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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorAlexander Chervov
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012
    • (edited Feb 18th 2012)
    John Baez in post "Selected papers network" described that
    Chris Lee and Marc Harper will create a site where we can discuss papers etc...

    Question: Will you contribute comments ?

    --

    We can contribute comments right now - use blogs and arXiv's trackback system.
    But I am afraid 0% of papers have trackbacks.

    Imho the problem is in our mind - until we think it is worth to do - nothing will happen.
    People are conservative (and it is good) until some group of active people
    will not prove that something is good, the majority will not take it seriously.
    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012

    I think it is a waste of time to put material on an arbitrary web page and relying on a trackback to a link which will like cease after several years. When one contributed a paper to the arXiv it gets a number, it is permanently there in uniform and well known format and it can be stably cited. Unless comment contributions can get the same level of stable and uniform arXiving I consider it waste of time. It is like a difference between street discussion and contributing to real proceedings. It is like difference between forums and wikis, but even stronger.

  1. @Zoran Imagine there is PERFECT (stable, interface is perfect, open source - all what you want) site to leave comments. Will you use it ?
    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorAndy Putman
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012
    • (edited Feb 18th 2012)
    If I have comments about a paper, I email them to the authors. I see no need for a website for that, and as an author I would rather people contact me personally instead of posting their comments for all the world to see.

    I know this will be a rather unpopular position here, but I suspect that it is a lot more common than people here think. And I think that it is a poor decision to conflate the desire to move away from high-priced, commercial publishers with a dislike of the journal system in general.
    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorEric
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012

    @Alexander #3: Zoran is using it. So are you. It is this very forum.

  2. @Andy Putman Thank you for yours answer ! Just as a remark - do not you admit that yours private comments to the author will be of use for another people ? For example I am reading paper by B. Kostant 91 - I have many questions - but I do not think appropriate to bother him about this - if there would be some younger guy, who make comments on this paper - at least I would know whom else I can ask.
    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012
    • (edited Feb 18th 2012)

    .

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012
    • (edited Feb 18th 2012)

    btw — we actually have some statistics on trackbacks, and it’s more than 0% of papers which are receiving trackbacks. Look at http://arxiv.org/tb/recent, show the last 100 trackbacks, and observe that (at least at the time of writing) we’re averaging about 10 new trackbacks per day. (Actually, that’s counting webpages, many of which link to multiple arXiv papers.) Now that list is across the whole arXiv, but most are actually math papers (hooray Terry Tao and MathOverflow, essentially :-). So maybe there’s 5 new trackbacks a day. There’s less than 100 new math papers each day, I think, so we’re already significantly above 0%. Perhaps even 5%?

    • CommentRowNumber9.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012

    3: I would, yes. But perfection (besides stability) is more in the goals, mission, suggested content and function than about software, interface and so on. Closer the format and mission of a comment is to a mini-version of a paper, I will be more enthusiastic about it. Closer the format to the popularity contest or chat group, I will be less enthusiastic about it.

    • CommentRowNumber10.
    • CommentAuthorAlexander Woo
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012
    One of my great fears about all the ideas that come up is that they work only for the 'research elite' - the people who work at research universities and perhaps a few of the best primarily undergraduate institutions who regularly write papers contributing to advancement of the forefront of their part of mathematics.

    Whether I or anyone else here comments on papers or not doesn't matter for those outside the research elite. Someone at a small teaching college might be writing a minor paper on some obscure problem in graph theory no one cares about every three or four years, and neither I nor anyone else here is going to comment on that paper, no matter what other papers we comment on, unless someone is somehow personally assigned the task.

    At the same time, having this person participate in research is good for them, their students, their institutions, and dare I say mathematics as a whole, even if this research does essentially nothing to advance knowledge.

    Let's take care to not throw these people overboard.
    • CommentRowNumber11.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012

    Alexander 10: While I sympathise and appreciate many contributors to science who have little time and other resources, or education to do major contribution, so far the opposite problem has been much more the problem. So much of irrelevant output just to fill various publication numbers, small national agencies and so on. In some marginal areas, the criteria are so much lower than in principal parts of mathematics that it is easy for graduate students to publish several papers quickly and learn almost nothing. So the bosses of such groups get their projects full of “successful” thesis and so on, and get more and more space as local agencies like their “success”. In my country, for example, a quickly growing (by number of researchers) area is producing new inequalities and making this production into proliferate publication; in the same time some major areas like topology are shrinking by fast pace. Because it is easier to get a new class of inequalities than publish a paper in homotopy theory. Who cares the importance, motivation, difficulty, width of the work.

    • CommentRowNumber12.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012
    Regarding the number of trackbacks (from Scott's comment above), every time anyone mentions an arXiv paper on mathoverflow it creates a trackback. However, these are generally much more like citations than like discussions that would be appropriate for a page about that paper.

