Tag Archives: open access

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:

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:

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:

[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:

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):

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):

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…

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.


(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?]


(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.


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:


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


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.