Tag Archives: cost of knowledge

Biography of Sci-Hub creator Alexandra Elbakyan

I found today Alexandra Elbakyan biography, written by herself.

This link is to the original (in Russian) and this link is the google translate into English.

I think this is a very interesting read. You can get a really first hand description of the context and motivations of the creation of Sci-Hub. It is also a glimpse into the mind of a special individual who was born and lived in a middle of nowhere and who changed the world.

Some quotes, which I particularity resonate with:

“What is this misfortune?” I thought “again they see in me not a man, but a programmer”

 

“It was 2012, and I turned 24. I was a patriot and supported Putin’s policies. And I was also the creator of the Sci-Hub service, which, according to numerous reviews, incredibly helped Russian science.

But no one called and wrote to me like that.
No one invited me to participate in any scientific projects.
Every day I went in a cold, crowded train from Odintsovo, where the HSE hostel was located – to the university and back.”

 

Especially this I can’t understand. For anyone creative it would be a privilege to participate in a scientific project with Elbakyan.

Scientific publishers take their money from the academic managers, blame them too

Wonderful thread  at HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19114786

Starting with “All this is an excellent ad for sci-hub, which avoids most of the serious drawbacks of publishers like Elsevier. It was interesting how that was relegated to a veiled comment at the end, “or finding access in other channels”. But basically if the mainstream publishers can’t meet the need, we do need other channels, and right now sci-hub is the only one that actually works at scale.

Then the discussion goes to “Blame the academic administrators who demand publications in top tier journals – the same ones who charge a ton for access.

Or “ in market terms the clients (researchers) manifest a strong preference for other products than those offered by the publishers. Why do they still exist? Does not make any sense, except if we recognize also that the market is perturbed

Enjoy the thread!  It shows that people think better than, you choose:  pirates who fight  only for the media corporation rights,  gold OA diggers who ask for more money than legacy publishers, etc…

UPDATE: for those who don’t know me, I’m for OA and Open Science. I do what I support. I am not for legacy publishers. I don’t believe in the artificial distinction between green OA, which is said to be for archiving, and gold OA which is said to be for publishing. I’m for arXiv and other really needed services for research communication.

My first programs, long ago: Mumford-Shah and fracture

A long time ago, in 1995-1997, I dreamed about really fast and visual results in image segmentation by the new then Mumford-Shah functional and in fracture. It was my first programming experience. I used Fortran, bash and all kinds of tools available in linux.

There is still this trace of my page back then, here at the Wayback Machine. (I was away until 2006.) The present day web page is this.

Here is the image segmentation by the M-S functional of a bw picture of a Van Gogh painting.

vangogh2

 

And here is a typical result of  fracture propagation (although I remember having hundreds of frames available…)

fisuri

 

The article is here.

The Library of Alexandra

“Hint: Sci-Hub was created to open papers that are not available online at all. You cannot find these papers in Google or in open access” [tweet by @Sci_Hub]

“Public Resource will make extracts of the Library of Alexandra available shortly, will present the issues to publishers and governments.” [tweet by Carl Malamud]

 

 

Sci-Hub is not tiny, nor special interest

“Last year, the tiny special-interest academic-paper search-engine Sci-Hub was trundling along in the shadows, unnoticed by almost everyone.” [source: SW-POW!, Barbra Streisand, Elsevier, and Sci-Hub]

According to the info available in the article Meet the Robin Hood of science, by Simon Oxenham:

[Sci-Hub] “works in two stages, firstly by attempting to download a copy from the LibGen database of pirated content, which opened its doors to academic papers in 2012 and now contains over 48 million scientific papers.”

“The ingenious part of the system is that if LibGen does not already have a copy of the paper, Sci-hub bypasses the journal paywall in real time by using access keys donated by academics lucky enough to study at institutions with an adequate range of subscriptions. This allows Sci-Hub to route the user straight to the paper through publishers such as JSTOR, Springer, Sage, and Elsevier. After delivering the paper to the user within seconds, Sci-Hub donates a copy of the paper to LibGen for good measure, where it will be stored forever, accessible by everyone and anyone. ”

“As the number of papers in the LibGen database expands, the frequency with which Sci-Hub has to dip into publishers’ repositories falls and consequently the risk of Sci-Hub triggering its alarm bells becomes ever smaller. Elbakyan explains, “We have already downloaded most paywalled articles to the library … we have almost everything!” This may well be no exaggeration.”

Is that tiny? I don’t think so. I have near me the comparisons I made in
ArXiv is 3 times bigger than all megajournals taken together and, if we would trust the publicly available numbers, then:

  • Sci-Hub is tiny
  • arXiv.org is minuscule with about 1/40 of what (is declared as) available in Sci-Hub
  • all the gold OA journals have no more than 1/100 of the “tiny” baseline, therefore they are, taken together, infinitesimal

Do i feel a dash of envy? subtle spin in favor of gold OA? maybe because Alexandra Elbakyan is from Kazakhstan? More likely is only an unfortunate formulation, but the thing is that if this info is true, then it’s huge.

UPDATE: putting aside all legal aspects, where I’m not competent to have an opinion, so putting aside these, it appears that the 48 million collection of paywalled articles is the result of the collective behaviour of individuals who “donated” (or whatever the correct word should be used) them.

My opinion is that this collective behaviour shows a massive vote against the system. Is not even intended to be a vote, people (i.e. individual researchers) just help one another. Compare this behaviour with the one of academic managers and with the one of all kinds of institutions which a) manage public funds and negociate prices with publishers, b) use metrics which are based on commercial publishers for distributing public funds as grants and promotions.

On one side there is the reality of individual researchers, who create and want to read what others like them created (from public funds basically) and on the other side there is this system in academia which rewards the compliance with this obsolete medium of dissemination of knowledge (presently turned upside down and replaced with a  system which puts paywalls around the research articles, it’s amazing).

Of course, I am not discussing here if Sci-hub is legal, or if commercial publishers are doing anything wrong from a legal point of view.

All this seems to me very close to the disconnection between politicians and regular people. These academic managers are like politicians now, the system ignores that it is possible to gauge the real opinion of people, almost in real time, and instead pretends that everything is OK, on paper.

 

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How I hit a wall when I used the open access and open source practices when applying for a job

UPDATE 11.10.2015. What happened since the beginning of the “contest”? Nothing. My guess is that they are going to follow the exact literary sense of their announcement. It is a classic sign of cronyism. They write 3 times that they are going to judge according to the file submitted (the activity of the candidate as it looks from the file), but they don’t give other criteria than the ones from an old law. In my case I satisfy these criteria, of course, but later on they write about “candidates considered eligible”, which literary means candidates that an anonymous board considers they are eligible and not simply eligible according to the mentioned criteria.

Conclusion: this is not news, is dog bites man.

I may be wrong. But in the case I’m right then the main subject (namely what happens in a real situation with open access practices in case of a job opening) looks like a frivolous, alien complaint.

The split between:
– a healthy, imaginative, looking to the future community of individuals and
– a kafkian old world of bureaucratic cronies
is growing bigger here in my country.

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UPDATE 14.10.2015: Suppositions confirmed. The results have been announced today, only verbally, the rest is shrouded in mystery. Absolutely no surprise. Indeed, faced with the reality of local management, my comments about open access and open source practices are like talking about a TV show to cavemen.

Not news.

There is a statement I want to make, for those who read this and have only access to info about Romanians from the media, which is, sadly, almost entirely negative.

It would be misleading to judge the local mathematicians (or other creative people, say) from these sources. There is nothing wrong with many Romanian people. On the contrary, these practices which show textbook signs of corruption are typical for the managers of state institutions from this country. They are to be blamed. What you see in the media is the effect of the usual handshake between bad leadership and poverty.

Which sadly manifest everywhere in the state institutions of Romania, in ways far beyond the ridicule.

So next time when you shall interact with one such manager, don’t forget who they are and what they are really doing.

I am not going to pursue a crusade against corruption in Romania, because I have better things to do. Maybe I’m wrong and what is missing is more people doing exactly this. But the effects of corrupt practices is that the state institution becomes weaker and weaker. So, by psycho historic reasons 🙂 there is no need for a fight with dying institutions.

Let’s look to the future, let’s do interesting stuff!

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This is real: there are job openings at the Institute of Mathematics of the Romanian academy, announced by the pdf file

Click to access Concurs-anunt-2015.pdf

The announce is in Romanian but you may notice that they refer to a law from 2003, which asks for a CV, research memoire, list of publications and ten documents, from kindergarden to PhD. On paper.

That is only the ridicule of bureaucracy, but the real problems were somewhere else.

There is no mention of criteria of selection, members of the committee, but in the announcement is written 3 times that every candidate’s work will be considered only as it appears from looking at the file submitted.

They also ask that the scientific, say, part of the submission to be sent by email to two addresses which you can grasp from the announcement.

So I did all the work and I hit a wall when I submitted by email.

I sent them the following links:

– my homepage which has all the info needed (including links to all relevant work)
http://imar.ro/~mbuliga/

– link to my arxiv articles
http://arxiv.org/a/buliga_m_1
because all my published articles and all my cited articles, published or not) are available at arXiv

– link to the chemlambda repository for the programming, demos, etc part
https://github.com/chorasimilarity/chemlambda-gui/blob/gh-pages/dynamic/README.md

I was satisfied because I finished this, when I got a message from DanTimotin@imar.ro telling me that I have to send them, as attachment, the pdf files of at least 5 relevant articles.

In the paper file I put 20+ of these articles (selected from 60+), but they wanted also the pdf files.

I don’t have the pdfs of many legacy published articles because they are useless for open access, you can’t distribute them publicly.
Moreover I keep the relevant work I do as open as possible.

Finally, how could I send the content of the github repository? Or the demos?

So I replied by protesting about the artificial difference he makes between a link and the content available at that link and I sent a selection of 20 articles with links to their arXiv version.

He replied by a message where he announced that if I want my submission to be considered then I have to send 5 pdfs attached.

I visited physically Dan Timotin to talk and to understand why a link is different from the content available to that link.

He told me that these are the rules.

He told that he is going to send the pdfs to the members of the committees and it might happen that they don’t have access to the net when they look for the work of the candidate.

He told me that they can’t be sure that the arXiv version is the same as the published version.

He has nothing to say about the programming/demo/animations part.

He told that nobody will read the paper file.

I asked if he is OK if I make public this weird practice and he agreed to that.

Going back to my office, I arrived to find 9 pdfs of the published articles. In many other cases my institute does not have a subscription to journals where my articles appeared, so I don’t think that is fair to be asked to buy back my work, only because of the whims of one person.

Therefore I sent to Dan Timotin a last message where I attached these 9 pdfs, I explained that I can’t access the others, but I firmly demand that all the links sent previously to be sent to the (mysterious, anonymous, net deprived, and lacking public criteria) committee, otherwise I would consider this an abuse.

I wrote that I regret this useless discussion provoked by the lack of transparency and by the hiding behind an old law, which should not stop a committee of mathematicians to judge the work of a candidate as it is, and not as it appears by an abuse of filtering.

After a couple of hours he replied that he will send the files and the links to the members of the committee.

I have to believe his word.

That is what happens, in practice, with open access and open science, at least in some places.

What could be done?

Should I wait for the last bureaucrat to stop supporting passively the publishing industry, by actively opposing open access practices?

Should I wait for all politicians to pass fake PhDs under the supervision of a very complacent local Academia?

Should I feel ashamed of being abused?

ArXiv is 3 times bigger than all megajournals taken together

 How big are the “megajournals” compared to arXiv?
I use data from the article

[1] Have the “mega-journals” reached the limits to growth? by Bo-Christer Björk ​https://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.981 , table 3

and the arXiv monthly submission rates

[2] http://arxiv.org/stats/monthly_submissions

To have a clear comparison I shall look at the window 2010-2014.

Before showing the numbers, there are some things to add.

1.  I saw the article [1] via the post by +Mike Taylor

[3] Have we reached Peak Megajournal? http://svpow.com/2015/05/29/have-we-reached-peak-megajournal/

I invite you to read it, it is interesting as usual.

2. Usually, the activity of counting articles is that dumb thing which is used by managers to hide behind, in order to not be accountable for their decisions.
Counting  articles is a very lossy compression technique, which associates to an article a very small number of bits.
I indulged into this activity because of the discussions from the G+ post

[4] https://plus.google.com/+MariusBuliga/posts/efzia2KxVzo

and its clone

[4′] Eisen’ “parasitic green OA” is the apt name for Harnad’ flawed definition of green OA, but all that is old timers disputes, the future is here and different than both green and gold OA https://chorasimilarity.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/eisen-parasitic-green-oa-is-the-apt-name-for-harnad-flawed-definition-of-green-oa-but-all-that-is-old-timers-disputes-the-future-is-here-and-different-than-both-green-and-gold-oa/

These discussions made me realize that the arXiv model is carefully edited out from reality by the creators and core supporters of green OA and gold OA.

[see more about in the G+ variant of the post https://plus.google.com/+MariusBuliga/posts/RY8wSk3wA3c ]
Now, let’s see those numbers. Just how big is that arXiv thing compared to “megajournals”?

From [1]  the total number of articles per year for “megajournals” is

2010:  6,913
2011:  14,521
2012:   25,923
2013:  37,525
2014:  37,794
2015:  33,872

(for 2015 the number represents  “the articles published in the first quarter of the year multiplied by four” [1])

ArXiv: (based on counting the monthly submissions listed in [2])

2010: 70,131
2011: 76,578
2012: 84,603
2013: 92,641
2014:  97,517
2015:  100,628  (by the same procedure as in [1])

This shows that arXiv is 3 times bigger than all the megajournals at once, despite that:
– it is not a publisher
– does not ask for APC
– it covers fields far less attractive and prolific than the megajournals.

And that is because:
– arxiv answers to a real demand from researchers, to communicate fast and reliable their work to their fellows, in a way which respects their authorship
– also a reaction of support for what most of them think is “green OA”, namely to put their work there where is away from the publishers locks.

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Eisen’ “parasitic green OA” is the apt name for Harnad’ flawed definition of green OA, but all that is old timers disputes, the future is here and different than both green and gold OA

See this post and the replies on G+ at [archived post].

My short description of the situation: the future is here, and it is not gold OA (nor the flawed green OA definition which ignores arXiv). So, visually:

imageedit_34_6157098125

It has never occurred to me that putting an article in a visible place (like arXiv.org) is parasitic green OA+Michael B. Eisen  calls it parasitic because he supposes that this has to come along with the real publication. But what if not?

[Added: Eisen writes in the body of the post that he uses the definition given by Harnad to green OA, which ignores the reality. It is very conveniently for gold OA to have a definition of green OA which does not apply to the oldest (1991) and fully functional example of a research communication experiment which is OA and green: the arXiv.org.]
Then, compared to that, gold OA appears as a progress.
http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1710

I think gold OA, in the best of cases, is a waste of money for nothing.

A more future oriented reply has +Mike Taylor
http://svpow.com/2015/05/26/green-and-gold-the-possible-futures-of-open-access/
who sees two possible futures, green (without the assumption from Eisen post) and gold.

I think that the future comes faster. It is already here.

Relax. Try validation instead peer review. Is more scientific.

Definition. Peer-reviewed article: published by the man who saw the man who claims to have read it, but does not back the claim with his name.

The reviewers are not supermen. They use the information from the traditional article. The only thing they are supposed to do is that they read it. This is what they use to give their approval stamp.

Validation means that the article provides enough means so that the readers can reproduce the research by themselves. This is almost impossible with  an article in the format inherited from the time when it was printed on paper. But when the article is replaced by a program which runs in the browser, which uses databases, simulations, whatever means which facilitate the validation, then the reader can, if he so wishes, make a scientific motivated opinion about this.

Practically the future has come already and we see it on Github. Today. Non-exclusively. Tomorrow? Who knows?

Going back to the green-gold OA dispute, and Elsevier recent change of sharing and hosting articles (which of course should have been the real subject of discussions, instead of waxing poetic about OA, only a straw man).

This is not even interesting. The discussion about OA revolves around who has the copyright and who pays (for nothing).

I would be curious to see discussions about DRM, who cares who has the copyright?

But then I realised that, as I wrote at the beginning of the post, the future is here.

Here to invent it. Open for everybody.

I took the image from this post by +Ivan Pierre and modified the text.
https://plus.google.com/+IvanPierreKilroySoft/posts/BiPbePuHxiH

_____________

Don’t forget to read the replies from the G+ post. I archived this G+ post because the platform went down. Read here why I deleted the chemlambda collection from G+.

____________________________________________________

Screen recording of the reading experience of an article which runs in the browser

The title probably needs parsing:

SCREEN RECORDING {

READING {

PROGRAM EXECUTION {

RESEARCH ARTICLE }}}

An article which runs in the browser is a program (ex. html and javascript)  which is executed by the browser. The reader has access to the article as a program, to the data and other programs which have been used for producing the article, to all other articles which are cited.

The reader becomes the reviewer. The reader can validate, if he wishes, any piece of research which is communicated in the article.

The reader can see or interact with the research communicated. By having access to the data and programs which have been used, the reader can produce other instances of the same research (i.e virtual experiments).

In the case of the article presented as an example, embedded in the article are animations of the Ackermann function computation and the other concerning the building of a molecular structure. These are produced by using an algorithm which has randomness in the composition, therefore the reader may produce OTHER instances of these examples, which may or may not be consistent with the text from the article. The reader may change parameters or produce completely new virtual experiments, or he may use the programs as part of the toolbox for another piece of research.

The experience of the reader is therefore:

  • unique, because of the complete freedom to browse, validate, produce, experiment
  • not limited to reading
  • active, not passive
  • leading to trust, in the sense that the reader does not have to rely on hearsay from anonymous reviewers

In the following video there is a screen recording of these possibilities, done for the article

M. Buliga, Molecular computers, 2015, http://chorasimilarity.github.io/chemlambda-gui/dynamic/molecular.html

This is the future of research communication.

____________________________________________________________

It is time to cast doubt on any peer reviewed but not validated research article

Any peer reviewed article which does not come at least with the reviews has only a social validation. With reviews which contain only value judgements, grammar corrections and impossible to validate assertions, there is not much more trust added.

As to the recourse to experts… what are we, a guild of wizards? It is true because somebody says some anonymous experts have  been consulted and they say it’s right or wrong?

Would you take a pill based on the opinion of an anonymous expert that it cures your disease?

Would you fly in a plane whose flight characteristics have been validated by the hear-say of unaccountable anonymous experts?

What is more than laughable is that it seems that mathematics is the field with the most wizards, full of experts who are willingly exchanging private value opinions, but who are reluctant to make them in public.

Case by case, building on concrete examples, in an incremental manner, it is possible to write articles which can be validated by using the means they provide (and any other available), by anyone willing to do it.

It is time to renounce at this wizardry called peer review and to pass to a more rigorous approach.

Hard, but possible. Of course that the wizards will complain. After all they are in material conflict of interests, because they are both goalkeepers and arbiters, both in academic and editorial committees.

But again, why should we be happy with “it’s worthy of publication or not because I say so, but do not mention my name” when there is validation possible?

The wizardry costs money, directed to compliant students, produces no progress elsewhere than in the management metrics, kills or stalls research fields where the advance is made harder than it should because of the mediocrity of these high, but oh so shy in public experts who are where they are because in their young time the world was more welcoming with researchers.

Enough!

_____________________________________________________________

Bemis and the bull

Bemis said:

“I fell at the foot of the only solitary tree there was in nine counties adjacent (as any creature could see with the naked eye), and the next second I had hold of the bark with four sets of nails and my teeth, and the next second after that I was astraddle of the main limb and blaspheming my luck in a way that made my breath smell of brimstone. I had the bull, now, if he did not think of one thing. But that one thing I dreaded. I dreaded it very seriously. There was a possibility that the bull might not think of it, but there were greater chances that he would. I made up my mind what I would do in case he did. It was a little over forty feet to the ground from where I sat. I cautiously unwound the lariat from the pommel of my saddle——”

“Your saddle? Did you take your saddle up in the tree with you?”

“Take it up in the tree with me? Why, how you talk. Of course I didn’t. No man could do that. It fell in the tree when it came down.”

“Oh—exactly.”

“Certainly. I unwound the lariat, and fastened one end of it to the limb. It was the very best green raw-hide, and capable of sustaining tons. I made a slip-noose in the other end, and then hung it down to see the length. It reached down twenty-two feet—half way to the ground. I then loaded every barrel of the Allen with a double charge. I felt satisfied. I said to myself, if he never thinks of that one thing that I dread, all right—but if he does, all right anyhow—I am fixed for him. But don’t you know that the very thing a man dreads is the thing that always happens? Indeed it is so. I watched the bull, now, with anxiety—anxiety which no one can conceive of who has not been in such a situation and felt that at any moment death might come. Presently a thought came into the bull’s eye. I knew it! said I—if my nerve fails now, I am lost. Sure enough, it was just as I had dreaded, he started in to climb the tree——”

“What, the bull?”

“Of course—who else?””

[ Mark Twain, Roughing It, chapter VII]

Like Bemis, legacy publishers hope you’ll not think the unthinkable.

That we can pass to a new form of research sharing.

In publicity they say that the public is like a bull.

When you read an article you are like a passive couch potato in front of the TV. They (the publishers, hand in hand with academic managers) cast the shows, you have the dubious freedom to tap onto the remote control.

Now, it is possible, hard but possible and doable on a case by case basis. It is possible to do more. Comparable to the experience you have in a computer game vs the one you have in front of the TV.

You can experience research actively, via research works which run in the browser. I’ll call them “articles” for the lack of the right name, but articles they are not.

An article which runs in the browser should have the following features:

  • you, the reader-gamer, can verify the findings by running (playing) the article
  • so there has to be some part, if not all of the content, into a form which is executed during gameplay, not only as an attached library of programs which can be downloaded and run by the interested reader (although such an attachment is already a huge advance over the legacy publisher pity offer)
  • verification (aka validation) is up to you, and not limited to a yes/no answer. By playing the game (as well as other related articles) you can, and you’ll be interested into discovering more, or different, or opposing results than the one present in the passive version of the article and why not in the mind of the author
  • as validation is an effect of playing the article, peer review becomes an obsolete, much weaker form of validation
  • peer review is anyways a very weird form of validation: the publisher, by the fact it publishes an article, implies that some anonymous members of the research guild have read the article. So when you read the article in the legacy journal you are not even told, only hinted that somebody from the editorial staff exchanged messages with somebody who’s a specialist, who perhaps read the article and thought it is worthy of publication. This is so ridiculous, but that is why you’ll find in many reviews, which you see as an author, so many irrelevant remarks from the reviewer, like my pet example of the reviewer who’s offput by my use of quotation signs. That’s why, because what the reviewer can do is very limited, so in order to give the impression he/she did something, to give some proof that he/she read the article, then it comes with this sort of circumstantial proof. Actually, for the most honest reviewer, the ideally patient and clever fellow who validates the work of the author, there is not much else to do. The reviewer has to decide if he believes it or not, from the passive form of the article he received from the editor, and in the presence of the conflict of interests which comes from extreme specialisation and low number of experts on a tiny subject. Peer review is not even a bad joke.
  • the licence should be something comparable to CC-BY-4.0, and surely not CC-BY-NC-ND. Something which leave free both the author and the reader/gamer/author of derivative works, and in the same time allows the propagation of the authorship of the work
  • finally, the article which runs in the browser does not need a publisher, nor a DRM manager. What for?

So, bulls, let’s start to climb the tree!

Related: https://chorasimilarity.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/one-of-the-first-articles-with-means-for-complete-validation-by-reproducibility/

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Yes, “slay peer review” and replace it by reproducibility

Via Graham Steel the awesome article Slay peer review ‘sacred cow’, says former BMJ chief.

“Richard Smith, who edited the BMJ between 1991 and 2004, told the Royal Society’s Future of Scholarly Scientific Communication conference on 20 April that there was no evidence that pre-publication peer review improved papers or detected errors or fraud. […]

“He said science would be better off if it abandoned pre-publication peer review entirely and left it to online readers to determine “what matters and what doesn’t”.

