A Good Year for viXra

January 2, 2013

2012 was a good year for viXra so this is a good moment to provide some statistics.

This blog passed the 1 million view mark in December which is not bad considering the low posting rate and the length of time it has been running. Thank you all for your support.

Apart from the blog, the main part of viXra is the pre-print archive which we started in 2009 for scientists and mathematicians who experienced problems submitting to other archives such as arXiv. Since then it has gone from strength to strength as shown in this plots of paper upload and download counts. We now have over 4000 pre-prints online.

uploadstats

downloadstats

Uploads include papers from sciprint.org which was a similar archive that ran from 2007 until 2009 when viXra began in July 2009. The download stats have been filtered to remove indexing robots and multiple downloads of the same paper from the same IP address.

As you can see we had a record number of uploads in 2012 and downloads have been doubling year-on-year. This year by popular request we also started showing download statistics for individual papers with counts backdated from out logs. These can be viewed on the abstract pages. Our rival arXiv only provides a long list of excuses why they don’t provide a similar feature.

For those not familiar with viXra and those who don’t get what it is about, here are some bullet points:

  • viXra was created in 2009 for scientists who have issues submitting to other preprint repositories such as arXiv
  • It is run by its administrators independently of any organisation.
  • All submissions are free and unconditional. The site is funded by adverts (we no longer accept donations but thanks to all the past donors)
  • It is viXra policy to accept all submissions of scientific research.
  • We very occasionally reject submissions which contain personal attacks, adult material, too much repetition, copyright violations etc., but never because we disagree with the content.
  • We only accept works of science and mathematics. If you have works of literature, art, politics etc, there are other places to publish them.
  • Acceptance of papers into viXra does  not indicate any kind of endorsement or bestow any credibility or lack of credibility.
  • The sole purpose of viXra is to provide open access to scientific works with permanent links for reference and time-stamped records of version changes to allow for verification of priority.
  • viXra is not a peer-reviewed journal and as a mater of policy the administrators refuse all requests for feedback on submitted work.
  • Authors retain copyright and can also submit papers to journals for peer-review.
  • Each abstract page has a comment feature that anyone can use to provide feedback. Very few comments are deleted and never just because they are critical.
  • Most authors who submit to viXra are independent researchers who cannot submit to arXiv because of their endorsement policy that makes it impossible to submit if you do not have academic contacts willing to vouch for you. Potential arXiv endorsers are often unwilling to help outsiders because the arXiv threatens to remove their endorsement rights if they endorse work deemed inappropriate by the arXiv moderators.
  • viXra also contains work from people who are not independent of academic institutions. Some of them have found that they have problems with arXiv administrators who often move research that they don’t like to generic categories (e.g. general physics and general maths) In these categories you cannot normally cross-post to other categories and many indexing sites ignore them. The purpose of these categories seem to be to make unpopular research hard to find.
  • Despite the open censorship of scientific research most academics support the arXiv endorsement and moderation policies and believe that it only filters out research of no scientific value.
  • Although a significant number of papers in viXra are of low quality there are also many papers that have been accepted in peer-reviewed journals (estimated at 15% in one independent survey)
  • Our comparison of essays by viXra authors submitted to the 2012 FQXi essay contest which were independently rated, showed that the distribution of scores was similar to the overall distribution from all authors of which about a third were professional scientists who submit to arXiv.
  • Most papers that go against mainstream science are indeed as crazy as they seem, but there are numerous cases in the history of science where work was heavily criticized at first but later turned out to be right. viXra provides a place where any controversial work can be recorded and made available no matter where else it is rejected from. Even if such cases are very rare viXra would provide a service of value to science in this way.
  • Science does not just progress in giant revolutionary steps and viXra also contains many ordinary works of everyday science that find it hard to get published or accepted into other repositories.
  • Even research which contains many errors can nevertheless contain useful insights too. A good example from history was the work of Georg Ohm which was based on a very poor understanding of theoretical physics. Nevertheless it also contained a report of careful experiments that established Ohm’s law. Even papers that are seen to have many errors are worth keeping publically available in case they also have valuable ideas.
  • Even if many papers on viXra turn out to have little scientific value, at viXra we believe that everyone should be encouraged to think for themselves and be given the opportunity to learn by their mistakes. It is also the case that you can never predict what crazy idea may inspire someone else to think of something else of real value.
  • viXra is not “a way round peer-review” which is an important part of scientific evaluation. However, some scientists now agree that peer-review and publication should be formally separated. Traditional peer-review is often seen as flawed because of the role of publishing houses often motived by business interests. despite much discussion scientists and mathematicians have so far failed to implement a viable alternative to peer-review controlled by journals.
  • One other way to access the value of papers over time is by looking at citations. Sadly viXra is now censored by all services that count citations such as Google Scholar, InspireHEP, CiteSeer etc., so it is impossible to evaluate viXra papers this way unless they are also published elsewhere.
  • Despite the opposition from institutional science, we at viXra are encouraged by the support from our authors and will allow future historians to be our judge.

