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Old 2005-10-01, 12:53   #34
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I think that Citrix goal of not discouraging amateurs is the right approach to take. After all, Einstein was only an amateur until 1905. But I think the standard he has set is way too high. Last week Alek Kruppa and I were discussing primitive roots, and Alex found a neat little proof that, unlike other proofs of this does not rely on Lagrange’s Theorem. Does the fact that Alex will probably not publish this mean that the whole thread belongs in a cranks forum? I think not.

Another point is that being willing to publish is not the same as being published. Just because some guy says he is willing to be published doesn’t mean anyone is willing to publish him. So the test is essentially meaningless.

I think that in attempting to deal with this problem we could perhaps think about how we would deal with it if the guy were in the room with us. Would you challenge him to publish his proof before you would look at it, or would you order him to stand in the corner with a dunces hat on. Or would you maybe be a little more polite than that and treat him the way you would like others to treat you? I readily understand how an expert might think a crank is ignorant and rude, but I don’t think that two wrongs make a right, and turning the other cheek is ultimately more satisfying than bringing yourself down to their level to be rude back to them. This is not a religious conviction because I adhere to no religion, I just think it is the right way to treat people.
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Old 2005-10-01, 13:28   #35
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I think the experts overreact to some extent but I don't feel pity for the newbies who claim a proof for something great minds have toiled over for (hundreds of) years without success. Maybe an entry in the FAQ could warn the newbie that they will likely get flamed if they do something silly like this.


If someone were on a health forum and claimed a cure for panceatic cancer (which they won't divulge) or they attempted to explain their "method" in broken lingo, what do you think the reaction from the doctors would be?
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Old 2005-10-02, 20:52   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Numbers
I think that Citrix goal of not discouraging amateurs is the right approach to take. After all, Einstein was only an amateur until 1905.
Einstein had earned his diploma (roughly the equivalent of a Masters degree with thesis) from one of the top schools in Europe (ETH Zurich) in 1900. At the beginning of 1905 he had already published a half-dozen papers in Annalen der Physik (one of the most prestigious physics journals in the world) and was putting the finishing touches on his PhD. That's a very curious definition of amateur you've got there.

In any event, your point is well taken, but a better example than Einstein would be the Indian math prodigy Ramanujan, whose story is now legend. But unlike the cranks, kooks and willfully ignorant types who regularly post their stuff here, Ramanujan actually backed up his claims with sound mathematical reasoning, rather than "I know this to be true because a little elf told me so" or the kind of byzantine, impenetrable "reasoning" that are hallmarks of crankery.

If someone thinks they see the next Ramanujan in any of the threads here, by all means do let us know.
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Old 2005-10-02, 21:45   #37
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Ramanujan is probably not a very good example, for Hardy said that Ramanujan was often unable to back up his formulas using what we would call "sound, mathematical reasoning", and furthermore, a number of his claims were just plain wrong. Fortunately, Hardy recognized in some of his other formulas elements of insight that were beyond anything else he had seen, and the mathematical world is much the richer for Hardy's determination to bring Ramanujan to Cambridge to work with him. Had it not been for Hardy, history might have dismissed Ramanujan as a crank.

So now to change the subject, the poll at
http://www.mersenneforum.org/showthread.php?t=4720
is closed, and the responses are predictably mixed. A small number (6) of respondants felt that there was no need for a separate subforum, but the majority of others (11+4+5) felt either that a crank forum was needed or that some other way of dealing with crank postings was needed. In addition, a considerable number (13) voted for some other type of separate suborum, such as "advanced" or "beginners" subforums. I think Ernst's main interest in starting the new subforum has been to find a way to make the forum as a whole more useful. I am an educator, not a professional mathematician, and I support forum utility as a sound goal. Maybe we could consider the "miscellaneous math threads" the main math subforum and then either promote particular threads into a "of particular interest to beginning number theory students" subforum or a "of possibly serious research interest" subforum. I.e., instead of going to all the work of trying to pass judgment on each and every thread, simply look for threads that might be of interest to others several months or years down the road and collect them under a heading that could invite closer scrutiny. Generally, those of us who read the threads on a regular basis only look at the most recent postings, but the general direction of a thread is often apparent by time half a dozen postings appear.