“That is the real peer review: not all these silly processes that go on before and immediately after publication,” he said.”

That’s just a part of the article, go read the counter arguments by Georgina Mace.

Make your opinion about this.

Here is mine.

In the post Reproducibility vs peer review I write

“The only purpose of peer review is to signal that at least one, two, three or four members of the professional community (peers) declare that they believe that the said work is valid. Validation by reproducibility is much more than this peer review practice. […]

Compared to peer review, which is only a social claim that somebody from the guild checked it, validation through reproducibility is much more, even if it does not provide means to absolute truths.”

There are several points to mention:

  • the role of journals is irrelevant to anybody else than publishers and their fellow academic bureaucrats who work together to maintain this crooked system, for their own $ advantage.
  • indeed, an article should give by itself the means to validate its content
  • which means that the form of the article has to change from the paper version to a document which contains data, programs, everything which may help to validate the content written with words
  • and the validation process (aka post review) has to be put on the par with the activity of writing articles, Even if an article comes with all means to validate it (like the process described in  Reproducibility vs peer review ), the validation supposes work and by itself it is an activity akin to the one which is reported in the article. More than this, the validation may or may not function according to what the author of the work supposes, but in any case it leads to new scientific content.

In theory sounds great, but in practice it may be very difficult to provide a work with the means of validation (of course up to the external resources used in the work, like for example other works).

My answer is that: concretely it is possible to do this and I offer as example my article Molecular computers, which is published on github.io and it comes with a repository which contains all the means to confirm or refute what is written in the article.

The real problem is social. In such a system the bored researcher has to spend more than 10 min top to read an article he or she intends to use.

Then it is much easy, socially, to use the actual, unscientific system of replacing validation by authority arguments.

As well, the monkey system — you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours — which is behind most of the peer reviews (only think about the extreme specialisation of research which makes that almost surely a reviewer competes or collaborates with the author), well, that monkey system will no longer function.

This is even a bigger problem than the one that publishing and academic bean counting will soon be obsolete.

So my forecast is that we shall keep a mix of authority based (read “peer review”) and reproducibility (by validation), for some time.

The authority, though, will take another blow.

Which is in favour of research. It is also economically sound, if you think that probably today a majority of funding for research go to researchers whose work pass peer reviews, but not validation.

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Reproducibility vs peer review

Here are my thoughts about replacing peer review by validation. Peer review is the practice where the work of a researcher is commented by peers. The content of the commentaries (reviews) is clearly not important. The social practice is to not make them public, nor to keep a public record about those. The only purpose of peer review is to signal that at least one, two, three or four members of the professional community (peers) declare that they believe that the said work is valid. Validation by reproducibility is much more than this peer review practice. Validation means the following:

  • a researcher makes public (i.e. “publishes”) a body of work, call it W. The work contains text, links, video, databases, experiments, anything. By making it public, the work is claimed to be valid, provided that the external resources used (as other works, for example) are valid. In itself, validation has no meaning.
  • a second part (anybody)  can also publish a validation assessment of the work W. The validation assessment is a body of work as well, and thus is potentially submitted to the same validation practices described here. In particular, by publishing the validation assessment, call it W1, it is also claimed to be valid, provided the external resources (other works used, excepting W) are valid.
  • the validation assessment W1 makes claims of the following kind: provided that external works A,B,C are valid, then this piece D of the work W is valid because it has been reproduced in the work W1. Alternatively, under the same hypothesis about the external work, in the work W1 is claimed that the other piece E of the work D cannot be reproduced in the same.
  • the means for reproducibility have to be provided by each work. They can be proofs, programs, experimental data.

As you can see the validation can be only relative, not absolute. I am sure that scientific results are never amenable to an acyclic graph of validations by reproducibility. Compared to peer review, which is only a social claim that somebody from the guild checked it, validation through reproducibility is much more, even if it does not provide means to absolute truths. What is preferable: to have a social claim that something is true, or to have a body of works where “relative truth” dependencies are exposed? This is moreover technically possible, in principle. However, this is not easy to do, at least because:

  • traditional means of publication and its practices are based on social validation (peer review)
  • there is this illusion that there is somehow an absolute semantical categorification of knowledge, pushed forward by those who are technically able to implement a validation reproducibility scheme at a large scale.

UPDATE: The mentioned illusion is related to outdated parts of the cartesian method. It is therefore a manifestation of the “cartesian disease”.

I use further the post More on the cartesian method and it’s associated disease. In that post the cartesian method is parsed like this:

  • (1a) “never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such”
  • (1b) “to comprise nothing more in my judgement than what was presented to my mind”
  • (1c) “so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt”
  • (2a) “to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible”
  • (2b) “and as might be necessary for its adequate solution”
  • (3a) “to conduct my thoughts in such order that”
  • (3b) “by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend […] to the knowledge of the more complex”
  • (3c) “little and little, and, as it were, step by step”
  • (3d) “assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence”

Let’s take several researchers who produce works, some works related to others, as explained in the validation procedure.

Differently from the time of Descartes, there are plenty of researchers who think in the same time, and moreover the body of works they produce is huge.

Every piece of the cartesian method has to be considered relative to each researcher and this is what causes many problems.

Parts (1a),(1b), (1c) can be seen as part of the validation technique, but with the condition to see “true”and “exclude all grounds of doubt” as relative to the reproducibility of work W1 by a reader who tries to validate it up to external resources.

Parts (2a), (2b) are clearly researcher dependent; in a interconnected world these parts may introduce far more complexity than the original research work W1.

Combined with (1c), this leads to the illusion that the algorithm which embodies the cartesian method, when run in a decentralized and asynchronous world of users, HALTS.

There is no ground for that.

But the most damaging is (3d). First, every researcher embeds a piece of work into a narrative in order to explain the work. There is nothing “objective” about that. In a connected world, with the help of Google and alike, who impose or seek for global coherence, the parts (3d) and (2a), (2b) transform the cartesian method into a global echo chamber. The management of work bloats and spill over the work itself and in the same time the cartesian method always HALT, but for no scientific reason at all.

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Excellent: The Journal of Brief Ideas

Here is another new initiative: The Journal of Brief Ideas.

There are interesting reactions to this:

OK, what is this, in just a few words?

From the About page of the journal:

The Journal of Brief Ideas is a research journal, composed entirely of ‘brief ideas’. The goal here is to provide a place for short ideas to be described – in 200 words or less – for these ideas to be archived (courtesy of Zenodo), searchable and citable.
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I submitted the following: Build a molecular computer.
A visualisation for the Ackermann function here:

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In my opinion this is part of the exploration of new ways of communicate, do collaborative work and explore in the research world.
The article format is obsolete, even if put in digital form. More is needed, one of the ideas it to eventually arrive to run the article in the browser.
It is very encouraging to see that in only few days two excellent, different initiatives concerning new ways, new meanings of publication appeared, the Journal of Brief Ideas and PeerJ/paper-now.
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This new journal recalls me the proposal  of a Journal of very short papers.
The idea behind JVSP was to use the legacy format for journals in order to peer-review articles from OA repositories, like arXiv.
After writing that article I got replies, resulting in an update which I reproduce here:
”   Helger Lipmaa  points to the journal “Tiny ToCS“.  However, the real purpose of JVSP  is not to be brief, but to create a “subversive”, but with rigorous and solid results old-school like journal for promoting free open access.Another journal could be “The RXI Journal of Mathematics” which is as rigorous as any journal, only it asks to have at least 3 occurences of the string ‘rxi’ in the text.David Roberts discusses about fitting a paper into a refereed tweet. It is an interesting idea, some statements are too long, but some of them not. On the top of my head, here is one: “A Connected Lie Group Equals the Square of the Exponential Image, Michael Wüstner, Journal of Lie Theory. Volume 13 (2003) 307–309 Proof: http://emis.math.ca/journals/JLT/vol.13_no.1/wuestla2e.pdf “,  here is another which satisfies also the requirements of JVPS  “W is a monad, David Roberts, Theorem: W:sGrp(S)->sS lifts to a monad. Proof:http://arxiv.org/abs/1204.4886 “, which will  appeared in the New York Journal of Mathematics,   in  an open access journal.” [my comment: in a 10 pages long form which obsoletes arXiv:1204.4886] Interesting that the Twitter idea appears also.
But this is not about Twitter, nor about peer-reviews. It is a NEW idea.
The Journal of Brief Ideas makes the excellent proposal to attach DOI to ideas, in a short format (up to 200 words), but with enough place for using the power of the Net.
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Can’t resist to point also to the Journal of Uncalled Advices, will it appear some day?
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Say NO to politicians, OA included

There are politicians everywhere. These guys find ten reasons to modify only slightly a bad thing, preaching this incremental improvement to satisfy some of us and winking to those happy to not change. These guys who find ten blends for each incremental change and they speak politely and technically with fellow politicians about which of these homeopathic differences will make a difference. Knowing very well that that’s the way to make no difference. They are the product of the rotten old habits and they will delay the change until they retire. Fuck the rest!

Same in open access. How many blends of open access there are? It is unbelievable that there is anybody, excepting those with a (conflict of) interest(s) in it, who believe that Gold OA is anything else than a stupid idea. Dress it as you wish, but it is still the idea to take money from the authors, for doing nothing, because anyways you can’t take money from the readers anymore. Still, if you don’t know, there are blends and blends and blends of Gold OA, and politicians discuss at length which are the relative advances and why we can’t change fast this useless publication service.

Why can’t we change it? Because of the politicians from the academic management. How will they avoid being accountable for their decisions if they can’t hide behind numbers? Again, people can’t be that stupid when they pretend that the number of articles and the place they appear are relevant. So there has to be something else: hidden interest. They are the product of the system. To say that, because under publishers locks, their life work is as good as crap, is offending to them. They made bad choices and they want to impose them on you.

It is a society effect. The bosses are in conflict of interests or straightly corrupt. So they invent rules for you, rules which they change from time to time, but every time they avoid to look at the root of evil. Which is: they are and they try to transform you, researcher, passionate student, into a interchangeable unit of thinking person. They are dust and they want to transform you into dust.

It happened before. Favourite example: the painter artists in France, before the impressionist revolution, read here more about this comparison. Were they stupid to fight for the number of paintings accepted in academic exhibitions or the HEIGHT where the paintings were put during those exhibitions? No, the products of the system who were at the lead were interested and the rest were forced by the choice between their passion and their career.

So, say NO to politicians.

Live your passion.

Just to prove that I am not a hot head who writes hot air, I say that I did. My first paper on arXiv was in 2001. Since then I put almost everything there and I refuse, if possible, to publish elsewhere because I don’t want to support the system. Of course I am not crazy to impose my beliefs to co-authors, but still in these cases I try to use arXiv as well.

I told a bit about the effects of this choice  on my career.

What I think now.

That OA is already old thing.

That discussions about who has the copyright are sterile at best (and interested possibly), because it is clear that DRM trumps the licence, see Use DRM for academics, enjoy watching them fight for the copyright.

So, please tell, what are you discussing about?

Now I think that the article format will change and this is a part of an ongoing revolution which went unnoticed by the politicians who live around OA. It’s Github, already 20 times bigger than arXiv (I give the example of arXiv because is greatest in OA, in my opinion, and because I’m familiar with it; however, look at this wonder of Github).

That is why I support and will use PeerJ/paper-now, read this.

As concerns publishers, I don’t wish they disappear, once because it’s not my problem and twice because it’s obvious we can reuse their infrastructure.

Is not good to wish bad things to people (except to politicians, maybe).

But it is obvious that not publishing is the service which has value. Peer-review is needed, pre- and post- publication. What they could do is to propose the service of organizing this peer-review.

Another, related and perhaps bigger opportunity is the management of scientific data, be them articles, experimental data, programs. This is related to the idea of running the article in the browser, sometime soon. This needs an infrastructure which, no! publisher, don’t try again, an infrastructure which is not based on artificial scarcity, but on overwhelming abundance.

Otherwise I’m good, thank you and I am still looking for people with enough guts and funds to make big things, like molecular computers, changing the IoT, understanding life, i.e. the chemlambda project.

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PeerJ as a format/paper on Github: PeerJ/paper-now

A simple, interesting, obvious step: PeerJ/paper-now .  That is, or will be soon, exactly what I need for writing a decent article about chemlambda, i.e. one where I can show, in the article, demos with animations like those from the chemlambda pages.

This may be a huge step forward from the discussions about OA because:

  • offers a clear improvement of the article format, allowing it hopefully to merge with  formats like animations, databases, programs which one can execute in the browser.
  • it exports the format of the paper (this is like if latex were a publisher and decides to export the latex programs so that everybody could write a latex article)
  • which has the obvious advantage that one can host on it’s page an article in an uniform format, idea which solves two things at once: (1) how to make an article friendly for future semantic queries (2) where to put the article on the web
  • Github is already the answer and the perpetrator of a silent revolution (is already more than 10 times bigger than arXiv, and git is a model of collaboration tool which is not based on choke points  and centralized thinking), so to export the PeerJ/paper-now to Github is natural and brilliant.

 

See also The shortest Open Access and New Forms of Publication question

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Beggar Access: use DRM for academics, enjoy watching them fight for the copyright

 #BeggarAccess   is  Ross Mounce name for the flavour of OA proposed by Nature, see http://rossmounce.co.uk/2014/12/02/beggar-access/
This is a move which some people expected for a while. It is about the fact that who has the copyright is less relevant than who can enforce digital management rights.
A while ago I got interested into that (see the post
https://chorasimilarity.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/gold-oa-with-cc-licence-green-oa-without-and-a-lesson-from-the-dispute-between-amazon-and-hachette/ )
and made a list of moves by publishers which may be seen as related to the one made by Nature.
So it’s a trend. It looks like academic publishers just discovered what everybody else discovered before: the power of DRM.
I guess that people listening to music and watching movies  form so big a population that we can say they define the average level of human intelligence.
These moves show that publishers (and your average academic boss) believe that you, researcher, are more stupid than this average.
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There’s no contradiction: everybody writes academic articles, nobody reads them

In academia we write highly technical pieces of text called “articles” which appear in publications misleadingly called “journals”.

The authors work incredibly hard to write them. Compared to a regular office job, to have a subject for an academic article and to develop it into a piece of nice research, that’s extremely hard. People doing that should have a reason for wasting their minds for such a small material reward.

They may be like hounds with extremely developed smell sense. They have to hunt, they have to detect the prey. And after the hunt they are OK with a small bit of the prey to chew, while the hunter, with no particularly good nose, takes the most of the prey.

Academic articles and academic journals are from another planet than articles in journals. Nobody reads them.

Nobody reads them. When they do, it is because they seem to be supporting some trivial idea which can be communicated in a regular journal article.

Almost nobody reads them. The peers read them. For any article there are about a handful of other people in the world, beside the author, which may think that it is not a complete loss of time to read it. Who think their is their duty to claim they are going to read it. And who, in most of the cases, unless is trivial from their point of view, they don’t read it.

People, even in academia, are still monkeys. Emotions and leaders, authority and the pack order are very important from them as well. They only claim that’s not so, because they are scientists.

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Support the YODA bill!

This looks like a tremendously important bill!

“A bill introduced Sept. 18 would make clear that consumers actually owned the electronic devices, and any accompanying software on that device, that they purchased, according to sponsor Rep. Blake Farenthold’s (R-Texas).

The You Own Devices Act (H.R. 5586) would amend the Copyright Act “to provide that the first sale doctrine applies to any computer program that enables a machine or other product to operate.”

[taken from Own Your Own Devices You Will, Under Rep. Farenthold’s YODA Bill, by Tamlin Bason]

I just learned about YODA from reading the link via this   G+ post by Charles Hofacker.  The link points to the article

How an eBay bookseller defeated a publishing giant at the Supreme Court, at Ars Technica.

From this article:

Ted Olson stepped to the podium on behalf of Wiley and launched into an argument that Congress had amended the copyright law in 1976 in part to stop unauthorized importation of copyrighted works. Soon he began facing questions that put him on the defensive:

Justice Breyer: Now, under your reading…the millions of Americans who buy Toyotas could not resell them without getting the permission of the copyright holder of every item in that car which is copyrighted.

Olson seemed to have difficulty with the question, answering “that is not this case.” Justice Breyer continued to press:

Justice Breyer: Now, explain to me, because there are… millions of dollars’ worth of items with copyrighted indications of some kind in them that we import every year; libraries with three hundred million books bought from foreign publishers…; museums that buy Picassos… and they can’t display it without getting permission from the five heirs who are disputing ownership of the Picasso copyrights….

Again Olson tried to deflect the question, arguing that “we’re not talking about this case…” But Justice Anthony Kennedy wasn’t satisfied.

Justice Kennedy: You’re aware of the fact that if we write an opinion… with the rule that you propose, that we should, as a matter of common sense, ask about the consequences of that rule.

Olson countered that the “parade of horribles” was exaggerated. Justice Breyer observed wryly that “[s]ometimes horribles don’t occur because no one can believe it.”

[…]

With Justice Breyer authoring the majority opinion, the Court decided that the phrase “lawfully made under this title” wasn’t intended by Congress to impose a “geographical limitation.” Regarding market segmentation, the Court found no support for the notion that copyright “should include a right to divide markets or… to charge different purchasers different prices for the same book…”

 

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Now you see why this is very very interesting.

 

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The clients of publishers. Before: readers. Now: authors.

There are two services offered by any publisher:

  • to help you learn what others have written
  • to help you show to others what you have written.

These are the two sides of the publishing business.

A long time ago, the main reason for the existence of publishers was to spread knowledge, i.e. to offer the first service. They used to multiply the author’s work  and to distribute it to libraries and bookstores.

Libraries and bookstores offered the space for the books to be examined by the people. Some of the books sold well, some not. Some books impressed a selected few, who then wrote other books which sold well. And so on and so forth.

Publishers, libraries and bookstores used to be a very efficient medium of spreading and selecting viable info.

But now, when publish is a button, it looks like the second service is more wanted. Now the publishers offer to authors the service of giving an authority stamp to … anything an author writes. The publishers seek the profit from their main clients, the authors.

Libraries and bookstores, the previous partners, try to find a way to survive.  Because publishers no longer need readers.

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Is this a conflict of interest, if you are an editor?

David Roberts made notes here   about the following event:

“MU Panel 2. Future of Publishing
Date & Time : 18:00 – 19:30, August 19 (Tue), 2014
Moderator: Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, European Research Council, Belgium

Panelists:
Rajendra Bhatia, Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi, India and Sungkyunkwan University, Suwon, Korea
Jean-Pierre Demailly, Institut Fourier, France
Chris Greenwell, Elsevier, The Netherlands
Thomas Hintermann, European Mathematical Society Publishing House, Switzerland
+Nalini Joshi, University of Sydney, Australia
Ravi Vakil, Stanford University, USA
======================================
http://youtu.be/RbIBrE0vepM

I am extremely intrigued about this part:

“E[lsevier?]  does pay its editors-in-chief (=academics) and sometimes associate editors – doesn’t go all the way to reimburse them for the time they spend. Q from floor: where are these figures published? A: “We don’t generally make that available, mostly because the individual editors probably don’t want their colleagues to know” (~http://youtu.be/RbIBrE0vepM?t=1h14m30s) Q: this is unfair A: depends on editors. There’s nothing in the contract stopping them from telling people. Most of them probably wouldn’t want to tell you. Averages out at about $100 per paper handled.”

This practice may be OK from the point of view of the publisher, but, in my opinion, the paid editors HAVE to tell in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

The conflict of interest appears when an editor is in a jury, or otherwise in any process which rewards  publication in journals like the ones where the guy is a paid editor (hiring, phd supervising, grants dispensing).  This is something which is worth discussing, I guess. Is not specific to math.

It is not a matter of the editor “wouldn’t want to tell you”, as cynically put by the E[lsevier?] speaker. It is a matter of being honest.

Recall in this context the post

We have met the enemy: part I, pusillanimous editors, by Mark C. Wilson

“My conclusions, in the absence of further information: senior researchers by and large are too comfortable, too timid, too set in their ways, or too deluded to do what is needed for the good of the research enterprise as a whole. I realize that this may be considered offensive, but what else are the rest of us supposed to think, given everything written above? I have not even touched on the issue of hiring and promotions committees perpetuating myths about impact factors of journals, etc, which is another way in which senior researchers are letting the rest of us down”…

Are we living in a research banana republic?

Apparently (some of) the publishers think we are morons, because they secured collaboration of (some of) the academic bosses.

I think there is no difference between this situation and the one of a medical professional who has to disclose payment by pharmaceutical companies.

What do you think?

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Github laudatio: negative Coase cost

This is a record of a mind changing experience I had with Github, one which will manifest in the months to come. (Well, it’s time to move on, to move further, new experiences await, I like to do this…)

Here is not more than what is in this ephemeral google+ post, but is enough to get the idea.

And it’s controversial, although obvious.

“I  just got hooked by github.io . Has everything, is a dream came true. Publishing? arXiv? pfff…. I know, everybody knows this already, let me enjoy the thought, for the moment. Then it will be some action.

Continuing with github and publishing, this is a worthy subject (although I believe that practically github already dwarfed legacy publishing, academia and arXiv). Here is an excerpt from a post from 2011
http://marciovm.com/i-want-a-github-of-science
“- Publishing is central to Academia, but its publishing system is outclassed by what Open Source software developers have in GitHub- GitHub’s success is not just about openness, but also a prestige economy that rewards valuable content producers with credit and attention

-Open Science efforts like arXiv and PLoS ONE should follow GitHub’s lead and embrace the social web”

I am aware about the many efforts about publishing via github, I only wonder if that’s not like putting a horse in front of a rocket.

On the other side, there is so much to do, now that I feel I’ve seen rock solid proof that academia, publishing and all that jazz is walking dead, with the last drops of arterial blood splatting around from the headless body. ”

Negative Coase cost?

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The tone goes up on the OPEN front

This post has a collection of savory quotes and further comments about the psychological changes which are ongoing, around new ways of dissemination and communication of scientific research.

Aka OPEN …

  • access
  • peer review
  • data
  • notebooks

We are closing to a change, a psychological change, from indifference and disdain from the majority of (more or less established) researchers to a public acknowledgement of the stupidity and immorality of the procedure which is in force, still.

[Rant, jump over if not interested into personal stuff.

Please take into consideration that even if I embrace with full heart these changes, I don’t have any merit or real contribution to these, excepting modest posts here at chorasimilarity, under the tags cost of knowledge and open peer review. More than this, I suffered like probably some of my colleagues by choosing to publish through arXiv mostly and not playing the stupid game, which led to a very damaged career, but unfortunately I did not had the opportunity to create change through participation in teams which now are shaping the future of OPEN whatever. Bravo for them, my best wishes for them, why not sometimes a honest criticism from my small point of view, and thanks for the feeling of revenge which I have, the “I was right” feeling which I hope will grow and grow, because really the research world is damaged to the bones by this incredible stupidity, maybe cupidity and surely lack of competence and care for the future manifested by a majority of leaders.

The second thing I want to mention is that even if I refer to “them”, to a “majority”, all these generalizations have to be nuanced by saying that, as always, as everywhere, the special ones, the creative ones, the salt and pepper of the research world are either excused or completely innocent. They are also everywhere, maybe many of them not in any strong influence position (as in music, for example, the most well known musicians are always never the best, but surely they are among the most hard working), but creating their stuff and possibly not really caring about these social aspects, because they are too deep into the platonic realm. All of them are not the subject or part of any “majority”, they are not “them” in any way.

The third point is that there may be a sloppy use of “young” and “old”. This has nothing to do with physical age. It is true that every old moron was a young moron before. Every old opportunist was a young one some years earlier. Their numbers are continually replenished and we find them everywhere, albeit much more present than the salt and pepper of the research community, and more in the good hard worker, but not really, seriously creative part.  No, young or old refers to the brain quality, not to physical age.

End of rant]

Back to the subject. From timid or rather lonely comments, now we passed to more strong ones.

And the words are harder.

