Letter to ArXiv Advisory Board

After more than three months of effort to try and get an answer about this, I’ve finally heard officially from the arXiv that trackbacks to my weblog are currently not being allowed by the moderators. I’m sending the following message protesting this to members of the arXiv advisory board.

To the arXiv advisory board:

I was informed two days ago by Jean Poland of the Cornell library that the arXiv moderators will not allow posting of any of the trackbacks to entries in my weblog that I requested more than three months ago. I would like to protest this decision and ask that it be overturned by the arXiv advisory board.

For background on the history of my weblog, my dealings with the arXiv moderators and the arXiv in general over this issue, you can consult the following web-page:

http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/arxiv-trackbacks.html

This is a complicated story, and involves a question not of the greatest importance, so you may quite reasonably not want to take the time to get involved in this, but I urge you to consider the two following issues:

1. It has taken me three months of effort to get a simple yes or no answer to the question of whether placement of these links on the arXiv will be allowed. This has wasted a great deal of my time, as well as that of those people who have been kind enough to try and help me get an answer. This is not a professional way of doing business and I urge you to ensure that it not continue to be the way that the arXiv operates.

2. The rejection of all trackback requests by me, requests that refer to postings of very different natures about both mathematics and physics make it clear that the moderators’ policy is to not allow any trackbacks to my weblog. I have not been given any reasons for this policy, and can only guess what these reasons are. Given the history outlined in the web-page mentioned above, it seems clear to me that this censorship is primarily driven by the moderators’ desire to paint as intellectually illegitimate and suppress commentary that is critical of string/M-theory research. This kind of suppression of dissent, accomplished using arguments that I have not been allowed to see or answer, is scientifically unethical and deserves to be condemned. The arXiv is an exceptionally important resource for the physics and mathematics community, and it is important that it operate according to high standards of scientific ethics.

Best wishes,

Peter Woit
Department of Mathematics
Columbia University
212-854-2642

Update: Sean Carroll’s posting about this has finally shaken loose some indication of what argument was used to disallow links to my blog at the arXiv. For details, see the comment section of his posting.

Update: Lubos Motl has really outdone himself with his latest lunatic ranting about this blog. Note that, besides the blogs run by arXiv moderator Jacques Distler, Lubos’s is one of only a couple particle theory related blogs that the arXiv moderators allow trackbacks to. That trackbacks to this blog are censored, but allowed to Lubos’s (and almost no others not belonging to an arXiv moderator) should be more evidence than anyone needs that there is a serious problem with the arXiv moderation system, and it is due to the string fanaticism of the moderators.

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112 Responses to Letter to ArXiv Advisory Board

  1. Rien says:

    Regarding the arxiv again, I’m a particle theorist and of course I submit all my papers to journals as well. I am a little suspicious of papers more than a year old that have not been properly published, even though the arxiv has been there during my whole career.

    I’m becoming somewhat disillusioned by the peer review process though, but this comes more from being a referee. Several times now, I have strongly recommended against publishing papers, only to find that those papers have been published anyway in another journal (and once even in the same journal). It seems impossible to argue against publishing slight papers with a small or negligible amount of new stuff. There are simply too many papers being put out, in my view. Of course you can always say that you never know what is going to be the next thing, but sometimes it’s pretty clear that a paper will not lead to anything, when it’s just the umpteent small variation of something.

    On the other hand I’ve also had a referee finding an error in one of my own papers, so it is not altogether bad…

  2. Thomas Larsson says:

    Benni and others,

    While string theory makes no hard, falsifiable predictions, it makes many soft predictions: supersymmetry, extra dimensions, 496 gauge bosons, proton decay, new long-range forces, a non-positive CC, etc. The most striking thing about these soft predictions is that every single one is in apparent disagreement with experiment.

    The situation with string theory is similar to that of Ptolemy’s epicycle theory. An ellipse, or any closed curve for that matter, can presumably be expressed as circles around circles around circles ad infinitum, just as any periodic function can be expanded in a Fourier series. So epicycle theory is not even wrong, but the fact that its soft predictions are in apparent disagreement with experiments is nevertheless a problem for it.

    If you are not impressed by Peter’s qualifications, why don’t you have a look at what the founder of the string theory group at Rutgers has to say about his former field, see subsection 1.6 of hep-th/0204131.

  3. Swatters says:

    Benni seems more like a graduate student than an undergrad.

    I think I can sum up Benni’s opinion: If you aren’t an approved of and published scientist then the opinion generated by your primitive little mind is pointless. You are free, free to think whatever the “real scientist” tell you to think. Just shut up and sign the check.

  4. Marty Tysanner says:

    I get the impression that people like Benni and Geon Oh are confused about the real issue at hand. They justify the actions of certain moderators of the ArXiv to censor blog trackbacks to Not Even Wrong because Peter is criticizing string theory without actively producing papers (especally string theory papers) of his own. Geon Oh goes even farther, and states that Peter is ignorant of string theory because he is not producing string papers. Evidently he is either unaware of or disbelieves Peter’s repeated comments that he has spent a great deal of time studying string theory; he also ignores Peter’s repeated reluctance to engage in discussions about technical topics that he does not feel fully qualified to discuss.

    My own observations of Peter over the past several years (since he started posting on sci.physics.research, before the days of the “Not Even Wrong” blog) have been different. It was clear that he talked about a sensitive subject, judging from the lively discussions that ensued and the strong emotions he encountered from some string theorists (especially Lubos “Superstring/M-theory is the language in which God wrote the world” Motl…). However, I have noticed that Peter has always been clear about the reasons behind his statements so that anyone was free to challenge him on that basis. So if he were making an incorrect claim about string theory others were free to point out his error. Sometimes this happened — occasionally an expert would catch him making a misstatement. But interestingly, I noticed that rather than becoming defensive or making a personal attack on the person who disagreed with him, he would publicly acknowedge his mistake if he was wrong; if he didn’t believe he was wrong, he would give a more technical explanation of his position, and then the discussion would continue. He also seemed to soften the way he presented his views over time; as he discused the views of reasonable string theorists who argued with him, he was more careful about saying what specific parts of string theory he disagreed with (especially the landscape), while openly acknowledging that there were other aspects of string theory that were worth studying and that deserved to be called science. For some time now, he has openly stated that reasonable people may disagree with his views about the merits about string theory.

