Home > Academic dishonesty, Journals, Mathematicians, Mathematics, Mathematics Journals > What we’ve got here is failure to communicate

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate

Here is a lengthy and somewhat detached followup discussion on the very unfortunate Hill’s affair, which is much commented by Tim Gowers, Terry Tao and many others (see e.g. links and comments on their blog posts).  While many seem to be universally distraught by the story and there are some clear disagreements on what happened, there are even deeper disagreements on what should have happened.  The latter question is the subject of this blog post.

Note:  Below we discuss both the ethical and moral aspects of the issue.  Be patient before commenting your disagreements until you finish the reading — there is a lengthy disclaimer at the end.

Review process:

  1. When the paper is submitted there is a very important email acknowledging receipt of the submission.  Large publishers have systems send such emails automatically.  Until this email is received, the paper is not considered submitted.  For example, it is not unethical for the author to get tired of waiting to hear from the journal and submit elsewhere instead.  If the journal later comes back and says “sorry for the wait, here are the reports”, the author should just inform the journal that the paper is under consideration elsewhere and should be considered withdrawn (this happens sometimes).
  2. Similarly, there is a very important email acknowledging acceptance of the submission.  Until this point the editors ethically can do as they please, even reject the paper with multiple positive reports.  Morality of the latter is in the eye of the beholder (cf. here), but there are absolutely no ethical issues here unless the editor violated the rules set up by the journal.  In principle, editors can and do make decisions based on informal discussions with others, this is totally fine.
  3. If a journal withdraws acceptance after the formal acceptance email is sent, this is potentially a serious violation of ethical standards.  Major exception: this is not unethical if the journal follows a certain procedural steps (see the section below).  This should not be done except for some extreme circumstances, such as last minute discovery of a counterexample to the main result which the author refuses to recognize and thus voluntarily withdraw the paper.   It is not immoral since until the actual publication no actual harm is done to the author.
  4. The next key event is publication of the article, whether online of in print, usually/often coupled with the transfer of copyright.  If the journal officially “withdraws acceptance” after the paper is published without deleting the paper, this is not immoral, but depends on the procedural steps as in the previous item.
  5. If a journal deletes the paper after the publication, online or otherwise, this is a gross violation of both moral and ethical standards.  The journals which do that should be ostracized regardless their reasoning for this act.  Major exception: the journal has legal reasoning, e.g. the author violated copyright laws by lifting from another published article as in the Dănuț Marcu case (see below).

Withdrawal process:

  1.  As we mentioned earlier, the withdrawal of accepted or published article should be extremely rare, only in extreme circumstances such as a major math error for a not-yet-published article or a gross ethical violation by the author or by the handling editor of a published article.
  2. For a published article with a major math error or which was later discovered to be known, the journal should not withdraw the article but instead work with the author to publish an erratum or an acknowledgement of priority.  Here an erratum can be either fixing/modifying the results, or a complete withdrawal of the main claim.  An example of the latter is an erratum by Daniel Biss.  Note that the journal can in principle publish a note authored by someone else (e.g. this note by Mnёv in the case of Biss), but this should be treated as a separate article and not a substitute for an erratum by the author.  A good example of acknowledgement of priority is this one by Lagarias and Moews.
  3. To withdraw the disputed article the journal’s editorial board should either follow the procedure set up by the publisher or set up a procedure for an ad hoc committee which would look into the paper and the submission circumstances.  Again, if the paper is already published, only non-math issues such as ethical violations by the author, referee(s) and/or handling editor can be taken into consideration.
  4. Typically, a decision to form an ad hoc committee or call for a full editorial vote should me made by the editor in chief, at the request of (usually at least two) members of the editorial board.  It is totally fine to have a vote by the whole editorial board, even immediately after the issue was raised, but the threshold for successful withdrawal motion should be set by the publisher or agreed by the editorial board before the particular issue arises.  Otherwise, the decision needs to be made by consensus with both the handling editor and the editor in chief abstaining from the committee discussion and the vote.
  5. Examples of the various ways the journals act on withdrawing/retracting published papers can be found in the case of notorious plagiarist Dănuț Marcu.  For example, Geometria Dedicata decided not to remove Marcu’s paper but simply issued a statement, which I personally find insufficient as it is not a retraction in any formal sense.  Alternatively, SUBBI‘s apology is very radical yet the reasoning is completely unexplained. Finally, Soifer’s statement on behalf of Geombinatorics is very thorough, well narrated and quite decisive, but suffers from authoritarian decision making.
  6. In summary, if the process is set up in advance and is carefully followed, the withdrawal/retraction of accepted or published papers can be both appropriate and even desirable.  But when the process is not followed, such action can be considered unethical and should be avoided whenever possible.

