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HN-like math research discussion for Ph.D.s (hessix.com)
253 points by whunting 20 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 115 comments

Nice idea, +1 for LaTeX titles! But the registration system should be way more open, you're discriminating against many math PhD's who are no longer in academia.

I would have posted my paper there but I guess "@math.ohio-state.edu" isn't elite enough so I'll post it here and probably get more traction than all the papers on OP's entire site combined.

https://arxiv.org/pdf/1201.2869.pdf "Infinite graphs in systematic biology, with an application to the species problem" (printed in Acta Biotheoretica). This paper is as fun as a barrel of monkeys. Its results are mind-blowing even though the math is approachable. By the time you finish the first section, you'll be thinking to yourself, "Charles Darwin should have been a computer scientist!"

Math has a culture where author affiliations are often mentioned only as a footnote, at the end of the paper, and not at the front of the paper. For a field with such culture, where it has repeatedly been shown that quality work can come from many places, this kind of coarse gatekeeping creates a very unpleasant environment. I'm trying to imagine the motivation of the platform creators, but drawing a blank. Maybe it's a ham-handed attempt at spam filtering.

Their about page says that they use an algorithm to verify if you are a PhD candidate in math/stat. I don't really think that is a good requirement for the exact reasons you say, but I would guess it's set up like that to make this automatic verification more practical.

Wow, yeah. Came here to say the same. I could understand somewhat making a distinction between emails that end in .edu and those who don't -- at least during the early days -- but this system does seem excessive.

I do think the ideas in the paper are pretty cool! One question: have you considered or attempted some sort of generative models based on this system? You'd have to do some clever symbolic manipulations to deal with the "infinities" that crop up, but it seems like it could be interesting.

> emails that end in .edu

Only universities in the United States have emails that end in .edu. Most of the universities in the world have domain names that end with their respective country code.

> Only universities in the United States

Not strictly speaking true. Univeristy of Toronto (Canada) will give you a toronto.edu email if you're a CS student (even undergrads) or faculty.

Not sure what you mean exactly by "generative models" but it reminds me of Rohde et al 2004 (https://www.nature.com/articles/nature02842) which is all about modelling this sort of thing. In fact, some of the results of Rohde's paper are quantitative things which Rohde et al discovered by simulation and which my paper provides theoretical explanation for (see my paper's Proposition 6 and the last sentence of the abstract of Rohde et al).

Their guidelines [1] state that they need your e-mail because "an algorithm uses it to determine if you are a genuine PhD candidate in math/stat." It seems that the site is meant for PhD students rather than PhD recipients.

[1] https://www.hessix.com/guide

If the algorithm figured out from my email address alone that I'm not a student anymore, I'm pretty impressed. But I doubt that's what happened. :)

I was responding more to the idea that they're discriminating against PhDs who've left academia. If it's not meant for anyone who's graduated, then it's discriminating equally against those who've stayed.

I was sort of kidding earlier. I tried registering with my current, academic, address and was rejected. I'm not surprised because it ends in "mx". The "joke" was that a PhD student at my university would have a similar looking email and I don't think they would have been accepted either. (I did have an "edu" when I was a student in the US and that address would probably have been accepted.)

You should ask a PhD student at your university to try. It'll be interesting if they get accepted.

It might not be too hard to cross-reference that email address against published papers to get an estimate of how long since you started the program, or even potentially find online records of your degree and/or thesis.

PhD recipients are very welcome too. The registration is put on hold for me to check manually. The algo to auto verify works for PhD candidates in several universities (US and abroad, not only .edu)

The application and approval process, filtering, certification, authentication, etc. sounds like a separation problem. Since the site is about math, IIRC there's some math for separation problems??

Uh, since the site is for "math/stat" and there have to be rates of false positives, that people are already complaining about, and false negatives, I don't see people complaining about spam, then we're into statistical hypothesis testing, right? Sooo, to do better on the rates of false negatives, we want more data for a more powerful test. Sooo, we need a multi-variate test. Since no way can we justify assuming probability distributions for all the relevant data, we need a distribution-free test. So, where can we find one of those???