    At the same time, I have observed that the people with whom he publicly discusses his views usually fall into one of two categories. The largest group acts reasonable; they either try to engage in a discussion of the technical merits of what Peter says, or they may mention that, “Well, you’ve got to work on something unless you want to just give up, and right now string theory is the best there is even if it isn’t perfect.” The other group doesn’t usually bother to argue from logic; these people seem satisfied with personal attacks on Peter, trying to cast him as a marginal character with no scientific standing who is trying to hurt the One True Fundamental Theory for personal reasons or because he is just ignorant. People like “Michael” (a.k.a. “Hmm,” I assume) and other more well known characters come to mind… Rather than actually addressing the technical points Peter makes, these people employ ridicule, distortion of viewpoints or past accomplishments, strawman arguments, and the like.

    It is very “interesting” to see certain relatively well known physicists and physicist wannabes resorting to emotional tactics rather than reason when it comes to defending their views. And now, using the curtain of anonymity, certain physicists are now even resorting to censorship tactics to make it harder for physicists and graduate students to see dissenting viewpoints when looking at a paper on the ArXiv. These moderators and people who use emotional methods to attack Peter seem willing to risk unintended consequences — that reasonable graduate students who could become the next generation of string theorists, as well as the public that is helping fund such research, might conclude that these string theorists don’t believe that string theory is strong enough to stand up on its own merits against reasoned, dissenting views, and consequently the tactics of mud-slinging politicians must be employed to maintain string theory’s favored position. Even worse, engaging in censorship for personal reasons and shrill personal attacks with little technical merit are offensive to both the scientific method and the spirit of free inquiry. Any resulting backlash against people who engage in those tactics is bound to cause damage to string theory by its association with them, even though the number of such people is relatively small. This is yet another example where intelligence and wisdom can be orthogonal…

    For someone like me who is very interested in fundamental physics, the discussions Peter has had with others (especially physicists) about string theory have been valuable, far more so than some of the uninformed “string theory is bad” comments by others that seem to frequently clutter the comment sections in his blog. Understanding the weaknesses of a theoretical program is crucial for graduate students (e.g., me) to make an informed choice about what research direction to choose. One usually has many opportunities to hear about a theory’s positive aspects by those who are actively working on it, but those same people usually don’t spend much time talking about the negatives; presumably if they thought it had a lot of negative aspects they wouldn’t be working on it themselves.

    So the real issue here that I think people like Benni and Geon Oh should consider is not whether or not they can understand why ArXiv moderators might not like trackbacks to Peter’s blog. The real issue, it seems to me, is that trackbacks (and beyond that, the ability to submit papers to the ArXiv) should not be prevented on the basis of personal feelings by moderators. Whatever criteria are chosen for allowing or disallowing trackbacks (or paper submission) should be published and uniformly enforced. Otherwise, the system is open to abuse, as outward appearance would suggest has actually happened in this case.

  5. Pudding says:

    “The real issue, it seems to me, is that trackbacks (and beyond that, the ability to submit papers to the ArXiv) should not be prevented on the basis of personal feelings by moderators.”

    Has Petr been prevented from submit papers to the ArXiv?

    An outrage!

  6. Marty Tysanner says:

    Has Petr been prevented from submit papers to the ArXiv?

    Not that I know of. I was thinking of a couple of other people who have apparently been blacklisted for no obvious reason. It would be appropriate for what constitutes grounds for being blacklisted and the procedures/requirements for having priveleges restored were made public and enforced uniformly, just as it would be for trackbacks. Why shouldn’t this procedural information be documented and transparent?

  7. Tony Smith says:

    Richard said:
    “… There are certain musical forms (i.e., atonal or 12 tone classical, rap, or fill in your own _____) which I feel perfectly qualified to criticize even though I’m neither a musician or a musicologist. … Can you imagine being attacked by a musician and told that your opinion is invalid because you yourself aren’t a practitioner? …”.

    Yes, I can.
    IIRC, in the heyday of atonal 12 tone stuff, establishment music critics would deride audience dislike of atonal 12 tone stuff, saying that the members of such an audience were too ignorant and uneducated to understand the inherent beauty of atonal 12 tone stuff.
    The reaction (over a time scale of decades) to such arrogance has been a return to use of harmonious structures.

    If physics and superstring theory were to follow the historical pattern of music and atonal 12 tone stuff,
    then
    there may be a few more decades of arrogant superstring excess, followed by a return to experimentally connected physics,
    but making use (in ways not permitted by current rigid superstring doctrine) of some of the math techniques of superstring theory

    Tony Smith
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

  8. Benni says:

    At first: Larsson writes:
    >While string theory makes no hard, falsifiable predictions, it makes >many soft predictions: every single one is in apparent >disagreement with experiment. end quote

    I know. Indeed it seems that string theorists themselves criticise their own field.
    It can only be described as criticism, to write a paper that it is an NP hard problem to indentify the correct solution. Want else should it be to write publications which bring their own subject in a crisis. That such publications are written shows the contrary of what peter thinks. It shows that string theorists are actually aware of the problematic taste of their theory and criticising themselves. How else would you interpret the words of Gross recently?

    What sometimes is annoying, is the media hype they create and the advertisement with which string theorists hire students.

    But Arxiv has nothing to do with media hype. And even, when one protests against media hype. Peter does a well job. For students and graduates who want to start a carrier in theoretical physics. But not for science only for people.

