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    • CommentRowNumber51.
    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012

    Zoran at 48: good point.

    • CommentRowNumber52.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012
    • (edited Feb 16th 2012)

    I like the precision of the convincing idea you expressed in (50, paraphrased)

    I don’t want to have to compete for the attention of (big name mathematicians/bloggers)… I just could do with the grudging approval (assigned reviewers/experts in my narrow field)

    I mean I like you coming up with the “attention” and “grudging” words here which point how much subjective excitement may be (in some modes of work) over an argumentation, even when the latter is done with some hesitation and salt.

    • CommentRowNumber53.
    • CommentAuthorLee Worden
    • CommentTimeFeb 16th 2012
    Some in this discussion may be interested in WorkingWiki (, which is a free software package that gives you a souped-up MediaWiki installation that can house complete LaTeX manuscripts (built from multiple source files), data processing scripts that produce figures, etc. It's designed for collaborative publishing of mathematical research, and may be useful as a substrate for building online tools like some of the ones being discussed here, as an alternative or complement to WordPress.

    (disclosure: I'm the author + maintainer of the software)
    • CommentRowNumber54.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012

    @pkra, I can’t find your email anywhere on your website (really?), so I’ll ask here: could you switch to using your real name? It’s sort of annoying to only finally realize that pkra == Peter Krautzberger when someone starts replying to you as Peter and I can’t decipher where the Peter is in the conversation.

    • CommentRowNumber55.
    • CommentAuthorBen Webster
    • CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012
    @54: Seconded. I totally hadn't put that together either.
    • CommentRowNumber56.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012

    @foobaron, could you write up a “blog post length” version of your proposal, so people don’t have to read your full paper? I tried reading it, but didn’t have time to get to the details.

    (Also, perhaps you might use your real name or add your email address to your profile, so it’s possible to ask questions away from the noise here? :-)

    • CommentRowNumber57.
    • CommentAuthorjebyrnes
    • CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012

    Here’s a proposal I’ve been thinking about, although it seems to hit on some of the ideas discussed here - A few of us are working to put together a group to try and create a thoughtful design and then implement it. I’d love any thoughts or comments.

    • CommentRowNumber58.
    • CommentAuthorJohn Iskra
    • CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012
    No matter what system we adopt, the regard in which papers are held will be determined, largely, by the 'cool kids'. That's human nature. However: It does not have to be a formal part of the system. Part of the potential of digital technology and the internet lies in their capacity to 1) store huge amounts of data (papers) and 2) search through all of that data.
    In the past - and, although this point has been made before, it bears frequent repeating - editorial assessment of the "importance" of a given submission was necessary because 1 and 2 above did not exist. I sometimes wonder whether papers which never saw the light of publication contained some pearls of wisdom which, later, could have provided someone with the missing pieces to make big advances. It is a wry truth often observed that famous works of literature often get rejected for publication multiple times before they make their authors filthy rich. No one, no matter how accomplished is capable of assessing the importance of a paper (except in exterme cases) when it is first submitted. It takes years, I think.
    I know that, for reasons having to do with idiotic administrators who want some numerical metric to justify employment decisions, we need some kind of rating system. I would be happy with a system in which points were determined by the number of citations of the paper and these were weighted by how much time had passed since the paper's publication.
    Other than that, our only job as referees ought to be to determine whether a paper is correct, and whether it is new. And neither should prevent its dissemination. if its author wants. There's a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from looking at something known in a different way and from others mistakes. Those papers should just come with a caveat which says Thm 2.12 is wrong rendering the rest of the paper wrong as well. Or, the author seems to have 'rediscovered' a result of Grothendieck.
  1. @Scott: thanks for reminding me to change my name! Should be fixed now. (my email is mentioned both on top of and; also, googling “peter krautzberger email” offers it in google’s preview of the third hit – not sure how to help spammers more ;) )

  2. @Yemon #50 // @Zskoda #52

    I fully agree! The feedback I want does not come from random Prof Bigwig, but from a small crowd of researchers.

    And yes, there are no crowds – yet; that’s what we have to build. I think any structure people come up with will suffer Nature’s failure – unless they can create a culture of embracing it. MO is an excellent example for building such a community, the nLab a similarly impressive one.

    What I do believe is that, for the first time in the history of mathematics (and any other modern research area), the invisible colleges of mathematics can become real colleges.

    • we do note need to send handwritten letters to colleagues and collaborators (we have email, electronic documents and printing)
    • we do not need to travel for days to talk to each other face-to-face (we have videoconferencing that finally works, online whiteboards+touchscreens/tablets to write on, collaborative text editors etc)
    • we do not need to travel anywhere to give or see a frontal talk (we have video recording & hosting)
    • we do not need to rely on editorial boards or weekly/monthly magazines to update each other on the latest news in our fields (we have websites, rss-feeds and social networking tools, decentralized and under our own control)
    • we do not need to work on preprints in private for months to find out that we’ve overlooked a mistake (we have John Baez putting Nelson’s claim regarding Con(PA) on google+, in the end saving Nelson and a potential referee a ton of work, pushing everyone forward).