Author’s rights and obligations:

  1. The author can withdraw the paper at any moment until publication.  It is also author’s right not to agree to any discussion or rejoinder.  The journal, of course, is under no obligation to ask the author’s permission to publish a refutation of the article.
  2. If the acceptance is issued, the author has every right not go along with the proposed quiet withdrawal of the article.  In this case the author might want to consider complaining to the editor in chief or the publisher making the case that the editors are acting inappropriately.
  3. Until acceptance is issued, the author should not publicly disclose the journal where the paper is submitted, since doing so constitutes a (very minor) moral violation.  Many would disagree on this point, so let me elaborate.  Informing the public of the journal submission is tempting people in who are competition or who have a negative opinion of the paper to interfere with the peer review process.  While virtually all people virtually all the time will act honorably and not contact the journal, such temptation is undesirable and easily avoidable.
  4. As soon as the acceptance or publication is issued, the author should make this public immediately, by the similar reasoning of avoiding temptation by the third parties (of different kind).

Third party outreach:

  1.  If the paper is accepted but not yet published, reaching out to the editor in chief by a third party requesting to publish a rebuttal of some kind is totally fine.  Asking to withdraw the paper for mathematical reasons is also fine, but should provide a clear formal math reasoning as in “Lemma 3 is false because…”  The editor then has a choice but not an obligation to trigger the withdrawal process.
  2. Asking to withdraw the not-yet-published paper without providing math reasoning, but saying something like “this author is a crank” or “publishing this paper will do bad for your reputation” is akin to bullying and thus a minor ethical violation.  The reason it’s minor is because it is journal’s obligations to ignore such emails.  Journal acting on such an email with rumors or unverified facts is an ethical violation on its own.
  3. If a third party learns about a publicly available paper which may or may not be an accepted submission with which they disagree for math or other reason, it it ethical to contact the author directly.  In fact, in case of math issues this is highly desirable.
  4. If a third party learns about a paper submission to a journal without being contacted to review it, and the paper is not yet accepted, then contacting the journal is a strong ethical violation.  Typically, the journal where the paper is submitted it not known to public, so the third party is acting on the information it should not have.  Every such email can be considered as an act of bullying no matter the content.
  5. In an unlikely case everything is as above but the journal’s name where the paper is submitted is publicly available, the third party can contact the journal.  Whether this is ethical or not depends on the wording of the email.  I can imagine some plausible circumstances when e.g. the third party knows that the author is Dănuț Marcu mentioned earlier.  In these rare cases the third party should make every effort to CC the email to everyone even remotely involved, such as all authors of the paper, the publisher, the editor in chief, and perhaps all members of the editorial board.  If the third party feels constrained by the necessity of this broad outreach then the case is not egregious enough, and such email is still bullying and thus unethical.
  6. Once the paper is published anyone can contact the journal for any reason since there is little can be done by the journal beyond what’s described above.  For example, on two different occasions I wrote to journals pointing out that their recently published results are not new and asking them to inform the authors while keeping my anonymity.  Both editors said they would.  One of the journals later published an acknowledgement of retribution.  The other did not.

