Astronomy ought to be an observational science. It really should. It used to be, after all, a hundred years ago or so. Ideally, astronomers would point their instruments at the heavens, find astounding new things, and publish them where we could all share in the joy of discovery. I wish it were so. The appalling truth is that we are permitted to see only what a faceless, nameless group called “the moderators” deems fit for our eyes. Thought Police are alive and well in the world of space science, and who knows, some of them might even be friends of ours. Alas, so great is their commitment to anonymity that we would simply never know.
In acknowledging my sources in The Static Universe, I paid tribute to the publicly-funded online science repository arXiv. The following paragraph was written before I was (quite rudely, I thought) blacklisted by arXiv. After a deal of sombre thought, I decided to leave it there, unchanged:
“It is about time that someone gave credit to the most-used reference set in the history of science: The well-worn Cornell University online library arXiv. Pronounced archive from the Greek letter Chi, arXiv currently stores about 500,000 scientific publications, with about 4,000 being added every month. Access is free and open, and it is the preferred point of reference for scientists seeking to refer to the work of others. What an outstanding service! Thank you so much, Cornell for administering it, and Paul Ginsparg for inventing it.”
That was said in all sincerity. I’m sure you will understand that I am somewhat more cynical about arXiv these days. It presents an imbalance—the absence of even a few of those who argue against the motion means that arXiv becomes the expression of a particular opinion, rather than a place where scientific results can be compared without let or hindrance.
Much of the brouhaha currently surrounding the online archive could be avoided if the moderators demonstrated courage in their convictions by declaring their agenda, and by giving reasons for rejecting submissions. They admit that only a few papers or authors are blocked, so it would not be an onerous task. All it would require is openness and honesty. Is that too much to ask of those who hold the power? To whom are they answerable? The moderators are protected from public scrutiny and accountability, and thereby make of themselves a secret society. No one denies the publishers of public media the right and the duty to maintain standards, but in this case (as in the classic case of Halton Arp) it has nothing to do with science and everything to do with personalities, politics, and childish vendettas. They can hide behind the mask of anonymity and blatantly practice ideological censorship with impunity. Here is what Nobel Laureate Louis de Broglie had to say:
“The history of science teaches that the greatest advances in the scientific domain have been achieved by bold thinkers who perceived new and fruitful approaches that others failed to notice. If one had taken the ideas of these scientific geniuses who have been the promoters of modern science and submitted them to committees of specialists, there is no doubt that the latter would have viewed them as extravagant and would have discarded them for the very reason of their originality and profundity. As a matter of fact, the battles waged, for example by Fresnel and by Pasteur suffice to prove that some of these pioneers ran into a lack of understanding from the side of eminent scholars which they had to fight with vigour before emerging as the winners. More recently, in the domain of theoretical physics, of which I can speak with knowledge, the magnificent novel conceptions of Lorentz and Planck, and particularly Einstein also clashed with the incomprehension of eminent scientists. The new ideas here triumphed; but, in proportion as the organization of research becomes more rigid, the danger increases that new and fruitful ideas will be unable to develop freely.
Let us state in a few words the conclusion to be drawn from the foregoing. While, by the very force of circumstances, research and teaching are weighted down by administrative structures and financial concerns and by the heavy armature of strict regulations and planning, it becomes more indispensable than ever to preserve the freedom of scientific research and the freedom of initiative for the original investigators, because these freedoms have always been and will always remain the most fertile sources for the grand progress of science.”
The following quotation is taken from the website www.archivefreedom.org, co-founded by another Nobel Laureate, Brian Josephson (himself blacklisted by arXiv):
“The electronic preprint archive (arXiv.org), founded in 1991 at Los Alamos National Laboratories and funded by the National Science Foundation, was formed as a way for scientists to rapidly disseminate new discoveries and theoretical developments to the worldwide scientific community. Its original intent was to be an open forum for papers authored by credentialed physicists, i.e., those who consistently had papers approved for publication in peer refereed journals. Over time the criteria for approval of submitted papers to the archive became more complicated and restrictive.
“Presently hosted at Cornell University under the direction of physicist Paul Ginsparg, it blocks certain physicists from posting their papers to this archive. The arXiv administrators maintain a list of physicists whom they have blacklisted or ostracized so that any paper those individuals attempt to submit is systematically rejected regardless of its scientific content. Usually these blocked papers have already been accepted for publication in reputable peer refereed science journals or in other cases are undergoing review for journal publication which indicates that these papers are serious and well thought out. The list of suppressed scientists even includes Nobel Laureates! One characteristic that these ostracized physicists share in common is that they have written or published papers in the past which propose new ideas that challenge traditional physics dogma. In other cases their published works just happen to run counter to the particular theory preferences of the small political clique administering the archive.
“Our world is experiencing serious problems such as exponential population growth, environmental pollution, impending energy shortages, nuclear proliferation, and climatic change. We cannot afford to suppress the works of those seminal minds whose new ideas could revolutionize the way we interact with the world. What if a paper described the discovery of a new source of energy that could help to alleviate the coming energy crisis? Or, what if a paper brought to light a serious environmental hazard which, if unheeded, would result in a substantial loss of life. And, what if arXiv.org moderators censored one such important paper because of a possible personal dislike of its author or because it conflicted with a theory they personally favoured? Society cannot afford this kind of behaviour.
“In today’s fast changing world it is not enough just to publish one’s ideas in scientific journals, a process that can drag on from months to years until approved for publication. Rapid communication of all plausible new ideas to the academic community through an easily accessible internet archive is essential to the progress of science.
“The purpose of this site is to alert the public about the blocking activities being conducted by the Cornell sponsored arXiv.org administrators and to relate the case histories of those scientists who have been censored and/or blacklisted. Archive Freedom advocates that this practice be immediately stopped and that all scientists be given open uncensored access to this archive to post their technical papers. We respectfully urge the administrators at Cornell University, as guardian of the world’s knowledge of physics, to honour the contributions of all serious scientists.”
An alternative to arXiv has recently been launched by physicist Phil Gibbs: It is called viXra and can be found at www.vixra.org. I hope it will be well supported so that it can become a viable resource for science.