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When I first heard it suggested, it seemed almost obvious that moderators should say something about the PSQ (problem statement question) issue. However, after some reflection, I no longer consider it obvious.

I will post as answers the three positions I have on the title question.

(I hope PSQ is an acceptable abbreviation to all)


Since it wasn't clear, a problem statement question is a question that essentially (and often, literally) consists of nothing more than the statement of a problem.

Here is a recent example. (with the added bonus feature of being three problems in one question)


(edit by J.M. and A.K.)

Since it would seem that there are people in meta who can't be arsed to read gentle reminders in comments: $\Large\textbf{don't bloody downvote the answers!}$ It's a poll; $\Large\textbf{upvote only the answer(s) you agree with}$, and if you agree with none of them, express your displeasure in a comment, or write an answer that more suits you.

Sheesh...

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    $\begingroup$ May I suggest that downvotes not be used in this (present) trichotomy. If you feel that your option/reason is not present, please just add another answer. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin May 3 '13 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ Huh? What is PSQ? $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong May 3 '13 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ @WillieWong: Problem statement question; a question that consists of nothing but a problem statement. I'm lazy and wanted an acronym, but I didn't want to use CPHQ or CPQ because people had some issues with that acronym, and I wanted to be extremely neutral in this thread. $\endgroup$ – user14972 May 3 '13 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ Proposal: disinvolve moderators from judgements on the quality or desirability of mathematical questions. There are enough crowdsourced tools like down- and close- votes and tags for the users to express a (more) collective aggregated judgement. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 3 '13 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx: Then vote for my "no" answer! $\endgroup$ – user14972 May 3 '13 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ As should be very apparent to anyone who’s followed any significant part of the recent discussions, PSQ is not in fact a single issue, so this whole question rests on a shaky foundation. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott May 4 '13 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps a definition somewhere for the term "Problem Statement Question" in the body would help. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Andrews May 7 '13 at 8:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Lord_Farin Oh, I am sorry. I miss-understood your comment: I though you were referring to the question itself, rather than the posted answers! I shall delete my comments... $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 7 '13 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 Glad it was resolved. Will delete my responses. These communication errors (from both sides) are sadly inevitable for humans -- more so if mediated by digital aether :). $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin May 7 '13 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott Banking regulation is not a single issue either, but that doesn't make it nonsensical to ask a politician for their views on "the" issue. It is not like candidates are force to give soe yes-or-no-answer. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker May 7 '13 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ Please add a clear definition of PSQ to the question. Also some links to questions that at present look like PSQ's. $\endgroup$ – James Waldby - jwpat7 May 7 '13 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael: It makes sense to ask for a politician’s views on banking regulation, if one has the time for and any expectation of getting a meaningful answer, but I really don’t think that it makes any sense to ask for a politician’s views on ‘the banking regulation issue’: there just isn’t one. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott May 8 '13 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ It seems to me that there is some crowd of people interested in hear what moderators have to say about PSQ. I think that someone should start a thread with a suggestion to what sort of issue this should be (i.e. particular points that are of interest regarding this issue). $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila May 11 '13 at 22:31
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Yes, PSQ should be an issue for the election.

Given recent discussion, it seems that there is a very broad disagreement on the topic, and quite a lot of support for both sides. It should be important to know what sort of stand the moderators have on a controversial topic as this one.

I, for one, am interested in how the moderators would approach the controversial parts of their job (as opposed to "I'll delete spam messages", of course you would!). If we expect to have some sort of policy that is semi-supported by the moderators (e.g. locking up contest questions) I would like to know how each candidate foresees themselves reacting. Will they undo locking and deleting? Will they act somewhat differently than other moderators?

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No, PSQ should not be an issue for the election.

This is an issue that should be worked out by the general MSE community. The only thing we really need to know about prospective moderators is assurance that they won't use their moderator powers to reverse closures or reopenings.

Making PSQ an election topic is likely to distort the election to make it a vote about PSQ rather than who we wish to vest with moderator power and responsibility.

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    $\begingroup$ Augh! Please, just upvote only the "answer" that matches your position. If none of the answers provided suitably matches your take, write a new one. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician May 3 '13 at 10:52
  • $\begingroup$ I've edited this to say "need to know" rather than "want to know". I believe it's early enough that making such an edit would not be bad form. $\endgroup$ – user14972 May 3 '13 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ Hard on the eyes, eh, these requests for not downvoting? What's so hard about it? (Insert flame against downvoters.) $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin May 4 '13 at 7:34
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Yes, PSQ should be an issue for the election.

Moderators are viewed as pillars of the community. While we don't want them to use their moderator powers to force the issue by reversing closures or reopenings, we do expect them to take lead in resolving the growing conflict over the issue.

Making PSQ an election topic gives the community a well-timed chance to influence the voices that will represent their interests on this issue.

