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Regarding this question, I edited out the references of rape and it was almost instantly reverted by someone who left a sarcastic comment about my edit that they later deleted.

Consider the two questions

1/10 people are raped per day. How many are raped in 100 days.

vs

1/10 people are randomly selected per day. How many are selected in 100 days.

both questions have the same mathematical content.

One mentions rape and one does not.

Can we get a consensus on whether not is it best to edit out references of rape in questions?

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    $\begingroup$ Related: math.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1643 $\endgroup$ Jul 31 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ In Italy, about ten years ago, there was a bad and deplorable habit of throwing stones from highway overpasses. In a Physics book there was only one exercise where it was asked to find the space covered by a stone thrown from the overpass. This book was withdrawn by the publisher. I absolutely agree with you. It would take some sensitivity and fairness in the formulation of the questions. +1 for you. $\endgroup$
    – Sebastiano
    Jul 31 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ I think you might have a point if the content is entirely made up and is just a way of taking a mathematical problem and turning it into a "word problem". I don't think that's the situation here: the statistics in question are real. That is, this is not so much "flavor text" as actual context. It is not very well worded (in that the OP is not telling us 'This is a statistic, and I'm trying to figure out X'), I'll grant that, but I would say that turning it into a generic word problem wouldn't help (and might hurt, in making it seem like a standard homework problem and get it closed). $\endgroup$ Jul 31 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ I reverted your edit because I perceived it as an act of vandalism. I do not regret it. Given the OP's lack of clarification, I rolled back to your "polite" version, which the OP then reverted. Eventually, the OP clarified the question and it became obvious that your initial edit was not unwarranted. $\endgroup$ Jul 31 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ Whether it has mathematical importance, it's not for you to judge. It is for you to ask for clarification. For example, I saw it as a modelling question, not as a probability question. $\endgroup$ Jul 31 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ @RodrigodeAzevedo: Sorry to stick myself in, but I'm confused. Did you mean "was not warranted" (or "was unwarranted") rather than "was not unwarranted"? The latter would suggest that the initial edit was proper and should, perhaps, stand.... $\endgroup$ Jul 31 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ @ArturoMagidin I meant what I wrote. I reverted to the "impolite" version because I thought the OP had the right to explain what he meant before having his question "softened". It could have been an interesting modelling question, but eventually it became clear that the OP only wanted to play around with probability distributions. And if one is merely playing around with distributions, choosing rape as a toy problem is just distasteful. Better present the general case and then add the motivation — even when it's distasteful — perhaps inside <sub> and </sub>. $\endgroup$ Jul 31 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @RodrigodeAzevedo: Thank you; that clarifies it for me. $\endgroup$ Jul 31 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ While I agree with you on your particular example, I think it's important to add some "art" to math problems. Also from a moral viewpoint it might be nice to know that some set of calculations actually pertains to say...a runaway thermonuclear detonation. $\endgroup$
    – R. Rankin
    Aug 5 at 6:01
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with the sentiment that editing out the discomforting context in this case leaves a question that is rather dull and not a good fit for the site. In a sense, the context made it abundantly clear that the question was not a copy/pasted homework assignment. Not sure if we should give this aspect much weight? $\endgroup$ Aug 5 at 10:19
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen it's tangential but I'm not sure why that made it "abundantly clear" it's not HW. I'm not convinced it is a good idea to use the subject at hand for creating exercises, but it's perfectly possible that somebody does so and I would not find it that unusual either. In some sense the question actually does not provide enough context. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 5 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ Conceding your points @quid. I may have gotten used to walking on egg shells around some topics, but that sentiment need not be universal. $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 7:25
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know why it didnt occur to me at the time to check Stats.SE, but there are posts there discussing rape-related statistics: stats.stackexchange.com/search?q=rape If it being rape related would have been important I would guess that it would also be more suitable for Stats.SE $\endgroup$ Sep 4 at 8:10
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While making a hard and fast rule for every kind of 'unpleasant flavor text' is impossible, I think for cases like the post in question it's rather simpler.

Terms like rape, assault and murder are never necessary to convey the mathematical content of a question. Further, these terms are going to be off-putting for a fair portion of the audience. For a smaller (but I think still non-negligible portion), such content can be outright traumatic. It shouldn't be there, especially not in the question title.


