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There goeth rumours abroad that some off-site groups are seeking a private forum together with the moderators here in order to make policy for MO.

I hope that the moderators will commit to transparency with regard to policymaking and host any such discussion here on meta or in a place where it can be monitored and commented upon by the community. I have no reason to doubt that the moderators would indeed demand that such a discussion take place where the community can participate, but it would set my mind at ease if the moderators would agree to this explicitly.

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "policymaking"? $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Jan 6 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ @FedericoPoloni I mean the proposing, discussion, drafting of policies. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 6 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ I don't really understand this post -- it seems to me that anyone who wants to discuss MathOverflow (or any other topic!) should be able to do so, privately or publicly. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Litt Jan 7 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ @DanielLitt The fact that you don't understand this post is exactly the reason why this post is necessary. Some of us here are worried that changes will be made in order to try to make this place more like twitter (witch hunts, stupid discussions, call-out culture, and terrible etiquette). $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 7 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ Well, I think that a "twitterization" of MO is quite unlikely, at least until we remain into the SE network and we must agree with its CoC. That said, some recent events of "coordinate downvoting" organized offsite makes me think that we must stay vigilant. I am not sure that "witch-hunts" and "call-out culture" are the right terms, but surely (in my opinion, at least) intimidation against dissent and personal attacks have no place here. $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Jan 7 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryGindi -- is it your contention that all discussion of MathOverflow whatsoever should take place on MathOverflow Meta? That is what I don't understand. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Litt Jan 7 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ @DanielLitt My opinion on this or that is not the topic of this discussion. If you want to ask me my opinions in private you know where to find me. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 7 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ @DanielLitt: Surely it's reasonable to say that discussions that might affect all MO users should take place on MO Meta. When Harry asked the question, it wasn't clear what was happening. Now with Ravi and Todd's answers it's clear that nothing that affects all MO users would be discussed just privately. So of course all such discussions are just fine. Do you really have such a hard time with the context of this question? Seems pretty straightforward to me --- I would not be happy with private discussions that result in policy changes without input here, would you? $\endgroup$ – Lucia Jan 7 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Lucia -- I guess I thought the idea that some secret and dictatorial cabal was going to unilaterally make policy for MO was a bit unlikely from the outset, but I indeed agree that should not happen. That said, it seems clear to me that anyone should be able to discuss whatever they want about MathOverflow in private, and I hope everyone agrees with that as well. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Litt Jan 7 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ @DanielLitt: Of course anyone can discuss anything anywhere. Even the US is still a democracy! I'm not even sure why that would need to be said, or how anyone on MO can go about preventing that? $\endgroup$ – Lucia Jan 7 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Lucia -- it seems to me that several of the comments on the answers below (and the post itself) are an attempt to make the discussion in question public -- even after the context was made clear. Of course no one can force the participants to do so, but it seemed worth pointing out that the proposed norm regarding discussions seemed a bit strange. Anyway, I think we agree! $\endgroup$ – Daniel Litt Jan 7 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Jan 8 at 1:43
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The rumor "some off-site groups are seeking a private forum together with the moderators here in order to make policy for MO" is incorrect, in fact way off the mark. There aren't off-site groups knocking on the moderators' door, much less seeking to help set policy for MO. That sounds like the bubblings of some conspiracy theory.

I will attempt to clarify what is really going on, before more such "telephone" rumors emerge.

There is widespread perception within the mathematics community at large that MO is important but can be a highly unwelcoming place. You may disagree with that, but the perception is undeniably there. And of course the members of the MathOverflow board are highly aware of that perception, and that it may be a serious problem for us in the long run. What should or can we do about it, if anything? We really don't know. Should we simply close our eyes to it, pretend there's nothing there? Doesn't seem like a good idea.

After some internal discussion within the board (which consists of the current moderators, Anton Geraschenko, and Ravi Vakil who has been part of the MO venture since the very beginning), we've put together a list of people who we thought might be able to help clarify the nature of the perceived problem. The list comprises both MO community members of long standing and respect (both here and IRL), as well as others outside who are prominent in the mathematical community, and who see MO from the outside. It's we, the board, who are seeking them out -- not the other way around. Only a few so far have gotten back to us. And they are not 'groups'. They are disparate individuals that some of us know, who have their own ideas and opinions, and who will probably disagree with each other in various respects. They didn't even know this was coming. But they are on the list because at least some of us know them, and trust to be people who can help drive a fruitful conversation.

