June 12, 2011

Thank you FQXi, but I have concerns ...

My essay "Our Non-Deterministic Reality Is Neither Digital Nor Analog: Experimental Tests Can Show That Decoherence Fails to Resolve the Measurement Problem" was accepted for the FQXi Essay Contest "Is Reality Digital or Analog," and I am grateful to them for that. My previous post about the article, focussed primarily on the scientific content I presented, generated many comments. There were various prizes offered, and I did not win any (announced June 4.) OK ... I realize readers may therefore take my critique of the process with a grain of salt, but what I have to say ultimately stands or falls on its own. On June 1 I sent an email about my concerns to  FQXi Administrator Brendan Foster. I also told him I planned to reprint it unless told not to. I am taking no response as tacit approval, but reprinting it here instead of as a comment at my Essay or the discussion thread. (I did link here from the contest forum noted below.) The content is quoted below. I have not yet received a reply, which is also disappointing (yet I realize that administrators are busy at the end of the contest.)

I also made some comments at the forum for discussing the contest in general. I and some other commenters expressed some disappointment about there not being award/s for non-professional or amateur submitters (a possibility expressed in the rules for the contest.) However, my concerns go well beyond those issues, as seen below. So, tell me what you think, suggestions, etc. (I am trying to separate discussion of the scientific issues from Essay Contest issues, but I realize they might intermingle: especially since one of my concerns was the inadequate credit given papers - like mine - that proposed experimental tests, the few of them standing out "like sore thumbs" in a field of arm-chair fancy.

Brendan Foster and colleagues,

Dear Brendan, all;

I sadly write to you as a disappointed contributor, with a posted essay in your contest "Is Reality Digital or Analog." ( http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/949 , "Our Non-Deterministic Reality Is Neither Digital Nor Analog: Experimental Tests Can Show That Decoherence Fails to Resolve the Measurement Problem" ) I surely should have written earlier, but I hesitate to challenge administrators. However, I finally felt the need to make some constructive critique about the way the contest went, and for me in particular as a matter of principle whatever the final results. Note: I corresponded with Mr. Foster in mid-February about some submission issues, which were resolved to my satisfaction. Indeed, I thank him heartily for letting me make corrections, and re-submit after the deadline.

First, I applaud the concept and mission of FQXi, and welcome the opportunity in principle offered by your contests. I applaud your openness to amateurs and semi-professionals lacking institutional support, and your giving a forum to challenging ideas and to those who produce good work but have trouble pushing submissions through the journal refereeing process, etc. What disappoints me is how this contest turned out so far (I haven't time to study previous contests for comparison.) Most relevant, perplexing and saddening to me, is the prevalence of low community ratings. There is something wrong when most essays in such a contest rate 3-5, and the "best" essay pegs a flabby 5.4! (On the Depth of Quantum Space by Daniele Oriti 76 posts ...  Feb. 16, 2011 @ 14:23 GMT  Community Rating: 5.4 (34 ratings)   Public Rating: 6.0 (22 ratings)) That's like an "F" grade. What are the community raters looking for, that they didn't find?

Note that since essay submitters become community raters, and relative rankings determine success, then the least responsible CRs sadly have a conflict of interest: to give low ratings to other submissions that may be a threat, or that they dislike intuitively regardless of merit, etc. At least we should see separate ratings from fellow authors, compared to standing FQXi members. I don't even know, did the former pull down the latter's ratings, or vice versa? If the authors: why should their judgment as raters be any better than the papers that got low average ratings? Perhaps it would be better for applicants to just not rate each other except as public raters. Their comments can show what the consensus is.

My situation: instead of offering a new theory or challenge to accepted physics, I critiqued a popular alternative to traditional quantum theory. I also proposed a way to empirically test that interpretation. Few essays offered practical tests of any theory, most were very speculative. I received many supportive comments, and some from significant figures in physics like T. Dorigo. Not all commenters agreed with my thesis, yet none offered a correction to my technical points, my line of reasoning, said I did a poor job, or rebutted my claims as to the experimental outcome (even if not convinced of its implications), etc. Even so, my community rating was a mere 3.6 (Public = 6.5.) Why didn't any of the low raters explain what bothered them? Isn't that part of their job, formally or informally as the case may be? Most raters should at least have been impressed by someone proposing an eminently practical experimental test of what has just been a philosophical argument.

In any case, ratings need to be justified, not just a click and forget. I can see that applicant raters need to be anonymous to prevent retaliation, etc. However, perhaps standing FQXi members should (as in Olympic competition etc.) openly give grades and explain their ratings. The current system just does not work since raters are apparently too swayed by impulse attractions or distastes (after all, the decoherence theory I critiqued is a popular way to evade measurement paradoxes.) I realize that the expert judges will add further and could shift ratings around, but I can't see at FQXi website what they have accomplished. Also, the rules say the EJs will be "peers" of the applicants - how will you find "peers" for professed or presumed amateurs? Furthermore, if EJs don't revisit promising papers not among the finalists, what valuable work might be missed that wasn't appreciated in the community ratings? Is there a way to appeal to someone, "look at this again"?

