51
$\begingroup$

This morning I discovered that an old answer of mine to a question about real life application of Linear Algebra had been transformed into a comment.

I admit that the answer was not too serious: I recalled an episode where I witnessed a student using his taking a Linear Algebra course as a pick-up stunt at a bar, so I jokingly suggested picking-up as a likely application of Linear Algebra to real life. Thus, I can understand how this might not meet the SE standards for answers, even though it was already 11 years old and had collected 43 upvotes with no downvotes.

What bugs me, though, is that the moderator did not just remove my anecdote from the answers but he also edited (censored?) the text hiding the fact that the person doing the stunt was a male student and the candidate pick-up a female student. The moderator also included the comment "de-gender".

I agree with the necessity of de-gendering general statements and alike but I do not understand (and fully disagree with) the need of de-gendering actual facts, in particular, such as in the case of my anecdote, when the identity of the people involved is not disclosed or cannot be inferred.

So, I would ask what is the correct SE way to report facts: whether de-gendering should be pushed to an extreme or if what happened is just that moderator's personal feeling.

In any event, I already edited back my answer in case it'd be voted back in.

$\endgroup$
3
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Pedro Mod
    Jan 6, 2023 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ 1. Both of the moderators that responded followed a course of thought that I find completely absurd: They basically said the following: >"this is not SE policy" but we have a flagging system and we responded to that. So basically they changed the word "policy" to another word that acts like policy but is not "policy". 2. Changing actual events even in the slightest way reveals a will to re-write history in order to suit your understanding and preferences. $\endgroup$
    – Mea Culpa
    Jan 11, 2023 at 3:31
  • $\begingroup$ This discussion has moved past the point of being constructive and so, I have locked this post indefinitely. If you have any questions or concerns about moderator actions you are welcome to utilize the Contact Us button at the bottom of the page and we will happily review. $\endgroup$
    – Bella_Blue StaffMod
    Jan 12, 2023 at 18:09

2 Answers 2

16
$\begingroup$

No, this isn't a general SE policy at work. It's the result of flag handling.

There was a party that found the answer offensive, and while I didn't particularly find it offensive myself, I could see how it could make someone else uncomfortable. In male-dominated spaces like mathematics, it's important to listen when women tell us that something makes them uncomfortable. The wording is slightly boorish-- again, not a lot, but enough that I'd think twice about telling it at a conference.

I didn't want to delete your joke, though, as a lot of people seemed to like it, and it was one of your more popular answers. Changing girls to folks is a pretty simple way to make it unobjectionable to everybody, and I don't think it disrupts the joke. If you're that opposed to the change, you're free to delete the comment. It shouldn't be reposted as an answer, though, for the reasons Pedro discussed.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 14
    $\begingroup$ To those complaining that the edit takes a political stand: SE, as an organization, has already taken that stand. In the Code of Conduct, users are asked to "Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain." In this case, I don't think that there is any uncertainty, but my point is that this purported political position has already been carved out by SE. If you don't like it, then this likely isn't the place for you. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jan 6, 2023 at 17:36
  • 23
    $\begingroup$ That being said, this entire discussion is a tempest in a teapot. The edit was probably not a good one, but it also was not "absolutely unacceptable". Are these really the hills that y'all want to die on? $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jan 6, 2023 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jan 6, 2023 at 17:38
1
$\begingroup$

I agree with the action taken to make your answer into a comment. The question itself is almost too broad for the type of questions we prefer to get and also somewhat imprecise.

Answering with an anecdote about a person trying to pick up another by telling them that subject is difficult, or deep, or cool, applies to basically any question of the form "What are real life applications of X?" (where $X$ can be "carpentry" or "game design", etc) misses the point of the answer and is simply unnecessary noise in the site, while at the same time making the point the post is not suitable for our format. Thus, the answer can be safely deleted.

So, I would ask what is the correct SE way to report facts: whether de-gendering should be pushed to an extreme or if what happened is just that moderator's personal feeling.

From the comments, it seems your point is that the gender of the participants was a factual component of your story and you do not want to have this modified. This is fair, and I understand your point. There is no policy on the site to "de-gender" anything, and the action was not motivated by a moderator's feeling, but rather as a reaction to the flagging system. Instead of deleting the post for the reasons I put forward above, and independent of this second issue, the moderator aimed to preserve your joke as a comment and modify it slightly to address the grievances of the people that had flagged it.

What seems to have triggered the flag and the subsequent (agreeably) controversial action to edit the answer is that in pick-up situations, the experience of the receiving party and a random observer can vary wildly, and making the situation into a joke about picking up girls might have ruffled some feathers, especially in male dominated STEM fields like mathematics.

It is important to notice that different people witnessing the interaction might have reacted in a different way, and may not have found the interaction funny, nor the suggestion to go around "picking up girls at a bar" with linear algebra appropriate, thus explaining the flag and the action by the moderator. If you work or teach in academia, a good exercise is to consider if you would joke about "picking up girls with linear algebra" with your peers, students, or at a conference. I would not, and do not think it is appropriate as an answer on this site.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Pedro Mod
    Jan 6, 2023 at 10:41

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .