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.