Scholar's paper doesn't add up

'No scientific content' the sticking point as second mathematics treatise is retracted. Paul Jump writes

May 10, 2012

An Indian mathematician who had a journal article retracted last year over its claims that mathematics and spirituality both "came from space" has seen another of his publications suffer a similar fate for having "no scientific content".

The Elsevier journal Computers & Mathematics with Applications published "A computer application in mathematics" by M. Sivasubramanian, who was the corresponding author, and S. Kalimuthu in 2009. Running to just 350 words, the paper claims that the authors used unspecified computer "magnification technology" to provide the first proof of a Euclidean axiom called the "parallel postulate".

"An impossible proposition was proved as possible," the paper concludes. "This is a problematic problem."

As reported by the Retraction Watch website, the paper, which has garnered no citations, has now been retracted by the journal on the grounds that it contains "no scientific content". It was accepted due to "an administrative error".

Dr Sivasubramanian, a senior lecturer in topology at the Dr. Mahalingam College of Engineering and Technology in Pollachi, India, also authored a 2010 paper that claimed that "both science and spirituality came from space". Retracting the paper last year, the journal Applied Mathematics Letters said it represented "severe abuse of the scientific publishing system".

At the time the papers were accepted, both journals were edited by Ervin Rodin, professor emeritus of mathematics at Washington University in St Louis.

Professor Rodin told Times Higher Education that he had no personal connection with Dr Sivasubramanian, adding that every paper he dealt with had either been accepted by an editorial board member or sent out to two referees.

Timothy Gowers, Royal Society 2010 anniversary research professor in mathematics at the University of Cambridge, suggested that a "half-competent reviewer" would have rejected the parallel postulate paper instantly.

He said the case emphasised the "significant value" added to papers by "the voluntary work of editors and reviewers".

Professor Gowers has led a boycott of Elsevier journals following the company's initial support for a US bill that would have outlawed open-access mandates.

Peter Saunders, emeritus professor of mathematics at King's College London, wondered whether the latest retracted paper was a spoof. It also reminded him of being asked to referee a paper whose author "clearly didn't understand the subject".

In that instance, Professor Saunders said, "the editor apologetically explained that they got a lot of such papers from India because in some of their less prestigious institutions one paper in an international journal would get you promotion".

The authors of "A computer application in mathematics" did not respond to a request for comment.

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