Opinion 81: Because You Snubbed Others You Were Snubbed, and Those Who Snubbed You Shall Be Snubbed

By Doron Zeilberger

Written: June 28, 2007.

Humans will be Humans. I read with mild amusement the letter to the editor (Notices of the AMS, June/July 2007, p. 694), by Brian Davey, Melvyn Henriksen, Petar Markovic, and Vaughan Pratt, complaining that the editorial board of the Journal of the American Mathematical Society (JAMS) rejected a 14-page submission, by Friedrich Wehrung, that settled a 50-year-old conjecture in Lattice Theory. The reason that the editors of JAMS gave was "lack of interaction with other parts of mathematics".

As hard as I try, I can't feel sorry for Wehrung. JAMS is the epitome of mathematical snobbism, and the flagship not of the American Mathematical Society, but of what is currently considered fashionable. I can never feel sorry for someone who gets rejected from Harvard or Princeton, even though they are more qualified than many people who got accepted. Anyone who applies to these snotty places, is a snob himself, and it serves them right! Any girl who wants to join the "cool" crowd of the "mean girls" at her high school, and gets rejected, deserves it.

"Lack of interaction with other parts of mathematics" is just a euphemism for "not fashionable". What these "distinguished" members of that editorial board were trying to say is that never mind that Dilworth posed a problem fifty years ago that resisted attempts by many researchers, including Garret Birkhoff. Lattice Theory is old hat. Dilworth and Birkhoff, and even Paul Cohen, are out-of-style. Maybe try to submit your stuff to a golden-oldies radio station, but not to a mainstream contemporary rock station . If you want to be considered for publication in JAMS, you need some good buzz words: "Kazhdan-Lusztig", "Langlands program", "Ricci flow", etc. etc. In fact, if the editors of JAMS would have been computer savvy, they could have saved themselves lots of trouble by writing a short Sed or Awk or Perl script eliminating submissions by key-words.

I am sure that Friedrich Wehrung does not deserve this humiliation. His result is a major breakthrough, that in a perfect world would have been snapped by the "flagship" journal of the AMS. He is probably also a nice guy. But he is probably paying for the sins of Dilworth and Birkhoff and others who fifty years ago probably rejected lots of stuff that they considered "old hat". And, rejoice, all you latticers. "Ricci flow", "Kazhdan-Lusztig" and "Langlands program", will be very soon out of style, and so would the currently distinguished members of the editorial board of JAMS. I can envision a rejection, in fifty years, of a paper entitled "Proof of a conjecture of Tao and Okounkov", for its "lack of interaction with other parts of mathematics". Then again, assuming that this job, that is just a glorified title for "bouncers of the currently high-brow math exclusive country club", will be done by humans. Hopefully, computers will take over, and they would be much fairer and not as mean as those mean Fields medalists and other luminaries.

Rabbi Hillel summed it up more than two thousand years ago, when he saw a skull in the river and told it:

ע ל   ד א ט פ ת   א ט פ ו ך   ו ס ו ף   מ ט י פ י ך   י ט ו פ ו ן

which means: "Because you drowned others, you were drowned, and those who drowned you shall be drowned at the end".


Opinions of Doron Zeilberger