    The critical question I see for paper commenting is this: how will it be better than writing a blog post about a paper and getting a trackback linking to it from the arXiv? Zoran has made the important point that blogs aren't a permanent part of the scholarly record, but I don't see that as a bad thing. If people are submitting "official" comments that will be permanently attached to my article and archived forever, I'll be much more concerned about moderation than if it is just some person with a blog.
    • CommentRowNumber13.
    • CommentAuthorAlexander Woo
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012
    zskoda 11: I don't see your problem as much of a problem. In many developing countries, there is a great need for significant numbers of people who understand the nature of mathematics to teach in a rapidly expanding higher education system. This kind of close to trivial research is precisely what is best suited to filling this need. (Frankly, it would be great if all high school teachers were required to write a more or less trivial thesis of this sort, but we aren't close to that point yet at least in the US.)
    • CommentRowNumber14.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012
    • (edited Feb 18th 2012)

    Alexander, I am not talking “rapidly expanding system”. I am saying that the permission to fund a graduate student a, say, homotopy theorist will not get because his portfolio is not as successful as from groups massively publishing something more trivial. I am talking about the whose profile of the scientific community in those small countries which do not distinguish trivial from important changing in a direction of triviality. I am talking about some great schools disappearing because of wrong funding criteria. I do not need somebody filling the need. There are students who have a talent for a world class research and end up in such a niche because of the attitude that anything publishable is equally OK. in communities not having authorities or good standards telling what is important and what not, the massive producers of trivial papers set the standards to those working on more difficult or important problems.

    • CommentRowNumber15.
    • CommentAuthorSam Alexander
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012
    Regarding arXiv trackbacks: if I recall correctly, the arXiv only records trackbacks when people link to a specific page, which is NOT the pdf itself... linking to the pdf itself (I think) doesn't generate a trackback. So for that reason, the number of trackbacks isn't a very accurate measure of the blogosphere's discussion.
    • CommentRowNumber16.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012

    @15, a side note, but at MathOverflow we do identify links to PDF files at the arXiv, and properly generate the trackback to the abstract page. We even unmangle the strange caching URLs some of the arxiv mirrors use…

    • CommentRowNumber17.
    • CommentAuthorAlexander Chervov
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012
    • (edited Feb 19th 2012)
    @Alexander Woo 10,
    "Let's take care to not throw these people (not "research elite") overboard."

    I am sorry, but this seems to me orthogonal to what is discussed here.
    I may dream only about 1-10% of papers will be actively commented (so it is much more "elite" than you probably mean), but to my taste that is life - only small percent of papers are of value.
    Is it problem ? (Please take into account that for me "commenting-sites" are complementary to journals, NOT instead of journals).

    So creating "commenting-sites" will give new chance for "non-research elite" to learn/ask questions and at the same time advertise their works. So it is not solution of the problem you mention, but at least giving more chances for people.
    • CommentRowNumber18.
    • CommentAuthorAlexander Chervov
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012
    • (edited Feb 19th 2012)
    @Zoran 10 thank you for very clearly stating you position !
    Unfortunately it is opposite to mine :( You write : "Closer the format and mission of a comment is to a mini-version of a paper, I will be more enthusiastic about it. Closer the format to the popularity contest or chat group, I will be less enthusiastic about it."
    If you write a comment which is "mini-version of paper" - I think it is of value to put it in arXiv as a separte paper ! So no need for new site. (Another option if it is comment on topic, not just paper - we have Wikipedia).

    I see the situation differently - my mind works iteratively - first I see something interesting but often being stopped by details which I do not have motivation to overcome, at this point I may have not detailed and may be stupid questions and comments,
    If the author of the paper will be kind to answer them, then I can go deeper......
    And so on...
    • CommentRowNumber19.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012
    • (edited Feb 19th 2012)

    If you write a comment which is “mini-version of paper” - I think it is of value to put it in arXiv as a separate paper ! So no need for new site.

    No, it isn’t. First, such are not attached to some past papers. Second, socially writing non-important comments and so on, is not accepted – people will then judge that your real papers are about the same low quality as those, and one will loose that little attention to his more important paper which does exist currently. Effective learned community needs to be carefully stratified with meaning, not to mislead the readers, colleagues, reviewers and so on. That is the point. One can not just carelessly say I have a technology and will go orthogonal to building a trusted system of competence! On the other hand, wikipedia by definition does not give you a freedom to be opinionated.

