 23 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ @MattSamuel I see the point of giving new users time to fix a problematic question. But how do you hope to get the answerers to play along, and also wait? In my opinion speedy closures are mostly to stop the answers. After all, a question on hold is open for improvements. Anyone fighting against closures is really just pretending to help the asker and, in fact, is mostly trying to keep a window of opportunity open for the answerers (who are usually veterans of the site, and in no need of particular help). $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Jul 24 at 5:11
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    $\begingroup$ To add to the comment by @Jyrki, there is some anecdotal evidence of people who never bother improving their questions, because why would they? The answers keep coming. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 24 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen In practice, I've noted (also anecdotally though) that even if the question gets improved, I don't see them often getting reopened. It seems to me to be a false promise that improving the question will get them an answer. $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Jul 24 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Zacky Thanks for your support. I used context there in the sense I don't usually use. I still think the question should be clear, but I don't think it needs an attempt or an explanation of why the problem is important. $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Jul 25 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ I await the arrival of users SevenFacedDie, FiftyThreeCardDeck, and EightyNineKeyPiano. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 25 at 23:54
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Xander Henderson

My nominating post.


(As an aside, the timing of this election is quite bad for me. I am traveling this week, and am likely to be out of touch frequently. I'll try to keep up on this thread, but don't expect quick responses, please.)

  1. Regarding actions by moderators, do you think that MathSE is (over/under)moderated? If so, can you elaborate on which aspects, why, and what would be your suggestions regarding this?

Regarding the actions of diamond moderators, I think that the current moderating team is doing a fine job. My biggest complaint is that several of the moderators don't seem to be very active, and that it sometimes takes a while to get a response from anyone on the moderating team. This is, frankly, a minor gripe. I also don't think that my election would do much to address this gripe, as much of it is an issue (I think) of timezones.

Regarding the moderating actions of non-diamond moderators (i.e. pretty much anyone with more than a couple of thousand reputation), I think that there are some problems of undermoderation. Math SE receives hundreds of new questions every day. A very large proportion of these questions are either of very low quality or are duplicates of previously answered questions. And yet, these questions often get answers very shortly after they are posted, many times from users with high reputation scores. This represents a failure of community moderation: answerers who could be helping to improve the overall quality of the site (by finding good duplicates or helping the asker to improve their question) are, instead, firing off rapid answers.

  1. Math.SE seems to, in practice, fulfill dual purposes: to be a repository of mathematical knowledge in a Q&A format, and a place for people to get specialist, individual help with mathematics. Often these purposes align, but sometimes they clash. Which do you see as the primary purpose of MSE? Please describe a situation, real or realistic, where the two purposes clash, and how you would preference one over the other.

I think that the primary role of Math SE is to serve as a repository. As I said in my self-nomination, I think that Math SE works best when a user doesn't even have to create an account in order to get an answer to their question: the content they need is delivered to them by a search engine.

Frankly, I think that this is the thing which distinguishes Math SE from other sites on the internet, such as reddit, Quora, Ask Yahoo!, etc. These other sites are built to facilitate one-on-one interaction, without much regard for long-term accessibility or database management. If an asker really wants quick, individualized help, those sites exist. Math SE is different, and I think it should remain so.

Unfortunately, maintaining this repository requires both work (on the part of janitors and archivists, who prune low-quality content and cross-link duplicate content), and restraint (on the part of folk who know the answer, and may just want to post it).

  1. The CURED chatroom (formerly CRUDE) is extremely active and plays a large role in closing and deleting questions and answers.
    1. Are you aware of this chatroom?
    2. Do you think this chat room is healthy for this site, unhealthy, or somewhere in between? Please justify your answer.

I am familiar with CURED, as well as GENTLE and the Pearl Dive, and actively participate in all three of these "quality control" chatrooms.

I do not see anything particularly unhealthy about either of these chatrooms, per se. Rather, I think that they are symptomatic of (1) a problem with quality control, and (2) a deep divide in the community about what constitutes quality.