FQXi results

December 5, 2012

Congratulations to the winners of the FQXi essay contest “Questioning the Foundations” . The results show an impressive and diverse range of ideas about common assumptions that need to be questioned to progress with foundational physics. This was the fourth contest of its type run by the FQXi institute. These provide a unique opportunity for professional and independent physicists to cross words in a public forum about this kind of subject. I know there will always be criticisms of the results and the imperfect voting system but the contest is still a very worthy exercise. This year there were 272 entries, significantly more than previous contests so the top 36 from the community voting who made the final cut should be extra proud of their success, even if they were not among the final winners. This year I narrowly missed out of joining them but there were many other good essays that did not make it either so there is no need to feel out of it. Taking part and having a chance to air our views on physics is much more important than winning. One last word of congratulations goes to the Perimeter Institute since the vast majority of the winners had strong connections with the centre, such as being past or present researchers there. The Perimeter Institute is well-known for its research on foundational issues so their success here is not surprising. They should also be applauded for their culture which seems to encourage taking part when many professional scientists from other centres are too shy to try it.

The winning essay entitled “The paradigm of kinematics and dynamics must yield to causal structure” was written by Perimeter Institute theorist Robert Spekkens. The idea of questioning the separation of kinematics and dynamics is very original. I never thought of it in this context myself even though I had previously made a similar point in a physics.stackexchange answer about a year ago. Spekkans goes on to link this to causality and the use of POSETs (Partially ordered sets) in models of fundamental physics. This aspect of his essay is a perfect example of what my essay on causality is against. In my view the concept of temporal causality (every effect has a cause preceding in time) is not fundamental at all. It is linked to the arrow of time which emerges as an aspect of thermodynamics. It is not written into the laws of physics which as we know them are perfectly symmetrical under time reversal (or more precisely CPT inversion). I therefore question why it needs to be used in approaches to understanding the fundamental laws of physics. My point did not go down well with other contestants and Spekkens was not the only prize winner who advocated the importance of causality as something to preserve while throwing out other assumptions. Of course this just makes me more pleased that I choose this point to make, winning is not what matters.

Aside from that there is something else about the contest that is of special interest on this blog. According to my count exactly 50 out of the 295 authors (17%) who wrote essays have also submitted papers to the viXra archive. The number who have submitted papers to the arXiv is 95 (32%). This provides a rare opportunity to do a comparative statistical analysis on range of quality of papers submitted to these repositories. By the way 11 of the authors can be found in both arXiv and viXra (including myself), leaving 161 authors (54%) who have not used either. The authors who use arXiv are mostly professional physicists because the endorsement system used by Cornell to filter arXiv submissions makes it difficult, but not impossible for most independent scientists to get approval, so we can conclude that about a third of the FQXi contest entrants are professionals. However I am more interested in what can be learnt about viXra authors.

