Mathoverflow has seven moderators, but many of them seem to be inactive (at least from the point of view of an unprivileged user): for instance, they are not active on meta, and they moderated few questions recently (SEDE query thanks to Martin Sleziak; shows time-dependent results so it may change in future). It seems to me that Todd Trimble carried the burden of moderation single-handedly in these summer months, for instance.

Stack Exchange claims that "we periodically hold democratic moderator elections", but that seems blatantly false. We had only one moderator election, five years ago.

Should we have new elections?

I don't intend to run myself, but I have in mind one or two users that would make good moderators in my opinion.

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    There are not many ways how regular users can evaluate which moderators do most of work. (Mods have access to stats such as average flag-handling time or how many flags where handled by each moderator - which might be quite good way to see whether the current moderator team suffices for the site's needs.) I hope we'll here from moderators how they see the issue. – Martin Sleziak Aug 24 at 7:32
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    From the link in your post I see that you have used participation on meta as a measure of activity - which seems reasonable to me, it is related to moderating and it is publicly displayed, so it is something even regular users can check. I have listed a bit more detailed stats in MathOverflow chatroom. – Martin Sleziak Aug 24 at 7:33
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    BTW in the past there was a complaint about the wording - namely the word periodically. See here: Disinformation on moderator elections. (This was probably a follow-up on Mathematics Meta discussion: Have there been no moderator elections since December 2014?) – Martin Sleziak Aug 24 at 7:36
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    You seem to conflate activity on meta with being an active moderator. And whether or not some of the moderators are more and less active, is a good question, but it's not the same as pointing out to the activity on meta on "the public front". – Asaf Karagila Aug 24 at 8:45
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    @MartinSleziak Thanks, I didn't know about that discussion. Anyway, no amount of grammar lawyering can stop me from thinking that using the word "periodically" for "it happened once in 8 years and there isn't a second one planned" is confusing and should be changed. – Federico Poloni Aug 24 at 9:28
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    Setting all statistics aside, however interesting they might be, I'd expect new election in situations when either: 1) The current mods feel overwhelmed by the amount of work and need new additional moderators to help out. Or: 2) If the MO community is, for some reason, not satisfied with the work of moderator's team. – Martin Sleziak Aug 24 at 11:27
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    Independent of comparisons of recent activity of particular people -- in most cases, people elected for a public office serve a certain term of office, after which new elections are being held. -- Why should moderators on MathOverflow be an exception to this? – Stefan Kohl Aug 24 at 15:42
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    François and I were elected in 2010, but not using the special StackExchange election infrastructure. If you have over 10k points, you can see the (now deleted) June 2010 moderator election page here: mathoverflow.net/questions/28198/moderator-election-vote-here – S. Carnahan Aug 24 at 17:38
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    @StefanKohl "On all Stack Exchange sites, elected moderators serve until 1) they resign, or 2) Stack Exchange decides that they are not worthy of the position, or 3) their inactivity level reaches some critical point, or 4) a moderator action review process results in a decision to remove them"... This is from math.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/26536/…... – Praphulla Koushik Aug 24 at 18:00
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    One difference (I'm guessing) between this forum and the other Stackexchange forums is that there is an LLC staffed by many of the moderators for the continued support of this forum. Before an election is considered, the relationship between this corporation and the moderation team should be clarified. In particular, will a new moderator be expected to participate in the corporation duties? Gerhard "There Are Wheels Within Wheels" Paseman, 2018.08.24. – Gerhard Paseman Aug 24 at 18:29
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    @S.Carnahan Neither reason for deleting it seems very compelling, I must say. I suggest to undelete it, move it to Meta where it belongs (so that the badges will become badges on Meta, which are even more worthless than those on the main site) and delete the answer mentioning Harry Gindi. – Federico Poloni Aug 24 at 19:17
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    By the way, congratulations to Scott Morrison on becoming Australia's PM. Gerhard "Scott Must Be Very Busy" Paseman, 2018.08.24. – Gerhard Paseman Aug 24 at 21:55
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    "...the sanctity of the badge count" !!! – Gerry Myerson Aug 24 at 22:27
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    @GerryMyerson I suppose I could have chosen better words. I do not take badges particularly seriously, but Timothy Gowers's comment on one of the answers on the page in question suggests that there are people who do, and I see no reason to invalidate their views. – S. Carnahan Aug 25 at 4:51
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    @StefanKohl This discussion on Meta Stack Exchange is related to your question: Should Community Moderators be “elected for life”, or have terms? – Martin Sleziak Aug 28 at 13:10
up vote 22 down vote accepted