    The Problem in the Arxiv, I think is not, that he got blacklisted in a scientific preprint archive. The problem is that Arxiv has no clear moderating rules. Peter got no correct answer why he is blacklisted. The moderator board has no clear “rules” stated ccording to which it works (e.g it should be possible to make a “democratic” process where 30 moderators vote or such). Also, the “endorsement” system is problematic. Because the rules are not clear and very subjective to the endorsers. It could be, that the next Einstein won’t be endorsed, because his paper is so original and so complex that no endorser would have time to read through these many formulas which have nothing to do with present day theory.

    At second Peter writes:
    >I don’t know who you are, perhaps also an undergraduate, but >you don’t understand what you are talking about. end quote:

    I think I understand these comments of Prof.H.D.Zeh in Heidelberg very well, which discuss this aspect of nonlocality and String theory:
    http://www.rzuser.uni-heidelberg.de/~as3/nonlocality.html
    Quantum theory is kinematically nonlocal, while relativistic quantum field theory requires dynamical locality. How can these two aspects be compatible?
    The most general local structure seems to be described by quantum field theory. It may be characterized by the following program:
    (1) Find an underlying set of “classical” fields. This endeavor is the major objective of unified field theory such as string theory or “M theory”, where often only rudimentary quantum aspects are taken into account.
    (2) Define quantum states as wave functionals of these fields (that is, as superpositions of different “classical” field states).
    (3) Assume that the Hamiltonian operator H (acting on wave functionals) is defined as an integral over a Hamiltonian density, written in terms of these fields at each space point.

    And I don’t see your point how string theory alone should reproduce entanglement, until we have not done step 2 and 3. I could go more into detail, even with calculations, but this gets off topic now and I stop.

  9. Benni says:

    an additional note to the Arxiv:
    On the page introducing the endorsement system, arxiv writes
    http://arxiv.org/help/endorsement
    arXiv.org is distinct from the web as a whole, because arXiv contains exclusively scientific content. Although arXiv is open to submissions from the scientific communities, our team has worked behind the scenes for a long time to ensure the quality of our content.

    And this is the problem.
    What is “behind the scenens”?
    On this page, Arxiv states that its content is controlled by a conspirative group of scientists who can do what they alone think.
    Explicite rules and democratic moderating process is absolutely necessary here.

  10. robert says:

    Peter

    I’m pleased to see that your ‘Letter to ArXiv Advisory Board’ has prompted such a useful debate of the role of this body. As one whose professional work has been in areas somewhat removed from the frontiers of knowledge, I find myself in sympathy with others outside the hep-th community who find the aggressive and partisan behaviour of stringers slightly bemusing, and quite at odds with more widely held views on what science is about.

  11. Michael says:

    MathPhys,

    I don’t despise Peter Woit. I’m just being blunt about who I think he his and what I think he’s doing. I consider it possible that Peter is a likable guy personally, but it truly doesn’t matter.

    I am earning my money as a scientist (mathematical physics), in case you’re question was sincere.

  12. Thomas Larsson says:

    Benni wrote:
    At first: Larsson writes: >While string theory makes no hard, falsifiable predictions, it makes >many soft predictions: every single one is in apparent >disagreement with experiment. end quote
    I know. Indeed it seems that string theorists themselves criticise their own field.

    While you perhaps know this, and all senior string theorists undoubtedly do so, it is hardly common knowledge. Neither among the general public, nor among the high school and college kids who will become the next generation of scientists, and not even among professional scientists in other fields. Thus, there is certainly a need for public education here, of the kind that Peter is pursuing.

    Because we don’t want to keep taxpayers ignorant about the fact that all natural predictions of string theory disagree with experiments, do we?

  13. woit says:

    Marty,

    Thanks for your thoughtful long comment and for your kind words about what I’ve been doing. What you describe is certainly what I hope I am doing, so I’m glad to see that in your perception I generally live up to what I aspire to.

  14. Benni says:

    Thomas Larsson Says:
    >While you perhaps know this, and all senior string theorists >undoubtedly do so, it is hardly common knowledge. Neither among >the general public, nor among the high school and college kids >who will become the next generation of scientists, and not even >among professional scientists in other fields. Thus, there is >certainly a need for public education here, of the kind that Peter >is pursuing.
    1) yes. And this “public education” might be the reason why Arxiv has Banned Peter. Arxiv might not want to have anything to do with public education.

    2) Is it so worse in the US?
    In Germany, I’m also a little bit in sorrow. Here, folks have looked at the string hype quite sceptical for 20 years. Now even before LHC is working, there seem to grow out “centers for mathematical physics” everywhere. in Hamburg, Munich, Heidelberg, Jena… Chairs which have been sceptical for years (Heidelberg) now working on it. It might be, that well trained postdocs from the US return. Or it might be that averything else in the Standardmodel is worked out, so they jump on this train because own work in quantum gravity might be a hight risk.
    But they do this exactly at the point where the theory is a bit declining.

  15. Benjamin says:

    The situation with string theory is similar to that of Ptolemy’s epicycle theory. An ellipse, or any closed curve for that matter, can presumably be expressed as circles around circles around circles ad infinitum, just as any periodic function can be expanded in a Fourier series. So epicycle theory is not even wrong, but the fact that its soft predictions are in apparent disagreement with experiments is nevertheless a problem for it.

    Please forgive this vanity comment, but as a mere humble engineer interested in physics, I once had this thought too, both the epicycles and the Fourier part, just the way you say it. Since this is fascinating, and something I can grasp, and I don’t know who you are, could either you or a qualified physicist please confirm that this is a valid objection, at least as a first or zeroth order concept for the non-physicist (with perhaps a wee bit of poetic license thrown in)? Thanks.

