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There had been numerous comments under the question Recent observation of gravitational waves that discuss whether it is appropriate for MathOverflow. That discussion is properly a concern of MO meta, so I am setting up a thread for it here.

The comments at main have now been transferred to http://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/35708/discussion-on-question-by-richard-stanley-recent-observation-of-gravitational-wa and deleted at main, so people can see the main points of the prior discussion but without cluttering up the MO thread. I respectfully request that further discussion avoid terms like "MO police" or "censorship", etc., which tend to create more heat than light.

Part of the discussion revolves around the fact that the OP has a high reputation both in terms of points and in real life, and this makes a difference in how the question should be treated. This might be worth discussing in a separate meta post.

Anyway, on the table is whether the question is appropriate for MO, and if not, should it be migrated to Physics or Astronomy? (Edit: it seems that migration would likely result in a "closure as duplicate" at either of those sites, so the latter question is probably off the table.)

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    $\begingroup$ Isn't it a no-brainer that high-rep (IRL or virtual) should be completely irrelevant? $\endgroup$ – Danu Feb 14 '16 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ It should be pointed out that the question would likely be closed as duplicate at both Physics and Astronomy (e.g., of physics.stackexchange.com/questions/235720/… or astronomy.stackexchange.com/questions/13725/…). So a possible yardstick would be "What answers could the MO community give that the others couldn't" (and possibly edit the question accordingly). $\endgroup$ – Christian Clason Feb 14 '16 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @danu I'd argue that who is asking adds critical context about what level and kind of answer is appropriate. No answer is appropriate to all audiences. $\endgroup$ – user1504 Feb 14 '16 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ @user1504 I'm not very well-acquainted with mathoverflow (I come here mostly to stand in awe at you guys' interesting yet forever-out-of-reach discussions) but as far as "normal" Stack Exchange sites go, it is very important to have answers of varying difficulty/depth, regardless of who posted the question. Thus, even in this context, reputation of the asker should be disregarded (again, this may be different here on MO where not everything is necessarily as it is on other SE sites). $\endgroup$ – Danu Feb 14 '16 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ I am willing to let MO rep contribute toward giving a benefit of the doubt. If someone has contributed as much to the site as the OP, then why not give the question a chance? $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Steinberg Feb 14 '16 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ Another argument why the question should be improved independently of who asked it: What if Richard Stanley decides to delete his account at some point (as others have done before him), and it becomes user2807's question? $\endgroup$ – Christian Clason Feb 14 '16 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Lucia because the notion that different users should be treated in fundamentally different ways merely based on on-site or off-site merits without relation to the situation at hand is highly objectionable and borderline offensive to some, in any case it is to me. Indeed it is sometimes criticized this were the case, usually in the other way round. This attitude also fuels existing negative preconceptions against this site as being some in-clique (I do not say this is the case but the conception exist). $\endgroup$ – user9072 Feb 14 '16 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ That's too bad if you find such a perspective offensive. Others might find questionable the idea of insisting that no perspective besides one's own can be valid --- you have made numerous comments here about how you think about this issue, but surely there can be other viewpoints? $\endgroup$ – Lucia Feb 14 '16 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ Offensive is a completely useless word in this context. Being offended is not an argument in any way. However, I do sympathize with the idea that the rules should be the same for everyone. Otherwise, what's next? Users with 20K rep opening a topic about who else is barbecuing in February? $\endgroup$ – RP_ Feb 14 '16 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ For what it is worth, I certainly think that the real world identity of a poster can and should be taken into account when responding (whether by comments, answers, or moderation actions) to a post. It's long established that the moderation team here mostly encourage users to post under real world identities. Remember, MathOverflow is not part of "the internet" --- it is part of the world of professional research mathematics. $\endgroup$ – Scott Morrison Feb 14 '16 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ The discussed question may be not great, but I wonder what should make it less on-topic than e.g. the question on where to buy premium white chalk which remained open for 5 years. In any case, I don't see a particular point in closing occasional borderline questions of people like Richard Stanley who have contributed a lot to this site -- if some people like them, why not just leave them open. $\endgroup$ – Stefan Kohl Feb 14 '16 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, I'm surprised there even is such a discussion -- some who's been around long enough to earn 20k reputation shouldn't be offended by a polite "Sorry, as currently written, this question is off-topic here. Presumably you're asking here rather than on physics.SE because you want to know about some specific mathematical background. Would you mind editing your question to make this explicit?" (Which, incidentally, is exactly what I would have written for a rep 1 user.) $\endgroup$ – Christian Clason Feb 14 '16 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ @René: At the time of writing this, Richard Stanley's question has score +28. -- I am not convinced that this is in line with your assertion that "the rules are clearly violated" by his question, at least not unless you elaborate on why you think they would. Site rules are not set in stone, but always up to interpretation by the community. $\endgroup$ – Stefan Kohl Feb 14 '16 at 23:47
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanKohl: Yes, but the mere fact that rules are subject to change over time doesn't mean that they aren't still rules. Like this one (from mathoverflow.net/help/on-topic): "MathOverflow's primary goal is for users to ask and answer research level math questions, the sorts of questions you come across when you're writing or reading articles or graduate level books. [...]" I don't see why 30+ upvotes would invalidate this basic part of the MO mission statement. However, I will now withdraw from this discussion, as I don't think it'll result in any changes (unfortunately). $\endgroup$ – RP_ Feb 15 '16 at 6:00
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanKohl As you may or may not be aware of, the question has reached the "hot network questions" list on Stack Exchange, which is displayed on every page on the entire network, incredibly boosting exposure and voting while usually being indicative of being of less interest from experts as documented e.g. here on Physics Meta, because a popular "HNQ" post is usually very low-level (the case at hand is no exception). Please don't confuse this with good reception from the community. $\endgroup$ – Danu Feb 15 '16 at 8:37
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It seems that the moderators' opinions are not unified on this question, so I will offer my view wearing my private citizen hat.