Disclosure: This question is just an exercise. For an answer, I published one of those. So, it's an applied probability calculation based on an algebraic group of measure preserving transformations! It may be a rationalization of resampling theory. Crudely the result is obvious, but a proof is tricky. It may be that the work is a stimulation for and or connection with approximate independence, e.g., maybe as in some work of Choquet student M. Talagrand.

Could you elaborate on the vision behind the "selection" criteria? Also, it would be best to clearly explain that in the Hessix user guide, in the spirit of communicating clearly with your audience :-)

You should probably make it more clear on that page. If the email address is only required to verify current candidates, why is it required for all registrants?

This is now clarified in the user guide

> PhD's who are no longer in academia.

And what about those that never were in academia? Mathematics has a long history of participants that were never formally educated (ironically Ram is even mentioned in the username section). Plus, being such a niche topic (especially one that a lot of people were taught to fear), I doubt that there'd be much abuse. Evidence of this belief is that Wikipedia has great math pages. Ones that many times are better than Wolfram's MathWorld, which can be too concise.

I've only just skimmed the first section, and already I feel like I'm in for a trip. The math is indeed as approachable as you suggest. I'm only a philosophy major (though our logic department is seriously the bees knees, shout-out to Tennant!) yet I'm still able to pick up what you're putting down. Very fascinating paper, thank you for sharing.

Also, one of the many nerds across the street in University Hall says hello :)

Hi, hope you'll enjoy the paper! I'm not at OSU any more unfortunately (miss it a lot). Agreed the philosophy dept is great there, I even had Stewart Shapiro cross departments to be on my thesis committee :) How far along are you in your program and is Tennant your advisor?

Shapiro! I'm actually in Advanced Symbolic Logic (PHILOS 5500) this semester and he happens to be teaching it. Talk about Hacker News serendipity.

Tennant isn't my advisor, but I've taken a handful of classes with him, and his "holistic" (that's the best descriptor I can come up with atm) approach to teaching logic and philosophy of science makes everything fall into place in my head. His pleasant, informal teaching style combined with a skill for connecting big ideas across disciplines is seriously pedagogical magic.

And I'm currently a senior, hoping to wrap everything up by this summer. :)

> you're discriminating against many math PhD's who are no longer in academia

FWIW, they gave me an account when I emailed them and told them I'm in that situation.

I don’t know how much discussion one hopes to generate by simply posting links to recent arxiv pre-prints. Posters don’t even seem to be giving a reason for posting them. It is very non-sequiter and unengaging. Honestly i would never use this.

A better post format:

Title: not the title of the paper (which will almost always sound super specific) but something more general

abstract: a brief description at a high level of the discussion the poster hopes to generate, i.e. why.

Probably they should all be text posts with some ability to add an external link.

Also, posting some blogs would probably fare better for general discussion than just papers.

Sounds great. You can do that with a self post but it seems that arxiv url with auto fetched titled is the path of less resistance so far, not optimal for discussions, agreed. I'll probably change the submission format

One thing that might be cool is to have extended discussions of some popular MO posts.

What are the most popular MO posts you are thinking of? I might add a comment on those posts to let people know that they can continue the conversation on Hessix

I'm assuming that the value of these papers are self evident from the title if you understand the topic/context of the paper, much like HN with many of the white papers published here.

I actually follow a lot of the math-y papers that get posted here, but I'm still routinely perplexed when I see them on the front page. Many of the math papers posted here do seem like they lack a context, especially since they mostly receive a huge number of upvotes but have almost no discussion.

I think it's a little weird on HN, and I can see why it seems like some of them are out of place even on a specialized math forum.

This is now implemented

I've found MathOverflow [1] to be the best high-level math discussion forum out there right now. Many prominent mathematicians are regular posters, and I think the question-and-answer format suits mathematical discussion very well.

[1] https://mathoverflow.net/

MO is definitely high level, but like all SO/SE, I've always found their format to be really restricting. Not everything can be phrased as an objective question. Sometimes the best stuff have come out of something like "I was thinking about xyz, here are some things I noticed, thoughts?" I've even had/seen actual questions closed on SO/SE sites closed because of reasons I think are pretty silly.