Editor’s rights and obligations:

  1. Editors have every right to encourage submissions of papers to the journal, and in fact it’s part of their job.  It is absolutely ethical to encourage submissions from colleagues, close relatives, political friends, etc.  The publisher should set up a clear and unobtrusive conflict of interest directive, so if the editor is too close to the author or the subject he or she should transfer the paper to the editor in chief who will chose a different handling editor.
  2. The journal should have a clear scope worked out by the publisher in cooperation with the editorial board.  If the paper is outside of the scope it should be rejected regardless of its mathematical merit.  When I was an editor of Discrete Mathematics, I would reject some “proofs” of the Goldbach conjecture and similar results based on that reasoning.  If the paper prompts the journal to re-evaluate its scope, it’s fine, but the discussion should involve the whole editorial board and irrespective of the paper in question.  Presumably, some editors would not want to continue being on the board if the journal starts changing direction.
  3. If the accepted but not yet published paper seems to fall outside of the journal’s scope, other editors can request the editor in chief to initiate the withdrawal process discussed above.  The wording of request is crucial here – if the issue is neither the the scope nor the major math errors, but rather the weakness of results, then this is inappropriate.
  4. If the issue is the possibly unethical behavior of the handling editor, then the withdrawal may or may not be appropriate depending on the behavior, I suppose.  But if the author was acting ethically and the unethical behavior is solely by the handling editor, I say proceed to publish the paper and then issue a formal retraction while keeping the paper published, of course.

Complaining to universities:

  1. While perfectly ethical, contacting the university administration to initiate a formal investigation of a faculty member is an extremely serious step which should be avoided if at all possible.  Except for the egregious cases of verifiable formal violations of the university code of conduct (such as academic dishonesty), this action in itself is akin to bullying and thus immoral.
  2. The code of conduct is usually available on the university website – the complainer would do well to consult it before filing a complaint.  In particular, the complaint would typically be addressed to the university senate committee on faculty affairs, the office of academic integrity and/or dean of the faculty.  Whether the university president is in math or even the same area is completely irrelevant as the president plays no role in the working of the committee.  In fact, when this is the case, the president is likely to recuse herself or himself from any part of the investigation and severe any contacts with the complainer to avoid appearance of impropriety.
  3. When a formal complaint is received, the university is usually compelled to initiate an investigation and set up an ad hoc subcommittee of the faculty senate which thoroughly examines the issue.  Faculty’s tenure and life being is on the line.  They can be asked to retain legal representation and can be prohibited from discussing the matters of the case with outsiders without university lawyers and/or PR people signing on every communication.  Once the investigation is complete the findings are kept private except for administrative decisions such as firing, suspension, etc.  In summary, if the author seeks information rather than punishment, this is counterproductive.

Complaining to institutions:

  1. I don’t know what to make of the alleged NSF request, which could be ethical and appropriate, or even common.   Then so would be complaining to the NSF on a publicly available research product supported by the agency.  The issue is the opposite to that of the journals — the NSF is a part of the the Federal Government and is thus subject to a large number of regulations and code of conduct rules.  These can explain its request.  We in mathematics are rather fortunate that our theorems tend to lack any political implications in the real world.  But perhaps researchers in Political Science and Sociology have different experiences with granting agencies, I wouldn’t know.
  2. Contacting the AMS can in fact be rather useful, even though it currently has no way to conduct an appropriate investigation.  Put bluntly, all parties in the conflict can simply ignore AMS’s request for documents.  But maybe this should change in the future.  I am not a member of the AMS so have no standing in telling it what to do, but I do have some thoughts on the subject.  I will try to write them up at some point.

