Arcadian Functor

occasional meanderings in physics' brave new world

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Marni D. Sheppeard

Monday, July 06, 2009

At Your Leisure II

AF posted this a while back, but since hardly anybody seems to have considered it, let me post it once again: excerpts from the Declaration of Academic Freedom.

Article 2: Who is a scientist

A scientist is any person who does science. Any person who collaborates with a scientist in developing and propounding ideas and data in research or application is also a scientist. The holding of a formal qualification is not a prerequisite for a person to be a scientist.

Article 4: Freedom of choice of research theme

Many scientists working for higher research degrees or in other research programmes at academic institutions such as universities and colleges of advanced study, are prevented from working upon a research theme of their own choice by senior academic and/or administrative officials, not for lack of support facilities but instead because the academic hierarchy and/or other officials simply do not approve of the line of inquiry owing to its potential to upset mainstream dogma, favoured theories, or the funding of other projects that might be discredited by the proposed research. The authority of the orthodox majority is quite often evoked to scuttle a research project so that authority and budgets are not upset. This commonplace practice is a deliberate obstruction to free scientific thought, is unscientific in the extreme, and is criminal. It cannot be tolerated.

A scientist working for any academic institution, authority or agency, is to be completely free as to choice of a research theme, limited only by the material support and intellectual skills able to be offered by the educational institution, agency or authority. If a scientist carries out research as a member of a collaborative group, the research directors and team leaders shall be limited to advisory and consulting roles in relation to choice of a relevant research theme by a scientist in the group.

Article 8: Freedom to publish scientific results

A deplorable censorship of scientific papers has now become the standard practice of the editorial boards of major journals and electronic archives, and their bands of alleged expert referees. The referees are for the most part protected by anonymity so that an author cannot verify their alleged expertise. Papers are now routinely rejected if the author disagrees with or contradicts preferred theory and the mainstream orthodoxy. Many papers are now rejected automatically by virtue of the appearance in the author list of a particular scientist who has not found favour with the editors, the referees, or other expert censors, without any regard whatsoever for the contents of the paper. There is a blacklisting of dissenting scientists and this list is ommunicated between participating editorial boards. This all amounts to gross bias and a culpable suppression of free thinking, and are to be condemned by the international scientific community.

All scientists shall have the right to present their scientific research results, in whole or in part, at relevant scientific conferences, and to publish the same in printed scientific journals, electronic archives, and any other media. No scientist shall have their papers or reports rejected when submitted for publication in scientific journals, electronic archives, or other media, simply because their work questions current majority opinion, conflicts with the views of an editorial board, undermines the bases of other current or planned research projects by other scientists, is in conflict with any political dogma or religious creed, or the personal opinion of another, and no scientist shall be blacklisted or otherwise censured and prevented from publication by any other person whomsoever. No scientist shall block, modify, or otherwise interfere with the publication of a scientist's work in the promise of any presents or other bribes whatsoever.


Blogger Matti Pitkänen said...

This manifesto is also at my homepage. Perhaps colleagues have not read it since it is still impossible for me to publish anything;-). Speaking seriously: science nowadays is not doing research but doing career.

Ethics has suffered the same fate in science as in global market economy. The developments leading to the crash down of the world economy and string conferences without a bit of information leaking out of them (brings in mind North Korea) are amazingly parallel.

July 06, 2009 8:53 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Yes, the parallels are indeed striking. But I think I can picture the chit chat at Strings 09, with people like Nima Arkani-Hamed talking enthusiastically about holography and twistors and emergent spacetimes, and this is a very positive development I think.

July 06, 2009 8:58 PM  
Blogger Javier said...

Have your tried the links on that website?

Most of them don't work (at leas didn't when Itried). Others go to publicitary pages. That makes one wonder if that is a serious project or a publicitary strategy for wwho knows what.

About arxiv, well, my real concern is whether it will remain open for reading it in the forthcoming future. I wound't get too surprised if only suscribed userrs (or readers from an allowed range of IP's, that is, a universisty) could read it.

July 06, 2009 9:21 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Javier, the website seems to have changed over the years, but the original text was written by the editor of a Respectable Physics Journal.

I don't see what the arxiv would gain by restricting readership. Pretty well anyone would have access via a university IP.

July 06, 2009 9:27 PM  
Blogger Javier said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

July 06, 2009 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't see what the arxiv would gain by restricting readership."

Kea, the stringy mainstream who are by and large behind arXiv (e.g. Distler, discussed by Woit, and others discussed by Tony Smith) would certainly lose prestige if arXiv hosted a paper from some unknown patent examiner which overturned mainstream string theory.

This "declaration" you quote from is an idealism, which can never be implemented in practice, so it avoids any contact with the reality of science and its deep problems. It's not just an elite which enforces dictatorship in science, it's a grass roots mainstream movement which always supports the reigning dogma of science using petty officialdom, authority of "established experts" on matters where those experts simply lack data (quantum gravity), etc.