From Causes of the persistence of impact factor mania, by Arturo Casadevall and Ferric C. Fang,

“Science and scientists are currently afflicted by an epidemic of mania manifested by associating the value of research with the journal where the work is published rather than the content of the work itself. The mania is causing profound distortions in the way science is done that are deleterious to the overall scientific enterprise. In this essay, we consider the forces responsible for the persistence of the mania and conclude that it is maintained because it disproportionately benefits elements of the scientific enterprise, including certain well-established scientists, journals, and administrative interests.”

Fully agree with them, besides of this I consider very interesting their explanation that we face a manifestation of the tragedy of the commons.

From Academic self-publishing: a not-so-distant-future, here is a big quote, is too beautiful to crop:

A glimpse into the future
Erin is driving back home from the laboratory with a big smile on her face. After an exciting three-hour brainstorming session discussing the intracranial EEG data from her last experiment, she can’t wait to get her hands back on the manuscript. A new and unexpected interpretation of the findings seems to challenge a popular assumption about the role of sleep in declarative memory consolidation. She had been looking over the figures for more than a month without seeing a clear pattern. But now, thanks to a moment of insight by one of her colleagues, the pieces finally fit together and a new logic is emerging. She realizes it will be hard for the community to accept these new findings, but the methodology is solid and she is now convinced that this is the only reasonable explanation. She is so anxious to see what Axell’s group thinks about new evidence that refutes its theoretical model.

After a week’s hard work, the first draft is ready. All the figures and their long descriptive legends are in place, the literature review is exhaustive, the methodology is clear as a bell, and the conclusions situate the finding in the general context of the role of sleep in memory consolidation. Today, the group had a brief morning meeting to decide which colleagues they will ask to review their draft. Of course, they will ask Axell for his opinion and constructive criticism, but they also agree to invite Barber to confirm that the application of independent component analysis on the data was performed correctly, and Stogiannidis to comment on the modification of the memory consolidation scale. For a review of the general intracranial EEG methodology, the group decides to first approach Favril herself and, if she declines, they will ask Zhang, who recently reviewed the subject for Nature.

After the lunch break, Erin submits the manuscript to the university’s preprint repository that provides a DOI (digital object identifier) and an open attribution licence. When she hits the submit button, she feels a chill running down her spine. More than a year’s hard work is finally freely available to her peers and the public. The next important step is to invite the reviewers. She logs in to her LIBRE profile and inserts the metadata of the manuscript with a hyperlink to the repository version (see LIBRE, 2013). She then clicks the invite reviewer button and writes a quick personal message to Axell, briefly summarizing the main result of the study and why she thinks his opinion is vital for the debate this manuscript will spark. She then invites Stogiannidis to comment on the modification of the memory consolidation scale, and Barber, specifically asking him to check the application of independent component analysis, and also letting him know that all data are freely and openly available at Figshare. After finishing with the formal invitations, Erin tweets the LIBRE link to her followers and sends it as a personal message to specific colleagues from whom she would like to receive general comments. She can now relax. The word is out!

A couple of weeks later, Erin is back at work on the project. Both Favril and Zhang refused to review because of heavy work schedules, but Stogiannidis wrote an excellent report totally approving the modification of her scale. She even suggested a future collaboration to test the new version on a wider sample. Barber also submitted a brief review saying that he doesn’t find any caveats in the analysis and approves the methodology. As Erin expected, Axell didn’t take the new result lightly. He submitted a harsh critique, questioning both the methodology and the interpretation of the main findings. He even mentioned that there is a new paper by his group currently under journal review, reporting on a similar experiment with opposite results. Being pipped to the post and being second to report on this innovative experimental design, he must be really peeved, thinks Erin. She grins. Maybe he will learn the lesson and consider self-publishing next time. Anyway, Erin doesn’t worry too much as there are already two independent colleagues who have marked Axell’s review as biased on LIBRE. Last night, Xiu, Erin’s colleague, finished retouching one of the figures based on a very insightful comment by one of LIBRE’s readers, and today she will upload a new version of the manuscript, inviting some more reviewers.

Two months later, Erin’s paper is now in version number 4.0 and everyone in the group believes it is ready for submission to a journal and further dissemination. The issues raised by seven reviewers have now been adequately addressed, and Axell’s review has received six biased marks and two negative comments. In addition, the paper has attracted a lot of attention in the social media and has been downloaded dozens of times from the institutional repository and has been viewed just over 300 times in LIBRE. The International Journal for the Study of the Role of Sleep in Memory Consolidation has already been in touch with Erin and invited her to submit the paper to them, but everybody in the group thinks the work is of interest to an even wider audience and that it should be submitted to the International Journal for the Study of Memory Consolidation. It charges a little more – 200 euros – but it is slightly more esteemed in the field and well worth the extra outlay. The group is even considering sending the manuscript in parallel to other journals that embrace a broader neuroscience community, now that the group’s copyright and intellectual property rights have been protected. Anyway, what is important (and will count more in the grant proposal Erin plans to submit next year) is that the work has now been openly approved by seven experts in the field. She is also positive that this paper will attract ongoing reviews and that she may even be invited as an expert reviewer herself now that she is more visible in the field. A debate has started in her department about how much the reviewer’s track record should weigh in how future tenure decisions are evaluated, and she has been invited to give a talk on her experience with LIBRE and the versioning of the group’s manuscript, which has now become a dynamic paper (Perakakis et al., 2011).”

I love this, in all details! I consider it among the most well written apology of, particularly, open peer review. [See if you care, also my post Open peer review as a service.]

From Your university is paying too much for journals, by Bjorn Brembs:

“Why are we paying to block public access to research, when we could save billions by allowing access?”

Oh, I’m sure that those in charge with these decisions have their reasons.

From the excellent We have met the enemy: part I, pusillanimous editors, by Mark C. Wilson

“My conclusions, in the absence of further information: senior researchers by and large are too comfortable, too timid, too set in their ways, or too deluded to do what is needed for the good of the research enterprise as a whole. I realize that this may be considered offensive, but what else are the rest of us supposed to think, given everything written above? I have not even touched on the issue of hiring and promotions committees perpetuating myths about impact factors of journals, etc, which is another way in which senior researchers are letting the rest of us down”…

Read also the older, but great We have met the enemy and it is us by Mark Johnston.  I commented about it here.

What is your opinion about all this? It’s getting hotter.

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Gamification of peer review with Ingress

Seems possible to adapt Ingress in order to play the Game of Research and Review.

In the post MMORPGames at the knowledge frontier I propose a gamification of peer review which is, I see now very close to the Ingress game:

“… we could populate this world and play a game of conquest and exploration. A massively multiplayer online game.  Peer-reviews of articles decide which units of places are wild and which ones are tamed. Claim your land (by peer-reviewing articles), it’s up for grabs.  Organize yourselves by interacting with others, delegating peer-reviews for better management of your kingdoms, collaborating for the exploration of new lands.

Instead of getting bonus points, as mathoverflow works, grab some piece of virtual land that you can see! Cultivate it, by linking your articles to it or by peer-reviewing other articles. See the boundaries of your small or big kingdom. Maybe you would like to trespass them, to go into a near place? You are welcome as a trader. You can establish trade with other near kingdoms by throwing bridges between the land, i.e. by writing interdisciplinary articles, with keywords of both lands. Others will follow (or not) and they will populate the new boundary land you created.”

In Ingress (from the wiki source):

“The gameplay consists of establishing “portals” at places of public art, landmarks, cenotaphs, etc., and linking them to create virtual triangular fields over geographic areas. Progress in the game is measured by the number of Mind Units, i.e. people, nominally controlled by each faction (as illustrated on the Intel Map).[7][8] The necessary links between portals may range from meters to kilometers, or to hundreds of kilometers in operations of considerable logistical complexity.[9] International links and fields are not uncommon, as Ingress has attracted an enthusiastic following in cities worldwide[10] amongst both young and old,[11] to the extent that the gameplay is itself a lifestyle for some, including tattoos. ”

 

Instead of public art, Portals could be openaccess articles (from the arXiv, for example, not from the publishers).

 

“A portal with no resonators is unclaimed; to claim a portal for a faction, a player deploys at least one resonator on it.”

Resonators are reviews.

Links between portals are keywords.

 

Something to think about!

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A solution for the “Amazon’s war on publishers”

I spent some time thinking about the “Amazon’s war on publishers” (learned via +Tim O’Reilly post https://plus.google.com/u/0/+TimOReilly/posts/WhyyNx7PYnt ) and now I believe that I have a solution.

The publishers and Amazon could behave maturely and use the method of scientific publishers with the researchers!

Step 1.  Amazon should hire some prominent authors or publishing managers

Step 2.  Amazon should ask the publishers to renounce at their rights, should they want their creation to appear on Amazon site

Step 3. The hired prominent authors and managers should make clear to any publisher and author that if their work is not on Amazon then it is probably crap.

You see, scientists are the most clever people, so if they are happy with this system, then  everybody should be happy too!

[There is a false assumption in this text, which is, unfortunately, a pamphlet.]

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The price of publishing with arXiv

This is a very personal post. It is emotionally triggered by looking at this old question  Downsides of using the arXiv and by reading the recent The coming Calculus MOOC Revolution and the end of math research.

What I think? That a more realistic reason for a possible end (read: shrinking) of math research comes from  thinking  that there are any downsides of using the arXiv. That there are any downsides of using an open peer review system. It comes from those who are moderately in favour of open research until they participate into a committee or until it comes to protecting their own little church from strange ideas.

And from others, an army of good but not especially creative researchers, a high mediocracy (high because selected, however) who will probably sink research for a time, because on the long term a lot of mediocre research results add to noise. But on the short term, this is a very good business: write many mediocre, correct articles, hide them behind a paywall and influence the research policy to favour the number (and not the content) of those.

What I think  is that will happen exactly like it happened with the academic painters, a while ago.

You know that I’m right.

Now, because the net is not subtle enough, in order to show you that indeed, these people are right from a social point of view, to say that there is a price for not behaving as they expect, indulge me to explain what was the price which I paid for using the arXiv as the principal means of publication.

The advantage: I had a lot of fun. I wrote articles which contain more than one idea, or which use more than one field of research. I wrote articles on subjects which genuinely interest me, or articles which contain more questions than answers. I wrote articles which were not especially designed to solve problems, but to open ones. I changed fields, once about 3-4 years.

The price: I was told that I don’t have enough published articles. I lost a lot of cites, either because the citation was incorrectly done, or because the databases (like ISI) don’t count well those (not that I care, really). Because I change fields (for those who know me, it’s clear that I don’t do this randomly, but because there are connections between fields) I seem to come from nowhere and go nowhere. Socially, and professionally, is very bad for the career to do what I did. Most of the articles I sent for publication (to legacy publishers) have spent incredible amounts of time there and most of the refusals were of the type “seems OK but maybe another journal” or “is OK but our journal …”. I am incredibly (i.e. the null hypothesis statistically incredible) unlucky to publish in legacy journals.

But, let me stress this, I survived. And I still have lots of ideas, better than before, and I’m using dissemination tools (like this blog) and I am still having a lot of fun.

So, it’s your choice: recall why you have started to do research, what dreams you had. I don’t believe you that you dreamed, as a kid, to write a lot of ISI papers about a lot of arcane problems of others, in order to attract grant financing from bureaucrats who count what is your social influence.

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Who wins from failed peer reviews?

The recent retraction of 120 articles from non-OA journals, coming after the attack on OA by the John Bohannon experiment, is the subject of Predatory Publishers: Not Just OA (and who loses out?). The article asks:

Who Loses Out Under Different “Predator” Models?

and an answer is proposed.  Further I want to comment on this.

First, I remark that the results of the  Bohannon experiment (which is biased because it is done only on a selected list of OA journals) show that the peer review process may be deeply flawed for some journals (i.e. those OA journals which accepted the articles sent by Bohannon) and for some articles at least (i.e. those articles sent by Bohannon which were acepted by the OA journals).

The implication of that experiment is that maybe there are other articles which were published by OA journals after a flawed peer review process.

On the other side, Cyril Labbé discovered  120 articles in some non  OA journals which were nonsense automatically generated by SCIgen. It is clear that the publication of these 120 article shows that the peer review process (for those articles and for those journals) was flawed.

The author of the linked article suggests that the one who loses from the publication of flawed articles, in OA or non OA journals, is the one who pays! In the case of legacy publishers this is the reader. In the case of Gold OA publishers this is the author.

This is correct. The reason why the one who pays loses is that the one who pays is cheated by the flawed peer review. The author explains this very well.

But it is an incomplete view. Indeed, the author recognizes that the main service offered by the publishers is the  well done peer review. Before discussing who loses from publication of flawed articles, let’s recognize that this is what the publisher really sells.

At least in a perfect world, because the other thing a publisher sells is vanity soothing. Indeed, let’s return to the pair of discoveries made by Bohannon and Labbé and see that while in the case of Bohannon experiment the flawed articles were made up with for the experiment purpose,  Labbé discovered articles written by researchers who tried to publish something for the sake of publishing.

So, maybe before asking who loses from flaws in the peer review, let’s ask who wins?

Obviously, unless there is a conspiracy going on from some years,  the researchers who submitted  automatically generated articles to prestigious non OA publishers did not want their papers to be well peer reviewed. They hoped their papers will pass this filter.

My conclusion is:

  • there are two things a publisher sells: peer review as a service and vanity
  • some Gold OA journals and some legacy journals turned out to have flawed peer review service
  • indeed, the one who pays and does not receive the service looses
  • but also the one who exploits the flaws of the badly done  peer review service wins.

Obviously green OA will lead to fewer losses and open peer review will lead to fewer wins.

Open peer review as a service

The recent discussions about the creation of a new Gold OA journal (Royal Society Open Science)  made me to write this post. In the following there is a concentrate of what I think about the legacy publishers, Gold OA publishers and the open peer review as a service.

Note: the idea is to put in one place the various bits of this analysis, so that it is easy to read. The text is assembled from slightly edited parts of several posts from chorasimilarity.

(Available as a published google drive doc here.)

Open peer review as a service   

Scientific publishers are in some respects like Cinderella. They used to provide an immense service to the scientific world, by disseminating  new results and archiving old results into books. Before the internet era, like Cinderella at the ball, they were everybody’s darling.

Enters the net. At the last moment, Cinderella tries to run from this new, strange world.

Cinderella does not understand  what happened so fast. She was used with the scarcity (of economic goods), to the point that she believed everything will be like this all her life!

What to do now, Cinderella? Will you sell open access for gold?

But wait! Cinderella forgot something. Her lost shoe, the one she discarded when she ran out from the ball.

In the scientific publishers world, peer-review is the lost shoe. (As well, we may say that up to now, researchers who are writing peer-reviews are like Cinderella too, their work is completely unrewarded and neglected.)

In the internet era the author of a scientific research paper is free to share his results with the scientific world by archiving a preprint version of her/his paper in free access repositories.  The author, moreover, HAS to do this  because the net offers a much better dissemination of results than any old-time publisher. In order (for the author’s ideas) to survive, making a research paper scarce by constructing pay-walls around it is clearly a very bad idea.  The only thing which the gold open access  does better than green open access is that the authors pay the publisher for doing the peer review (while in the case of arxiv.org, say, the archived articles are not peer-reviewed).

Let’s face it: the publisher cannot artificially make scarce the articles, it is a bad idea. What a publisher can do, is to let the articles to be free and to offer the peer-review service.

Like Cinderella’s lost shoe, in this moment the publisher throws away the peer-reviews (made gratis by fellow researchers) and tries to sell the article which has acceptable peer-review reports.

Context. Peer-review is one of the pillars of the actual publication of research practice. Or, the whole machine of traditional publication is going to suffer major modifications, most of them triggered by its perceived inadequacy with respect to the needs of researchers in this era of massive, cheap, abundant means of communication and organization. In particular, peer-review is going to suffer transformations of the same magnitude.

We are living interesting times, we are all aware that internet is changing our lives at least as much as the invention of the printing press changed the world in the past. With a difference: only much faster. We have an unique chance to be part of this change for the better, in particular  concerning  the practices of communication of research.

In front of such a fast evolution of  behaviours, a traditionalistic attitude is natural to appear, based on the argument that slower we react, a better solution we may find. This is however, in my opinion at least, an attitude better to be left to institutions, to big, inadequate organizations, than to individuals.

Big institutions need big reaction times because the information flows slowly through them, due to their principle of pyramidal organization, which is based on the creation of bottlenecks for information/decision, acting as filters. Individuals are different in the sense that for them, for us, the massive, open, not hierarchically organized access to communication is a plus.

The bottleneck hypothesis. Peer-review is one of those bottlenecks, traditionally. It’s purpose is to separate the professional  from the unprofessional.  The hypothesis that peer-review is a bottleneck explains several facts:

  • peer-review gives a stamp of authority to published research. Indeed, those articles which pass the bottleneck are professional, therefore more suitable for using them without questioning their content, or even without reading them in detail,
  • the unpublished research is assumed to be unprofessional, because it has not yet passed the peer-review bottleneck,
  • peer-reviewed publications give a professional status to authors of those. Obviously, if you are the author of a publication which passed the peer-review bottleneck then you are a professional. More professional publications you have, more of a professional you are,
  • it is the fault of the author of the article if it does not pass the peer-review bottleneck. As in many other fields of life, recipes for success and lore appear, concerning means to write a professional article, how to enhance your chances to be accepted in the small community of professionals, as well as feelings of guilt caused by rejection,
  • the peer-review is anonymous by default, as a superior instance which extends gifts of authority or punishments of guilt upon the challengers,
  • once an article passes the bottleneck, it becomes much harder to contest it’s value. In the past it was almost impossible because any professional communication had to pass through the filter. In the past, the infallibility of the bottleneck was a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, with very few counterexamples, themselves known only to a small community of enlightened professionals.

This hypothesis explains as well the fact that lately peer-review is subjected to critical scrutiny by professionals. Indeed, in particular, the wave of detected plagiarisms in the class of peer-reviewed articles lead to the questioning of the infallibility of the process. This is shattering the trust into the stamp of authority which is traditionally associated with it.  It makes us suppose that the steep rise of retractions is a manifestation of an old problem which is now revealed by the increased visibility of the articles.

From a cooler point of view, if we see the peer-review as designed to be a bottleneck in a traditionally pyramidal organization,  is therefore questionable if the peer-review as a bottleneck will survive.

Social role of peer-review. There are two other uses of peer-review, which are going to survive and moreover, they are going to be the main reasons for it’s existence:

  • as a binder for communities of peers,
  • as a time-saver for the researchers.

I shall take them one-by-one.

On communities of peers. What is strange about the traditional peer-review is that although any professional is a peer, there is no community of peers. Each researcher does peer-reviewing, but the process is organized in such a manner that we are all alone.

To see this, think about the way things work: you receive a demand to review an article, from an editor, based on your publication history, usually, which qualifies you as a peer. You do your job, anonymously, which has the advantage of letting you be openly critical with the work of your peer, the author. All communication flows through the editor, therefore the process is designed to be unfriendly with communications between peers. Hence, no community of peers.

However, most of the researchers who ever lived on Earth are alive today. The main barrier for the spread of ideas is a poor mean of communication. If the peer-review becomes open, it could foster then the appearance of dynamical communities of peers, dedicated to the same research subject.

As it is today, the traditional peer-review favours the contrary, namely the fragmentation of the community of researchers which are interested in the same subject into small clubs, which compete on scarce resources, instead of collaborating. (As an example, think about a very specialized research subject which is taken hostage by one, or few, such clubs which peer-reviews favourably only the members of the same club.)

Time-saver role of peer-review. From the sea of old and new articles, I cannot read all of them. I have to filter them somehow in order to narrow the quantity of data which I am going to process for doing my research.

The traditional way was to rely on the peer-review bottleneck, which is a kind of pre-defined, one size for all solution.

With the advent of communities of peers dedicated to narrow subjects, I can choose the filter which serves best my research interests. That is why, again, an open peer-review has obvious advantages. Moreover, such a peer-review should be perpetual, in the sense that, for example, reasons for questioning an article should be made public, even after the “publication” (whatever such a word will mean in the future). Say, another researcher finds that an older article, which passed once the peer-review, is flawed for reasons the researcher presents. I could benefit from this information and use it as a filter, a custom, continually upgrading filter of my own, as a member of one of the communities of peers I am a member of.

All the steps of the editorial process used by legacy publishers are obsolete. To see this, is enough to ask “why?”.

  1. The author sends the article to the publisher (i.e. “submits” it). Why? Because in the old days the circulation and availability of research articles was done almost exclusively by the intermediary of the publishers. The author had to “submit” (to) the publisher in order for the article to enter through the processing pipe.
  2. The editor of the journal seeks reviewers based on  hunches, friends advice, basically thin air. Why? Because, in the days when we could pretend we can’t search for every relevant bit of information, there was no other way to feed our curiosity but from the publishing pipe.
  3. There are 2 reviewers who make reports. (With the author, that makes 3 readers of the article, statistically more than 50% of the readers the article will have,  once published.) Why? Because the pyramidal way of organization was, before the net era, the most adapted. The editor on top, delegates the work to reviewers, who call back the editor to inform him first, and not the author, about their opinion. The author worked, let’s say, for a year and the statistically insignificant number of 2 other people make an opinion on that work in … hours? days? maybe a week of real work? No wonder then that what exits through the publishing pipe is biased towards immediate applications, conformity of ideas and the glorified version of school homeworks.
  4. The editor, based solely on the opinion of 2 reviewers, decides what to do with the article. He informs the author, in a non-conversational way, about the decision. Why? Because again of the pyramidal organization way of thinking. The editor on top, the author at the bottom. In the old days, this was justified by the fact that the editor had something to give to the author, in exchange of his article: dissemination by the means of industrialized press.
  5. The article is published, i.e. a finite number of physical copies are typed and sent to libraries and particulars, in exchange for money. Why? Nothing more to discuss here, because this is the step the most subjected to critics by the OA movement.
  6. The reader chooses which of the published articles to read based on authority arguments. Why? Because there was no way to search, firsthand, for what the reader needs, i.e. research items of interest in a specific domain. There are two effects of this.

(a) The raise of importance of the journal over the one of the article.

(b) The transformation of research communication into vanity chasing.

Both effects were (again, statistically) enforced by poor science policy and by the private interests of those favoured by the system, not willing to  rock the boat which served them so well.

Given that the entire system is obsolete, what to do? It is, frankly, not our business, as researchers, to worry about the fate of legacy publishers, more than about, say, umbrella repairs specialists.

Does Gold OA sell the peer-review service?  It is clear that the reader is not willing to pay for the research publications, simply because the reader does not need the service which is classically provided by a publisher: dissemination of knowledge. Today the researcher who puts his article in an open repository does a much better dissemination  than legacy publishers with their old tricks.

Gold OA is the idea that if we can’t force the reader to pay, maybe we can try with the author. Let’s see what exactly is the service which Gold OA publishers offer to the author (in exchange for money).

1.  Is the author a customer of a Gold OA publisher?

I think it is.

2. What is the author paying for, as a customer?

I think the author pays for the peer-review service.

3. What offers the Gold OA publisher  for the money?

I think it offers only the peer-review service, because dissemination can be done by the author by submitting to open repositories, like the arxiv.org , for free. There are opinions that  that the Gold OA publisher offer much more, for example the service of assembling an editorial board, but who wants to buy an editorial board? No, the authors pays for the peer-review process, which is managed by the editorial board, true, which is assembled by the publisher. So the end-product is the peer-review and the author pays for that.

4. Is there any other service  else sold to the author by the Gold OA publisher?

Almost 100% automated services, like formatting, citation-web services, hosting the article are very low value services today.

However, it might be argued that the Gold OA publisher offers also the service of satisfying the author’s vanity, as the legacy publishers do.

Conclusion.  The only service that publishers may provide to the authors of research articles is the open, perpetual peer-review.  There is great potential here, but Gold OA sells this for way too much money.