I will note that CURED is often maligned as a place where robotic closure and deletion happens. For those that believe that this is the case, I would invite you to participate for a few days. I believe that most people would find 95%+ of the closures and deletions suggested in CURED to be entirely uncontroversial—these are the kinds of questions which would be automatically deleted by the software, except for the existence of an answer or upvote.

Let me also take this opportunity to advertise the work that is done in the Pearl Dive. In the comments, below, it has been noted that I have a track record of downvoting more than upvoting. As I said in the comments, this is because I mostly see the worst that Math SE has to offer (via CURED and the review queues). I came to terms with that a while ago, but have endorsed, and made an effort to participate in, JyrkiLahtonen and AlexanderGruber♦'s pearl diving project, which seeks to find the diamonds in the rough, and to highlight the best that Math SE has to offer.

  1. What do you think is the biggest problem facing Math.SE in 2020, and how do you think we should approach it as a community, and as moderators?

Math SE has perpetually had problems with quality management. From very early in its history, there has been debate about what kind quality standards should be enforced. At one point, it was felt by many that we should adopt the model of Physics SE, and simply ban homework-style questions. For better or worse, the community decided that it didn't want to outright ban homework questions, which led to the introduction of demands for context.

The controversy regarding what constitutes context and how to deal with questions which (according to some) lack context is likely never going to be resolved. This is a deeply divisive issue in the community, and I don't think that there is much that moderators can do to resolve it—something more foundational is going to have to happen, and I don't think that problems have yet gotten to the point that anything revolutionary is likely to occur.

That being said, as a moderator I will certainly continue to handle content in the way that I have in the past, and will actively encourage other users to adhere to the "provide context" compromise. Let me also be very clear:

A moderator cannot vote to close or reopen a post&mash;their "votes" are unilateral and instant. I have no intention of unilaterally closing or reopening questions. As a moderator, I would cast the fifth-and-final close or reopen vote, but never an earlier vote,

A moderator cannot vote to delete a question—their "votes" are unilateral, instant, and binding (in the sense that only another moderator can reverse a mod-deletion). As a moderator, I would not delete anything that wasn't truly, objectively off-topic (spam, trolling, etc).

  1. Have you ever been suspended from this site or another StackExchange site? If so, please provide a description of the situation that led to the suspension, and how you have reacted to it. Would you have suspended a user for a similar behavior today?

No. I have never been suspended from any SE site.

  1. Moderators disagree with each other all the time on issues large and small. How will you deal with disagreement with other moderators? At what point do you reverse their actions?

I have to believe that everyone involved on this site is ultimately acting out of good will, even if I vehemently disagree with them. As such, if another moderator were to take an action that I disagree with, I would have to assume that they do so for a reason which the felt was solid. I would never reverse the decision of another moderator without first discussing it with them and/or the rest of the moderator team.

Of course, if another moderator and I are unable to find common ground, I would hope that both of us would be able to step back, and let the rest of the moderating team decide what action to take.

In any event, my goal is to find consensus solutions to problems.

  1. In discussions about the quality of questions the word "context" is frequently invoked. The perception of "missing context" is the most frequently selected reason for closure of questions. What role should "context" play in assessing the quality and suitability of a question on Mathematics Stack Exchange? Ideally, please be explicit what you mean by "context" and discuss potential actions to be taken (or not taken), rather than giving an abstract answer.

As I noted above, I think that Math SE works best when folk can get their question answered without ever directly interacting with the site. In order for this to be possible, questions must have sufficient context. Context makes questions more visible to search engines, and makes it easier for those search engines to match queries and results.

Moreover, the requirement for context serves a larger ethical concern: there is a real risk that Math SE could become a homework mill, where students simply post their homework for others to do (I imagine that there are some who would argue that this ship has already sailed—I don't think we're that bad off, yet, but I am concerned). If an asker is invested enough to provide good context, then it is much less likely that they are attempting to cheat.

Thus there are two things that I look for regarding context: (1) does the context provided do enough to explain the problem so that others with similar questions can find it? and (2) has the asker demonstrated that they are willing to invest time into helping the community to provide a good answer?