This is what I wrote (with slight edits) at the MO chatroom:

I guess I should mention that I am often in contact with my fellow moderators, especially when a sticky situation arises that I'm not sure how to handle, I'll want to consult them or get consensus. That kind of behind-the-scenes activity is of course invisible to general users.

I think part of the "problem" is that I am on MO so much, and I process flags so readily (because I like having a clean inbox), to the point where other moderators often don't have much of ordinary moderation to do when they tune in. They can't be blamed for that. I could voluntarily scale back my activity, if that would be considered a healthy thing to do...

I would also like to mention that other moderators are involved with labor-intensive activities such as setting up MathOverflow, Inc. as a non-profit (that's a lot of paperwork and legal work), financial activities, and improvement of the citation function, to name a few. This may help offset any impression that other moderators aren't doing much.

Finally, let me mention that we moderators have a yearly meeting where one of the agenda items is to discuss whether we should have another moderator. Of course my input is sought since I am currently the most active moderator for day-to-day on-site actions. So far I have reported not feeling a personal need for more, but it's of course fine to discuss this at meta.

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    Todd, I wouldn’t want you to scale back the work that you enjoy and that many of us appreciate so much, but it’d be good to see if MO can remain robust in your absence. So sometime it might be healthy to take a vacation! – Matt F. Aug 24 at 20:34
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    Thanks, Matt. In view of some reactions I've seen recently, I'm indeed considering explicitly announcing my handing over the rudder of day-to-day activities to my fine colleagues, at least for a while, while I find other ways of serving in a moderator capacity. There are plenty of things that need to be done. – Todd Trimble Aug 24 at 20:51
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    @ToddTrimble I hope this thread of mine is not one of the reasons why you are thinking this. I think you're doing a great job and I have no complaints against the current group of moderators; I was merely worried that we were stressing you out too much with this amount of work. – Federico Poloni Aug 25 at 6:09
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    Federico, please don't worry; if anything, this and what was said in the chatroom helped put my mind at ease. I should clarify that I'm not contemplating quitting as moderator, but maybe following Matt's suggestion for a month or two at main and seeing what happens -- meanwhile attending to sorely neglected matters brought up at meta. "Reactions I've seen recently" refers to a recent uptick in some of my actions being called into question (for reasons other than this thread, yesterday was particularly trying), and thus it might indeed be good backing off and giving other mods more of a crack. – Todd Trimble Aug 25 at 12:16

Nope, everything is fine, no need for new elections.

  • I think Ben Webster says the same thing... :O What is new here? – Praphulla Koushik Aug 28 at 17:51
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    Andras is trying the experiment, rather than proposing it. Gerhard "That's What Is New Here" Paseman, 2018.08.28. – Gerhard Paseman Aug 28 at 17:53
  • Oh. I understand now... – Praphulla Koushik Aug 28 at 18:21
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    Yes, I am doing the experiment, but I also mean it: I am really satisfied with the way how this site is moderated and I am grateful to our moderators for this. How they do it is in the end their business. There are many of us here ready to help if needed. – András Bátkai Aug 28 at 19:52
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    As a poll, isn't this biased towards those who spend time on meta, and hence under-representing those for whom "business as usual" is fine? (Declaration of interest: I have upvoted here and I agree with @AndrásBátkai ) – Yemon Choi Aug 29 at 12:13

I thought the community deserved a little update on the internal moderator discussions on this point. My answer below just speaks for me, but I did run it by the other moderators, and got no objections. It's my attempt to lay out our thinking, so that people have a chance to disagree.

