Hello there. I recently read your Opinion 77 on journal rejections / lukewarm acceptances, with particular interest.
I found a lot to relate to both in the referee reports (the rejections and the acceptances) and your responses to them. There is the issue that you passionately support a stance concerning human and computer mathematics which is, as yet, non-standard. Of course you have every right to promote this stance, but can you really be so surprised when referees and editors exhibit their misgivings (or ignorance, or closed-mindedness, or whatever) about it in their treatment of your papers? But let me push this issue aside: it's not why I write.
It is possible that the referees in the "Basketball Games" and "Three-Rowed Tableaux" papers were trying to be humorous, and your responses show that nowhere is humor more out of place than in a referee's report: it's too sensitive a subject. To say "I see no reason why this paper should not be published in JIS" is, I think, a relatively strong endorsement, albeit circumlocuitously phrased. On the other hand it _is_ distressing that some clearly rather young (the immortal words of...Terry Pratchett?!?!!) referee does not show more respect when Doron Zeilberger submits to the Journal of Integer Sequences. In fact my JIS submission was treated with significantly more respect, and that's in itself disturbing since without looking carefully I'm sure your paper is aleph_0 (ha ha!) times more interesting than mine. Comparing your work to Fields Medalists may also be an attempt at humor, but it is an even more juvenile one, and in poorer taste.
There are certain places where I thought you flew off the handle a bit in your responses, but even your overreactions generated sympathy. There is something especially grating about the tones of measured praise one finds in these reports. A letter I received this morning read, in its entirety, as follows:
"Dear Prof. Clark, [T]he report of the referee has arrived; it is positive in principle. However he has some remarks. The report is attached." The referee report _is_ positive, and is reasonably competent (there is a howler in the background clause beginning the brief description of the proof, but the paper seems to have been for the most part understood). Probably the paper will be accepted and published. Would it kill the editor to sound the least bit happy about this?
However, here are two final observations:
First, I have so far had two referee reports that were entirely and enthusiastically positive. (In fact, in one of them I didn't receive a copy of the report at all; the editor said merely, "The referee was enhusiastic.") After I received the first positive report I thought, "Finally, the treatment I so richly deserve," and I was honored that my paper appeared in such an august journal. But already by the time I received the second glowing report -- on a paper written about a year and a half later -- I thought, "Oh, no: if this journal loves it, a significantly better journal would have grudgingly accepted it." So at this point I like a positive but not too positive report best: it means I probably submitted the paper to the right place.
Second, considering that the time it takes referees to do their work varies up to an order of magnitude or more, I am more willing to live with a few disrespectful comments in a report than no report at all. I submitted what I consider to be my best paper to a journal (reputed for speed!) in December of 2004, and it has been more than a year since I received _any_ word from the referee. This makes me angry more than all the snarky / stupid comments put together.
Best regards, Pete L. Clark
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