Yet More On ArXiv Trackbacks

Several blogs today have discussions of the arXiv trackback issue, mostly spawned by Sean Carroll’s posting on the topic.

Jacques Distler has a posting where he explains that the arXiv has instituted an ill-defined “active researcher” criterion for allowing trackbacks to blogs and that:
Peter Woit’s publication record doesn’t put him anywhere close to “active researcher status”
I’ve written an extensive comment over there about why I happen to think I am an active researcher and the evident absurdity of the idea the Jacques Distler is capable of making a rational evaluation of this question.

More discussion of this is at Chad Orzel’s Uncertain Principles, and Georg von Hippel’s Life on the Lattice.

Update: Yet more on trackbackgate from Lieven le Bruyn , Evan Goer and Capitalist Imperialist Pig. The first has the useful suggestion of using Technorati to automatically generate complete sets of links to discussions of arXiv papers on blogs. The second reminds me why it’s a bad idea to hit the “submit” button when you’re extremely pissed off.

Update: In discussion over at Jacques’s blog about what an “active researcher” is, the dicey issue has arisen that Jacques actually doesn’t seem to be one himself. One commenter has suggested that this whole issue could easily be resolved by just picking a definition of the term, noting that

Few will object to defining a minimallly active researcher as one who has posted an average of 2 papers per year to arXiv over the last 3 years.

Jacques comes no where near qualifying as “minimally active”, since he has only posted 3 papers to the arXiv during the last 3 years.

Personally I don’t think the 2 paper/year criterion is very good. It doesn’t account for length of papers, or that they may be the product of a collaboration, so the author in question is only responsible for a fraction of the paper. A more accurate measure would be based on counting pages of papers and dividing by number of authors. Under this measure, over the last four years Jacques’s research productivity looks like this:

2002: 9.3 pages
2003: 3 pages
2004: 0 pages
2005: 23.7 pages

for an average of 9 pages/year (this count is being a bit charitable, since 15 of the 2005 pages are from a “landscape” paper that may not even be science).

Jacques has made it clear that a certain author for whom this number is 14 pages/year is not “anywhere close to ‘active researcher’ status”, so I guess he is even farther away from qualifying as an “active researcher”.

Always seems surprising the way people living in glass houses like to throw stones…

Update: This particular food-fight has even been written up for the on-line component of Discover Magazine.

Update: A couple more people weigh in on this, Jim Hu and Alejandro Satz.

Update: I haven’t heard anything at all from anyone associated with the arXiv, but a couple trackbacks to one of my recent postings have appeared, so there seems to have been some sort of change of policy there.

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111 Responses to Yet More On ArXiv Trackbacks

  1. woit says:


    The reason I don’t come up with papers like the one you quote is that it is just wrong, it’s exactly the kind of paper I’ve been critiquing here on this blog. In this particular case, what is wrong with it is right there in the abstract:

    “I explain that this landscape is likely to lead to a prediction of low energy supersymmetry.”

    At the time this paper was written, it was fairly clear that this kind of argument was highly dubious, that the landscape did not allow this kind of prediction. I’ve written about the technical issues surrounding this extensively on the weblog. I’m just not going to start adding papers to the arXiv devoted to criticizing bad arguments in “not even wrong” papers. For the 101st time, I think a blog entry about this is much, much more appropriate than writing a scientific paper and filling the literature with something purely devoted to pointing out an obviously bad argument. Since I don’t think the arXiv should be filled with posted papers of this kind, I’m not about to write one. Both you and Polchinski are promoting as examples of what I should be doing papers containing incorrect claims for one method or other of extracting physical predictions from the landscape. I don’t believe this can be done, for reasons many people complain that I’ve repeated endlessly here, but that you don’t seem to understand.

  2. Chris Oakley says:

    Now tell me that Stephen Wolfram is coming back to study weak decays and I will consider the week complete.

    Nothing so sane, I’m afraid.

  3. I think that the trackback issue is much less serious than the censorship against posting to arXiv which in practice means a professional death.

    For a decade it become impossible for me to post anything to Physics Archives. Mathematical Subject Classification Tables of American Mathematical Society has alink to my homepage about Topological Geometrodynamics in the section devoted to Mathematics of Quantum Theory. Recently I was invited in to Marguis Who’s Who in Science and Engineering. One might think that on this basis I should not be regarded as a non-crackpot by any person possessing IQ above 100 but the wise men in the board seem to think differently.

    Certainly I am not the only one. There is large number of active researchers publishing in refereed journals who suffer censorship

    Matti Pitkanen

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  5. MathPhys says:

    I found Lee Smolin’s comment (on Cosmic Variance) on this matter to be most eloquent.

    Distler and co are discrediting themsleves and their discipline by this little stunt.

  6. Chris Oakley says:

    Hi MathPhys,

    I could not find it. Did you mean Christine Dantas’s blog?

    LS seems not to be especially bothered by the latest attack from Lupine Lubie.

  7. I believe MathPhys refers to this comment (#26) over at Cosmic Variance:

    If academic freedom means anything, it must mean that the university must do nothing to impede free discussion by professionally competent experts on scientific controversies. Given that Peter Woit is a Physics Ph.D. and a faculty member at a major university, who has published papers and has a book in press on the topic, he is without doubt part of the academic community to which the principles of academic freedom apply.
    …Lee Smolin

    In my blog, Lee Smolin has commented over a discussion involving his recent paper, to whcih there is now a trackback link from my blog together with Lubos Motl´s.

    Best wishes,

  8. MathPhys says:

    Thanks, Christine. That’s the comment I had in mind.

    I like it because I believe that it gets to the heart of the matter. There is an element of suppression of free speech going on at arXiv.

  9. D R Lunsford says:

    OK, I have a question.

    In this paper:

    Do I qualify as an “active researcher”, insofar as I induced both a footnote and a reference in the work of *demonstrably* active researchers?

    Thanks in advance,


  10. Setting the record straight.

    Almost all of Waldyr’s comments had nothing at all to do with my paper even in the first version. Currently the 11-th version I think corrects and/or clarifies those minor nitpicks Waldyr made for which I am grateful. Most of Waldyr’s 21 pages had to do with energy conservation in GR, which has nothing directly to do with the new ideas in my paper. Waldyr wrote his review in a panic that funding would be withdrawn from his students if it was perceived that he supported my ideas. Of course I made it clear in the acknowledgement that Waldyr did in fact NOT support my claims.

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