Nicolas Gisin

Nicolas Gisin, an eminent figure in the field of quantum foundations and quantum information who most of our readers will be familiar with, recounts the incident of an unsuccessful publication by two of his students  – on arXiv. The story has disturbing implications. It seems that scientific communication through self-publication on arXiv is not as free as it appears to be.

Nicolas’ dark tale is also a call to arms. Willful and unfounded rejection of publications on arXiv goes against the basic principles of the platform, and it is something we should under no circumstances be willing to accept. So, if you have had similar experiences, tell us of them. Share this story with us. And then, let us prepare a strategy to keep arXiv (and perhaps similar platforms) free of such repressive influences.

With his background in both academic physics research and telecommunications industry, the double ERC-Grant winner and first recipient of the John Stewart Bell Prize Nicolas Gisin is certainly one of the most prominent authorities in the field of quantum information research today. His book Quantum Chance has appeared in many languages, including English, German, Chinese, Korean and Russian. One thing Nicolas is particularly proud of is his success in the area of field hockey. He has been a top level national player and served as president of Servette HC from 2000 to 2015, during which time he brought the club to fame and recognition.

Thank you, Nicolas, for this alarming contribution.

Thought police – on arXiv?

By Nicolas Gisin

I think very highly of the arXiv. I use it extensively and I am one of the most prolific contributors. I always thought it’s a marvelous open preprint server, allowing all (non-offensive) ideas to be exchanged in almost no time. Yet, recently I was shocked to learn that things are not always like this, as the story below shows. Given the enormous importance the arXiv has for our work, I feel it is my duty to bring this story to the attention of my colleagues. I hope it is a singular event, but I cannot be sure. What about you? Any similar experiences?

I am of the generation that, as a teenager, read “1984”, the book written by George Orwell in 1949, which predicted that by the year 1984 we shall all be under the continuous surveillance by a “Big Brother”. At the time, very few people believed that this could be anything but pure science fiction. Well, today we know that Orwell’s main mistake was that there is not one Big Brother, but several.

But in our scientific community we managed to preserve a space of peace and freedom. Isn’t it? We can freely meet at conferences and workshops, we can freely exchange information per e-mail, blogs and preprint servers. Really?

In 2014, two of my students came to me with a strange paper they wrote during their free time. The paper was strange in several aspects. First, because it was a paper on black holes and Hawking’s radiation, while the two students were working – successfully – on their PhD in experimental quantum optics. Next, because the paper’s main conclusion was that one can’t fall into a black hole: thanks to Hawking’s radiation, the black hole would evaporate before one crosses the event horizon. I am not an expert in this field and, frankly, have the feeling I never truly understood general relativity. I believe the paper is wrong, but I appreciated my students’ eagerness to transgress barriers established between different subfields of physics. Thus I tried to read their paper. It was clearly written, respecting the usual scientific style. Nothing offending, nothing to argue about the style. The content was a relatively simple calculation, using well admitted formulas for Hawking’s radiation and the Schwarzschild model of black holes. Admittedly, the mass of the black hole was supposed to be time dependent, because the Hawking radiation continuously evaporates some of the mass. Hum, the paper must be wrong, I thought, but I did not spot any simple mistake. I asked several colleagues to help. All agreed that the paper must be wrong, but none spotted any mistake.

My students decided to post their paper on the arXiv, in the gr-qc section with a link to quant-ph. The paper did not appear. After a couple of weeks they wrote to the arXiv and got a sibylline reply: your paper is on hold. No explanation, no reason. Ok, let’s wait. After several months came another e-mail: your paper has been rejected from the arXiv. Oops! I didn’t even know that this is possible. At least not for a paper written in a non-offending and clear scientific style.

During my carrier I posted more than 300 preprints on the arXiv, all in quant-ph. Actually, I might possibly be the most prolific contributor to the quant-ph section. You may consider this as positive or negative, but for sure I feel that the arXiv belongs also a little bit to me. Note that almost all my papers ended up in respectable scientific journals. I am a kind of respectable physicist.