I started viXra in 2009 to help scientists who have been excluded from the arXiv, either because they do not know anyone who can act as their endorser or because the arXiv administrators have specifically excluded them. Many people at the time said that viXra would only support crackpots and this opinion persists in many places. When someone wrote an entry for viXra on Wikipedia some administrators actively campaigned (unsuccessfully) to have it deleted calling viXra a “crank magnet” and concluding that it had no scientific value. Last month the wave of censorship even reached Google who suddenly removed all viXra entries from Google Scholar. We only had about 3% of our hits coming from there so it was not such a great loss, but it leaves us with no way of tracking citations of viXra papers which is a great disservice. This development reflects the opinions of many professional scientists who have said that viXra at best provides no value to science and only serves to keep crackpots in one safe place. Some are even less charitable and believe that it only promotes bad research and is harmful to science. Are they right?

When viXra was launched I said that it would also serve as an experiment to see if arXiv’s moderation policy was excluding some good science. Nobody should be surprised that there is a lot of bad quality research on viXra because it does not have any filtering and makes no claim to endorse its individual contents (personally I am of the opinion that even bad research can have value as a creative work and may even contain hidden gems of knowledge), but does it nevertheless have work of high value that would otherwise be lost? A recent paper by Lelk and Devine submitted to both arXiv and viXra tried to carry out a quantitative assessment of viXra in comparison to arXiv. It found that 15% pf articles on viXra were published in peer-reviewed journals (based on a very low sample). This may sound low but you should take into account that many independent scientists are less interested in journal publications because they do not need to produce a CV. In any case 15% of 4000 papers is a non-negligeable count if you do think this is a good measure of value.

How else then can the value of viXra by assessed if the papers are not being rated via peer-review? One answer is to use the ratings of its authors as provided by the FQXi contest. Essays in the contest were rated using marks from the authors themselves. This is not a perfect system by any means. There were essays that were placed either much lower or much higher in the results than they deserved. Nevertheless, the overall ranking is statistically a good measure of the papers quality in the terms demanded by the contest rules, with mostly good papers ending up at the top and bad ones at the bottom. It can therefore be used to collectively analyse the range of ability of the authors using either arXiv or viXra.

Let’s start with arXiv whose authors have been endorsed and moderated by its administrators. Given such filtering it is easy to predict that they should do well in the contest. Here is a graph of their placings counted in ten bins of about 29.5 authors. The lowest rated essays are in bin 1 on the left and the highest are in bin 10 on the right.

FQXiarXiv

As expected the majority of arXiv authors have made it into the top bins. 87 were ranked in the top half and only 17 in the lower half.

How would you expect the distribution to look for viXra authors? If we are indeed all crackpots as many people suggest then the distribution would be the opposite with most authors doing badly and hardly any making the top bins that are dominated by the arXiv authors. Here is the actual result.

FQXiviXra

In fact the distribution is essentially flat within the statistical error bars (not shown) and there are plenty of viXra authors who did well. In fact six viXra authors made the final cut.

What should be concluded from this? If someone is identified to you as an author who submits papers to viXra how should you judge their status? Is it justified to assume that they must be a crank with no useful knowledge because they apparently can’t get their research into arXiv? The answer according to this analysis is that you should judge them the same way you would judge a typical author who has submitted an essay to the FQXi contest. They may not be good but they could be of a similar standard to the authors who submit papers to arXiv. I don’t suppose this will change the opinions of our critics but it should. Google are happy to index FQXi essays on Google Scholar so why should they refuse to index viXra papers?

By the way, of all the essays that were written by viXra or arXiv authors, the one that got the lowest rating was an essay by a Cornell professor who has four papers on arXiv. I let you judge.


Cabal fails to get Wikipedia article on viXra deleted

March 16, 2012

Last week computer scientist David Eppstein made a bid to have the wikipedia article about viXra deleted. He claimed that the article failed tests of notoriety, and verifiablilty and initially requested rapid deletion to avoid any discussion. This was rejected leading to a longer process requiring a concensus. In the event five people voted to keep it and only one other came out in support of deletion.

It was clear from the ensuing discussion that Eppstein’s real motivation for requesting the deletion was that he regards viXra as a “crank magnet”. During the AfD he selectively edited the article to remove references which showed that viXra contains articles that have been accepted for peer-review on the grounds that this was “original research by synthesis”, yet he kept in other statements of a more negative nature despite them being unsupported by references.