It's also just not meant for discussions; if there are more than a couple comment replies, they "move it to chat", which I've never used.

Specific forums or subreddits can often have good discussion, but often not as much traffic.

This is possibly why Jeff Atwood went off and made Discourse.

If the StackExchange sites provide an allied discussion forum where I can specify what level of users I want posting on my thread that would be great.

Where level can be verified grad/phd in subject X or anyone who has more than N accepted answers in subject X...

Come on CS folk make it happen.

Right now I have to wander around labs and conferences to find the right people and have these discussions. A gigantic waste of time when most of these folk hang out on MathOverflow but can't have these disccusions.

Most of the progress in science came through 2-3 people finding and corresponding with each other. Here we are at a moment in time, where we don't need to find just 2-3 people.

We can find ever single one whether they are sitting in Cambridge or Congo and lay out a subject before them and yet we haven't got that to work right.

> We can find ever single one whether they are sitting in Cambridge or Congo and lay out a subject before them and yet we haven't got that to work right.

I think if you asked most academics their opinion on this (in math/CS at least), they'd tell you they think the system works fine. They don't really have problems collaborating - their universities send them to conferences where they meet people working in the same (narrow) subfield as them.

> Sometimes the best stuff have come out of something like "I was thinking about xyz, here are some things I noticed, thoughts?"

I think this is a matter of preference. I see where you're coming from, and there's a lot of value in that kind of unrestricted brainstorming, but I've always preferred to have those types of discussions in person with some whiteboards available for fleshing out ideas. When I'm brainstorming, I don't want to get caught up in LaTeX formatting issues, or to spend an hour writing out a response, only to have the discussion go in a completely different direction within that hour.

I enjoy reading MathOverflow because the Q&A format forces the question asker to take whatever vague idea they have and form it into an objective question that can be rigorously proven or refuted. The narrow focus keeps the discussion on topic, so even if it takes you a while to contribute, you can be assured that your response will still be relevant.

>I've always preferred to have those types of discussions in person with some whiteboards available for fleshing out ideas.

Not everyone has people to talk to in person that understand their subfield. In a small institution it might be 100 miles to the nearest person who could converse fluently in what it is you're thinking about, even if thousands of them exist.

That's a great point. In that case, I would prefer a video conference call or an online service that allows collaborators to share a paint canvas or some other kind of unrestricted drawing board. Again, this is personal preference, but I prefer text for writing out proofs and something visual and more freeform for brainstorming.

Mathoverflow doesn’t seem to suffer from so many issues as other SE sites. It doesn’t really get many low quality questions (those belong on math.SE instead), and far fewer people use the site so there is less aggressive moderation in general. It does still suffer a bit from questions being put on hold for annoying reasons but it does allow for big lists and refrence requests and such.

It’s true that there’s lots of discussion that is out of the scope of mathoverflow which doesn’t have a centralised place to go on the internet. Such discussions tend to live on blogs and forums and email lists and discussions at conferences

As I see, that you require a math phd address. Why do you think that only PhD in math might contribute to the discussion? You are just making it impossible for people with non standard background to participate. You are reinforcing opinion widespread in academia that only people from the right background could do any meaningful research.

The title of this submission says "math PhD", but if you try to register on the site you'll see it's actually looking for "math PhD candidates", so it's even weirder than you'd suggest: the site author wants discussion from people who don't have a PhD math but might get one in a couple of years. Very strange.

I dont believe that. Its open for anyone to read, and for math PhDs to quickly register. All other addresses are put on hold for manual check, not rejected. Some people have requested to join in this thread and have received an account without a PhD. Its not meant to be elitist at all, just focused on the quality content (wherever it comes from)

In the "user guide" it says it's a platform for math/stats PhDs, and describes a process for checking email addresses. It certainly gives the impression of unwelcome to people who are neither PhDs nor currently enrolled in a PhD program.

If you want people who don't have and aren't trying to obtain a PhD to participate, I think you should say so explicitly.