After my students’ paper got rejected without any word of explanation, I wrote to some colleagues I knew are involved in handling the arXiv. Some merely apologized, claiming it’s out of their control. I learned that there is a chairman chosen by the scientific advisory board, but I don’t know who chooses the advisory board. The chairman sent me a short e-mail stating that that’s it, there is nothing to discuss and that there is a list of possible reasons for rejecting papers from the arXiv. Here is the list (http://arxiv.org/help/moderation):

  • Inappropriate format.
  • Inappropriate topic.
  • Duplicated content.
  • Submission of copyrighted material.
  • Excessive submission rate.

Clearly none of these reasons apply to my student’s paper. Hum, I started to get worried. Not worried that the paper might be wrong; such things happen. A much more serious worry: that arXiv might have fallen under the control of people allowed to make arbitrary decisions. Indeed the rejection e-mail, received months after submission) said: Your submission has been removed upon a notice from our (anonymous) moderators, who determined it inappropriate for arXiv.

I guess that people behind the arXiv would claim that their decisions are not “arbitrary”. The paper was surely rejected on “some grounds” (be they scientific or otherwise). But it certainly seems highly problematic that in the rejection email, it was neither stated which of the 5 rules was violated by the submission, nor was there a disclosure of any “hidden” criteria according to which the decision was made.

In the mean time I suggested my students not to worry too much and merely send their paper to a journal. They did so and got the usual kind of referee reports. One positive and one requiring they repeat their calculation using a different metric (the so-called Vaydia metric). Fine. They did the required additional calculation, confirming their initial result and the paper got accepted and published [Physics Letters A 379, 2441 (2015)]. Now, at least and at last, everyone can judge whether the paper is properly written according to scientific standards.

The same two students wrote a second paper, still on cosmology but this time the result was totally uncontroversial. Essentially, they simplified the proof of a well-accepted result. Again they submitted their preprint to the arXiv. This time they didn’t had to wait long. Their second paper got immediately and definitively rejected! Clearly they are now on a black list. Their crime being that they submitted a preprint, possibly wrong but clearly scientific, with a conclusion that some people considered as offending. Nothing personal of course, but seemingly the mere idea that one can’t fall into a black hole deserves to be punished by being banned from the arXiv. No judgment, no argument, no explanation, no discussion. And also nothing constructive came out of my inquires. Oops! By then I got truly scared.

From the scientific point of view, it is likely that the paper is wrong, though I still don’t know where the mistake is. Possibly it is simply an illustration of the fact that general relativity and quantum theory contradict each other when applied to black holes. Hence, everything and its opposite can be derived by some combinations of these two theories applied to black holes. Indeed, it is well known that from contradictory assumptions, everything and its opposite can be derived; and our two pillars of modern physics are incompatible. Hence, a theory of quantum gravity is needed. But in the meantime, personally, I find it interesting to find examples that illustrate the challenges of quantum gravity. Though, this is not my research program.

From the sociological point of view, I strongly recommended my students to no longer work on general relativity and cosmology, but instead concentrate on their PhD in quantum optics. I also recommended that they should not come back to general relativity before having found a mentor, someone able to protect them in this community which seems much less friendly than my quantum information community.

Why should anyone worry about this story? We live in democracy and, overall, the arXiv functions pretty well. As is commonly known, democracy is the worst of all political systems, besides all others. For sure, democracy doesn’t guarantee that good people get elected. But democracy has one immense quality: it contains a mechanism to get rid of truly bad leaders. This raises the following question. In case the arXiv gets dominated by a group of people the physicists’ community doesn’t like, how could we get rid of them?

Let me make clear that I do not think we reached such a bad situation. The people there are certainly doing their best, though I don’t understand how they were chosen, nor how they operate. But shouldn’t we make sure that nothing truly bad could happen, neither today nor in 2048?

Comments (37)

  1. Marek
    Marek at 13.12.2016
    I do agree with Nicolas.
    One comment: the book was written mainly in 1948, and the final version sent to the publishers in December 1948. To this fact it owes the title, which pemutes two last digits.

    The book was very important for us, behind the Iron Curtain. It may become important soon again, in my Country.
  2. Boris Tsirelson
    Boris Tsirelson at 13.12.2016
    “Every technical hierarchy, in time, develops a competence inversion.”

