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Carnivale! August 27, 2007

Posted by Ben Webster in blog triumphalism, carnivals.
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Greetings, readers of Math Blog Carnival!

Since a new carnival is up, and a few interested readers are circulating this site, I thought it might be a good time to resurrect a slightly old discussion on the place of research in the mathematics carnival. Some people seem to think research is getting short shrift with respect to education/elementary mathematics posts (in large part because the mathematics education blogs seem to hosting the carnival), and thus should get its own carnival.

While in general, I don’t really think this is an issue worth getting exercised about (aren’t carnivals about fun, specifically getting as much as possible before Lent?), my general feeling is that a mathematics research carnival is fairly bad idea. As far as I understand it, a blog carnival is about helping people find good posts (and by extension, good blogs) that they wouldn’t have found otherwise.

You all are free to disagree with me, but I don’t think there are enough good posts out there on math research that I can’t find myself. Note that the “that I can’t find myself” is really important. There are some good blogs on research that I like, but I know about them. Most are in my blogroll or personal RSS. There might be a couple more hiding out there that have never linked to me, and aren’t on the blogroll of anyone I read, but I kind of doubt. I feel pretty certain that there aren’t enough to keep a carnival fresh and interesting for me every month.

Or, let me put it this way. This is what a good carnival looks like; sustaining such a carnival requires a large and active blogging community, so that there is a lot of cream to skim off the top. Given the built-in obscurity of most math research (and the fragmentation of the field; what’s next, categorical quantum field theory carnival?), I would say we need a larger community than usual to sustain a carnival. Do we have that community yet in research mathematics blogging? In my view, not really; quite the opposite. If you ask me, a carnival for all of mathematics is pushing it a little, but clearly has a lot more material to work with than a purely research carnival.

And if you don’t think there’s not enough research in the mathematics carnival, there’s a simple solution;

  1. Encourage your mathematical friends (and nemises) to blog. At gunpoint, if necessary.
  2. Write more good, accessible, research based posts yourself and submit them to the next carnival.
  3. Promote the mathematics carnival to your fellow bloggers (Seriously. It needs all the publicity it can get).

If we do these things, and it looks like good, accessible, research blogging is being systematically ignored, then we can talk about a carnival of our own. Until then, let’s get back to the math.

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Comments

1. John Armstrong - August 27, 2007

Ben, I agree that math research weblogs are thinly spread enough that we all know each other (a point I think I’ve made before in this discussion). My main point is that as it stands the Carnival of Mathematics is, de facto, a carnival of math-ed, and its readership is (as measured by click-throughs) not interested in more advanced mathematics topics.

I make this point to back up my stance on submitting. I don’t get people coming to me from CoM that wouldn’t be coming to me anyway, so why should I make an effort to detour from my main expository line in order to post something submittable? If I happen to be thinking of something self-contained and low-level enough to submit, I might, but I’m not going to go out of my way for it.

2. A.J. Tolland - August 27, 2007

John,

If you don’t write anything you think the carnival readership will be interested in, then don’t submit anything. It’s OK. No one expects you to write posts just for the carnival. Just to remember that it exists and send in posts that you think might be interesting.

In other words, I’m with Ben. We don’t have anything resembling the community needed to support an interesting research carnival yet. So for now, why not work to improve what we have? The math blogosphere doesn’t need to start another sci.physics.strings.

3. Ben Webster - August 27, 2007

Nope, what it needs is more blogging. AJ, I am looking directly at you.

4. A.J. Tolland - August 27, 2007

Ben, I’m not doing any blogging until I finish the paper I’m working on. That should be early next week, if I don’t waste too much time commenting here. :)

5. Scott Carter - August 28, 2007

Ben et al.,

I am enjoying the time away from work surfing the math blogs. Occationally, I learn stuff. More often than not, the stuff I learn is frivolous. That does not mean there is not quality there, but that my own time to pursue it is not there. I am not unique to this.

EVERYONE who is writing a math blog is doing the community a service. It is an organic kind of non-Bourbaki sort of thing without the checks and balances.

So ponder, if you will, what would Bourbaki have done with the blogosphere? Can the bloggers aspire to something as monumental as that, or will the technology change too rapidly?