The question asks how various parameters of an apparent black hole collision were extracted from LIGO data. If we made a Venn diagram that let us sort questions by subject, I think this question would fall squarely in the "applied math" bubble, together with substantial intersections with other fields. I hold the position that applied math should be welcome at MathOverflow, with the proviso that questions should be written in a language resembling that of mathematicians.

If someone approached me on the street and asked me this question, I would reply something like, "the recorded waveform was probably matched to numerical simulation data, and bounds on errors were derived from known noise characteristics", but I would be unable to elaborate on any details. I think this question is an opportunity for more mathematically informative answers to be given by people who are familiar with numerical GR and the LIGO project in particular. For example, I have heard from practitioners that there have been substantial advances in numerical GR in the 21st century that draw on nontrivial theoretical mathematics, and I would be interested to know in more detail what those advances are and to what extent they have helped with the extraction of the relevant figures.

Finally, I think the observation of gravitational waves is an incredibly important scientific discovery, and this question in particular is an on-topic forum for illuminating intersections with research mathematics.

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    $\begingroup$ It does not really ask what you say it asks. Would it be as specific as you describe it, it would already be better; $\endgroup$ – user9072 Feb 14 '16 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ @quid Richard Stanley provided some parameters, and asked how the conclusions were reached. I see no substantial difference between his question and my description. $\endgroup$ – S. Carnahan Feb 14 '16 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ Well, there is a difference nevertheless. The question as it stands asks, very succinctly, how certain "conclusions" were reached. No word about parameters, might I add. It also doesn't specify that the answer should be about the applied mathematics side of the matter, so it seems just as likely that the asker is interested in the physics, not the maths. Indeed, given the stipulation "assuming no deep knowledge of GR", and given that the sole tag is general-relativity, I'd even say that that is more likely. $\endgroup$ – RP_ Feb 14 '16 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ @René I would fully support an edit to the question that emphasized more the applied mathematics aspects, so as to keep the discussion on-topic for this site. (Something like this suggestion also came up in private discussion between moderators.) Is that an edit you'd feel comfortable performing? $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Feb 14 '16 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ @René I would prefer to give Richard Stanley the benefit of the doubt here, and assume that the word "conclusions" does not exist in a context-free vacuum, but instead refers specifically to the information given in the immediately preceding sentences of the question, e.g., the numerical parameters like the masses of the black holes. Similarly, long-time users of this site can be expected to know the rules, and we can safely assume that they are not asking for popular-science or introductory physics tutorials. $\endgroup$ – S. Carnahan Feb 14 '16 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ The difference in my mind is where the explication of the chain of reasoning/observations leading to the conclusion mentioned in the question should start. The question is unclear in that regard. For example, the question: "Given some recorded waveform, how can we conclude [this] caused it rather than something else?" is different from the question "How can we record data that allows to conclude [this] happened?" You seem to make a case for the former, but the answer by user1504 who also defends the questions addresses the latter broader question. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Feb 14 '16 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ For instance "These gravitational waves interact with the laser interferometer detectors by expanding and contracting their axes. You can measure the phase difference in the recombined lasers. Take data more or less continuously and get lucky, and you'll sometimes sample waveforms we think are particular to binary black hole mergers, given what we know about the evolution of star populations." This does not look like a discussion of applied mathematics to me, rather this looks like a moderately sophisticated popular-science description of a physics experiment. