Re: Perelman, the Fields Medal and Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 1 Sep 2006 19:18:46 +0100

The lion's share of science and scholarship is founded on peer review:

The findings of experts are vetted by qualified fellow-experts for
correctness, importance and originality before being published; this
validates the results and serves as a filter, to protect other scientists
and scholars from risking their time and effort reading and trying to
apply or build upon work that may not be sound.

That's the lion's share of science and scholarship.

But some scientists and scholars are peerless: Their work is at such a
high level that only they, or a very few like them, are even equipped to
test and attest to its soundness.

Such is the case with the work of Grigori Perelman.

It is a mistake to try to generalize this in any way: it doesn't
scale. It does not follow from the fact that a rare genius like Perelman
can transmit his huge and profound contribution by simpling posting it
publicly on the Web -- without refereeing or publication -- that anything
at all has changed about the way the overwhelming majority of scientific
and scholarly research continues to need to be quality-controlled:
via classical peer review.

Nor has this anything at all to do with Open Access. In paper days,
Perelman could just as well have snail-mailed his proofs to the few
people on the planet qualified to check them, and if, having done that,
he was content to leave it at that, he could have done so. They would
have been cited in articles and would have made their way into textbooks
as "unpublished results by G. Perelman (2003)."

For the quotidial minor and major contributions that are researchers'
daily bread and butter, formal publication is essential, for both
credibility and credit. For the occasional rare monumental contribution
or masterpiece, they are supererogatory.

Nothing follows from this. OA continues to mean free online access to
peer-reviewed research (after -- and sometimes before -- peer review),
not to research free of peer review!

Stevan Harnad

On Fri, 1 Sep 2006, Imre Simon wrote:

> Hello, everyone!
> The world of Mathematics is buzzing with the recent incident in which
> Grisha Perelman was awarded the Fields Medal (considered to be the Nobel
> prize of Math) for solving the Poincaré Conjecture and refused the honor.
> According to a widely read article in The New Yorker
> many questions of scientific ethic and publications ethic seem to be
> involved in the background of this incident.
> I would like to call your attention to the fact that Open Access plays a
> key role in all this, through Perelman's (exclusive) use of arxiv to
> register and disseminate his groundbreaking results, back in 2003.
> Another source of information, with many references and updated
> regularly is here:
> I wish to send my modest but sincere and enthusiastic cheers to Grisha
> Perelman through this list, even though I suspect that he might not read it.
> Best,
> Imre Simon
Received on Fri Sep 01 2006 - 20:54:36 BST

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