And for now we are simply proposing to have a discussion (none has occurred yet), and yes, if we reach some shared idea about what the problem is or how extensive it is, we would also encourage suggestions for what (if anything) might reasonably be done about it. This is not even remotely close to the point of "setting policy"! For example, there would be no 'vote' taken within that group. We would not propose or presume any policy-making without an open discussion, here, before the community.

The list of people we compiled is not a matter for the MO Community to vote on, nor is it even a matter up for discussion. It is not after all a deliberative body that will vote to make decisions for the MO community and for which minutes will be taken and made public. Additionally, I hope it makes sense that sometimes, in order to have a frank and productive conversation where people can freely speak their minds, it's not always a great idea to have everything be public. In the present case, we feel discussion will flow more freely if the participants know that their speech will not be dissected in a public arena so that every word must be carefully weighed and measured.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks! I hope you'll report back to us periodically about what is going on with this. I also think it ought to be on meta.MO, as I mentioned earlier. This way we won't be confronted with an unworkable or nonsensical policy at some unknown point in the future. I'm uncomfortable with the idea that this has to be held in secret. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 7 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ I hope so too. We are in a very preliminary stage, obviously. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Jan 7 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ "The list of people we compiled is not a matter for the MO Community to vote on, nor is it even a matter up for discussion." - Well, I consider MO as a forum that is managed by a closed group of persons, who wants the content of the community, but isn't willing to contribute the community in a significant way. I feel confirmed in my opinion by your post. Maybe some of the problems you address ("What should or can we do about it, if anything? We really don't know.") could simply be overcomed by making moderator elections regularly and having some new moderators with new ideas from time to time $\endgroup$ – tj_ Jan 7 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ @tj_ What do you mean by "isn't willing to contribute the community in a significant way"? As far as I am aware the moderators, who should not be identified with "the managers", do quite a lot of work behind the scenes $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 7 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Yemon Choi: Take Todd's answer above. Instead of making a brainstorming within the community to collect ideas, board and moderators choose some persons in a totally non-transparent way from them they hope for ideas. So, in fact, they don't let the community contribute, but some persons, those list "is not a matter for the MO Community". $\endgroup$ – tj_ Jan 7 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ @tj OK so you meant to say that they do not consult the community, not that they do not contribute to it. FWIW, I am not at all sure what "the community" is. $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 7 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ @tj_ : Your comment makes me wonder how much experience you have with decision making for large organizations. Believe me, I have quite a bit, and if you ever want to get anything done, then the last thing you want to do is throw every question out to the community at large for "brainstorming" right off the bat. $\endgroup$ – Steven Landsburg Jan 8 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ Just for the record though, Todd, my original statement wasn't way off the mark, as Ravi has now confirmed in his answer (in fact, the information I had matches up exactly with Ravi's post, and I heard it through three different sources with quite a bit of precision, so I wasn't really taking shots in the dark here). I think it's not completely forthcoming to compare this to a conspiracy theory. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 8 at 1:32
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    $\begingroup$ Harry, I think it painted a very misleading picture. While I am not privy to any of the discussions Ravi has had with various people over the years, I think it's jumping to conclusions that there were groups approaching him and seeking to set policy. My guess it was more private individuals occasionally relaying concerns, or something. Maybe you could ask him. What I can say is that there have been no such groups contacting the moderators. Or at least I'm not aware of any such (and I think I'd know). $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Jan 8 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, if the problem is the community being unwelcoming to outsiders, asking the community how they feel about it is unlikely to lead to resolutions. It seems to me it makes sense to look outside an insular community to figure out changes that can be made within that community. (That is, I think we're coming at this from the perspective of insiders, but I think that the relevant perspective now is that of, as it were, outsiders.) $\endgroup$ – LSpice Jan 8 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know whether they can be considered as "outsiders", but some past contributors have ceased their participation for some definite reason, either by declaring it, or just progressively passing from frequent participation to very scarce or none. In some cases it might be related to feeling uncomfortable here for whatever reason. $\endgroup$ – YCor Jan 9 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ @YCor Several people have left in acrimony publicly on meta.MO, often in reaction to action by the administrators/moderators (iirc Mark Sapir, for instance). I would expect this to happen more if the administration decides to be even more heavy-handed. Adults generally don't like to be treated like children. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 9 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ Harry, I have an impression that MS has returned as a new pseudonymous user, and thus is once again contributing good mathematical responses. Besides, not everyone who has ceased or heavily reduced participation has done so for the reasons that Mark appeared to, and in at least one case I think they did so not because of the mods but because the mods were not clamping down on behaviour that you and others think is fine $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 9 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ Harry, could you please not kick up even more dust by painting moderators as taking unreasonable actions in other cases and anticipating things getting "even worse"? This is not something to be discussed in these damned comment boxes, and it's really off-topic (relative to the current thread). The whole MS saga is not to be rehashed and relitigated here. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Jan 9 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ Let's just try to keep things constructive. Your answer under Martin Sleziak's recent meta post is much better. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Jan 10 at 2:30
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I thought I should respond too, to follow up to @Todd Trimble's reply, to try to be as clear as I think reasonable.