    Quoted from Wikipedia article “Putt’s Law and the Successful Technocrat”.
    My colleague (mathematician) told me that, when having TeXnical problems with arXiv, the last time he gets no help from arXiv officers (in contrast to the past); I told him: no wonder, arXiv is now strong and aged, while in the past it was joung and weak.
    Even so, I did not expect the story told by Nicolas. It seems, someone believes that he does his best in order to keep arXiv superior over viXra; but what if this challenging text rejected from arXiv, would be send to viXra?
  3. Anreas Roithner
    Anreas Roithner at 13.12.2016
    A very sad story!
  4. Jacques Pienaar
    Jacques Pienaar at 13.12.2016
    I had some correspondence with the authors about this paper. Although I’m also not an expert, I did a graduate course in GR, and if there is a mistake in the paper, I was unable to locate it. The mistake (if there is one) is therefore not obvious, and a rejection from arXiv is not at all warranted. I can only conclude that people in the GR community are hostile to the paper’s conclusions, and therefore unwilling to expend the time and effort to give it a fair analysis.
  5. Valerio Scarani
    Valerio Scarani at 13.12.2016
    Thank you, Nicolas and also Caslav (or whoever is managing the IQOQI blog), for bringing this to the fore!
  6. Alberto
    Alberto at 13.12.2016
    @Nicolas, Marek, Boris, Andreas, Jacques, Valerio and Caslav:
    Scary blog entry. arxiv has a scientific advicory board (http://arxiv.org/help/scientific_ad_board) where the names and duties of the members are listed. Maybe this issue can be discussed by one (or more) of you with the members of the board? Do you know somebody there? The last entry in this blog was ~2 weeks ago; if nobody does anything, obviously nothing will happen! What do you think?
  7. Daniel Terno
    Daniel Terno at 13.12.2016
    This is totally and utterly unacceptable. Both on the scientific grounds [even if the paper is wrong], and not on the procedural grounds.
  8. Xavier Zambrana
    Xavier Zambrana at 13.12.2016
    Banning ideas or people without arguments will lead us nowhere. This is not the first case that I’ve heard about the arxiv banning someone. Here’s another one:
    These guys should be more transparent. If they are so sure that the paper is unacceptable, they should not be scared to make a public statement explaining why.
  9. Martin Aulbach
    Martin Aulbach at 13.12.2016
    This is truly worrying news. I was under the impression that arXiv accepts any manuscript that adheres to scientific methods and contains no glaring and immediately obvious errors. Perhaps most worrying of all is the refusal to justify or undo the rejection and the blacklisting of authors. What benefit does a preprint archive have if it applies even more stringent and opaque criteria than established peer-reviewed journals? The preprint archive will be no different from any open access journal, sans the publication fee.

    As someone who has left academia but who is still sitting on some unfinished manuscripts that might be finished in my own free time, I’ll think twice about submitting anything to arXiv without a current academic affiliation. Lest I’m flagged as a lone crackpot and subsequently blacklisted. Gladly, with viXra there now exists an alternative that doesn’t require an institutional affiliation, so I’m willing to give them a try.
  10. Ashley
    Ashley at 13.12.2016
    Indeed a very disturbing story. Given that articles fairly regularly appear on the quant-ph arXiv which make claims which are (apparently…) “obviously” wrong to anyone working on quantum information, I guess the gr-qc moderators apply different criteria. This seems slightly ironic given that quantum information is tested experimentally on a daily basis, whereas certain theories of quantum cosmology may not be tested for a long time, if ever…
  11. Carlos Navarrete-Benlloch
    Carlos Navarrete-Benlloch at 13.12.2016
    This is truly an incredible story. I can only imagine how frightened Nicolas’ PhD students must have gotten, especially after being so brave to enter a topic that is so out of their “comfort zone”. It’s a sad story, but if I could transmit the students two messages, they would be: (1) the bulk of the physics community (certainly the quantum optics and information community) are with you, willing to help in any possible way we can, just say the word; (2) congratulations for your papers, I admire diverse physicists, especially at such an early stage. Keep your science up!
  12. Ian Durham
    Ian Durham at 13.12.2016
    This is indeed frightening and, as Danny noted, completely unacceptable. The point of the arXiv is that it is NOT peer-reviewed in the traditional sense. It’s a pre-print server, not a journal. If a paper is bad then it gets ignored. I have heard of people getting rejected by the arXiv before and I know that new authors are now required to be “approved” by a qualified “approver” for a given category (I have received numerous requests to this effect), but even that concerned me a bit. The question becomes, what can we do about it? Because surely something must be done.
  13. Juan
    Juan at 13.12.2016
    It is interesting that a very similar result was happily filtered through in a very similar timeframe (although I’m curious which one was first)

    See http://arxiv.org/abs/1409.0187
  14. Julian Irwin
    Julian Irwin at 13.12.2016
    Clearly there should be more transparency at arXiv, as this is an unacceptable failure of the current system. The error on arXiv’s part is especially glaring since this rejected paper was later published in Phys Rev A.

