Iran Overflow: A Mathematical Movement!

If you are a math researcher or somebody whose area of study has something to do with mathematics, you possibly have heard about MathOverflow.net or accidentally arrived at some posts in this site after Googling a mathematical notion. This post is for introducing “Iran Overflow”, a scientific movement of Iranian mathematicians who use MathOverflow. So let me at the first step introduce the MathOverflow website to you as brief as possible.

1. What is MathOverflow?

MathOverflow identifies itself as a Q&A forum for professional mathematicians to ask their research level math questions and help their colleagues with their research through answering their questions. It is neither a discussion forum nor a place for finding research collaborators but in fairly rare cases such things also happen in this site.

One should note that only questions about research level mathematics are allowed in MathOverflow. By “research level” we mean those types of questions that a typical math graduate student or professor deals with during their researches. The simpler undergraduate type questions, particularly those which are of homework nature are excluded. For such questions there is another Q&A site, namely Math.Stackexchange.com which has a similar structure but very different norms.

If you are not sure whether your math question matches the requirements of MathOverflow, it is recommended to ask it on Math.Stackexchange first and then wait for community’s feedback. If it is well-received with no satisfactory answer, it is likely that community members vote to send it to MathOverflow for getting better answers through the process called migration of the questions in Stackexchange communities. Also it is possible that some MathOverflow regulars who are partially active in Math.Stackexchange see your question before its migration and provide your required answer.

2. What is Iran Overflow?

Iran Overflow is a long term campaign aimed at popularizing online mathematical forums including MathOverflow among Iranian researchers. It is inspired by frequent requests of MathOverflow users and management team about introducing this site to more math researchers around the world by those who have the experience of using the site. For a recent example of such projects organized by MathOverflow and some volunteer users see this post on Meta.MathOverflow.net which is a website for discussing about MathOverflow policies and its possible technical issues.

As far as I know the initial idea of commencing such a campaign grew out of some private discussions of some Iranian mathematicians soon after that Maryam Mirzakhani won the first Fields Medal of Iranians as well as the first Fields medal of female mathematicians in 2014.

The great side effect of such an influential event on the community of Iranian mathematicians was that many young researchers became so motivated to think about much bigger leaps in their career as well as considering more active presence in online math communities like MathOverflow.

Unfortunately despite the fact that Math.Stackexchange.net is most popular in Iran among all other nations of the world, the sub-community of Iranian users in MathOverflow is much smaller than what it should be if we compare it with the population of Iranian math researchers and their great potential.

I believe this was possibly the main reason for commencing Iran Overflow campaign. Also this issue is not an exclusively Iranian problem. According to some statistics shared on the private math forums in Iran and my intuitive observations, some other countries like Germany, Japan and China which have very active mathematics communities and many talented young researchers are seemingly not that active in MathOverflow with respect to the other countries of their region.

Anyway as a direct consequence of the movement, many Iranian math professors collaborated with it via motivating their graduate students to join the site, people began introducing MathOverflow to their friends and sharing their experiences in the site with newcomers and helping them with improving the quality of their questions and answers through forming private discussion forums or short workshops for sharing their experiences in MathOverflow and analyzing its different aspects.

If you are a MathOverflow regular you possibly noticed a slightly obvious improvement in the number of Iranian users of MathOveflow and the fact that they are posting more frequently than the past. It seems to be a great impact of Iran Overflow movement on MathOverflow.

However by some reasons many of those who joined the site during Iran Overflow campaign preferred to use the site via anonymous or pseudonymous usernames rather than their real identity. Some of those who joined the site via their real identity are also not comfortable to mention their affiliation to the Iran Overflow movement because they are not completely sure about the international math community’s reaction towards it. Thus there are very few non-Iranian people who are aware of the real identity of those professors and students who joined MathOverflow during the campaign. (To see why many people preferred to join the site without using their real names see the section 3).

Some statistics distributed on the corresponding private social networks shows the following distribution of Iranian users of MathOverflow who joined the site by Iran Overflow campaign up to October 2015. I have no idea whether it matches the overall status of all MathOverflow users or not.

Chart

Anyway the great and unique experience of joint collaborations by our countrymen for a more active online presence in MathOverflow to show the potential of Iranian math community resulted to many high quality contributions to the site which itself increased the growth speed of the movement and the motivation of those who joined it.

3. Why joining Iran Overflow and how?

Those who are familiar with MathOverflow know that it has a very rough culture which is not clear in the first view! You can easily get involve in several types of troubles in that community if you don’t know how to use the site! There are many unwritten rules which you should be aware of before posting, commenting or interacting with the other users and moderators of the site!

Also there are many hardliner critics who criticize your every single activity no matter whether it is really inappropriate or not! Your situation will become even harder if there is some scientific errors in one of your posts and if you are a newcomer who is not familiar with different features of the site. In such cases it is likely that the other users rush to your posts to vote to close them as well as flagging you for moderators’ attention who will send a sequence of warnings to you regarding your behavior which itself could be a nice excuse for them to suspend your account temporarily or permanently. 

