Sunday, July 05, 2015

Does Bob Deserve the lavish acknowledgement: A problem in Logic

Alice and Carol are real mathematicians.
Bob is an English major who does not know any mathematics.

(This story is based on a true incident.)

Alice writes a math paper. Carol reads it and offers corrections of style and grammar and how-to-say-things. She also helps simplify some of the proofs. She does not deserve a co-authorship but Alice does of course write in the acknowledgements

I would like to thank Carol for proofreading and for help with some of the proofs.

Bob points out that this is silly --- if she would like to thank Carol then do so. So Alice changes it to

I thank Carol for proofreading and for help with some of the proofs.

Even though Bob does not understand the math he begins reading the paper. He finds a few grammar mistakes, some points of style, and even a math mistake:

BOB: Alice, this sentence mentions A1 and A2, is A1 the steak sauce?

ALICE:  Its A sub 1 and no it is not the steak sauce.

BOB: But later in the sentence there is a reference to A? Maybe its implicit what A is and I don't get it since I don't know the math, but it does look funny.

ALICE: Well pierce my ears and call be drafty! You're right! It should be A1, A2, and A_1 ∩ A_2.

SO, in the end Bob DID proofread the paper and DID help. Alice wants to include him in the acknowledgements. She modifies the ack to

I thank Bob and Carol for proofreading and help with some of the proofs.

Is that correct? Bob just did proofreading, and Carol did proofreading AND helped with some proofs. In logical terms

If B did X and C did X and Y then

B AND C did X AND  Y

does seem correct.

But is also seems misleading. Alice could separate it out:

I thank Carol for proofreading and help with some of the proofs.
 I thank Bob and Carol for proofreading.

 Thats more accurate but also more cumbersome.

But my real question is, is the I THANK BOB AND CAROL... statement correct or incorrect? In logic correct, in English, perhaps not. We could ask Bob who is an English major and maybe get a paper out of it which Carol can proofread!


  1. Would you be so kind and generous to your readers to point out the "true incident" ?
    Otherwise, let me point out of another "true incident" where nobody really cared enough about semantics in the acknowledgment section. And in "true incidents" sufficient help with proof short cuts could lead to co-authorship depending on the circumstance.

    1. (I thought I aleady wrote a reply- so this may appear twice.)
      The post is loosely based on a real incident, so it would not be appropriate to say which paper and which people, even though none of this is controversial.

      Yes- shortening proofs may lead to a co-authorship, but in this case it would not have been appropriate--- the shortening was minor and the theorem was one of many.

      Anyway, I am more interested in the logic question.

  2. In this case, Bob's proofreading helped make the proof correct, so the acknowledgement is justified.

    1. Bob's correction was not in a proof, it was in the abstract in a statement of the main result.

    2. But GASARCH, you didn't tell us that.

  3. What about: I thank Bob and Carol for proofreading. Carol also provided help with some proofs.

  4. I'd say the combined statement is wrong, and that "B and C did X and Y" means "B did X and Y; C also did X and Y". An example makes this clear: "Bob and Carol crashed and survived". You wouldn't say that if one of them died in the crash!

  5. I'd assume based on the context that the statements were meant to be in English and not logic. The English is ambiguous and everyone knows this. So, it's "correct" if (1) one meaning is precisely correct or close enough and (2) it's ok if people get the wrong idea and Bob ambiguously gets more credit than he deserves. If it's important to be precise, then the English is incorrect.

    People might read the statement to say Bob helped with the proofreading and Carol helped with some of the proofs.

    What if Bob and Carol are your family and they helped you prepare for a party. Would it be correct to say, thanks to my family for help with cleaning the house, taking out the garbage, and cooking for the party, even if only one person took out garbage?