Just Pining

On Sunday, 27 May, I received a pair of e.mail messages announcing formal acceptance for publication of my paper on indecision, and I ceased being braced for rejection. From 15 June, Elsevier had a version for sale on-line (first the uncorrected proof, then the corrected proof, now the version found in the journal). The issue itself (J Math Econ v48 #4) was made available on-line on 3 August. (I assume that the print copies will be received by subscribers soon.)


Reader may recall that, not very long ago, I was reading A Budget of Paradoxes by Augustus de Morgan, and that when de Morgan used the term paradox he did not use in in the sense of an apparent truth which seems to fly in the face of reason, but in the older sense of a tenet opposed to received opinion. De Morgan was especially concerned with cases of heterodoxy to which no credibility would be ascribed by the established mainstream.

Some paradoxes would later move from heterodoxy to orthodoxy, as when the Earth came to be viewed as closely approximated by a sphere, and with no particular claim to being the center of the universe. But most paradoxes are unreasonable, and have little chance of ever becoming orthodoxy.

I began reading de Morgan's Budget largely because I have at least a passing interest in cranky ideas. But reading it at the time that I did was not conducive to my mental health.


Under ideal circumstances, one would not use a weight of opinion — whether the opinion were popular or that of experts — to approximate most sorts of truth. But circumstances are seldom ideal, and social norms are often less than optimal whatever the circumstances. When confronted with work that is heterodox about foundational matters, the vast majority of people judge work to be crackpot if it is not treated with respect by some ostensibly relevant population.

In cases where respect is used as the measure of authority, there can be a problem of whose respect is itself taken to have some authority; often a layering obtains. The topology of that layering can be conceptualized in at least three ways, but the point is that the layers run from those considered to have little authority beyond that to declare who has more authority, to those who are considered to actually do the most respected research, with respected popularizers usually in one of the layers in-between. In such structures, absurdities can obtain, such as presumptions that popularizers have themselves done important research, or that the more famous authorities are the better authorities.


As I was reading de Morgan's book, my paper was waiting for a response from the seventh journal to which it had been offered. The first rejection had been preëmptory; no reason was given for it, though there was some assurance that this need not be taken as indicating that the paper were incompetent or unimportant. The next three rejections (2nd, 3rd, 4th) were less worrisome, as they seemed to be about the paper being too specialized, and two of them made a point of suggesting what the editor or reviewer thought to be more suitable journals. But then came the awful experience of my paper being held by Theory and Decision for more than a year-and-a half, with editor Mohammed Abdellaoui refusing to communicate with me about what the Hell were happening. And this was followed by a perverse rejection at the next journal from a reviewer with a conflict of interest. Six rejections[1] might not seem like a lot, but there really aren't that many academically respected journals which might have published my paper (especially as I vowed never again to submit anything to a Springer journal); I was running-out of possibilities.

I didn't produce my work with my reputation in mind, and I wouldn't see damage to my reputation as the worst consequence of my work being rejected; but de Morgan's book drew my attention to the grim fact that my work, which is heterodox and foundational, was in danger of being classified as crackpot, and I along with it.


Crackpots, finding their work dismissed, often vent about the injustice of that rejection. That venting is taken by some as confirmation that the crackpots are crackpots. It's not; it's a natural reäction to a rejection that is perceived to be unjust, whether the perception is correct or not. The psychological effect can be profoundly injurious; crackpots may collapse or snap, but so may people who were perfectly reasonable in their heterodoxy. (Society will be inclined to see a collapse or break as confirmation that the person were a crackpot, until and unless the ostensible authorities reverse themselves, at which point the person may be seen as a martyr.)


As things went from bad to worse for my paper, I dealt with how I felt by compartmentalization and dissociation. When the paper was first given conditional acceptance, my reäction was not one of happiness nor of relief; rather, with some greater prospect that the paper would be published, the structure of compartmentalization came largely undone, and I felt traumatized.


Meanwhile, some other things in my life were going or just-plain went wrong, at least one of which I'll note in some later entry. In any case, the recent quietude of this 'blog hasn't been because I'd lost interest in it, but because properly to continue the 'blog this entry was needed, and I've not been in a good frame-of-mind to write it.


[1] Actually five rejections joined with the behavior of Abdellaoui, which was something far worse than a rejection.

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