Regarding some of the points made in the comments, I do not believe the fact that the statistics or context is real is a good enough reason to include that context in the main body of the question, or even worse, the title. I don't think there's any issue with someone giving the real world context, however grim, in a well sign-posted spoiler tag. But it should be possible to engage with the mathematics of the post (and, especially, to read question titles!) without having to think about rape/assault/murder.

This is Mathematics Stack Exchange, and if the context detracts from user's willingness to engage with the mathematical content of the question, then it should be, at least, avoidable. This is also consistent with the guideline that questions which are likely to generate discussion rather than answers (especially off-topic discussion) should be avoided.


Finally, I disagree with the rule of thumb that quid suggests about news media. If you are going to read a newspaper or watch the news, you know upfront you are possibly getting presented the worst reportable aspects of human activity. This is not so if you are going to visit a website dedicated, quite explicitly, to answering mathematics questions.

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    $\begingroup$ Despite my comment above, I think you say it better than I do. I also realize that the visitors on this site are only subject to being above $13$, so reading such context will certainly not be appropriate for them. The spoiler-tag idea never hit me, so thanks very much for it. I'm removing my comment, I find your answer to more than address it. $\endgroup$ Aug 1 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon quite frankly standards may be different over times and places but I'd venture to guess that most 13 year olds are expose to way worse things than a dry mention of the word rape. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 1 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ In any case there is for instance for movies in the US a specific rating for movies not suitable for children under 13. In case of doubt, maybe we could take that as a guideline, instead of entering in a spiral of excluding all kinds of things preemptively because somebody might have a problem. As a data point there are 45 questions that contain the word "murder". $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 1 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ @quid I see. My initial stance was the same but I'd rather be safe than sorry reading this answer. If it's the original context, then hide it in a spoiler box, or an Brandon says change the wording. Even if rape is not an unusual topic for 13 year olds, as a point of context it is capable of taking over the conversation (over the mathematics). If OP realizes this, then they can hopefully visit a chatroom and get the context changed (where someone could assist them in presenting just the math question with math-based motivation). $\endgroup$ Aug 1 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon you might also be sorry when a discussion about such an edit blows up completely at some point. I fail to see how it taking over the conversation is an issue. That's a contrived scenario. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 2 at 0:33
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    $\begingroup$ @quid The conversation switching to the non-mathematical context over the mathematical content is an issue. It can be avoided by changing the phrasing (as I said earlier, the constructive feedback chatroom would be able to help), a contrived scenario as I describe is (despite its rare occurrence) worse than the scenario where no non-mathematical context is involved. Suggestions in the chatroom can work around providing mathematical context. I also think that the context being a deflection is a non-negligible issue. That's probably my background coming into play, though. $\endgroup$ Aug 2 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon the conversation will rather switch when we end up with rather odd phrasings like "In Greece, a random variable selects people at random with likelihood" This clearly gets in the way of actually answering the question; read the comment on main by MvL. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 2 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ @quid The question was certainly mathematically unclear at that point, MvL is spot on. The highest voted comment of Jyrki, and the comment before that by Thomas Anton (which doesn't have mathematical content) highlight my issue. I think the topic is uncomfortable. Yes, it's true that those who see the math will address the question, but I don't want the non-mathematical content to be ruling over the mathematical content, especially when (1) there isn't a consensus on how this affects those above 13 or not (2) It is avoidable with some guidance. $\endgroup$ Aug 2 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon "the topic is uncomfortable" What exactly is or is not sufficiently uncomfortable to merit change? Do we need to avoid mention of illnesses like cancer? There are plenty (around 100), including about colorectal cancer and breast cancer. Are we concerned this could lead to inappropriate discussions? Add another 100 for AIDS or HIV. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 2 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ @quid Ok, I think I see your point. Those who want to focus on the math, do that. Those who want to focus on the non-mathematical part of things, do that. I think you're right, someone's always going to be offended by something you write. But if recent times are anything to go by, then such offense isn't very common (or commonly expressed as a meta post), and even then people talk it out on the post and either get it to change or leave. Whatever it is , we can handle it on a case-by-case basis, I suppose. Nothing unilateral can be said, so you're definitely right on that count. $\endgroup$ Aug 2 at 1:02
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    $\begingroup$ @quid I find the slippery slope arguments here rather disingenuous. IF someone raises concerns with a question that discusses cancer then that can be discussed at the time. But for this question, sexual assault is an issue that has well-established trauma for a substantial segment of the population. The fact that the edit that was made left things in an awkward state doesn't mean that a better edit shouldn't have been made that, e.g., removed the mention of the country entirely. $\endgroup$ Aug 4 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenStadnicki "murder" is mentioned in this meta post. There are numerous questions on the site mentioning murder. If those supporting this meta post are serious they must take action now. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 4 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ Furthermore the poster of the original meta question did not take all that many precautions either not to inflict the trauma that might come from reading the word 'rape.' In this way it got a lot more exposure then it ever would have gotten. If this is such an issue the thing ought to have been handled more discreetly. Of course, as mentioned elsewhere such things are all over the news, e.g., hard to avoid mention of the investigation into Gov. Coumo these days. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 4 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ @quid Why should SE impose the USA's standards of morality and ethics (which personally I find ridiculous and two-faced) on the rest of the world? Cultural imperialism by another name (i.e. political correctness) is still cultural imperialism. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Aug 5 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero I'm not sure what point you want to make, especially in addressing me. That is what is your stance on the editing and how does it relate to that. If it is the mentioned standard then I chose it since (a) it happens to be for age 13 (b) the company SE, Inc. is a US company. For instance the age restriction of 13 years for using SE directly stems from US laws, and SE is legally obliged to follow that. Then, for EU citizens a different age restriction for using SE applies (16 or maybe even 18, I'd have to check), since there are other laws that require that. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 5 at 15:28
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There is no clear-cut answer to this. Let me try to outline some principles.

