by Chris Langan
This is to let you know, concerning your planned reduction of Noesis to quarterly editions, that I'd consider assuming editorial responsibilities in whole or in part. The offer seems incumbent on me in that I might have less trouble composing editorials on past and future material. However, I'd require some advance notice in order to upgrade my word processor, since photoreduction may (for all I know) be as expensive as retyping material and printing the journal/at home or in the office.
There remains a question of demand. What, in your opinion, is the level of interest in monthly publication? Even with the small amount of direct feedback on my responses to certain published theses, there is doubt as to whether it would be constructive to pursue them to their conclusions with this particular readership. As with any other ideas, grasping those involved here will require enthusiasm as well as intellect. I'd consider your insights, if you have any, to be of clarificative value.
I'll continue in light of Noesis #35, which I've just read. It is remarked, within a complaint about the proposed reduction in frequency, that certain members - including me - have complained about the size of the journal. Other complaints have been made about proprietary issues in science. All of these concerns - size, frequency, and propriety - are related within a wider issue, viz: what are the journal's real purposes, and how well do they serve those of the HRG? As it would be difficult to come up with a more germane topic, I'll attempt to clarify matters in as impersonal a way as possible.
The Encyclopedia of Associations apparently lists this organization's purpose as social. Quarterly publication seems consistent with chat; the journals of social clubs need be no more frequent than their major activities, and this club is strewn too widely to hold many meetings. In addition, the reigning editor already seems to consider the costs of publication prohibitive in terms of both time and money. It therefore rests on those desiring monthly issues to provide a justification for their preference.
Speaking only for myself, I've already "put my money where my mouth is" by responding to a number of journal entries in what I've observed to be the going format, which just happens to be a little too tight for the kind of material I've contemplated submitting. Ideas near the foundations of mathematics - where math is the same as philosophy - cannot rely on established symbolism, but may involve the definition of new concepts in terms of natural language. In fact, this situation calls for more than just new definitions; since the HRG probably includes members not fluent in fill the basics, more than the usual amount of illustration and preparatory explanation would be necessary.
But this is not the whole problem. I'm sure that some members are familiar with Edward Thorp, the ex-UCLA mathematician who devised a "card-counting" scheme for blackjack and was barred from the casinos for his consistent ability to beat the house. He was interviewed for the September 1988 issue of Omni magazine, in which he complained that he - an extensively credentialed author with major institutional sponsorship - was robbed of credit for at least, two different papers that were published under somebody else's name. He and his colleagues allegedly calculated over ten years ago that published mathematical papers, which can range in content from the profound to the trivial, had a monetary value of $10,000 each, as well as value in "power and prestige". Thorp is not the only one to have made such complaints; many others, from a variety of disciplines, have voiced their own. The recent Franco-American dispute over the discovery of the AIDS retrovirus is a case in point.
One might conclude that there are many scholars and scientists, hungry for fame, tenure, and grant money, who are willing, given the opportunity, to stage false cases of "simultaneous discovery" (despite allegations to the contrary, the AIDS controversy was eventually determined to have been a genuine instance of this). One can reason further that this temptation, where it exists, is more likely to center on the work of unknowns, who are often in more vulnerable positions than those who already possess a degree of credibility, were a talented amateur to succeed in producing a truly important piece of research - a possibility of which the existence of groups like the HRG is a kind of affirmation - it would behoove him to exercise circumspection, lest he be relegated to a footnote (or less) in the undeserved accolades of another (it may not have gone unnoticed that the one original invention so far described in full detail in Noesis was reported only after its patent application had already been processed).
As things now stand, nobody who commits this kind of injustice need fear professional censure on the strength of this journal's scholarly prestige. There has been too little in it to date that would qualify it as grounds for a serious accusation of scientific plagiarism. And condensed material, which presents general ideas at the expense of close detail, is easy prey to anyone with the expertise to fill in chose details in such a way as to disguise the source of their organization. The same goes for serialization; a first installment can telegraph those to follow. These problems are already familiar to those who write and publish this kind of material; they would otherwise be too naive to survive in today's world of high-stakes science. The subject is unpleasant, but it must be dealt with realistically before any member can safely contribute what he reasonably considers to be solutions for open problems of general import (and especially famous ones like that of the consistency of Bayesian inference, Newcomb's problem, and others that have been mentioned in Noesis). The alternative would be to declare Noesis a digest, suitable only for trivia, condensations of previously-published material, and the rare original thesis which can be fully propounded to an unprepared readership in a space of seven or fewer pages.