Public discourse:

  1. Many commenters on the case opined that while deleting a published paper is bad (I am paraphrasing), but the paper is also bad for whatever reason (politics, lack of strong math, editor’s behavior, being out of scope, etc.)  This is very unfortunate.  Let me explain.
  2. Of course, discussing math in the paper is perfectly ethical: academics can discuss any paper they like, this can be considered as part of the job.  Same with discussing the scope of the paper and the verifiable journal and other party actions.
  3. Publicly discussing personalities and motivation of the editors publishing or non-publishing, third parties contacting editors in chief, etc. is arguably unethical and can be perceived as borderline bullying.  It is also of questionable morality as no complete set of facts are known.
  4. So while making a judgement on the journal conduct next to the judgement on the math in the paper is ethical, it seems somewhat immoral to me.  When you write “yes, the journals’ actions are disturbing, but the math in the paper is poor” we all understand that while formally these are two separate discussions, the negative judgement in the second part can provide an excuse for misbehavior in the first part.  So here is my new rule:  If you would not be discussing the math in the paper without the pretext of its submission history, you should not be discussing it at all. 

In summary:

I argue that for all issues related to submissions, withdrawal, etc. there is a well understood ethical code of conduct.  Decisions on who behaved unethically hinge on formal details of each case.  Until these formalities are clarified, making judgements is both premature and unhelpful.

Part of the problem is the lack of clarity about procedural rules by the journals, as discussed above.  While large institutions such as major universities and long established journal publishers do have such rules set up, most journals tend not to disclose them, unfortunately.  Even worse, many new, independent and/or electronic journals have no such rules at all.  In such environment we are reduced to saying that this is all a failure to communicate.

Lengthy disclaimer:

  1. I have no special knowledge of what actually happened to Hill’s submission.  I outlined what I think should have happened in different scenarios if all participants acted morally and ethically (there are no legal issues here that I am aware of).  I am not trying to blame anyone and in fact, it is possible that none of these theoretical scenarios are applicable.  Yet I do think such a general discussion is useful as it distills the arguments.
  2. I have not read Hill’s paper as I think its content is irrelevant to the discussion and since I am deeply uninterested in the subject.  I am, however, interested in mathematical publishing and all academia related matters.
  3. What’s ethical and what’s moral are not exactly the same.  As far as this post is concerned, ethical issues cover all math research/university/academic related stuff.  Moral issues are more personal and community related, thus less universal perhaps.  In other words, I am presenting my own POV everywhere here.
  4. To give specific examples of the difference, if you stole your officemate’s lunch you acted immorally.  If you submitted your paper to two journals simultaneously you acted unethically.  And if you published a paper based on your officemate’s ideas she told you in secret, you acted both immorally and unethically.  Note that in the last example I am making a moral judgement since I equate this with stealing, while others might think it’s just unethical but morally ok.
  5. There is very little black & white about immoral/unethical acts, and one always needs to assign a relative measure of the perceived violation.  This is similar to criminal acts, which can be a misdemeanor, a gross misdemeanor, a felony, etc.


  1. September 15, 2018 at 10:44 am

    “This is so unprecedented, I can only compare it to the Soviet photo editing during Stalin’s era.” Igor, both this comparison and the comparison of Hill’s paper to “scientific racism” that is mentioned in Hill’s Quilette’s paper are very problematic. Both Stalin Era’s photo editing and scientific racism are related to darkest terrible times and the reference to them does not shed any light on the current issue.

    My own personal feeling is that in this case, the referees, did a very bad job and failed Hill, the editor and NYJM. Of course, mainly in such cases the referee don’t just approve or disapprove the paper. Refereeing an applied math paper of this kind (even if it is not so provocative) requires trying to poke hole in the model and in the interpretation, going carefully over the rhetoric, and continued interaction with the author. A three-week refereeing period for a paper like this seems absurd.

  2. September 15, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    Gil, I really do not appreciate the insults to the editorial process. Three weeks is not a short time to referee – as you know as well as I do, most of the time spent “refereeing” is spent procrastinating. In this case, this was not an option. As you also see on the Gowers blog, some of the people actually familiar with evolutionary biology actually think very highly of the paper – negative comments come from people who know nothing of applied math in general, and mathematical biology in particular. I would really appreciate it if you stopped attacking me, the late Mark Steinberger, and the (very qualified and dedicated) referees.