    With these tools, the small research areas with a handful of researchers can be almost as connected as if at the same department.

    And now I’m completely off topic for John’s original title for this thread “Quick, easy & fun” – this is the hardest part, I think. Sorry.

    • CommentRowNumber61.
    • CommentAuthornad
    • CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012
    >Unfortunately David Bacon got a job at Google and became too busy to maintain the system.

    too bad .
  3. @Peter Krautzberger 60. Fully agree.
    • CommentRowNumber63.
    • CommentAuthorColin Gopaul
    • CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012
    14 & 25 – John wishes to find out via a “rating” what others are reading (in this case on the ArXiv). But notes along with Scott that many people (though not all, as mentioned often here) would keep abreast of what, for example, Atiyah or friends thought was good reading. This can be done by having a “What you read and liked?” tab for a user on their personal user page. If they wish to make this public, then anyone can view this part of their page, and open the appropriate tab. Otherwise, one can make it private or shared among those you wish to share it with.
    It really functions like favorites. I suppose user tags such as tagging your favourite papers under your own personal categories is “easy” to implement. So Atiyah has 3 sub-fields under his favourite tab, Algebraic Topology, Differential Geometry and Algebraic Geometry. I click Atiyah => Favorites => Algebraic Topology and get to see what he liked. (Or something like that).
    Anyway, the Site can then have a command “count number of times paper X is in someone’s favourite”. This count tallies both public and private tabs. Only 1 account per university email address eliminates some mis-behavior, tabs without a university email are not counted.
    • CommentRowNumber64.
    • CommentAuthorColin Gopaul
    • CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012
    Comments should be open to all only after the review process. Otherwise it should be kept private between "commenter(s)" and author(s). Clearly defined what a comment should be. In fact can a table type template be made for comments? Put your comments in the appropriate fields of the table and hit enter, the Site joins the texts in the fields leaving the comment reading smoothly. Else, punish users for bad (example abusive) comments may be needed, but with real names being used, I think this would be kept to a minimum while occurring from time to time.
  4. @CG 64 I do not think any template is good idea. I think comments can be voted (number of votes may be hidden or open - this can be discussed),
    just system can order comments according to their vote number - similar to what MO is doing with comments.

    Imho, real names is not good idea, otherwise people will be afraid to critisize.
    Just voting and small moderation is Okay I think - like MO works and no need for real names.
    (I am with real name everywhere, so for me personally real names are Okay, but clearly not for everybody).
    • CommentRowNumber66.
    • CommentAuthorlouigi
    • CommentTimeFeb 17th 2012
    Stackoverflow has a list of "clones" (, one of which could be used to set up an arXiv overlay site. The first one listed, Shapado, has LaTeX support plus free hosting (though it can also be installed on a dedicated server) so I set up a sandbox site at with the thought that perhaps it could eventually be used for comment threads for arXiv.

    At this point I DO NOT think we should jump into using this site -- I haven't thought enough about the details and am not willing to commit to being a serious moderator (and moderation will certainly be needed). However, there are a few points that seem worth making:

    1) By tweaking the thresholds at which certain activities become possible, one can make it impossible to up-vote or down-vote anyone's answers. Thus, even though this functionality is present on the site, it can be eliminated in practice. Many people objected to the idea of a scoring system, so the ability to remove it seems good.
    2) It was extremely easy to set up basic functionality.
    3) It supports openID, which is good.
    4) It supports email answers, for people who don't wish to make their comments public.
    5) The LaTeX support seems buggy on my system. If it's not just me, this could be a significant enough issue to render shapado a bad choice.
    6) Might arXiv object to this name?

    For now, please do not go and start using this site as though it were an active site -- I'm hoping this could act as a launching pad (though perhaps the system isn't a good enough fit for even this). If, on the other hand, you want to play with the possibilities of the system, you can either a) set up your own sandbox on shapado, or b) if you seriously want to work on the site, you could email me and I could make you an administrator of
    • CommentRowNumber67.
    • CommentAuthorColin Gopaul
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012
    • (edited Feb 18th 2012)
    Some method must be devised to handle the language barrier some authors and to a lesser extent "commenters" will have. A discussion in a different context on the language barrier is taking place here at - Backlinking to the arxiv.

    Some headings may be needed in the commenting process, example in the second post at - < Peer Review, Refereeing > = 0, people can comment from each of those perspectives. It may help when the Site is large to control this. It can help in understanding what someone is (mis)saying and the "tone" it was said in. The language barrier issues in the comment setting will be different from MO. People can easily misunderstand things and become annoyed or feel bullied etc. Engineering ideas of scalability of the model and the targeted future user must be kept in mind in the design. Proof of principle of such a Site exists in many forms already. What is needed is a model that can be expanded upon without much overhaul of the few basic features as the Site grows. That said it was a suggestion to try to address these issues, it may not be the best solution, but it highlights what would be a real problem. In many blogs people have openly stated they avoid MO due to the "tone" of some posts, etc.
    • CommentRowNumber68.
    • CommentAuthorEric
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012

    I’m still getting caught up on what has been discussed, but see John in #12 said:

    I’m not proposing a system that’s supposed to substitute for peer review.

