In a question about special lectures for the ICM, the following answer proposed that a lecture on how to make the mathematical field more diverse be given. The answer contains some rather bold statements about the intrinsic value of diversity, the current lack thereof, and the causes of this, which generated substantial discussion. I myself made a comment of disapproval about the statement that a talk on diversity had no other place to go.

"A topic ... with no obvious other place to go ..." Are you actually serious? Attention to diversity is all over the place. Every university has diversity statements. There's entire conferences dedicated entirely to women or minorities. There even special job positions for 'diverse' individuals.

My comment received over sixty votes, and it stood at the top of the post. It appears to have been removed, along with other dissenting voices of Harry Gindi, RP_, and probably others. I did not receive a comment about it being removed. What is the rationale for this decision?

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    $\begingroup$ I had nothing to do with the deletion of comments, and I'm glad yours is surviving here, because it shows the division within the community. However, the deletion of the comments by Harry Gindi does not represent silencing of dissent. He deleted his own comments, as he wrote that he was going to do here: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/111634/… $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ Reminder to everyone that Patriot is an apologist for slavery and treason, and should not be treated as a good faith participant in this kind of discussion. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @NoahSnyder, as someone who disagrees with the premise of this question and downvoted it, does this belong in a meta question? Presumably the answer, if the comments were removed, is that they violate community norms or site guidelines; it doesn't matter who made them. I wouldn't like to see ad hominem attacks become involved in policy decisions. $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ @LSpice: Generally I think that's true, but I make an exception for Confederates and Nazis who have no place in decent society. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ I also think it's telling that this discussion is certain to have more overt white supremacists involved in it than underrepresented minorities. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ @NoahSnyder isn't treason a good thing sometimes? Say a soldier who refuses to execute civilians in spite of a direct order is committing treason. Morally equating slavery with treason implies that good people should never question the state (or maybe you didn't equate them but then why mention Patriot's view on treason at all). $\endgroup$
    – user158636
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ Noah Snyder, your comments (here and on some other posts) seem to me antifascist enough that I am uncomfortable sharing a forum with you. I am willing to strike an uneasy peace with you by not commenting further in this thread if you will do the same (meaning your not commenting further in this thread also). I won't even assume lack of response as agreement with this; I'll just be grateful for the lack of response. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ @GerhardPaseman But it's fine for you to share a forum with fascists and apologists? Hypocrisy much? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ In the linked chat, it was suggested that the comments were possibly deleted automatically as a result of receiving too many flags. The help centre offers the following vague wording: "In addition to bringing the comment to the attention of the moderators, a sufficient number of flags on a single comment will cause it to be deleted automatically. The number of flags required for deletion varies based on the number of votes on the comment, as well as the content of the comment itself." Can moderators confirm that this is what happened? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Sayan, I respond with great reluctance: I want to share a forum with mathematicians and people who discuss mathematics, not politics and not the politics of exclusion. Unfortunately, MathOverflow is rife with the politics of exclusion, and I am sad that it did not develop into the idea of inclusion that I once had for it. Your remark is inciteful, not insightful, and I wish you would remove it. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ @GerhardPaseman Hi Gerhard, I hope all has been well since the MO celebration last year. I agree with your sentiment that these discussions are 'ugly' and non mathematical, but these topics are inherently ugly and open discourse around them is necessary to collectively perceive them and decide if we should take action. Encouraging everyone to stay quiet on the matter (even in pursuit of peace) indirectly supports the status quo since it has inertia on its side, and the status quo is unacceptable to many people including myself. I also hope for civility, but rudeness is preferential to silence. $\endgroup$
    – Alec Rhea
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @NoahSnyder Initially, this comment came across to me as (i) a harsh accusation, which was (ii) lacking in substantiating evidence. Finally, Theo provided some context. I think the discussion here would have greatly benefited if you included a link like Theo's from the beginning so that we all knew what you were talking about. In that spirit, is there any further specific context we should be aware of when forming our own opinions vis a vis user "Patriot"? $\endgroup$
    – Tim Campion Mod
    Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ @NoahSnyder: "Patriot is an apologist for slavery and treason" or, as Occam's Razor would suggest, someone who trolls people with a Confederate Flag avatar. Not something I'd do myself, but something I have seen people do and I can well sympathize with. Your summary is alarmist BS, and you knew this, which is why you gave no details and didn't link to the meta thread. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 16, 2020 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ @darijgrinberg My bold guess is that people who find the flag offensive don't see the distinction you draw between (1) trolls who use the flag publicly, and (2) true believers who use the flag publicly, as a particularly useful or interesting one. I would suppose that from their perspective, anyone who plants the flag in a public forum goes into the same mental box and it would be a waste of time to do otherwise. Incidentally, do you think MathOverflow should be more welcoming to trolls than to the people they pretend to be? $\endgroup$
    – S. Carnahan Mod
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 7:21
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    $\begingroup$ @S.Carnahan: The question here is not how welcoming we should be to a certain person, but how interested we should be in a certain question. Patriot's question was obviously of interest to the meta community, seeing that it got 13 upvotes. I, too, think it is a valid question, which does not magically change just because it was asked with trollish intent. (Besides, it also mentioned RP_'s comments being deleted; RP_, unlike Patriot, is a long-time contributor with 66 answers.) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 17:30

1 Answer 1


Update: I moved all of the comments that were not deleted by commenters to chat. Your comment is restored there.

Older answer: I'll start by mentioning some context for the benefit of people who haven't read the question. Martin Hairer (chair of the ICM programme committee) asked a question about proposed topics for an ICM special lecture. David's answer started with, "A topic worthy of a special lecture, and with no obvious other place to go, is ways we as mathematicians can make our field more diverse, equitable, and inclusive."