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Good news: Royal Society Open Science has what is needed

[Source]

Royal Society Open Science will be the first of the Royal Society’s journals to cover the entire range of science and mathematics. It will provide a scalable publishing service, allowing the Society to publish all the high quality work it receives without the restrictions on scope, length or impact imposed by traditional journals. The cascade model will allow the Royal Society to make more efficient use of the precious resource of peer review and reduce the duplication of effort in needlessly repeated reviews of the same article.

The journal will have a number of distinguishing features:

objective peer review (publishing all articles which are scientifically sound, leaving any judgement of importance or potential impact to the reader)
• it will offer open peer review as an option
• articles will embody open data principles
• each article will have a suite of article level metrics and encourage post-publication comments
• the Editorial team will consist entirely of practicing scientists and draw upon the expertise of the Royal Society’s Fellowship
• in addition to direct submissions, it will accept articles referred from other Royal Society journals

Looks great!  That is important news, for two reasons:

  • it has some key features: “objective peer review” ,  “open peer review as an option” , “post-publication comments”
  • it is handled by a learned society.

It “will launch officially later in 2014”.  I believe them.  (And if not then another learned society should take the lead, because it’s just the right time.)

For me, as a mathematician, it is also important that it covers math.

After reading one more time, I realize that in the announcement there is nothing about the OA colour: green or gold?

What I hope is that in the worst case they will choose a PeerJ green (the one with the discrete, humanly pleasant shade of gold, see Bitcoin, figshare, dropbox, open peer-review and hyperbolic discounting).  If not, anyway they will be the first, not the last,  academic society (true?) which embraces an OA system with those mentioned important features.

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UPDATE:  Graham Steel asked and quotes  “The APC will be waived for the first year. After this it will be £1000”.

Disappointing!  I am a naive person.

So, I ask once more: What’s needed to make a PeerJ like math journal?

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Bitcoin, figshare, dropbox, open peer-review and hyperbolic discounting

Thinking out loud about the subject  of models of OA publication

  1. which are also open peer-review friendly,
  2. which work in the real world,
  3. which offer an advantage to the researchers using them,
  4. which have  small costs for the initiators.

PeerJ  is such an example, I want to understand why does it work and find a way to emulate it’s success, as quickly as possible.

You may wonder what difference is between 2 (works in real world) and  3(gives advantage to the user). If it gives an advantage to the user than it should work in real life, right? I don’t think so, because the behaviour of real people is far from being rational .

A hypothesis for achieving 2 is to exploit hyperbolic discounting.  I believe that one of the reasons PeerJ works is not only that it is cheaper than PLOS, but it also exploits this human behaviour.

It motivates the users to  review and to submit and it also finances the site (buys the cloud time, etc).

How much of the problem 4 can be solved by using the trickle of money which comes from exploiting hyperbolic discounting? Some experiments can be made.

What else? Let’s see, there is more which intrigues me:

  • the excellent figshare   of Mark Hahnel. It’s a  free repository,  which provides a DOI and collects some citation and use data.
  • there is a possibility to make blogs on dropbox. I have to understand well, but it seems that Scriptogr.am offers this service, which is an interesting thing in many ways. For example can one use a dropbox blog for sharing the articles, making it easy to collect reactions to them (as comments), in parallel with using figshare for getting a DOI for the article and for depositing versions of the article?
  • tools like git.macropus.org/twitter-viewer  for collecting twitter reactions to the articles (and possibly write other tools like this one)
  •  what is a review good for? a service which an open review could bring to the user is to connect the user with other people interested in the same thing. Thus, by collecting “social mentions” of the article, the author of the article might contact the interested people.
  • finally, and coming back to the money subject (and hyperbolic discounting), if you think, there is some resemblance in the references of an article and the block chains of bitcoin.  Could this be used?

I agree that these are very vague ideas, but it looks like there may be several sweet spots in this 4 dim space

  • (behavioral pricing , citing as  block chain)
  • (stable links like DOI , free repository)
  • (editor independent blog as open article)
  • (APIs for collecting social mentions as reviews)

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What’s needed to make a PeerJ like math journal?

 I want to see or even want to participate into the making of a PeerJ like journal for mathematics. Is anybody interested into that? What is needed for starting such a thing?

Here is the motivation: it works and it has open peer-review. It is not exactly green OA, but it is a valid model.
https://peerj.com/pricing/  You pay a $99 for one article per year, to $299 for unlimited number of articles and time. But one has also to have a reviewing activity in order to keep these publishing plans privileges, one has to submit a review at least once per year (a review can even be a comment to an article). That’s a very clever mechanism which takes into account the human nature 🙂

In my opinion we, mathematicians are in dire need for something like this!

Speaking for myself, I am bored to wait for others to do what they suggested they will do.
(Only crickets noise until now, as a response to my questions here https://chorasimilarity.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/questions-about-epijournals-and-the-spnetwork/  )

Also, I believe that mathematicians  form a rather big community today and they deserve better publication models than the ones they have. Free from ego battles and who’s got the biggest citation count.

We do have the arXiv, which is the oldest (true?) and greatest math and physics repository ever.

But it looks that after an early and very beneficial  adoption of this invention of  physicists, we are loosing the pace.

Moreover, if there is any reason to mention this, I also think that such a PeerJ-like publication vehicle will not harm, in the long term, the interests of the mathematical learned societies.

 

The same post is here too.

Questions about epijournals and the spnetwork

I start the post by asking you to prove me wrong.

Episciences.org (with their epijournal concept) and The Selected Papers Network are the only new initiatives in new ways of publication and refereeing in mathematics  (I deliberately ignore Gold OA).

It looks to me they are dead.

Compare with the appearance of new vehicles of research communication in (other) sciences, like PeerJ, which is almost green OA and which has a system of open peer-review!

Are mathematicians … too naive?

There is only one initiative in mathematics which is really interesting:  the writing of the HOTT book.

I would be glad to be wrong, that is why I ask some questions about them.

1. Episciences.    Almost a year ago, on Feb 17 2013, I wrote the post  Episciences-Math, let’s talk about this , asking for a discussion about the almost opaque creation of epijournals.

What is new in this initiative? Nothing, besides the fact that some of the articles in arXiv will be refereed, which is a great thing in itself.

Their have not started yet. In one of the comments, I am instructed to look, for discussions, at    publishing.mathforge.org.

In the post I wrote:

Finally, maybe I am paranoid, but from the start (I can document by giving links to previous comments) I saw the potential of this project as an excuse for more delay until real changes are done. I definitely don’t believe that your project is designed for that purpose, I am only afraid that your project might be used for that, for example by stifling any public discussion about new OA models in math publishing, because you know, there are these epijournals coming, let’s wait and see.

Here is what I found about this,  almost a year after: progress in 2014?

[Mark C. Wilson] I am surprised at the low speed of change in mathematical publishing since early 2012. The Episciences project is now advertised as starting in 2014, but I recall it being April 2013 originally. No explanation is given for the delay. Forum of Mathematics seems to have  a few papers now, at least. SCOAP3 seems to moving at a glacial pace.

Researchers in experimental fields have reasons to be concerned about changing peer review, but surely arXiv is good enough for most mathematicians. Yet it is very far from being universally used. Gowers’ latest idea (implemented by Scott Morrison) of cataloguing free versions of papers in “important” math journals on a wiki seems useful, and initial results do seem to show that some kind of arXiv overlay would suffice for most needs.

Staying in the traditional paradigm, in 2013 I helped completely revamp an existing electronic journal (analytic-combinatorics.org) and it is now in pretty good shape. We could certainly scale up in number of submissions by a factor of 10 (not sure about 100) without any extra resources. I have had a few emails from Elsevier editors explaining how they get resources to help them do their job. I still remain completely unconvinced that free tools like OJS can’t duplicate this easily. Why is it so hard to get traction with editors, and get them to bargain hard with the “owners”?

[Benoit Kloeckner] Just about Episciences: it is true that the project has been delayed and that the communication about this has been scarce, to say the least. The reason for the delay has been the time needed to develop the software, which includes some unconventional feature (notably importation from arXiv and HaL of pdf and more importantly metadata). The development has really started later than expected and we chose not to rush into opening the project, in order to get a solid software. Things have really progressed now, even if it is not perceptible from the outside. The support of partners is strong, and I am confident the project will open this year, probably closer to now than December.

I thought it is already clear for everybody that “software” is a straw man, the real problem is psychological. Why nobody tries to make a variant of PeerJ for math, or other project which works already in other sciences?

2. Spnetwork.   Do you see a great activity related to the spnetwork project,  hailed by John Baez? I don’t, although I  wish to, because at the moment it was the only “game in [the mathematical] town”.

But maybe I am wrong, so I looked for usage statistics of the spnetwork.

Are there any, publicly available? I was not able to find them.

What I did was to login into the spnetwork and search for comments  with “a” inside. There are 1578, from the start of the spnetwork.  Looked for people with “a” in the name, there are 1422.  By randomly clicking on their comments in the last 20 days,  it appears that about 0 of them made any comment.

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So, please prove me wrong. Or else, somebody start a PeerJ like site for math!

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Two pieces of all too obvious propaganda

Lately I have not posted about the changes in the academia concerning communication of research. There were many occasions to comment, many pieces of propaganda which I interpret as the beginning of a dark period, but, hey, also as a clear sign that the morning light is near.

Having a bit of time to spare, I shall react to two recent pieces of a slightly more subtle propaganda. Only slightly more subtle, that is my opinion. You don’t have to believe me, make your own opinion instead!

Please consider also the point of view that the following two pieces are involuntary propaganda, accidentally produced by ignorance.

Make your own opinion, that’s the most important.

Piece 1: How to become good at peer review: A guide for young scientists by Violent methaphors.  The post starts by the following

Peer review is at the heart of the scientific method. Its philosophy is based on the idea that one’s research must survive the scrutiny of experts before it is presented to the larger scientific community as worthy of serious consideration.

I saw before this nonsense that peer-review has something to do with the scientific method. It has not, because the scientific method says nothing about peer review. Probably the author makes a confusion between the need to be able to reproduce a scientific result with peer review? I don’t know, but I recommend to first learn what is the scientific method.

Peer review is a recent procedure which has to do with the communication of science through journals.  I will no discuss the value peer review brings to research (a value which exists, certainly), but instead I shall just comment that:

  • as it is done today, peer review is that piece of paper the legacy publisher throws into the wastebasket before making your work, dear researcher, his,
  • peer review is an idea based on authority, not on science, so that you don’t have to understand why a piece of research is valuable, instead you just have to lazily accept it if it appeared in a peer-reviewed journal,
  • peer review needs you, young researcher, because most of everybody else is too busy with other stuff. Nobody will thank you, is your duty (why? nobody really knows, but they want you to believe this).

The second part of the quote mentions that “one’s research must survive the scrutiny of experts before it is presented to the larger scientific community as worthy of serious consideration”, which would be just sad, dinosaurish speaking, if it would come from an old person who did not understood that today there is, or there should be, free access to information. This freedom does not come without obligations: if you want to survive  to this deluge of information, then you have to work hard for this and make responsible choices, instead of lazily relying on anonymous experts and on filtered channels of informations. Your take: do something like religion and believe the authority, or do some science and use your head. Which is your pick?

UPDATE (20.10.14): I can’t explain to myself why Mike Taylor does not detect this, behind the bland formulations.
He does, however, makes good points here.

Piece 2. Unexpected, but I think a bit more subtle is this post at Not even wrong: Latest on abc . The main idea, as far as I understand it, is that Mochizuki work is not mathematics unless accepted by the community. Here “accepted” means to pass a peer-review, which Mochizuki does not oppose, of course, only that apparently he worked too much for the “experts” to be able to digest it. So,  it is Mochizuki fault because there seem to be needed many months of understanding, if not years, from the part of the experts. This is an effort that very few people are willing to make, unfortunately. Somehow this is Mochizuki fault, if I well understand. I posted the following comment

This looks to me as a social problem, not a mathematical one. On one side, there are no “experts” in Mochizuki field, because he made it all. On the other side, the idiotic pressure to publish, which is imposed in academia (the legacy publishers being only opportunistic parasites, in my opinion), makes people not willing to spend time to understand, even if Mochizuki past achievements would imply that there might be worthy to do this.
To conclude, is a social problem, even an anthropological one, like a foreign ape which shows to the local tribe how to design a pulley system, not at all believable to spend time on this. Or it is just nonsense, who knows without trying to understand?

Peter Woit replied by sending me to read a very interesting, well known text, thank you!

For some great wisdom on this topic, I urge everyone who hasn’t done so to read Bill Thurston’s “On proof and progress in mathematics”
http://arxiv.org/abs/math/9404236
For Mochizuki’s proof to be accepted, other members of the community are going to have to understand his ideas, see how they are supposed to work and get convinced that they do work. This is how mathematics makes progress, not just by one person writing an insight down, but by this insight getting communicated to others who can then use it. Right now, this process is just starting a bit, with the best bet for it to move along whatever Yamashita is writing. It would be best if Mochizuki himself could better communicate his ideas (telling people they just need to sit down and devote six months of time to trying to puzzle out 1000 pages of disparate material is not especially helpful), but it’s sometimes the case that the originator of ideas is not the right person to explain them to others.

What is the propaganda here? Well, it is the same, in favor of legacy publishers, but hidden behind some  universal law that a piece of math is not math unless it has been processed by the classical peer-review mill. Please send us small chunks, don’t hit us with big chunks of math, because the experts will not be able to digest them.

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Competitivity and creativity in academia

Via Mark Changizi, I arrived to this post at It’s OK to be smart , which has as a conclusion: [for PhD students] “… faculty jobs ARE the alternative career”.  Went from here to  The Tenure Games, which lot of people know. The problem is big, one hears about particular cases all the time  and a natural question is:  is academia facing a real problem or it is just about people who don’t  stand the heat of the fierce competition?

I think there is a more important side question: is academia delivering? It should, because it selects the best of the best, right?

Don’t believe my suggestion to the contrary. Let’s see another, older academia in action, more than a century ago: [source]

The most famous art competition for students was the Prix de Rome. The winner of the Prix de Rome was awarded a fellowship to study at the Academie francaise’s school at the Villa Medici in Rome for up to five years. To compete, an artist had to be of French nationality, male, under 30 years of age, and single. He had to have met the entrance requirements of the Ecole and have the support of a well-known art teacher. The competition was grueling, involving several stages before the final one, in which 10 competitors were sequestered in studios for 72 days to paint their final history paintings. The winner was essentially assured a successful professional career.

The ultimate achievement for the professional artist was election to membership in the Academie  francaise and the right to be known as an academician.

All this to the result, a 100 years after, of decorating a chocolate box. Art followed another, much more creative path.

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This is part of the same problem as academic publishing, what is intriguing is that  the same parallel works.

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Journal of uncalled advices

All the steps of the editorial process used by legacy publishers are obsolete. To see this, is enough to ask “why?”.

  1. The author sends the article to the publisher (i.e. “submits” it). Why? Because in the old days the circulation and availability of research articles was done almost exclusively by the intermediary of the publishers. The author had to “submit” (to) the publisher in order for the article to enter through the processing pipe.
  2. The editor of the journal seeks reviewers based on ___________ [please add your suggestions], which amounts to hunches, friends advice, basically thin air. Why? Because, in the days when we could pretend we can’t search for every relevant bit of information, there was no other way to feed our curiosity but from the publishing pipe.
  3. There are 2 reviewers who make reports. (With the author, that makes 3 readers of the article, statistically more than 50% of the readers the article will have,  once published.) Why? Because the pyramidal way of organization was, before the net era, the most adapted. The editor on top, delegates the work to reviewers, who call back the editor to inform him first, and not the author, about their opinion. The author worked, let’s say, for a year and the statistically insignificant number of 2 other people make an opinion on that work in … hours? days? maybe a week of real work? No wonder then that what exits through the publishing pipe is biased towards immediate applications, conformity of ideas and the glorified version of school homeworks.
  4. The editor, based solely on the opinion of 2 reviewers, decides what to do with the article. He informs the author, in a non-conversational way, about the decision. Why? Because again of the pyramidal organization way of thinking. The editor on top, the author at the bottom. In the old days, this was justified by the fact that the editor had something to give to the author, in exchange of his article: dissemination by the means of industrialized press.
  5. The article is published, i.e. a finite number of physical copies are typed and sent to libraries and particulars, in exchange for money. Why? Nothing more to discuss here, because this is the step the most subjected to critics by the OA movement.
  6. The reader chooses which of the published articles to read based on authority arguments. Why? Because there was no way to search, firsthand, for what the reader needs, i.e. research items of interest in a specific domain. There are two effects of this. (a) The raise of importance of the journal over the one of the article. (b) The transformation of research communication into vanity chasing.  Both effects were (again, statistically) enforced by poor science policy and by the private interests of those favoured by the system, not willing to  rock the boat which served them so well.

Given that the entire system is obsolete, what to do? It is, frankly, not our business, as researchers, to worry about the fate of legacy publishers, more than about, say, umbrella repairs specialists.

But, what to do, in these times of transition?  It is in my power to laugh a bit, at least, and maybe to make others, with real decision power, to think.

That is why I propose a Journal of Uncalled Advices, which would work as the spnetwork, only driven by publishers, as a journal.

  1. The editor searches in the arxiv, or elsewhere, article he likes, or he consider important.
  2. Makes a public call for reviews of the selected articles. He manages the place of the discussion.
  3. At some point a number of technical reports appear (the uncalled advices), collaboratively.
  4. The editor uses again his nose to separate opinion from technical reports and produces (writes) two final (for the journal)  articles about the research article. The opinion part could as well serve as vulgarization of the research article, the technical part could serve to the specialists and to the author.
  5. The two articles are sold by piece, for 6 months and then they are made public.
  6. The reader uses the journal articles as evidence and makes his own mind about the research article.

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UPDATE:  The following older posts are relevant

 

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My post ended here, in case there is something added after the end of the post, it’s an example of uncalled adds.

Xanadu rules for OA publishing

Any new project in OA publishing meets high expectations. That is why most of them fail. Truth is that, until now, and with few exceptions, no such project meets the expectations of us, anonymous creators of net content.

I am interested in research and communication of it, particularly in mathematical research (but math is everywhere and best challenges are now in the sciences of the living, so it does not matter much what kind of research we are discussing about).

Discussions about new OA publication proposals, I noticed, quickly turn to some sensible points, which are usually not considered by the creators. Central among those is: we need more interactive forms of communicating research. The notion of the article as the main communication vehicle is challenged, because if we are willing to allow the article to bear online, perpetual examination and commenting then, at some point, we obtain a complex product, with many contributors, with many levels of complexity, something which is no longer an article, but something else.

For simplicity, let’s call such an object a “document”, which may have various versions in space and in time (i.e. a version 3 in London and a version 2 in Singapore).

Contributors to documents are called “creators”, be them authors, reviewers or commenters.

We have a kind of a mess, right? Something not quite easy to handle by the www, something which will entropically turn to chaos.

Not quite. It would be so in the world of the html link.

There is an old attempt, the Project Xanadu, with it’s tumblers and enfilades, which look to me as an ideal system of meaningful organisation of scientific communication. We don’t need the whole net to devolve in time to the ideas of the ’60’s and then re-evolve with tumblers instead of html links. Instead, for those of us who are nerdy, have long time attention spans and want to communicate original, creative research, the rules of the Project Xanadu could be taken as an example of what would be nice to have.

In the following I reproduce those rules, but with some words replaced, like “server” with “journal” (that’s a bad word, journal, but for the moment I don’t have another), “user” with “creator”. Also, “document is to be understood in the sense explained previously. Finally, I shall strikethrough the rules which I don’t think they apply (or I don’t support, because are the kind of evil thing a legacy publisher would adore).

Here they are:  (source for the original rules)

  1. Every journal is uniquely and securely identified.
  2. Every journal can be operated independently or in a network.
  3. Every creator is uniquely and securely identified.
  4. Every creator can search, retrieve, create and store documents.
  5. Every document can consist of any number of parts each of which may be of any data type.
  6. Every document can contain links of any type including virtual copies (“transclusions“) to any other document in the system accessible to its owner.
  7. Links are visible and can be followed from all endpoints.
  8. Permission to link to a document is explicitly granted by the act of publication.
  9. Every document can contain a royalty mechanism at any desired degree of granularity to ensure payment on any portion accessed, including virtual copies (“transclusions”) of all or part of the document.
  10. Every document is uniquely and securely identified.
  11. Every document can have secure access controls.
  12. Every document can be rapidly searched, stored and retrieved without creator knowledge of where it is physically stored.
  13. Every document is automatically moved to physical storage appropriate to its frequency of access from any given location.
  14. Every document is automatically stored redundantly to maintain availability even in case of a disaster.
  15. Every journal provider can charge their creators at any rate they choose for the storage, retrieval and publishing of documents.
  16. Every transaction is secure and auditable only by the parties to that transaction.
  17. The client-server communication protocol is an openly published standard. Third-party software development and integration is encouraged.

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UPDATE: Among the Xanadu Projects, as listed on this page of Xanadu Australia, there is

Committed (persistent) online publishing

Quick reaction on spnetwork part 4

Triggered by the spnetwork 4 post by Christopher Lee, hosted at John Baez’ Azimuth.

Only a very brief reaction, written from a beach, will come back later to it.

I am intrigued by this:

Think about it: that’s what search engines do all the time—a search engine pulls material out of all the worlds’ walled gardens, and gives it a new life by unifying it based on what it’s about. All selectedpapers.net does is act as a search engine that indexes content by what paper and what topics it’s about, and who wrote it.

There seems to be a huge potential here.

OK, I am thinking about it and I’m having the usual conversation with the regular naysayer, who tells me that in order to switch to the spnetwork, ot to ANY alternative of the actual publishing system, you need to have an incentive for that. What’s wrong with the actual system, besides the double monopoly (monopoly and monopsony, hence a banana republic situation) of greedy publishers hand in hand with managers in academia? Not much (with the condition that you pay the publisher with OTHER PEOPLE MONEY). The researcher writes an article, which is peer-reviewed, everything is verified and working nicely, why change that?

The regular naysayer tells me that the real problem is the huge number of articles. Which one to read and which not? Which one to check to the bones, even if already peer-reviewed? The answer is this: is statistically better to read the articles appeared in good journals.

Any system aiming to improve  the old one should solve this problem of picking articles from the huge pile which is produced every day.

Apparently, the name, “Selected Papers Network”, suggests that Lee’s project tries to solve this. But now here he comes with a really interesting and different idea!

Forget the incentive, let’s think about articles. The truth is that even if there are many articles, too many to read, there are very few readers of an article  chosen at random. As authors, we all want our articles to be read. As readers, we long for fewer, more interconnected articles.

There are too many articles either because the article is written for ISI points, or because there are too many articles writers, or even because the article is not touching the readers who might do something with it, because they read other articles or, rarely, because they are not yet born (sorry, but I can’t stop to mention again the comparison of what is happening now in research publishing with the impressionists revolution, so why not accept that there are already articles which don’t have yet readers, like, say, Van Gogh paintings during his lifetime).

Or, an article, as it is written today, with the manifold stupid conventions which are reppelant now, but have reasons in the past, is a very bad vector of information. There are a lot of articles, each trying to get a bit og brain time, on it’s own, without trying to collaborate with others. In this respect, I believe this is a far consequence of  the cartesian method, which I think is obsolete in some respects, because it is  “designed as a technique for understanding performed by one mind in isolation, severely handicapped by the bad capacity of communication with other isolated minds. It was a very efficient technique, which is now challenged by two effects of its material outcomes:

  • better communication channels provided by the www,
  • mechanical, or should I say digital, applications of the method which largely surpass the capacity of understanding of one human mind, as witnessed for example by the first computer aided mathematical proofs, or for another example by the fact that we can numerically model physical phenomena, without understanding rigorously why the method works.”

As far as I understand the new idea of Christopher Lee, the tagging system proposed by spnetwork could be a part of a solution for the problem of having too may articles not communicating one with another (by grouping them).