  16. Tony Smith says:

    Benni has made some comments here, with some of which I disagree and some of which I agree, but I think that in two areas his points are useful:

    1 – with respect to arXiv:
    “… arxiv writes …[at]… http://arxiv.org/help/endorsement … “Although arXiv is open to submissions from the scientific communities, our team has worked behind the scenes for a long time to ensure the quality of our content.”
    And this is the problem.
    What is “behind the scenens”?
    On this page, Arxiv states that its content is controlled by a conspirative group of scientists who can do what they alone think.
    Explicite rules and democratic moderating process is absolutely necessary here.

    The Problem in the Arxiv, I think is not, that he got blacklisted in a scientific preprint archive. The problem is that Arxiv has no clear moderating rules. Peter got no correct answer why he is blacklisted. The moderator board has no clear “rules” stated ccording to which it works (e.g it should be possible to make a “democratic” process where 30 moderators vote or such). Also, the “endorsement” system is problematic. Because the rules are not clear and very subjective to the endorsers. It could be, that the next Einstein won’t be endorsed, because his paper is so original and so complex that no endorser would have time to read through these many formulas which have nothing to do with present day theory. …”.

    2 – with respect to string theory and quantum theory:
    “… Schwarz … said: In stringtheory we assume everything local. …
    To implement correlations, he must, I think, set up a kind of hidden variable theory, or make the string as big as the universe. …”.

    Benni’s “string as big as the universe” might be interpretable as a world-line, and tachyons might be useful in a theory of correlations, so maybe string theory (with unconventional physical interpretations) could be useful in constructing a realistic quantum theory. However,
    to the extent that arXiv suppresses posting of material about string theory interpretations that differ from the doctrinaire structure of conventional superstring theory, then possibly useful advances may be impeded.

    Tony Smith
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

  17. woit says:

    Benjamin,

    Yes, the epicycle analogy about the problems of string theory is one that has been made by many people (including some doing string theory).

    As a general matter of philosophy of science, the thing is that, unless the structure of a theory is very rigid, it is hard to show that it is wrong, since often a theory can be made consistent with observations by making it more complicated. So the way theories often fail is not that they make wrong predictions, but that they become more and more complex in order to try and stay consistent with observations, until at some point people can’t stand the ugliness of the theory any more and stop working on it. This seems to me the way the string theory unification program is headed. To avoid this, some people are trying to claim that ugliness is a virtue…

  18. Benni says:

    Tony Smith says
    >Benni’s “string as big as the universe” might be interpretable as a >world-line, and tachyons might be useful in a theory of >correlations, so maybe string theory (with unconventional >physical interpretations) could be useful in constructing a realistic >quantum theory.

    At first, my knowledge in Stringhteory is not too high.
    But to my small knowledge non-local Stringhteories in which strings are indeed stretched between different points of spacetime are a nonlocal quantum field theory, which violates causality (As today theorists compute everything some even work on causality violating models).

    When I read such entries:
    http://motls.blogspot.com/2004/12/causality-in-sft-ted-erler.html
    http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0406199
    I see, that string theorists do their best, to get a local field theory.
    They (Gross here) write:
    >Causality is a basic requirement of any acceptable physical >theory; causes should always precede their effects, and if the >theory is Lorentz invariant, >spacelike separated events should >be uncorrelated.
    Although they know, that sometimes in quantum mechanics events at spacelike separated points are correlated. That is, (as it seems to me) they construct their theory often against physical experiment.

    Ordinary QFT was invented before Bells inequalities. So there was no need to think on correlations at distant ponts and normal QFT obeys locality. Quantum field theory has other problems too. QED for example is nonlinear. Feynman graphs can contain loops.
    These problems are solved as such:
    One defines a wave functional of the field operators.
    In this review, for example decoherence is calculated with QFT (p17): http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/9803052
    The procedure with this functional picture can be used, to get correlations without violating causality.
    But one must “insert” the correct “local” QFT. Here’s another example of that: http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/9306161
    As Prof. H.D.Zeh writes, he thinks that normal QFTs, string and M theory included, are local and therefore only “semiclassical”: http://www.rzuser.uni-heidelberg.de/~as3/nonlocality.html
    Quantum theory is kinematically nonlocal, while relativistic quantum field theory requires dynamical locality. How can these two aspects (well based on experimental results) be simultaneously meaningful and compatible? How can dynamical locality even be defined in terms of kinematically nonlocal concepts?
    It may be characterized by the following program:
    1) Find an underlying set of “classical” fields (including a metric) on a manifold. This endeavor is the major objective of unified field theory (such as string theory or “M theory”, where often only rudimentary quantum aspects are taken into account).

    (2) Define quantum states as wave functionals of these fields (that is, as superpositions of different “classical” field states).

    (3) Assume that the Hamiltonian operator H (acting on wave functionals) is defined as an integral over a Hamiltonian density, written in terms of these fields at each space point.

    If I wrote something wrong, Peter or somebody else may correct me or delete my post.
    But I do not know, what happens if one does step 1,2,3 with stringtheory.

    1) Assuming the suesskind multiverse is correct.. What has one insert in such a “wave functional?” All the multiverses of Suesskind?
    2) Assuming one day, String theory gives one correct solution, wouldn’t this make everything much more complex? In the low energy level, one could work, when it is prooved that stringtheory gives the local standardmodel. But what would happen in the High Energy region?

    My question to John Schwarz at Munich was simple:
    “How is the quantum mechanical concept of nonlocality brought into stringhteory”.
    Answer: “Hmmmm, Hmmmm, Hmmmm (for 4 minutes), when we do perturbation series, we assume everything local. The correlations in Quantum Mechanics have not to do with causality violation. Entangled systems are very difficult in local stringheory…..”
    Question: “Could you provide me a reference on methods how one even tries to research on spacelike separated multiparticle correlations”
    Answer: Hmm, Hmmm….. and then something about ADS/CFT duality I could not relate anymore to my question.