There is no need to tolerate gratuitous reference to violence, crime and alike. More broadly there is no need to tolerate intentionally provocative wordings that are used for the sake of it.

That being said if something comes up naturally I think we should not overdo the editing. As mentioned in comments already, in the current case the data seems to be real and to some extent this adds context.

Frankly, the phrasing after the edit "In Greece, a random variable selects people at random with likelihood" strikes me as strange and possibly confusing, and presented like it would like cause questions. If at all one would have to go a step further in the abstraction.

As a rule of thumb phrasings that would pass just fine in mainstream news-media are alright. (A report about the number of rapes in a given country passes this test.)

In cases of doubt the especially visible title can be changed while the mention in the body can be preserved.

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    $\begingroup$ @quid So you'll gladly receive questions from students giving the context I provide in an upcoming textbook I'm writing with statistics on the rate of male castrations per year, so students are justified in countering crimes against women with something cringe-worthy for men to deal with? $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Aug 1 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I don't have a problem specifically with that. I don't like the spin you give to that. By the way men are also victims of rape (usually by other men). More broadly, for a very long time rape was somewhat of a taboo subject. I really don't think that this was a better situation. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 1 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ I get your point, @quid. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Aug 1 at 21:06
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I was once in a general discussion group where one of the members was personally involved in some extreme sexual practices. That member made some interesting comments on how he indulged those practices while trying to be ethical, both towards others with the same interests and the world in general.

One principal that he stated was that one should not force one's kinks on outsiders without their consent. The example used was that if one was in a dominance-submissive relationship, one should not go to a restaurant and involve the waitperson in that dynamic.

This question could very easily have been stated without the theme of rape. I'm left feeling like the questioner has involved me, unwillingly, in a subject I find repellent, for no particular good purpose.

(Note: I am the current "Close" vote.)

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    $\begingroup$ I did not know that the OP of the question had a rape kink. $\endgroup$
    – user338955
    Aug 1 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ I have no evidence the OP has "a rape kink". I thought it would be pretty clear that that was an analogy. Regardless, they knew that ".... this is a horrific subject to discuss" and went ahead and posted without further justification or addressing it. I look forward to technically correct questions centered around the Holocaust that illustrate Simpson's paradox. $\endgroup$ Aug 1 at 5:03
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    $\begingroup$ I am not claiming that the OP of the question had this intent, but readers might want to know that there are a group of mathematics educators who encourage the use of mathematics to promote social justice (mathsocialjustice.org, radicalmath.org/main.php?id=SocialJusticeMath, etc.). $\endgroup$
    – user338955
    Aug 1 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ The point might be that the analogy is not very close. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 1 at 11:00
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    $\begingroup$ Well, I felt gross after reading the question, and was trying to find a way to understand this and convey it. Many, apparently, did not. $\endgroup$ Aug 2 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ The original post (on main) started: Disclaimer: "I undestand this is a horrific subject to discuss." To draw an analogy with activities undertaken for pleasure in this form is rather problematic as there is a subtle implication of the OP having posted this to provoke, for the lulz, etc. while there is no indication for this being the case. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 4 at 9:12

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