The research mathematics community on the internet is fairly small, and a lot of them are over at MathOverflow, math.SE, and personal blogs. What does this site offer that would lure people away from them?

I imagine the main differentiator would be open-ended discussion that's not necessarily trying to answer a well-defined question (or any question at all for that matter). Stack Exchange and MathOverflow are both fairly bad at supporting this at best and openly hostile towards it at worst.

None of the articles on the front page have even a single comment.

That's a separate issue. The content here appears far too specialized and restricted even for math PhDs (while I don't have a PhD, I do have an extensive background in math and have published research).

Yeah but the /r/math subreddit is already very good for that, and is well moderated. There are plenty of tenured professors from excellent math departments around the world contributing to discussion there.

Sure, but then "open-ended discussions" don't provide much value to academics with many more pressing things to do. On the other hand, crowd-sourcing answers to specific research question is extremely valuable to them.

For a point of reference, I've been thinking lately about the value a mathematician in a research career gets from blogging (I am thinking specifically about researchers and /not/ people focused on primarily education or popularization oriented careers). My conclusion is that the answer is "not much." Apart from a few small blogging communities and very famous mathematicians' websites, most math blogs get very little or no engagement that would be valuable to their career. Time is much more efficiently spent working closely with the people in your immediate spheres or focusing on making connections with specific researchers you want to collaborate with in the future.

It's directly contradictory to their goal, since the goal is trying to answer well-defined questions.

That's fine, but it doesn't change the fact that the sites are very ill-suited to many sorts of discussion that should then be handled by other sites.

With a HN site, it's easier to see what's "hip" this month, which can be entertaining, educational, and makes good "casual" conversations. Mathematics has trends just like any other field, and unfortunately if you're not actively working at a university and going to conferences multiple times a year, you'll never get exposed to that.

This feels a bit overly specialised, and the average article is hard. I’m sure a maths researcher can handle it and all but it does seem rather taxing.

I think for something like HN to be broadly interesting it needs volume and variety, because people’s interests are a long tail phenomena. I imagine that is probably true for maths too.

> I’m sure a maths researcher can handle it

No, not at all. Each maths researcher will understand (and care about) only a fraction of these. Maths research (like most subjects) is broken into highly specialised subfields, and experts in one often cannot readily understand research in others.

New research papers are the cutting edge of the field, pushing out the boundary between known maths and unknown maths, and this boundary is huge. Things there are understood by very few people, at first just those who developed them, and the prerequisites for understanding any individual area of new maths are substantial. Known maths is also huge, far too big for any one person to understand it all.

Source: have maths PhD.

Mathematics has a problem that also crops up on the fringes of programming; if a genius creates something at the limits of their understanding it is typically very hard to follow.

Academics as a whole doesn't really tackle the issue of taking knowledge and bedding it down into digestible form. Individually a lot of people do great work, but as a body they don't seem to see as that as their role. So far the solution is to throw clever people at academic papers and assume they will sort out something comprehensible as they go.

It always struck me as a very hard, very high-value problem. How do we measure ease-of-learning in a systemic way? Can we cheaply and reliably rate one explanation of a topic as superior to another of the same material?

They don’t see it as their role when publishing academic papers because it isn’t, at least as currently instantiated.

Academic papers aren’t meant as a static store of knowledge in digestible form for outsiders. They are an ongoing conversation between experts. In his way they do assume h reader has done the work to follow along.

Eventually the good bits mostly get worked into digestible form, usually by the mechanism of seminars first, then in courses.

One can argue that there isn’t enough incentive to go past working up a seminar, and especially produce generally approachable material which is a lot of work and typically doesn’t pay at all.

The issue of the approachability of papers is similar. There is currently negative incentive for this. Some people are naturally better at it, but mostly if you are spending extra time on this it won’t help your (academic) career at all, and it might hurt.

I think that you make some excellent points.

I think we need to stop conflating maths and abstraction with genius and general intelligence: it's too important to be politicised. I also think we should assume that any healthy adult can learn to do maths well by virtue of nothing other than having a human brain. If the normal healthy adult does not do maths well then that should be treated as a pedagogical problem rather than a reason to stratify society.

