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Proposal: Mathematics Learning, Studying, and Education

Intro: I'm putting this question here in the context of the particular proposal because a moderator has recently deleted some comments that were discussing the issue of spreading votes out on questions to a maximum of ten per question to get the proposal moving along. There is quite some disagreement and it keeps breaking out into the comments of various questions. Let's discuss it here.

There's also a general Area51 discussion about this here.

Discuss 1: The point I've partly addressed already on the page linked above, the catch 22 about a site that involves a very particular area of expertise is that it will have to be regularly participated in by people who have the appropriate expertise and are particularly interested in the existence and continuation of that site. If you get involvement and votes from people outside that area during the Area51 stage where are they going to be when it goes beta or finally live?

Surely, the field itself has to be a significant one to start with before you could hope to get a ground swell big enough to maintain the continuity required for a web site. If the field has sufficient intellectual breadth and depth then good questions are going to abound. For example, Math.SE is a no brainer because of the sheer volume of mathematics being done in the world on a daily basis and its depth and breadth is unquestionable.

I realise there are two key factors to get a proposal off the ground: enough experts who are interested in helping other people and can "moderate" appropriate boundaries for the operation of the site by framing what they believe are appropriate questions and enough non experts hoping to use and learn from such a site that can indicate what questions would be useful to them to have answers for. A cart load of good questions is not enough as there have to be enough people with enough time between them to commit to such a site and to be able to answer those questions in a timely fashion.

It's not clear to me how "good" a question has to be before it's worth answering and before it should be considered as carrying weight towards a site proposal. If you don't get it and having it answered helps you progress in your area isn't that what it's about? As teachers we're always encouraging students to ask questions no matter how silly they may think they are and yet here we're pushing towards asking good questions which is going to discourage those students who are already unsure of themselves.

I realise I'm not expressing this very well but basing myself on the comments of others it's clear to me that the Area51 process is not that clear and having some people talk about it like they're just stating the obvious doesn't help.

So, it's not clear to me that the current rules for followers and voting proportions and so on are the most efficacious possible. It's not clear to me that spreading votes to the ten point boundary is necessarily bad. Where's the evidence beyond anecdote and taking peoples' words for it?

I'm not disagreeing, just discussing and looking for more clarity.

Additionally, on the page about proposing new SEs, there is emphasis about them being clear cut question and answer sites. Perhaps this discussion is prevalent here because questions pertaining to teaching practice aren't often clear cut and don't often have clear cut answers.

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    I've put this question here because the moderator objected to it taking place in comments in the proposal section. I totally agree that it should be discussed in the discussion section. I'm trying to do the right thing and now this question is attracting down votes? So, is the basic assumption that the Area51 proposal method is above criticism? It already works and is perfect? If I ask such questions I'm hostile? – Geoff Pointer Feb 13 '14 at 23:36
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    Also, whoever it's obvious to, don't you want the people who it's not obvious to on side? Is it enough in a democracy to just say it's so without explaining why? – Geoff Pointer Feb 14 '14 at 0:24
  • To be fair, I should also allow the possibility that this could attract down votes from people who actively encourage vote spreading so that that behaviour might be less likely to be put under a spotlight. If I've not made it clear elsewhere I'm still on the fence on this issue - I'm not convinced either way. This is why I personally believe it should be discussed. No-one's convinced me it's open and shut. – Geoff Pointer Feb 14 '14 at 0:29
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As far as I see the comments were simply deleted since the dicussion got a bit lengthy and happened somewhere where it is not really supposed to happen (I did not pay close attention though), and note that one highly vote comment pointing out the fact that one should spread ones votes was left, so it can't be that it is somehow "not allowed" to mention this.

I think to mention quite prominently that it is key that many questions get at least 10, one only has a limited number of votes, but one can always change them is highly relevant. That being said I think we should not overdo this either. It is likely good there is still some sorting of the questions beyond 10. (Some of the commenting I saw to me felt like overdoing it a bit.)

Moreover, as things are set up it only makes sense if people vote a bit tactiaclly too. What does it say if there is a site where there are 100 example questions that 10000 people find great but there is a subset of 5 that everybody finds best. So, this fails here, if everybody votes purely on questions merits. Would seem a pitty to me.

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    I especially like the part where you wrote “…*a bit* tactically…”, because I agree that there's surely a point where spreading votes can and will start making sense. The only thing we generally have to be cautious of is that people sometimes tend to overdo it while ignoring the fact that questions also shape the direction a proposal will lean to, which can ruin big parts good proposals. OTOH, people thinking along the “a bit” line surely won't be endangering a proposal. I think we can agree that, as long as we use common sense (as most of us obviously do), things will work out just fine. ;) – e-sushi Feb 15 '14 at 0:41
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I don't know if that really needs to be discussed. I mean, logic already implies that if you “spread out the votes along the 10-point border”, you're merely kidding yourself because you're actually stretching the votes to push the proposal into private beta. The result will be that you'll have a hard time when private beta starts – sure, you only need a few people to strategically spread the votes during proposal-phase… but you need a lot of people to make the beta-phase successful.