  3. September 15, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    @Gil Right. As I explained, I have nothing new to say on what really happened. I tried to outline how one should properly deal with such issues in various circumstances and be thorough in treating all possible scenarios. Some of these scenarios are worse than others, and the judgements are personal. The one you chose to quote is clearly the worst. Let me repeat — there is no reason to think that’s what actually happened. Saying that my post “does not shed any light on the current issue” is correct but completely misses the point since that was exactly my intention.

  4. September 15, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    Igor (Rivin), Hi! You are being unfair here. This was a criticism and not an insult or an attack. (And, of course, I did not attack you in any earlier comment.) I realize that you got excited about the paper and solicited it and I did not criticize you for that. (Indeed I had some doubts over FB about not consulting a mathematician who is an expert in evolutional biology. But this was not an attack either. Which positive commentator with evolutional biology knowledge on Gowers blog do you advise me to read?.) I don’t doubt that the referees are very good mathematicians and were dedicated. But looking at the Journal version I tend to think that they failed in some important aspect of the refereeing job. Of course, I was sorry to hear about Mark and I said nothing about him. BTW what is the reference to the earlier paper of Hill and Erika Roberts.I tried to google it but did not find it.

    Igor (Pak) Hi! I did not talk about your post in general but about your specific comparison of the deletion of a published paper to Stalin-time events. This comparison, as appealing as it may look, seems fairly inappropriate.

  5. September 15, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    @Gil Maybe. But who exactly are the aggrieved party here? This is an abstract post and an abstract comparison, similar to “all Martians are bigots”. I would be happy to apologize profusely to anyone who proves this claim applies to him. Same for the comparison in the post — when the facts are in and they are as bad as I describe but not as bad as Soviet photo editing, I will apologize.

  6. September 15, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    @Gil Rogers, not Roberts: https://arxiv.org/abs/1112.4082

  7. September 15, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    @Gil Well, you do say that the referees “did a very bad job”. Is this criticism or insult? You say that a “three week refereeing period is absurd”. Is this criticism or an insult? I realize that the line in Israel may be in a different place… In fact, I have had papers for IMRN and Geometriae Dedicata and Experimental Math refereed faster (sometimes in under a week) – no one had complained. Evolutionary biology: look for comments by one “Winston” on the Gowers blog (there are others, including the guy who calls Gowers a blockhead [which renders him immediately sympathetic]). The fact is that I spent two years around Nowak’s “mathematical biology” group when he was in Princeton, and he and collaborators had papers in Nature and Science which were far less interesting than the Hill paper (and had no more “real math”, which is actually not a relevant criticism for a modelling paper – “no theorems” is the rule rather than an exception.)

    But, whatever the case, as Igor Pak correctly points out this “after the fact refereeing” is in and of itself in the nature of a witch hunt. The subordination of scientific truth to ideology is exactly like it was in those dark times, and while the existence of this discussion in the open shows that we are in a better place, t the tone (as well as the tone of attacks on me, Hill and Sergei) shows that we are quite a bit down the slippery slope, and would do well to climb back up.

  8. September 16, 2018 at 8:49 am

    Igor R. perhaps the source of your discomfort is that my criticism of the referees and you was not sufficiently detailed. If I will have time I may come back to it. Of course, mathematicians are judged mainly by successes and not by failures. So such a critique need not be too insulting. I have no problem with the mathematical part of the paper. The problem is with the interpretation which makes the paper “too interesting” and at the same time wrong in its (partially implicit) massages. And, in my view, certainly unsuitable to NYJM without major rethinking and revisions. E.g., as I said, it is absurd to think that the paper gives any insight on women’s mathematical talents and it does not give any evidence in favor or against Summer’s claims. This point and not ideology is at the heart of our disagreement. I would be as critical at a weak and pretentious mathematical argument that supports diversity. Beside that, I would appreciate if you will not generalize a fault that you find in me (right or wrong) to Israelis in general.

