User talk:Greg Woodhouse

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Simple as possible, but not simpler

I agree with your comment on Catherine Woodgold's page:

I guess I'm looking for an opinion here. The discussion of audience level in the forums has grown increasingly tendentious. So much so, in fact, that I'm beginning to wonder if there's much point in even writing anything that presupposes more than a typical high school education by way of background - at least for subjects that are at all mathematical. Ironically, one of the reasons I wanted to become involved with Citizendium is that I wanted to try my hand at making difficult topics accessible, but it is all relative. A statement attributed to Einstein, namely, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler," has been my guide here. But it just doesn't seem acceptable. Truth be told, I'm trying (unsuccessfully, obviously, since I'm writing this) to hold back my anger and frustration. A rexcent comment about the word "multiple", followed by a highly condescending remark on the part of someone else to the effect that it takes practice to write for a wide audience, make me wonder if this is the place to try an address so-called difficult topics.

I agree especially with the statement attributed to Einstein. All that I really ask is that "multiple" be defined in the context of the LCM article. That's all; that is not "simpler than possible." The notion of an LCM is simple enough and familiar to many school kids, and so, presumably, if we need an article about it at all, the people who need the article could also use an introduction to this jargon. But when it comes to more advanced topics, I agree that there simply is no way to make them accessible to a general audience. We should have articles about those topics, but we should not be held to impossible standards of accessibility. If anyone is wrongheadedly trying to correct you on these points, let me know and I'll explain these things to them. --Larry Sanger 23:03, 21 May 2007 (CDT)

I don't think I'd go so far as saying advanced topics can't be made accessible to a general audience. At a minimum, I think a talented author well-versed in the subject matter may be able to make them more accessible than we might think, but taking an explanation written in specialist language and attempting to "translate" it by defining terms one at a time will seldom (if ever) succeed. This is one reason why I think rushing to define everything is a bad idea. I originally started Prime number because it seemed a very basic (in the sense of fundamental) article that was badly needed. I had originally planned to go on and write articles about the Gaussian integers and Eisenstein integers, and may do yet, but trying to explain why these rings are important and how the ideas covered in the prime number article generalizes to these rings is a bit tricky, and it seems to me that current editorial practice could make it very difficult. That's one of the reasons why I've argued in the forums for integrative articles ("how the pieces fit together"). Without them, I don't know if it's realistic to try and address mathematics and the sciences without producing long lists of theorems or facts that may, indeed, by very useful, but which will be of little help to the newcomer not already acquainted with a field. Greg Woodhouse 12:55, 22 May 2007 (CDT)

I think you may be overinterpreting the constraints placed by "current editorial practice." In other words, you are writing as if your hands are tied, and I'm not sure who you think is tying them, or how. You have as much authority to settle these matters as any other editor. The general injunction, which I think we agree upon, is to write accessibly when accessible writing is possible. I'm befuddled by the idea of accessible writing that does not define (or otherwise explicitly clarify) its terms, but I'll keep an open mind. The proof of the pudding... --Larry Sanger 13:05, 22 May 2007 (CDT)

Actually, I had something much simpler in mind: If you start with an article written is specialist language, you can theoretically try to edit by translating all the technical terms used into ordinary language (or, more likely, into more basic terms that must also be explained), but this procedure isn't likely to lead to an article that is at all illuminating (or readable). What is necessary is to recast the ideas in such a way that they will be more accessible to a non-specialist's intuition, and then to build a foundation for exploring some of these ideas more deeply. By contrast, asking authors to explain the meaning of this word or that word is not likely to produce good results. Greg Woodhouse 17:01, 22 May 2007 (CDT)

Well, I'd be interested to hear comments to my comment on this subject at,952.msg7307.html#msg7307 Stephen Ewen 13:38, 22 May 2007 (CDT)

I have some concerns. For one thing, I think it's a mistake to think of authors as non-specialists. I prefer to think of authors as more akin to graduate students. There is no reason to think that an author cannot be as knowledgeable about a subject as an editor. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't highly qualified authors who never sought editor status simply because they prefer to write. Second, I think reducing the expectations you have for the proverbial audience is the wrong direction. If anything, I believe it is better to challenge the audience, providing more information and more insight than expected, than to underestimate the background of the audience, and thus provide less than what they want and need. Greg Woodhouse 17:09, 22 May 2007 (CDT)