Another part of the solution could be using other vehicles than articles for communicating science, I am thinking  about open notebooks. There are not too many open notebooks, but they have the following advantages over articles:

  • more honesty, be it about negative results, apparent dead ends, more clear background data and real motivations for research,
  • more lively, welcoming discussions, than the dry and often hidden peer-review
  • naturally interactive.

Articles are like movies, open notebooks are more like games.

Therefore, to conclude, it seems to me that Christopher Lee’s federated ecosystem could have more chances if it allows open notebooks (besides articles, which are still necessary) to join the party.

Academic Spring and OA movement just a symptom, not cause of change

… a reaction to profound changes which  question the role of universities and scholars. It’s a symptom of an adaptation attempt.

The OA movement, which advances so slowly because of the resistance of the scholars (voluntarily lulled by the propaganda machine of the association between legacy publishing industry and rulers of universities), is just an opening for asking more unsettling questions:

  • is the  research article as we know it a viable vehicle of communication?
  • what is the difference between peer-reviewing articles and writing them?
  • should review be confined to scholars, or informed netizens (for example those detecting plagiarism) have their place in the review system?
  • is an article a definite piece of research, from the moment of publishing it (in whatever form, legacy or open), or it is forever an evolving project, due to contributions from a community of interested peoples, and if the latter is the case, then who is the author of it?
  • is it fair to publish an article inspired (in the moral sense, not the legal one) from information freely shared on the net, without acknowledging it, because is not in the form of an article?
  • is an article the goal of the research, as is the test the goal of studying?

Which is our place, as researchers? Are we like the scholars of medieval universities, becoming increasingly irrelevant, less and less creative, with our modern version of rhetoric and theological studies, called now problem solving and grant projects writing?

If you look at the timing of the end of the medieval universities and the flourishing of the early modern ones, there are some patterns.We see that (wiki source on early modern universities):

At the end of the Middle Ages, about 400 years after the first university was founded, there were twenty-nine universities spread throughout Europe. In the 15th century, twenty-eight new ones were created, with another eighteen added between 1500 and 1625.[33] This pace continued until by the end of the 18th century there were approximately 143 universities in Europe and Eastern Europe, with the highest concentrations in the German Empire (34), Italian countries (26), France (25), and Spain (23) – this was close to a 500% increase over the number of universities toward the end of the Middle Ages.

Compare with the global spread of the printing press. Compare with the influence of the printing press on the Italian Renaissance (read about Demetrios Chalkokondyles).

The scientific revolution is

Traditionally held to have begun in 1543, when were first printed the books De humani corporis fabrica (On the Workings of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius, which gave a new confidence to the role of dissection, observation, and mechanistic view of anatomy,[59] and also De Revolutionibus, by Nicolaus Copernicus. [wiki quote]

Meanwhile, medieval universities faced more and more problems, like [source]

Internal strife within the universities themselves, such as student brawling and absentee professors, acted to destabilize these institutions as well. Universities were also reluctant to give up older curricula, and the continued reliance on the works of Aristotle defied contemporary advancements in science and the arts.[36] This era was also affected by the rise of the nation-state. As universities increasingly came under state control, or formed under the auspices of the state, the faculty governance model (begun by the University of Paris) became more and more prominent. Although the older student-controlled universities still existed, they slowly started to move toward this structural organization. Control of universities still tended to be independent, although university leadership was increasingly appointed by the state.[37]

To finish with a quote from the same wiki source:

The epistemological tensions between scientists and universities were also heightened by the economic realities of research during this time, as individual scientists, associations and universities were vying for limited resources. There was also competition from the formation of new colleges funded by private benefactors and designed to provide free education to the public, or established by local governments to provide a knowledge hungry populace with an alternative to traditional universities.[53] Even when universities supported new scientific endeavors, and the university provided foundational training and authority for the research and conclusions, they could not compete with the resources available through private benefactors.[54]

So, just a symptom.

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UPDATE:  Robin Osborne’s article is a perfect illustration  of the confusion which reigns in academia. The opinions of the author, like the following one [boldfaced by me]

When I propose to a research council or similar body that I will investigate a set of research questions in relation to a particular set of data, the research council decides whether those are good questions to apply to that dataset, and in the period during which I am funded by that research council, I investigate those questions, so that at the end of the research I can produce my answers.

show more than enough that today’s university is medieval university reloaded.  How can anybody decide a priori which questions will turn out to be good, a posteriori?  Where is the independence of the researcher? How is it possible to think that a research council may have any other than a mediocre glimpse into the eventual value of a line of research, based on bureaucratic past evidence? And for a reason: because research is supposed to be an exploration, a creation of a new territory, it’s not done yet at the moment of grant application. (Well, that’s something everybody knows, but nevertheless we pretend it does not matter, isn’t it sick?)  Instead, conformity reigns.  Mike Taylor spends a post on this article, exposing it’s weakness  as concerns OA.

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UPDATE 2: Christopher Lee takes the view somewhat opposite to the one from this post, here:

In cultured cities, they formed clubs for the same purpose; at club meetings, particularly juicy letters might be read out in their entirety. Everything was informal (bureaucracy to-science ratio around zero), individual (each person spoke only for themselves, and made up their own mind), and direct (when Pierre wrote to Johan, or Nikolai to Karl, no one yelled “Stop! It has not yet been blessed by a Journal!”).

To use my nomenclature, it was a selected-papers network. And it worked brilliantly for hundreds of years, despite wars, plagues and severe network latency (ping times of 109 msec).

Even work we consider “modern” was conducted this way, almost to the twentieth century: for example, Darwin’s work on evolution by natural selection was “published” in 1858, by his friends arranging a reading of it at a meeting of the Linnean Society. From this point of view, it’s the current journal system that’s a historical anomaly, and a very recent one at that.

 

I am very curious about what Christopher Lee will tell us about solutions to  escape  wall-gardens and I wholeheartedly support the Selected Papers Net.

But in defense of my opinion that the main problem resides in the fact that actual academia is the medieval university reloaded, this  quote (taken out out context?) is an example of the survivorship bias. I think that the historical anomaly is not the dissemination of knowledge by using the most efficient technology, but sticking to old ways when revolutionary new possibilities appear. (In the past it was the journal and at that time scholars cried “Stop! it is published before being blessed by our authority!”, exactly alike scholars from today who cry against OA. Of course, we know almost nothing today about these medieval scholars which formed the majority at that time, proving again that history has a way to punish stupid choices.)

SelectedPapers.net launched!

As many people know, academia  fights to break free from the chains of legacy publishers. And apparently it’s on the way to succeed.  Unlike the  fully automated Academic Skynet,  which is still in a very early draft version, the human-edited  SelectedPapers.net  is now launched.

OK. fun aside, this could prove to be an excellent initiative, DEPENDING ON YOU.  The limit of this system is only your imagination. Try it, play with it, disseminate it.

Congratulations to Christopher Lee and John Baez for this project. Here are two posts (at Baez blog) explaining what this is about:

In few words, it is a tag system for articles in arxiv or PubMed (or with a DOI) which is designed to work, in principle, with any existing social network. For the moment it works in association with G+ (i.e. posts on G+ with the hashtags #spnetwork  arxiv:1234.5678  are automatically retrieved by spnetwork).

But even in this stage, one can use a G+ post to connect, say, an arxiv article with something from a third place. I used this trick in this post, in order to signal that  arXiv:1305.5786  has an associate web tutorial page on this blog. It worked smoothly!

So, what about open peer reviews? Other ideas?

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UPDATE: Timothy  Gowers  has a post where he explains what he intends to do with/for  the spnetwork. Especially interesting part:

But the other reason for writing the post is that I hope it will encourage others to do similar things: even if 1000 mathematicians each wrote just one review, that would already create a site worth exploring, and in principle it could happen very quickly.

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UPDATE 2:  I just put on my web page the following:

READ THIS: I recommend the use of The Selected Papers Network. Look at these two posts by John Baez to understand how it works: spnetwork (Part 1) , spnetwork (Part 2). If you wish to notice me about your recent (or older) arxiv articles which you think I might benefit from and comment about them then send me a mail or connect with me on G+.

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UPDATE 3:    Would it be possible to blend the human edited spnetwork with an automatic service like NewSum?    After all, the start of this post is only a half joke.

Feelings about impact factors and journals

Can anybody explain (without falling into ridicule) why, simultaneously:

Btw, this is a link to an excellent article by Björn Brembs, coming just days after another great article, “We have met the enemy and it is us” by Mark Johnston.

I wanted to make a short post on the use of “feelings” in publishing and peer-reviews  since a long time.  Now is an occasion to finally write one, using Björn’s posting as an example. In his article, he reproduces “feelings” of editors, like (my boldfaces):

… we will decline to pursue [your manuscript] further as we feel we have aired many of these issues already in our pages recently …

we feel that the scope and focus of your paper make it more appropriate for a more specialized journal …

Isn’t it striking that such “feelings” always appear when there is no rational argument (to be overtly mentioned) against accepting an article? I think everybody has at least an example from personal experience. Is this true? Check out your files for examples.  If you find a referee report or an editor decision which contains feelings but no arguments, try to read them while listening this classic:

This “feelings” subject is related to the conclusion of Brembs et al. article Deep Impact: Unintended consequences of journal rank , which is

Therefore, we suggest that abandoning journals altogether, in favor of a library-based scholarly communication system, will ultimately be necessary. This new system will use modern information technology to vastly improve the filter, sort and discovery functions of the current journal system.

… because a new scholarly communication system has to rely on technical (and not “feelings” based), perpetual (i.e. ever enhancing), open  pre- and post-  peer review system. (Which, incidentally, is also the only service a publisher can  still offer to the author, but, strangely, does not want to acknowledge that.)

A solution for indexing green OA articles in MSC and Zentralblatt

Indexing of green OA articles in MSC and Zentralblatt is a major problem, because in this moment these two traditional databases do not offer this service. After lots of efforts, I think I found a solution for this problem. Here is it:

carrier_2

[Note: this is a composite of two images, one from here and another from there.]

The best article since a long time: “We have met the enemy and it is us” by Mark Johnston

The article is here. It is so good, in my opinion, that I can’t just give a quote from it.

Indeed, fact is: with all due respect for the publishers, librarians, even for the ISI bean-counters, science is primarily made by researchers, who are the most competent for taking decisions for their good. Only that we have forgot this and instead we rely on others, less competent, for reasons we are also to blame for.

This is good to recognize, not for us to feel guilty about, but  to take steps for taking back our power of decision.

Science is not a commercial activity, it does not feel good on the long term by being managed for attaining short-sighted goals. We are not the milk-providing cow of others, who take our raw product and packages it in fancy looking  clothes, for the sake of selling it.

On the other side, we have to find the courage of taking decisions for ourselves.  To  rely on “objective measures”, which are nothing else than means to avoid accountability, is to be afraid to take decisions.

This kind of change has to happen starting from the researchers involved in management of research. Because, in fact, the enemy is not quite “us”, but if this kind of change, which is for the benefit of science, is opposed by their inertia, then it is starting to look as being “them”.

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Related:

and even

Bizarre wiki page on ISI (and comments about DORA and The Cost of Knowledge)

More and more people are supporting the  San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) .  Timothy Gowers, the initiator of The Cost of Knowledge movement, asks “Elsevier journals: has anything changed?” and writes

Greg Martin, a number theorist at UBC (the University of British Columbia in Vancouver) doesn’t think so, so he has decided to resign from the editorial board of Elsevier’s Journal of Number Theory.

Igor Pak rationalizes the apparent small effects in the real world of  the open access movement and asks   rhetorical questions:

 Should all existing editorial boards revolt and all journals be electronic?  Or perhaps should we move to “pay-for-publishing” model?  Or even “crowd source refereeing”?  Well, now that the issue a bit cooled down, I think I figured out exactly what should happen to math journals.  Be patient – a long explanation is coming below.

DORA, in my opinion, can be considered a positive outcome of this movement (and of course, the Cost of Knowledge is only a drop in the sea of initiatives towards updating the research communication system from the medieval age to the present one). Let’s not be more pessimistic  than we should.

Or, maybe, should we?

Is the stumbling block  the publisher, or is it in the academic realm? Where is the weak link of this Research Banana Republic? Could it be in the entrenched opinions of a majority of researchers, based on a self-referential definition of academic impact which is built around “objective” measures?

I took a look at the wikipedia page on Thompson  ISI, to see what an open, non-partisan source is writing about it.

Here is an excerpt from this source:

This database allows a researcher to identify which articles have been cited most frequently, and who has cited them. The database not only provides an objective measure of the academic impact of the papers indexed in it, but also increases their impact by making them more visible and providing them with a quality label. There is some evidence suggesting that appearing in this database can double the number of citations received by a given paper.

An “objective measure of the academic impact”?  What is the evidence which backs this PR on wikipedia? The ISI was founded in the 1960 and “there is some evidence suggesting that appearing in this database can double the number of citations received by a given paper” in ONE article from 2013?

I clicked then on the Thomson Scientific & Healthcare  link and suggest you to do the same. Wikipedia has the following comments on the top of that page:

This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page.

This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (February 2008)
This article relies on references to primary sources. (February 2008)

This article reads like a news release, or is otherwise written in an overly promotional tone. (January 2008)

What do you think about this?

What is an author buying from a Gold OA publisher?

Questions/answers  about Gold OA: (please add your answers and other questions)

1. Is the author a customer of a Gold OA publisher?

I think it is.

2. What is the author paying for, as a customer?

I think the author pays for the peer-review service.

3. What offers the Gold OA publisher  for the money?

I think it offers only the peer-review service, because
– dissemination can be done by the author by submitting to arxiv, for example,
– +Mike Taylor  says that the Gold OA publisher offer the service of assembling an editorial board, but who wants to buy an editorial board? No, the authors pays for the peer-review process, which is managed by the editorial board, true, which is assembled by the publisher. So the end-product is the peer-review and the author pays for that.
– almost 100% automated services, like formatting, citation-web services, hosting the article are very low value services today.

However, it might be argued that the Gold OA publisher offers also the service of satisfying the author’s vanity, as the legacy publishers do.

4. Why no Gold OA publisher present itself as a seller of the peer-review service?

Have no idea.

5. Why is the peer-review service valuable?

Because:
– it spares time for the reader, who will select more likely a peer-reviewed  paper to read,
– it is a filter for the technical quality of the articles,
– it helps authors to write better articles, as an effect of the referees comments,
– it is also a tool for influencing the opinions of the community, by spinning up some research subjects and downplaying others.

Also on G+ here.

Democratic changes in OA can be only reactive. We need daring private initiatives

Democratic changes in OA can be only reactive. That means one step back with respect to active opposition to change, methodically pursued by interests of a small but powerful minority of big players in the publishing game (i.e. publishers themselves and their academic management friends, sometimes overlapping). And even more, one might say that democratic changes are even two steps back with respect to strategic decisions taken by the said big players. It’s only speculation, but for example the admirable DORA could throw us in the future into the arms of the newly acquired Mendeley.

By democratic changes I mean those which are agreed by a significant part of the research community.

So, what else? Privately supported changes. By this I mean support of any potentially viral solution for getting us out from this tarpit war. It’s clear that Gold OA is the immediate future change agreed by the big players, although it’s just as useless  as the actual research communication system based on traditional publication. Why waste another 10 years on this bad idea, only to repeat afterwards that it is already technically possible to disseminate knowledge without making the authors (or public funding agencies which support those) pay for nothing?

The advantage of a new dissemination system is already acknowledged, namely it is far more convenient, economically speaking, to profit from the outcomes of low Coase cost research collaborations, than to keep paying a hand of people who offer an obsolete service and don’t want to adapt to the new world of the net.

This point of view is stressed already in my Seven years forecast (i.e. until 2020), part 5:

In seven years all  successful changes of the process of dissemination of knowledge will turn out to be among those born from private initiatives,

Wish I have a crystal ball,  though I only have some hope.

UPDATE: Oh, yeah, maybe the uber-library idea is not the right thing. Yes, everybody wishes for a world library at a click distance, but that’s not all. That’s like “what can we do with cars? Well, let’s make them like coaches, only without the horse. The rich guys will love them.” And boum! the car concept became a success from the moment they were mass-produced.

UPDATE 2: Maybe relevant for the idea from  the first update, Cameron Neylon’s post “The bravery of librarians” ends with the question:

What can we do to create a world where we need to rely less on the bravery of librarians and therefore benefit so much more from it?

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Read also:

I have a question about this idea of mixing games with peer-reviews

I don’t get it, therefore I ask, with the hope of your input. It looks that the Gamifying peer-review post has found some attentive ears, but the Game on the knowledge frontier not. It is very puzzling for me, because:

  • the game on the frontier seems feasible in the immediate future,
  • it has two ingredients – visual input instead of bonus points and peer-review as a “conquest” strategy – which have not been tried before and I consider them potentially very powerful,
  • the game on the frontier idea is more than a proposal for peer-review.

My question is: why is the game on the frontier idea less attractive?

Looking forward for your open comments. Suggestions for improvement of such ideas are also especially welcomed.

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UPDATE:  Olivier Charbonneau writes:

Actually, that’s an interesting take on mass data visualization – imagine creating an algorithm that could parse a dataset of bibliographic information into minecraft (for example) – what would that research “world” look like?

 

MMORPGames at the knowledge frontier

I think we can use the social nature of the web in order to physically construct the knowledge boundary. (In 21st century “physical”  means into the web.)

Most interesting things happen at the boundary. Life on earth is concentrated at it’s surface, a thin boundary between the planet and the void. Most people live near a body of water. Researchers are citizens of the boundary between what is known and the unknown.  Contrary to the image of knowledge as the interior of a sphere, with an ever increasing interface (boundary) where active research is located, no, knowledge, old or new, is always on the boundary, evolving like life is, into deeply interconnected, fractal like niches.

All this for saying that we need an interesting boundary where we, researchers, can live, not impeded by physical or commercial constraints.  We need to build the knowledge boundary into the web, at least as much the real Earth was rebuilt into the google earth.

Game seems to be a way. Because game is both social and an instrument of exploration. We all love games, especially researchers. Despite the folklore describing nerds as socially inept, we were the first adopters of  Role Playing Games, later evolved into virtual worlds of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games.  Why not make the knowledge frontier into  one of these virtual worlds?

It looks doable, we almost have all we need. Keywords of research areas could be the countries, places. The physics of this world is ruled by forces with articles citation lists as force-carrying bosons.  Once the physics is done, we could populate this world and play a game of conquest and exploration. A massively multiplayer online game.  Peer-reviews of articles decide which units of places are wild and which ones are tamed. Claim your land (by peer-reviewing articles), it’s up for grabs.  Organize yourselves by interacting with others, delegating peer-reviews for better management of your kingdoms, collaborating for the exploration of new lands.

Instead of getting bonus points, as mathoverflow works, grab some piece of virtual land that you can see! Cultivate it, by linking your articles to it or by peer-reviewing other articles. See the boundaries of your small or big kingdom. Maybe you would like to trespass them, to go into a near place? You are welcome as a trader. You can establish trade with other near kingdoms by throwing bridges between the land, i.e. by writing interdisciplinary articles, with keywords of both lands. Others will follow (or not) and they will populate the new boundary land you created.

After some time, you may be living in complex, multiply-connected kingdom cities, because you are doing peer-reviewed research in an established, rich in knowledge field. On the fringes of such rich kingdoms a strange variety of creatures live. Some are crackpots, living in the wild territory, which grows wilder with the passage of time.  Others are explorers, living between your respectable realm and wild, but evolving into tamer territory.   From time to time some explorer (or some crackpot, sometimes is not easy to tell one from another) makes a break and suddenly a bright avenue connects two far kingdoms. By the tectonic plate movement of this world, ruled by citations, these kingdoms are now one near the other.  Claim new land! Trade new bridges! During this process some previously rich, lively, kingdoms might become derelict. Few people pass by, but there’s nothing lost: like happened in Rome, the marble of ancient temples was used later for building cathedrals.

If you are not a professional researcher, nevermind,  you may  visit this world and contribute. Or understand more, by seeing how complex, how alive research is, how everything is interwoven. Because an image speaks a thousand words, you can really walk around and make an idea of your own about the subject you are curious about.

Thinking more about peer-reviews, which are like property documents, as in real life some are good and some are disputable.  Some are like spells: “I feel that the article is not compelling enough …”. Some are frivolous nonsense: “I find it off-putting when an author  does not use quotation marks as I am used to”. Some are rock-solid: “there’s a gap in the proof” or “I have not been able to find the error in the proof, but here is a counter-example to the author’s theorem 1.2”.

So, how can it be done? We (for example by a common effort at github) could start from what is available, like keywords and citations freely available or easy to harvest, from tools like google scholar profiles, mathscinet, you name it.  The physics has to be written, the project could be initially hosted for almost nothing, we could ask for sponsors. We could join efforts with established international organisms which intend to pursue somehow similar projects. The more difficult part will be the tuning of interactions, so that the game starts to have more and more adopters.

After that, as I said, the knowledge frontier will be up for grabs. Many will love it and some will hate it.

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Context: The richness of knowledge comes from this web of interactions between human minds, across time and space. This knowledge is not reserved to the statistically few people doing research. We grow with it, during school, we live within, no matter what we do as adults, we talk about and we are curious about it. Even more, immensely more after knowledge has been liberated by the web.

In a short lapse of time (at the scale of history) it has become obvious that research itself needs to be liberated from outdated habits. Imagine a researcher, before the web.  She was a dual creature: physically placed somewhere on the physical earth, living in some moment in time, but  mentally interconnected with other researchers all over the world, anytime in the history. However, the physical place of living impeded or helped the researcher to reach further in the knowledge world, depending on the availability of virtual connections: books, other physically near researchers, local traditions. We can’t even speculate about how many curious minds did not accessed the knowledge web, due to the physical place and moment in time where they lived, or due to society customs. How many women, for example?

But now we have the web, and we use it, as researchers. It is, in some sense, a physical structure which could support the virtual knowledge web. The www appeared in the research world, we are the first citizens of it.  The most surprising effect of the web was not to allow everybody to access the knowledge boundary. Instead, the most powerful effect was to enhance the access of everybody to everybody else. The web has become social. Much less the research world.

Due to old habits,  we loose the pace. We are still chained by physical demands. Being dual creatures, we have to support our physical living. For example, we are forced by outdated customs to accept the hiding behind paywalls of the results of our research.  The more younger we are, the more is the pressure to “sell” what we do, or to pervert the direction of our work in order to increase our chances of success in the physical world. In order to get access to physical means, like career advancements and grant money.

Old customs die hard. Some time ago a peasant’s child with a brilliant mind had to renounce learning because he needed to  help his family, his sister was seen as a burden, not even in principle considered for eventual higher education. Now young brilliant minds, bored or constrained by the local research overlord or local fashion, rather go doing something rewarding for their minds  outside academia, than slicing a tasteless salami into the atoms of publishable units, as their  masters (used to) advice them.

An account of personal motivations concerning research and publication

Motivated by a g+ mention of two posts of mine, I think I need to explain a little bit the purpose of such posts, also by putting them in the context of my experience. (I don’t know how to avoid this appeal to experience, because it is not at all an authority argument. Authority arguments, I believe, are outside of the research realm, they should be ignored in totality.)

Despite my attraction to physics and painting, I was turned to become a mathematician by a very special kind of professor. When I was little there was the habit of taking private preparatory classes for increasing the chances of admission in a good college. So, at some point, although I claimed not to need such classes, one day when I came back home after a soccer game I met a strange old guy, who was speaking in an extremely lively and polite way with my parents. I was wearing my school uniform which was full of dust gathered in the schoolyard and I was not at all in the mood to speak with old, strange persons. He explained to my parents that he is going to give me one problem to solve, for him to decide whether to accept me or not as a student. He gave me an inequality to prove, then I spent a half hour in my room and found a solution, which I wrote. I gave the solution to the professor, he looked at it and started: “Marius, a normal kid would solve this inequality like that  (he explained it to me). A clever kid would prove the inequality like this (a shorter, more elegant solution). A genius kid would do like this (one line proof). Now, your proof is none of the above, so I take you.”  It was an amazing experience to learn, especially geometry, from him. At some point he announced my parents that he is willing to do the classes with no pay, with the condition that he could come at any time (with a half hour notice). We did mathematics at strange hours for me, like midnight or 5 in the morning, or whenever he wanted.  Especially when geometry was concerned, he was never letting  me write anything until I could explain with words the idea of the solution, then I could start writing the proof. An amazing professor, a math artist, in the dark of a communist country. I have never met anybody as fascinating since.