Even in the cases that your posts are really well-thought and high quality, some people who don’t like you or your way of contribution to the site may begin posting annoying comments or suggesting destructive edits on your posts or even cast unreasonable downvotes on your questions and answers. These acts of provocation often lead you to some noisy discussions in Meta.MathOverflow.net with them which itself may end up with some suspensions on your account. Add to these parameters some politically charged aggressive behaviors towards Iranians which often shows itself in the attitude and behavior of some users from those countries which don’t have a positive relation with Iran.    

Many mathematicians who are aware of the existence of MathOverflow prefer not to use it (at least with their real names) exactly because of this unpleasant argumentative atmosphere made by some confrontational people there. I also don’t use it because I’m not agree with many aspects of its moderation policies but despite of all these weaknesses I still believe that MathOverflow could be very useful for young researchers. Thus I strongly recommend it to all my friends and all people who read this text!

Many of those who joined the Iran Overflow campaign for popularizing MathOverflow among Iranian mathematicians have the chance to receive very useful first handed tips from those who introduced the site to them. The non-trivial points that could not be found easily without experiencing them directly.

Receiving the advice of a friend about the appropriate way of contributing to MathOverflow and interacting with the other users over there together with some free and voluntarily offered helps for improving the quality of your posts could be the greatest advantage of joining Iran Overflow. Also you can receive fresh news about the activity of your Iranian colleagues in MathOverflow via talking with your friends in private discussion forums as well as sharing some scientific ideas with your fellas.

You can easily be part of Iran Overflow campaign just by contacting a friend who is (or was) an active user of MathOverflow and asking for some guidance and information about the site, its features and the sub-community of active MathOverflow users in your research field. You also may be contacted by some of your colleagues who are trying to encourage their friends to join MathOverflow through sharing the idea in gatherings, conferences and social networks.

Just please note that the support provided by your Iranian fellas in Iran Overflow campaign doesn’t include things like receiving their blind supportive votes and comments on your posts! Be aware that the campaign is aimed at improving the quality and quantity of Iranians’ contribution in MathOverflow so if some of your posts are not good enough, some experts from your research field who are active in the campaign will help you with improving it but there will be no unreasonable voting to your low quality posts to make them look better! In fact such matters are against both “Iran Overflow ethics” and “MathOverflow internal laws” which you will be more familiar with after joining the campaign and site.

Keep it in mind that being a member of Iran Overflow movement is nothing but being an Iranian user of MathOverflow who is regularly connected to other Iranian users of the site for sharing ideas and tries to encourage his/her other Iranian colleagues to join MathOverflow community. There is no organization or regulation and it doesn’t take any time. 

4. My own bit in Iran Overflow.

When I heard about the existence of such a campaign from one of my friends about ten months ago, I personally found it very interesting and offered my help because I’m fairly well-informed about different aspects of MathOverflow. Also I have many friends who possibly are interested in joining the site.

I began from emailing the members of a semi-private scientific group, named Amirkabir Youth, that was founded by some graduate students (including me) of various science and engineering disciplines at Amirkabir University of Technology about five years ago. The group was aimed at sharing knowledge between young researchers working in different fields of pure science and technology in order to find new interdisciplinary areas and provide a ground for joint collaborations.

Fortunately the discussions in the group was that interesting for all members so that many of them remained fully connected to it even years after their graduation. We continued our scientific discussion sessions up to now using online tools and video conferences. The old picture at the end of this article shows some of my friends in the group. The number of the group members is now eight or nine times larger than what was at that time.

Most of my mathematician friends in the group who are mainly PhD students in and out of Iran now, kindly accepted my invitations for joining MathOverflow and started their career there. However most of them use anonymous or pseudonymous usernames but a few of them who recently joined the site preferred to use their real names under personal advisement of one of our group members. Though, as far as I know due to MathOverflow recent identity verification policies imposed against new users, they became forced by moderators to pass a long, boring and complicated verification process for their identity. This convinced the remaining people to the join the site anonymously!

Finally let me mention that I’m proud of my little contribution to Iran Overflow scientific campaign which has many other active contributors in and out of Iran from both university students and teachers communities. I hope it will result to a great positive change in the situation of Iranian mathematicians’ online presence by introducing MathOverflow to many researchers. I also hope Iran Overflow will become a nice model for popularizing MathOverflow in math society for mathematicians in other countries.

As far as I know the present article is one of the first blog posts which talks about Iran Overflow campaign publicly since its beginning in 2014. So I would like to use this chance to thank all those who helped with commencing and running this rapidly thriving movement. Please feel free to contact me if you have any question regarding this post. Don’t forget to share this article if you found it interesting!

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