We've recently had two extremely similar, indeed related questions concerning mathematics culture:

  1. How do you respond to people who say pure mathematics has less value than applied mathematics because "it doesn't have any practical application"?
  2. What can I tell a student I am mentoring who claims: "I want to do pure mathematics because it is superior to any other subject in the world"?

The first has been closed and left closed after a reopen vote. The second remains open, and as far as I can tell at my rep level the close votes haven't been resolved.

As a primary point, I simply want to urge those with queue access to make a decision one way or another. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the state of that question. But it was my experience when I had queue access that question closures seemed occasionally to be filibustered, and I'm guessing that my speculation notwithstanding that this one's sitting in limbo. Either we need to vote to keep it open (and discuss resolving the inconsistency between the two outcomes), or we should close it in a timely way to respect the time of the trickle of users who continue to answer it currently.

As a secondary point, I really do think these questions highlight the downside of our very permissive policy regarding HNQ removal. These are, to my mind, questions that may have been okay to leave open if the HNQ effect didn't so dramatically warp the otherwise usual upvote/downvote patterns.

  • Update: perhaps as a result of this post, the first question got five reopen votes (mine being the fifth) and has been reopened. It remains eligible to be re-closed in the usual way, however.
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Apr 14 at 21:32
  • @cag51 Thanks for pointing it out! I'd vote to close them personally, but at least we have some consensus on the two. If I only had energy, I'd try to argue for a return to consideration of our HNQ policy. These questions seemed fine to me, then attracted a bajillion bad opinion-based answers that we can't police well.
    – user176372
    Commented Apr 15 at 2:36
  • Just as an update, we have for a few days now obtained the opposite situation. Q1 is open, and Q2 is closed. @cag51 Since you're my primary correspondent on this question. I guess I'll plan on waiting a week in case it reverses, but this is turning into one of our more curious cases for awhile in my view.
    – user176372
    Commented Apr 19 at 19:11
  • both are open again (Q2 already had 4 reopen votes, so I was able to cast the 5th, no superpowers required).
    – cag51 Mod
    Commented Apr 19 at 19:27
  • @cag51 ah, great. Spares me brain cycles. These two seemed controversial, so probably not the worst that a mod "broke the ties" in both cases, lack of superpowers required notwithstanding.
    – user176372
    Commented Apr 19 at 21:37

1 Answer 1


Personally, I think both should be open. The first one is a bit borderline, but I would err on the side of leaving interesting borderline questions open.

That said, I don’t think they are truly symmetrical. One is about formulating an opinion in a way that will convince the general public; the other is about advising a student who has made (academically) extreme statements. The latter is more closely tied to academia generally and is about a concrete situation the asker is actually facing.

  • I respect that you think these should both be open-- I disagree, but I consider the underlying moderation question they present challenging and recurrent (HNQ screws over a borderline question with a lot of opinion answers). I'd push back somewhat on the contention that they aren't symmetrical from a moderation standpoint, though. The referent on who needs "convincing" is hypothetical in both cases. The first could be converted to "an academic" as the referent, for example.
    – user176372
    Commented Apr 10 at 0:54

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