Not signed in (Sign In)

Vanilla 1.1.9 is a product of Lussumo. More Information: Documentation, Community Support.

    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeNov 16th 2011

    This question has received several upvotes and one vote to close. While I'm not 100% happy with it -- it is hard to judge what happened, based on the OP's account -- it seems like there might make a legitimate question about "good practice" or "shared experience" in the professional mathematical community. However, in its present form something about the question rubs me up the wrong way, but perhaps that's just prejudice on my part.


    The question is about a specific case on which one would have to know all the facts in order to give proper advice, so I voted to close. I have given advice to young mathematicians who had problems that looked similar, but only after I knew the facts.

    I would not vote to close a well formulated general question.


    I agree with Bill. The question seems to soft and discussiony. There's all kinds of reasons a paper can be rejected beyond the actual formal mathematical content. If a paper is hard to read, or if it's not clear who would be an appropriate referee..

    If I understand the original post, then might the following be a distillation of the question into a more general, and so maybe more appropriate, question:

    "I have written a paper X, which is long, and have sent it to a number of journals, where it has been rejected without terribly useful comments. The most recent rejection was because there has recently appeared a paper Y which proves much the same result. Unfortunately, looking at the dates on paper Y, I sent my paper to be refereed the first time before Y submitted their paper. So it seems I have priority; but is there any hope now that Y has appeared in print?"
    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011 edited

    I appreciate MatthewDaws's attempt to make the question more suitable for MathOverflow. I think his version and the original both lack a clearly stated objective. If the poster wants to attempt publishing his paper in its current form, he should say so. If the goal is to get the result out, some rewriting needs doing. If the goal is to furher his career, perhaps communicating with Prof. B is needed. In any case, his question should be more explicit in terms of what the answers should address.

    Gerhard "Ask Me About System Design" Paseman, 2011.11.17

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011

    @MatthewDaws: yes I think you summarized it well. Except there seems to be one more point, which could make this even more of a complicated issue. Namely, that OP submitted initially to the same journal as Prof B.

    In any case, I think Bill Johnson is very right. A senior mathematician in detail familiar with the situation likely could give some good advice. Without even knowing the two papers as well as some additional details, I don't think there is much to answer. I voted to reclose.

    Again one of these brilliant situations where none of the voters to reopen feel any need to explain why the disagree with those voting to close and in part giving some explanation for their decission. I find this type of behavior quite rude.

    @quid and @grp: Yes, good comments. Maybe I should have added:

    "This is quite a general situation which presumably must be a worry to many people when they write a paper (and must have actually happened to some people). What are people's experiences; what actions do people take to avoid the problem?"

    Though, I definitely agree that this would take the question very far away from giving _specific_ advice to the original author (which, I agree, we cannot really do on MO).
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011

    @MD: as a general question I think it could work (I think it would not be great but perhaps alright; the issue being that I think it will really depend on the precise circumastances, like: only main result the same but different context/proof vs completely the same). In this case however I would rather write it not as a 'first person' question, but this is a detail.

    Good catch from grp on the lack of stated objective. When I was thinking about the post, I was thinking in terms of: What kind of answers can the OP hope to get out of the MO community?

    I think the best he's ever going to get is anecdotes: "Well, something similar happened to me, and then I did this, and then this happened." It can be somewhat informative, but not necessarily relevant, since "something similar" can be so vague. In particular, as Ryan points out, the reasons for rejections don't always have to do with the proof itself, but with what surrounds it: Was the result clearly stated? Was its relevance clearly stated? etc. We can only guess.
    • CommentAuthortheojf
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011

    The question has been reopened with no improvements, as far as I can tell. (The title is hopeless, for example.) Whoever reopened, please say why?


    I would expect the OP to post in this thread after reading the comments and seeing the link.


    I thought that these days priority was established via the arXiv. I was about to ask whether the paper had been arXived, but Tyler Lawson beat me by 13 minutes :) It seems that this is one good reason to arXiv one's work.


    Maybe we are out of touch. The question has more upvotes than any other question on the first four pages of MO.