To my mind, the best forms of context help to locate the question in mathematical landscape: is the question from a text? which text? was it assigned to you by a lecturer? on what topic? what are the definitions of the terms you are using (I think that a significant number of questions come down to folk not carefully writing down definitions—on more than one occasion, I've commented on a post to ask for a definition, and the asker has replied with something to the effect of "Oh! I missed part of the definition. Oops!" On other occasions, the asker has posted a definition, which helps to narrow things down a bit. In any event, having self-contained questions which include important definitions or theorems is beneficial.

Other forms of context include, for example, "attempts" at a homework problem. Personally, I find such context to be relatively useless, but it at least indicates that the asker has tried something, and is willing to engage in the mathematical process. This is often a pretty good indicator that they are genuinely trying to understand a concept, rather than get their homework turned in a quickly as possible.

I will note that "I tried to use squeeze theorem but it don't work" is not context. Explaining what you tried is not the same as demonstrating your attempt.

Regarding moderator actions, there's not much that I can do which I don't already:

  • vote to close (I'll happily cast the last vote)
  • comment to the asker to request more information
  • comment to answerers, suggesting that they not answer contextless questions
  • downvote (questions and answers)

I can foresee a time when I might feel the need to suspend a user for providing low-quality answers to low-quality questions, but this seems like something to hold in reserve for extreme cases, and which should be done with the support of the moderating team.

  1. When and how much do you think a moderator should get involved in activities such as undeleting, closing posts, or other stuff that normally would require more than a single user in order to be accomplished? Furthermore, as a moderator, would you change your approach regarding those activities in any way?

I think that I have answered this above, but I'll reiterate:

  • I will only cast the final close or reopen vote.
  • I will not unilaterally delete a question or answer (that is, I will not cast any deletion votes) unless that deletion is uncontroversial, e.g. the post being deleted is spam or obvious trolling).

In addition, as an elected moderator, I would assume that I have something of a community mandate, so I suspect that I might get a little more aggressive in suggesting that high reputation users not answer low-quality questions.

  1. How would you describe the primary role of a moderator? For example, is the primary role of a moderator to be...

    • ...a civil rights advocate?
    • ...a senator/congressman leading the formulation of policies?
    • ...a judge?
    • ...a UN Blue Beret, i.e. peace enforcement?
    • ...a detective, police officer?
    • ...a home plate umpire/referee (depending on whether baseball or association football is your sport)?
    • ...a janitor?
    • ...something else?

    Please explain what this means to you, and how this will influence your actions as a moderator.

Janitor with a "Hall Monitor" sash.

Most of the work of moderators, I think, happens behind the scenes: cleaning up heated comment threads, deleting spam that isn't caught by the filters or the userbase, clearing user flags, and so on. This is janitorial scut work. It is important and necessary, but ultimately relatively routine.

The "Hall Monitor" sash is there for the those few times that a user needs a time out.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

Ultimately, content is king. I am willing to give a lot of leeway to a user who is rude, so long as they produce good content. That being said, I do think that we should strive for civility, and there are cases when the diamond-powers are likely to be needed.

First and foremost, I would clean up the controversial comment threads. If the user is producing good content, but being an a** in comments, we can just make the comments go away.

Of course, if I find myself repeatedly deleting comments which swirl around a single user, it would be time to talk to them. I would seek to do so in private—as a normal user, I have sometimes called people out in public; this would not be appropriate for a moderator. I know that moderators can set up private chatrooms with users, and suspect that there are other ways for moderators to communicate with the rest of us.