This is not a board initiative, or an initiative of the moderators, although it arose out of many discussions of many different people over many years, including board discussions. But the board is aware of the initiative, and I believe the members of the board are individually supportive of it (although there is no vote). I understand that there is not universal agreement that MO is perceived as unwelcoming, especially to certain groups of people, and there is also not universal agreement that for the good of mathematics, MO should be more welcoming, and if so, what things can be influenced. I wanted to ask some people to have an informal discussion about it in one place (rather than serial small discussions over many years), and I picked them quickly and without much thought (because I wanted to get it done, and I have limited bandwidth, to be honest). I picked people who I think will be able to have a productive conversation together. I'm intending to have this discussion over the course of a month. This entire "group" is not official, and there is no way for it to set policy. But I want people to speak frankly, and not be reluctant to speak because they feel they have to choose their words carefully. So I've asked people to keep the conversation itself privileged, and I also want them not to share the names of the other participants (although they can of course say they were part of the discussion, and talk about it in general terms). For the discussion to work, there needs to be a high level of mutual trust. I knew in advance (and the board did too) that this could be taken as some secret cabal of highly-connected insiders. All I can I say is that this isn't the intent, and so if it is a secret cabal, I hope it is taken as my own action, asking people I know if we can chat about what I see as an important challenge for MO. And so the full blame should fall on me for asking people, and not on anyone else (including any of the moderators, as they did not officially sanction this in any way). For what it is worth, I invited all the MO moderators, and roughly half (I haven't checked precise numbers) are taking part. (Interesting that news of my effort leaked out before I'd even invited everyone! I will actually be a bit cautious with the rest of the invitations, because I don't want to hurt feelings.)

If there are things any of you want to pass on to me about this, please feel free to email me, and I will intend to pass everything on to the group (unless you tell me otherwise). If there are things any of you want to say publicly about this, then please do so (here on meta). If there are discussions you wish to have in other venues, of course by all means do, and I encourage you to do so. (Please be aware for both inflow and outflow reasons, I am very slow to reply to emails. I wish it weren't so. But this doesn't mean they don't get read.)

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    $\begingroup$ If you know who Lucia and Francesco are, I hope you could invite both of them. Some people find it hard to get along with me online, but I think the two of them have some very valuable perspectives that I agree with and would like to see represented at the cabal (and I think they aren't as polarizing as I am) =]. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 7 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ In general terms, this seems a good idea. But I'm not entirely sure why such discussions cannot take place openly and on Meta (I can certainly see some reasons for why you might want to do things differently, so this is just a gentle alternative suggestion). In any event, it would be good to include users outside the US in this; many MO discussions are extremely US-centric, and politics in the US is no model for anyone these days. I think YCor, Francesco Polizzi, Yemon Choi, Asaf Karagila and I'm sure many others would be good to have participate. $\endgroup$ – Lucia Jan 7 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ Aside from the other points, I also hope there can be some representation from various (mathematical) cultures. Not least because this will provide viewpoints on reception to MO that may be invisible to Anglophone, US/UK/etc users. $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Jan 8 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Lucia (and David Roberts): yes. We have this very much in mind as well, although I won't name specific names. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Jan 8 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ @ToddTrimble thank you. $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Jan 8 at 4:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Ravi Would you consider relaxing the disclosure of these discussions to Chatham House Rule standards? (not asking for it - just pointing it out as one successful and well known alternative to match the requirements you set.) $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 31 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I had not seen these standards before (I think), and I like the formalization! I don't think that it is retroactively changing anything to say that I think these rules apply. Also, I'm happy to answer questions as best I can. My main constraint is probably not secrecy but time. $\endgroup$ – Ravi Vakil Mar 31 at 13:32
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I personally trust the judgement of the moderators, and would not want to prevent them from having some preliminary stage-setting discussions with other parties in private if they felt that that was appropriate. Obviously any actual change in policy will need to be discussed openly here.

