FOM: remarks on FOM procedures

Stephen G Simpson simpson at
Wed May 10 18:21:05 EDT 2000

by Harvey M. Friedman, friedman at
and Stephen G. Simpson, simpson at
May 9, 2000

The FOM e-mail list was founded by Friedman and Simpson in 1997, for
the purpose of lively discussion and debate on issues and topics in
the foundations of mathematics (f.o.m.).  Simpson has been serving as
Moderator of FOM since its inception.

The original policy of FOM was to approve virtually all submissions
with a minimal amount of f.o.m. content, nearly regardless of tone.
This procedure worked well for the most part, but occasionally
personal disagreements erupted and became difficult to control.  Also,
inasmuch as the Cofounders themselves are directly involved in many
controversial f.o.m. issues, it became somewhat impractical for the
Cofounders to continue to exercise sole responsibility for acceptance
and rejection of submissions.  In addition, it emerged that FOM, like
all Internet mailing lists, is subject to hostile direct mailings and
other forms of attack.

In order to solve these problems, the Cofounders enlisted the services
of Martin Davis as FOM Referee, and undertook a six-month negotiation
involving Davis and another interested party, Robert Soare, resulting
in an altered structure.  The details are in an agreement which was
signed on April 5, 2000 by all parties to the negotiation.

The purposes of the April 5 agreement are:

 1. To establish a general standard for the acceptability of postings.
    With regard to tone, we have fixed on the standard of a scientific
    panel discussion or debate, as spelled out in the April 5

 2. To diversify responsibility for acceptance and rejection of
    submissions.  This includes the negotiation of revisions in
    submissions whose tone is not in the best interests of FOM.

 3. To institute structures and procedures which are generally
    perceived to be fair and responsive.  Confidence in these
    structures and procedures is intended to strongly inhibit direct
    mailings to the FOM subscription list and other hostile actions.

The full text of the April 5 agreement is rather lengthy. It is
available on-line at

In practical terms, the typical FOM subscriber need only be concerned
with the following points:

 a. As in the past, submissions to FOM will be routinely e-mailed to
    <fom at>.  If the submission is civil in tone and has
    serious f.o.m. content, the Moderator will normally accept it and
    promptly post it to FOM, just as in the past.

 b. Submissions can also be made through any member of the FOM
    Editorial Board.  The Board currently consists of Martin Davis,
    Harvey M. Friedman, and Stephen G. Simpson.

 c. If a submission is rejected, there is a right of appeal to the FOM
    Referee, Martin Davis.  Authors of rejected submissions are
    encouraged to negotiate with the Referee to modify the submission,
    in order to make it acceptable for FOM.

 d. We will expedite the appointment of additional Editors to a total
    of seven.

 e. Postings by the Cofounders must have the approval of the Referee.

We hope and believe that the above procedure will be generally
perceived as rational and fair.  If anyone would like to discuss
details of the procedure or other FOM administrative issues, please
send us e-mail.


by Martin Davis, martin at
May 9, 2000

As referee I expect to remain very much in the background, simply making my
services available to help participants avoid offensive language, and to
help adjudicate disputes between editors and contributors.


by Robert Soare, soare at
May 9, 2000


The Cofounders, Harvey Friedman and Stephen Simpson, have come upon a
powerful new combination: foundations of mathematics, which interests
a wide range of scholars; and the internet, which provides for rapid
communication and the posting of messages on an electronic bulletin
board for later use.  As with any new medium, it is natural that this
one would undergo a series of changes in its development as it evolves
toward that system most useful to the subscriber.  I believe that the
changes specified in this new agreement constitute a substantial
advance toward the goal of achieving a highly respected, professional
organization interested in scientific truth and in serving the
subscriber.  Let me comment briefly on the most important new features.
These are my own interpretations of the clauses in the agreement.
The reader can refer to the latter for the exact statements.


The new agreement calls for seven editors, including the two
cofounders, and the referee, Martin Davis, and four more to be
solicited and chosen by unanimous agreement of Friedman, Simpson, and
Soare.  These editors will act like those of any of the leading logic
or mathematics journals.  Any subscriber may submit his intended
posting to any editor, who may accept or reject it, or send it back
for revision.  Once an editor has accepted a submission, he will send
it to the Moderator for posting and in all but the most unusual cases,
this will take place immediately as for a journal.

The cofounders themselves will submit their material to the Referee,
Martin Davis.  Hence, in any debate any two participants (even
cofounders) will be on equal footing, each submitting through an
independent editor.  This is exactly like the conventions at any good
journal where the editors themselves must submit their material
through another editor.  These provisions will likely help to keep the
debate on a higher professional level with greater restraint.


The next important feature is that the debates will be conducted
according to the ASL/AMS standard.  Namely, we all have seen and
perhaps participated in an ASL or AMS sponsored panel discussion,
debate, question and answer period after an lecture, or a University
sponsored colloquium or guest seminar on a debatable topic.  In
these settings there is usually a spirit of respect and decorum.
Professionals may disagree with each other, even vigorously, but
there are very rarely any personal remarks, ad hominem attacks.
The very fact that it is taking place before a large and often
distinguished audience enforces a certain restraint on the part
of the participants.

In an electronic setting, where the audience is no longer visible, it
is easy to become emotionally involved in the argument and to reduce
this professional restraint (an often recognized internet phenomenon).
Under the new system, the editors will attempt to enforce this ASL/AMS
standard on all postings in order to keep the discussion at a high
professional plane.

We have not attempted to define precisely this ASL/AMS standard, with
elaborate examples and clauses.  Rather we believe that everyone
recognizes it, and a detailed attempt at definition would only weaken
the standard.  Someone might argue that anything not explicitly
ruled out was allowed.

Here we follow the example of the U.S. Constitution and its First
Amendment which simply says that the right of free speech shall not be
abridged.  It does not define what is "free speech" and what is
"slander," but leaves the exact interpretation to the courts.  Here we
leave any questionable cases of the ASL/AMS standard to the board of
seven editors to resolve.

By establishing the ASL/AMS standard, and instituting a board of
editors to interpret and enforce it, we are laying the foundation for
a new period of professional respect and expansion for FOM.  Many more
distinguished scholars will participate if they believe it to be an
impartial forum founded on respect and a genuine search for truth,
with fairness for all participants.


For my part, I have agreed not to send email directly to the FOM list
(or a substantial portion of it), and to discourage others from doing
so.  Whatever the justification, the direct mailing to FOM is likely
to generate conflict and be a challenge not only to the Moderator but
the entire Editorial Board since they will now represent the system.

Going outside the formal channels usually arises in a society because
of a feeling of unfairness with the system and a belief that there is
no other way for legitimate self-expression.  The present agreement
has been designed to provide the necessary checks and balances to
remove any need for direct mailing.  I will advise subscribers to take
their grievances to the Referee.

In addition, I have agreed not to participate in the founding or
organization of any other email list dealing with the foundations of
mathematics.  Over the past year I have thought a great deal about
what is required to run an electronic list like FOM at a high
professional level.  Most of my ideas have been been incorporated (after
negotiation and modification) into the new agreement, and I am eager
to see how they will work out.  Therefore, far from having any intent
to interfere with FOM internally or externally, I wish to support it
and help it live up to all the clauses of this agreement.


One of the most critical parts will be the selection of the most
distinguished senior people as editors.  I plan to spend a good deal
of time and effort working with the cofounders to ensure that the best
people are chosen.  If subscribers have any suggestions, please send
them in triplicate to all three of us.  When we approach one of you to
be an editor, I hope you will cooperate and understand how the future
of this new enterprise depends on your participation.


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