Second thoughts on Gowers’ “Why I’ve joined the bad guys”

This post, coming after the “Quick reaction…“, is the second dedicated to the post “Why I’ve joined the bad guys” by Tim Gowers.

Let’s calm down a bit. I could discuss at length about the multiple reasons why the arguments from the mentioned post are wrong, or twisted, or otherwise. Maybe for another time, but for now it is enough to say that it looks like a piece of not well designed PR for gold open access. PR is a profession by itself, it has its  techniques and means to achieve the goal, but here the stellar mathematician Gowers just shows that PR is not among his strengths.

It is clear that the crux of the matter is dissapointment.  Gowers, who was the initiator of the cost of knowledge movement, of the polymath project, is now trying to sell us the gold open access?

Maybe it means that there is a need for public figures to support this shaky construction.

At second thought, the FoM is not the end of the world as we knew it. Is just yet another journal which tries to salvage what it can from the old publication model, who was once essential for the research community, but is now obsolete because the net is here.

The real matter is though not FoM, or Gowers “betrayal”, but the fact that we have to look for new models of publication. Once such a model is found then naturally any FoM will decay to oblivion.

Take for example the business of publication of encyclopedias. Enters Wikipedia, who proved it is scalable and it is sustained by millions of enthusiasts, btw, and now the encyclopedias business is no longer viable. It will happen the same with the publication of research articles.

Better is to try to think about a good model.  Consider for example two related ideas, discussed here:


11 thoughts on “Second thoughts on Gowers’ “Why I’ve joined the bad guys””

  1. Please let’s not call it the ‘gold’ model, or if you do, please put it in quotes. This term is just more PR, and the only ‘gold’ involved is in the pockets of the publishers.

    Do you know, is there an organisation a bit like costofknowledge where people can pledge not to pay publication charges?

    1. In the wiki page about open access it is called Gold OA. Otherwise, I don’t know about any such organization, but I am obviously interested to learn about one.

      It is probably a safe prediction that Gold OA will be embraced at the political level. One has to squeeze money from somebody, if you cannot do this from the readers, then only the authors are left. I hope this will not happen, but that is the direction which seems more and more probable. It goes along the minimal effort slope (from the publishers part). Mind you, they are not bad in principle or on purpose, but when politics, lobbies and the exercise of authority enter the stage, then morality and other details like that are trashed, even if everybody agrees that in the future, eventually, a new model of publication will be used. But not right now, later, please, that is their point. Meanwhile, it is still OK to publish for vanity, for the demands of HR departments, like if almost everybody forgot why they have chosen to do research instead of just making money (for example). Say to a kid that research means to write lots of mediocre articles, sliced in as many parts as possible, and that nobody will read those articles, only the number of them is important. Wow!!! that will put stars in the kid’s eye.

  2. If you’re saying Wikipedia is the model, then there would have to be one monolithic source (arXiv?) collecting donations from everyone who’s interested in similar stuff. Because there’s not enough to donate for a journal of emergent algebra alone.

    i.e. the profitable parts of the enterprise must subsidise the unprofitable parts

    1. Wikipedia is a model, at that moment github was unknown to me. The discussion was around the idea of having open peer review, which is also perpetual, i.e. it admits contributions even after publication of the articles, from everybody. The example that it might work is wikipedia. The straw man argument against the idea of open peer review is that it would be like comments in blogs, i.e. inherently unreliable without having a central authority which dispenses permissions to talk.

      1. Except Wikipedia is fairly good, but yea I take your point — the forking model with changing “heads” is one you could argue is better. Except I’m not sure forking is so great, dictatorship in any way is inferior to a structure with shared-duty “rulers”. Wikipedia has a fairly involved regime of mods and while not everything turns out as I personally want, they do seem to be able to fix the worst kinds of spam.

        As far as economists I’ve been looking at Elinor Ostrom’s work a bit more (not a ton .. limited time) the last year. I think she was onto this stuff decades before it was in textbooks—if it even is now. And by “this stuff” I mean people’s solutions to problems of group organisation, since the existence of a problem doesn’t mean people don’t try to adapt around it.

        Whichever way — I think you’re right, and everyone has always said this about the internet, simply connecting people does allow collaboration. (like, hi! I only met you through it)

      2. Thanks for the Elinor Ostrom reference. First I thought Wikipedia is a possible solution. Why? Because it works, against all rational odds. But then, recently, I started to believe that even the idea of publishing articles (in an open or walled way) is simply outdated and that perhaps already github answers the question: what to put instead? Don’t know if I’m right though. Originally the discussion I comment in this post was about whether is good or bad to have open peer review and my belief is that is good. Now, open peer review of what? I don’t know. Should be the collective open peer review be regarded as a work as important as the research article? Yes, maybe. Anyways, just to pretend that open peer review is not even possible because you know eloi will mix into the game hides some dark things behind.

      3. Right. Again with the “standard units” — is there a standard unit of peer review?

        Probably we don’t want the “free-for-all” notion of such. The public in general assigns points wrongly (although, do studied professors assign them well? I don’t know) — putting Thomas Friedman on the bestseller list for example.

        Then again I am a movie/book snob, and I will go with the critics’ choice over the bestseller. So maybe that biases my judgement. And as I indicated I certainly don’t know how good the élite people are at assessing value.

        Eloi — it means basically Mandarins / Brahmins?

      4. Did you ever engage with Lubos Motl? I noticed some disputes between him and eg Ron Maimon (or maybe it was someone else … P Woit?) — where LM was taking the more “editorial correctness” view.

        Then I brought it up with = …. another someone you might want to say hello to …. and yea, he agrees that viXra is “like an angry monkey in the corner throwing sh__ across the room”.

        Which makes me then wonder about the “sink” effect — having a “bad” magnet to “draw away” the spam — may clean out the “preferred” filter.

        Anyway, with regard to artists, I guess they can’t be stopped, even if there were no internet. If someone is internally driven then the incentives (make no money, etc) just bounce off of them like pebbles thrown at a locomotive. Then again give the locomotive tracks and it will go the direction you want…..

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