    • CommentAuthorfedja
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011
    Just for the fun of it, here are the questions with >100 upvotes. They are

    255 votes Examples of common false beliefs in mathematics.
    153 votes Ideas on how to prevent a department from being shut down
    142 votes Polynomial bijection from QxQ to Q?
    132 votes Refereeing a Paper
    132 votes Polynomial representing all nonnegative integers
    123 votes Thinking and Explaining
    123 votes What are some examples of colorful language in serious mathematics papers?
    105 votes Mathematical “urban legends”
    105 votes Which journals publish expository work?
    105 votes Proofs without words
    105 votes A single paper everyone should read?
    102 votes Two commuting mappings in the disk

    Out of this "magnificent dozen" 9 are metamathematical and 3 are open problems. The next dozen shows a similar pattern. As far as I know, if we strictly adhered to the declared policies of MO, none of those would be allowed at all.

    I leave the conclusions to you.

    Upvotes aren't synonymous with a question being appropriate for MO. You'll also notice that many of the threads with the most upvotes are closed.

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011
    Yes, fedja, that question on commuting mappings in the disk, you should be ashamed.
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011

    If we would start answering calculus homework problems and would advertise this a bit, I think we would be able to grow our user base by one or two orders of magnitudes in no time; I leave the conclusion to fedja.

    • CommentAuthorNilima
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011
    Fedja makes a good point, and one I've made as well in a different context. It appears that there is appetite among the regular users of MO for questions pertaining to non-technical aspects of a mathematical career. These are, necessarily, matters of discussion, not quick right-or-wrong answers.

    A gentle suggestion would be to set up a sister site to MO with the explicit intent of hosting such questions. One could specify criteria for what constitutes a good question. These criteria would be different than on MO. I think the tag system is supposed to achieve this separation in some measure, but there appears to be frequent fire-storms around such questions.
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011

    In view of Nilima's suggestion I mention/advertise a site (to exist if there is enough interest) mentioned some time ago by Noah Snyder:

    It would not be just math, but there are a significant number of MO and math.SE people among the supporters.

    In general, I am not even against advice questions (even tried to answer some). But this one was/is just not a good, or rather suitable, one. (I think it should even have been closed on such a sister-site.)

    • CommentAuthorKaveh
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011

    It might be more reasonable to interpret up-votes for soft-questions as "likes" and not as an indicator of the question's quality. Users up-vote these posts because there is no other way of expressing they "like" them (and are interested in the answers) whereas we often expect the votes to represent the quality, effort, and knowledge.

    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeNov 17th 2011

    +1 Kaveh ;)


    @Yemon: Is that up-vote an indicator of Kaveh's comment's quality, or simply a way of expressing that you like it?

    @Mark: +1 :)
    • CommentAuthorfedja
    • CommentTimeNov 18th 2011
    +1 for Joel, of course, but while I understand how we count (up/down)votes, I do not really see how we are going to determine the "quality" of anything :). We talk about it a lot but it seems like "a question of high quality" is merely a question that is recognized as such by those who bother to voice their opinion, so it is still just (up/down)voting in disguise though, perhaps, we are looking more for a consensus here than for a majority. What adds to the confusion is that "being of high quality" and "being really interesting" are not the same thing.

    My upvotes for questions mean merely that all of the following hold:

    a) I understand the question
    b) I find the question non-trivial
    c) I find it amusing enough to give it some consideration.

    I'm not sure whether this is closer to telling that I like the question or to telling that it is a high quality one.
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2011

    First, I will observe that fedja's voting criteria do not include any consideration whether the question is suitable for MO. I strongly suspect that for many/most other people voting up, this is not much different, and therefore the number of up-votes should not have much influence when deciding the suitability (vote open/close) of a question.

    Second, for some of the personal advice questions (like the present one) I actually suspect that often an up-vote can mean still something else. Namely, something like 'Sorry to hear about your difficult situation. Good luck!' or something like 'I really wish this (type of) problem could be solved.' On the one hand this is supported by surrounding discussions [still none of the reopeners was able and willing to give any explanation, and the only explanation given completely ignored preceeding discussions; so there is a complete absence of rational arguments in favor of this question], on the other hand by the fact that for these types of question it is fairly frequent that the question is much higher voted than the answers.

    • CommentAuthorKaveh
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2011 edited

    Let me clarify what I meant. It seems to me that an up-vote has two consequences in the system:

    1. increase the total vote (displayed to others, i.e. a kind of signal increasing the chance that other users will pay attention to it),
    2. reward the author with reputation (the criteria for rewarding is obviously very subjective, but personally I would prefer it to be related to knowledge and effort the author has put into the post, i.e. it is like grading an essay or an answer in a math exam. If it is a post that anyone without much expertise or putting much effort could have written then I think the author probably doesn't deserve to be rewarded for writing it).

