On the continuing theme of toxic threads, I think this is a turn for the worse:

Which 4 maths courses to take as an Economics PhD student?

Almost all of the comments on this question are bickering and subjective complaining. I think that sort of things should be discouraged as much as possible.

Furthermore I don't think the question is appropriate for the site or for the internet in general - surely they should have a supervisor or someone who actually knows them to ask.

  • $\begingroup$ I had addressed this matter as a part of one of my questions. But that too was shut down: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/539/… $\endgroup$
    – user977
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ The linked-to item was one of the site's first questions... There was much berating in those days, and legend has it that there is much berating still today. It is pretty distasteful, but does help to satisfy that urge to berate people in general (from a safe distance). $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 22:08
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Oh, I didn't look at timestamps ("a turn for the worse" sounds funny now). Do we really need to do something with such an old question? $\endgroup$
    – Grigory M
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 22:12
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ That was part of the fight for the heart and soul of this site. I think the good guys won, but those were different times. $\endgroup$
    – 97832123
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 22:14
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Actually, looking at the comments over there, I don't think I was berating anyone! Very nice job, me of the past! (Although I certainly did berate some people, just not this time!) $\endgroup$
    – 97832123
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 22:34

4 Answers 4


MO's general policy on offensive comments (and someone whose an actual moderator can correct me if I'm wrong) is that the point of the site is math, and although we go to great lengths not to take away people's ability to discuss math on the site, we're much more willing to curtail people's freedom to discuss non-math topics. In particular, if someone is being annoying/argumentative/rude/mean/off-topic in comments we will not allow them to make any more non-mathematical comments (i.e. any non-mathematical comment results in a suspension). A similar approach might be worth considering here.


I think that we should do our best to keep the site as low tension as possible!

We do have conflicts now and it will be inevitable that they will continue to appear in future. We should do our best to resolve such conflicts. Some of them may not be resolvable, so in such cases they should be just terminated and the course of action should be that which majority decides to be correct.

Now let's get back to question. When berating other users in comments, I think that we should do our best to avoid commenting in anger. There will be posts which will anger some of us, but we should ask ourselves these two questions first: "How will my comment help this site?" and "How will my comment help OP?"
I am also active on superuser and there were moments when I wrote things such as "What is this idiot doing?" or "STOP spewing this nonsense!" but I managed to stop myself before clicking because no matter how ferociously I attack fellow user who to me looks incorrect, I am not going to actually help anyone. Instead I edited those comments so that they show my opinion in a friendly way.
Remember even if we are right, other side will need to be very calm and collected in order to look past flames into the core of the comment. In cases where other comments have significantly affect us, we should use one of the main privileges given to us by this form of communication: We shouldn't immediately respond. If we are capable of making a response not affected by anger, than we should provide one. Otherwise I think it'd be best to refrain from responding.

Another topic are cases where we have a user who believes that his posts are being vandalized by other members of the community. Normally, such privileges would be accessible to proven members in good standing so that events should be rare but in case that they do occur, I think that it would be best to ask meta for opinion. The question should list affected posts, explain changes and explain why they OP considers them vandalism. A comment at every "vandalized" post with text like: "This post has been significantly changed by other users, meta discussion in progress at [link]" would be appropriate in my opinion. Before assuming evil intent, we should thoroughly examine the situation from every angle. For example, was the account of a respected user compromised?
In the end both parties should accept opinion of majority on meta. Majority may be wrong, but it is the numbers which will allow this site to prosper and quantity has a quality of its own. Furthermore this site won't be as interesting if all that's left are one mathematician and a million questions!
I also believe that the cases where there will be fire burning under our feet will be rare on this kind of site, so we should avoid rushed decisions. It would be better to leave a discussion on meta for a few days and reach consensus on something than to act and later have those actions reverted. I may be wrong on this one, but that's my opinion.


I am not really sure what can be done about berating users in the comments. I am not against terse comments addressed squarely at the question as it is posted - those are frequently necessary. But personal attacks are much worse. I think they are going to happen, I even started one myself, but frequently the best thing to do is just leave the situation alone and not reply. The best way to prevent a flame war is to not feed the fire.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Flag comments that cross the line into personal attack and moderators will deal with them. I don't think a reasonable person would say your meta thread qualifies. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 23:39

Comments removed from the linked question:

@Harry Gindi: stay away from my questions!!! Why are you re-tagging everything like that? Someone else had re-tagged nice before. Just leave it alone! – Vivi Jul 21 at 1:58

Mainly because it is a soft question. Please see the relevant meta thread. – 97832123 Jul 21 at 2:01

@Harry Gindi: OK, but why delete the other tags? They are relevant, too!!! – Vivi Jul 21 at 2:02

@Harry Gindi: and the meta thread is still not finalised, by the way. – Vivi Jul 21 at 2:03

They are not relevant. You don't need to put every single detail in the tags. As a pretty active member of MO, it's definitely something you should just trust me on. – 97832123 Jul 21 at 2:05

@Harry Gindi: and why do you have to keep downvoting my questions? Honestly, you make the website so much less enjoyable! And yeah, this is not MO! Stop acting as if it was! – Vivi Jul 21 at 2:06

@Harry: It is indeed a soft question, but I believe the other tags are appropriate as well. As a general math QA site, we will undoubtedly get more economics questions in the future, as well as further questions asking for course recommendations. If there any reason you feel those categories do not deserve their own tags, please create a thread in meta. – Kaestur Hakarl♦ Jul 21 at 2:07

@Kaestur: The economics tag is fine. I object to the education tag. – 97832123 Jul 21 at 2:11

@Harry: As I said, I expect that more questions will come about people asking for advice on which university to attend, or what course of study to pursue. Certainly, education may not be the best name, but I feel some tag is needed for this category, and teaching hardly seems appropriate. If you wish to rename it to something else descriptive, I doubt anyone will complain. – Kaestur Hakarl♦ Jul 21 at 2:20

@Kaestur, those questions are clearly off topic and should be immediately closed. – 97832123 Jul 21 at 2:27

I have flagged this thread as 'Offensive, Abusive, or Hate Speech' due to the comments. – muad 32 mins ago

@Muad: Please flag individual comments instead. – Kaestur Hakarl♦ 3 mins ago


You must log in to answer this question.