    The thing about iteration is not against what I said. Exactly putting the contribution in a series of small comments, but those integrated into citation system etc. is a good way of splitting. For questions you have other sites like MO and forums, this is different thing. If you have a personal question to the AUTHOR and not community, and you anyway do not care of firm record and serious articles posted than one can still write more openly to the author privately. All of this exists, and what I propose does not. So why would I be enthusiast about a system of forums if those already exist ? I am interested in serious commenting. This existed in history, e.g. upanishads were created toward understanding vedas. One needs a format in which one knows something is accomplished, recorded, not a food for the vanity but for creativity. The rest is there in multiple forums.

    What does not exist in math forums what you then need ? I am disappointed. Out of all new and nonexistent formats you ask back to go to plain online discussion.

    • CommentRowNumber20.
    • CommentAuthorAlexander Chervov
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012
    • (edited Feb 19th 2012)
    @Zoran "What does not exist in math forums what you then need ?"
    Nothing in technology, but everything in community. Just there is no culture to discuss papers and to make them more accessible to readers.

    "socially writing non-important comments and so on, is not accepted ....."
    Agree... But the same works against everything. Many people still do not submit papers
    to arXiv, cause they think it is below their level of socially respected behavior. "Serious people write in journals, arXiv is for non-serious people" - have not you heard this opinion ?

    "I am interested in serious commenting."
    Who will decide what is serious what is not ?
    It is more simple to "assume good will" and "diversity" - we all different and have different needs,
    having system of voting comments gives some small, but may be enough efficient tool to deal with the problem.
    • CommentRowNumber21.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012
    • (edited Feb 19th 2012)

    (Sasha, about your last question: I added the paragraph to the above comment in the meantime)

    “socially writing non-important comments and so on, is not accepted …..” Agree… But the same works against everything. Many people still do not submit papers to arXiv, cause they think it is below their level of socially respected behavior.

    Sasha, do you REALLY want that a very minor improvement of a proof appears in a listing of arxiv papers ? Do you really want not to be able to see if the paper from is a new research or a minor rewriting of known stuff for teaching an honors course in Alabama ? I do not think that it is desirable to OVERALL abandon the standards and usages, manners of learned community. It is impossible to radically change people in less than a generation, but it is not that impossible to make them accept that NEW categories are used with different attitude.

    If there is a minor category which is ASSUMED and INVITED by design to be below the level of a new research article and I publish a minor extension of a proof there this is socially radically more acceptable than writing the same proof in the same category as the research article (or arXiv paper). So we need to stratify carefully and not say, well everything has social obstacle. Social obstacles are solved by careful internal transformation, not by careless neglect. Posting under the umbrella of a new comment category makes me less likely to get wet from the rain of the author’s misunderstanding and reaction. Chat will not do for my needs and arxiv article may be an offensive mode, so I need an umbrella!

    Voting is similarly more oppressive and rude than allowing authors to preclassify (by design) the supposed role/category of their contribution. The latter is a female method: avoid the unwanted conflict by listening for the needs in advance.

    P.S. my favorite reading for classification and nurture of literature: Pollock

    • CommentRowNumber22.
    • CommentAuthorColin Gopaul
    • CommentTimeFeb 20th 2012
    Concerning the original post, questions like these should be asked to those who signed the costofknowledge petition. Exactly what are they willing to do, i.e., referee, comment, post all their papers freely online, edit a journal online at the Site, solely publish to free (or very cheap) online journals, etc.

    10 @ Woo
    The benefit to those not in the elite are manifold. I would first summarize the problem being faced:

    1) Recall the primary goal is cost effective and efficient delivery of quality research literature to ALL. This allows for the student and staff of poorer institutes to benefit. Both cost effectiveness and efficiency are accomplished by the ArXiv. However, the arXiv does not allow for career advancement and assessment, etc, and is committed to functioning without peer review. This makes some people avoid the arXiv for their papers, others use it solely for its free open access, but really want the journal paper cited not the arXiv paper. So arXiv review (and comment) sites are being discussed, but (3) below suggests reasons this may fail in meeting the primary goal. Lastly, somewhat as an aside their endorsement policy while beneficial, makes an unknown student go first to a journal.

    2) Recall one strategy to achieve the primary goal is to ask editorial teams to move their journals to Site(s) as we are discussing. However, many editors are not motivated to move.

    3) Another strategy to achieve the primary goal is to overhaul the present publishing model by building a Site(s) that can do all the basics of publishing and some new stuff by tapping into the needs and interests of the mathematical (scientific) community. The Site must easily allow for diverse needs and interests so that members of the community can feel comfortable. However, like rearranging long standing furniture and then walking in the dark, many people feel it can do more harm than good to change habits have grown to be second nature and affect all facets of mathematical endeavor. Moreover, since libraries already cannot afford bundled journals based on the current publishing model then such a Site regardless of its quality, once having fees attached will not be made priority by any university library since it does not have a an archive of papers in demand. The arXiv as its name implies is an affordable (free) competitor to journals. However, no one at the arXiv will tell a university library "either you continue to get the arXiv for free and drop Elsevier OR pay for the arXiv and keep them", and since one prefers the journal paper cited, the arXiv in some ways just provide a sample (taste) that markets Elsevier and other publishing companies.