    I call the first type "like" votes and the second type "quality" votes. My theory is that in a hypothetical universe where we had a choice for making a like up-vote and a quality up-vote, these soft-questions would receive much lower number of quality up-votes than they the up-vote they have received in the current system.

    (I assume that the question/answer satisfies the basic and general guidelines for being a suitable post for MO and I am only discussing up-votes.)

    May I remind users that the tooltip for upvotes is worded as: "This question is useful and clear". Nowhere does it mention "quality", whatever that means. It does not mention appropriateness for that matter, though we might assume that this one goes without saying.

    Whatever meaning users put into their up- and down-votes beyond that is purely their own.
    @Kaveh: in real life also, many people got a good mileage out of asking questions that anyone could have asked, but that no-one else did. That doesn't bother me that this could be rewarded in MO. On the other hand, rewards for questions that have been asked over and over again, or variants thereof, that does bother me.
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2011

    Let me also quote something (from 'howtoask'):

    When you're browsing MO, please don't vote up unfocused or imprecise questions. Such questions are as bad as (or worse than) homework questions; they waste everybody's time. If somebody asks, "What's the deal with algebraic geometry?" you might say to yourself, "Wow, I'd really love to see a great answer to that one. I'm going to vote it up." But don't! You're encouraging the wrong behavior. The great answer you're hoping for doesn't exist [emphasize mine] because there isn't a precise question.

    • CommentAuthorKaveh
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2011 edited


    I am not suggesting how others should vote, I was simply explaining what I meant by "like" and "quality" and what I think would happen if we had two different kinds of up-votes. I am also not implying that having questions that people like and asking them doesn't need expertise or effort is a bad thing and I do like many of them but I wouldn't reward them, particularly if they are soft-questions. I was trying to give an explanation for the high amount of up-votes soft-questions receive (42 out of 50 questions with highest votes are soft questions).

    ps: btw, if a question is already asked then I think it should be closed as duplicate.

    • CommentAuthorfedja
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2011
    Poor Timothy ( I guess he is so-o-o ashamed of his questions now.

    Seriously, "being imprecise" is not as bad as you try to proclaim it. Granted, there is a huge difference between the impreciseness of somebody who hardly knows what he's talking about and the one of somebody who understands the formal stuff perfectly and wants to see beyond it (a task often impossible to accomplish without leaving the domain of formal logic). But why should we expect perfect maturity from everybody who asks? People ask questions because they are interested in answers, not because they want to see if they can pass the "is-my-question-suitable?" test.

    I'm not defending this particular question. I said all I wanted about it in my answer and comments and I have nothing to add unless the question itself changes. Perhaps, the way I interpreted it is different from the way quid interpreted it (which would be only natural to expect if the common complaint that the question is vague is true). However, I prefer to leave clarification to the author, not to the "collective consciousness", so I'll abstain from editing.

    What I'm saying is that we have too many attempts to enforce general guidelines, which actually are just an appeal to the user's common sense, as if they were a rigid code of law. I personally value MO most as a board for discussing (meta)mathematics with professional mathematicians; as a pure reference desk, it doesn't hold much appeal to me. I realize that it is not the proclaimed purpose of MO and, therefore, prefer to stay on the "answering side" of the game.
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2011 edited

    But what to do if people do not use common sense and try to use the site in unreasonable ways?

    ADDED: Or, since the above is perhaps too cryptic: I'd say for each user it would be very very simple if everybody would have the same 'common sense'. However, since experience shows that this is not so, the guidelines are there to lay out some common 'common sense'.

    • CommentAuthorfedja
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2011
    Completely unreasonable posts are shut down at once without any apparent disagreement and my own name appears on quite a few such "closing lists", as you can easily notice. I'm just advocating for

    a) showing some more good will and tolerance in "borderline" and "good faith effort but bad implementation" cases

    b) less rigidity in the interpretation of the guidelines.

    Of course, "common sense" is different for different people but I believe more in the ability to recognize one common sense as "common sense" by using another common sense than in the comparison of every possible common sense to some fixed sample.

