Sunday, November 03, 2013

When Journal Correspondence is More Public Than it Should Be

Wow, the journal American Mathematical Monthly really ought not to put their e-mail correspondence to late referees on a page that one can reach by Google. Seriously. ("D'oh!") Of course this is an accident, but holy shit...

The Monthly needs to be more careful than this. As some of you know, I have issues with the way that this journal operates. (I was victimized by what I view as severe editorial bullying on a paper that I published with them, though ultimately I acceded to what I felt were abjectly unfair editorial demands because I didn't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Despite the mess, it is still a very nice article IMHO, even though it could have been even better. In protest of my treatment, I immediately resigned from the Mathematical Association of America, who publishes the journal. I was going to go through the gory details in my blog but then decided that I would rather spend my time on much more productive things. All I would end up doing is working myself up again and taking away time from other stuff in the process. In the interest of fairness, let me also make the obvious but important comment that my side of that story of perceived bullying is not the only side.)

Despite my issues with the journal's editor, I am going to let him know about this so that the journal will take down the site or restrict access so that this material will no longer be on a publicly accessible site. I think that's the right thing to do, though I also think that it is very important to make a public point when a journal is not being as careful as it should be (which is why I decided to write this blog entry), as hopefully that can help influence journals to be more careful in the future. (I did ponder about whether it was best to both write this entry and inform the appropriate people --- the main editor and the president of the MAA --- or just to inform the appropriate people and not write any blog entry. But overall I think the correct thing to do is to write this post and to include a link in it, as that is more likely to lead to more care by journals in the future rather than just only informing the relevant parties and not doing anything else.) Anyway, I expect that that website will be unavailable soon. (The page in the link is not terribly interesting --- though see my first update below --- although I was able to determine the identity of one of my paper's referees. I've never heard of that person.)

Update: I dug a bit deeper by checking if any of the other correspondence of that journal is accidentally in the public domain. If you change the "sequence=9" text to other numbers (3--13 all give correspondence, and '2' downloads a .pdf file), you can also find things like discussions of papers. That is really, really bad. Sigh...

Update 2: To the credit of the editor, he has already responded, and it looks like they will try to take care of this immediately. That is good. (I also let the president of the MAA know about this, as that is important as well.)

Update 3: I decided to remove the link just in case. (If you tried it, that's why it didn't work.) I guess I wouldn't make a very good journalist, but I am having second thoughts about including the link in this post, so I am now going to try to err on the side of caution. The important point is what has been accidentally made public. You can either believe me or not about what's contained in there.

Update 4: The websites themselves now seem to be out of public view. Good!

Update 5 (still 11/03/13): Thinking about it even further, my posting the link in my initial version of this post was not an intelligent thing to do. I purposely didn't tweet or do anything like that to try to attract attention to this blog post, so the fact that I thought things through that far should have alerted me to the fact that including the link originally also wasn't smart (but I did not make that extra leap until I chewed things over a bunch more). I hereby apologize for that and explicitly state my regret for including that link (given some of the contents contained therein) in the original versions of this post. The situation with the unintentially public website (with private information) reminds me of Michael Zimmer's post and (especially) his attention-seeking behavior related to my posting of the Facebook100 data in public a couple of years ago, and the balancing of reporting something important --- which was my goal --- and deciding what is appropriate to include in such a report is a delicate one.

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