    However, I do sympathize with the moderators of arXiv to a certain extent. Anyone who has visited viXra.org or received an email from the infamour Gabor Fekete knows that there is a lot of quack physics out there. The arXiv may be constantly bombarded with pseudoscience papers whose authors also gripe about having their work shut out. If there is an appeal process, it would probably become very clogged very quickly and it would take up a lot of the (presumably volunteer) time of the mods.

    Basically, what I’m trying to say is that arXiv would look more like viXra if it weren’t for the hard work of the Mods. Clearly they make mistakes sometimes, but there should be more transparency or a formal appeal process that unjustly blacklisted authors can utilize.
  15. Peter Cameron
    Peter Cameron at 13.12.2016
    Dear Professor Gisin,

    In my experience the circumstance you describe is standard operating procedure at arxiv. Despite having a paper presented at the 2013 Rochester conference on quantum optics/information/measurement
    and three additional papers accepted to (but not presented due to financial constraints of the independent researcher) the Toronto Fields and 2014 Berlin conferences on quantum information and measurement, and
    a paper presented to the 2015 Barcelona conference on applications of geometric Clifford algebra (avaliable at p.89 of the pre-conference proceedings)
    I remain blacklisted on arxiv.

    I retired from Brookhaven after a 25 year career as an instrumentation physicist, have over 200 publications, and led the team that developed the feedback loops for fast beam optics in RHIC, the Tevatron, and the LHC, among other things
    arxiv won’t let the work on impedance quantization in, and the mainstream journals refuse to send it out to referees.
    Vixra ends up the only outlet. Take a look, judge for yourself
    it isn’t just arxiv. People don’t want change.
  16. Alex Klotz
    Alex Klotz at 13.12.2016
    I have submitted three papers to arxiv, and have one unsettling experience with the moderation system. I submitted a (admittedly not so spectacular) paper to the classical mechanics section, and tried to cross-list it to planetary astrophysics (the paper is about gravitational dynamics in planetary interiors). That night I went to check my submission and saw it wasn’t there, and in my user page it said it was under moderation. I looked at the guidelines and it said to wait a few days and then email the moderator address. I waited, then emailed. The response I got essentially said “Your submission is under moderation because it is being moderated by our moderators” or something equally useless and information-free. A few days later, it was published in “Popular Physics,” with no real explanation as to why, and no transparency as to the process that landed it there. Here is the paper so you can judge for yourself: http://arxiv.org/abs/1505.05894. Even if that paper is too “popular” for Classical Physics, someone had to make that judgement call.
  17. Daniel Moskovic
    Daniel Moskovic at 13.12.2016
    Wow… That’s alarming.

    As you say, it seems an interesting and legitimate problem to point out challenges related to quantum gravity, and it surely wouldn’t have been rejected from arXiv had it been written from this angle; I’m worried about people judging books by their covers- “the rhetoric sounds wrong”- as opposed to by the actual content. In general, “it sounds wrong” seems a strange reason for rejection.

