I've heard today that Jean-Christophe Yoccoz passed two days ago:


I think people would want to know.

Does it make sense to announce it (as community wiki) on Mathoverflow, aven if this is not a real question?

REMARK: I actually did post it on MO, but after 10 minutes I got at least three bad reactions and decided to delete the question. I still believe that it would make sense to post it on MO, but didn't want to start a neverending discussion in the comments.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think it's appropriate to make these announcements here. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Sep 5, 2016 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you. Let me mention that people have announced the passing of venerable MO users; that this might be a different category is open for discussion. In general this type of announcement seems to be better received when made at meta, rather than main. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Sep 5, 2016 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ There is question here, but similar sad announcements are purely informative. What is the point in upvoting sad news? Maybe be I am missing something, but if the news about my death is on a forum supporting votes, I'd prefer the people I care about to not upvote it. Downvoting doesn't make sense too. $\endgroup$
    – joro
    Sep 6, 2016 at 5:29
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    $\begingroup$ @joro One possible interpretation of the upvotes is that they express the opinion that it was useful to post the information here. Upvotes also have a side effect that they make it more likely that the post gets into the community bulletin. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2016 at 7:28
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    $\begingroup$ @joro: In such a context, I interpret upvotes to be an expression of sympathy and of condolences. $\endgroup$
    – Alex M.
    Sep 6, 2016 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ What is the cause of the death? In this official text, they talk about a disease, but which disease? (I hope it is correct to ask) $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2016 at 8:05
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    $\begingroup$ @SebastienPalcoux In an announcement on mailing lists, they mentionned leukaemia. $\endgroup$
    – Aurel
    Sep 10, 2016 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ In the meantime, this post on meta was created: News of potential interest to the MO community. Several obituaries has bee posted there. (It is not generally agreed whether meta.MO is a suitable place for this, but the post has not been closed either.) $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2017 at 6:50

1 Answer 1


I don't think it's appropriate to make such an announcement EDIT: on the main site. I understand the impulse, since news like this propagates slower than you might think. My recollection is that in a few cases where a member of the MO community died, we added a banner to the top of the site, but posting this as a normal question is simply not what the site is for (this is easily seen from: https://mathoverflow.net/help/on-topic). I think this is particularly clear since Yoccoz didn't have any connection I know of to MO, but in general, I don't think we want to be in the business of sorting out which such events to announce and which not.

I think it's fine to make a post in meta about someone involved in the community passing away (or has a more happy life event; maybe I should have posted when my daughter was born). I think posting about every mathematician who dies is not really what meta is intended for, but I doubt anyone will object to it from time to time.

EDIT: I have to admit, I'm slightly confused about the downvotes. There are a lot of gray areas in what is an acceptable question and what isn't, but announcements are very clearly outside site policy. I understand the impulse, because there aren't a lot of places to make announcements to a broad audience of mathematicians, but there are a lot of announcements that people out in the world want to make, and they could easily drown out the questions (most of which are much less notable than this news).

Maybe I muddied the waters too much by talking about whether it was appropriate to post on Meta. I think if you read the explanation of what Meta is (https://mathoverflow.net/help/whats-meta), then my reading is that announcements are not really part of the intended purpose, but Meta doesn't really have a clear policy on what's kosher and what not, so it's harder to make firm pronouncements.

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with this answer. While the news here is sad, I still appreciated that someone posted it on Meta. I don't really see the damage it does. And as for relevance/suitability, people can indicate by voting up or down or closing or deleting if they felt that the news was appropriate or not. Congratulations on your daughter! $\endgroup$
    – Lucia
    Sep 8, 2016 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Lucia Do you actually disagree with the answer? I didn't say it was wrong to put it on Meta. $\endgroup$
    – Ben Webster Mod
    Sep 9, 2016 at 0:53
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, I guess I misunderstood your response. Indeed it is not suitable on the main site (although the Grothendieck news was first posted on the main site), and I was fine with it being on Meta. (I think it is your first line which confused me -- it seems to indicate disapproval of the announcement in the question, although I agree that on closer reading it really is answering the question.) $\endgroup$
    – Lucia
    Sep 9, 2016 at 1:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Lucia: I think that Ben is right. If someone involved with MO (even in the past) passes away, that's something somewhat related and it might have some place on meta. But I don't know if announcing general mathematicians passing away is appropriate. Because people die all the time, it's sad but true. You could say "well, just the influential ones", sure, but who's influential? And that would also be a sure fire way to insult a lot of people who think that one person is influential and another is not (I never heard of Yoccoz before seeing this post, for example). $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Sep 9, 2016 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ However, if there is some consensus that these sort of announcements should be acceptable to make, then I'd much rather for them to be concentrated in one big thread where people could post an answer announcing one tragedy or another. It makes much more sense to have it like that, than to have new threads each time. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Sep 9, 2016 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila Yoccoz was a Fields medalist, so I think he is undoubtedly influential. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2016 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Andy: I'm not arguing otherwise. I'm only pointing out that there is no good definition for "influential" which will not disrespect both the living and the dead at some point, if we agree that for influential mathematicians it's okay to make these announcements. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Sep 9, 2016 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila There's no good "definition" in the mathematical sense, but there are people for whom it is utterly clear. There have been very few of these kinds of announcements here, and they all are for people who are either seriously famous or who frequent MO. I don't see why it is worth getting bent out of shape about these things unless they start becoming frequent and annoying. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2016 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Andy: Let me begin by saying that I completely agree with Ben, and I think that in the case that the person was a prolific contributor, then perhaps some announcement is in place, or at least a small line added to the profile description. But other than that, well... would people have objected if someone would have announced the recent passing of Andras Hajnal, or Saul Feferman? In set theory they had a lot of influence, but I doubt many people would recognize their names outside of logic. And as prizes don't mean much, who would argue that a recently deceased person wasn't influential? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Sep 9, 2016 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila: I certainly know who both of those people are (Feferman is almost a household name), and my research interests are pretty distant from set theory. In any case, I would not have objected to announcements of their names. Again, if it's not becoming a super-frequent thing, why not allow it? I don't believe in making rules except in response to things that are disruptive or which make MO a less interesting place. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2016 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Andy: I think that we're at an impasse. I don't disagree with your approach, but my experience in math.SE is that often setting precedents and "fixing the rules later" can be harder than "fixing the rules now". Especially in a community whose users are from extremely different cultural backgrounds. In any case, I think that if we are going to allow this, then perhaps having an "Obituary column" meta thread. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Sep 9, 2016 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila: I think that an obituary column on meta is an excellent idea! People that don't care about this kind of thing can ignore it. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2016 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyPutman Perhaps a rough approximation to see how frequent this would be is having a look at a few lists like this and simply find how many occurrences of the word mathematician are there. (If "notable enough for Wikipedia article* is around the level "notable enough for the obituary thread".) I also think that nobody would object to mentioning something like that in chat. (The main MO chat room is hardly ever used anyway.) $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2016 at 13:32

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