It would be nice if science always lived up to its rep as a temple of trust, conscience, and the free exchange of information and understanding. But the system is designed to work much better for some than for others. Just as "it takes money to make money", it takes credit to take credit; the deck is stacked against anyone whose insight is appreciably weightier than his portfolio. At one extreme, the crackpot is prevented from corrupting the worthwhile. At the other, truth is made the slave of recognition, and by those who claim to serve only truth. When one passes by a shell game, is one duty-bound to play? Only if your answer is an unqualified yes can you insist that anyone play this game without first seeking a precautionary accord.
It is not my intention to imply that the halls of science and academia teem with thieves. In the hearts of those gravitating to learned careers, the concept of service to humanity is seldom completely absent. But the human condition is a moral paradox, and all walks of life contain men and women who prefer to resist their con sciences, as long as they can resist while surrounded by the comfort and esteem their consciences might have cost them. Since hypocrisy only compounds the problem, it is better not to pretend that running (what may or may not be) a scientific journal is a stroll through the ethics hall of fame. I suspect that even some of the uninvolved members have previously glimpsed the inadequacy of existing policy, so far as it has ever been stated.
Nor am I saying that declaring the HRG a full-fledged think-tank, and Noesis a serious journal of science, will precipitate a sudden torrent of first rate research papers. But at least those members having such material need have fewer misgivings over the imprudence of submitting it here first. If the Hoeflin Research Group is in fact what it sounds like - meaning that research is to be done by rather than merely on its members - then it should at least accommodate the full descriptions of that research. Should this seem unreasonable, consider that other such groups generally take precautions far in excess of any discussed here. The matter of scheduling also deserves consideration; no one submitting original research will want to consign it to editorial limbo for indefinite periods without knowing precisely where it is and who has seen it - if, indeed, anyone but the editor is allowed to see it prior to publication.
Unfortunately, it is true that even well-organized research environments are plagued by the propensities of researchers to personally adopt the problems on which they've been working. There is a natural tendency to become secretive concerning projects in which the investment of time and energy is large. The situation is a direct function of the competetiveness of science, which extends to the very economics of survival; it can be regarded as the price humanity pays for the beneficial aspects of such competition. Whether those benefits are worth that price is another matter. Nor is the nobility of altruism at issue; it is not always altruistic to sacrifice one's economic viability as a researcher. That is, when the work one offers up to the "brotherhood of science" could determine whether his future beneficial research will win support, altruism can actually dictate that he protect his authorship for the sake of the future advancement of science.
The situation is complexifled when research has social and ethical ramifications. It seems that when the author of a theory leaves these ramifications up to others, this invariably promotes argument among "experts" perceiving advantage in various slants or constructions. Polarization occurs before he knows it, and it is no time at all before the only reportable "consensus" on his work is that "no one really knows what it all means". Against this, the researcher is powerless once he goes public. Where he has reason to believe that the implications of his work are socially critical and/or susceptible to abuse or plain misunderstanding, this may bind him to secrecy until he can enlarge enough to spare society the waste of time attending such destructive, misleading debates. And where he is already able to explain his work, he may hesitate to release condensations or incomplete segments of it for the same reasons. While it is true that some amount of debate is inevi! table and even potentially beneficial, there is no reason to promote it in any phase of which the outcome is already known. One authoritative voice is often better heard, and more quickly heeded, than the inharmonious din of numerous, partially-informed experts and commentators. While everyone occasionally participates in a debate of which one already knows the outcome, it is usually for the purpose of shortening the discussion - particularly when the topic is perceived to have an intrinsic urgency dominating other considerations like education, diversion, or generating interest.
For my part, I'm an amateur, and by no means desperate to have my work read at all costs. I'm content to leave that syndrome to those with axes to grind, professional and otherwise. I'll submit such material only if I'm convinced that the others sincerely wish to see it, and see it in sufficient detail to minimize the risk of misappropriation. Otherwise, I've already fulfilled my duty as a HRG member by dissenting, as concisely as I could, from what I reasonably considered to be weak (though well-placed) theses. I should add that "weak" describes only the theses, and not the intellects of those who mentioned them here. They are basic and widely held, and it was only natural for the members propounding them to take them on faith.
That about says it all. I can't speak alone for what the HRG is supposed to be. I suggest that somebody else "put his money where his mouth is" with regard to these issues, and we'll go from there. If I'm on the wrong track entirely, those in the know can easily set things straight. In any case, we can avoid having a particular subset of members characterized as the "grinches" who stole two-thirds of everyone else's forthcoming issues. While original research is probably the most advantageous kind of material for the HRG to publish, it is safe to assume that most of its members are familiar enough with the rudiments of English composition to come up with an essay or two.
Perhaps this idea of rotating editorship is worth some close attention, given a prior determination on exactly what it is that is being edited. Some kind of central clearing house night be required for those wishing to submit material, which could otherwise get lost in the circuit.
I hope these remarks prove useful.
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