This is a "manners critique," and might be annoying to some users; however, I think it's important because I feel that from looking at the site, some users are being targeted for lacking the academic credentials of some of the other users.

For example, in this discussion, a user named Craig Feinstein posts a (possibly off-topic) video of a P vs. NP proof. Another user then calls him a "crank."

I would like to strongly urge users to stop calling other users "cranks." The word crank is nearly always considered derogatory. If you type "crank meaning" into Google, you will see both of these meanings (among others):

  1. an eccentric person, especially one who is obsessed by a particular subject or theory.
  2. a bad-tempered person.

Referring to someone as either "bad-tempered" or "eccentric" is generally considered rude.

I would like to suggest that users who are seeking to make an observation about another user's interests in mathematics or computer science use the word "enthusiast" instead of "crank." For example, if someone called another user a "P vs. NP enthusiast," this would not be rude or considered bullying. Telling a user that they are a crank is a form of harassment, and I do not believe that it is appropriate for any of these sites.

My question is: Do you agree with my (relatively straightforward) claims above, and that users should stop referring to each other as cranks or other derogatory terms?

Also: Do you have any other suggestions on improving the atmosphere of cstheory to make it welcoming to all appropriate users, including people who are not professional academics?

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    $\begingroup$ This site is mainly for professional researchers, and we don't welcome all on cstheory. As has been explained several times people who you refer to as P vs. NP "enthusiast" are not welcome here [1]. It is clearly stated in the related policy that posts related to claimed unpublished solutions of famous open problems are off-topic on this site. Playing with words will not change it. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 9 '14 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ strongly agreed with the sentiments of the post & have expressed dislike in numerous places around here that "official" tcs.se policy & (ex)mods refer to "cranks" etc. other defns of crank on wikipedia. it can also be regarded as ad hominem. another alternative might be "neophyte" etc. alas on other hand feinstein has a long cyber rep... $\endgroup$ – vzn Jun 9 '14 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: I am not playing a wordgame or trying to change your P vs. NP proof policy. I am making a point about politeness. Even if you don't think you should welcome these enthusiasts, perhaps you should consider treating them with respect. I am not even talking about myself; I have no current ongoing interest in resolutions of P vs. NP. $\endgroup$ – Philip White Jun 10 '14 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ We do respect them as human beings, but not some of their behaviors. There is no need to be too nice and too polite to people we don't want to welcome, especially when they intentionally and repeatedly violate site policies. Crank is a commonly used term by scientists. I for myself has explained what I mean by the word a number of times. Some people might find it offensive to be told they act in a rude manner, does it mean we should find a more polite word to use in place of rude so we don't offend rude people?! Btw, intentionally and repeatedly violating policies is quite rude, imo. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 10 '14 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ I commented quite politely on the guy's post that "As you very well know unpublished solution of P vs. NP are off-topic on cstheory, please don't post them here.". He ignores it and replies that it is published on YouTube! while he very well knows what I meant. And you are offended by our behavior and want us to be nicer to the guy?! $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 10 '14 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ In answer to your question: Yes, I want everyone to be nice. (I'm not perfect either.) Perhaps I should choose a word other than rude. "Could be nicer" is the phrase I should have used. Oh well...at least vzn agrees with me. $\endgroup$ – Philip White Jun 10 '14 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ PW lol a club (of 2). have pointed out elsewhere how many attempted proofs on the woeginger unofficial P/NP "crank" list are by PHds/"pro researchers", was thinking of working it into an answer here sometime but theres no (vote) interest so far & overall group clearly has extremely little patience/tolerance for the topic even in meta. although lack of niceness is quite prevalent on se in general & there is much material to study on this (have delved into that sociological study somewhat at times over the yrs). ps still interested in your P vs NP sketch based on BGS75, drop by chat sometime :p $\endgroup$ – vzn Jun 11 '14 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ CF, K is an exmod. old habits die hard. so-called cranks have close to zero )( impact or potential for impact on this site despite his intense case of crank-phobia. maybe even less than zero. zzzzzzt! $\endgroup$ – vzn Jun 13 '14 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Craig, I can say it, I have said it, I say, and will continue to say. It is part of this site's policies: cranks are not welcome on this site. It is your behavior that makes you a crank or not a crank. If you don't like the label change your behavior. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 13 '14 at 4:34
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    $\begingroup$ [continued] The target community of the site are professional researchers. An amateur who abuses the site to seek attention is not welcome. Unpublished claims are not different than spam email. It is a selfish and irresponsible behavior. Your work, like other such claims, is online and known, if anyone is interested they can read them and contact you. If we don't that means we don't want to! Don't post them here. Don't abuse the site to advertise them. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 13 '14 at 4:34
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    $\begingroup$ ps: If you do it again and intentionally violate the policy moderators should suspend you. If they don't I will personally start a meta-discussion requesting them to do so. Either you respect the site's policies and norms, or your account will be suspended. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 13 '14 at 4:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Craig, no, I have explained it to you quite a number of times. E.g. June 12, 2013, Jan. 5, 2014, in my comment under your recent post. How many times I have to tell you? For the last time: $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 13 '14 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ You have violated the policy on unpublished claims about famous open problems being off-topic (and by publishing we mean publishing in reputable peer-reviewed academic venues like reputable academic journals and conferences, not YouTube!). If your post was considered on-topic and appropriate it wouldn't get 9 down votes and then deleted by a moderator. Hint: it was not! Don't abuse cstheory to advertise your claims! $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 13 '14 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Craig, your comments demonstrate that it is futile to talk with you, you don't want to understand, you don't want an explanation. You just want to argue and continue to do whatever you want to do no matter what. So next time I won't waste my time replying to you. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jun 13 '14 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with Kaveh. It would be just as inappropriate for me to use this site to advertise my published results. Self-promotion is not what this site is for. $\endgroup$ – Jeffε Jun 17 '14 at 7:15