I think that maths in many ways can be treated analogously to language, and I think what we need to do is express maths in a way better suited for normal human language faculties. I very much like the artificial language Lojban as an architecture ingraining combinatorial and first-order logic into regular self-expression. Imagine speaking Lojban your whole childhood and having this rich vat of lived logical analogies to draw on when learning.

Effecting minds in this way and focusing on median improvements in the functionality of the majority is in my opinion has many many times more potential than any sort of elite screening or stratifying programme.

Better tools are also going to shift the frontier.

To use Neural Networks as a poor analogy. Given identical training data and different random starting weights you end up with different end results. Thus, even with identical potential at conception people would end up with different strengths naturally.

Better training clearly shifts the median, but when you start talking about populations of extreme outliers from a billon+ people that’s going to be meaningful. Especially as differences compound over time.

Currently their is a trickledown effect where useful techniques end up shifting the landscape. RSA encryption pushing little bits of what would otherwise be abstract number theory into a few high school classrooms etc.

Cutting-edge research is by nature difficult to understand. You have to know everything that lead up to the work to understand it, plus the new stuff being built in the paper. It's difficult to keep track of so many layers of abstractions, and unraveling them all for every statement until you have understandable chunks would make the paper too long and unreadable.

We already use a subjective measure for rating explanations. It's called elegance. Academics tend to prefer shorter, more elegant proofs in my experience. It just takes a long time to get there. If you want to understand the latest research, you have to be a specialist in that subject area. Even the elegant proofs can require years of study before you have enough background knowledge to understand the concepts needed to make it digestible.

For programmers: It's like being a distributed systems engineer and being expected to just jump into some intricate problem of a physics engine. Sure you can "speak" the same language, but it would take you time to familiarize yourself with the concepts of physics engines ... and most of you would not expend the effort to do so if it is not applicable to your work/interests. There are certain common concepts across all mathematics, but it's like that in medicine, software, and any field that deals with complex topics.

Indeed, that's why you can filter by category (e.g. math.NT for number theory). You can access the category by clicking on it at the end of each submission title

You sound like you’re just not the target audience. That doesn’t make it bad. I personally welcome more specialized news aggregator sites. HN is too diluted and a bit of a fad-following monoculture. This kind of site looks refreshing.

I cannot register with my University of Michigan email. It states, "You are not listed as a PhD candidate." What's the algorithm that determines if I'm a Ph.D. candidate?

Matching a database of current PhD candidates among other things. This message just puts the registration on hold temporarily, and you will be able to register once manually verified

Search is hidden behind registration wall AND I was not allowed to register (without affiliation). You should open search or registration.

Agree on search, it is now open for non users. Affiliation is to avoid content dilution. Any alternative ideas are welcome (and as you can see with search, implemented)

> Affiliation is to avoid content dilution.

You don't any users, you have an incredibly tiny niche, and starting a new forum these days is already ultra hard.

You should be working on getting users at all costs, not planning for the glamorous problems you might have if your moonshot happens to land, like having too many math novices cluttering up the high brow academic discussion.

lol, c'mon.

You need to understand that right now your forum is about as enticing as installing vBulletin on localhost to talk to yourself, just without the arxiv.org bot.

I started a large forum over a decade ago when it was easier. I spent almost a year sockpuppeting with myself so the first users didn't arrive at an empty forum. And that was in a popular forum-faring niche.

I look at your forum and you couldn't even be bothered to write a single comment on launch day. What's the plan?

As for affiliation, make it optional. Affiliated users get a little icon next to their username.

It's now open to everyone with an email account, PhD highlight is optional. Thanks

I'm a recent math graduate, working for a couple years before going back for a PhD. I'm a little sad about the affiliation requirement because I'd really like to be able to read and ask questions, even if I am a fool (relative to the rest of the community). As someone who does not get to work in an academic setting or regularly attend conferences, I wish I could still have opportunities to participate in these communities.

I don't know if Hessix was meant to include people like me, but I would really love to be a part of it.