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Feb 14 '16 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ "the recorded waveform was probably matched to numerical simulation data, and bounds on errors were derived from known noise characteristics" I find this the perfect answer to the OP. But I would not think that it would be an appropriate answer on MO. I think similar about the original question: It's a good question to start a conversation but not for MO. $\endgroup$ – Dirk Feb 14 '16 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ @S.Carnahan: As far as I can see, Richard Stanley was asking a physics question, pure and simple. I'm not going along with your argument that since R.S. must be aware of the rules, he can't be wilfully breaking them. By that logic, established users can never be in the wrong, which is precisely the kind of thinking some of us here are criticizing. $\endgroup$ – RP_ Feb 14 '16 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ @quid I don't see any need for editing the question. However, I do see a need for less legalistic gate-keeping of topics on MathOverflow. Your supposition is quite loaded with an ambiguous passive voice, so I would call it "poorly defined and unnecessarily aggressive" rather than "incorrect". $\endgroup$ – S. Carnahan Feb 17 '16 at 0:19
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    $\begingroup$ I find it in bad taste to focus on linguistic details in an asymmetric situation. I write in your (I think) not in my native language. The passive voice was used to stress that it could be done by somebody else, as opposed to insisting OP needs to do it themselves. In my perception this indirection is actually more polite. But the actual point of the comment was to make you maybe realize that your similar formulation is just counterfactual in general. There are numerous long-term users simply oblivious to rules, without ill will or it being a problem IMO..But let us not pretend otherwise. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Feb 17 '16 at 0:59
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    $\begingroup$ @quid Indirection causes ambiguity by removing the intended subject, and often has passive-aggressive connotations. Should Richard Stanley be the one who has to edit if quid is the one who perceives the question as unclear? As long as we're are in an asymmetric situation, I would recommend against using the word "rules" in this context (yes, I know I started it) and replacing it with something like "rough guidelines" or "community norms" that conveys more flexibility. That said, I don't know of any long-term users who interact with the site in a particularly norm-violating way. $\endgroup$ – S. Carnahan Feb 17 '16 at 2:43
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    $\begingroup$ By "giving the benefit of doubt", I mean choosing good interpretations out of the set of reasonable ones and using those. Based on various reactions, it seems that contrary to my initial expectation, people find that both your interpretation and my interpretation of the question are reasonable. It happens that my interpretation is one that leads to good answers. user1504's first answer before the later improvements was already mathematically substantial, and the paragraph you selectively quoted was physical context but not the core of the content. $\endgroup$ – S. Carnahan Feb 17 '16 at 3:27
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    $\begingroup$ "Should Richard Stanley be the one who has to edit if quid is the one who perceives the question as unclear?" With the level of sensitiveness you apply, and given the context, I'd say one could consider your formulation as a slight. But beyond this, while I would not say "has to" and it is not necessarily an edit, the simple answer is yes usually it would be the nice and professional thing to do for an author to be responsive to reasonable inquiries and remarks on their posts. (Of course there can always be circumstances that prevent this in a specific case.) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Feb 17 '16 at 7:50
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry to come back, but I meant to reply to some specific points raised, yet was pressed when I initially replied: On not following guidelines. There is a long established guideline to use at least one top-level tag if at all possible. This is frequently not done, also by long-term users. This is small thing for sure, but it is an example of long-term users not following guidelines, presumably for rather trivial reasons of not knowing about them or not recalling to apply them. You might reply this does not qualify as "particularly norm-violating way" to which I would however reply $\endgroup$ – user9072 Feb 17 '16 at 11:55
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My view is that what should count is the (academic/scientific interest) times (the amount of mathematics involved). So if the academic interest is huge and the mathematical component is modest we should go for it. (Perhaps even actively try to ask about mathematics angles of super major developments in other sciences.) In other words if something huge happens far away in other sciences we should still try to intercept its waves on MO