If someone would had come to tell me that doing research exclusively means to dig one narrow area in order   to write as big as possible a NUMBER of articles  in ISI journals, then I would have thought that’s a disgusting perversion of a lovely quest. Then I would have switched to painting, because at least in that field (as old, no, older than mathematics)  creativity won against vanity since a long time.

I was young then and I wanted to do research in as many areas as I see fit. There was no internet at the time, therefore I was filling notebooks with my work. Most of it it’s  just lost, mostly because of not having anybody around to share my thoughts with, to learn from and to grow into a real researcher in  a welcoming environment (with one exception, the undergraduate experience was a disappointment). I was not willing in fact to show what I do because it was much more rewarding to find out some more about some subject than to loose time to explain it to somebody, moreover now I know to trust my intuition which was telling me that there was no point to waste time for this.

The next important moment in my life as a researcher was the contact with the www, which happened in 1994 at Ecole Polytechnique from Paris, when I was doing a master. I was not interested in the courses, because I already had (a bit better, due to the mentioned exception) ones back home, but, OMG, the www! At that point, after having only one article published (The topological substratum of the derivative) — can you imagine? — which was written at a typewriter, with horrific handmade underlines and other physical constraints of the epoch — so I decided that’s have to be the future of doing research and I completely lost interest into the contrived way of communicating research by articles.

I had to write articles, and I did, only that very frequently I had problems concerning their publication, because I hold the opinion that an interesting article should combine at least three fields and it should open more questions than those solved. Foolish, really, you may say. But most of all I am still amazed how much time it took me to start to express my viewpoints publicly, through the net.

Which I am finally doing now, in this blog.

In this context, I use the personal experience as a tool in order to stress the obvious belief that www is changing the (research) world much more, much faster, than the printing press. I don’t complain about the mean reviewers, but I offer examples which support claims as: the future of peer-review is one which is technical (correct or not?), is open to anybody to contribute constructively, not based on unscientific opinions and authority arguments,  separated from “publication” (whatever this means today) and perpetually subjected to change and improvement with the passage of time.

More on open peer-review in this blog here.

Gamifying peer-review?

Fact is: there are lots of articles on arXiv and only about a third published traditionally (according to their statistics). Contrary to biology and medical science, where researchers are way more advanced in new publishing models (like PLoS and PeerJ, the second being almost green in flavour), in math and physics we don’t have any other option than  arXiv, which is great, the greatest in fact, the oldest, but … but only if it had a functional peer-review system attached. Then it would be perfect!

It is hard though to come with a model of peer-review for the arXiv. Or for any other green OA publication system, I take the arXiv as example only because I am most fond of. It is hard because there has to be a way to motivate the researchers to do the peer-reviews. For free. This is the main type of psychological argument against having green OA with peer-review. It is a true argument, even if peer-review is made for free in the traditional publishing model.  The difference is that the traditional publishing model is working since the 1960’s and it is now ingrained in the people minds, while any new model of peer-review, for the arXiv or any other green OA publication system, has first to win a significant portion of researchers.

Such a new model does not have to be perfect, only better than the traditional one. For me, a peer-review which is technical, open, pre- and post- “publication” would be perfect. PLoS and PeerJ already have (almost) such a peer-review. Meanwhile, us physicists and mathematicians sit on the greatest database of research articles, greener than green and older than the internet and we have still not found a mean to do the damn peer-review, because nobody has found yet a viral enough solution, despite many proposals and despite brilliant minds.

So, why not gamify the peer-review process? Researchers  like to play as much as children do, it’s part of the mindframe requested for being able to do research. Researchers are driven also by vanity, because they’re smart and highly competitive humans which value playful ideas more than money.

I am thinking about Google Scholar  profiles. I am thinking about vanity surfing. How to add peer-review as a game-like rewarding activity? For building peer communities? Otherwise? Any ideas?

UPDATE:  … suppose that instead of earning points for making comments, asking questions, etc, suppose that based on the google scholar record and on the keywords your articles have, you are automatically assigned a part, one or several research areas (or keywords, whatever). Automatically, you “own” those, or a part, like having shares in a company. But in order to continue to own them, you have to do something concerning peer-reviewing other articles in the area (or from other areas if you are an expansionist Bonaparte). Otherwise your shares slowly decay. Of course, if you have a stem article with loads of citations then you own a big domain and probably you are not willing to loose so much time to manage it. Then, you may delegate others to do this. In this way bonds are created, the others may delegate as well, until the peer-review management process is sustainable. Communities may appear. Say also that the domain you own is like a little country and citations you got from other “countries” are like wealth transfer: if the other country (domain) who cites you is more wealthy then the value of the citation increases. As you see, until now, with the exception of “delegation” everything could be done automatically. From time to time, if you want to increase the wealth of your domain, or to gain shares in it, then you have to do a peer-review for an article where you are competent, according to keywords and citations.

MORE: MMORPGames at the knowledge frontier.

Something like this could be tried and it could be even funny.

Research banana republic

Think about universities as governments, ruling over researchers and their virtual children, the students. Think about research results as bananas. The “universitary ” governments rule that the only good bananas are those accepted by publishers (mainly private entities, or even intimately associated with universities). In exchange for good bananas the researchers get vanity points, which they exchange for universitary positions or grant funds. They feed their virtual children, the students, some of the good bananas, namely their published books, or published books (validated bananas) from researchers of another, more prestigious university. These books, produced by researchers of one university are bought by another university library from a publisher, by default.

It’s a banana republic:

a banana republic is a country operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by a collusion between the State and favoured monopolies, in which the profit derived from the private exploitation of public lands is private property, while the debts incurred thereby are a public responsibility.

State = universities

Favoured monopoly = publisher

This post is triggered by Mike Taylor’s post “Predatory publishers: a real problem“.

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See also: Traditional publishing works because academics support it.

Traditional publishing works because academics support it

This post is a written record of mt thoughts after reading “WTF? The University of California sides with publishers against the public” by Michael Eisen.

I suspected and privately said to reluctant ears that there is something profoundly dishonest, in principle, in the system of fabricating research papers for the love of the number of them, BUT (and the emphasis is here) it works because many researchers love it. Well, maybe not many and maybe not especially the young ones, but many of the researchers with established reputation constructed in the interior of this system.

Is this a naive thought? Surely is for the two categories of people in the academia who sustain it: a big, maybe a majority, maybe not, class of mediocre researchers, formed by those who find a sure and opportunistic path to promotion, tenure, etc, by producing a kind of structured noise which looks like research and, a second class, of managers of the academic realm, having direct interest into the system, mainly, I suspect, because it provides access to power over other people lives. (The second class may be  populated by former members of the first, this follows logically from the fact that if the promotion system is based on massive mediocre crap production then the best among the producers tend to be selected by the system.)

My preferred comparison of the fall in the making of the actual academic system is described in “Another parable of academic publishing: the fall of 19th century academic art“. Continuing the comparison, it is true that the production of independent artists surely contained (and still contains now-a-days) a lot of garbage, but it is also true that the academic production of paintings was massively mediocre.  What to choose — diversity, from very bad to very good to out of the scale exploratory art — or — uniform mediocrity, with rare dashes of solid, good, surprising or even exceptional academic paintings?  In the past, diversity won.

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UPDATES:

  1. This post is not directed  against UC.  At least UC made a statement which is criticised in the post by Michael Eisen. On the contrary, the vast majority of smaller, or less visible  academic institutions don’t even make clear their respective positions on this matter. In the background business goes as usual.
  2. See also the very well written previous post by Eisen, “The Past, Present and Future of Scholarly Publishing “. Just a small quote from the post:

Tonight, I will describe how we got to this ridiculous place. How twenty years of avarice from publishers, conservatism from researchers, fecklessness from universities and funders, and a basic lack of common sense from everyone has made the research community and public miss the manifest opportunities created by the Internet to transform how scholars communicate their ideas and discoveries.

Peer-review, what is it for?

An interesting discussion started at Retraction Watch, in the comments of the post Brian Deer’s modest proposal for post-publication peer review. Let me repeat the part which I find interesting: post-publication peer review.

The previous post “Peer-reviews don’t protect against plagiarism and articles retraction. Why?”  starts with the following question:

After reading one more post from the excellent blog Retraction Watch, this question dawned on me: if the classical peer-review is such a good thing, then why is it rather inefficient when it comes to detecting flaws or plagiarism cases which later are exposed by the net?

and then I claimed that retractions of articles which already passed the traditional peer-review process are the best argument for an open, perpetual peer-review.

Which brings me to the subject of this post, namely what is peer-review for?

Context. Peer-review is one of the pillars of the actual publication of research practice. Or, the whole machine of traditional publication is going to suffer major modifications, most of them triggered by its perceived inadequacy with respect to the needs of researchers in this era of massive, cheap, abundant means of communication and organization. In particular, peer-review is going to suffer transformations of the same magnitude.

We are living interesting times, we are all aware that internet is changing our lives at least as much as the invention of the printing press changed the world in the past. With a difference: only much faster. We have an unique chance to be part of this change for the better, in particular  concerning  the practices of communication of research. In front of such a fast evolution of  behaviours, a traditionalistic attitude is natural to appear, based on the argument that slower we react, a better solution we may find. This is however, in my opinion at least, an attitude better to be left to institutions, to big, inadequate organizations, than to individuals. Big institutions need big reaction times because the information flows slowly through them, due to their principle of pyramidal organization, which is based on the creation of bottlenecks for information/decision, acting as filters. Individuals are different in the sense that for them, for us, the massive, open, not hierarchically organized access to communication is a plus.

The bottleneck hypothesis. Peer-review is one of those bottlenecks, traditionally. It’s purpose is to separate the professional  from the unprofessional.  The hypothesis that peer-review is a bottleneck explains several facts:

  • peer-review gives a stamp of authority to published research. Indeed, those articles which pass the bottleneck are professional, therefore more suitable for using them without questioning their content, or even without reading them in detail,
  • the unpublished research is assumed to be unprofessional, because it has not yet passed the peer-review bottleneck,
  • peer-reviewed publications give a professional status to authors of those. Obviously, if you are the author of a publication which passed the peer-review bottleneck then you are a professional. More professional publications you have, more of a professional you are,
  • it is the fault of the author of the article if it does not pass the peer-review bottleneck. As in many other fields of life, recipes for success and lore appear, concerning means to write a professional article, how to enhance your chances to be accepted in the small community of professionals, as well as feelings of guilt caused by rejection,
  • the peer-review is anonymous by default, as a superior instance which extends gifts of authority or punishments of guilt upon the challengers,
  • once an article passes the bottleneck, it becomes much harder to contest it’s value. In the past it was almost impossible because any professional communication had to pass through the filter. In the past, the infallibility of the bottleneck was a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, with very few counterexamples, themselves known only to a small community of enlightened professionals.

This hypothesis explains as well the fact that lately peer-review is subjected to critical scrutiny by professionals. Indeed, in particular, the wave of detected plagiarisms in the class of peer-reviewed articles lead to the questioning of the infallibility of the process. This is shattering the trust into the stamp of authority which is traditionally associated with it.  It makes us suppose that the steep rise of retractions is a manifestation of an old problem which is now revealed by the increased visibility of the articles.

From a cooler point of view, if we see the peer-review as designed to be a bottleneck in a traditionally pyramidal organization,  is therefore questionable if the peer-review as a bottleneck will survive.

Social role of peer-review. There are two other uses of peer-review, which are going to survive and moreover, they are going to be the main reasons for it’s existence:

  • as a binder for communities of peers,
  • as a time-saver for the researchers.

I shall take them one-by-one. What is strange about the traditional peer-review is that although any professional is a peer, there is no community of peers. Each researcher does peer-reviewing, but the process is organized in such a manner that we are all alone. To see this, think about the way things work: you receive a demand to review an article, from an editor, based on your publication history, usually, which qualifies you as a peer. You do your job, anonymously, which has the advantage of letting you be openly critical with the work of your peer, the author. All communication flows through the editor, therefore the process is designed to be unfriendly with communications between peers. Hence, no community of peers.

However, most of the researchers who ever lived on Earth are alive today. The main barrier for the spread of ideas is a poor mean of communication. If the peer-review becomes open, it could foster then the appearance of dynamical communities of peers, dedicated to the same research subject. As it is today, the traditional peer-review favours the contrary, namely the fragmentation of the community of researchers which are interested in the same subject into small clubs, which compete on scarce resources, instead of collaborating. (As an example, think about a very specialized research subject which is taken hostage by one, or few, such clubs which peer-reviews favourably only the members of the same club.)

As for the time-saver role of peer-review, it is obvious. From the sea of old and new articles, I cannot read all of them. I have to filter them somehow in order to narrow the quantity of data which I am going to process for doing my research. The traditional way was to rely on the peer-review bottleneck, which is a kind of pre-defined, one size for all solution. With the advent of communities of peers dedicated to narrow subjects, I can choose the filter which serves best my research interests. That is why, again, an open peer-review has obvious advantages. Moreover, such a peer-review should be perpetual, in the sense that, for example, reasons for questioning an article should be made public, even after the “publication” (whatever such a word will mean in the future). Say, another researcher finds that an older article, which passed once the peer-review, is flawed for reasons the researcher presents. I could benefit from this information and use it as a filter, a custom, continually upgrading filter of my own, as a member of one of the communities of peers I am a member of.

Seven years forecast

  1. In seven years there will be no essential difference between comments on articles and peer-reviews. [28.02.2013 addition by Phillip Lord: “Blind peer-review will die, and open peer-review will take it’s place.” ]
  2. In seven years there will be semantic means of definition of plagiarism and, as a consequence, a significant percentage of today’s articles will qualify as recycled crap,
  3. In seven years there will be popularity contests and evaluations based on the popularity of the  authors as measured by their impact on the web,
  4. In seven years the best universities will gamify the teaching process,
  5. In seven years all  successful changes of the process of dissemination of knowledge will turn out to be among those born from private initiatives,
  6. In seven years large research collaborations of mathematicians will be regarded as normal,
  7. In seven years most of the articles which are now under the lock of the copyright belonging to the publisher will be seen as vanity publication and their most important use will be as data for programs of massive extraction of semantic content.

What could be built on top of a World Digital Math Library?

The title is copy-pasted from the following question by Ingrid Daubechies, on mathforge.org [I added some links]:

Suppose most mathematical research papers were freely accessible online.

Suppose a well-organized platform existed where responsible users could write comments on any paper (linking to its doi, Arxiv number, or other electronic identifier from which it could be retrieved freely), or even “mark it up” (pointing to similar arguments elsewhere, catch and correct mistakes, e.g.), and where you could see others’ comments and mark-ups.

Would this be, or evolve into, a useful tool for mathematical research? What features would be necessary, useful, or to-be-avoided-at-all-costs?

This is not a rhetorical question: a committee of the National Research Council is looking into what could be built on top of a World Digital Math Library, to make it even more useful to the mathematical community than having all the materials available. This study is being funded by the Sloan Foundation.

Input from the mathematical community would be very useful.

________________

UPDATE:  David Roberts points to the fact that Daubechies asked the same question at mathoverflow before asking at mathforge. The answers are much more welcoming there, interesting read.

________________

 

Notice: “a World Digital Math Library”, not “the World Digital Math Library”. Concerning the involvement of the Sloan Foundation, that would be great, let me cite again the Conjecture 4 by Eric Van de Velde, proposed  in   MOOCs teach OA a lesson:

OA is not sufficiently disruptive. Hoping to minimize resistance to OA, OA advocates tend to underemphasize the disruptiveness of OA. Gold and Green OA leave the scholarly-communication system essentially intact. When presented in a minimalist frame, they are minor tweaks that provide open access, shift costs, and bend the cost curve. Such modest, even boring, goals do not capture the imagination of the most effective advocates for change, advocates who have the ears of and who are courted by academic leaders: venture capitalists. This is a constituency that seeks out projects that change the world.

There seems to be two camps in the discussion about comments for articles as a tool of mathematical communication:

  • the cons: few, very vocal, are using the straw man argument that comments to articles are like comments in blog, therefore unreliable. It is my interpretation that in fact this is motivated by fear of authority loss. Maybe I am wrong, anyway their argument is blown away by one fact which I shall mention further.
  • the pros: they are not disputing the utility of the tool, they would like to have more details instead, about what exactly will be comments for: a kind of online perpetual peer-review, will be them considered as original contributions, where do comments sit in the continuum between the original article and its peer review and, most important, how to motivate mathematicians to seriously participate.

I think the formulation of the question by Ingrid Daubechies is precise and very interesting. Accordingly, mathematicians from both camps could take some moments to think about it.

Is this the kind of disruptive idea which could make the people dream about, concerned about, and also, very important, which could be considered as world-changing? I certainly hope so.

Let me close with the funniest argument (in my opinion) against the idea that comments are bad, because they are like comments in blogs. You see, there is an elephant in the room. Who invented blogs? Why, a mathematician, John Baez with his This Week’s finds. And what exactly is the content of Baez’ first blog in the world? Well, dear naysayers, it is about comments by John Baez of mathematical (and other) scientific articles.

John Baez participates to the discussion initiated by Ingrid Daubechies with this:

I would like some way for me to be able to easily read lots of comments on people’s papers.  Right now to find these comments I either use Google or trackbacks on the arXiv.  But I think there could be something better.
To be honest, I mostly want to read my own comments on people’s papers, because I wrote a lot of them in This Week’s Finds, and nobody else writes nearly enough.  I don’t have much trouble finding my own comments: I use Google, and use keywords that single out This Week’s Finds.  But it’s harder finding comments when I don’t know who wrote them or where they are.

Congratulations John Baez, you are an example for many of us!

Episciences-Math, let’s talk about this

In other fields we have PeerJ  and Knowledgeblog.org and BMJ pico, to give only three extremely interesting examples. In mathematics we (shall) have Episciences-Math.

The presentation of the project Episciences-Math, as given here:

The editorial process envisioned for the Episciences-Maths epijournals is quite standard: authors submit their articles after making them available in arXiv or in HAL, and provide the ID of their e-print to a specified epijournal of their choice. The Editorial board of that epijournal handles the submission exactly as for a traditional scientific journal, appointing referees, and deciding to publish – or not – when the report is received. If the article is accepted after suitable corrections have been made, it is subsequently listed on the web page of the journal as a link to the actual file, the final version of which is stored solely in the open archive. At some point in the future, the Episciences platform might also allow the publication of additional contents attached to each article (review by a reporter or by the editorial boards of epijournals, additional data provided by the author: source codes, lecture notes, presentations …)

The Episciences-Maths initiative will be supervised by an “Epicommittee” composed of leading mathematicians. Its role is to stimulate the constitution of editorial boards willing to create new epijournals, especially thematic epijournals in areas not yet covered, to manage possible takeovers of existing journals, and finally to treat any ethical and professional issues. Members of the Epicommittee may or may not themselves take responsibility of an epijournal.

This is the project announced in the “Good guys” post by Gowers.  Many mathematicians are looking forward to see the details.

Several posts on this blog  witness the desire to see that  epijournals become reality. Don’t get me wrong, therefore, if I make some comments about some aspects which worry me a little:

  • The public presence of this project is very low. Am I wrong about this? Please send me links to relevant places where this project is explained and …
  • … discussed! Is there any public discussion about it, besides the fact that almost everybody who cares to comment wishes the best to the project? Yes, the creators of the project may say “it’s out project, be patient”, but that would be plain wrong. That is because it does not matter whose project is, provided that it is a successful one, or, in order for the project to have success, they need us, those who are waiting to see what is this really about.
  • The third point is that, just by looking at the presentation, I don’t get what is new in this project, excepting the fact that the final versions of the articles will be hosted by HAL or arXiv. Annals of Mathematics did this, why do the Episciences think they will succeed?
  • I get that they hope to create the SEED of a journal, but platforms for journals exist already. The problem of scientific publication is not technical, it is psychological. I don’t get how they want to address this.
  • What about all the features which many people expect? Comments, peer-review, multiple journals “publishing” the same article (i.e. independent, multiple, peer-reviews by different journals for the same article, according to different communities interests, like Andrew Stacey suggests on G+), who will review the articles, what incentives will have mathematicians to publish in an epijournal, knowing that hiring committees and moronic bureaucratic organisms are still pushing authors to publish in traditional ways?

I invite anybody to discuss, here or anywhere. This satisfied silence, after the bad cop – good cop pair of posts by Gowers, looks to me as if our mathematics community is a bit sedated. Or maybe many mathematicians just think our field does not need to change publication practices, even if every other scientific field does it (I am mean, but really, that’s the truth.)

Another parable of academic publishing: the fall of 19th century academic art

I was impressed by Mike Taylor’s  parable of the farmers and the Teleporting Duplicator.    I sketched my own one in Boring mathematics, artistes pompiers and impressionists. Motivated by Mike Taylor’s post, I try here to gather evidence for the fact that the actual development of academic practices parallel the old ones of the 19th century’s   Académie des beaux-arts .

Everybody knows who won that battle.

Further are excerpts from various wiki pages on the subject. They serve as evidence for  parallels between academies, between the practice of journal publishing and classifications versus exhibiting in the Paris Salon,   between arxiv and the Salon d’Automne.

By reading these excerpts, all of this becomes obvious.

Accademia di San Luca later served as the model for the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture founded in France in 1648, and which later became the Académie des beaux-arts. The Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture was founded in an effort to distinguish artists “who were gentlemen practicing a liberal art” from craftsmen, who were engaged in manual labor. This emphasis on the intellectual component of artmaking had a considerable impact on the subjects and styles of academic art.

Towards the end of the 19th century, academic art had saturated European society. Exhibitions were held often, and the most popular exhibition was the Paris Salon and beginning in 1903, the Salon d’Automne. These salons were sensational events that attracted crowds of visitors, both native and foreign. As much a social affair as an artistic one, 50,000 people might visit on a single Sunday, and as many as 500,000 could see the exhibition during its two-month run. Thousands of pictures were displayed, hung from just below eye level all the way up to the ceiling in a manner now known as “Salon style.”

A successful showing at the salon was a seal of approval for an artist, making his work saleable to the growing ranks of private collectors. Bouguereau, Alexandre Cabanel and Jean-Léon Gérôme were leading figures of this art world.

As noted, a successful showing at the Salon was a seal of approval for an artist. The ultimate achievement for the professional artist was election to membership in the Académie française and the right to be known as an academician. Artists petitioned the hanging committee for optimal placement “on the line,” or at eye level. After the exhibition opened, artists complained if their works were “skyed,” or hung too high.

Young artists spent four years in rigorous training. In France, only students who passed an exam and carried a letter of reference from a noted professor of art were accepted at the academy’s school, the École des Beaux-Arts. Drawings and paintings of the nude, called “académies”, were the basic building blocks of academic art and the procedure for learning to make them was clearly defined. First, students copied prints after classical sculptures, becoming familiar with the principles of contour, light, and shade. The copy was believed crucial to the academic education; from copying works of past artists one would assimilate their methods of art making. To advance to the next step, and every successive one, students presented drawings for evaluation.

The most famous art competition for students was the Prix de Rome. The winner of the Prix de Rome was awarded a fellowship to study at the Académie française’s school at the Villa Medici in Rome for up to five years. To compete, an artist had to be of French nationality, male, under 30 years of age, and single. He had to have met the entrance requirements of the École and have the support of a well-known art teacher. The competition was grueling, involving several stages before the final one, in which 10 competitors were sequestered in studios for 72 days to paint their final history paintings. The winner was essentially assured a successful professional career. [source]

What happened eventually?

