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User talk:Linas

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Hi Linas, welcome aboard here. We definitely appreciate contributions by experienced wikipedians! Maybe you will have fun here with mathjax enhancements. --Ulf Rehmann 21:33, 1 July 2012 (CEST)

Maybe this is indeed a better place for you... :-) --Boris Tsirelson 23:24, 1 July 2012 (CEST)
Thanks. Finding exactly the right combination of editability, accuracy, peer review, etc. remains elusive. Planet-math is not wiki-like enough; there is no effective way to revise existing articles. And its slow... Scholarpedia seems promising, but for the life of me, I have only been able to log on once, and never again. I guess they have technical problems. Wikipedia can be both marvelous and awful. I still remember the time a college student, preparing for an exam, asked me for help on angular momentum in quantum mechanics. I spent hours fixing up the page; he blanked it because he couldn't understand it, and replaced it with nonsense. I've not the patience. The question will be: can EOM attract enough interest. the "critical mass", to move forward? Linas 00:16, 2 July 2012 (CEST)
About "enough interest": to my satisfaction, we have now 320+ articles viewed 320+ times each [1], and every month adds about 60 to the number. Boris Tsirelson 08:23, 2 July 2012 (CEST)
Today, its up to 362. Linas 19:51, 22 July 2012 (CEST)
Yes. But my display shows 360, since I am lazy to update it every day. :-) --Boris Tsirelson 21:10, 22 July 2012 (CEST)



Wikis

Hello, sorry to be nosy... but I just happened to look at your webpage and I tried to get your essays on why wikipedia would need a new leadership, but I could not find them anywhere. I am curious: I am a novice in the "wiki sector" and just learning things. You also mention a world class mathematician who has been banned from wikipedia: do you know how to contact him? Maybe he would like to contribute to this Encyclopedia. Camillo (talk) 17:56, 1 December 2012 (CET)

