Re: Perelman, the Fields Medal and Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2006 16:59:59 +0100

(Apologies for the delay in posting! Misdirected to personal email

On Mon, 4 Sep 2006, Andrew Odlyzko wrote:

> (For the list):
> Stevan,
> There is no denying the value of peer review. But I think you
> go too far by denying that Open Access has anything to do with
> peer review. While Perelman's case is extremely unusual, because
> of his eccentricity as well as its intrinsic importance, it is
> a sign of the way research in general is evolving, towards
> greater openness, and availability of results even before formal
> peer review takes place. That then leads to other forms of
> peer feedback. For many (including myself), Open Access is (among
> other things) a facilitator of the evolution towards an improved
> peer review system.


I don't disagree. Perhaps the way to put it is that the influence that
the online medium and OA are having on peer review is important, but
peripheral to the primary objective of the OA movement, which is Open
Access to today's, published peer-reviewed research journal articles.
And this access certainly cannot and should not wait for peer-review
or journals to be reformed. The authors of all those peer-reviewed
articles should provide OA to their articles by self-archiving them
today. What might happen tomorrow or after tomorrow in the evolution
of peer review is another matter. OA should not count on it, or wait.

> And note that peer review is not the final edict on a work. It
> guarantees neither correctness, nor importance, nor originality.
> All it does is provide some partially quantifiable assurance of
> those. The final verdict comes decades (and sometimes centuries)
> later, when scholars go back and reassess individual contributions.

Again, I agree completely. But that too is independent of OA (though OA
certainly helps). What is needed today is Open Access to 100% of
peer-reviewed research output -- for all those would-be users today who
otherwise do not have it. Again, tomorrow and after tomorrow are another

> Best regards,
> Andrew
> P.S. A word of warning: The New Yorker article about Perelman
> is extremely controversial, and should not be taken as gospel.
> A much more balanced (and shorter) account of the scientific
> controversy by Allyn Jackson is about to appear in the Notices
> of the American Mathematical Society.

Yes, it's become apparent that the New Yorker article was quite

Best wishes,


> -----Original message-----
> Date: Fri, 1 Sep 2006 19:18:46 +0100
> From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
> Subject: Re: Perelman, the Fields Medal and Open Access
> The lion's share of science and scholarship is founded on peer review:
> The findings of experts are vetted by qualified fellow-experts for
> correctness, importance and originality before being published; this
> validates the results and serves as a filter, to protect other =
> scientists
> and scholars from risking their time and effort reading and trying to
> apply or build upon work that may not be sound.
> That's the lion's share of science and scholarship.
> But some scientists and scholars are peerless: Their work is at such a
> high level that only they, or a very few like them, are even equipped =
> to
> test and attest to its soundness.
> Such is the case with the work of Grigori Perelman.=20
> =3D&publication=3D&yearfrom=3D&yearuntil=3D&order=3DDESC&rank=3Dpaperimp=
> act&submitted=3DSearch
> It is a mistake to try to generalize this in any way: it doesn't
> scale. It does not follow from the fact that a rare genius like =
> Perelman
> can transmit his huge and profound contribution by simpling posting it
> publicly on the Web -- without refereeing or publication -- that =
> anything
> at all has changed about the way the overwhelming majority of =
> scientific
> and scholarly research continues to need to be quality-controlled:
> via classical peer review.
> Nor has this anything at all to do with Open Access. In paper days,
> Perelman could just as well have snail-mailed his proofs to the few
> people on the planet qualified to check them, and if, having done that,
> he was content to leave it at that, he could have done so. They would
> have been cited in articles and would have made their way into =
> textbooks
> as "unpublished results by G. Perelman (2003)."
> For the quotidial minor and major contributions that are researchers'
> daily bread and butter, formal publication is essential, for both
> credibility and credit. For the occasional rare monumental contribution
> or masterpiece, they are supererogatory.
> Nothing follows from this. OA continues to mean free online access to
> peer-reviewed research (after -- and sometimes before -- peer review),
> not to research free of peer review!
> Stevan Harnad
> On Fri, 1 Sep 2006, Imre Simon wrote:
> > Hello, everyone!
> >=20
> > The world of Mathematics is buzzing with the recent incident in which =
> > Grisha Perelman was awarded the Fields Medal (considered to be the =
> Nobel=20
> > prize of Math) for solving the Poincar=E9 Conjecture and refused the =
> honor.
> >=20
> > According to a widely read article in The New Yorker
> >=20
> >
> >=20
> > many questions of scientific ethic and publications ethic seem to be=20
> > involved in the background of this incident.
> >=20
> > I would like to call your attention to the fact that Open Access =
> plays a=20
> > key role in all this, through Perelman's (exclusive) use of arxiv to=20
> > register and disseminate his groundbreaking results, back in 2003.
> >=20
> > Another source of information, with many references and updated=20
> > regularly is here:
> >=20
> >
> >=20
> > I wish to send my modest but sincere and enthusiastic cheers to =
> Grisha=20
> > Perelman through this list, even though I suspect that he might not =
> read it.
> >=20
> > Best,
> >=20
> > Imre Simon
> >=20
Received on Sat Oct 14 2006 - 00:17:47 BST

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