It would be good from my point of view to have a third moderator. Ernst has true research credentials, I am a math teacher, perhaps a third moderator could be someone who was a beginner until recently but has been inspired to learn some number theory and may have a good perspective on what might be useful to students.

Maybe threads might become more useful if all "flame war" type material were moved out as well...? But then we might lose half our forum!
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Old 2005-10-02, 22:03   #38
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grandpascorpion
I think the experts overreact to some extent…
and so do I, to some extent, even though I fully understand their frustration.
Quote:
Originally Posted by grandpascorpion
but I don't feel pity for the newbies who claim a proof…
and neither do I. I just don’t feel comfortable about having a policy that says we are going to be rude to them just because they don’t speak the language.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ewmayer
"I know this to be true because a little elf told me so" or the kind of byzantine, impenetrable "reasoning" that are hallmarks of crankery.
and on which clever guys like yourself spend time and energy unravelling their Gordian knots. I do see the problem and I do sympathise with you, and I readily admit that I do not know what the solution is. I just don’t think it says very much about us as people, as a forum or as a project that we are seriously considering having a policy to be deliberately rude to people.

But I am glad that more folks are joining in the debate. Maybe that way we will find a more amenable solution.
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Old 2005-10-02, 22:21   #39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Numbers
I just don’t think it says very much about us as people, as a forum or as a project that we are seriously considering having a policy to be deliberately rude to people.
Well, I think having a non-insulting name for the non-ready-for-prime-time threads such as the present "miscellaneous math threads" should serve to alleviate your concern here somewhat. Do you object to the current name?
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Old 2005-10-02, 22:47   #40
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No, I think the current name is fine. I just thought xyzzy had changed it to a placeholder name while we had our debate. In fact if I had seen Philmoore’s post before I jumped in I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Both his suggestions are very good, except that I think the wiki is probably a better place to put teaching materials because there they can be edited and improved more easily than in the forum, and different topics can be put into context and drawn together in a way that would be impossible in the forum. But that is a discussion for another day.
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Old 2005-10-02, 23:14   #41
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I like the new subforum name, it is innocuous,
versus the previous one which was not.
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Old 2005-10-03, 06:06   #42
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Quote:
Originally Posted by philmoore
It would be good from my point of view to have a third moderator. Ernst has true research credentials, I am a math teacher, perhaps a third moderator could be someone who was a beginner until recently but has been inspired to learn some number theory and may have a good perspective on what might be useful to students.
I don't know if I'm understanding this correctly, but I'm a total n00b who is interested in learning some of the theorystuff behind the problems which are being discussed on mersenneforum.

I find Wolfram to be hieroglyphs and that inspired me to write the guides .
Of course most of these are to specific projects, but the one on the Sierpinski Problem I think is a very newbe-friendly approach to a "big, scary math problem".
Don't know if I would be able to help or anything but I would try nonetheless.

Let's get the ball rolling! Making the math interesting may inspire more people to contribute to these projects.
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Old 2005-10-06, 16:37   #43
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I have a suggestion to make. Instead of having a cranks sub-forum why don't we have a sub-forum for the good math threads. That way we can move the non-crank threads to the next levels and the cranks would not mind, since their threads are still in consideration and has not been totally disregarded.

I know this will be alot of work for the moderators,but if the moderators are up to it, we could give this a try.

What to you all think?

Citrix
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Old 2005-10-06, 18:58   #44
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Citrix
I have a suggestion to make. Instead of having a cranks sub-forum why don't we have a sub-forum for the good math threads. That way we can move the non-crank threads to the next levels and the cranks would not mind, since their threads are still in consideration and has not been totally disregarded.

I know this will be alot of work for the moderators,but if the moderators are up to it, we could give this a try.

What to you all think?

Citrix
I think it sounds like an application of the law of the excluded middle. My guess is that at least a few cranks don't know what that law means and will not be offended by your proposition.

Worthy of consideration, IMO. At the very least, I consider it amusing.


Paul
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