A “preprint” is a paper that has not undergone peer review, and so it remains in much the same state as does the tap water in the aspersorium at St. Mary’s before the priest has blessed it. Still useful, but not yet holy.
Arxiv was started to allow scientists to offer their (speculative) work to their fellows in a timely manner. Peer review followed by formal publication can oftentimes take years. For example, I once had a paper that was returned to me after more than two years sitting with an editor, who finally informed me that he “could not find a reviewer.”
Everybody knows that, except in new fields still flush with adolescent energy, traditional peer review enforces mediocrity, or at least evinces a staunch, incurious conservatism. There is no room in the publishing bureaucracy for ideas that are probably wrong, but at least are fascinating and that set the little gray cells churning.
Arxiv.org allows for the new and innovative but not the outrageous or ridiculous. The only, and low, requirement to Arxiv is that you be recommended posting rights by an accredited scientist (defined variously) in the pertinent field. These would-be editors do not so much accept or reject a paper, but the person offering a paper. This is still a form of peer review, of course, but weaker than the traditional rules.
Some scientists bristle even at this minimal bridle. A small group of the discontented created viXra.org, a site which accepts all comers. I hasten to say that this is not wrong, and that papers at viXra.org—just as posts in blogs—can be useful, true, and even profound. It’s just not that likely.
For example, there is a certain Florentin Smarandache who is intent to offer us multiple versions of his theory of “neutrosophics”, apparently a nutritious kind of philosophy. My favorite is “Neutrosophic Logic as a Theory of Everything in Logics” (pdf) in which we learn that “Neutrosophic Logic (NL) is a Theory of Everything in logics, since it is the most general so far.”
Is that wrong? I know a little about multi-valued logic, but I can’t figure out what Smarandache is on about, particularly when he applies his “logics” to Islamic thought. Again, I hasten to admit that the limitation may be my own.
Then there is the paper by our Lord, Jesus Christ: “Decision Making and Decision System Support” (pdf), a follow up to His “Why You Should not Maximize Utility: Implications for Social Virtue” (pdf). “This book in this link is actually a thesis written and dictated and instructed by authority that is Me, Jesus Christ, in order you can do your repentance properly as a society…Please tweet and distribute this message to as many countries as you can including all your friends quickly, I repeat quickly, today.”
At least I can say that I have fulfilled that last duty. JC, incidentally, is a frequent contributer to the—where else?—“Religion and Spiritualism” section.
The viXra repository isn’t solely concerned with your soul: it attempts mundane physics, too. For example, Jack Sarfatti gives us “The Galois Solvable Fourth Roots of Reality” (pdf), a paper which, to my untutored eyes, appears like any other paper on spinor qubits. I can offer no insight into its worth, except to say that it appears thin. By which I mean, that it is short and its mathematics unproved.
Well, that’s enough. The new, unedited, uncensored, unrestrained repository cannot be considered a success. There might be a gem—perhaps brighter than any other—buried in the dross, but who has time to dig for it?
I have always thought arxiv.org to be a near-optimal solution to the peer-review problem. Papers are often wrong, but just as often useful; and they are infrequently absurd. They are at least no worse than those appearing between bindings. And they are free.
Consider: if you have a field in which the vast majority of practitioners are beholden to a false idea, then the papers in that field will be of little to no value. This is so even if the authors are ever congratulating themselves (by awarding tenure, grants, etc.) on their publishing success.
The number of times this has happened in human history is too many to be named.
Saturday Bonus! Alexa Web Statistics
Alexa is, of course, if not the best then at least the best known web statistics monitoring organization. They list this fine site as the 506,435th most popular site in the USA (265,495th in Canada). I’m still pushing for 506,433th.
But Alexa also says that my average audience member is a married, stay-at-home female with kids, a graduate education, and from 25 to 24 years old.
Since statistics cannot lie, I’m now thinking some of you haven’t been that honest with me. Shame!