I’ve been working very hard on a particular idea for about two years now – the idea that the Cerf-Adami inequalities are, in fact, another statement of the classical second law of thermodynamics. I thought I had done a pretty good job proving it in the latest version of my paper on the topic, but, alas, yet another reviewer gave it short shrift. What I think is so frustrating is actually a general complaint I have about the whole process.
Having recently spoken to someone who was upset about a particular paper that actually did get published, it has occurred to me that the peer-review system has one very serious flaw: people seem to be so immensely busy these days that reviewers just don’t give papers the attention they truly deserve. Whomever the reviewer of my paper was, it was someone who was familiar with it since they hinted at the fact in the review (I have a hunch I know who it was, but I’m not sure).
In any case, there were some surprisingly odd comments from the reviewer including one in which he/she states “While the log used to define the entropy is arbitrary, it gives units to the entropy.” Say wha?? A logarithm is a purely mathematical function. Units are physical. Perhaps he/she means that the choice of base determine what units can be used, which is true to some extent, but is really an arbitrary choice.
Also, there is this annoyingly persistent notion (given by all the reviewers that have reviewed it over the past couple of years) that I have confused quantum and classical entropies which I have not. For instance, the reviewer says “This is roughly where I gave up reviewing this paper. Unfortunately for the author, this is BEFORE he argues for the Cerf-Adami inequalities as an alternative formulation of the 2nd law. But note that there is no 2nd law in quantum mechanics.” Well, the latter point is debatable (see Nielsen & Chuang for example) but I’m not that dumb. Anyway, the whole crux of the paper appeared after he/she gave up and I fail to see how the second sentence has anything to do with the first in the reviewers comments since I never say anything about QM until the end and thus fail to see how I could have confused these two points.
OK, enough of the specific griping. Now to the more general issues that this highlights. The world is so incredibly busy these days that people have little or no time to spend on anything remotely outside their immediate sphere of influence, so to speak. As such, people, by and large, tend to gravitate toward what they know (or what they think they know). So, reviewers often skim papers or are so biased against a result right from the abstract that they’re not willing to be swayed. I have a suspicion in my case it may be that the reviewer assumes I am so “green” that I really don’t know statistical mechanics very well (e.g. this quote: “the author needs to educate himself some more about the relation between thermodynamics and statistics”), despite the fact that I have been teaching an advanced course in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics for many years and purposely teach the relation between them because half the class are physics majors and the other half engineers. In addition, I am convinced that reviewers have a tendency to readily approve, with little oversight, work they are familiar with, even if it is suspect.
This actually goes beyond the review process, though. I am fairly new to the quantum information field (3-4 years or so), but have had an impossible time finding anyone (with one exception) willing to really give me the time of day on any of my papers, though I have gotten a bit of interest on my latest paper on qubits on closed time-like curves. People are all friendly and outgoing until I mention work and then they’re too busy. I genuinely think they are busy and I don’t think it’s necessarily personal, but it is a serious problem if we have any hope of expanding our field. In addition, it marginalizes people like me who took a non-traditional route to get where I am.
Since I’m tired I’m not articulating this very well, but the basic idea is there. Something needs to be done to change the way the system works. Hopefully the new open peer-review (OPR) process being tested by Quantalk.org will prove to be a step in the right direction, but it’s tough to get people out of the ruts they fall into. For instance, I’ve been blogging for two years and, though I’m not nearly as good as The Pontiff, you’d think I’d have picked up a larger readership by now. At this point, the main reason for continuing is because I find it cathartic. Otherwise, I’m at a loss.