Monday, August 03, 2015

My math paper and recent discussion here

Finally got a bit of discussion on this blog! And was on my post with some important facts and observations, where I think the two people commenting expressed things I should address in a post.

It has been well over a decade since I had a paper published in a formally peer reviewed mathematical journal, and maybe shouldn't be surprised if people end up speculating around the details. The paper was pulled from the electronic journal directly, where I guess they just tried to delete out the content. The table of contents were changed to say the paper was withdrawn. I did not withdraw the paper. The editors tried.

But EMIS kept the paper up, as well as the rest of the journal, as it managed one more edition and then ended operations. I like to say, it keeled over and died.

Am going to ask some questions on behalf of others based on what the commenters said. I'm guessing, so if you have other questions feel free to give them in the comments!

Ok, so some may wonder, did the editors know I was not a mathematician?

Yes. I told them at the outset when I submitted the paper. It took nine months for them to publish and was in communication with the editors routinely to see how it was going, and also wondering if they would just tell me no at some point. Was surprised and gratified when they notified me they would publish.

Is it possible the editors were not aware of the implications of the paper?

Can't say for sure, but I doubt it. The point of the paper was to show an important result, which is related to a coverage problem, but also to reveal that the currently established methods of rigor could be breached. As the paper by the rules appears to prove a result true in the ring of algebraic integers, which can be shown to NOT be true in that ring. It may be subtle to non-mathematicians but these were mathematical experts who probably understood it better than I did!

Did Usenet play a significant role as some posters seem to think?

Maybe but not the one they think they did, I'm sure. The reality is that Usenet is a fringe area, where people spend a lot of time making bold claims and well, insulting each other. My own view is that the editors expected a reaction from the global mathematical community of their peers, which did not occur. Then the Usenet posters emailing them would have been insult to injury as they say.

What if the editors had backed the paper do I think much would have changed?

In retrospect, I don't. My own guess is that the situation could be much as it is to this day! Only thing is I'd have some established mathematicians along for the ride. Maybe we would get together every once in a while and have some beers grousing over the situation. And possibly those mathematicians might have destroyed their careers, if they didn't anyway. But for me it's not a big deal in the same way as I'm NOT a mathematician.

Is a big deal in ways, of course. But not a career impacting big deal.

I say the situation is very political. And in fact I think mathematicians moved away from rigor especially with journals to human judgment and the view that mathematicians ultimately decide what is mathematically correct or not.

And I responded eventually by putting up a definition of mathematical proof on this blog, which removed any doubt about mathematical correctness being an absolute and NOT about shades of gray or opinion of mathematical experts.

My current view is that a political situation in this area will play itself out over time, am gratified that EMIS kept my paper up. Feel a bit sorry for mathematicians pulled into this drama. And am not terribly surprised that my paper wasn't simply accepted by the mathematical establishment with its implications.

Of course I'm a really big deal as a result of it I'm sure. I feel confident every major mathematician on the planet knows who I am.

To accept it mathematicians would have to shift from some of their most deeply held views and accept that like other disciplines, like my favorite which is physics of course, they can be forced to adjust.

Oh yeah, and feedback DOES matter! It helps me a lot to see what people may find puzzling or where they need clarification on things. Otherwise I'm just putting up what I think might be useful to people who have an interest in these things.

James Harris
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