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    $\begingroup$ While I agree that it may be good to know the views of the potential moderators on these issues, I think that the elections should not become a political thing. The last sentence sounds like you are encouraging "Vote for me as moderator, and I promise all these bad questions will be gone!"-campaigns. $\endgroup$ – TMM May 3 '13 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ @TMM, I'd like to think that our members know better than to campaign in that extreme a manner... $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician May 3 '13 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ @TMM: That sounds like a (glib) description of my other yes answer! And the sentiment you express is the main motivator of my no answer. I confess I dislike this one of my answers the most, because it does sound like it lends itself greatly to platitudes like you suggest, though. Although "dislike" is meant in a way mostly independent of whether or not I think this is a good choice. $\endgroup$ – user14972 May 3 '13 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ (revision: if they really mean it, that sounds like my other yes answer) $\endgroup$ – user14972 May 3 '13 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @J.M., isn't this whole thread a form of campaigning? Several moderators are out, including at least two who took some sort of stance against PSQ, and the recent tempests about the subject seem to have boiled down to a comment template and a few more closings and re-openings per day. A cynic might say that, afraid to lose the momentum, the pro-control faction needs to keep the topic active and, ideally, promote the agenda to moderator level at the election, with single-vote closing of PSQ as a tempting possibility. Debating if X should be an election issue is making X an election issue. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 3 '13 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx, I was referring to the statement "Vote for me as moderator, and I promise all these bad questions will be gone!" being über-campaigning, bordering on somewhat nuts. This thread is indeed a campaign, but unless my eyes are giving out, no one has said anything extremist here, except in jest. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician May 3 '13 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M., indeed not. Or you might consider my proposal in the top comments extremist (but it is made seriously). $\endgroup$ – zyx May 3 '13 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ @zyx: It's curious that you phrase things like that, since I'm pretty sure it was you who wrote the comment I originally read suggesting moderators should say something about PSQ. $\endgroup$ – user14972 May 3 '13 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl, even curiouser is that I was puzzled by your reference to having "heard it suggested", since I thought that nothing I read, much less wrote, would imply such a proposal for moderator candidates. What comment did you have in mind (linklinklinklink...)? Pro-control means the vocal part of the hawkish wing of the homework/takehome-exam/contest/lowquality/closing-in-general/low-effort/PSQ/CPHQ discussions that have occupied the meta for some time. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 3 '13 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ @zyx: (I couldn't find the comment at all when I went looking 12 hours ago; that's why I have to go by memory) I don't think your proposal is extreme -- after all, it's essentially the same proposal I posted on the "no" side, and the whole reason I opened this thread to begin with. You just used more bitter and extreme words to argue for it. $\endgroup$ – user14972 May 3 '13 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl, your powers of reading continue to puzzle. What bitter and extreme words do you find in the proposal in the top comments? Still more puzzlingly, where did I argue for it at all before this thread? Certainly it's consistent with many things I wrote earlier, but it is not a proposal I made or even a concept that was articulated in my earlier postings. Frankly, I don't remember anything very close to that idea even coming up, except the separate and more specific matter of one-vote instant closings. $\endgroup$ – zyx May 3 '13 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ @zyx: Don't forget you wrote an answer in addition to your comment. $\endgroup$ – user14972 May 3 '13 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl, the answer does not argue anything about what moderators should do, and as you might observe from the comments of a less partisan reader just above, your judgements of such material as bitter and extreme are, shall we say, "idiosyncratic". $\endgroup$ – zyx May 3 '13 at 23:36
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Yes, PSQ should be an issue for the election.

Given the recent discussion, it seems incredibly unlikely that people anti-PSQ will be content dropping the issue, or that the people pro-PSQ will accept anything else. One of the responsibilities of a moderator is to resolve such divisive issues when the community cannot.

Making PSQ an election topic lets the community see if moderators will act to do something to resolve the issue one way or another, and gives the community a chance to influence the resolution.

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In past elections there was a thread or a chat where anyone could propose questions to moderators and any candidate could answer or not, but there was no form of pressure to respond about any subject (except, perhaps, up-down votes on the questions).

I support continuing that Q & A protocol for this election, no matter what the weighty issues may be.

For the PSQ matter, there are some more particular reasons to not force it as a question on candidates. I think that:

  • some people will become candidates because of the PSQ issue and have a very clear stance
  • most candidates will voluntarily address the subject without being asked
  • some candidates may have positions orthogonal to the whole debate (e.g., a "peace, love and unity" platform), or have reasons to not want to comment, such as waiting to see what consensus emerges and how new practices are working.
  • currently there is a robust majority supporting anti-PSQ measures, so that forcing candidates to take a position can become a litmus test (or loyalty oath) required for election. It's not apparent that with such preconditions a pro-PSQ candidate could be elected, and there can also be a chilling effect on who runs (if they perceive the election being used as a referendum on PSQ) and how their views are expressed.

I suspect that there is a difference between meta votes and MSE voter/user opinions on this matter, with meta being significantly more anti-PSQ, and it would be really interesting to see the results of an election run as a poll of MSE opinion on cut-paste questions. But this is not a good procedure if the goal is to select moderators.

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No, PSQ should not be an issue for the election.

The definition of PSQ given in the OP covers a broad range of questions that require different approaches. Quote:

a problem statement question is a question that essentially (and often, literally) consists of nothing more than the statement of a problem.

  • According to this definition, this MathOverflow question is a PSQ. It only states the problem, gives no context, and shows no own effort whatsoever. Yet, it is the all-time highest voted question on MathOverflow (excluding closed ones).

  • A more ordinary example, from Math.SE: Smoothing a Sobolev function, voted +11. Were such a question accompanied by a chain of partially incorrect estimates with inconclusive results, it would be worse and less attractive question (at least to me).

If the above examples are not what the term PSQ was meant to contain, then the definition of PSQ should be corrected before any policy is built around it.

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    $\begingroup$ Some more examples from Math.SE: this user's highest voted and latest questions are PSQs according to the present definition. Obviously non-trivial and challenging and producing a variety of interesting answers. $\endgroup$ – Martin May 11 '13 at 21:49

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