Subject: Re: Open Source in E-Commerce
Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2000 20:39:46 -0500

Lynn Winebarger wrote:
>   This is completely off-topic, but...

I think this thread is heading to oblivion.

Unless more express an interest we should probably take it to private

>On Tue, 14 Mar 2000, Crispin Cowan wrote:
>> Lynn Winebarger wrote:
>> >    Maybe I'm just a bright-eyed grad student, but it seems to me that,
>> Thought so :-)
>   That obvious, huh?


>> That is tautological.  The "cynical" description provides a deeper understanding
>> of what it means to be "well, academic."  An academic's goals are:
>>    * to contribute to the field by adding *new* knowledge to the field
>>    * to that end, you want to have *influence* so that others will agree with your
>>      views
>   See my grad student idealism shine through, as I tend to think it's the
>truth and/or explanatory power of one's theories that ultimately
>determines their acceptance or rejection.  (though I suppose we're talking
>about their immediate acceptance or rejection).

The theory may shine through.  Your explanation of them may not.

Also there are a lot of "fads" in academia.  Ideas that are neither right
or wrong, but the priorities are off.

>>    * to that end, you get influence by reviewing works, and accepting those works
>>      that conform to your version of the truth
>    I don't know what fields are being referred to, so I can only imagine
>what the standards of "truth" are.  Maybe you're more likely to get
>conflicts in areas like comparative literature than math.


My observations are of mathematicians.  I believe that Crispin's are
based on CS.  I strongly recommend, "Why the professor can't teach" and
"The Mathematical Experience" if you want to get a sense what math is
really about.  (One is cynical, and one is not.  Both are considered
classics by mathematicians.)

>   Well, when someone says "for the benefit of their clique", I infer they
>include themselves in "their clique".  In particular, by influencing
>things like where grants go (by controlling the flow of the discussion).

Usually not directly.  The academic game involves getting into a group
of people with respected authorities who can give you the recommendations
that you will need to get tenure.  There is little point in publishing
papers that won't be read by such people.  You usually don't get to be one
of those people without participating in the review process.  This kind of
politics becomes much more relevant in an area where there are barriers to
communication.  It doesn't matter how good a mathematician you are, most
mathematicians cannot read your stuff and you probably cannot read theirs.
When it comes to tenure it is almost entirely going to be based on pretty
mechanical measures of papers published and references from respected

Quality may out.  But not necessarily in time for the tenure decision.  I
personally left mathematics partly because of running into one too many
descriptions of deserving people who did not get tenure because they split
good work across several areas and therefore did not wind up with anyone
familiar with enough of their work to give them a good recommendation.

>> Like subatomic physics, motive is not directly observable, but is inferrable.  You
>> hypothesize motive, and see if it correctly predicts behavior.  A motive theory
>> that correctly predicts behavior is considered "true" until an even more accurate
>> theory comes along.  This is very basic science:  Newton's theory of gravitation
>> was "true" so far as it went, until Eintstein's theory replaced it by being more
>> "true".
>   It also means that when there's more than one motive to explain the
>observable behaviour, it's incorrect to pick one and claim that it is the

I can never read someone else's mind, and I can never be sure of my own.
So I shouldn't ever ascribe motives?

Well I can tell you what it sure as heck looks like...

Please do read "The Mathematical Experience" by David Hirsch.  Read in
particular the essay on what the working mathematician's world is.

The clique of a dozen people or so who know what the others are working
on, who review each other's papers, who recommend each other's students,
is a basic unit of academia in mathematics.  A dozen people who by and
large cannot be understood by people outside of the clique - even other

>> Recapping the topic: I see nothing wrong with "to have influence" as a motive for
>> doing reviews.  Keeping idiots from publishing crap is an important part of the
>> scientific process :-)
>     I agree with the second, but disagree with the first.  I'll
>acknowledge the inability of humans to be completely impassive in their
>judgement of others' arguments, but I'd still like to believe some of them
>value sound arguments over "influence".  Indeed, I'd like to believe
>that's more generally what drives them into academia in the first place.

Oh, correctness is not the issue.  Is it *interesting*?  Can you judge it?

You could come up with the most beautiful theory in the world.  But it
won't matter if nobody can read it.  (Oh, it may.  Galois certainly is
recognized as a genius, but not in time to do HIM any good!)

Once again, please read "The Mathematical Experience".  On the one
hand it is an inspiring work, that gives insight into the richness
of mathematics at all levels.  On another it is the best description
that I know of what mathematics is *really* like...

You will probably enjoy it and find it inspiring.  I certainly did!
But it also provides background to what I just said.