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Monday, January 18, 2016

Is it okay to praise an article or book in an article or book?

I recently had a paper accepted (YEAH!). The referees had some good corrections and one that puzzled me.

you wrote ``our proof is similar to the one in the wonderful book by Wilf on generationg functions [ref]''. You should not call a book wonderful as that is subjective. You can say it's well known.


I asked a pretension of professors about this. Is it okay to praise an article or book? Is it okay to state an opinon? Would the following be acceptable:

1) In Cook's groundbreaking paper SAT was shown to be NP-complete. It IS grounbreaking, so maybe thats okay.

2) Ramsey's paper, while brilliant, is hard for the modern reader to comprehend. Hence we give an exposition. If I am writing an exposition then I might need to say why the original is not good to read so this is informative.

3) Ryan Williams proved an important lower bound in [ref]. Is this okay to write? For most people yes, but NOT if  you are  Ryan Williams. (He never wrote such.)

4) William Gasarch proved an unimportant lower bound in [ref]. Is this okay to write ? Only if you ARE William Gasarch (He never wrote such).

The version that will be in a journal will indeed NOT call Wilf's book wonderful. The version on arXiv which will be far more read (not behind a paywall) will call Wilf's book wonderful.




17 comments:

  1. I think it's okay to write that and you could leave it in the journal version. You don't have to make all the changes the referees suggest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This raises a good question:
      Should you always take a referees suggestions?
      If not are they within their rights to not publish the article?

      I tend to make the corrections, not just because I want the article published but also because a referee will be more objective than me. One exception- when the referee asks me to take OUT intuitions or examples. That one I dont obey.

      Delete
    2. I think there's no obligations to take all referees' suggestions, *after* the paper is accepted. At that point it means that the content has been judged to be in a state that is considered acceptable for publication. Of course this also means that it's not acceptable to make significant changes after it has been accepted without checking back with the editor/referres.

      Delete
  2. I wouldn't say it is "illegitimate" to praise an article in scientific writing, but it is certainly in bad taste. Sometimes, it also seems like a political act of flattery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In my case it was not a political act of flattery BUT the referees certainly don't know that.

      Delete
    2. The problem of the political act of flattery is a good argument. Though I find usually that papers tend to be excessively dry, and I very much like opinions, subjective points of view, etc. To my mind, the goal of writing papers is not only to testify that such statement is true, but also to let people better understand a field of research. And for the latter, telling that this paper/book is brilliant, well written, important, etc. is helping.

      Delete
  3. You should leave that in. The fact that you think that book is wonderful is useful information to the reader. It can help decide whether or not they want to look up that proof there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not too convinced. First, it is hard to know what information such a praise conveys. Perhaps it is the style of the writer? Perhaps it is flattery? Perhaps the authors think they need to praise it as this is the acceptable style, and previous authors have praised it? etc.

      Second, there is a lot of possible important information out there. An anecdotal example: the date of birth of the author can be important sometimes, so that the reader may get a glance of the scientific era in which the author was educated. But still it is not an information that should appear in the paper.

      So I would say, yes, it is possible to put praises. It's just not in good taste.

      Delete
  4. I think research is an entirely human endeavor and should try to retain as much of that humanity as possible (it's sometimes lost by this type of uniform sterilization)
    ....So I think it should be very okay to use the word wonderful (subjective or not); it gives a pulse on what the research community (through the musings of the authors) feels about the current research landscape

    ReplyDelete
  5. Mathematician Izabella Laba's on-line essay "What if mathematicians wrote travel articles?" provides an [important? that's not quite right …] [well-reasoned? maybe …] [seminal? gosh no …] hilarious perspective on academic narratives.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Leave in "groundbreaking" If a student reads your paper and is less familiar with the literature, such adjectives can help them learn what to read/what to know.

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  7. I think the criticism ought to be that the adjective "wonderful" is simply too vague to be useful to the paper reader, not that you can't call the book wonderful.

    Instead if you had said something like "the proof is in Wilfs book,is short and easy to read if you have background in probability and Ramsey theory" them that would be useful. Just saying its wonderful is, in mist cases, useless to the reader. It conveys simply that you like the book but that has little place in the paper. Why not say then "wonderful red book" just because you also like the color. And so on.

    Summary: the criticism is that your wonderful phrase is useless, not that it is subjective. Subjective and useful adjectives and phrases are and always have been welcome in scholarly writing.

    ReplyDelete
  8. But .... Wilf's book IS wonderful! (I assume you mean "generatingfunctionology"?)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Agree with Anonymous that the problem with `wonderful' is too vague. Alas- I wish the referee had your insight and asked me to change to a more useful adjective instead of just delete.

    Jake-YES I did mean generatingfunctionology and I agree with you agreeing with me that its a wonderful book.

    To be less vague I should have said (and I may still)

    ``Our presentation follows that of Wilf's book [ref] which has a clear presentation and many examples of generating functions''

    bill g.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I did a keyword search for "wonderful" on Arxiv and found little usage in its original meaning. Naturally someone has appropriated the adjective for some theoretical property which made up 90% of the hits. The rest were non-papers, interviews and such.

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  11. In the late 80's David Mermin wrote a Physics Today column about how the Physical Review copyeditor asked him to remove the modifier from the phrase "charming monograph". After some back and forth "charming" stayed. The column was included in a book called Boojums All the Way Through; if you go to Amazon look inside and search for "charming" you can read the whole thing.

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  12. Subjective is fine as long as it is not pure expression of opinion but supported with rational.

    Subjective phrases are more common in other areas. Mathematical literature tends to be devoid of humor.

    ReplyDelete