Bulletin of Symbolic Logic

Research Article

An Editor Recalls Some Hopeless Papers

Wilfrid Hodges

School of Mathematical Sciences, Queen Mary and Westfield College, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, England, U.K. E-mail: w.hodges@qmw.ac.uk

§1. Introduction. I dedicate this essay to the two-dozen-odd people whose refutations of Cantor's diagonal argument (I mean the one proving that the set of real numbers and the set of natural numbers have different cardinalities) have come to me either as referee or as editor in the last twenty years or so. Sadly these submissions were all quite unpublishable; I sent them back with what I hope were helpful comments. A few years ago it occurred to me to wonder why so many people devote so much energy to refuting this harmless little argument—what had it done to make them angry with it? So I started to keep notes of these papers, in the hope that some pattern would emerge.

These pages report the results. They might be useful for editors faced with similar problem papers, or even for the authors of the papers themselves. But the main message to reach me is that there are several points of basic elementary logic that we usually teach and explain very badly, or not at all.

In 1995 an engineer named William Dilworth, who had published a refutation of Cantor's argument in the Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, sued for libel a mathematician named Underwood Dudley who had called him a crank ([9] pp. 44f, 354).

(Received October 06 1997)

(Revised October 15 1997)