    I’m glad it ultimately got published, and curious how its scientific story will pan out. Where IS the mistake?
  18. Abdel Nasser Tawfik
    Abdel Nasser Tawfik at 13.12.2016
    I know of many colleagues whom are classified (or recommended) by arXiv no longer submitting new scripts before they are accepted by conventional journal. This kind of classification or recommendation was declared without any further argumentation. arXiv gave no reasons whey these authors are discriminated, although they have already posted couple tens of papers to this platform. One can obviously recognize that this recommendation contradicts the fundamental ideal of arXiv.
  19. Dean Radin
    Dean Radin at 13.12.2016
    The same problem has crippled Wikipedia. Topics considered scientifically controversial, or that merely challenge prevailing ideas, have been hijacked by editors who have systematically altered articles to reflect only negative opinions. This egregiously violates Wikipedia’s neutrality rules, but given that there are no adults in charge at Wikipedia, the hijackers get away with it. Unfortunately this is an old story — bureaucracy crushes creative freedom.
  20. Jonathan Tooker
    Jonathan Tooker at 13.12.2016
    I submitted a draft, arXiv rejected it. I didn’t get a reason, but it was written in Word so I figured it was that. I typeset it in Latex, spiced it up with more jargon and citations and even improved my result somewhat. I tried to resubmit to arXiv but they implemented the endorsement system between my first and second drafts. I couldn’t submit so I got an endorsement for gr-qc and subbed it. Submission got rejected AND endorsement got revoked. I uploaded to viXra with the arXiv submit time stamp.

  21. Lorenzo Maccone
    Lorenzo Maccone at 13.12.2016
    I agree this shouldn’t happen, but the people at arXiv are probably under enormous stress: if the platform is to remain significant, they have to filter out material (too many papers appear there now). Since everybody seems to agree the paper is wrong (I haven’t read it since it’s not on the archive!), perhaps the committee member tasked to judging it spotted the error and (incorrectly) flagged it as spam. And once you’ve been flagged as spam, it’s probably very difficult to be un-flagged. It’s just an interpretation of what might have happened, but I emphasize that I don’t want to justify it, because I agree with Nicholas it’s wrong: a reasonable justification for the rejection should have been given, and the possibility to be un-flagged. Any filtering system is bound to have errors (and this is clearly one), but without filtering the arXiv would be useless…

    I suggest a more open filtering system: e.g. the one they use at slashdot.org to choose the stories and to moderate the comments: it seems to be working fine there! I wonder if it could be made to work at arXiv.
    1. Jonathan Tooker
      Jonathan Tooker at 13.12.2016
      “without filtering the arXiv would be useless”

      ” if the platform is to remain significant…”

      Your perspective on this matter seems to be devoid of any foundation in reality and lacks situational awareness. The number of cranks writing is very small compared to the number of real scientists doing so. arXiv could cease all moderation activity and everyone who wants to read new papers will still go there. If the mod’s can’t handle the “stress” of quietly reading papers wherever they volunteered to read them (with no deadlines) is too much, then the arXiv is very stupid for asking them to do so.

      The arXiv’s value is that is a public document server with an address that everyone already knows. Moderation is not important at all for that, it is merely an (another) outlet for the embittered older generation of physicists to censor the hopeful newer ones that choose to pursue their own interests and not the interests of their forebears.
  22. Martin
    Martin at 13.12.2016
    Are you sure about the ratio of crackpot “papers” to scientific papers? The ratio appears very small if you work with arxiv – well, sure, because they reject some submissions. If they would accept anything, crackpots would upload tons of stuff there. Writing a crackpot paper is way easier than writing a proper paper. See vixra: full of crackpot stuff. And arxiv would be way more attractive to crackpots because most of the proper science is there.
  23. Lorzenzo Maccone
    Lorzenzo Maccone at 13.12.2016
    Reality check: head down to http://vixra.org/quant/ and then tell me if it isn’t true that without moderation the archive would quickly become useless. It’s already becoming pretty useless as is, I’d say….
  24. John Sachs
    John Sachs at 13.12.2016
    Now, who is the one complaining now? I remember how the quant-ph reaction to Joy Christian back then.

    Everyone, EVERYONE in the field of research has committed this sinful act before. We are arrogant and often not open to alternatives.
    Referees often do not read the paper and simply write a few lines of sentences claiming “This topic is not of public interest.”

    There is a very serious flaw in this whole business of research.

    The two students were lucky because their supervisor is a handsome and successful man called Nicolas Gisin, there are many more students and young researchers out there who are not so lucky.
  25. Antoine Suarez
    Antoine Suarez at 13.12.2016
    Fortunately Nicolas is a strong supporter of free will!
    A faithful in the “Church of the Larger Hilbert Space” (Many-Worlds) would have complied saying:
    “Well the paper got published in a parallel arXiv after all”!