    @Tony Smith:
    I don’t think that one can use this theory as a realistic interpretation of quantum mechanics. Neither non local stringtheory or all other approaches.

  19. Aaron Bergman says:

    Benni — you’re pretty much asking for a nonperturbative definition of string theory. There exist field theories for the open string, for example, that satisfy all your criteria. Life is harder with closed strings although there are attempts along those lines. So, the short answer is that when it’s been possible to define things nonperturbatively, string theory has all the same nonlocalities as ordinary quantum mechanics. The only difference is that the “fields” are now string fields defined on the space of string embeddings rather than points.

  20. Peter,

    Just wanted to add to the chorus of support for you. I don’t see how one could define “reasonable criticisms of string theory” in a way that includes Penrose’s and Smolin’s (and even some of the IAS particle theory postdocs’, when I talked to them alone), but that excludes yours. Some people might say that, regardless of content, weblogs are just not an appropriate forum for scientific disputes. But in that case, why have trackbacks in the first place?

    Best,
    Scott

  21. Benni says:

    Maybe one should make a petition (online or per letter) to ask Arxiv, if it could create better “moderating rules” than these:

    … arxiv writes at http://arxiv.org/help/endorsement … “Although arXiv is open to submissions from the scientific communities, our team has worked behind the scenes for a long time to ensure the quality of our content.”

    What is “behind the scenens”?
    It is not because of Peter, but because of the Arxiv as scientific institution. The worst scientific journals have peer review system where one gets at least a comment why he is not allowed to publish.

    Also the endorsement system… It could be, that the next Einstein won’t be endorsed, because his paper is so original and so complex that no endorser would have time to read through these many formulas which have nothing to do with present day theory.

    Has anyone an Idea of a better “standard ensuring” system?

    This could also be subject to a petition.

  22. woit says:

    Scott,

    Thanks for your comment. So that explains why my blog gets so many connections from the IAS.

    Others,

    I’ve just deleted a bunch of comments about Piet Hut, Witten, Brian Josephson, etc. The institute controversy over Piet Hut has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue at hand here, which is the decision by the arXiv moderators to suppress links to this weblog. I’m not arguing that the arXiv should not suppress things for which a legitimate case can be made that they are crackpot science. From what I have seen of Josephson’s work, I think such a legitimate case can be made. The question is whether this blog is crackpot science, a point of view I obviously strongly object to. Please take discusssions of Piet Hut and Josephson elsewhere, and stick to the topic at hand.

  23. Andrew says:

    Dear Peter,

    If you are not having any success with dealing directly with the ArXiV, I would have thought the logical step would be to take your complaint to the body funding them, which surely has ethics rules…. Their policies must be answerable to someone.

  24. MathPhys says:

    Michael,

    My question was sincere. Your attitude towards Woit and his blog goes straight against the scientific ideal of objectivity and tolerance of free speech.

    Woit has something negative to say on a (so far) purely speculative theory. He says it has (so far) failed to make contact with physics, and for that reason he believes it’s on the wrong track. Is that a problem?

    Why should a scientist have a problem with that? Why should anyone connect to his blog to leave the sort of messages that you and Motl come here to write?

    Your attitude gives non physicists who read this a very negative impression of how physicists interact and deal with each other.

    Theoretical high energy physics, particularly in the US, has always been nasty and cut throat. But what you are into here goes beyond professional competition. You are intolerant of opinions that are different from yours. And over what?

  25. MathPhys says:

    I also wish to make clear that I am *not* anti strings. In fact, I *want* to see string theory flourish and thrive, as it brings together everything that I have ever learnt and connects it to everything else.

    So what I want to see you, Michael and Motl, do, and what I find most disappointing that you are not doing, is to respond to Woit’s critiques in a calm and meaningful way. Tell us, very calmly, why he is wrong. Or tell us that (at this moment) you cannot tell us. There is nothing wrong with a scientist saying “I don’t know. Things are unclear. I have gut feelings, but I still don’t understand.” We all say that almost all the time.

    But cheap verbal attacks, personal remarks about Woit’s career and his publication list, are best left to high schoolers.

  26. Juan R. says:

    I see no problem with that ArXiv-administrators, journals-referees, etc. are selecting scientific material each day, if and only if:

    a) Are invoked explicit rules for “what is in” and “what is out”
    b) There is posibility for publishing the rejected material in another site (maybe considered “second-class” but at least available).

    Peter Woit is highlighting the problem (a). He want know why Not Even Wrong is now out from ArXiv trackbacking.

    In a related topic, I would note that history of science is full of theories were initially considered crackpot (by some referee of even by entire communities) but broadly accepted at the end.

    It has been well documented at least 27 cases of future Nobel Laureates encountered resistance on part of scientific community towards their discoveries and instances in which 36 future Nobel Laureates encountered resistance on part of scientific journal editors or referees to manuscripts that dealt with discoveries that on later date would assure them the Nobel Prize.

    A beatiful example of last is rejection letter to Hideki Yukawa meson theory considered by referee of the physical review journal to be wrong in a number of important points: forces too small by a factor of 10-20, wrong spin dependence, etc. But work was not wrong and some years after Yukawa received the Nobel Prize for physics by *that* work.

    Hermann Staudinger (Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1953):

    “It is no secret that for a long time many colleagues rejected your views which some of them even regarded as abderitic.”

    Howard M. Temin (Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, 1975):

    “Since 1963-64, I had been proposing that the replication of RNA tumour viruses involved a DNA intermediate. This hypothesis, known as the DNA provirus hypothesis apparently contradicted the so-called ‘central dogma’ of molecular biology and met with a generally hostile reception…that the discovery took so many years might indicate the resistance to this hypothesis.”


    Today the dogma in physics is string theory. Anyone contrary to the dogma receives hostility. In this blog, we can see examples of insane hostility Peter Woit receives from Michaels, Motl, etc.

