arXiv Weirdness

Some rather strange things are going on at the arXiv, especially in the hep-th section:

Besides the usual string theory papers, which just get more and more pointless as time goes on, some very weird things have started to appear on hep-th. Last night, there was a new paper entitled Amplitude for existence of spacetime points that makes no sense to me. It’s by Monica Dance, who seems to have no academic affiliation, but does have a Hotmail account. Not clear why the hep-th moderator allows this kind of thing. One explanation would be that earlier this year she put Symmetry limitations on quantum mechanical observers, and conjectured link with string theory on hep-th, an equally nonsensical document which presumably was all right because it had “string theory” in the title. Maybe once you get one paper about “string theory” on hep-th, you become an “active researcher” and can put whatever you want there.

Actually, to get to be an “active researcher” according to the arXiv, as long as you’re studying string theory, you don’t need to even ever have written a paper at all. Recall that arXiv trackbacks to this blog have been banned on the grounds that I’m not an “active researcher” (for more about this, go here). But this hep-th paper has a trackback to this blog entry by Nicola Ambrosetti. Ambrosetti’s blog contains some fine entries and having trackbacks to it makes good sense, but he appears to be a student at Neuchatel who has never written a paper, so I would have guessed that according to arXiv standards he wasn’t yet an “active researcher”. Maybe standards are different when your blog entries have titles like Barton Zwiebach Rules!.

Over the last few months I’ve written quite a few blog postings that discuss arXiv papers. In many cases I happen to think that either the posting or the discussion in the comment section is something that someone interested in the paper might find worthwhile. In the case of postings about string theory papers (here and here), non-string theory papers, and non-string theory papers claiming to be string theory papers, no trackbacks to my blog were allowed. This is what I expected, but for some mysterious reason, a trackback to this blog entry about a paper critical of string theory was allowed. So, it seems that the arXiv is allowing trackbacks to my blog entries only when they are about papers criticizing string theory.

None of this makes any sense to me, so I tried politely writing to the arXiv person at Cornell that my logs showed had examined my blog entry just before their trackback system generated a trackback to it, asking about what was going on. No response to that inquiry, as to all my other inquiries about arXiv trackback policy. To find out what their policy now is, I guess I’ll just have to wait for the relevant authorities to get around to posting a blog entry or writing a comment at some blog somewhere, since that seems to be their preferred manner of dealing with this issue.

Update: I did get an e-mail response from someone at Cornell about my enquiry about trackbacks. It didn’t address the question of how hep-th trackbacks are now being moderated, but did point out that the trackback system is still in an experimental state, that they have recently had significant personnel changes, and that sorting out the trackback system hasn’t been one of their highest priorities.

Update: Lubos is even more out there than usual with his comments on this. It seems that my objections to the Dance paper are an example of sexism.

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57 Responses to arXiv Weirdness

  1. Bert Schroer says:

    “of course that it is your fault and fault of Lee Smolin. It’s two of you, among others, who have been fighting for years to replace string theorists with crackpots. By “original independent ideas” which is how you call these cranks.”
    these are words from the mouth of the Lord of Misuse in the Hegemon´s service. Like in the case of climate change they create that relaxed atmosphere which reminds the rest of us that it took a never before seen lowering of standards emenating from string theory to convert large parts of particle physics into a metaphorical messianic enterprize in which everything goes as long as it does not hamper this path. The priority-fight around the antropic trashcan (using the fight between dogs around trashcans which one sees in the morning here in Brazil as a metaphor) is an excellent illustration of where the hegemon wants us to go.

  2. B says:

    The easiest way would be to allow registered users of the arxiv to review papers, maybe similar to reviews at Such a review process is not perfect, and the standard below peer review in journals, but it will give the inexperienced user a rough quality estimate on the papers posted. It might even provide valuable feedback to the author. Also, it would be useful to search papers according to some importance or impact criteria based on that. Say, if you are a newcomer in some field, it takes some while to figure out which are the relevant and important contributions.

    Discussing papers in blogs and allowing trackbacks already leads into this direction, but it could be made more easy by directly having reviews on the arxiv.

    See also my blog entry Peer Review II. Best,


  3. anon says:

    When hundreds of papers are published in the arxiv, that contain no more substance than an air-pillow, what harm can Monica Dance’s paper make? She at least has the courage to be original, unlike the above mentioned authors who hide their non-contributions to physics in the cover of mainstream physics and academic affilations.

  4. woit says:


    There are lots of not very good papers on the arXiv, but up until now I have not seen ones that at a glance are obviously nonsense like the Dance one. I’m sure that there is a long history of such things being submitted to the arXiv, and being rejected by their moderation system. I’m just wondering why their moderation system broke down in this case.

    It’s certainly bad enough how many not very good papers are posted on the arXiv, but if the thing becomes dominated by complete nonsense papers, that will be a lot worse, and a very, very bad sign for theoretical physics.

    Originality is good and desperately needed, but the open problems in this field are very difficult and originality without competence is useless and just pollutes the field with more noise.

  5. D R Lunsford says:

    I have submitted a new paper to arxiv, “New Results in Gravitational Chess”. In this paper, it is shown that when a bishop strikes through a square adjoining the queen, the path is deflected and it actually starts attacking squares of the other color! Now here is what is interesting: when it attacks past the opponent’s queen, the path is deflected the other way. This was a totally unexpected new result and one must read my earlier papers on gravitational chess with this in mind. In particular, my earlier treatment of the Cosmological Constant Gambit is shown to be unsound.

    Some will complain that my paper contains no games and not even any meaningful diagrams. I can only say that publishing costs prohibit me from introducing such minutiae that would only distract the reader from my main result in any case.

    I hope to extend these results to rooks if my busy gardening and carpentry schedule permits. However, I feel that my legacy is secure, thanks to


  6. sunderpeeche says:

    Gravitational Chess exists, believe it or not

    and yes, I will thoroughly approve if this post is deleted

  7. D R Lunsford says:

    ROFL! It’s so hard to do anything new 🙂


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