Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Reacting to Rejections

The Combinatorics group affiliated with ICE-TCS is presently hosting the conference on Permutation Patterns 2006. The talks at that conference quickly become way too hard for me to understand, but I'll make a point of attending one or two talks every day since this involves running up and down a few flights of stairs from my office. Maybe I am easily impressed, but the formulae these people come up with in order to count the number of structures having certain properties are just incredible. They seem to come out of the hat of a magician.

What does this conference have to do with the title of this post, you may ask? Well, the second talk I attended yesterday was delivered by Mireille Bousquet-Mélou, who presented the paper Forest-Like Permutations (joint work with Steven Butler). This paper is mentioned in Doron Zeilberger's Opinon 72 that I just read, where it is compared with Enumeration Schemes for Restricted Permutations by Vince Vatter. In that post, Doron Zeilberger makes the following points:

  1. computer-generated mathematics is the future, whilst human-generated mathematics is the past;
  2. many human mathematicians still don't realize the importance of this activity, and dismiss it as "just a computer program" and "no new mathematics".
And here comes the connection with the title of this post! Zeilberger writes:

Unfortunately, many human mathematicians still don't realize the importance of this activity, and dismiss it as "just a computer program" and "no new mathematics". These were the reasons given to the rejection (by Journal of Combinatorial Theory-Series A) of my recent paper Automatic CounTilings. It is true, that in some sese it has "no new math", but it has something far more important, it has New META-MATH. It is an example of a methodology that will make all computer-free math obsolete very soon. I am not so paranoid to claim that the editors (that include enumeration guru Mireille Bousquet-Melou) deliberately rejected the paper because, being practicioners of traditional math, they are afraid to be put out of business. They are not so devious. They simply are so wrapped-up in their own way of doing things that from their perspective they "don't see the point".

On the web page for the "rejected paper", Zeilberger writes:

Added April 14, 2006: This article was submitted to Journal of Combinatorial Theory Series A, and was stupidly rejected by its Managing Editor, Helene Barcelo, and the members of its Advisory Board, that includes, surprisingly and sadly, Tiling expert Mireille Bousquet-Melou. Read the Narrow-Minded and Ignorant Referee's Report and my response .

Luckily, nowadays, publishing in a "real" journal is really only a formality, and this masterpiece is hence published in this Personal Journal.

Most of us get more or less upset when our papers are rejected from a conference/journal, but I have never seen before someone write to the editor-in-chief saying that
>In conclusion, although a good paper of this kind would be interesting,
>I dont believe that the present manuscript meets the required standards for
>acceptance in the Journal.

You are right here. It is way too good for it! I kick myself for being nice and
submitting this paper to your narrow-minded pretentious journal!
It won't happen again.
As usual, Doron Zeilberger seems to be ahead of the pack here, and I expect that similar types of public reactions to referee reports/rejections will become more common. However, we should all bear in mind that, as they say in Naples, "Even the coakroach is beautiful for its mum!" We are probably not so well equipped to judge our own "masterpieces" critically.

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