    Nicely put, fedja. I strongly agree.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2011

    @fedja: yes, yes, abstractly this is all well and good. Only my common sense tells me that some users' ideas of 'good will' is harmful for the site and (potentially) harmful for the OPs. For instance had on some occassion everbody shown the good will of strongly agreeing Kevin Walker some user named Fly by Night might still be confused about something very basic. And, giving an IMO condescending answer is also a strange way to show good will. [However, since we read questions so differently, I will assume I also read answers differently, so perhaps you did not mean it like this.]

    • CommentAuthorfedja
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2011
    I read the question as consisting of 3 main parts

    1) Is my situation unusual?
    2) Is it worth to try to publish my paper now?
    3) What do other people do either in similar situations or to prevent similar situations?

    What was your reading?
    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2011 edited
    Interesting. I had assumed the OP was making an accusation of being robbed, but I finally printed out the thing. He is just saying that he was a bit quicker than Prof. B, but the OP was "pre-screened." Pre-screening is popular with journals that have a large backlog, although the backlog may be temporary. This has happened to me often enough. My take is that it does not bother people who are doing well, they know they will be published somewhere, and the quick rejection gives the opportunity to submit elsewhere in a hurry. My own recent problems with starstruck co-authors have amounted to me saying "Why submit to the top journal if they are going to be snotty?" One guy wrote a detailed argument that showed how the pre-sceener's comments were invalid, sent it in, and thought that had something to do with possible reconsideration by the same journal. Waste of time.
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2011

    @fedja: Sorry I am a bit in a hurry. Short answer, what Gil Kalai tried to answer. Original title of the question was: "What should I do?" In any case, the main idea of the question seems clearly to get advice what to do now related to this paper. Also see OPs comment to Gil Kalai's answer. OP seems to be doing exactly this now.

    So, the first part of your 3, yes but with a considerably more narrow definition of 'similar' so that this is actually applicable or has some relevance in the context.

    Your 2 rather not; and definitely not with such an abstract approach you choose. 'there is no point'. Yeah right, in the grand scheme of things there is no point in publishing for a lot of papers.

    Your 1, in theory yes, but merely as a side question.

    In other words the 'question' is: (If you have experionece with such a situation,) please give me advice what to do.

    And, then there is not only what you answered but how you answered it. My impression is: you simply found it "amusing" (to use the word you used above) to tell your point of view on some things vaguely related to this. Nothing like good will, helpful. tolerance, ...

    Finally, people implictly calling others 'crank' (without any need, as all this was over) have a hard time making me believe so much in their good will and alike.

    • CommentAuthorfedja
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2011
    Communication styles are different. I prefer to cut things short sometimes, that's right. May be I should reconsider a couple of things. Thanks for bringing this to my attention :).

    The advice I was giving was to give up on that paper completely. I hope that was clear enough. Why? It seems to me that to try to get it published in A would be a total waste of time. To get it published in B is extremely unlikely and an attempt to "appeal" would most likely be more damaging than fruitful. In principle, there may be some slight chance to publish it in some C but, given that journals send papers to more or less the same reviewers, it is more probable that OP will create himself a reputation of "that guy who tries to prove everybody that he was there first" than that he will get any recognition for it *even if the paper appears*. The reader (not a dean, but an expert) would know that B published the same result a year or so earlier and wouldn't know or care of all those details with rejections etc., so I can easily imaging a hiring committee where they'll say: look, his work is just a rewriting of ... Or is he going to write a long explanation letter attached to his job application or, worse, try to add a preamble to his paper telling the whole story? No, the only clean exit is to forget about this paper and to concentrate on writing the next one. Everything else carries more potential for creating a mess than for making any profit (IMHO, of course).

    As to "crank", do you want him to go from site to site trying to post, getting turned down, being laughed at (without telling him so), etc.? I guess one cold shower is better. Besides I'm not trying to tell what he is (that I don't know). I'm merely telling what his questions look like.
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 21st 2011

    @fedja: thank you for your nice and detailed response. I should have read your answer less critical right away; but somehow I took it the wrong way when first reading it and than was set on this track. Sorry about that. Regarding the last paragraph: in some sense I agree (I just found the form a bit drastic); it is in fact not so unlike my opinion that showing too large amounts of good will and patience on MO can be ultimately a disservice. But, more than right now (what you suggested) is admittedly, at least in some situations, not yet too much.

    • CommentAuthorShevek
    • CommentTimeNov 22nd 2011
    I strongly agree with Fedja.