This is a post I’ve been intending to write for several months, but now seems to be quite a good moment, since the issue is in the air somewhat. For example, I’ve just read a post by Michael Nielsen on a similar topic, which itself was responding to things that other people have written. However, he is addressing a different issue: that of the restriction of access to journal articles once they are published. I am more interested in whether mathematicians really need journal articles at all, now that we have the internet. (Just in case anyone hasn’t noticed, this post is not part of the series about first-year mathematics at Cambridge …)
Before I go any further, let me make clear right from the outset that I’m not merely saying, “We can stick our papers on the internet, so let’s forget about journals.” I think that journals still have a vital role to play, even though the internet exists. However, like many people, I do not think it is at all obvious that they will continue to have a vital role to play, so I’d like to discuss two questions.
1. If we didn’t have journals, then what might we have instead?
2. How could the change from journals to whatever replaces them actually take place?