Regarding the number of people who participate in Q&A's, I have a feeling that some subject areas are underrepresented in MO, while there are many knowledgeable experts in these areas which probably don't even know about MO or they have not tried it yet. I was thinking it would be a great help for younger researchers (like myself) in MO if we could invite more experts from these underrepresented areas to contribute in MO.

  1. Is there any mechanism to do so? Of course besides asking them personally!

  2. Have you ever considered to discuss about new ideas for attracting more mathematicians to MO?

  3. Do you have any measure to evaluate my feeling about unbalanced rate of participation, answering and asking questions with respect to different subject areas?

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    $\begingroup$ I would think that the signal-to-noise ratio on mathoverflow is still a bit too low to be enticing those experts who aren't already participating. The number of non-research quality questions on the front page at any given time is quite a deterrent. But +1, I agree that we should try to invite the experts, particularly in areas where MO is "weak": analysis, pde, ... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 22:00
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    $\begingroup$ Aha! @ViditNanda, maybe a low noise front for MO would help? We have tried to get people interested in playing an editorial role and have some kind of "selected picks." $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais a low-noise front would be a step in the right direction. I would help with that in a heartbeat. But why an editorial board? Surely it is possible to implement if (tags include x) and (numvotes > y) and (not community wiki) then copy to low-noise front. So all we should need is a collection of important but under-represented tags and a vote threshold, rather than a cumbersome and slow editorial process, no? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ @ViditNanda, do you really think the ratio is so low? It seems to me that MO is full of extremely interesting questions for experts. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Vidit: We already have that (e.g. the weekly newsletter) but it doesn't work very well. Also, I wasn't thinking about an editorial board but a way to get everyone to perform editorial tasks in the same way that everyone performs moderation tasks now. (Though we have floated the idea of adding an editor-type appointment to the MO crew to oversee this in a manner similar that moderators oversee the moderation tasks.) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ @JoelDavidHamkins on the main page to the right I see "recent tags". Near the top, eg algebraic geometry and combinatorics, which I dare say are well-represented fields on MO, we have some outstanding questions in the "newest" pile. But as you sink down to the middle (eg geometric topology), one starts to see that there are few highly upvoted questions. By the time you hit the really low volume stuff (see measure theory), by definition there are hardly any questions at all! So to a measure theorist, the signal to noise is almost zero. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ But there are perhaps dozens if not hundreds of outstanding measure-theory questions on MO (here is one I asked: mathoverflow.net/questions/87838/…). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @JoelDavidHamkins there are only about a 100 unanswered questions tagged measure theory, of which the best received one has only 14 upvotes. Set theory has 136, but the top few are stellar (particularly Simon's question with 100 upvotes!) I just wanted to point out that typically an established researcher is unlikely to dig through the bowels of this site looking for gems: in order to hook such people we will need good questions in their field with much greater frequency. Maybe you're right, we should get their grad students to start posting! $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais I didn't know there was a newsletter! But getting back to a noiseless front with only the best questions: I think that's a wonderful idea and I'd be happy to help out in any way. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ I posted a separate question for this - meta.mathoverflow.net/questions/948/… $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Vidit, my point was that measure theory is not a "really low volume" topic, as you assert. Indeed, the measure-theory tag has 575 questions, which places it on the first page of tags (out of 38 pages). So this would seem to be one of our more active topics. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ Two things that might help reduce the amount of clutter on the front page: Whenever you see an off-topic question, vote it down (and of course also vote to close). If the questions gets a low enough score (I think -4 or -5), it will no longer be shown on the front page. The other things is probably less likely, as it would involve a change to the software: Stop showing migrated questions on the front page. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ Re: I have a feeling that some subject areas are underrepresented in MO. Here is a related discussion: What areas/aspects of mathematics are underrepresented on MO? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 5:47

1 Answer 1


It seems to me that one of the principal ways to attract serious people in a given research area is to have an abundance of interesting, sophisticated questions in that area. This is particularly true if such questions do not get readily answered.

This suggests that it may suffice to have the cart before the horse, so to speak, in that one might attract the goal participants by first encouraging graduate students and other younger researchers in that area to post their questions.

  • $\begingroup$ Especially because graduate students and post docs have more time and motivation for participating in online activities. $\endgroup$
    – user23860
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ I find that graduate students and even young faculty are sometimes reluctant to post their (outstanding) questions here, and I believe that overcoming that resistance will be key to having a more robust activity here. Perhaps they shy away because of a fear of rejection? In this light, we may blame the over-aggressive closing of questions, rather than the supposed presence of too many marginal questions, that is the obstacle preventing greater involvement. In other words, closing too many questions is off-putting for those who might ask really good questions, by making them fearful. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ Several people have told me that they don't participate on MO because there is too much garbage to wade through. No one has said he or she was put off because of questions being closed. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ I see. That is very strange. My experience is the opposite: I've heard from many young Assistant Professors who have excellent questions (which they sometimes send to me directly), but are too fearful to post. And I've never heard anyone speak as you say. But I suppose that different areas may have differing levels of garbage. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 23:33
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think that Bill and Joel's positions are contradictory. There are lots of homework/undergrad questions, which discourages senior people. These are often closed aggressively, with aggressive comments intended to discourage off-topic questions. This may then scare postdocs and grad students from posting because they are afraid their question might receive similar treatment. And sometimes decent questions are closed too quickly, but usually the decent ones get reopened. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ And your experience surprises me. The logicians I know have had very thick skins ever since they were young. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ Bill, I think perhaps the need for that was greater in previous mathematical generations, which tended to have less appreciation for logic. Fortunately, things are different now. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 1:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Joel David Hamkins "I've heard from many young Assistant Professors who have excellent questions (which they sometimes send to me directly), but are too fearful to post." Then just post those you couldn't answer yourself :-). $\endgroup$
    – fedja
    Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect there is selection bias - questions from less popular areas get fewer votes (obvious), and appear more likely to be closed (if true, an issue for high-rep users and moderators). $\endgroup$
    – user25199
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 16:25

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