Also: your contest has a category for "non-professional and/or non-academic," yet you don't seem to have a clear-cut process for identifying amateurs. I see no defined list. Is it assumed from the submitter not providing a professional affiliation? Isn't that subject to misinterpretation? I stated in my "Author Bio" that I count as an amateur (note: the term is defined in social context) and am not aware of any other posted submitter saying so directly in their Bio. (I did not make thorough check and some implied, or in comments.) Furthermore, if amateurs are a special group does that mean such a submitter still has a chance of that recognition, even if not among the general "finalists"?

Others have expressed similar concerns to mine here and there. See for example critique regarding amateur status, public ratings etc. in comment to my essay, "basudeba wrote on Mar. 20, 2011 @ 06:14 GMT." This author/s may have contacted you already. (I set aside my concerns about public ratings, since e.g. there are common criticisms.) Please distribute my comments widely, and among FQXi members, the applicants, judges etc. I want my concerns to be considered and responded to. I hope FQXi will post my letter so that everyone involved can see what sorts of concerns entrants have. Perhaps it can start a post for discussion. There is a valid case that although FQXi essay contests are a helpful effort in principle, their manner of administration needs clarification and reform. In any case I continue to support your trailblazing and egalitarian mission.

PS: I plan to enter this letter as a comment to my essay. If you object, please tell me and explain. Thank you for your interest and concern.

Best Regards,

Neil Bates



Blogger Steven Colyer said...

Very nice. What corrections did you make. I noted 5-6 typos (look who's talking) in the first half of the paper, but that's small stuff. Still, some people get their pantyhose up in a bind about that, just saying.

There was a bit of attitude in one part toward the end about people having to accept it, like it or not. That's very Susskind-ish, and nobody really likes the man's personality, unless he cracking jokes.

What do you mean "they're busy after the contest?" Do you mean vacationing (cough) I mean going to a business conference in the Caribbean on Templeton money? I could see that then. Scuba diving is hard work. :)

12/6/11 10:46  
Blogger Ulla said...

Do you plan to publish it on Hu's journal?

13/6/11 02:55  
Blogger Phil Warnell said...

Hi Neil,

If it were me I’d be looking forward instead of backward as to looking forward to having your experiment actually run. It then won’t matter how they judge things as the only definitive judge in science is nature. Unfortunately this will all be considered nothing more than as sour grape by many, rightly or wrongly. Most importantly, as Steven has reminded, that as Feynman had recognized long ago ,most honours are pretty shallow in the end, having the joy found in the pursuit of truth the thing which sustains the true scientist.

"It is open to every man to choose the direction of his striving: and also every man may draw from Lessing’s fine saying, that the search for truth is more precious than its possession. “

-Albert Einstein, “The Fundamentals of Theoretical Physics” in the journal Science [ May 24, 1940]



13/6/11 06:32  
Blogger Neil Bates said...

Ulla: pls, more about Hu's journal.

Phil: First, the complaints are independent in concept from whether I won something or not (aside from whether winning would have made me not care.) I was suspicious of the voting method to begin with, and others who were more successful in the contest, have made similar observations. My advice to anyone considering critiques: pretend you don't even know who wrote them.

However, you are right that looking forward is better. Steve and I are working together to get this experiment done. And I would like to get some recognition, it matters more to someone who isn't "visible" in the first place, and whose contribution would be more striking as coming from a non-professional.

13/6/11 09:49  
Blogger Ulla said...

On viXra blog:
Huping Hu Says:
June 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Reply

Hi Phil,

Congratulations to you and also to Brian Whitworth for winning the Fourth Prize in this FQXi contest!

Of course, congraulations also goes to all who participated and those who had made to the final rounds!

I’d like to mention that both Phil and Brian publishes in Prespacetime Journal and, indeed, their respective winning Essay cites their Prespacetime publications – thank you. Phil also sit on the Advisory Board of PSTJ and is an Editor-at-Large of PSTJ.

Now, the contest is over, I’d like to invite all of you who have sumitted essay to this FQXi contest but has no other publishing plans or commitments (especiallly those who have made to the final round) submit your essays to Prespacetime Journal to be considered for publications. If accepted, your essay will appear in this month (June)’s issue.

You can either submit your essay (in Word) online at http://prespacetime.com/index.php/pst/information/authors or e-mail your essay (in Word) to: editor(at)prespacetime(dot)com

Again, congratulations!


Huping Hu
PSTJ Editor

13/6/11 11:33  
Blogger Neil Bates said...

Thanks, Ulla. I'll look at that, and your FQXi paper this evening. Do you think I made some valid critiques of the process? Also, let me know what you think of the decoherence experiment when you have time (it's not that complicated.)

Also, Phil: again, you are right about experiments being what really matters in the end. Indeed, part of my complaint was that papers - like mine - that proposed experiments did not get much recognition.

BTW folks, I sent my email about three days before Essay Contest winners were announced. Yes, I knew I wasn't in the regular running because of getting a low CR score of 3.6. Yet consider that when the highest community-rated essay only gets 5.4, is it such a big deal? Really, is that credible? If all of them scored so low, how can you pick "winners" in any meaningful sense? However

13/6/11 11:52  
Anonymous Tamika Barton said...

I think essay contest like this can really be good for people who are finding it hard to write their academic paper. It can be a thesis help to them in terms of practicing them to write long and tedious task. It can be a practice ground so that when you face a hard task like dissertation, you can be prepared for it.

1/10/13 23:17  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


22/6/14 05:48  

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