Well, I tend to agree. I think what I am saying and what you are saying are consistent. What I had in mind in my post is, for example, an instance where, say, a non-science major "is not quite getting it" with a science article. Stephen Ewen 17:34, 22 May 2007 (CDT)

But why would they not "get" it? Let's try a simple example. If two resistors are connected in parallel, what is the current that flows over each? You can write down Kirchoff's current law, but it's pretty uninspiring (and I mean that literally, it's not likely to help anyone to develop insight). But think about it: The potential difference is the same across both wires, so the determining factor is the resistance, the greatr the resistance, the less current will flow along that path and, indeed . Maybe that doesn't really help. Think of a canal that divides into two unequal parts before rejoining. How much water will flow along each? Assuming that the depths are the same but one is only half as wide as the other, then we can ask whether a twig floating on the surface of the canal is just as likely to take one path as the other. What do you think? Anyway, you get the idea: I could start formally defining potential, electric current, etc., but it probably wouldn't help much. Flowing water is closer to most people's experience, and so easier to understand. Greg Woodhouse 17:54, 22 May 2007 (CDT)

Here's a concrete on-wiki example. Note the whole before-and-after, but scroll down to the especially illustrative == Attachment == section. Do you think the article gained or lost by these accessibility efforts? Stephen Ewen 20:47, 22 May 2007 (CDT)

Retrieving history

Greg, thanks for your note about how to get things from history. Yes, I could do so, but I think the person who deleted them should put them back. I'm trying to establish some ground rules for future collaboration. If I put the stuff back myself, it's 1) I write, 2) he deletes, 3) I "revert". I should not have to revert, and we should not be having revert discussions. He should just put the stuff back (as he stated he would 10 days or so ago). I'm being stubborn about this because it's an important point of etiquette. It sure looks to me like he "accidentally omitted" these two paragraphs because he doesn't happen to agree with them. That is the sticking point. Pat Palmer 22:00, 24 May 2007 (CDT)


Greg, can you provide a link to or explain the photoelectric effect in the talk:light page?--Robert W King 14:37, 7 June 2007 (CDT)

See the talk page. Greg Woodhouse 14:51, 7 June 2007 (CDT)
Thanks, Greg. If you see glaring errors, discrepancies, mistakes, items for correction on the Light article, please do not hesitate to point them out on the talk page. I'm going to make the article as complete as possible, and I totally appreciate the input. I'm not a physics expert, but I strive for excellence.--Robert W King 14:47, 8 June 2007 (CDT)

Quantum ice-breaking

Greg, I can't resist any further. Schrodingers cat humor. --Robert W King 12:15, 15 June 2007 (CDT)

That's great! Greg Woodhouse 11:26, 16 June 2007 (CDT)

Discrete harmonic analyst

The reference was to something I did on algebraic groups over finite fields, yes. (Imagine a self-promoting link to one of my things in the arxiv here.) Harald Helfgott 14:29, 18 June 2007 (CDT)

Bayesian filtering

It was WP-imported from this (maybe some earlier version, see history of edits), then moved to the new title and not that much edited here. In fact, "content from WP" should be tagged (I forgot it). --Aleksander Stos 12:29, 30 June 2007 (CDT)

Article of the week - Dog

Hi Greg--could I ask you to reconsider your nomination of dog in its current form? Please have a look at the work I've done at dog/Draft for comparison. There are also some forthright comments on the Talk page (draft), if you're interested.

Compare the opening paragraph of Dog with the revised opening of Dog/Draft. Also consider the restructuring.

The paragraph dog#Dog breeds contains some inaccuracies and at least one wrong statement: the Great Dane is not the largest breed of dog, the Irish Wolfhound is. Also, the paragraph refers to breeds, which are in the province of show dogs, which do not have snouts (they have muzzles) or fur (coat). See Dog/Draft#Dog breeds. Small issues to the uninitiated, but the difference between an okay, non-expert article and a great one.

Your comments would be appreciated. come run your mouth.

Aleta Curry 18:03, 8 August 2007 (CDT)

Image Deletion

Hey, I don't know who has permission to do deletions on this wiki, but I'm assuming that as an editor you can? I uploaded the same image to two places and I was hoping you could delete the one at

ISS Expedition 15 patch.jpg

for me. Thanks. And if you can't can you please let me know who can? -- Carl Jantzen 12:50, 9 August 2007 (CDT)