I can't say that I have a fully-formed "essay", just some disorganized commentary here or there. There are some procedural aspects that could be improved, but these do not require new leadership, per se. My most serious complaints are about the malicious behavior of the admins, and that fact that some portion of them are miscreants, and that they have taken hold of the organization as a kind of rot or cancer, and that nothing is being done to fix this. This is the aspect that really does require new leadership; the damage that these admins are doing are driving people away.
So, on the innocuous, procedural side: I think that there is plenty of room for exploring different rules and mechanisms for quality control, such as peer-review. I do have an essay at WP about applying a "seal of approval" on certain versions of articles. So, for example, while anyone may edit and make changes to articles (possibly inserting inaccurate information), there would also be "editorial boards" who would review articles, and give certain specific versions a "seal of approval". The goal of this was to allay reader fears that articles may contain inaccurate information. Whether this is really needed or not is unclear.
Wikipedia has developed a large number of rules and regulations, based on hard-earned experience. However, all of those are based on the fact that literally anyone can edit WP, which includes many people who really are not qualified to do so. For a place like EOM, with a more academic slant, a very different set of procedures could be attempted. I view it as an experiment -- for example, Planet Math (PM) has a very different way of operating, and that has lead to a great fragmentation of content. (Authors can protect content on PM, and thus, there are often 2 or 3 or more articles on the same topic, each incomplete and deficient in different ways.)
The biggest problem on WP has is the concept of "administrators". These are folks with greatly expanded powers, the ability to police. There is no particular skill or ability one must posses to become admin, other than to garner some fraction of votes: one becomes an admin by popular consent. Admins rarely loose their powers, once they get them. However, unlike real police, there is no code of conduct to adhere to. There is a complete lack of professionalism or proper behavior that one might expect out of someone who holds such broad powers. As a result, its a bit of a magnet for the power-hungry, and, once in power, they run rampant, doing as they please, with no supervision or over-sight. They feel righteous and justified in their powers, thus fueling the abuses. This is the aspect that needs a complete overhaul, and, as the problem has persisted for over half-a-decade, its clear that the only way it will get fixed is to install new leadership.
There are many stories and examples I could provide, but I've gotten a bit bored of that. The moral of the story is that if you are going to put someone in a position of power, you also need to put in a system of checks and balances, to make sure that they are responsible and responsive to their duties. Right now, the WP admins are a bunch of cretins running around with guns, a lawless gang free to fuck anyone they wish. Certainly fucked me over.
EOM has a completely different set of problems. One is that I feel a little intimidated. I had vaguely thought of editing and "improving" one certain article, here, on one topic, when I realized that it was written by someone who had introduced the very concept, won prestigious prizes for it, and made it their life work. The idea that I, a rank beginner, studying the topic for the first time ever, could "improve" on it, scared me away: it would be like defiling a work of art. In fact, I probably could improve it: as sometimes, the fresh experience of someone who has just learnt a new topic is the best base from which to explain it to other beginners. On the other hand, only a master can provide the sweeping, broad overview; the trick is to merge both into one article. Anyway, I got nervous, and didn't want to wreck the work of the master, and so I'm stymied.
Starting new articles here is scary, too: most/all math articles on WP start out as total crap: a few incomplete sentences or paragraphs. But that is expected, and over time, they improve. Here, it feels that, perhaps, articles should spring into existence fully-formed, complete. I'm not sure I want to be known as the man who started a thousand crappy, incomplete, badly formed articles.
Anyway, different wikis have different cultures, and that's OK, the differences should be celebrated. Finding those cultures that work best, create the best output, attract (and maintain!!) the best talent, that is the burning issue. Linas (talk) 20:10, 1 December 2012 (CET)
As far as I understand, the mathematician banned from wikipedia is User:Silly rabbit, and he (or she?) wants to stay anonymous; thus, I guess, Linas will not give us that name in public. --Boris Tsirelson (talk) 20:27, 1 December 2012 (CET)
Yes, I can't unmask identities, nor would it be appropriate to lobby for aid.
As to being a wiki newcomer: try them all, see which ones you like. Different ones will suit different people, different styles.
As to attracting talent: realize that the tenure track (mostly) offers no credits for wiki authorship. The number, and perhaps brilliance, of your published articles and books count. Unpublished pre-prints, not so much. Wiki edits: who is to say what your contributions were? Perhaps you have twenty thousand edits, and maybe they were all grammatical corrections. Not something a tenure committee is going examine. Editing a wiki can be dangerous for your career: not only does it not bring credit, but it can be so enjoyable that its addicting, and you find yourself doing that instead of the basic research that is expected of you. Oh no.
My (unscientific) impression of WP math editors: they are either the academically-trained, who wandered out of academia, and came to regret it, or they are mid-late or even retired professors: they've already written so many books, they don't need one more, and yet are still fire-hoses of words and formulas. There are also a fairly large number of grad students: sometimes, one of the best ways to learn a topic is to write about it (that's how I do it; homework exercises are secondary for me: I know they are important, but they sure can be tedious. Its far more fun to write.) However, I can't say that I've ever run into a post-doc on WP, and maybe a tiny handful of assistant/associate profs. But that is just an impression, I don't know if its true. If you wish to attract academic talent, you've got to figure out how tenure fits into the scheme of it all.
It seems that Scholarpedia has hit a good balance: one may author an article there, and then claim academic credit for it, akin to a published paper: your name is attached, there is peer review, the output has heft: not just a few paragraphs here or there, a few sentences rewritten for clarity, but entire articles, cut from whole cloth. A pretty decent place for early-career mathematicians to have a go at it. Linas (talk) 20:35, 1 December 2012 (CET)
But .. thinking about Scholarpedia, perhaps they have one of the problems that Planet Math does, and is the perceived problem here, that I mentioned: once an article has been written, there is no particularly easy way for others to expand it, to revise it, to re-write it. Part of it is the fear of tainting someone else's masterpiece. Part of it is the mechanics of obtaining permission. Part of it is the question of what to do if the other person is a perceived rival: someone who has snubbed you, or, perhaps, someone you fear will over-shadow you. WP solves this by explicitly forbidding "ownership" of an article. But is there some other, middle ground? Linas (talk) 20:47, 1 December 2012 (CET)
Yes, this is really a problem (or, cluster of problems).
First of all, about tenure etc: as for me, a wiki should be a hobby, not a business.
In fact, my articles here were, to some extent, a part of my preparation to a graduate course (and are linked therefrom). A bit of good luck.
About revising an article: first of all, let us ask, why revise it.
As for me, most articles here are more or less obsolete. For this reason I did not hesitate to rewrite, even if it was written by a very respected author.
In the non-wiki word, we never revise articles. Rather, when needed, we write more articles on the same matter. I think, here the same approach could be used.
If you want to rewrite my article completely, you are welcome to create an alternative article. But for now it is just my idea; do not implement it unless Ulf (the editor in chief) agrees. And if he agrees, we should find a technical way of storing alternative ("complementary") articles.
If you propose a moderate revision to my article, probably the best way is, to propose it on the talk page and wait. I did it once; my proposal was rejected by the author; and I did not insist; moreover, I think, he was right: the article should stay coherent.
And if you see an evident mistake in my article, just correct it. (I did it sometimes.)
--Boris Tsirelson (talk) 21:50, 1 December 2012 (CET)
By the way, at some point it could be appropriate to move this discussion to Talk:EoM:This project. --Boris Tsirelson (talk) 21:57, 1 December 2012 (CET)