    Igor P. I think that your overall post is thoughtful and has some good points and distinctions. Writing an “ethic code” triggered largely by a single example (and your opinions in this case) is an interesting exercise. In my opinion, the comparison with Stalin weaken the quality of your piece and also I don’t understand what you mean by “The journals which do that should be ostracized”. But these are just a suggestion and a question.

  9. September 16, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    @Gil I am a bit puzzled, since Israelis are many things, but generally not humorless, and my Israeli comment was (I had assumed “obviously”) a joke.

  10. September 16, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    @Gil Well, suppose a journal deletes a published math paper due to political pressure without any procedural steps that I discussed above, without even a public acknowledgement of its actions and the process which led to these actions, but by having editor in chief authoritatively and very quietly replace one paper with another on the same pages. This is my worst case scenario. In my opinion, such actions are unethical beyond the pale and I continue thinking that such journal should be ostracized. I repeat — there is no reason to think this is what happened to Hill’s paper. On the contrary, there is some evidence to suggest the journal did use some sort of process, details of which I am unclear about.

    All comparisons of this worst scenario to other events are going to be flawed, since until the electronic publishing era there were no publications which could quietly erase published work with such an ease and lack of consequences. In fact, the Streisand effect suggested the opposite trend, that political and legal pressure can misfire. The Gawker affair is an interesting and largely unrelated case of study of a successful politically motivated attack on an electronic media:
    I repeat — the details in these cases are dissimilar and incomparable. So while the comparison in the post is imperfect, I could not think of a better one to describe the true nature of the worst case scenario.

    Arseniy Akopyan reminded me about the story of the Bering Strait article in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (GSE), which would perhaps be a better comparison. In 1953, when Lavrentiy Beria fell from power, all Russian libraries received an unusually lengthy article about Bering Strait which was necessary as a replacement of the equally lengthy Lavrentiy Beria article which in turn was to be cut out from the encyclopedia. Note that there was nothing wrong with the Bering Strait article while the Lavrentiy Beria article was a dishonest Soviet propaganda, so on balance the GSE became “less dishonest”. Yet these actions by GSE are deeply troubling and now recognized to be so by the publisher.
    http://www.bse.info-spravka.ru/ (in Russian)

    By “ostracized” I mean some sort of shunning, the strongest form of punishment of an electronic journal. For example, people should refuse to be editors, refuse to referee, refuse to include the journal name for future published papers (rather, cite solely their arXiv versions when available), both Math Reviews and Zentralblatt should stop indexing future articles, the NSF and other granting agencies should refuse to recognize publications there for math grants purposes, etc. Again, I am not at all proposing this to be done to NYJM, but rather explaining what it would mean to ostracize a journal in the worst case scenario.

  11. September 16, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    Igor P., In your document you wrote: “The journals which do that should be ostracized regardless their reasoning for this act.” and here you say that “ostracizing” only applies in a worst case scenario. (Also, you raise a wide array of ethical and moral issues and this seems a rare case that you discuss “punishment”.)

  12. September 16, 2018 at 10:54 pm

    @Gil You are nitpicking. This is a lengthy blog post, not a legislative proposal. In the very next section of the post I expand in great detail on what I mean here. Similarly, you asked me what I meant by “ostracized”, and it’s a fair question which I fully answer in my previous answer. I am not sure if anything in my views remains unclear. Or are you trying to find some inconsistencies? And it’s fine if you disagree with this or any other items. Then please explain what they are.

  13. September 16, 2018 at 11:28 pm

    Igor R, It is our duty to tolerate your views, to try to fix the consequences of your unreasonable actions, and even sometimes to defend your peculiar choices. However, bad humor is crossing a red line, my friend.