Absolutely dragon96 drop. Its by no means meant to be elitist. I just don't know any other way to avoid low quality content. Please send me an email at hsx at hessix dot com and ill send you a registration link.

What is the means of determining affiliation, I wonder? I entered my email, which is <collegename>.edu and it didn't like it.

It auto checks affiliation and PhD status from a limited list of universities. If there is no match it puts the registration temporarily on hold until I can quickly check myself

I see, thank you.

Great, thank you.


If you don't want your account to be banned, don't post like this.


By dispensing with even the pretense of elementary civility you've demonstrated exactly why some measure of censorship is often crucial.

You should check out ShortScience, which is (IMHO) a better format for academic discussions: https://www.shortscience.org/

Boy do I have to have a) Ph.D. b) academic email?

You'd be discriminating against everyone with a DPhil and not doing research in a university ;)

I'm neither so I guess I shouldn't bother.

Who are you? I can't find any information about who made Hessix or who is Hessix.

Given that his HN name, "whunting", is a reference to "Good Will Hunting", that suggests OP might be a non-mathematician math enthusiast. I can't think of a single mathematician who would unironically name themselves after Good Will Hunting. I don't mean that in a disparaging way, though. Mathematics could really stand to stop taking itself so seriously and have people kidding around more, and that goes for myself as well! But it kind of flies in the face of OP's refusal to grant accounts to people without academic affiliation (MIT janitors like the film's protagonist probably don't have math department email addresses). The site being such high quality production despite being written entirely in PHP suggests OP is quite an unusual person, I'd really like to learn more about him.

It seems the whois information is protected by "WhoisGuard (tm)". That service seems to protect site owners against spammers, at the cost of taking away the trust that visitors can have in a website.

"I just got the same email (I assume) and all the links look about as suspicious as things come. I'd say to approach with caution at the very least" https://mathoverflow.net/questions/324400/thoughts-on-hessix

What does sth like this need 'leaders' (i.e. rankings) for? Isn't it exactly the lack of such rankings that makes HN so nice?

Actually, there's the same for HN - https://news.ycombinator.com/leaders

Huh, TIL - thanks.

If you click on lists on the footer, you will see a leaderboard

Cool, how is it implemented ? Did you customize the news app from the arc repository or have you implemented it from scratch ?

PHP from total scratch, I'm actually thinking of open sourcing the project

That would be great, thank you! Cf. https://github.com/lobsters/lobsters

Haha, I was going to mention lobsters. I don't understand why everyone tries to re-implement HN. I guess the interface is pretty minimalist, simplistic and recognizable, but Lobster just has so many more useful features and is pretty mature. I'd highly recommend it rather than try and reinvent the wheel.

What else is there? Is there an equivalent for CS research?

Lambda the ultimate? http://lambda-the-ultimate.org/

Browsing the discussions and research papers sections of that site, it seems great for programming languages. However, that's only a small fraction of CS research.


For papers from all disciplines

Interesting, another board using the Lobster engine.

ML research falls into stat which is covered by the site. Other CS coverage is on the way

Does this support $\LaTeX$ code in the titles and comments?


looks like it does

Hn succeeded in spite of his CMS not because of it

How annoying.

Not all math doctorates have university e-mails.

Reminds me of https://paperkast.com

I'm guessing it's also using Arc?

(It's too bad that it is limited only to people in Maths PhD programs.)

PHP, math or stats PhD. You can send an email to hsx at hessix dot com if you want an account

I'm confused, it's meant only for current math PhD candidates? Also, the front page has some numerical stuff about the goldbach conjecture from a chemist...

Does anyone know of a website like this but for economics?

econjobrumors.com is fairly well known, AIUI.

did you look on reddit?

Why are all the links to math.XX sites? Did someone buy all those up?

That is the category. For example, math.GT is Graph Theory and math.NT is Number Theory.

These are just categories (like subreddits)

Does anyone know of a similar website for mechanical engineering?

Interesting who have opened it. And does it have relation to HN.

No relation

I only use forums made by PhD computer scientists, sorry.

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