Crank is a somewhat unfortunate word choice, but none of the other suggestions conveys the exact meaning of the word in the way we use it. The intended meaning is, to a first order approximation,

The author of (multiple) manuscripts that (1) claim to solve a famous open problem and (2) show no understanding of existing literature and, usually, no understanding of the nature of mathematical proofs.

As you can see from this, the focus is actually on the manuscripts and not on the people themselves. However, it's also often hard to disentangle cranky writing from the behavior of their authors, who can be very persistent and unlikely to see the error of their ways.

In any case, "enthusiast" does not convey the right thing at all here, and neither do "neophyte" or "amateur". There is no issue with amateurs or enthusiasts who are not part of academia but have a basic understanding of mathematical proofs.

I'd be perfectly fine with using trisector, although the analogy is not quite perfect: trisectors believe they can prove something which is known to be false; P vs NP cranks believe they can prove something plausible, although they have the same basic confusion about mathematics and proofs as trisectors.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually I just noticed that the trisector article also uses crank. It also suggests "paradoxer". It's probably best to accept that we use "crank" in a technical way and no disparagement is intended. $\endgroup$ – Sasho Nikolov Apr 30 '15 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ I gave this +1, particularly for the observation that the "focus is actually on the manuscripts[/proofs] and not on the people." I wouldn't be opposed to the phrase "poorly written" or something similar in reference to a proof instead of a user. I also don't have any opposition to having P vs. NP proofs be off-topic for the site...it's just a question of how people get their ideas dismissed, even when it must be done. $\endgroup$ – Philip White Apr 30 '15 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ I personally disagree it is simply about the content, it is about a particular behavior. Philip already knew we don't use it as a derogatory way. It is a common used term (by Martin Gardner, John Baez, etc.) to refer to a particular kind of behavior and I am not aware of a more polite commonly used term to refer to a person who satisfies these characteristics. The real issue in my opinion is that he wants us to be more welcoming to "cranks" on the site. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 3 '15 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ this is a made-up definition & wishful thinking. where did you get it? actually there is no such policy here on this site, "focus on the manuscripts and not the people themselves". its a nice idea but the sites locked down policy is actually quite to the contrary, it bans discussion of "crank-friendly preprints" on the main site. and maybe the continued activity on this post shows that the site "collective intelligence" (within meta at least) is focused on matters of no real importance.... bikeshedding anyone? $\endgroup$ – vzn May 6 '15 at 3:02

This site has a particular target audience as explain in help center. To preserve the usefulness of the site we have rules and people who do not respect these rules and intentionally violate them are not welcome here.

If someone (specially someone who is not a profesional computer scientist) persists on using this site for advertising their own claims then that person is not welcome on this site.

Posted as an answer to stop the question being bumped up by the community.

  • $\begingroup$ all fair points ("goes without saying," equally applicable to all se sites) but does not really directly address the question/ issue raised, which is about decorum... $\endgroup$ – vzn Mar 5 '15 at 16:09

I view all of this name-calling "cranks" when used in a derogatory manner as the same thing as playground bullying. I think Philip raised a great point. I wonder how many people with great ideas have been afraid to say them because they are afraid of being labeled a crank.


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