    Nonetheless, I have to witness positive experience with gr-qc:
    But it was 2009.
  26. Christian + Johanes
    Christian + Johanes at 13.12.2016
    Hi! Thanks for sharing this post – it’s an important topic. We just wanted to point out the error in the paper: Directly above Eq. (6), Thiago and Fernando write “(…) as seen from an observer at infinity, the mass is a function of time t only and total derivatives with respect to v reduce to derivatives with respect to t as can be seen from (2)”. This is clearly wrong: If in Eq. (2) one sets r -> infinity, one has dv = dt – dr.
    Best wishes,
    Christian + Johannes
  27. Cameron McCoy
    Cameron McCoy at 13.12.2016
    I had actually worked out roughly the same thing, even without hawking radiation, due to time dilation close to the event horizon.

    Then I had an epiphany. If you include the mass of the object falling in to the center of mass of the black hole, you get a new event horizon that shifts towards what is falling in, causing the object to get closer. For smaller black holes, obviously, this is not as effective, they have to be directly incident on matter in most cases, but if there’s sufficient relative initial velocity and it is a direct collision course, it will gain mass.

    As for the ArXiv issue, that is quite troubling.
  28. john
    john at 13.12.2016
    Hi, this story is not new; I often get the comment in need for serious revision before considered publihable by a conventional journal even if it has been accepted for publicaton already. The screening by Arxiv moderators goes far beyond elimination of technical errors but surpresses deviating interpretations as well.
  29. Harald
    Harald at 13.12.2016
    Dogma kills science. Thanks for informing us, and keep up the fight for science!

    Note: some commentators here apparently missed the fact that the peer reviewed paper is roughly the same as the rejected paper (“We show that before the observer can cross the horizon the black hole disappears. Possible observational consequences are discussed”).
  30. Lorenzo Iorio
    Lorenzo Iorio at 13.12.2016
    I’d like to add also this unique gem from arXiv. In late December 2013, its moderators decided to disclose that “Gerhard Forst” and ” Gianni Felici” were actually two pseudonyms used by Ignazio Ciufolini, an Italian relativist, to post fake preprints (never published in any peer-reviewed journal) in which he attempted to criticize myself (“Gianni Felici” case) and the GP-B team (“Gerhard Forst”). After I casually discovered it by browsing through the arXiv’s pages in December 2013, I sent a Letter-to-the Editor to an academic journal, JASIST, which, among other things, deals also with misconducts in science by reporting such a story. The Editor-in-Chief, Blaise Cronin, after having supposedly inspected the arXiv’s moderators comments, accepted it immediately without external peer review. In February 2014 the arXiv’s moderators finally removed their own comments explicitly exposing Ciufolini (after an unbelievable and indecent ballet in January-February 2014 during which they restored and removed their comments exposing Ciufolini as Forst and Felici several times). Please note that the arXiv’s staff never admitted any mistake in identifying Forst and Felici with Ciufolini, either publicly and in private correspondence with me (they only sent me vague emails in which they spoke about alleged-and clearly non-existent-“changes in their policies”). They never gave any motivation for their absurd self-censoring action. Nonetheless, in June 2014, I was, at least, allowed by the arXiv’s director to post on arXiv the full text of the Letter-to-the-Editor I sent to the aforementioned academic journal, even after Wiley retracted it for alleged and undisclosed “legal reasons”. In this way, the arXiv’s moderators, de facto, endorsed my Letter-to-the-Editor and their own previous comments. Of course, all screenshots are still available on the Internet since then. As a result, in 2014 Ciufolini sued me for defamation, and I now have to defend myself in a court trial!
  31. Rrtucci
    Rrtucci at 13.12.2016
    I think all papers whose authors all have phds should be published by arXiv automatically. There should also be a comment section like Amazon.com has. Some junk will still get through but not that much and so what. Judging junk is very hard without the benefit of hindsight. A PhD is the seal of approval of a university. That should be enough. ArXiv should not be judging beyond that. Also, arXiv should not be solely controlled by Ginsparg and company. It should be under international hands. If arXiv doesn’t change its ways, I advise Europeans to use HAL-INRA instead. Vive la France!
  32. Achim Kempf
    Achim Kempf at 13.12.2016
    Of course, the arxiv must protect itself from abuse. Submissions by crackpots, cranks and trolls have no place on the arxiv.