    Among the more notorious instances of resistance to scientific discovery previous to existence of Nobels, we can cite the Mayer’s difficulties to publish a first version of the first law of thermodynamics. Not forget that even Newton was considered crackpot by the mainstream of the epoque. Do you remember D’alembert evaluation of Newtonian work?

    Therefore, a bit of caution with using the word “crackpot” and more clear rules for ArXiv.


    Juan R.

    Center for CANONICAL |SCIENCE)

  27. Florifulgurator says:

    As an ex-academic, my favorite blogs to keep updated to the state of math phys is Baez´ and this. Any other suggestion?

  28. woit says:

    Juan (and others),

    Please stop it with the generic anti-scientific establishment rants. I don’t think they add anything to this discussion. Sure, there are lots of examples in history of good scientific ideas being discounted and suppressed, but going on about those doesn’t have much to do with the case at hand.

    I’ll leave Juan’s last rant up for a personal reason. The chemist Hermann Staudinger was my great-uncle.

  29. Count Iblis says:

    Trackbacks referring to blogs that discuss the contents of papers (in a serious way) should not be censored. That’s totally unjustifiable.

    Perhaps someone here with a blog that is not censored by arXiv is willing to help to circumvent the ban by posting trackbacks on their blog on behalf of Peter with a link to this blog?

  30. George says:

    “Trackbacks referring to blogs that discuss the contents of papers (in a serious way) should not be censored.”

    What is “serious”? Who decides what’s a serious discussion?

    “That’s totally unjustifiable.”

    Why does the arXiv allow trackbacks at all? What purpose are they supposed to serve?

  31. secret milkshake says:

    We are using the Staudinger reaction in medicinal chemistry quite often around here…

    With sophistry one could make phenomena fit (Freudist psychoanalysis or Marxist-Leninist did).

    Ugliness = the ad hoc constructs invoked, heaped on to make known things fit (after they did not, and without a non-circular justification for it). Wiggle room = bad.

    Math complexity: a practical complication but not a sign of ugliness – if all follows from limited, fragile set of postulates + some nontrivial observables are produced.

    “It’s not a science, it’s just a literature” (landscapist literature at that)

  32. Pingback: Crackpots, contrarians, and the free market of ideas | Cosmic Variance

  33. Pingback: Often in Error...

  34. Tony Smith says:

    In comments on a Sean Carroll Cosmic Variance blog entry “Crackpots, contrarians, and the free market of ideas”,   
    Ethan Tecumseh Vishniac said:
    “… As a long time reader of Peter’s blog, a journal editor, and a (former) member of the ArXiv advisory board … I enjoy lurking on …[Peter’s]… blog …
    I have a few comments. …
    The ArXiv instituted a standard that they would allow trackbacks only to blogs run by active researchers.
    That excludes Peter … I can’t remember anyone else’s name coming up.
    I’m not going to hazard a guess as to the role that existence of Peter’s blog played in settling on this standard. …
    When the topic …[of]… characterizing you [Peter] as not an “active researcher”came up I did a quick search under your name and didn’t find much in the published literature. … I checked the World of Science database. …
    For reasons that are not clear to me, this standard was not communicated to Peter for some months. I don’t think most of the board was aware that this was the case.
    I didn’t realize it until Peter commented in one of his postings that he had never heard back from the board. …
    I’m a little surprised to hear that the policy behind the decision was not communicated clearly to …[Peter]. Actually … very surprised. …”.

    From those comments, it seems likely to me that :

    1 – The arXiv advisory board instituted a “trackbacks only … by active researchers” “standard” based on deliberations about only one blog, Peter’s.
    That seems to me to be a rationalization for a personal blackballing of Peter.

    2 – The arXiv board determined Peter to NOT be an “active researcher” based on not “find[ing] much” under Peter’s name “in the published literature” by checking “the World of Science database”.
    I went to a World of Science web page at http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/ which says “Eric Weisstein’s World of Science – A Wolfram Web Resource – the best resource for math and science on the internet”
    and I searched the “Entire Archive” with these results:
    for “Woit” – “Your search did not match any documents.”
    for “Motl” – “Your search did not match any documents.”
    for “Vishniac” – “Your search did not match any documents.”
    for “Vafa” – “Your search did not match any documents.”
    for “Ginsparg” – “Your search did not match any documents.”
    Lest you think that I just don’t know how to search, I will say that a similar search for “Witten” yielded a two-page list of documents.

    3 – If “most of the board was …[not]… aware that … this standard was not communicated to Peter for some months”,
    then the board’s oversight of arXiv administration is an example of poor management by the board and capricious (at best – actually, possibly even malicious) execution of policies by arXiv administration.

    4 – The fact that Ethan, “a long time reader of Peter’s blog”, did NOT post any comment about this matter on Peter’s blog, but quickly posted comments on Sean Carroll’s blog, shows that Ethan (perhaps in order to maintain status among those he considers to be his peers) feels that Sean Carroll is respectable (and maybe even an “active researcher”), whereas Peter Woit is not (and therefore it is respectable only to “lurk…” on Peter’s blog, but not to post comments thereon).

    The whole situation seems to me to be more like making membership decisions in old-time private clubs (back in the days when the IAS had to be created as a home for Einstein because some institutions were concerned about him being Jewish)
    than advancement of science by open publication, commentary, discussion, and debate.

    Tony Smith
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

  35. woit says:

    Tony,

    I agree with you that the “active researcher” standard was just chosen as that which gave the best argument the moderator could come up with for censoring me. In other areas the arXiv moderation policy is, like that of journals and just about everything else in science, about the scientific content, not the credentials of the person involved. The moderators in this case decided they couldn’t argue against the scientific content of my blog, but could try and argue against my professional qualifications. Since I first started raising these issues publicly, string theory fanatics have shown that they have no answers to the scientific arguments I am making, so their only tactic is to insist that I don’t have the right qualifications to be heard on this issue. This kind of ad hominem response long ago convinced me that the field was even more intellectually bankrupt than I initially thought.

