Recently a question got asked that effectively asked for the origin of the quote "Graph theory is the scum of topolgy" indicating it might not be the exact quote but something along these lines.

Indeed, the quote "Graph theory is the slums of topology" is a well known quote and soon enough this was given as answer(s).

The question got/is closed, this is not really the point of this post (one might consider this question as deserving closure for some reason).

But, there was some complaint in the comments (I assume but do not know, there are deleted comments in addition) regarding the word "scum" and the OP got edited to now mention "slum" instead of "scum.".

Note: this edit was made by OP but there is an intermediate version with a strikethrough that came from a moderator due to complaints in comments.

Is this editing necessary and/or useful?

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    $\begingroup$ Meanwhile the question has three votes to reoopen. This makes the matter a bit more urgent. Frankly, to reopen the question in its current form would be a bit strange. It is totally trivial to answer as written now. (The original form is IMO borderline.) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 10 '14 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question should be reverted to its original form. It will make the comments, voting, closure, etc. make more sense. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Steinberg Mar 10 '14 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ I am surely happy with any of your decisions. Thanks for the answer. Apologies for having stimulated such a discussion. $\endgroup$ – user3409 Mar 10 '14 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ @SimoneSeverini thank you for the info. Sorry for drawing even more attention to this. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 10 '14 at 23:46

Maybe the solution is to change the title to something like "Derogatory Quote About Graph Theory" and restore the original word scum to the body (but not the title) of the question. Quid is certainly right that the question as it currently stands makes it look like the OP didn't bother to Google, and I think it's wrong to create that impression.

I am among those who don't understand why this gave offense in the first place, so I might be missing the point entirely, and therefore won't make the edit myself. But I'm hoping that getting the word out of the title would be enough to make everyone happy.

Edited to add: In view of the upvotes for this answer, and particularly in view of the fact that nobody has expressed any disagreement with it, I am about to go ahead and make the edits I proposed.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for making the edit! $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 13 '14 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ I'm guessing that one problem is language change over time. We still have the phrase "scum of the earth" to denote a useless person, using the early meanings of "layer of algae, dirt or froth on the surface of a liquid," but there are less acceptable slang meanings. $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy Mar 13 '14 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ goodreads.com/book/show/552008.Scum_of_the_Earth $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Apr 11 '19 at 6:30

In my opinion the edit is neither necessary nor useful.

I will first discuss the usefulness. Changing the OP the question becomes trvial; it would have been easy to find an answer via a simple search on the internet. The only reason the question made sense was that OP did not remember the correct word but a similar one. The question as asked should now even be simply false; it is not true OP searched for "Graph theory is the slum of topology" and could not find it (they searched for something else, and had they searched for this they would in all likelihood have found what they were looking for; the point is not that it is false in a strict sense, this is accepted often to match the Q&A style, but that it is misleading in that it claims something is hard to find that is in fact trvial to find).

Having the question preserved in its original form would have had the effect that if, say, in two years somebody would have the same confusion of words as OP, which is perhaps unlikely but then not that unlikely given that the words are similar, they would easily find that question via a search and then the information; for the edited question where the info is hidden in revision history and comments this is a lot less clear.

Now, for necessary. In a comment it was said it was a "reminder of the high standards being kept on this forum" to make such an edit (the precise suggestion made for the edit was slightly different, namely to strike out "scum" and replace it by "slum", which was the intermediate version). I do not understand this. To the contrary, I would assume or at least hope, that the standards here are high enough so that everybody is able to distinguish between somebody asking (in good faith) for the origins of a potentially offensive quote and somebody saying this or promoting it.

As it stands, the question serves no further purpose, as OP got the answer they were looking for. I thus propose to either delete the question (it is unlikely it is deleted via the normal process due to score and answer), which was judged as off-topic anyway. Or, to restore it, so that it can serve some potential future puropose.