Anecdotally, it seems that there is a substantial class of potentially valuable contributors who feel that the basic framework of MathOverflow is unwelcoming. Whether or not you agree with that, it seems suboptimal to force them to use the same framework for even the earliest stages of a discussion of their concerns.

[UPDATE] Let me amplify my thinking a little. I am guessing that the mooted discussions mostly arise from concerns about gender balance. It is undeniable that among users of MathOverflow, there are only a tiny minority who are women using their real names. There may be a few more pseudonymous women, but nonetheless it is clear that the proportion of women on MathOverflow is far below the proportion of women in academic mathematics. I find this disappointing; there are certainly very many women whose expertise and insight would be extremely valuable if they chose to participate. I have not seen an explanation of this phenomenon that seems compatible with easily obtainable data.

Of course, we should consider explanations like "women do not regard MO as a productive use of their time, and they are correct in this judgement". While this should not be rejected out of hand, it would be strange to have a huge gender imbalance in judgements about the value of MO activity, and this would itself seem to need explanation. Often I see people suggesting that women are unwilling to participate in some kind of forum because they suspect that they will be harassed, or their qualifications belittled and their opinions ignored. I have tried to search for instances of this sort of thing on MO, and have found very few. In cases where women do participate using their real names, it seems to me that interactions are very normal, with other users being respectful and appreciative to experts, and helpful to novices. Certainly I see MO as being much more friendly to women than Twitter, despite the fact that women are far more common there.

This situation seems quite mysterious to me. I think that it is valuable to seek insight and suggestions from as many places as possible, even if the community ultimately decides not to accept such suggestions. So if there is some group who may have useful ideas who are reaching out to the moderators, then I think that the moderators should be as receptive as possible without committing the community to any course of action. Because I think that the situation is mysterious, I think we should avoid making assumptions about what kind of insights and suggestions we might receive.