Besides that, Area51 offers related question-badges for a good reason:

  • Nice Question – Question score of 10 or more (529 awarded)
  • Good Question – Question score of 25 or more (67 awarded)
  • Great Question – Question score of 100 or more (2 awarded)

To me, the availability of those badges practically underlines the fact that you should vote on proposed questions according to your own, critical opinion… and not according to some kind of “let's force this into beta” strategy which is bound to fail as soon as the proposal hits daylight.

I guess that might have also been the core motivation for the moderator to act as he/she did…

  • What are the private-beta criteria of success? Can anyone point me to the "rules"? Thanks. – Joseph O'Rourke Feb 13 '14 at 16:26
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    This is not an answer, it's just a claim. It would be much more helpful if you presented us with evidence. "I don't know if it really needs to be discussed" I thought claiming that the SEs were democracies implied discussion? Are we to believe "the core motivation for the moderator" was to squash discussion? I thought it was because the discussion was taking place in an inappropriate location, which is why I moved it here. – Geoff Pointer Feb 13 '14 at 21:30
  • @GeoffPointer This is not an answer, it's just a claim. It's not a claim, it's personal opinion. …if you presented us with evidence For what? This isn't a science paper! I merely stated my opinion on the “don't waste votes on 10-point questions issue” you initially wanted to discuss (before adding 9 more paragraphs a few minutes ago). But your hostile comments make me wonder. If it were just “discussion”, my personal opinion wouldn't upset you like this. If this is more about some removed comments, you're barking up the wrong tree and should ask a mod about the reason for their removal. – e-sushi Feb 13 '14 at 23:09
  • @JosephO'Rourke What are the private-beta criteria of success? As far as I'm informed, those criteria are internals of SE and even when some of us think they have a “feel” if a private beta will make it or not, only SE really knows. During the private beta, the proposal is practically shaped by setting up rules, finding good initial Q&As, temp mods etc. SE looks how things evolve and speaks up in the META when there's need for tuning or even radical change. In the end, SE decides… SoftwareRecommmendations.SE for example just got an additional week in private beta to work some things out. – e-sushi Feb 13 '14 at 23:25
  • @e-sushi Discussion does not automatically have to involve hostility. My comment is critical and to the point, not hostile. I'm not asking you to write a paper I'm asking for anything that backs up your claim in the same way that a proposal needs to be backed up. You've just said it doesn't need to be discussed and that logic implies your conclusion. How? Asking is not hostility - I want to know. I'm not upset, I'm making general statements not personal ones. My assumption about the moderator's intent is based on what he actually said. You're assumption about it is not. These are just facts. – Geoff Pointer Feb 13 '14 at 23:31
  • @GeoffPointer I did not say it doesn't need to be discussed, instead I wrote I don't know if that really needs to be discussed. There's a difference. Anyway, let's keep this constructive: It's not clear to me how "good" a question has to be before it's worth answering and before it should be considered as carrying weight towards a site proposal. Well, if you think a good question which also “represents” a proposal – it's worth a vote. Pick those you think best fit the proposal (and upcoming site). If you would love to see it answered, chances are others will like to see it too. [1/2] – e-sushi Feb 13 '14 at 23:41
  • @GeoffPointer [2/2] See, in the end the proposal will get indexed by search engines and the site will be found by people looking for something… which pulls in the crowd needed for the site to survive. At Area51, I personally try to pick questions that “perfectly fit the proposal” by looking at questions the perspective “If I would be asking myself something in relation to proposal XY, what question(s) would I most probably have and need answers to?” Chances are, I'm not the only one thinking the question to be a good one… but in a democracy – two cents count nothing if the crowd disagrees. – e-sushi Feb 13 '14 at 23:49
  • @e-sushi Okay, I assumed it was obvious what I was challenging and I was wrong. You've said things like "you're kidding yourself", "you'll have a hard time when private beta starts", "bound to fail as soon as the proposal hits daylight". What is your evidence for those statements? That is not an unreasonable question. If you really believe spreading votes to the ten vote limit is a bad idea then those statements don't do anything. They just predict outcomes without giving anyone any reason to believe they will occur. Why do you believe that? – Geoff Pointer Feb 13 '14 at 23:49
  • @GeoffPointer Maybe my wording indeed reads a bit bold… especially if you haven't seen a proposal grow into a public beta (Ebooks.SE), as well as a proposal die in private beta (Gamification.SE) because SE decided to close it (one of many issues: “lacking good quality Q&As”). So, what my words try to explain is that (my) experience shows (to me) that proposals who've reached private-beta due to strategic voting, tend to have a lack of “involvement” during private beta… the Q&A quality suffers due to that, and things quickly start breaking down. [1/2] – e-sushi Feb 14 '14 at 0:11