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    $\begingroup$ To make this explicit is a very good idea in my view. It seems to me it is what happened in practice not rarely anyway. To be open about it will resolve most of the problems I have with this type of question. In fact, as said, I found the specific question a positive example in this regard. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Feb 18 '16 at 11:05
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I find it difficult to understand many of the comments and concerns that this question seems to have raised. The site has a fairly simple and well established procedure for closing/keeping open questions: five votes to close, five to reopen, five more to close and so on. In situations where reasonable people can disagree, this seems a perfectly fine way to resolve the disagreement -- one may be unhappy with the community decision, but one can still accept it with good grace (as I will if the question under discussion is closed again).

A similar question (in terms of suitability for the site, not to me in terms of interest) came up not so long back Optical methods for number theory? where I found myself on the other side. I thought this was not suitable for the site, and there I felt that the OP had not made quality contributions to justify the benefit of doubt (again people will disagree with this, but I am merely expressing my view of the question -- the OP in that case continued to ask poorly thought out questions afterwards). In that case, it was argued in Meta that the question could be salvaged and reopened, which is what happened. I found (and still find) little to complain of in that situation.

I learnt at least one interesting tidbit from the comments above: Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi. The gods may do what cattle may not. The commenter of course disagreed entirely with this sentiment, but comparison with the above question suggests to me that sometimes on MO the situation may be exactly the other way around -- conscious of potential injustices, people are happy to stand up for those who are not well established. That seems to me like a fine principle and I applaud it, but perhaps the "gods" can also be allowed the same privileges as the "cattle"?

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    $\begingroup$ What I find puzzling is precisely that there's no talk of salvaging the question (i.e., editing to make clear it's about the mathematical background) -- it's as if the post of a high rep user/eminent scientist (not clear what's the driving force here) is sacrosanct and may not be touched. This is contrary to what would happen to an unknown user (as in the question you refer to) and to the detriment of the site. $\endgroup$ – Christian Clason Feb 15 '16 at 7:38
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    $\begingroup$ It's true, almost no single question will be much of a problem; certainly the one in question is not. When there is a discussion and when there is just voting, is somewhat hard to predict. In this case a reason for me to enter a discussion was the first comment after closure: "This strikes me as no more off topic than some random exercise in the theory of moduli stacks." This is very strange thing to say. On the last phrase, first, I think in practice there is a bit of privilege in fact, but second. as S. Carnahan said: " long-time users of this site can be expected to know the rules[...]" $\endgroup$ – user9072 Feb 15 '16 at 10:10
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    $\begingroup$ Separately, then such discussions have a certain dynamic. I for one vehemently do not see this site as some in-club, and therefore speak against such tendencies when they arise. Some things said are in my opinion just appalling. (Those that say them are of course entitled to their opinion, and for some it is no news they have them and still we get along.) It starts to be off-topic, but what I see and read on this site over the years severely degraded my perception of the actual math-community. (To be clear, I am in every reasonable sense part of it. This is not an outsider remark.) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Feb 15 '16 at 10:16
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The specific question asked seems like asking for a popular-science explication of a result in physics (written for mathematicians). It seems like a private idle curiosity, as contrasted with a problem encountered as a mathematician.

Would the question be written differently and say, focus on a specific aspect the situation might be different. As it is I think it is also too broad.

Without claiming any expertise on the subject, I am still pretty sure that there are numerous aspects to "how these conclusions were reached" presumably touching on several distinct areas of applied mathematics.

The question that may have been intended to ask is one were a lot of the difficulty is abstracted away already, and the focus is on the inverse problem of determining/estimating the parameters of the objects assuming one has knowledge on the waves. If this is the case, then it should be made explicit.

Finally, I will remark that at least two of the users that had voted to close have a mathematical physics background.

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