  14. September 16, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    @Gil It is our duty to tolerate all views, it is not our duty to judge others. I have understood a while ago that you would not have acted the way I had, and that your views are different. This had not diminished my respect for you, and I have tried to explain my motivations as clearly as possible BECAUSE I have respect for you and actually care that you understand. If, however, you judge me, then, indeed, a red line is crossed. I hope it is not.

  15. September 17, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Igor, OK, I will not make judgement about you. Since you invited me to this public discussion (on FB) I assumed you are interested in my judgement.

  16. nicolasbray
    September 17, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    “Again, if the paper is already published, only non-math issues such as ethical violations by the author, referee(s) and/or handling editor can be taken into consideration.”

    This seems to always be presented as some self-evident truth but to me it seems like a very strange position.

    If part of the point of publishing is not to give articles a form of imprimatur, why do we bother reviewing them?

    And since journals are in the business of bestowing imprimatur, why would they not retract it if they realize that they’ve done so in error?

  17. September 17, 2018 at 7:14 pm

    @nicolasbray No, as I explain at the end (and warn in the beginning) nothing in the post is “self-evident truth” but rather my POV, and you are welcome to have a different one. To repeat — if the issue is math you go with an erratum, even if it invalidates the paper. If the author disagrees, the journal can even “retract” the paper in a sense of putting a link to an editorial comment saying that the journal lost confidence is the validity of the result. This would help with your “imprimatur” concerns. But even then the journal cannot delete the paper.

    Further, if the issue is subjective as in whether this is an interesting result, then nothing can be done. It was up to referees and editors to make a decision and what’s done is done. Otherwise the whole electronic publishing system is undermined. Think of this as a jury trial — it does not matter that more evidence came up later; if there is a verdict you don’t get to redo it just because somebody doesn’t like it. People have rights to a timely and final verdict, and being able to change it any time is grossly unjust. In fact, when the verdict is appealed it’s on procedural or constitutional grounds, not because “new witness has come forward” or whatever they show in the movies. That’s why I mentioned the caveats in the quote you give. Of course, this comparison is imperfect, but I hope it clarifies my reasoning.

  18. September 19, 2018 at 7:27 am

    Very nice post, even though I maybe wouldn’t agree with all of it. I’m glad you addressed all those specific points in general terms, leaving application to the Hill case for others to do. I hope editors in other fields such as economics (my own) read this. I also wish that someone in the pro-suppression camp would write a version of this post explaining precisely how they think editors should behave.
    One of the biggest problems here is the use by faculty in big-name schools of secret backchannel pressure. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. I hope more people come forward to tell about what happened, especially with documentary evidence. I wonder if this is like the MeToo movement— there’s lots of this going on (probably most of it with favoritism rather than ideology) but people are too scared to come forward.

  19. October 1, 2018 at 10:31 am

    I’ve written a long essay on the Hill affair, with lots of links and footnotes. Corrections welcomed. See


    –Eric Rasmusen, economist, Indiana University

  20. November 26, 2018 at 11:31 pm

    Here is what I think:
    First of all, In this context I do not believe in the whole moral/ethical arguments whatsoever, as it makes the matter very subjective. Each journals board can set whatever rules they like. These are simply rules. Maybe in my moral/ethical values it’s pefectly fine to steal someones ideas, like some people believe in God and some dont. Let’s not get philosophical in here. I have seen papers stating already published results with similar methods but claiming: “Oh we weren’t aware of such and such, and last minutie XYZ told us they already proved it. ” yeah right!! So lets take the whole morality out of this. Morally in academia is almost dead. Now my 2 cents on Hills paper(I’ve glanced at the paper,): I cannot state anything about the merits of paper since I’m not a statistician. Clearly the results are controversial and also clearly the paper doesnt fall into the scope of NYJM. If I were an editor, I’d reject it right after receiving the manuscript. That said I agree that the issue wasn’t handled professionally.(due all respect).
    P.S. NYJM is a great journal for a good cause.

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