If the issue is that the title alone did not make clear this was about a quote, a solution could be to change the title to something like: 'Source of the quote "Graph theory is the scum of topology" (or something very similar)'

  • $\begingroup$ If the readership were exclusively mathematicians to whom cultural referents in language caused no concern, then I would mean something different by "high standards" than I currently do. I don't consider the original version of the question offensive. I do consider it an undesirable precedent that could lead to further posts involving (indirect) name calling and other behaviour that may cause offense. That this forum is mostly devoid of such comes from continual mindfulness. The strikeout was intended to indicate both the fallibility of members as well as the constant striving to improve. $\endgroup$ – The Masked Avenger Mar 10 '14 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding your intended replacement title, I personally find it less acceptable than a title that has the strikeout word followed by the replacement word. If someone else said I was splitting hairs, I would not argue against that. $\endgroup$ – The Masked Avenger Mar 10 '14 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the information. This has nothing to do with splitting hairs IMO. The strike out and remplacement just makes no sense at all. OP simply did not search for the quote with 'slum' but with 'scum'. What should this strikeout mean? To claim a search for 'slum' makes the entire thing nonsensical. As an alternative, on Todd Trimble's answer, I proposed complete reformulation that removes 'scum' what about that? Or, if it must be let us write s... But please it has to be somewhat plausible in the end. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 10 '14 at 23:42

Since I was involved in the editing, I will respond. The reason I edited is that a number of people evidently found the title or the post 'offensive'. I did not feel that way myself, and had at first declined some flags to this effect, but in the end I came around and decided that if enough of the community feel this way, that should probably trump my own opinion, and thus I made a strike through the offending word 'scum' and changed the title, thinking or hoping that would be the end of it.

Or, at least that was my read: that it was the word 'scum' in the title that was deemed offensive. Perhaps I was wrong about that or we need to get clear on that (just flagging something offensive is not necessarily informative) -- it's true that the word sometimes carries nasty connotations that we don't want to promote on this site, even though I didn't think those connotations were evoked here. If 'scum' and 'slum' are equally offensive to those who flagged, then the present situation is no improvement and is in fact worse than before for reasons given by quid.

But at this point I do sort of feel a mountain is being made of a molehill: the question is just not that important (I'd be surprised if the OP disagreed) and has warranted much more attention than it deserves. I also think it is clear enough what happened. Quid's suggestion at the end of his answer would be fine to me personally if the word 'scum' itself is not the problem, but I plan to make no more edits myself. (Not even sure why the Masked Avenger thought I should be the one to do an edit in the first place, but I did so in an attempt to keep peace. Maybe it was a fail, as the kids today say.)

I refuse to delete the question: it was asked in good faith, and deleting would subtract reputation which I think would be completely unfair.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the reply and sorry for contributing to building a mountain. I can see how your situation is complicated here. But it is really hard to stand to have a question with solid score that is nonsense as written. Could it not be edited at least to something that makes some sense. I don't know like: "I believe to have heard a quote that describes graph theory as part of topology using a quite negative term to do this. I do not remember the details and cannot find it. Does anybody know such a quote and its source?" (Might also be less offensive.) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 10 '14 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ (In view of what you wrote I do not want to insist you make the edit, but still wanted to bring up one more idea for a solution. [Sorry for one more comment. I will stop now for a while. Actually should do rather urgently something else...]) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 10 '14 at 20:14

I concur with quid in that it would be good to have questions that make sense, and that some of the edits obscured the sense of the original question. I think the original title needs work, and appreciate the version rendered in the title of this question. With extremely rare exception, I would not like to see anything derogatory on MathOverflow, and certainly not in a title to a question.

I can understand preserving the text as the question itself is phrased civilly, but if the original question is to be kept, change the title so that the word "scum" (which is used derogatorily, and in my opinion, carries more impact than the use of "slum" or "slums") is either disguised ( as in s(c/l)um above ) or is struckout. Since the opinion of what is derogatory can vary from individual to individual, I can see where such an edit made by a moderator carries some intimation of preserving community standards, whereas an edit made by a non-moderator might not carry such an intimation and seem more arbitrary or individual. For me, having such a title edit it is like having a smudge removed from a picture window.

Gerhard "Someone Has To Clean Windows" Paseman, 2014.03.11


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