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    $\begingroup$ Since you're saying in the opening paragraph that you don't want to prevent the moderators from having discussion in private - it seems to be something different from the issue raised in question. Moderators do have channels to have discussions visible only to moderators. It seems that they use the address moderators@mathoverflow.net for various discussions - I suppose it is accessible only to the moderators. The mods have also an option to create a chatroom which is not visible to regular users.... $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jan 6 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ I have added the phrase "with other parties" to clarify my meaning. $\endgroup$ – Neil Strickland Jan 6 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ My worry about lack of public comment in formulating policy with external parties is that the policies that arise in such fora tend to be presented as faits accomplis. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 6 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ Moreover, if people have a problem with the basic framework of MO, I don't see how any particular policy is going to change it. Maybe a better idea is for such people to build a competing model in a framework more to their liking. There simply aren't that many changes you can make to a Q&A format that will make it less like Q&A. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 6 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for your 2nd paragraph, Neil. $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 6 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ I should also note that in my question, I didn't ask that any such forum take place necessarily on Meta.MO (although I think that is preferable), only that MO community members can at least observe and discuss (and hopefully participate directly) from the beginning of the process, even if it were hosted on an offsite platform. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 6 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ honestly, it is not clear to me how much freedom we have. There is already a CoC valid on the whole of the SE network, that is quite strict. Harassment and abuse are easily recognisable and we MUST act to avoid them, but "un-welcomingness"? Is a simple answer like "This result is false for this and this" unwelcoming? At any rate, we will see... $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Jan 6 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding what may be the true underlying issue of gender balance, how about we ask people we know, especially female mathematicians, how they feel about participating on MO? I'm curious. The answers I would expect to get for why someone declines to participate, regardless of gender, would be either (a) lack of interest, or (b) worry about the potential for negative impact on professional reputation. Of course, no one is obliged to participate here, but it would be interesting to get a feel for why people generally choose not to. $\endgroup$ – Monroe Eskew Jan 7 at 1:08
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    $\begingroup$ I forget where I saw this, and have no memory of how well established it is, but there is apparently at least some evidence that men are more likely to stick with exercise programs that offer quantitative measures of progress whereas the opposite is true for women. This at least mildly suggests that the reputation system might draw men in and drive women away. It does not follow that there's anything wrong with the reputation system; any system at all is going to attract some people and repel others. $\endgroup$ – Steven Landsburg Jan 7 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ @FrancescoPolizzi regarding what may be felt by some to be unwelcoming: I don't know about "This result is false" but I do know that "this is not research level" is not very pleasant to receive, especially if it follows some terse answer-in-comments. I will also say, not directed at you, that in recent years, my semi-daily look at the "vote to close" queue has made me glad I never tried to go into algebraic geometry $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 8 at 3:08
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    $\begingroup$ @YemonChoi: I understand your concern, and I think that some better formula could be used. After all, "research level" is not even a well-defined concept. However, finding the balance between "being more tolerant and inclusive" and "avoiding to be flooded by a mass of poor questions" has always been a thorny issue and matter of discussion here. $\endgroup$ – Francesco Polizzi Jan 8 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryGindi now imagine you were a first-time user nervous about MO, and you got a delete vote (and somehow you found out, in my imaginary scenario). Why on earth would you self-delete a question after one vote? You've got four more to go! Others might not agree with that vote etc. ("treated the same"? cf ywcalgary.ca/news/equity-v-s-equality-whats-difference) $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Jan 8 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryGindi I can understand a “bow to the experts” reaction, but 1 vote to close is just noise. With 2–3 votes it may start to be a meaningful indicator, but not 1. $\endgroup$ – Emil Jeřábek Jan 9 at 10:19
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryGindi I find it bizarre that you think that link is somehow inappropriate on David's part: he was addressing you in conversation, not making some banner post on how We Should All Do X. (If you wish to discuss further with me we should take it to a chatroom; I have been guilty upthread of using this comment thread as a place to discuss with other commenters, but on reflection if I were Neil I would be getting a bit irritated by this.) $\endgroup$ – Yemon Choi Jan 9 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Harry in that case, apologies for bringing up something so contentious. I'm not from the USA, so maybe that means something different to you than it does to me. I don't think mathematics is or even should be run on equity, but just perhaps how we treat each other here on MO needs to be tweaked a little depending on the parties involved. People have feelings, after all, and just saying someone shouldn't feel embarrassed doesn't make it so (this is also hugely culturally-dependent; you don't don't see many Japanese mathematicians here, for instance). But I've said enough, you have the floor. $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Jan 9 at 20:46
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A reasonable process for new "policies" in my view is:

  1. Moderators and the MO board (or, for that matter, anyone else) discuss and make a proposal.
  2. This proposal is discussed on Meta, so that reasonable changes can be made, and users can express their disagreement.
  3. The (amended) proposal is implemented and made effective, if the board sees it fit.

If Harry is suggesting "let's not skip #2", I agree 100%. If Harry is suggesting "let's skip #1" (as it seems now), I do not agree. It is unreasonable to forbid the MO board to have private brainstorming sessions. Should we also ban them from discussing MO in the coffee room?

Let's not forget that the MO board has ultimate control on this platform, in the end, while we users have the freedom to leave and fork it if we don't like the changes.

