Re: Self-Archiving Refereed Research vs. Self-Publishing Unrefereed Research

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 4 Mar 2003 23:50:37 +0000

On Tue, 4 Mar 2003, Arthur P. Smith wrote:

> [By the way, Stevan changed my Subject line - but I suppose it's a
> relevant followup]

The Forum has been continuous since 1998. To make the archive more useful
to users, I gather new postings under relevant existing threads, if
they exist, rather than letting new thread-names be spawned willy-nilly,
as on Usenet.

> The problem I see with this, and with the Bogdanov's...

This (the Riemann Hypothesis paper) and that (the Bogdanovs) differ in
that the former is an unrefereed paper and the latter refereed and

> Scientists may have an intuitive grasp of this - but Swedish
> reporters perhaps not?

Who cares? Are we publishing research for press publicity or to
contribute to research progress?

> Do any of the e-print archives out there actually require that something
> be published in a refereed journal first? If so how is that verified?

No, but the universities for which the Eprint Archives are the research
output repositories do require their researchers to publish (or

>sh> The bottom line is that you cannot build on a
>sh>fraudulent or quackish or otherwise erroneous finding: It soon collapses
>sh>under its own weight.
> Not necessarily - in this particular case mathematicians have already
> been building huge edifices on the assumption that the Riemann
> hypothesis is true; any "collapse" would actually be a proof of its
> falsehood

I meant to mention that: Mathematics differs from empirical research in
that empirical research builds on empirical findings. If the finding was
false, it will not bear any further weight, and collapses. Mathematics
is deductive, proving what follows from certain assumptions. The
assumptions are not necessarily true, or proven, in every case, but that
does not invalidate the proof of what they would entail if they *were*
true (modus ponens). With both the Riemann Hypothesis and Fermat's Last
Theorem (so I understand from my mathematician colleagues) there already
exist many valid proofs for what would *follow* from the truth of Riemann
or Fermat. Those proofs do not collapse if the R & F prove to be false;
they just perhaps lose some of their interest (unlike a counterfactual
conditional in empirical science, which has no interest at all --
except to certain philosophers of science). The absence of attention
to the Riemann "proof" in question suggests that mathematicians are
not taking it seriously. (Swedish reporters are another matter, but not
a very important one; one hopes that is not where the Nobel or Fields
committees turn in search of candidates...)

> Can there
> not be a more obscure case of some minor result that is published, never
> properly checked, and somehow absorbed into the mythology of a field? So
> that hundreds of scientist-years of effort are spent that rely in some
> small part on it, and then all called into question at a later date?

In archeology, maybe, with things like the Piltdown Man hoax, or the
case of the Midwife Toad; but fields that consist mostly of speculation
are hard to distinguish from mythology anyway, even in the best of times.

But I defer to others, if they know any substantive cases in point;
if there are none, then the conjecture that there might be itself may
border on mythology. In any case, such disinformative viruses sound too
subtle to warrant our trusting peer-review as the prophylactic against
them either.

> There seem to be a few cases of this in bio-medicine in recent years


Received on Tue Mar 04 2003 - 23:50:37 GMT

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