    I have a different interpretation of Ethan’s decision not to comment here, but to do so at Cosmic Variance. I take him at his word that he reads what I have to say here and presumably often finds it worthwhile and probably even “respectable”. What I wrote here about what the arXiv’s reason seemed to me to be for its decision was intended to try and force their hand and get them to tell me what this reason was. As long as this remained only on my blog, it in some sense was just between me and the arXiv. Sean’s posting made clear that others were finding my interpretation of what was going on at the arXiv plausible, and made some sort of response and explanation seem necessary.

  36. Aaron Bergman says:

    “World of science” was probably a typo for “web of science”, a citation search engine online.

  37. Tony Smith says:

    Aaron Bergman said: “World of science” was probably a typo for “web of science”, a citation search engine online.”.

    OK, assuming that Aaron knows what is in Ethan’s mind better than Ethan’s typing hands (no insult intended, as I make a lot of typos in my writings), I went to a “web of science” web page at http://scientific.thomson.com/free/ which is free and described as “an expert gateway to the most highly influential scientists and scholars worldwide”, and repeated the searches described in my comment above, with the following results:
    for “Woit” – “No matches found.”
    for “Motl” – “No matches found.”
    for “Vishniac” – “No matches found.”
    for “Vafa” – “Highly cited researcher”
    for “Ginsparg” – “No matches found.”
    for “Witten” – “Highly cited researcher”

    Since Motl, whose blog IS allowed arXiv trackbacks,
    and Vishniac, who is “a (former) member of the ArXiv advisory board”
    and Ginsparg, who founded the arXiv,
    all have the same “No matches found” null result on the “web of science” search,
    I find it ridiculous (it would be funny if it were not a symptom of the antiscientific tendencies of the Cornell arXiv) for Ethan to use the “web of science” “gateway to the most highly influential scientists and scholars worldwide” as a criterion for declaring Peter Woit to be “not an “active researcher”” and therefore to be banned from arXiv trackbacks.

    Of course, I am only taking Aaron’s word in my use of “web of science”, and it is possible that some arXiv apologist will now comment that it should not have been either Ethan’s “World of science” or Aaron’s “web of science”, but some other list, and if we go through enough lists then MAYBE one of them might list Woit below Motl, Vishniac, and Ginsparg.

    Tony Smith
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

  38. Aaron Bergman says:

    I’m not sure what the point of this is, but the web of science is not a free service and is available here. All the people you list above return listings.

  39. Tony Smith says:

    Aaron Bergman said “… the web of science is not a free service and is available here …[ http://scientific.thomson.com/products/wos/ ]… . All the people you list above return listings. …”.

    “web of science” DOES have a FREE component of its service, which is as I said above at http://scientific.thomson.com/free/ , and the results I stated above ARE ACCURATE FOR THE FREE COMPONENT of “web of science”.

    “web of science” does also have not-free components, but I do not have access to them, so I did my search on the free component. If Aaron has access to the not-free components and wants to report results of searches on them, he is free to do so. As I said above, “if we go through enough lists then MAYBE one of them might list Woit below Motl, Vishniac, and Ginsparg”.

    Tony Smith
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

  40. Following Tony Smith’s investigation, I wondered whether only
    endorsers could send trackbacks. My search in the arXiv resulted in the following (including myself in the list):

    Peter Woit: Not currently an endorser.
    Lubos Motl: Can endorse for hep-th.
    Ethan T. Vishniac: Not currently an endorser.
    Cumrun Vafa: Can endorse for hep-th.
    Paul Ginsparg: Not currently an endorser.
    Edward Witten: Can endorse for hep-ph and hep-th
    Christine Dantas: Can endorse for astro-ph

    According to the rules of the arXiv:

    Endorsers must have authored a certain number of papers within the endorsement domain of an archive or subject class. The number of papers depends on the particular subject area, but has been set so that any active scientist who’s been working in her field for a few years should be able to endorse IF her work has been submitted to arXiv and IF she is registered as an author of her papers.

    Dr. Vishniac is of course very well known and has numerous papers, but apparently he has not registred most of his arXiv entries,
    so I suppose that is the reason why he is not being considered as
    an endorser.

    Since Dr. Woit has submitted only 2 papers to the arXiv (as far
    as my search is correct), they have judged him as not an endorser.
    I guess that was an important measure that they have considered. According to such a criteria, he would not be allowed to send trackbacks.

    Ok, that’s a measure, but a very “blind” one for sure.

    One test for my hypothesis would be to see whether Paul Ginsparg can send trackbacks.

    I would like to send trackbacks myself and test this as well, but according to blogger (where my blog is hosted), I cannot do this… Well, perhaps there is a way that I must figure out, because since Lubos Motl could do it with the same blogger, then there must be a way.

    In any case, that is disappointing. The rules are not clear.

    Christine

  41. Aaron Bergman says:

    Tony,

    I’m trying to tell you what Ethan was in all probability referring to and to help clear up a misunderstanding. If you want to keep playing Perry Mason, please do it without me.

  42. Power Ranger says:

    On the one hand, you claim that the Trackback system at the arXivs is being run for the benefit of a cabal of string partisans: “Note that, besides the blogs run by arXiv moderator Jacques Distler, Lubos’s is one of only a couple particle theory related blogs that the arXiv moderators allow trackbacks to. That trackbacks to this blog are censored, but allowed to Lubos’s (and almost no others not belonging to an arXiv moderator)…”

    On the other hand, you claim that the “active researcher” standard was devised specifically to exclude YOU: “I agree with you that the ‘active researcher’ standard was just chosen as that which gave the best argument the moderator could come up with for censoring me.”

    Which is it?

    On the one hand, you complain that the “active researcher standard” (the same criterion, I suppose, that’s used by journal editors to select referees) is irrelevant: scientific content is the only thing that should count.