    How can these strategies help poorer institutions students and staff? Below I list a dozen which interestingly can be implemented in all 3 structures above and even within the current publishing model.
    • CommentRowNumber23.
    • CommentAuthorColin Gopaul
    • CommentTimeFeb 20th 2012
    i) A person outside the elite through their comments and their small contributions in the field can earn the right to review papers in future. This type of scouting for talent does not currently exist in the current publishing model. In fact other benefits can be meted out for community work done, unlike the present publishing model.

    ii) Cheaper (free) papers speaks for itself. Efficiency via interactive discussion of recent papers also brings those far yet interested into contact with the more dynamic and oral aspect of mathematics (scientific) research.

    iii) People of similar skill-sets and overlapping interests may comment on "weaker" papers. It MAY be wrong to think "weaker" papers will not have their own readers. There are more weaker footballers playing football all around the world than there are people playing in the top leagues. They find each other and play, they don't feel alienated and many do make fine coaches and motivators, etc, which contribute to the wider footballing community. Such a Site makes this meeting possible more so that conferences and seminars. Also to push the analogy beyond where I first intended, I am sure the discussions of small games occur as frequently as the discussions of big games, just discussions per game will be obviously less. On a different note, I expect many of the most important papers will be too specialized for many to comment.

    iv) Someone will have to assist users in making the best use of the Site. This can be outsourced to poorer universities among many other things. Moderation etc may be needed to varying degrees of skills. More on participation is given often below.

    v) Summaries, simplifications of aspects of a paper, discussions of the paper's relevance or providing a bigger picture, etc, can be made by stronger mathematicians (scientists) posting comments / discussions from these perspectives outside of a formal setting (in fact some of this would occur in the review process). This will be invaluable to a researcher or student outside the elite.

    vi) Anyone or organization can invest (time, servers, students, etc) in the Site. I'm trying to get two poorer universities to assist Marc and Lee in their site. I may not be successful, but others can try. This will create much needed dialogue between institutions that otherwise would be (in fact are) left behind.

    vii) Dialogue via comments or as in (vi) above makes people who would have never interacted become familiar with each other (particularly if real names are used). This is currently mainly bridged by conferences. This provides a small, yet much needed step towards the development of students and staff off the beaten path. Most importantly, they can do this within their own countries which so badly needs them. This in turn builds loyalty among such people, a platform to share experiences with those in similar situations and many other off-shoots which can be engineered to develop.

    viii) Create an interest in real skill-sets not just those available at your institution or those your are mandated to teach. Accessibility will increase interest. Spin-off sites (which can exist within the Site) bridging the gap to understand a paper are in my opinion inevitable. Create new and spread older Student Chapters into these institutions.

    ix) The comments or open review can help someone clarify their own thoughts or follow a paper better. In fact, I suspect most papers will not have comments (I think due to fear of giving out ideas, being wrong, just is not one’s personal style, etc). But "so comments are small", its more than zero now or scattered in blogs unknown to most. Furthermore, each paper MAY have review comments (best added anonymously), but whether this even in (2) above occurs depends on the editor-in-chief.

    x) Participation. Now you have ways to participate. Reviewing, refereeing, editing were to some extent exclusive or by invitation under the present model.

    xi) The wiki like idea of comments (which I read in a discussion here) can become better over time. That is eventually comments are pooled together to give a detailed working over of important (and may be not so important) papers. Someone has to do it - an opportunity to the weaker interested mathematician to learn and write it. It will be corrected by the younger stronger(or older) mathematician now entering the field, I suppose as improvements are made to Wikipedia articles. Note a wiki on a paper can be attached to many papers, since spin-off papers will rely heavily on the background mathematics of the seminal paper, etc. So the wikis can in some way trace the development of the ideas, rigor, applications, etc and bring them out not just historically but like a good Wikipedia article. The point is discussions can get better in time.

    xii) Effective dissemination of mathematical knowledge and skills.
    • CommentRowNumber24.
    • CommentAuthorColin Gopaul
    • CommentTimeFeb 20th 2012
    cont from above

    The fact is embellishments and things of added value outside the actual content of the paper can be charged for, but papers free or as close to that is possible is the primary objective. The problem really is that so much of science and mathematics (societies in particular) already implement to different extents some of these things to help fund themselves and future research. Like globalization, such a large scale Site will impact many of these not just the business-like publishers.