Your comment starts as an objection to the claim that the topic has no obvious other place to go. David has clarified that he meant this in the context of lectures at the ICM, but let's assume this interpretation was not clear. Your response was roughly that diversity is a widely-discussed topic in academia, or perhaps that there are already substantial efforts to increase diversity in academia. Okay, but how is that a dissenting viewpoint? You were only addressing a peripheral point in the first sentence, and you didn't come to any conclusion about the core of David's answer.

What would your dissenting viewpoint be if you chose to write one explicitly?

  1. "I don't think this topic has a place in the ICM because people discuss it everywhere else"?
  2. "This topic is not worthy of a special lecture because I like my ICMs to be research-only/non-political/devoid of discussion about social aspects of our field"?
  3. "I disagree with the idea that we as mathematicians should try to make our field more diverse, equitable, and inclusive"?
  4. Something else?

To return to the point of your question, it seems that someone who may have read between the lines of your comment chose to flag it as "harassment, bigotry, or abuse" and a moderator then responded by deleting it. I don't know the precise rationale, but I approve of the deletion, since your comment is provocatively phrased, not particularly informative, and does not contribute substantially to a productive discussion. The fact that it got 47 votes is not absolute protection against deletion, but it does mean we weigh our options seriously.

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    $\begingroup$ I had read the comments by RP_ and by Patriot. I don't see what was so objectionable about these that they should be removed. Removing comments that one disagrees with does not fit with my ideas of liberal democratic discourse. I can understand if the comments were rude, or hateful, or distasteful, or ... ; but the comments that were removed were not in this category. $\endgroup$
    – Lucia
    Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Lucia The comments in question were borderline to me, and I am in fact still a bit conflicted. On one hand, comments on MO are not really meant as a place for liberal democratic discourse, and the standard for deletion of non-mathematical comments is quite low, but on the other hand, the specific deletion of those two comments could give an impression of favoritism. I am much more in favor of moving all of the comments to chat, because they are a distraction from the point of Martin Hairer's question, and of MO itself. $\endgroup$
    – S. Carnahan Mod
    Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for that response. Indeed it would have been better to remove all the comments to chat. I agree that the bar should be very low for irrelevant mathematical comments, but the discussion there was not mathematical. So perhaps different standards may apply? In any case, I strongly feel removing comments of this nature often backfires and ends up alienating people. Either political discussions should be avoided altogether (I would be very happy with that), or one must allow that others might have different/uncomfortable opinions. $\endgroup$
    – Lucia
    Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to second @Lucia, and I think the real rationale behind deleting the comment was that it goes against the currently fashionable idea to introduce policies to specifically promote particular groups of people, and this also seems to be the reason why the deletion sparks such an amount of controversy. $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl Mod
    Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for moving all the comments to chat. Since this restores the comments of RP_, Patriot and others, it addresses all my concerns. $\endgroup$
    – Lucia
    Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ @GerhardPaseman What, precisely, is "something like this"? Why is Noah Snyder's name even mentioned here? Your comments on this page and the corresponding MO page have been incredibly vague and unhelpful. $\endgroup$
    – S. Carnahan Mod
    Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ It is perhaps partially my fault that the moderators did not move the comments to chat, because I asked them not to in an email. I felt the comment thread was helping to make the case that the math community still has some reckoning to do about diversity, and I feared that if it was all moved to chat then many would never see it. However, I trust the moderators to know best, and I respect their decision today to move it all to chat. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidWhite Also, and I say this with kindness intended at heart, it is quite possible for me to despise the racism in e.g. the UK without being fully on board with the language of diversity that I see trumpeted by the younger revolutionaries in online maths communities, not least because I get a touch grumpy about being POCsplained to. Not that I view you as having done so, but just to put "the math community still has some reckoning to do about diversity" in some global context $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 0:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Lucia Thank you. For what it's worth, I must admit that my political beliefs probably lean a bit closer to Scott or Noah than to those who have disagreed with them, but mainly I wish that MO stuck to the things that might have a hope in hell of uniting us rather than providing another forum for us all to discover how much we disagree with each other $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ @YemonChoi: Most of us have most of participation here about math, but that's not true of Patriot who has spent the majority of their time here doing racist trolling and very little doing mathematics. I'm happy to respectfully disagree with you or Lucia and learn from your perspective, but as I said above Patriot is not a good faith participant who we should be seeking common ground with. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ Although you have mentioned that the messages have been moved to chat, some users might have problem finding that room. (Especially since the room was frozen.) So it might be useful to include a link to the room which you have created: chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/111776 $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 4:46
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    $\begingroup$ @NoahSnyder I'm not sure I agree that user "Patriot" has spent "most" of their time engaging in racist trolling. Yes, they initially had a racist avatar, but they seem to have accepted the mods' authority to do remove it. I also find their username to be unnecessarily politically charged. But when I look at their post history, I'm seeing on-topic, civil discussion for the past few years. So unless there's some pattern of making trollish comments and then deleting them (which would presumably be grounds for suspension), I just don't see it. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Campion Mod
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ Moving the comments to chat has one inconvenient though: it destroys the information contained in the upvote of the comments. The only honest solution is to put back all the comments, without censorship, at their initial place. I do not believe in Carnahan's honesty, but I will change my mind if I am proven wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Joël
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Yemon. Yes, I agree. But this defect is partially solved by the upvotes of other comments with opposed views. This is why it is particularly dishonest in a case like this to censor the comments defending one point of view and not the comments defending the opposing one. $\endgroup$
    – Joël
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Joël I agree with what you say about the inconvenience of losing upvote information, but the alternative is having 100+ comments that have almost nothing to do with ICM special lectures on a page that is specifically about ICM special lectures. $\endgroup$
    – S. Carnahan Mod
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 15:58

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