arXiv’s Police

I used to love arXiv. I’ve long thought that it was one of the best things that happened to mathematics. arXiv makes mathematical research available for free and without delay. Moreover, it is highly respected among mathematicians. For example, Grigori Perelman never submitted his proof of the Poincaré conjecture to any journal: he just posted it on arXiv.

When I came back to mathematics, all my math friends explained to me that I should submit my paper to arXiv on the same day that I submit it to a journal. As my trust in arXiv grew, I started submitting to arXiv first, waiting one week for comments, and then submitting to a journal.

Now it seems that arXiv might not love its contributors as much as they used to. arXiv moderators seem to be getting harsher and harsher. Here is my story.

In June of 2013, I submitted my paper “A Line of Sages” to arXiv. This paper is about a new hat puzzle that appeared at the Tournaments of the Towns in March 2013. The puzzle was available online at the Tournaments of the Towns webpage in Russian. After some thought I decided that it is better to cite the Tournament itself inside the body of the paper, rather than to have a proper reference. Online references in general are not stable, and this particular one was in Russian. Very soon this competition will be translated into English and the puzzle will appear in all standard math competition archives.

arXiv rejected my paper. A moderator complained that I didn’t have a bibliography. So I created a bibliography with the link to the puzzle. My paper was rejected again saying that the link wasn’t stable. Duh. That’s the reason why I didn’t put it there from the start. I Goggled the puzzle and I still didn’t find any other links.

I argued with my moderator that the standards for papers in recreational mathematics are different from the standards for purely research papers. Short recreational notes do not require two pages of history and background, nor a long list of references. A recreational paper doesn’t need to have theorems and lemmas.

Meanwhile, the moderator complained that the paper was “not sufficiently motivated to be interesting to the readership.”

I got tired of exchanging emails with this moderator and submitted my paper to The Mathematical Intelligencer, where it was immediately accepted. So I dropped my submission to arXiv.

Now my paper is not available for free on arXiv. But anyone can freely buy it from Springer for $39.95.



  1. Ionica:

    WTF? Shame on you arXiv.

  2. Jean:

    Would there be problems with Springer if you also posted your paper in this blog (e.g. share a google drive link to it or something) thus making it freely available online?

  3. Konstantin:

    How to translate in English “Маразм крепчал”?

  4. Johan:

    Hi, I had a very similar experience trying to submit my paper to ArXiv. This was the astro-ph section, since that’s what I am, an astrophysicist. The paper deals with application of singularity/catastrophe theory to cosmic structure formation. A valid and useful, not to mention uncontroversial approach, coauthored with two well renowned colleagues. I submitted simultaneously to MNRAS, and ArXiv, however ArXiv for some reason put the submission on hold, they couldn’t say why, but told me to resubmit once the paper was accepted for MNRAS. Meanwhile the paper got excellent reviewer comments, and after slight modifications, it was accepted; even then the ArXiv wouldn’t accept our submission. It took us a month, to convince them the paper is genuine, and we still don’t know what the problem was. The entire thing dragged on for almost three months, but the paper is online now. A lot of astronomers only read papers through the ArXiv, so there’s no alternative.

  5. Tanya Khovanova:


    This is sad. I was hoping that my story was a fluke: a random act of a random person. Two our stories together might mean that arXiv is actually trying to reduce the number of papers there.

  6. john smith: is the best file depository. However, the moderators like any of us are subjective and sometimes may not allow you to publish you work there. If this happens, then go to and publish it right away without any headache.

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