The request for deletion was rejected. An archived copy of the discussion can be read here.


Ray Munroe 1958 – 2012

March 13, 2012

I am saddened to hear of the passing of Ray Munroe on who died on March 11th. Many readers of viXra Log will know of him through his web presence and his love of physics.  Last year his FQXi essay which ended in 27th place, a very respectable result for an independent researcher. He had worked professionally as a physicist studying cosmic rays and liked to be known as Dr Cosmic Ray. His last comments here were left just a month ago when he said “I’m excited to be living during such ground-breaking times.” His obituary can be read here.

Our condolences to his family, we will miss him too.


viXra submission forms

December 6, 2011

This is just an admin note for submissions of e-prints to the viXra archive. I am happy to say that there is now a system of web-based submission forms that authors can use to send us their articles for upload.

This system should free up the administrators (mainly me) to give us more time for other things. It will also mean less errors and more control for submitters. We will still honour submissions and other requests sent by email for a little while but please expect the form submissions to be dealt with usually within 24 hours, while e-mail submissions could take a week or longer.

 


Embargoes and Neutrinos

October 7, 2011

The Embargo Watch blog has revealed an interesting aspect of how the recent news of faster-than-light neutrinos was released, namely that information had been issued to the main-stream media news outlets before even the rumours started to spread on the blogs. Their report includes a statement by the CERN press officer James Gillies detailing how he thinks the news broke but it leaves out some important details. It is interesting to look back at what did happen because news of other discoveries may emerge in a similar way in the future, so for the record here is the timeline as I witnessed it.

12th September – A seminar was scheduled at CERN for 16th September with the title “Seminar DG”. I saw it posted on indico and I added it to the viXra event calendar. There was no indication of what it was about, but as we now know CNRS had asked CERN if they could report their results there. CERN does not operate OPERA, it just provides the neutrino beam.

13th September – According to Embargo Watch journalists were briefed about the results at about this time and asked not to publish yet.

15th September – An anonymous commenter reported on Resanaances that a 6.1 sigma effect was about to be reported by CERN but the seminar had been cancelled. I saw the comment and checked my link to the “seminar DG” to find that it had indeed disappeared. I posted a note on an earlier Seminar Watch post and twitter but was not sure if the rumour was genuine.

16th September – Anonymous posted comments on Resonaances, Not Even Wrong and Vixra to say that the report would be about faster than light neutrinos at OPERA and that the seminar had been rescheduled. I added a link to the new seminar to the Calendar.

19th September – Dorigo posted a report about the findings on Quantum Diaries Survivor. Posts quickly followed on viXra and The Reference Frame and other blogs. Dorigo then withdrew the post under pressure from his emplyer.

22nd September – Another Italian physicist gave an interview about it to an Italian paper. According to Gillies this is when CERN briefed some journalists with the intention that the news should be published the next day. Reuters and some others published immediately.

23rd September - An e-print appeared in arXiv in the morning and the news was widely reported in the media. The seminar was held later that day. The official press release was issued etc.

What do we learn from this? Firstly, a week is too long to contain a rumour about particle physics and if the rumour starts in Italy then it is far too long. If they had stuck to the original schedule the information would have emerged from the seminar as planned. Briefing the press and then delaying the seminar was not good. The original intention was to let the main stream media prepare the story before the blogs, but the result was that the news leaked onto the blogs while the press were under an agreement to stay silent, what a mess.

When Dorigo posted they should not have forced him to remove it. Other bloggers already knew what the news was and by all accounts it was being discussed widely by physicists. I for one was ready to post more at that time anyway.

The CERN press office and the DG give the strong impression that they do not like bloggers that they don’t have control over. As freelance bloggers we often get information in advance and contrary to what some people think we don’t always post it.  They need to stop working against us if they want that to continue.


viXra is two years old

July 10, 2011

viXra is two years old. Happy birthday viXra!


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