As a last resort, and with the backing of the moderator team, I would give the user a "time out" (i.e. a short suspension). Longer suspensions might follow if short suspensions don't work.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you think that accusing a user who made attempts to improve questions so that they meet the standards of the website of wanting XP is an appropriate behavior for a moderator? Is every attempt for keeping a question that the user answered motivated by mere reputations? Can there be something more? $\endgroup$ – Batominovski Jul 22 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ I sympathize with some of your points; however, this, to me, is a very bad sign: "Ultimately, content is king. I am willing to give a lot of leeway to a user who is rude, so long as they produce good content." No. Sorry, but $\large{-1}$. Producing good content is by no means special permission of being rude. $\endgroup$ – T. S Jul 22 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Batominovski You are asking loaded questions. (1) If a user consistently answers questions which are subsequently deleted, then asks others to undelete those questions, it gives the appearance that the user is motivated by the gamified aspects of the site. If this is not your motivation, then I do not understand your defensiveness. (2) I believe that it is the job of senior (e.g. high reputation) users to help askers to write good questions. I do not think that it is generally appropriate to rewrite questions without input from the original asker. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jul 22 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Batominovski: If you want to have a high quality question and the OP is not responsive, ask it yourself. You can even post an answer. Just clarify that this is an interpretation of an existing question. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 22 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ @T.S You read the headline, but it doesn't seem that you read past that: I said "That being said, I do think that we should strive for civility, and there are cases when the diamond-powers are likely to be needed. First and foremost, I would clean up the controversial comment threads. If the user is producing good content, but being an a** is comments, we can just make the comments go away." I further suggested that if a user consistently causes problems, they should be suspended. I did not suggest that producing good content should be a free pass for being rude. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jul 22 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ I am happy to see you running here, from your participation in GENTLE I've made quite a good impression about your patience* and seriousness to deal with things and while I disagree with some of your views (perhaps many - especially when it comes to undeletion/deletion) I think those qualities are some of the main ones that a mod should possess. * To put it more directly you've spent quite a long time listening to others opinion in the Gentle chatroom, even though you didn't really align with most of those views and I think mods will often have to endure listening to different opinions. $\endgroup$ – Three Sided Coin Jul 22 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ It might also help ease tensions if more users saw the flood of low-quality questions in the review queues (it is hard to argue that there isn't a problem if you go through 20 close review tasks every day). If they are unwilling to do any of these things, then I would appreciate it if they would at least refrain from answering low-quality questions. (2/2) $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jul 23 at 2:03
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    $\begingroup$ Votes cast: 1,094 up, 5,011 down It seems very bad... $\endgroup$ – Michael Rozenberg Jul 24 at 7:11
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelRozenberg: Arguably there are too many upvotes and not enough people downvote content. It's bad when you see one upvote to 1000 downvotes, yes. But 1:5 is not a bad ratio. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 24 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael Rozenberg: Having only positive feedback is a bad idea. Yes, we need to upvote more, but it doesn't work if people don't also take the time to downvote content that needs to be downvoted. I agree that downvoting shouldn't be random, should be more attentive and allow some space for correction before/after the voting took place. But it's still an important part of the site. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 24 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael: And let me clarify, this site is not a forum. It is a Q&A website with a community around it. But it is not a forum. And using dramatic words such as "destroying" helps absolutely nobody. It makes the people you disagree with you to lock into their positions even harder, because they don't see it as destruction, quite the opposite. If anything, using this sort of extreme language is destroying our community. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 24 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael: Stop using words like "terrorize". This is not words people take lightly, and using them here signals "I don't care about anyone's opinion but my own" which is extremely problematic when you want to have a discussion with people with disagree with you. If you want to talk about this, I'd be happy to see you start a separate thread (as to not to hijack this answer) and deescalate your language. If you don't like the requirement about using language that is conducive to a discussion, then there's nothing to discuss. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 24 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf Just it hurts to watch, how interesting people leave our forum. This is a common situation with us, when a user posts a beautiful solution to an excellent problem and this topic is mercilessly deleted. This handful always looks for possibility to delete beautiful topics. We need to stop it. $\endgroup$ – Michael Rozenberg Jul 24 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael: I asked that we stop hijacking this thread. Feel free to start a separate thread. Any further off topic comments will be promptly deleted. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 24 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding my upvote-to-downvote ratio: the majority of my interaction with the site is through the review queues. The majority of the posts which show up on the review queues are there for a reason. Because I am interested in maintaining site quality, I see a lot of the bad, and vote accordingly. Yes, there is a bias in my voting, but it is very much related to how I interact with the site, and the janitorial role that I have taken on. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jul 24 at 13:59

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