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    $\begingroup$ Sure. Then I suggest we have a counter-#1-session as well. I'll invite the board and I hope they'll come and listen to my concerns as well. I'll make sure to bring together a chorus of people who share my beliefs and other friends of mine, and we can meet in a great big echo chamber (some kind of disused nuclear missile silo, maybe =] ). $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 8 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryGindi You can discuss with your friends, come up with a proposal, and suggest it on a Meta post. That has always been true. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Jan 8 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ I want to do it in secret with the board present, because that seems like a great idea now. That way we can swear (a frank and productive conversation?), because we're talking in private. Do you not see how it's different when it's a group of well-connected insiders doing it (and how silly my secret cabal meeting in an underground bunker sounds)? $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 8 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ Well, users have the freedom to leave but no to take away their possessions with them (questions, answers, comments), are they? Since these "possessions" are the entire presence of the user on MO, the "freedom to leave" is, indeed an empty phrase. $\endgroup$ – Joël Jan 8 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Joël What do you mean by "taking away", since they are a non-rival good? If you wish to permanently remove your contributions, you can't, legally: you licensed them to the world with a CC license, and now SE, you, I and everyone else can use them. This was always in the fine print. If you mean downloading and exporting your data to use them elsewhere and create your own private MO, you can, as long as you respect the same license. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Jan 8 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ I mean "remove your contributions" of course. Saying that you are "free to live" is a sick joke, honestly. I know that removing one's contribution is illegal, meaning that preventing a user to leave is ultimately based on the force of a gang of armed men, as Engels calls the State.You can be proud of yourself. $\endgroup$ – Joël Jan 8 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ Hi Federico: While I'm sure you're technically correct in your last para, I think that it is a bit counter to the ethos of MO. For example, the moderator page explicitly states that "moderation starts with the community itself." I agree with Joël that telling people that they can leave if they don't like it is not great. Having said that, I have really no concerns that the moderators would do anything without consultation with the community at large, and we don't really have to worry about your last statement. $\endgroup$ – Lucia Jan 8 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Joël You have unrealistic expectations here. Defining "leave = delete all your previous posts" sounds like twisting the meaning of that term. "Leave = stop making new posts" seems more natural, if you compare it to real-life uses of that word. In addition, note that you can delete your account and disassociate all posts from it, if you really wish to burn bridges. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Jan 8 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ I also interpreted the expression the way Federico explains. Given that you can't unlearn the things you read on MO it's not a big deal that you can't take back some of the posts you contributed. The meaning of "free to leave" is that you have no commitment to continuing this give-and-take relationship. This is not true for the board/moderators who are a bit more committed one way or another. $\endgroup$ – Gjergji Zaimi Jan 9 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ It's 2021, so yes, we should ban discussions in the coffee room. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jan 11 at 9:34
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I have absolutely no knowledge or involvement with any matter involving MathOverflow governance, including the initiative described in this question. I'm commenting based on my experience with policymaking more generally, both as a creator and subject of policy.

My opinion, in short, is: transparency at the early stages of the policymaking process is in nobody's best interests. The basic reason is that the process works best when many ideas are considered but the bad ones are killed off as quickly and secretly as possible.

Suppose it is discovered, for example, that a number of MO users who post about differential geometry a lot are toxic and driving away users that MO wants to attract. (This example is purely fictional.) Suppose somebody proposes to deal with this problem by banning the differential geometry tag from MO, almost certainly a bad idea.

Scenario 1: public debate. Yes, there would be good arguments about how it's silly to ban an entire field of mathematics due to a few bad actors. But there would probably also be bad arguments made by people who don't like differential geometry, and the toxic users themselves would probably make a scene. A big mess would ensue, and the whole episode would risk driving people away from the site.

Scenario 2: private debate. Even if the proposal had one or two passionate advocates, the argument that banning a major field of mathematical research will help attract more MO users is untenable and would be killed quietly, assuming a suitably informed and diverse group of participants are invited to the discussion.

Obviously scenario 2 is better. Out of the box thinking is good, but some ideas should be quietly put back in the box.

Of course, the extreme lack of transparency also carries risks - I wouldn't want MO to unveil a bunch of controversial new policies without providing users with a chance to ask questions and propose changes. Though the MO board has every right to take such an action if deemed appropriate. If the site had significant financial incentives to aggressively drive user growth or appease a corporate investor then I might be concerned, but so far as I am aware everyone is properly incentivized to create a healthy community for mathematicians.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess my worry is that scenario 2 is only better assuming that there is indeed a suitably informed and diverse group of participants. The only midly reassuring participant I'm aware of right now is Todd, and my understanding was that from the outset the "informal committee", or whatever this is, would be dominated by a certain group of Ravi's students and friends (and ergo a bit of an echo chamber). That is to say, while Ravi's friends and students are surely well-informed, I don't know if they are the most diverse group. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 11 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ my understanding was that from the outset the "informal committee"...would be dominated by a certain group of Ravi's students and friends <--- [citation needed] $\endgroup$ – David Roberts Jan 14 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRoberts Send me an email. Some of this information is confidential. $\endgroup$ – Harry Gindi Jan 17 at 18:37

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