    But I also very much agree with Nicolas, and I believe with many other colleagues, that when trained young physicists make an honest effort and submit their work to the arxiv, then the arxiv ought to accept their submissions – even if experienced moderators feel that they can tell right away that the paper’s approach is not going to work. Moderators have little time to scan a paper, aren’t infallible, and young researchers can be prone to executing and/or presenting even good ideas poorly.

    Therefore, I too believe that we should let them get their work out on the scientific marketplace of ideas as fast as anybody else’s and without prejudice, i.e., let them post their papers on the arxiv. (Sure, they could submit it to vixra but then that would prejudice referees.)

    Of course, almost all young researchers with ideas that are disruptive if they work out will fail, just like startup companies. There aren’t many Googles and Facebooks. But does the economy need “moderators” from the chamber of commerce to decide which proposed startup company should get a business license and which not, on the basis of perceived chances of success? Of course not. The requirements for a business licence are minimal. And they are minimal for a good reason: while it is the founders who carry the risk, we all benefit when some of them succeed.

    Similarly, young researchers who want to post potentially disruptive ideas know very well that they risk their scientific career. These are brave souls and we should give them a chance. If they put their name on a paper that turns out to be wrong or turns out not to find interest, then they very personally carry the risk. But we all reap the benefits when some of them succeed.

    It is in the nature of things that young researchers can maximize their chances to succeed in an academic career by working in the mainstream, preferably in a currently “hot” part of it, because that’s where the referees, the mentors, the citations and the grants are. That’s good because hot topics tend to be hot for a good reason. But working in a hot topic research area is the opposite of challenging the status quo. It’s like working for a hot company like Google instead of founding a new startup to revolutionize the way things are done.

    I think it is therefore in the interest of science that the arxiv accepts all submissions by properly educated young researchers who make an honest research effort. Experienced moderators should be able to quickly distinguish them from crackpots, cranks and trolls, and be lenient if there is a grey zone. The task of the all-important peer review is better left with the journals: The arxiv is neither equipped nor is it incentivized to do a professional job at refereeing. The journals are much more likely to do a good job at refereeing because their survival depends on it.
  33. Mateus Araújo
    Mateus Araújo at 13.12.2016
    In this regard, I find the policy of the mods of quant-ph ideal: once in while I see some crackpot submissions, and I have never heard of creepy stories like Gisin reported.

    Case in point: Joy Christian has been able to post more than 10 papers “disproving” Bell’s theorem without getting blacklisted. And his mistakes are much easier to spot than the ones in the black hole paper (at least to my quantum eyes).
  34. Andrea Aglibut
    Andrea Aglibut at 13.12.2016
  35. john
    john at 13.12.2016
    For me the issue is very simple, if you have a PhD in physics or you have been a post graduate student in the field then you should be able to publish your findings. I think that if you look at the probability that many people who seriously read someone’s work come to the conclusion that this person is cranky whatever it means, given those criteria is on the verge of neglegible to zero. And let us be fair, I know of a great deal of respectable relativists who would say that high energy physicis is fringy, on the verge of being wrong and crancky and also the other way around of course, remember Feynman. Fact is that most people don’t really understand one and another and are not taking the effort to do so, that is why it is much easier to resort to name calling and group think. And what concerns the engineers who are somewhat overambitious and try to infiltrate the temple of physics, why ban them? I have many friends amongst them and they often ask the right questions albeit they have no idea how to even formulate answers to those. They will most likely not produce anything new and valuable to physics, but they are for sure a good reminder that we need to make a better effort at explaining ourselves.
  36. Kajetan Guz
    Kajetan Guz at 13.12.2016
    The bad workman blames his tools. He who plants a forest in the morning cannot expect to saw planks the same evening. You can look for a needle in a haystack, but why? Do not judge until you have heard both sides of the argument. To the ant a few drops of rain are a flood. What shall I say when it is better to say nothing – two months, a minor amendment: http://arxiv.org/abs/1603.08916
  37. Bill Plick
    Bill Plick at 13.12.2016
    Hello All,

    I’m coming in a bit behind the times on this, but today the arXiv is conducting a survey on their operations. Perhaps it is useful to bring up the issues raised here by Prof. Gisin and others, or even link to this article in the appropriate comment section.