Most people will agree with this charter for the few seconds it takes to read it, but in a "do as I say, not as I do" kind of way! They will revert to the opposite straight afterwards for obvious reasons:

Few people have the time to check claims made by big name "experts", so they have to take it on trust based on non-scientific criteria such as holding a PhD and having a lot of publications in "top" journals.

Unless or until somebody can overcome this, declaration with its convenient lack of definition of "science", is worse than totally worthless because it gives the false impression that there is some way in principle to overcome groupthink, which there simply isn't. The mainstream defines "science" to include untested speculations from "top experts" but to exclude them from others, and even to exclude tested facts from others if they theoretical basis is radical!

It's precisely like any double-standard idealism such as Christianity or communism: everybody objects to the nefarious dictatorship you need to impose communism on the world, but nobody objects to the principle of sharing out wealth so that you don't have a few megarich people with $billions and half the world in poverty. So people generally will agree to the ideal of communism, but will (justifiably) totally reject communism as a practical system because of all the practical problems of implementation that go with it (loss of liberty due to the need for state police to suppress dissent, need for dictatorship to control society, loss of motivation stemming from equal distribution of wealth, etc.).

The communists simply teach themselves to be hypocrites and neglect the obvious practical problems with their idealism. Similarly, the Christians (like me) don't live according to the strict doctrine of Jesus' disciples, which is not merely a matter of attending church and confession. Doublethink and hypocrisy are rife in religion and politics.

So why on earth should anybody be surprised that it also exists in science, where we all agree in principle that ideas should be judged on their merits, but in practise we don't have the time or resources to check papers and instead rely on the CV of the scientist to impress us?

July 06, 2009 9:49 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

No doubt you are right, Nigel. But given the events related in the last post, I felt the need to make some statement, knowing full well it is entirely futile.

July 06, 2009 10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


From the helpful arXiv page: -

‘What are my responsibilities as an endorser?

‘... We don’t expect you to read the paper in detail, or verify that the work is correct, but you should check that the paper is appropriate for the subject area. You should not endorse the author ... if the work is entirely disconnected with current work in the area.

‘We reserve the right to suspend a person's ability to endorse for any reason. If you endorse a person who makes an inappropriate submission, we may suspend your ability to make endorsements.’

(Emphasis added.)

What they are saying is simply:

‘We don't want to host really innovative anti-groupthink papers, like the radical groundbreaking papers of the unknown Einstein or Feynman - if you see a paper of such a sort you should not endorse the author because any ideas radical enough to have a chance of being right will be entirely disconnected with current work in the area. Don't you dare endorse Einstein or Feynman characters or you will be banned from endorsing!’

But I absolutely love the funny statement nearer the top of the page: -

‘Why does arXiv require endorsement?

‘... our team has worked behind the scenes for a long time to ensure the quality of our content. ... The new endorsement system will verify that arXiv contributors belong the scientific community in a fair and sustainable way ...

‘... Although our system may be imperfect, people who fail to get endorsement are still free to post articles on their web site or to submit their publications to peer-reviewed journals.’

See how fair they are. arXiv will actually not try to ban you from posting on your own website or submitting to a peer-reviewed journal. How public spirited of them not to try to sabotage science in either of those two ways. Very liberal, and surprising. It's also very helpful of them to suggest these two course of action. (It reminds me of the great, helpful advice from Marie Antoinette: "qu'ils mangent de la brioche".)

July 06, 2009 10:47 PM  
Anonymous PhilG said...

Do we think it would be worthwhile starting an alternative archive with a completely open policy?

I know that it wouldn't be read like the arXiv because it would have a high noise to signal ratio. But if it attracted even a small number of papers that were well enough cited, that would make it a success.

I dont think there is any hope that the arXiv will change their policies. I also think that publishing in Journals is going to get even harder. Of course we can all publish our papers on our websites but people need to be able to find them. Websites can't be relied on for long term stability or verification of submission dates. That is what archives are needed for.

July 07, 2009 7:32 AM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

I probably should blog this. I'm not dissapointed at all. This is a wonderful step forward.

I have little doubt that as soon as google figures it out, if you do a search for my paper will show up. It's in the permanent record.

On the other hand, there are about 250 gravity essay papers that got "honorable mention" on arXiv and mine appears to be the only one that is in general physics, LOL.

If I get pissed off enough about the unfairness, I'll send them an email but I think I'll wait at least to hear back from the referees, or perhaps when the paper begins picking up citations.

If our theories were obvious stuff that any grad student knew was worthwhile research, we wouldn't have the field to ourselves. This is not a curse, it is a blessing.

Garrett Lisi's paper got sent to gen-physics or something like that if I recall, and then pulled back out. It's no big deal. It's some grad student's estimate on whether or not the average researcher in gr-qc wants to read it and he's probably right.

I have around a dozen other papers I plan to submit for publication and arXiv over the next year. Somewhere along the way, I expect to earn the right to submit, at least to gen-ph.

You guys need to be writing and publishing your stuff.

July 07, 2009 11:59 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Bizarrely, this post has a trackback.

July 07, 2009 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check this out!

July 08, 2009 9:29 PM  

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