Let me reply in-line, changing indentation:

First of all, about tenure etc: as for me, a wiki should be a hobby, not a business.
When one becomes passionate about one's hobby, one invariably considers how to attract more attention to it, how to recruit talent. Usually, one wants the best talent, which in this case, means recruiting young academics. If they don't want to be recruited, one asks "why not?", and focuses on those barriers. Besides, the most successful in life are those who manage to make a living out of their hobbies.
In fact, my articles here were, to some extent, a part of my preparation to a graduate course (and are linked therefrom). A bit of good luck.
I've heard one professor remark: "whenever I want to learn a new topic, I volunteer to teach it".:About revising an article: first of all, let us ask, why revise it.:As for me, most articles here are more or less obsolete. For this reason I did not hesitate to rewrite, even if it was written by a very respected author.
Sure, this is valid. But there is a cultural or sociological element to it all: while you have this attitude, is it the attitude that should be conveyed to all newcomers? If it is, then how should we convey it? More generally, what is the true goal of EOM? Could it not be more expedient to simply merge all EOM content into WP, and thus retire the EOM articles, one by one? If that is not the goal, then what is the aim? How do the aims and goals here differ from those at WP? If the aims and goals are the same, then perhaps the culture and procedures differ?
In the non-wiki word, we never revise articles. Rather, when needed, we write more articles on the same matter. I think, here the same approach could be used.
Perhaps. But this, then, requires that review articles be written, summarizing the latest in achievements in some area. For the reader, it can be inconvenient: picking through 5 articles, most of which say mostly the same thing, while hunting for that one new jewel of insight. Lord knows most journal articles are, ahem, rather mediocre; it is a pain to pick through them. However, the inability-to-revise is a property of ink-on-paper. The promise of modern technology is that other ways of documenting, capturing, describing knowledge. Wikis are specifically intended to be constantly revised and kept up to date.
If you want to rewrite my article completely, you are welcome to create an alternative article. But for now it is just my idea; do not implement it unless Ulf (the editor in chief) agrees. And if he agrees, we should find a technical way of storing alternative ("complementary") articles.
These are all important cultural aspects to consider, experiment with, and decide. Perhaps we should be having this conversation at Talk:EoM:This project
If you propose a moderate revision to my article, probably the best way is, to propose it on the talk page and wait. I did it once; my proposal was rejected by the author; and I did not insist; moreover, I think, he was right: the article should stay coherent.
Coherence can be in the eye of the beholder. Many of the fights at WP are about the vision for what some given article should look like, the organization, the emphasis. This is almost central to most WP conflict.
And if you see an evident mistake in my article, just correct it. (I did it sometimes.)
Yes.
--Boris Tsirelson (talk) 21:50, 1 December 2012 (CET)
By the way, at some point it could be appropriate to move this discussion to Talk:EoM:This project. --Boris Tsirelson (talk) 21:57, 1 December 2012 (CET)
Perhaps I will try to cut-n-paste it there, now, let me see. Linas (talk) 22:29, 1 December 2012 (CET)
Linas, sorry to be nosy: I guessed that Sillyrabbit did not want to be reached and I understand perfectly... but worth a try though, just in case I was wrong.
As Boris, I think that a wiki should be a hobby.
As for attracting academics, I have the impression it is mostly a matter of publicity: this place is not yet so known. At least, all the fellows and friends I told about it so far, either had not heard of it or thought it was not a wiki. I do not think we should figure out a way to "embed tenure" in this. Heck, all of us still spend hours of their time explaining to undergraduate and graduate students things which we know very well (although sometimes we only think to know them well :-)). We do not do it just for the salary... but because we believe it is important to disseminate knowledge. Many good mathematicians will be fairly sensitive to this.
Linas, you should not be intimidated: most of the articles that I looked at are quite obsolete and can be improved a lot, even when they were written by very good (or even famous) mathematicians. Moreover, the editorial board is supposed to be there to monitor changes and restore previous versions if the changes are judged inappropriate. And it seems pretty easy to restore an old version. Camillo (talk) 22:43, 1 December 2012 (CET)

I will reply at Talk:EoM:This project Linas (talk) 22:52, 1 December 2012 (CET)

How to Cite This Entry:
Linas. Encyclopedia of Mathematics. URL: http://www.encyclopediaofmath.org/index.php?title=Linas&oldid=29038