In those happy occassions when a paper of mine is accepted for publication and I get the proofs from the journal, I usually just sign the consent for publication form without taking more than a glimpse at the proofs. The way I see it, my job is to get papers into journals, after that the papers should fend to themselves. Besides, the journal’s changes are usually either harmless or for the better.
Last, week, however, was an exception, not in my action because I still just signed the form as usual, but in my response to the proofs. Even after the quick glimpse I noticed that something is wrong, and after reading further I was horrified to see that all the references I made to myself (and, as readers of this blog know, I talk about myself a lot) were replaced by references to myself and my imaginary friends. In short, the word `I’ was eliminated from the paper and replaced with `we’. I thought I will just be furious about it for a couple of days and then forget the whole thing, but after a week of fuming with no forgeting in the horizon, I have no other option but to move to plan B, which is venting my indignation on you, dear TLTC readers.
Now look, I am cool with “we” that means “one”, to celebrate the fact that the validity of mathematical statements is independent of the person who happens to claim them, as in “Dividing by , we get that the game admits an equilibrium”. But sometimes the automatic replacement of `I’ with `we’ garbles the meaning of the sentence. When I write “I call such a sequence of variables a random play”, the singular pronoun implies that this is not a universally recognized definition, but one that I have invented for the current paper. Change this “I” to “we”, as the journal did, and the implication is lost. And sometimes `we’ for `one’ is just ridiculous, as in “We review Martin’s Theorem in the appendix”. It is one thing to say that every intelligent creature recognizes that the game admits an equilibrium, and another thing to say that every intelligent creature reviews Martin’s Theorem in the appendix.
In some cases the editors were gracious enough to grant my singular identity but then they changed the person. “I thank, I proved, I don’t know” became “The author thanks, the author proved, the author doesn’t know”, which is even worse since it reminds me the way Israeli politicians speak about themselves.
What annoys me of here is the complete arbitrariness of the rule. The word “I” is perfectly legitimate in everyday language but banned from scientifc writing. I can’t think of any other word that is discriminated in this way. I guess next time if I don’t want to be called `we’ or `the author’ in my own papers then I will use all the puculiarities of academic writing like `it is conjuctured’, as if conjectures grow up on trees without somebody taking responsibility for them. I never understood why writers use these constructions so often. Now we know.