As modern art and its avant-garde gained more power, academic art was further denigrated, and seen as sentimental, clichéd, conservative, non-innovative, bourgeois, and “styleless”. The French referred derisively to the style of academic art as L’art Pompier (pompier means “fireman”) alluding to the paintings of Jacques-Louis David (who was held in esteem by the academy) which often depicted soldiers wearing fireman-like helmets. The paintings were called “grandes machines” which were said to have manufactured false emotion through contrivances and tricks.

This denigration of academic art reached its peak through the writings of art critic Clement Greenberg who stated that all academic art is “kitsch“. References to academic art were gradually removed from histories of art and textbooks by modernists […]  For most of the 20th century, academic art was completely obscured, only brought up rarely, and when brought up, done so for the purpose of ridiculing it and the bourgeois society which supported it, laying a groundwork for the importance of modernism. [source]

What was the initial course of action?

In 1725, the Salon was held in the Palace of the Louvre, when it became known as Salon or Salon de Paris. In 1737, the exhibitions became public and were held, at first, annually, and then biannually in odd number years. They would start on the feast day of St. Louis (25 August) and run for some weeks. Once made regular and public, the Salon’s status was “never seriously in doubt” (Crow, 1987). In 1748 a jury of awarded artists was introduced. From this time forward, the influence of the Salon was undisputed.

In the 19th century the idea of a public Salon extended to an annual government-sponsored juried exhibition of new painting and sculpture, held in large commercial halls, to which the ticket-bearing public was invited. The vernissage (varnishing) of opening night was a grand social occasion, and a crush that gave subject matter to newspaper caricaturists like Honoré Daumier. Charles Baudelaire, Denis Diderot and others wrote reviews of the Salons.

The 1848 revolution liberalized the Salon. The amount of refused works was greatly reduced. In 1849 medals were introduced.

The increasingly conservative and academic juries were not receptive to the Impressionist painters, whose works were usually rejected, or poorly placed if accepted. The Salon opposed the shift away from traditional painting styles espoused by the Impressionists. In 1863 the Salon jury turned away an unusually high number of the submitted paintings. An uproar resulted, particularly from regular exhibitors who had been rejected. In order to prove that the Salons were democratic, Napoleon III instituted the Salon des Refusés, containing a selection of the works that the Salon had rejected that year. It opened on 17 May 1863, marking the birth of the avant-garde. The Impressionists held their own independent exhibitions in 1874, 1876, 1877, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1882 and 1886.

In December 1890, the leader of the Société des Artistes Français, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, propagated the idea that Salon should be an exhibition of young, yet not awarded, artists.

In 1903, in response to what many artists at the time felt was a bureaucratic and conservative organization, a group of painters and sculptors led by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Auguste Rodin organized the Salon d’Automne.

The tipping point:

In 1903, the first Salon d’Automne (Autumn Salon) was organized by Georges Rouault, André Derain, Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet as a reaction to the conservative policies of the official Paris Salon. This massive exhibition almost immediately became the showpiece of developments and innovations in 20th-century painting and sculpture. Jacques Villon was one of the artists who helped organize the drawing section of the first salon. Villon later would help the Puteaux Group gain recognition with showings at the Salon des Indépendants. During the Salon’s early years, established artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir threw their support behind the new exhibition and even Auguste Rodin displayed several drawings. Since its inception, artists such as Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes and Marcel Duchamp have been shown here. In addition to the 1903 inaugural exhibition, three other important dates remain historically significant for the Salon d’Automne: 1905, bore witness to the birth of Fauvism; 1910 witnessed the launch Cubism; and 1912 resulted in a xenophobe and anti-modernist quarrel in the National Assembly (France).

The rest is history. There are many lessons to be learned from this, by the new “impressionists”, as well as by the “pompiers”, what do you think?

The value of the article given by the journal? It’s like that tomcat joke

At least in mathematics, but I suppose in almost any domain, people use to justify the huge inertia which stops us moving to a better publishing system by appeal to the following argument:

  • publishing in a well recognized journal gives prestige to the article,
  • most of well recognized journals are based on the traditional publication system
  • therefore, if you want your article to be considered as valuable then you better submit it to a traditional, well seen journal.

There is a big hole in this argument, namely that the value of an article is primarily coming from the value of the journal where the article appeared. While it is true that good journals offer a better platform of dissemination for the research works, this is also on the border of recognizing that vanity is the leading force for doing good research (which might be true, after all we are humans and vanity plays an important role in our lives, but “leading force”? this would be just sad).

The value of a good journal is more of a statistical nature, it comes from having several very good articles, written by some very good researchers,   all this spread in a sea of all the other not fantastically important articles which appeared in the journal.

This shaky but so powerful argument pro traditional publishing  reminded me a joke which I want to share. Maybe you know it, but have you thought about it from the viewpoint of publishing habits?

Here is the joke, I kind of formulated it such as to not contain offensive words:

There are an old tomcat and a very young one, inside the house, during a rainy night. The old tomcat finds an open window and wants to get out. The young one asks him:

– Where are you going?

– Well, I’m going out to get some cats, junior, would you like to come with me?

They get out and up on the roofs. It rains, but the old experienced tomcat knows that it is only a matter of time until some cat appears. The young one is not very happy, is wet and bored, so he says:

-You know, I’m going to get some cat for five minutes more, then I’m going back home.

So, you see,  just from publishing in the same place as the old tomcat, you won’t get some cat time of your own.

__________

UPDATE: On a more serious note read “Impacting our young” by Eve Marder, Helmut Kettenmann and Sten Grillner, (PNAS vol 107, no. 50).  (I learned about this article by following a link from the article “How to bury your academic writing“, discovered by the intermediary of a post by  +Michael Rowe, thanks!)

Wiki journals over arxiv

Just dreaming. The technical part first. Then comes the social part, which is trickier.

  • The author A of an arxiv article submits the latex version to an editor E of the wiki-journal.
  • The editor transforms the latex file into the wiki format of the journal. There seem to be tools for this, a quick google search gives this latex2wiki.
  • The editor E creates a wiki page for the article. We can use MediaWiki, we can go to the WikiWikiWeb, details to be discussed. At this moment the wiki page can be deleted only if both A and E agree.
  • This wiki page is modified by anyone in the PEER COMMUNITY of the wiki-journal. A link to the original version arxiv article is given, this can be modified only by the author A.

Now, the social part:  only  suggestions.

  • Any author A becomes member of a PEER COMMUNITY, there is some mathoverflow type reputation and badges system.
  • PEER COMMUNITIES and wiki-journals are different parts of the system, one PEER COMMUNITY may act on several wiki-journals, one wiki-journal may contact several PEER COMMUNITIES, but only one per article.
  • anybody can be member of several PEER COMMUNITIES
  • to make a very rough comparison, wiki journals are like companies and PEER COMMUNITIES are like syndicates

The most important point: we can start it now, the soft (open source) exists, anybody can try to do it. There is no need to wait for anybody’s approval, no need to wait several months to  see what exactly are   epijournals  (however see epimath), anybody can just try and contribute, instead of us (mathematicians) being one of the least reactive communities when it comes to the future of publication.

What do you think?

_______________________

UPDATE: Something close to this idea already exists, see knowledgeblog.org.

UPDATE 2: This kind of proposal has already been made, see these two articles:

… however, both papers look like minor adaptations of the new system of the world, made in order to fit into the old one. This may be good for starters, or it may be not good enough. We still long for a really great idea, for the moment.

_______________________

Background:

Straw-man argument against comments in epijournals

This is a comment which awaits moderation (for some time) at Gowers “Good guys” post, therefore I post it here. Here is it, with some links  added:

After reading the rather heated exchanges around the subject of comments in epijournals, I am surprised by the fact that the best argument against comments that people here were able to find is by conflating comments in epijournals with comments in blogs.

I cannot imagine who would like to have comments in epijournals (or any other OA model) of the same quality as those on the average blog.

Therefore my impression is that much of the discussion here is just an example of a straw-man fallacy.

It is enough to look around and see that there are models who could inspire us.

I have proposed in several comments and posts like this one or the other to consider comments in OA journals on the par with the talk pages of Wikipedia, and peer-reviews as wiki pages.

Others have proposed the mathoverflow or reddit as models. Any of those proposals are stellar compared to comments in blogs.

Besides, I doubt very much that there is a majority against comments and I believe that Mike Taylor is only more vocal than others and for this he deserves some congratulations (and some respect, as a fellow scientist).

_______________

On peer-review and the big value it may have for epijournals, or even as a publishing business model, see also the posts:

Peer-reviews don’t protect against plagiarism and articles retraction. Why?

After reading one more post from the excellent blog Retraction Watch, this question dawned on me: if the classical peer-review is such a good thing, then why is it rather inefficient when it comes to detecting flaws or plagiarism cases which later are exposed by the net?

Because I have seen implicit and explicit blaming of:

  • authors, seeking to publish as many papers as possible (because only the number of them counts, not their contents)
  • journals, seeking to fill their pages with any costs, also failing to protect the authors which gave them the copyrights.

There is a missing link in this chain: what about the peer-reviews? I bet that many articles submitted for publication are not accepted as a consequence of peer-review reports which detect flaws or plagiarism attempts. However, so many other papers are published after they pass the peer-review filter, only to be found later as being flawed or plagiarizing.

I think this is the strongest argument against old-ways, let’s talk in private  practice.  It shows that even  if the great majority of researchers is honest and dedicated to commit to best practices in the field, the very few who try to trick, to “boost” their CVs, escape undetected during the classical peer-review process  because of the tradition to talk in private about research, to follow the authority paths, and so on. This practice was not bad at all, before the net era, it was simply a part if the immunitary system of the research community. On the other side, there is no reason to believe that flawed or plagiarized articles are more frequent now than before. The difference which makes such articles easier to detect is the net, which allows public expressions of doubt and fast communication of evidence (“don’t believe me, here is the link to the evidence, make you own opinion”).

Don’t you think that peer-review could get better, not worse, by becoming a public activity which results from the contribution of (few or many) peers?

_______________

On peer-review and the big value it may have for epijournals, or even as a publishing business model, see also the posts:

Comments in epijournals: we may learn from Wikipedia

I think comments in epijournals (or whatever other form of Open Access from A to Z) should be considered as a service to the community. Don’t believe me and please form your own opinion, considering the following adaptation of Wikipedia:Core content policies.

The motivation of this post is to be found in the dispute over the value of commenting, happening in the comments to the post “Why I’ve also joined the good guys” by Tim Gowers. There you may find both pros and cons for allowing comments to articles “published” in epijournals.  Among the cons were comparisons of such comments to comments in blogs, fear that comments will actually damage the content, fear that they will add too much noise and so on.

In reply I mentioned in one comment Wikipedia.  Because Wikipedia is  one big example of a massively networked collaboration which does provide quality content, even if it is not hierarchically regulated. Please consider this: Wikipedia has a way to deal with vandalism, noise, propaganda and many other negative phenomena which, in the opinion of some, may damage those epijournals which will be willing to provide the service of commenting published articles.

I shall try therefore to learn from Wikipedia’s experience. The wikipedians evolved a set of principles, guidelines and policies which may be adapted to solve this  problem our  community of mathematicians have.

In fact, maybe Wikipedia rules could improve also the peer-review system. After a bit of thinking, if we are after a system which selects  informed comments, done by our peers, then we are talking  about a kind of peer-review.

What is the purpose of comments? Are they the same as peer-review?

These are questions I have not seen, please provide me links to any relevant sources where such questions were considered.

Here is my proposal, rather sketchy at this moment (it should be like this, only public discussion could improve or kill it, if inappropriate).

We may think about peer-reviews and comments as if they are wiki pages. Taking this as an hypothesis, they must conform at least to the Wikipedia:Core content policies :

  •  Neutral point of view: “All Wikipedia articles   comments and peer-reviews  must be written from a neutral point of view, representing significant views fairly, proportionately and without bias”.
  • Verifiability: “Material challenged in comments, peer-reviews  and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source.  Verifiability means that people reading and editing the encyclopedia  epijournal can check that information comes from a reliable source.”
  • No original research: “All material in Wikipedia  comments and peer-reviews must be attributable to a reliable, published source. Articles Comments and peer-reviews may not contain any new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources.

To those who will discard this proposal by saying that it is not possible to achieve these policies in practice, I recall: Wikipedia exists. Let’s learn from it.

To comment or not to comment, that is the question?

Some comments  to Gowers post “Why I’ve also joined the good guys” make me write a third reaction note. I want to understand why there is so much discussion around the idea of  the utility of comments to articles “published” (i.e. selected from arxiv or other free OA repositories) in epijournals.

UPDATE: For epijournals see Episciences.org and also the blog post  Episciences: de quoi s’agit-il?.

UPDATE 2: Read “Comments in epijournals: we may learn from Wikipedia” for a constructive proposal concerning comments (and peer-reviews as well).

I take as examples the comments by Izabella Laba  and  Mike Taylor.  Here they are:

Izabella Laba, link to comment:

I would not submit a paper to a journal that would force me to have a mandatory comment page on every article. I have written several long posts already on this type of issues, so here I’ll only say that this is my well considered opinion based on my decades of experience in mathematics, several years of blogging, and following (and sometimes commenting on) blogs with comment sections of varying quality. No amount of talk about possible fixes etc. will make me change my mind.

Instead, I want to mention a few additional points.

1) A new journal needs to develop a critical mass of authors. While having comment pages for articles may well attract some authors, making them mandatory pages will likely turn off just as many. In particular, the more senior and established authors are less likely to worry about the journal being accepted by promotion committees etc, but also less likely to have the time and inclination to manage and moderate discussion pages.

2) It is tempting to think that every paper would have a lively, engaging and productive comment page. In reality, I expect that this would only happen for a few articles. The majority of papers might get one or two lazy comments. The editors would have to spend time debating whether this or that lazy comment is negative enough or obnoxious enough to be removed, in response to the inevitable requests from the authors; but the point is that no greater good was achieved by having the comment page in the first place.

3) It is also tempting that such comment pages would contain at least a reasonably comprehensive summary of follow-up work (Theorem 1 was extended to a wider class of functions in [A], Conjecture 2 was proved in [B], and the range of exponents in Theorem 3 was proved to be sharp in [C]). But I don’t believe that this will happen. When I write an article, it is my job to explain clearly and informatively how my results relate to existing literature. It is *not* my job to also post explanations of that on multiple comment pages for cited articles, I certainly would not have the time to do that, and I’m not convinced that we could always could on the existence of interested and willing third parties.

A better solution would be to allow pingbacks (say, from the arXiv), so that the article’s journal page shows also the list of articles citing it. Alternatively, authors and editors might be allowed to add post-publication notes of this type (separate from the main article).

4) Related to this, but from a broader perspective: what is it that journals are supposed to accomplish, aside from providing a validation stamp? The old function of disseminating information has already been taken over by the internet. I believe that the most important thing that journals should be doing now is consolidating information, improving the quality of it, raising the signal to noise ratio.

I can see how this goal would be served by having a small number of discussion pages where the commenters are knowledgeable and engaged. In effect, these pages would serve as de facto expository papers in a different format. I do not think that having a large number of comment pages with one or two comments on them would have the same effect. It would not consolidate information – instead, it would diffuse it further.

On a related note, since I mentioned expository papers – it would be excellent to have a section for those. Right now, the journal market for expository papers is very thin: basically, it’s either the Monthly (limited range of topics) or the AMS Bulletin (very small number of papers, each one some sort of a “big deal”). But there is no venue, for instance, for the type of expository papers that researchers often write when they try to understand something themselves. (Except maybe for conference proceedings, but this is not a perfect solution, for many reasons.)

I will likely have more thoughts on it – if so, I’ll post a longer version of this on my own blog.

Mike Taylor, link to comment:

“I would not submit a paper to a journal that would force me to have a mandatory comment page on every article … No amount of talk about possible fixes etc. will make me change my mind.”

I am sorry to hear that. Without in the slighting expecting or intended to change you’re mind, I’ll say this: I can easily imagine that within a few more years, I will be refusing to submit to journals that do not have a comment page on my article. From my perspective, the principle purpose of publishing an article is to catalyse discussion and further work. I am loath to waste my work on venues that discourage this.

“It is tempting to think that every paper would have a lively, engaging and productive comment page. In reality, I expect that this would only happen for a few articles. The majority of papers might get one or two lazy comments.”

The solution to this is probably for us to write more interesting papers.

I totally agree with Mike Taylor and I am tempted to add that authors not willing to accept comments to their articles will deserve a future Darwin award for publication policies.  But surely is their right to lower the chances for their research to  produce descendants.

Say you are a film maker. What do you want?

  • a) to not allow your film to be seen because some of the critics may not appreciate it
  • b) to disseminate your film as much as possible and to learn from the critics and public about eventual weak points and good points of it

If the movie world would be alike to the actual academic world then most of the film makers would choose a), because it does not matter if the film is good or bad, only matters how many films you made and, among them, how many were supported by governmental grants.

A second argument for allowing comments to be made is Wikipedia.  It is clear to (almost) anybody that Wikipedia would not be what it is if it were only based on the 500-1000 regular editors (see the wiki page on Aaron Swartz and Wikipedia). Why is then impossible to imagine that we can make comments to the article a very useful feature of epijournals? Simply by importing some of the well proven rules from wikipedia concerning contributors!

On the reasons of such reactions which disregard the reality, another time. I shall just point to the fact that is still difficult to accept models of thinking based not on pyramidal bureaucratic organizational structures but on massive networked collaboration.   Pre-internet, the pyramidal organization was the most efficient. Post internet it makes no sense because the cost of organizing (Coase cost) went to almost nil.

But thought reflexes are still alive, because we are only humans.

AZ open access

Instead of Diamond OA (as mentioned in Tim Gowers very interesting “Why I’ve also joined the good guys“) I suggest that a better and inspiring name for this yet mysterious idea if epijournals would be

AZ open access

or open access from A to Z. There is another, better justification for this name, see the end of the post!

Diamond and Gold names just betray that many people don’t get the idea that in the age of the net is not good to base one business model on the SCARCITY OF GOODS. Gold and diamonds are valuable because they are scarce. Information, on the contrary, is abundant and it thrives from being shared. Google got it, for example, they are not doing bad, right? Therefore, why base the business publishing model on the idea of making the information scarce, in order to have value? You already have value, because value itself is just a kind of carrier of information.

The name AZ OA is a tribute. It means:

Aaron SwartZ Open Access.

Good news from the good guys

The very recent post of Gowers “Why I’ve also joined the good guys” is good news! It is about a platform for “epijournals”, or in common (broken, in my case) English means a system of peer-reviewing arxiv articles.

UPDATE: For epijournals see Episciences.org and also the blog post  Episciences: de quoi s’agit-il?.

If you have seen previous posts here on this subject, then you imagine I am very excited about this! I  posted immediately a comment, is awaiting moderation just appeared, so here is it for the posterity:

Congratulations, let’s hope that it will work (however I don’t understand the secrecy behind the idea). For some time I try to push an idea which emerged from several discussions, described here  Peer-review turned on its head has market value(also see Peer-review is Cinderella’s lost shoe )  with very valuable contributions from readers, showing that the model may be viable, as a sort of relative of the pico-publication idea.

Secrecy (if there is one or I am just uninformed) is not a good idea, because no matter how smart is someone, there is always a smarter idea waiting to germinate in another one’s head. It is obvious that:

  • a public discussion about this new model will improve it beyond the imagination of the initiators, or it will show its weakness (if any), just like in the case of a public discussion about an encryption protocol, say. If you want the idea to stand, then discuss it publicly,
  • the model has to provide an incentive for the researchers to do peer-reviews. There are two aspects about this: 1)  the researchers are doing peer-reviews for free anyway, for the old-time journals, so maybe the publishers themselves could consider the idea to organize the peer-review process, 2) anything is possible once you persuade enough people that it’s a good idea.
  • any association between expired reflexes (like vanity publication, or counting the first few bits of articles, like ISI, for the sake of HR departments) will harm the project. In this respect see the excellent post MOOCs teach OA a lesson   by Eric Van de Velde, where it is discussed why the idea of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) had much more success in such a short time then the OA movement.

Enough for now, I am looking forward to hear more about epijournals.

UPDATE: There is no technical reason to ignore  some of the eprints which are already on arxiv. By this I mean the following question: are epijournals considering only peer-reviewing new arxiv eprints, or there is any interest of peer-reviewing existing eprints?

UPDATE 2: This comment by Benoît Régent-Kloeckner    clarifies who is the team behind epijournals. I reproduce the comment here:

I can clarify a bit the “epi-team” composition. Jean-Pierre Demailly tried to launch a similar project some years ago, but it had much less institutional support and did not work out. More recently, Ariane Rolland heard about this tentative and, having contact at CCSD, made them meet with Jean-Pierre. That’s the real beginning of the episciences project, which I joined a bit later. The names you should add are the people involved in the CCSD: Christine Berthaud, head of CCSD, Laurent Capelli who is coding the software right now, and Agnès Magron who is working on the communication with Ariane.

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:

Quick reaction on Gowers’ “Why I’ve joined the bad guys”

Here are some quick comments on the post “Why I’ve joined the bad guys” by Timothy Gowers.  For starters, don’t read only Gowers post, but do go and read as well Orr Shalit’   Worse than Elsevier.

[UPDATE: See also Second thoughts on Gowers’ “Why I’ve joined the bad guys”, it’s more constructive.]

 

I really think this is the worse moment to discuss such subjects.

The long, but not heavy post by Gowers is curious.  Let’s see:

Re: “It is just plain wrong to ask authors to pay to get their articles published“.

Let me begin with the “it is just plain wrong” part. A number of people have said that they find APCs morally repugnant. However, that on its own is not an argument. It reminds me of some objections to stem cell research. Many people feel that that is wrong, regardless of any benefits that it might bring. Usually their objections are on religious grounds, though I imagine that even some non-religious people just feel instinctively that stem-cell research is wrong.

If that is the level of the discussion then here is an answer on a par: What do you think  Aaron Swartz would say about such an argument pro APC?

[Who is Aaron Swartz: (wikipedia), (official website), (blog) .]

Re: APC vs APC.

In my previous post about Forum of Mathematics I made a bad mistake, which was to suggest that APC stood for “author publication charge” rather than “article processing charge”.

Ah, OK. So the author pays after, not before.

Forum of Mathematics will not under any circumstances expect authors to meet APCs out of their own pockets, and I would refuse to be an editor if it did. (I imagine the same holds for all the other editors.) Of course, it is one thing to say that authors are not expected to pay, and another to make sure that that never happens. Let me describe the safeguards that will be put in place.

If this is true, then it would be the same to do like this: don’t expect authors to pay. If they want to pay in order to help the journal, then they can make a Paypal  contribution.

Re: “What??!! How can it cost £500 to process an article?

So how can the costs reach anything like £500? I’ll talk in general terms here, and not specifically about Forum of Mathematics. There are many things that an academic journal does to a paper once it has gone through the refereeing process and been accepted. It does copy-editing, typesetting, addition of metadata, and making sure the article appears on various bibliographic databases.

Short answer: Latex and Google Scholar. Organizing peer-review is the only worthy service today.

Re: Forum of Mathematics is even worse than Elsevier.

Please tell me where in his post Orr Shalit claims that FoM is worse than Elsevier.

Re: “Authors are doing a service to the world, so making them pay is ridiculous“.

…that service is already done the moment they put their paper on the arXiv or their home page (assuming they do). So why do they bother to publish? As I think everybody agrees, now that we have the internet, the main function left for journals is providing a stamp of quality.

… for money.  Yes, this is the truth, actually, everybody agrees.  These stamps are needed for a reason which has nothing to do with math or science, see further.

There is a big question about whether we actually need journals for that, but that question is independent of the question of who benefits from the service provided by journals.

Let me parse this: the questions

  1. “do we need journals for providing quality stamps?”
  2. “who benefits from this service provided by journals?”

are independent. Say the question 1.  has answer “yes”, then it does not matter who benefits by providing a needed service.Say the question 1.  has answer “no”, then again it does not matter who benefits from providing a useless service. Hm…

The main person who benefits from the stamp of quality is the author, who boosts his or her CV and has a better chance when applying for jobs and so on.