    Why not?

  5. @67 Colin Gopaul
    Now I see yours point :
    "people have openly stated they avoid MO due to the "tone" of some posts"

    I think it is really very serious issue and may be one the most serious and unsolvable problems...
    Probably this would mean that we will be unable to create site which is good for everybody.
    But probably it should not be the aim of the first period.
    The first goal I think - should be small - create something working - like MO,
    despite some people will not like it.
  6. @68 Eric
    I am not John Baez, but let me write how I understand it:

    that are two DIFFERENT (related, of course) goals

    a) create place where we can discuss papers

    b) substitute for peer-review

    Just this post was about "a)" - it does not mean "b" should not be discussed - but may be in different post.

    Moreover as for me the highest priority is on "a)" - that is really what I need,
    that is what would be helpful for me right now, that is what current system does not allow.

    Concerning "b)" - this long term goal...
    • CommentRowNumber71.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeFeb 18th 2012

    63: good point, popularity among whom. I often describe example from personal experience, of a closely related researcher who wrote two articles about certain topic. The first one he wrote alone, at the beginning stage of the research, when things were rudimentary, elementary and this paper also contains some sort of misconception in the main example. The first paper is 4 pages of pretty simple treatment of few easiest examples, and no general theory. The second paper is written a year later (and published after 3 years) even in higher impact journal, with a coauthor, it has over 35 pages, and has a correct and systematics theory developed with lots of useful calculations. The first paper had 72 citations, the second had 5 at the time when I done the analysis (both 10+ years after the publications). Thus the easy, nonfundamental, and partly even incorrect paper had 72. The second, a real breakthrough in the field, in better journal, with 35 pages of work had 5 citations. Why ? It is easy for John the Paperwriter to build on some trivialities from the first paper and publish another low quality work, why it is not easy to live up to a real research of the second paper. Notice that both papers are from the same author and the same topic.

    • CommentRowNumber72.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012


    I think that might be misrepresenting the goals of some people here. I’m actually much more interested in the challenge of migrating journals away from commercial publishers (preserving reputation, production quality, moderate workload for editors) than anything about discussion or actually changing peer review.

    While I agree that peer review as it exists is definitely suboptimal, I don’t think trying to replace it with something absolutely new is very productive. People (ie working mathematicians) just won’t take the plunge, and any incremental system has to remain CV compatible for at least a decade long period during any transition. Opening up space for more flexible journals (that is, by reducing the administrative and financial burdens of starting new journals, or migrating them) allows later tinkering with peer review, but I think it should be the first priority.

    • CommentRowNumber73.
    • CommentAuthorEric
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012


    I think we understand your position clearly, but it is not shared by everyone so in the spirit of dissensus, we should not actively discourage people from pursuing their own ideas. Can we try to be a bit more constructive and open minded?

    If there exists a practical solution that does not involve a radical change to peer review, I have not seen it yet and cannot imagine it either.

    • CommentRowNumber74.
    • CommentAuthorJohn Baez
    • CommentTimeFeb 19th 2012
    • (edited Feb 19th 2012)

    Eric wrote:

    John in #12 said:

    I’m not proposing a system that’s supposed to substitute for peer review.

    Why not?

    I explained why not in my first comment on this thread. I do very much want a system that will substitute for current-day journals and peer review! But this may affect who gets jobs and who doesn’t, so academics find it very scary - whenever people discuss it, big arguments start and nothing actually happens. In fact you can see it happening here! People are saying “I don’t want to have to compete for the attention of big-name bloggers”, etc. etc. They’re imagining life in a radically new world… and they don’t like what they’re imagining.

    So, for now, I want to do an end-run around this deadlock by trying something much easier:

    People seem to get frozen in indecision when contemplating big serious changes to the current journal system. The consequences are too huge. So, I’m thinking we could hasten the evolution of good ideas by doing something quick, easy and fun. Something that’s not too painful to set up. And something that we use because we enjoy it, not because it’s good for us.

    I’m hoping that in month or less we can set up at least one quick, easy and fun system that people will use. Christopher Lee and Marc Harper are working on one, but they could use more help.

    Meanwhile, people here can discuss, and I hope actually set up, a more cautious and thoughtful solution to the journal problem.

    • CommentRowNumber75.
    • CommentAuthorjebyrnes
    • CommentTimeFeb 22nd 2012

    Have any of you see - while it doesn’t like to arXiv, perhaps it might accomplish some of what you are looking for?