Our basic calculation is that moderator elections have the potential to create problems and there don't seem to be any issues they are likely to solve, so until we see a change in that balance, it doesn't make sense to elect new ones. None of us are strongly opposed to moderator elections, now or on general principle, but at the moment, we've agreed that the (small) risks outweigh the (small) benefits.

Let me talk about both sides of that equation: I don't think I need to point out to anyone who reads the news that elections can have unpredictable consequences. I think it's pretty unlikely that the MO community would elect someone who created any serious issues or who had big clashes with current moderators, but life is unpredictable. I think this is a little trickier with MathOverflow than it would be with another StackExchange site because of our unusual history and identity within the StackExchange network. As Gerhard mentioned, there is a separate non-profit run by the moderators which exists mainly to hold onto our option to go independent of the larger StackExchange world if the need ever arose; it also exists to accept funds which could potentially be used against future costs (ironically, the main thing we have actually used money for is to set up the LLC; this was done with a grant from the Sloan Foundation). Again, I don't think that the MO community would elect someone who didn't appreciate the site's mission and what makes it different, but a moderator election would raise some sticky questions (would we commit to adding the new moderator to the board before the election?) that seem like unnecessary complications.

The opposite side of this is the potential benefits. I think that this question started with the observation that several of the moderators are not especially active. This is undoubtedly true, but largely stems from the fact that Todd tends to get to moderation flags before any of the rest of us have a chance to see them. The number of questions requiring by hand moderator intervention is quite small (and most them don't actually require it); if you look in data explorer, you'll see Todd took almost all the by-hand actions in the last year, but that the total number (not counting Community) is around 50, so one a week. Actually, becoming a moderator can interfere with participating in day-to-day moderation, since voting for closure or deletion as a "civilian" is impossible and your vote on its own will close or delete a question. I think arguably the last few years proves that Todd could handle the day-to-day moderation on his own if he needed to (not that we would ask him to).

So, the much more important thing moderators do is deal with occasional weird and difficult cases (we occasionally have banned users who very stubbornly try to post under different accounts, vote fraud, etc.) and act as long term stewards of the site. We do also have the bully pulpit to weigh in on issues facing the site, though that's only really our moral suasion (and electing a new moderator wouldn't do much to give them more authority on this point). If that or some other aspect of the moderator job needs new blood, I think the current moderation team is quite open to having elections, but I haven't seen a strong argument for it.

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    I have some concerns regarding a) some missing remarks of mine that I did not delete, and b) some unanswered emails to the moderators concerning policy/promotion. Although there are also some broader concerns, these other concerns have been present for almost as long as I have participated. Since the forum is still here, I prefer to work with the existing team on these and other concerns rather than change the team. Thanks for the update and the chance to disagree. Gerhard "Thanks For Having Me Mostly" Paseman, 2018.09.11. – Gerhard Paseman Sep 11 at 15:42
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    Just a minor objection to one thing Ben said: it should be added that I have always relied on the other moderators to help me carry out day-to-day operations: particularly when I have a tricky flag or circumstance to respond to, I'll ask others for input/advice. In recent days, in accordance with comments below my answer (starting with Matt F''s), I have scaled back some day-to-day activities, mostly processing only very routine flags, and leaving harder cases to my other moderators for now. So the moderators really are in this together, and we as a team come to consensus pretty readily. – Todd Trimble Sep 12 at 15:09

I don’t have a strong opinion in the matter, but I’m curious how many upvotes an answer that said “Nope, everything is fine, no need for new elections” would get.

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    I think it depends on whether the answer comes from a diamond or not. However, holding a poll might work: one answer to vote up for elections, one answer for not elections, and one for undecided/don't care. Gerhard "Hears Apathy Is Rather Popular" Paseman, 2018.08.26. – Gerhard Paseman Aug 27 at 5:21

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