Saturday, February 06, 2010


I wrote recently about the tyranny of numbers when writing about double-entry accounting and the book Medici Money.

I was reminded of the subject reading an article by Peter Cameron called "Publishing and assessing mathematics". I also looked around his blog which is certainly worth visiting. Of particular interest to me is that he has begun an autobiography which describes life in Queensland at more or less the same time I was growing up there. 

In the article, he writes about, and laments, the changes that have occurred in the assessment and publication of mathematics during his (and my) lifetime. His particular concern is how one might maintain the integrity of mathematical science in the context of an enormous increase in mathematical publication, and the use of numbers to evaluate scientific worth.

I agree with many of the things he says. However in my opinion he misses the main point.

My generation was seduced by the promise of grant money into accepting the numerical evaluation of research.  Such evaluation, instead of being an incentive to improve the quality of research, has damaged mathematics. The result is that too many papers are published, many of which are now quite inadequately refereed even in journals.
We have produced too many mathematicians, a large proportion of whom will not find the employment they seek, but will scramble to publish as much as possible in the attempt. (The article reports that Peter has had 33 doctoral students; I had nine.) 

This inflation is breaking the mechanisms for ensuring the integrity of mathematics.

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Anonymous Peter Cameron said...

Dear Bob,

My blog just registered that you had linked to my comments about publishing and evaluating research. Thanks, and greetings!

You raise a point which I certainly hadn't considered: that we are training too many mathematicians.

A good point, and one which I certainly should respond to. It seems a little artificial if I simply post a reply on my blog, and to and fro like that. But it is an issue of more general interest, which others might like to read.

One possibility is that we could have the discussion just on one site. I would be quite happy to post your views if you sent them to me, and then post my reply. Would that suit?



9:56 AM  

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