    On the other hand, you would probably object even MORE strongly if the arXiv moderators were to moderate your individual trackbacks for their scientific merit.

    Seems to me that there’s nothing they could do, short of accepting your tracbacks, that would satisfy you.

    And if they accept your trackbacks, whose should they reject and on what grounds?

  43. Benni says:

    I think Peter could go around easily. He could
    publish
    publish
    and publish

    Sometimes he says that there are mathematically interesting items in string theory, and also few physical ones.
    It seems that he knows most in string theory, so he could do some work there. Maybe he could also find an upper bound for the cosmological constant or such…

    But it can be understood, that Arxiv wants to be only in the scholarly discussion process. And for this, it is fairly enough when people like douglas write
    “maybe this is a nightmare [in stringhteory research]”

    This has nothing to do with a “bankrupt” field, I think. But more with the strange “authoritative” behaviour of scientists. In germany, if a student wants to go in an elevator, and also a professor wants in, the professor often would say “Can I go here” and would ran into the elevator and closing the doors, that the student has to wait on the floor. There exists a Joke saying: “You nothing, you idiot, you amoeba, you …. student”. You have simply almost no right to say anything until you have a long publication list.
    Ethan writes to cosmic variance, because he is interested in the opinion of colleagues. He writes “Must I say that I don’t consider you as crank” or “I think your blog personally informative”. But he doesn’t consider peter as a colleague. And maybe questions the scientific value of the blog, since a researcher would not find interesting papers which he has to cite in own papers.

    This blog has a social value. It makes people clear about the status of stringtheory. But for to be scientific, Peter should publish something. This would also make his critics to be taken more seriously

  44. nigel says:

    Power Ranger,

    “Active research” is not just determined by publication rate. We all know the committee-authored papers, where 100 authors all co-author with one another, so that they get 100 citations each just for writing 1 paper each. A nice long list for the CV, but it is group-think.

    Group-think is personality-dominated. But science is determined by important results that have been objectively compared to nature, of which none have come from ST yet.

    “…you would probably object even MORE strongly if the arXiv moderators were to moderate your individual trackbacks for their scientific merit.”

    I don’t see why Peter could or would want to object to decisions based on scientific merit, since science is the aim of ‘not even wrong’. All the critics who see science as a matter of political correctness, seem personally insulted by Pauli’s category for string theory type-hype, ‘not even wrong’, plus objective questions about the failure of string theory to do anything objective for science.

    They should remember that in the end science is not a politically correct tea party with results determined by some kind of secret consensus or conspiracy, but it is determined by agreement with nature. It is very short-sighted to shoot the messenger.

  45. Benni says:

    ethan writes:
    > I also think the idea behind the policy could use some public >feedback, but I’m going to leave that to others. I’ve said my >piece. Comments from other people, including anyone reading this >thread, would be far more effective.

    Which could be merely understood to his colleagues as a note to protest against the decision of the board. This might also be a reason why he posted at cosmic varianc, where smolin and sean are active.

  46. Power Ranger says:

    “‘Active research’ is not just determined by publication rate.”

    No, but it’s not determined by saying, “I scribble in a notebook from 10 until 3 every day.” either. One (unpublished and uncited) paper in over 15 years does not constitute an active research career.

  47. woit says:

    Power Ranger,

    First of all, I’m really tired of having people challenge my scientific credentials from behind the cloak of anonymity. It seems to be a favorite tactic of string theory fanatics and strikes me as cowardly. At least one thing you can say for Lubos is that he doesn’t do this.

    If you want to argue about whether I’m doing research or not, you have to show that you have some understanding of what I have written. Based on what I’ve seen of comments written under the same pseudonym here and elsewhere, it seems to me highly unlikely that you have any understanding of either what I’ve written, or of most of the scientific issues that are discussed on this blog.

    I don’t see the incompatibility between claiming that the arXiv trackback system is being run mainly for the benefit of Jacques Distler and other string theory fanatics, and that the “active researcher standard” was chosen to give Distler his best argument for censoring me. Both are true.

    This “active researcher standard” seems to be ill-defined, since no one can tell me exactly what it means. If it ever does get made more specific, I suspect it will be carefully crafted to exclude me. In other areas, the arXiv doesn’t use this standard. From what I recall, its official standard is supposed to be that it accepts postings that are “refereeable”, i.e. that an editor of a journal would send out for peer review and not immediately reject out of hand as crackpotism. I’d be perfectly happy if the moderator wanted to accept some of my trackbacks, rejecting others as crackpotism. It would be quite interesting to see which he put in which category.

    It would be a lot of trouble to moderate trackbacks on a case by case basis, so I can understand that the arXiv would want to deal with the question of whether to accept trackbacks from a site as a whole. The natural mechanism for doing this is their endorsement mechanism. If one or more arXiv endorsers endorse a site, trackbacks from there would be allowed. They actually seem to have tried this out in my case: at least one prominent scientist was contacted and told them that trackbacks to my site should be allowed. They didn’t like that result and realized that I would have no problem coming up with endorsers, so adopted this new, never before used, ill-defined “active researcher” standard.

  48. Benni says:

    peter wrote: at least one prominent scientist was contacted and told them that trackbacks to my site should be allowed. end quote

    Is this speculation, or do you know this for sure?

  49. woit says:

    This is not speculation, but first-hand information. The scientist involved does not want to be publicly identified or get further involved in this controversy.

    In any case, I think any regular reader of this blog, or reader of the supportive comments posted here and elsewhere, would not have much trouble coming up with a list of arXiv endorsers who would support the inclusion of trackbacks to this blog in the arXiv. Doubtless the moderators involved are well aware of this, thus avoiding using the endorsement mechanism here.

  50. Benni says:

    anyway it would be good for you, to publish a bulk of reviewed papers.
    I wish you many scientific results.

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