Yes, everybody knows that this is the reason why researchers feel forced to publish in the old way. So let me translate: the real reason of existence for journals is to simplify the work of the HR departments.

If you feel that APCs are wrong because if anything you as an author should be paid for the wonderful research you have done, I would counter that (i) it is not journals who should be paying you — they are helping you to promote yourself, and (ii) if your research is good, then you will be rewarded for it, by having a better career than you would have had without it.

(i) the purpose of journals used to be the one of disseminating knowledge, (ii) the same argument applies for green open access journals.

Re: Maybe a typical article costs around £500 to process under the current system, but do we need what we get for that money?

This is a much more serious question. While I’m discussing it, let me also highlight another misconception, which is that the editors of FoM regard it as a blueprint for the future of all of mathematical publishing.

… well, that is almost enough for a quick reaction. Let’s stop and think about:

“is a misconception [that] the editors of FoM regard it as a blueprint for the future of all of mathematical publishing.”

Here is a last one, though.

Re: I don’t want traditional-style journals with APCs. I want much more radical change.

I basically agree with this, but as I argued in the previous section, I think that there is a case for having APCs at least as a transitional arrangement.

This reminds me about that dinosaur joke.

Aaron Swartz

Just learned about this via this post on G+ by , which I reproduce here, with some links and short comments added by myself, in order to provide more information.  The parts of the  mentioned post will appear as quoted ” and my addition will appear unquoted, but [between brackets].

[Who is Aaron Swartz: (wikipedia), (official website), (blog) .]

This is terribly sad news: Aaron Swartz committed suicide in New York City on Friday, according to this MIT Tech article:
http://tech.mit.edu/V132/N61/swartz.html

Aaron was facing possible life in prison because he allegedly tried to make journal articles public. The Justice Department’s indictment accuses Aaron of connecting his computer to MIT’s network (without authorization — he was at Harvard, not MIT) and sucking down over 1 million already published academic journal articles from the JSTOR database, which the professors and other authors who wrote them probably would have liked to be free to the public anyway. Here’s the indictment:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/60362456/Aaron-Swartz-indictment

Aaron’s scraper wasn’t that well-programmed, and it’s true that he allegedly did this without authorization from MIT. But he downloaded no confidential data from JSTOR — again, these are academic journal articles — and released no data at all. Because Harvard had a JSTOR subscription, Aaron actually had the right to download any of the JSTOR articles for his own use (but not to redistribute or perform a bulk download). Demand Progress compared it to “trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

If JSTOR was upset, this seems like the type of wrong that could have been remedied through civil litigation. But JSTOR decided against it, with its general counsel Nancy Kopans telling the New York Times that “we are not pursuing further action” against Aaron:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/us/20compute.html?_r=0

[Maybe worthy to mention a passage from the linked article: “In 2008, Mr. Swartz released a “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto,” calling for activists to “fight back” against the sequestering of scholarly papers and information behind pay walls.”]

The especially sad thing is that JSTOR announced this week that it is now making “more than 4.5 million articles” available to the public at no cost:
http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/01/academic-libraries/many-jstor-journal-archives-now-free-to-public/

BTW, Aaron helped to create RSS, founded Demand Progress [link to the website], which was active on the anti-SOPA front, and sold Infogami to Reddit (now part of Conde Nast):
http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20128166-281/copyright-bill-controversy-grows-as-rhetoric-sharpens/

Perhaps Aaron should have been punished for trespassing, which he did do if the DOJ has its facts right. But last fall the Feds instead slapped him with a superseding indictment featuring 13 felony counts that would mean a worst-case scenario of $4M in fines and possible life in prison (I think we can safely say that 50+ years in prison for someone in their late 20s is life):
http://ia700504.us.archive.org/29/items/gov.uscourts.mad.137971/gov.uscourts.mad.137971.53.0.pdf
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120917/17393320412/us-government-ups-felony-count-jstoraaron-swartz-case-four-to-thirteen.shtml

I’d be shocked if Congress ever intended for computer crime law to be used this way; I wonder what Lanny Breuer, the head of the DOJ’s criminal division, would say if asked about it the next time he testifies on Capitol Hill. Perhaps Breuer would say this case is a model of restraint: after all, Aaron wasn’t charged with violating the No Electronic Theft Act, which would have added yet another set of felony charges! Paging Harvey Silverglate…
http://www.harveysilverglate.com/Books/ThreeFeloniesaDay.aspx

I never met Aaron, and don’t know what led him to this point. Perhaps it was unrelated to the criminal charges. But it’s very sad news, and I can’t help thinking that the possibility of life behind bars, because of alleged bulk downloading that many Americans might be surprised even qualifies as a crime, led to Aaron’s decision to commit suicide. His criminal trial was scheduled to begin in two months.

Peer-review is Cinderella’s lost shoe

Scientific publishers are in some respects like Cinderella. They used to provide an immense service to the scientific world, by disseminating  new results and archiving old results into books. Before the internet era, like Cinderella at the ball, they were everybody’s darling.

Enters the net. At the last moment, Cinderella tries to run from this new, strange world.

954930-opera-queensland-cinderella

(image taken from here)

Cinderella does not understand  what happened so fast. She was used with the scarcity (of economic goods), to the point that she believed everything will be like this all her life!

What to do now, Cinderella? Will you sell open access for gold? [UPDATE: or will you apeal to court?]

cinderella-disneyscreencaps-com-7165

(image found here)

But wait! Cinderella forgot something. Her lost shoe, the one she discarded when she ran out from the ball.

In the scientific publishers world, peer-review is the lost shoe. (As well, we may say that up to now, researchers who are writing peer-reviews are like Cinderella too, their work is completely unrewarded and neglected.)

In the internet era the author of a scientific research paper is free to share his results with the scientific world by archiving a preprint version of her/his paper in free access repositories.  The author, moreover, HAS to do this  because the net offers a much better dissemination of results than any old-time publisher. In order (for the author’s ideas) to survive, making a research paper scarce by constructing pay-walls around it is clearly a very bad idea.  The only thing which the gold open access  does better than green open access is that the authors pay the publisher for doing the peer review (while in the case of arxiv.org, say, the archived articles are not peer-reviewed).

Let’s face it: the publisher cannot artificially make scarce the articles, it is a bad idea. What a publisher can do, is to let the articles to be free and to offer the peer-review service.

Like Cinderella’s lost shoe, in this moment the publisher throws away the peer-reviews (made gratis by fellow researchers) and tries to sell the article which has acceptable peer-review reports.

Why not the inverse? The same publisher, using the infrastructure it has, may try to sell the peer-review reports of freely archived articles AFTER. There is a large quantity of articles which are freely available, in open access repositories like arxiv.org. They are “published” already, according to the new rules of the game. Only that they are not reviewed.

Let the publishers do this! It would be a service that is needed, contrary to the dissemination of knowledge service which is clearly obsolete. (See also Peer-review turned on its head has market value.)

One more argument for open access publication

… and why some scientists might dislike it.

specialist

The “fugitive idiot” is inspired by Clifford Truesdell book “An Idiot’s Fugitive Essays on Science: Methods, Criticism, Training, Circumstances”, Springer-Verlag, 1984, which is a must-read for the history of classical thermodynamics, in particular.

Scarcity damages dissemination of knowledge

Here are two graphical illustrations of the process of dissemination of knowledge.

From the point of view of the author/researcher it looks like this:

s_race

From the point of view of those seeking knowledge it looks like this:

Brain_2

Then, obviously, from the point of view of the researcher  SCARCITY is a very bad idea.

Peer-review turned on its head has market value

The comment by Peter Suber at the previous post “Journal of very short papers” made me realize that peer-reviewing free open access papers might have market value.  Provided that it is turned on its head.

Peter Suber points to the BMJ pico  publication model, which apparently is working for the medical community.  The idea is amazing, even more amazing is that it works.

BMJ publishes open access papers and sells one page abridged versions of the papers. Quote:

The full text of all accepted BMJ research articles is published online in full, with open access and no word limit, on bmj.com as soon as it is ready. In the print and iPad BMJ each research article is abridged, with the aim of making research more inviting and useful to readers.

More about the BMJ pico story here:  Abridgment as added value, SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #137 .

 

But what could be the use of an abridged paper for a math article? Those articles have abstracts, more abridged than this is hard to find. Yet, there is another abridged version of the mathematical article, of some sort. It is the peer-review report.

In the classical peer-review, things happen behind the scenes. When everything has the OK of the reviewers then the paper is published. The reports go to the trash bin.

Imagine now that some (benevolent hopefully) entity offers the paid service of selling (for tiny amounts of money, like songs are sold these days) the peer-reviews of articles from arxiv.

Instead of hiding the peer-review process and do it before publication, turn it on its head and sell it after the (free open access) publication. It might work, like the BMJ pico works. I think it works because it saves time for the researchers.

Journal of very short papers

What do you think about  a Journal of very short papers (JVSP)?

How short can be a publishable  mathematical research article? Thinking about the structure of a research article, it is clear that a lot of the information is packed in the references. Let’s take this to extreme (idea inspired by  this comment which I made at this post by Terence Tao).

Suppose I put two articles on arxiv, let them be “arxiv:8765.4321” and “arxiv:9876.5432”. I work hard on them and I arrive to “publishable” material at the version 2 of the first article and at the version 3 of the second. Therefore I have now

  • Paper A = arxiv:8765.4321v2
  • Paper B = arxiv:9876.5432v3

Because I believe in open access (of the green kind) and because I don’t want too many trees killed for badly disseminating my results, I am submitting one paper to JVSP.

My paper has one page, title, abstract, body and references.

The body of the paper has a few line “Motivations” section, pointing to references [R1], [R2], [R3]. Then comes the “Main result” 😉 which has one theorem.  The proof of the theorem has the following form:

by Theorem 2.14 [Paper A] we get that such and such satisfies the hypothesis of Theorem 1.3 [Paper B]. Therefore such and such is a X. But, according to theorem 4.3 [R1], any X is an Y and we are done.

If there is place left, I may add a corollary, a short conclusion and references [R1], [R2], [R3], [Paper A], [Paper B].

I do not publish later Paper A and Paper B, as they are in their respective versions.

An extreme case of a very short paper would be this. I only have Paper A, which contains Theorem 1, with complete and laborious proof. I submit for publication a very short paper which has as only result the content of Theorem 1 [Paper A], with proof “see Theorem 1 [Paper A] for all details”.

What are the advantages of this?

  • I keep the paper, without restrictions concerning the style, length, etc, on arxiv, which is free access.
  • I validate results of Paper A because the referee of JVSP paper validates in fact the result of the arxiv paper.
  • I support the open access movement.

Why would I be an editor of JVSP and which would be my goals?

  • Because I want to find a solution of the problem of peer-reviewing free access and green open access papers.
  • Because JVSP is a journal with really low costs and a fun idea.
  • Because technically and morally an author submitting to JVSP gives all the needed information and still owns his/her creation, and as an author I like this.
  • Goal 1: publish solid results, not rubish.
  • Goal 2: JVSP to satisfy the conditions of being included in the ISI list and so on…

Is this feasible? Maybe, with a good management of the process. For example, provide a rather rigid template for the paper, keep a site with open calls for reviewing submitted papers (only titles given), retract visibly and make a big deal about previously published papers which turn out not to be correct, or duplicates, or whatever. Propose to reviewers to be publicly known, if they wish so.

________________________

UPDATE:   Helger Lipmaa  points to the journal “Tiny ToCS“.  However, the real purpose of JVSP  is not to be brief, but to create a “subversive”, but with rigorous and solid results old-school like journal for promoting free open access.

Another journal could be “The RXI Journal of Mathematics” which is as rigorous as any journal, only it asks to have at least 3 occurences of the string ‘rxi’ in the text.

David Roberts discusses about fitting a paper into a refereed tweet. It is an interesting idea, some statements are too long, but some of them not. On the top of my head, here is one: “A Connected Lie Group Equals the Square of the Exponential Image, Michael Wüstner, Journal of Lie Theory. Volume 13 (2003) 307–309 Proof: http://emis.math.ca/journals/JLT/vol.13_no.1/wuestla2e.pdf “,  here is another which satisfies also the requirements of JVPS  “W is a monad, David Roberts, Theorem: W:sGrp(S)->sS lifts to a monad. Proof:http://arxiv.org/abs/1204.4886 “, which will  appear in the New York Journal of Mathematics,    an open access journal.

Gold Open Access: enter the mouth!

I heard this joke about two of the last dinosaurs, discussing some time after the meteorite crash:

– Carl, I dunno, there are these sneaky rats everywhere, they seem to enjoy this post apocalyptic world of ours. They are good food, but they are so small and they move so fast, totally un-dinosaurish like. But I’m hungry, Carl, I’d love to chew some, now that the big preys seem to be gone. What to do?

Carl says:

– Let’s convince them that it’s totally cool to enter  in our mouth by their own will. That way, we could stay still, with our mouths wide open and they are going to come to us and we are going to wink at them, telling them “that’s right, look, you’re totally dinosaur material, sonny, come on, enter the mouth, that’s the goal, yes, it has always been like this and it will be like this till the end of times”.

And the other dinosaur says:

– That’s a golden idea, Carl, golden!

___________________

The dinosaur named Carl appeared first time in  “The Purposeful Life” by Abstruse Goose.

Leaders and followers

This instructive and funny video is dedicated to “The cost of knowledge” movement, to its leader, its first follower and to all others who joined.

(first seen on sociollogica.blogspot.ro.)

UPDATE: John Baez just posted Elsevier: Strangling Libraries Worldwide, yeehaw!

 

UPDATE 2:  Not unrelated, but part of a bigger fight, Cory Doctorow just released his latest novel “Pirate Cinema“.
Go and visit his site, if you have not already did this, to learn much more about copyright laws and our rights, from a double best-seller author who made most of his work available under Creative Commons licenses like this one.

2004: Fleeced, 2012: The cost of knowledge

In 2004 Rob Kirby publishes in the Notices of the AMS the opinion article “Fleeced?“.  Let me quote a bit from it.

“Most mathematicians feel that they own their journals. They write and submit papers to their favorite (often specialized) journals. They often referee for those same journals. And some devote time and energy as editors. Throughout this process there is no contact with nonmathematicians, except for some of the editors. It is no wonder that mathematicians have a sense of pride and ownership in their  journals.

But the truth is that, legally, mathematicians do not own the commercial journals. Elsevier and Academic Press journals are a highly profitable part of a big corporation. Bertelsmann has recently divested Springer, and now  Springer, Kluwer, and Birkhäuser are owned by an investment company (who did not buy these publishers in order to make less profit than before).  […]

We mathematicians simply give away our work (together with copyright) to commercial journals who turn around and sell it back to our institutions at a magnificent profit. Why? Apparently because we think of them as our journals and enjoy the prestige and honor of publishing,  refereeing, and editing for them. […]

What can mathematicians do? At one extreme they can refuse to submit papers, referee, and edit for the high-priced commercial journals. At the other extreme they can do nothing. […]

A possibility is this: one could post one’s papers (including the final version) at the arXiv and other websites and refuse to give away the copyright. If almost all of us did this, then no one would have to subscribe to the journals, and yet they could still exist in electronic form.
Personally, I (and numerous others) will not deal with the high-priced journals. What about you?”

In 2012 appeared The cost of knowledge, a site inspired by the blog post Elsevier – my part in its downfall by Timothy Gowers.

In 12 years the world changed a bit in this respect. It will change much more.

Let me finish this post by describing my modest experience related to this subject, during these 12 years.

In 2004 I was a kind of a post-doc/visitor (on a contract which was prolonged once a year, for a max of 6 years) at EPFL (Lausanne, Swiss). I already decided some years ago to act as if  the future of mathematical publication is the arxiv and alike. One reason is the obvious fact that the www will change the world much more than the invention of the press did. Almost all research which was left in manuscript perished after the press revolution. Everybody who wants to give something to the research community has to put its research on the net, I thought, and simultaneously, to help the old system to die, by not publishing in paper journals.  Moreover,  I had troubles in the past with publishing multidisciplinary papers. I always believed that  it is fun to mix in a paper several fields,  that there is one mathematics, and so on, but such papers were extremely difficult to publish, at least these papers written by me, with my modest competence (and Romanian origin, I have to say this). So, lulled by the relative swiss security, I was just putting my papers on arxiv,  moreover written in an  open form which was inviting others to participate to the same research, at least that I was thinking.

The result? In 2004-2005 I was practically laughed into the face. Who cares about a paper in arxiv, which is not published in journal form?

In 2006 I returned in Romania, decided to start to publish in paper journals, because what I was trying to do  was either disregarded as not counting, or discretely and “creatively” borrowed.  I could not renounce to my believes, therefore I arrived to a system of waves of papers in arxiv, some of them sent to publication (so to say, the most conservative ones).

After a time I started to recover after my strategic “fault”, but still there is work to do. But is it right to be forced to hide own beliefs?  Apparently, I am right in my beliefs,  which are similar to those publicly declared by  great mathematicians, at least since 2004.  Practically, a big chunk of my career was/is still disturbed by this immense inertia.  I am surely just an example among many others  colleagues who are suffering similar experiences.

On plagiarism scandals in Romania, an easy test

What the naked emperors from Romanian politics and universities don’t understand is that, today, it is a very easy way to check the credibility of statements: show me a link to your arguments and let me decide. That is all.

It goes totally against (hollow) authority arguments, therefore it takes away power (to do harm), and that pisses a lot of people, worried about the fact that everybody might see their incompetence and stupidity.

Here are some links:

Nature: Romanian prime minister accused of plagiarism
Nature: Romanian panel calls prime minister a plagiarist. But committee is dissolved during the course of its meeting.

Link to pdf with plagiarized content (after searching  1 min on the net)

According to politicians and, amazingly, according to  some “scientists”, there is a political motivation behind the articles from Nature.

Disgusting.

Finally, there is a simple test, which I suggest you to apply to any scientist:  don’t believe the titles, prizes and so on. Instead, look after the articles. Does the guy have his/her articles freely available (on the homepage, on arxiv, etc)? If not, then DANGER!

Palpatine exposed with a broom

One of the effects of the www is the dissolution of the authority based on bogus. We see this happening everywhere these days, with politicians, bankers and corporations. More recently, there are efforts towards cleansing the scientific publishing scene.

The mechanism of this phenomenon is really simple. Imagine a Star Wars universe with  www: Palpatine would be quickly exposed. His plans are based on the scarcity of the availability of information, like the real economy is (was?) based on the idea that economic goods are those which are scarce.  In the real world with www, the scarcity of access to information has to be made artificial. In the Star Wars universe with www the plans of Palpatine would either fail or Palpatine would make similar attempts to make information scarce.   In this Star Wars universe he would fail, eventually.

Because it is harder to pretend to be good when you are doing bad when everybody knows what you are doing.

This post has been inspired by “Adventures in Peer Review” by Peter Woit and by the article “The New Publishing Scene and the Tenure Case: An Administrator’s View” by Daniele C. Struppa in the Notices of AMS, May 2012, the Scripta Manent publication column which was mentioned in this blog before. The Palpatine example has been inspired by the second paragraph of this article.

Please read them both and follow the links from Woit’s post, especially these:   Retraction Watch and “A computer application in mathematics“, then think about the soundness of  the advices from the AMS  article.

Finally, meditate seriously about the broom (from Abstruse Goose).

UPDATE 18.06.2012: In the Notices of  the AMS,  June-July 2012 issue,  appeared two interesting articles:

The Boycott: Mathematicians Take a Stand by Douglas N. Arnold and Henry Cohn

Elsevier’s Response to the Mathematics Community   by Laura Hassink and David Clark

 

Boycott Elsevier poster jpeg

Via this post by John Baez “Research Work act Dead – What Next?”.

Please read Baez post!

Here is the jpeg:

 

UPDATE:  Tim Gowers, who initiated this movement, has posted now about the fact that the mathematics department at TU Munich cancels its subscriptions to Elsevier journals. Here is quote from the post:

“A natural way that one might hope to bring about a genuine change to the current subscription model where libraries pay through the nose for journals is that (i) we all put our papers on the arXiv and (ii) the libraries conclude, correctly, that the benefits from their very expensive subscriptions do not justify the costs.”

In the comments, Andreas Caranti  points to “the following Memorandum on Journal Pricing by the Harvard Faculty Advisory Council to the Library: ”

http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k77982&tabgroupid=icb.tabgroup143448

The memorandum proposes to faculty members to, roughly: make sure that all  papers are accessible, try to submit to open-access journals, “if on the editorial board of a journal involved, determine if it can be published as open access material, or independently from publishers that practice pricing described above. If not, consider resigning“, and so on. They are NOT targeting Elsevier, instead they write:  “many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive”.

Well, even officially it begins to be obvious that the emperor is naked.

 

 

 

 

 

Acta treaty, “the cost of knowledge”, Google privacy policy

Several EU countries, among them Romania (without any public discussions), signed the Acta (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) treaty. See this for more. There are already retaliations by Anonymous, at least in Poland and Romania.

Please read the post “The cost of knowledge” by Terence Tao and also visit the relevant links, if you are concerned with the matter of making money from publishing (in fact stifling)  fundamental research and the open access movement.

Finally, Google changes its privacy policy.

All in all, let us hope we don’t end in a Bayesian society.

UPDATE 29.feb.2012:

–  See  Google’s new privacy policy raises deep concerns about data protection and the respect of the European law, by the French authority CNIL. More specifically see the letter sent to Google by  the Article 29 Working Party. (According to wikipedia, “The Article 29 Working Party is made up of a representative from the data protection authority of each EU Member State, the European Data Protection Supervisor and the European Commission. Its name comes from the Data Protection Directive and it was launched in 1996.”.)

Read arXiv every day? Yes!

This post from the Secret Blogging Seminar led me to this (now closed) question by Igor Pak at the Mathoverflow

Downsides of using the arxiv?

When my blood pressure went back to normal after reading the “downsides”, I spent some time informing myself about the answers given to this question, others than the very pertinent ones, in my opinion, from the Mathoverflow page. I think the best page to browse is the discussion from the meta.mathoverflow.net .

I have to say that really, yes!, I read arXiv every day, because it gives access to a lot of mathematical informations, which I filter according to my mathematical “nose” and not on an authority basis. One has to read papers in order to have an informed opinion.

The beautiful discussion page from meta.mathoverflow.net is an excellent example of the superiority of the new ways as compared with the older ones.

UPDATE(22.07.2011): The AMS Notices (August 2011) paper The changing Nature of Mathematical Publication is relevant for the subject of the post from the Secret Blogging Seminar. It appears to me that more or less the same strange problems concerning the arxiv are put forward in the article. Particularly this passage

If we ultimately publish our paper in a traditional journal, then how will that journal view our paper being first put on arXiv? If someone plagiarizes your work from arXiv, then what protections do you have?

seems to me to imply that there is less protection against plagiarism from arxiv than against plagiarism from traditionally published work. My take is that a paper on arxiv is more protected against plagiarism than a traditionally published paper, especially if you are not part of a politically strong team or country, because it is straightforward to prove the plagiarism (anyway easier than by relying on the publishing business and the peer review process). Besides, the “rhetorical question” seems to imply that it is not clear if there are any specific protections, like copyright, when in fact there are easy to find and clearly stated!

To finish, the purpose of the article is to announce a new publication column, “Scripta Manent”. The peer review process for this paper failed to notice that the title of this new publication column is spelled “Scripta Manet” twice!

arXiv for Cezanne

In the middle of the 19th century, in France, just before the impressionist revolution,  painting was boring. Under the standards imposed by the Academie des Beaux Arts, paintings were done in a uniform technique, concerning a very restrictive list of subjects. I cite from wikipedia:

”Colour was somber and conservative, and the traces of brush strokes were suppressed, concealing the artist’s personality, emotions, and working techniques.”

This seems very much similar with the situation in today’s mathematical research.

Read the rest here: “Boring mathematics, artistes pompiers and impressionists”.

PS: anyone who understands from this post that I think mathematics is boring has the attention span of a gnat.