FOM: purposes of FOM; new rules for postings

Stephen G Simpson simpson at
Mon Dec 22 20:48:34 EST 1997

As co-founders of the FOM mailing list, we are concerned about the
standards of the postings on FOM. The list is at a bit of a crossroads
now, but we are confident that it will survive and meet the very high
expectations many of us have for it. This message is going to be
blunt, specific, and constructive.

The purposes of the FOM list have been discussed extensively by its
co-founders at its inception. We of course solicit suggestions, and
continue to get feedback about the list, both at the content and
operational levels.  For instance, when we received feedback that
there was too much traffic, Steve set up fom-digest.

These purposes are:

1. To promote real-time interchange about issues in the foundations of
mathematics by professionals working in the area, or related areas, at
a professional, scholarly level. Postings by professionals are to be
composed with the same kind of care and attention that goes into other
professional activities. Not at the level of formal publications, of
course, but at least at the level of a serious interchange in an open
public forum such as a scholarly meeting with other professionals. In
general, postings are to be considered as professional contributions
to the field, in that they should contain information and/or insight
that tends to further progress the understanding and development of
the foundations of mathematics - directly or indirectly. In
particular, opinions on issues are to be carefully reasoned - in
proportion to the weight of the issues being discussed. Opinions on
crucial issues are to be especially carefully reasoned. Professionals
should strive to say something new about important issues - or at
least say something in a new way about important issues.

2. To provide a forum for professionals and non-professionals alike to
raise questions, and learn about matters that they desire to
understand better. In this regard, the solicitation of student
subscribers, as well as of professionals in allied areas, is of high
priority for FOM. It is the expectation of the founders that questions
raised by non-professionals be treated with the greatest respect and
be addressed by the professionals in the most constructive and
productive manner. In the opinion of the founders, the
non-professionals have not taken sufficient advantage of this
invaluable educational resource.

3. It is counterproductive for anyone to post "definitive" opinions on
major issues in the foundations of mathematics, which are unargued and
undocumented. This is particularly unacceptable when done by
non-professionals for several reasons. Firstly, there is a
particularly low expectation that any substantive argument or
documentation is forthcoming when the non-professional is pressed.
Secondly, other subscribers may get a distorted impression of the
views of professionals on this list and in the areas surrounding the
foundations of mathematics when seeing such postings by
non-professionals. Thirdly, low quality postings by non-professionals
on major issues tends to discourage the professionals on this list
from actively participating. It is known to have caused several
professionals to unsubscribe. These difficulties are solved in the
context of professional meetings by an elaborate system of protocols
and conventions whereby certain kinds of behavior are regarded as
socially unacceptable - with immediate negative feedback.
Non-professionals will be required to adhere to these conventions.

Consequently, we will be exercising more caution before approving
messages for posting on the FOM. For example, we have witnessed the
spectacle of a non-professional who posted a message with such
comments as: "The two biggest foundational questions in mathematics
are:" - and worse. We have also witnessed cavalier summary judgments
on entire areas of research - with no argument or reason, or
accompanying constructive proposals. And all of this by unqualified
people, some of whom never attended graduate school. We must move to
restore FOM as an appropriate forum for the productive exchange of
important ideas in the foundations of mathematics worthy of
professional attention.

At this time, we introduce a specific requirement for all postings
made after today.

1. If it is the first posting made by a subscriber after today, then
it must include a statement of affiliation, including one's title, as
well as one's professional research interests. This is a way of
formally introducing authors of postings to FOM.

2. If the affiliation is clear (to subscribers on FOM) from the e-mail
address used, then no affiliation statement is required on subsequent
postings. Otherwise, all subsequent postings must at least contain a
simple statement of affiliation; e.g., just "Microsoft Corporation."

In closing, we wish to mention an example of a posting which fully
conforms to our intellectual standards in the best possible way. This
is the recent posting of John Steel, 10:13AM, 12/19/97. Any posting
whose quality is even a fraction of his will be regarded as entirely
acceptable. Thank you, John!

Harvey M. Friedman
Stephen G. Simpson

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