Was there much math on the new Carnival?

6. nbornak - August 28, 2007

An internet-capable Bourbaki wouldn’t have been called Bourbaki. While it’s not unheard of to have multiple people writing under the same name on a blog (and I’m sure people will now speculate if “nbornak” is more than one person), the tools do not yet exist to use the internet in the way the bourbaki group used their seminars.

I’d imagine you’d see a blog much like the Secret Blogging Seminar with each person contributing separately with very little inter-post thematic continuity. Given the fierce individuality of the bourbaki group, I wouldn’t be surprised if each of them had their own blog entirely and just collated them in some sort of re-ordered and edited RSS feed.

7. John Armstrong - August 28, 2007

Scott, not what I would call “much”, but more than there has been recently. My entry was sort of weak, actually, but it was something I’d been thinking of and I felt obligated to make the good-faith attempt.

And speaking of math blogging, have you looked over my shameless self-promotion yet? :D

8. Scott Carter - August 29, 2007

All,

Yes I skimmed shameless self-promotion.

I want to expand upon my previous message. I agree with Ben more research math blogs are needed. The people who should be doing them are of my generation and older. The reasons that we should be doing them are (1) the connections between various areas are being lost. (2) Securely tenured faculty should have more time for this endeavor. (3) It provides a service to the greater community, and might stimulate interest among others. (4) Those class notes are getting moldy. (5) Maybe by writing a blog, an author can become a more skilled expositor, and the blog contents can develop into a monograph.
(6) Blogs humanize mathematicians in a way that textbooks can’t.

Having said all that, I wonder why I don’t do it: TIME. But maybe if some of the stuff I have in the can doesn’t get out, I will be on the blogosphere with my own alter ego. Big egos indicate high levels of insecurity.

9. Chris Grant - August 30, 2007

Scott Carter writes: “EVERYONE who is writing a math blog is doing the community a service.

Do you really mean everyone? Is the same true of everyone who publishes a paper or writes a book? Is E.E. Escultura doing the community a service? Are there bloggers who feel that it’s okay to have unexpressed thoughts?

10. Ben Webster - August 30, 2007

Crackpottery that looks like mathematics is not the same thing as mathematics. There are math blogs and there are (or potentially could be) crackpot blogs which are ostensibly about mathematics. The first are valuable (though maybe not always of value commensurate with the writer’s time and effort, given the sparseness of the blog community at the moment), the latter are a waste of good internet (at least that doesn’t kill trees).

11. vlorbik - August 30, 2007

this guy (phil for humanity) probably counts as a crackpot. a few commenters on the CoM hosted by “the vedic maths forum india” felt that linking there degraded the whole carny.

now that it’s come up, i’m sort of surprised by how *little* crackpot work i’ve come across. thanks for bringing e.e. escultura to my attention.

math crackpottery has always seemed pretty harmless to me … so far. there’s always the danger that they’ll hijack enough of the discussion to make honest work harder (as “intelligent design” seems to’ve done in biology …).

not so much “doing the community a service” … more “being part of the community”. a blog should not *mean*, but *be*.

12. Scott Carter - August 30, 2007

Well, ideas that are wrong can teach. The cost of the lessons can be overwhelming, too.
Math, at least, has the opportunity to root out falacious arguments as long as the mathematicians don’t all get shot in the process.

But by “everyone,” I seem to have meant a selected group: an open proper subset of the penumbra of the blog roll, herein.

Most of the nutters are harmless. Those that are harmful will suffer community ostracism.
The web has to be tolerant of goofy ideas, or else the not so goofy ones won’t have a place to grow.

That was not the point though. The point was to ask other professionals to start writing. There is math from the 20th century that was fun and interesting and is being forgotten. Living mathematicians still carry that knowledge. Please share it.

13. Ben Webster - August 30, 2007

I’m not too concerned about mathematics having it’s own analogue of intelligent design: there both isn’t the political motivation or much of a chance to fudge the evidence. Math isn’t really as transparent or as precise as mathematicians some like to think, but I think it’s robust enough to avoid any major crankery.

I’d be much more concerned about math education, since how people learn about mathematical concepts is a lot harder to collect evidence about than the concepts themselves.


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