  • @e-sushi That's all I'm saying, opinions are a dime a dozen. It's what they're based on that earns one true respect. I'm new to this new proposal thing. I care strongly about the MSLE.SE proposal. I want it to succeed. If I get good reasons as opposed to bald statements about why we shouldn't vote spread then I will actively oppose it myself. What I'd like to know is why I'm getting negative votes for wanting it discussed in the first place. I'm not proposing vote spreading as a good idea. I shouldn't be voted down just because it's been seen to fail in the past. I want to know why. – Geoff Pointer Feb 14 '14 at 0:20
  • @GeoffPointer [2/2] Sadly, there is no proof to personal experience and every proposal is something individual with an individual community and separate private-beta outcome. In fact, if there were proof, we would have a “golden rule” to prevent things from going downhill. ;) All I can do is share my humble experience. In case you don't trust someone's experiences without proof, I can understand and advise you to commit yourself to proposals and gain personal experience and a “feel” for things. For the fun of it, also pick one where you see people “pushing” things and watch how that works out. – e-sushi Feb 14 '14 at 0:21
  • @GeoffPointer As for you wanting MSLE.SE succeed, you might be worrying too much (my opinion). I've already detected several mentions online related to this proposal and there's obviously a bigger community waiting to get involved, which is a good sign! I would focus on “high-quality Q&As“ and things should work out fine (no guarantees or proof though). I think all we need is a bit of patience while we spread the word a bit more to attract a few more people… as usual, good things need time. ;) – e-sushi Feb 14 '14 at 0:32
  • @GeoffPointer Sidenote: I enjoy the direction this has taken. I was afraid it would end up badly, but I'm happy to notice we actually seem to get along somehow nevertheless. Hope I didn't step on your toes along the way… if I did, I'm sorry. If you think we should dive into this a bit more – let's use the chat. I'm already seeing that "Please avoid extended discussions in the comments…" notice. In case we don't chat, let me wish you a nice day/night. I'm pretty sure we'll stumble over each other again sooner or later. Looking forward to it. Cya. – e-sushi Feb 14 '14 at 0:35
  • @e-sushi As I said from the start, I'm not upset, no damaged toes involved. I'm glad we had this discussion also and think it further demonstrates the validity of the OP. I'm really am baffled by the down vote/s. I generally try to comment when I give down votes. Discussion promotes community. I try to be humble when I'm on the receiving end. I haven't been here very long but I have come across a couple of people on Math.SE who completely lack humility, but in my experience there they are rare exceptions indeed. In my experience, discussion promotes community. – Geoff Pointer Feb 14 '14 at 0:43
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    @quid I understand your point and do agree along the lines of your answer. I hope my according my comment and upvote to your answer are able to show that… ;) – e-sushi Feb 15 '14 at 1:09
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A major difference between a proposal site and a beta site has just occurred to me that applies very particularly to the subject of mathematics. When was the last time you looked at "the official" definition that lists all the current different fields of mathematics? It's a massive list. Each one of those areas will have distinguishing content that could be potentially discussed in the context of one type of question, making it a distinct question in each case.

In the proposal phase there is nothing to be gained in asking every single version of that question and thus masks the potential volume of discussion that could take place in the beta phase and beyond.

I wrote this question as a model question, you can read my comments there if you wish.

I'm not suggesting that no-one else would have already considered this idea, but perhaps in the context of mathematics education one can see the potential for a thriving community based web site and hence the difficulty in expressing it and the impatience in trying to get people to spread their votes.

I suppose, that just because one might believe that this proposal is special, it's not necessarily a reason for Area51.SE to change it's rules but I still have mixed feelings about it. None the less, the answer to whether or not vote spreading is a good idea is not as clear cut as the correct answers to most well defined maths problems.

This situation is more like the kind of research that tries to establish whether or not a certain thing has a positive or negative impact on a certain health condition. Arsenic is an example of an almost absolute question and has a scientific yes or no quality about it. Yes, it will kill you in more than the tiniest of doses. But, research into the question as to whether or not certain soya products accelerate Alzheimer's remains vague at best. It's still an open question.

Will vote spreading kill this proposal?

Is the answer to this question clear cut?

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