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I've been independently researching math, for a while in the homeless community. While I am generally safe, situational realities (weather, equipment stress, health and especially how cities can discard possessions) are weighing on me more heavily as I prepare to publish work. I have as much on paper as digitally, and I'm working on getting notebooks photographed.

What is a responsible/automatic way, should I (e.g.) die suddenly, to pass on research work? I'm a bit unusual in the sense that people don't understand why I'm homeless (so...more isolated, I have no peers it would be responsible to use), and it seems dubious a university would take me -- an unknown -- seriously.

I know, e.g., that gmail can transfer ownership to another entity after an inactivity timer expires, but that could easily go wrong. A lawyer doesn't make sense; I have no estate and the city would get my stuff first.

I'm not concerned about credit as much as passing on the work. Collaboration could work; I just don't know how to escrow / dead-man switch this so someone actually sees it.

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    $\begingroup$ To state the obvious, you might want to try and get in touch with people working on the same topics you are, explaining the particular situation you're in. Even in you feel somehow that your work is at an "amateur" level I'm confident you'll find people willing not only to safeguard what you're doing but also to give you feedback, references and advice. As solitary as the work of a mathematician might look from the outside, these interactions with colleagues are essential. $\endgroup$
    – Adrien
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ Making sure your work is preserved, and getting people to look at it, are two rather different objectives, and not always aligned. Getting people to pay attention to your work is a sociological process, and is difficult for most people in the best of circumstances; the further away you are from the center of the "in group," the more difficult it will be. On the other hand, preserving your work so that it will not be deleted or made inaccessible to the general public is an easier task; you can for example post the material to your own website and archive a copy on the Wayback Machine. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ "so someone actually sees it." Is the use of someone here in the de dicto or de re sense, i.e, do you know who you are trying to transfer your work to, or are you happy as long as any arbitrary person gets access to them? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ Harshly, why would those details of your situation make a difference to posterity, academic or else? Can you drop all before "What is a responsible/automatic way…"? Can you drop or justify "should I (e.g.) die"? How could it matter whether people understand why you're homeless? How could be irresponsible to use your peers? Why would you approach a university, not an individual? How does a lawyer not make sense? The purpose of your Post is how to deal with your estate, even if that's only intellectual. How could it matter if the city got your stuff? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 18:14

5 Answers 5

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You could use a research notes repository such as Figshare or Zenodo. There is the option to make the contents private, but I would just make them publicly visible right away, so that the whole issue of a switch that enables upon death does not arise. These repositories have a date stamp, so your priority is safe (even though you mention you don't care about credit). The license you will want to use is a "creative commons" license which allows others to use your work freely, so the issue of "transfer of ownership" is also resolved.

Search engines (Google Scholar) will index your repository, so others searching for a topic will find your contribution and be able to make use of it.

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    $\begingroup$ I knew neither of these repositories but I have instinctively a preference for Zenodo which is open source and operated by the Cern over Figshare which seems to depend on Springer. More or less finished articles can be posted to the arXiv (which needs however an initial endorsement). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 7:13
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Write a research article and have it published. Or at least an Arxiv preprint. This is the way mathematicians communicate and clean up their work to make it readable for their peers. I doubt anyone will want to decipher your notes, unless you are Grothendieck, so it is up to you to communicate with the accepted language of the community.

The work is split in sufficiently small units so that whatever result does not constitute in a publishable article is unlikely to have a major impact.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think that traditional publication, or even the arXiv, is the right path for someone who is apparently somewhat excluded from the social circles that control access to journals and the arXiv, and who furthermore is concerned about the possibility of sudden and imminent death. The probability of rejection is high, even from the arXiv, and the publication process is slow. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ You can't post to arxiv without being endorsed first: arxiv.org/help/endorsement $\endgroup$
    – JCK
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ @JCK Yes. Endorsements can be hard to get, especially for "outsiders," and even with an endorsement, your paper can be rejected from arXiv. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ If the original poster is uploading a preprint to ArXiv for the first time, they will probably need a known expert in the area to read and endorse the preprint. They likely do not know such a person given what they have said. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ As an unconventional researcher, the first challenge OP has is convincing at least one professional mathematician that he is not a crank and has done work worth reading and preserving. If he has already solved this problem, he won't have any difficulties getting an Arxiv endorsement. If he hasn't, I think that's the first task he should tackle while he is alive. It won't get any easier posthumously. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 12:13
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Create a public repository on Github and upload your files. Github was designed with software in mind (it is primarily a version control system) but it can be used for pretty much anything. It works best with plain text files (e.g. txt, md, tex); but will happily handle images and pdf. Here's a maths example from a (randomly selected) user called arnaugamez. There may be a limit on storage, but if there is I haven't found it yet.

As for longevity, Github seems to take this pretty seriously as evidenced by the Arctic Code Vault which beats any back up plan I have...

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    $\begingroup$ Github is great for any type of code. If typesetting is used, github is a great choice for versioning. Photos of hand-written notes can also be stored in sub-directories if it is a work-in-progress. $\endgroup$
    – user1447
    Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ If you structure each piece of work into individual GitHub projects, you can link each project to Zenodo so that they each have a DOI (and place the Zenodo link as a badge in the README.md). $\endgroup$
    – Greenstick
    Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 17:30
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A lawyer doesn't make sense; I have no estate and the city would get my stuff first.

Assuming you had the money to pay a lawyer, or could find a lawyer/law firm that would do this pro-bono given your status - I believe that actually does makes sense. You see, you do have an estate: Your research endeavors, online accounts, notes and such are part of your estate. It really doesn't matter that the city would get your physical belongings (although an appropriately-empowered lawyer might be able to help with that too).

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Your situation reminds me of Evariste Galois. Another answer indicates how you can post your notes publicly, which I would recommend as the place to start. But a key point in the story of Galois, is that he put what he had in a letter to a friend, and so there was someone specific to get the work put into an academic journal: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89variste_Galois#Final_days

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