Archive for February, 2012

Elsevier withdraws support for the Research Works Act

February 27, 2012

This deserves a post to itself, despite my intention to reclaim this blog for its core purpose. I don’t have a considered reaction to this news, so I won’t write a detailed response. The one thing I’ll say is that it does appear to be a fairly direct result of the boycott. (Edit: Alicia Wise, Elsevier’s “director of universal access” denies this.)

Elsevier’s (slightly grudging) announcement is here.

Edit. Elsevier announce further concessions here in a letter to the mathematics community.

Elsevier’s open letter point by point, and some further arguments

February 26, 2012

I’ve had this post sitting around half written for a long time, so I’ve decided to post it without saying everything I wanted to say and have done with it. Even the things I do say are not as organized as I’d normally like.

In response to the recent boycott and the discussion it has generated, Elsevier has put out an open letter entitled A message to the research community: journal prices, discounts and access. It was more or less guaranteed that I would not be satisfied by what they had to say, since my view is that the entire system of commercial publishing of academic papers needs to be replaced, whereas Elsevier was almost certain to be arguing from within the current system. When a paradigm shift takes place, one does not expect the main players to remain the same.

Nevertheless, it seems only fair to make some attempt to respond to the points Elsevier has to make, rather than simply saying that there is nothing they can do, or at least nothing they can do that they would be likely to be prepared to do. So let me explain why I find their open letter unsatisfactory even on their own terms (that is, even if we make the assumption that what is needed is more like an adjustment to the current system than a replacement of it). The letter starts with some statements of the kind one might expect, about how their mission is to serve the research community and so on. The substantive part of their letter is then divided into bullet points, where they claim to correct the distortions that have been advanced. I’ll look at each of those in turn.


A more formal statement about mathematical publishing

February 8, 2012

A group of mathematicians have been putting together a statement that explains some of the background to, and reasons for, the Elsevier boycott. This statement, which has been signed by 34 mathematicians (we are confident that many more would be happy to endorse it, but we had to stop somewhere), is now ready for release. If you are interested in reading it, then click here.

Abstract thoughts about online review systems

February 2, 2012

As many people have pointed out, to get to a new and better system for dealing with mathematical papers, a positive strategy of actually setting up a new system might work rather better than complaining about the current system. Or rather, since it seems unlikely that one can simply invent ex nihilo a system that’s satisfactory in all respects, one should set up systems (in the plural) and see which ones work and catch on.

I’ve already had a go at suggesting a system, back in this post and this post. Another system that has been advocated, which I also like the sound of, is free-floating “evaluation boards” that offer their stamps of approval to papers that are on the arXiv. (I associate this idea with Andrew Stacey, though I think that in this area there are several good ideas that have been had independently by several people.) But instead of discussing particular systems, which runs the risk that one ends up arguing about incidental details, I want to try to adopt a more “axiomatic” approach, and think about what it is that we want these new systems to do. Once we’re clear on that, we have a more straightforward problem to solve: how do we achieve most efficiently what we want to achieve?


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