Why I’ve joined the bad guys

A few months ago I was alerted by a pingback to the existence of a blog post by Orr Shalit entitled Worse than Elsevier which included the assertion that Terence Tao and I had “joined the bad guys”. That is an allusion to the fact that we are editors for Forum of Mathematics, CUP’s new open-access journal. This post serves a dual purpose: to draw attention to the fact that Forum of Mathematics is now accepting submissions, and to counter some of the many objections that have been raised to it. In particular, I want to separate out the objections that are based on misconceptions from the objections that have real substance. Both kinds exist, and unfortunately they tend to get mixed up.

If you are not already familiar with this debate, the aspect of Forum of Mathematics that many people dislike is that it will be funded by means of article processing charges (which I shall abbreviate to APCs) rather than subscriptions. For the next three years, these charges will be waived, but after that there will be a charge of £500 per article. Let me now consider a number of objections that people have to APCs.

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

There are many variants of this argument. For instance, an analogy is often drawn with vanity publishing: do we want vanity publishing for mathematical articles?

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. In the case of APCs, I very much doubt that there is a religious objection, so I think everybody can agree that merely saying, “I find the idea horrible,” is not an argument until one has given a reason for its being horrible. It is scarcely necessary to say this, but some people have advanced the “it is obviously immoral” argument, so I am briefly mentioning it.

To be fair to the people who have said that it is immoral, they have gone on to give further arguments, so all I’m saying is that instead of starting from the position that it is immoral (as some people have), we should start by discussing the benefits and harms and conclude that it is immoral only if we find that the harmful consequences are unacceptable.

Actually, I myself very strongly agree with the assertion that it is wrong for authors to pay to have their articles published. Why? The main one is that it gives an advantage to rich authors. When we judge the research output of other mathematicians, we pay some attention to the quality of the journals that they have published in. If it turned out that rich mathematicians could publish in better journals than poor mathematicians, we would be introducing a completely irrelevant criterion, wealth, when all that should matter is the quality of the mathematics. The fact that it would be giving an advantage to people who are already advantaged makes things even worse.

So what am I doing on the editorial board of a journal that will in due course have article processing charges? There is no inconsistency here, because authors will not pay to publish in Forum of Mathematics.

There is a misconception here, which I have unfortunately helped to perpetuate. 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”. Other people often refer to this method of financing a journal as the author-pays model. But it isn’t. An article processing charge is what it says — a charge for the processing of an article. So to call it an author-pays model is incorrect unless the APC is met by the author.

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.

First of all, when you submit an article, there will be no mention of APCs. The article will be processed in the normal way — sent out to referees, discussed by editors, etc. — and a decision will be made whether to accept or reject it. Since APCs have not been mentioned, the decision will be completely independent of financial considerations. (Of course, it will often be easy to guess whether an author can pay. But the editors will have absolutely no incentive to take this information into account. And if there were ever any pressure from CUP to be a bit more lenient to authors who were likely to be able to pay, I imagine that the entire editorial board would immediately resign.)

If your article is accepted, and if your institution is set up to meet APCs (as an increasing number of institutions already are) or they are covered by a grant that you are on, then you will arrange for your APC to be paid. Otherwise, CUP will ask for a letter from your institution stating that they are unwilling to pay the charge. No justification for this is required — just confirmation that it is the case. If you are not affiliated with an institution, then the charge will be automatically waived.

In short, you yourself won’t pay anything, and you won’t be expected to go to huge trouble applying for money to cover the APC. Either there will be a system in place for covering the charge, or you will need to organize for a simple letter to be sent. The worst that can be said for the effect this will have on you is that it will involve a bit more bureaucracy. But I don’t see that it will be any more time-consuming than correcting galley proofs, say. And even the bureaucracy should gradually become less necessary, since after a while CUP should be able to deal directly with the institutions that meet APCs and will know which ones don’t.

So if you regard APCs as immoral because you are imagining authors having to pay out of their own pockets, or authors from rich institutions having an advantage over authors from poor institutions, or authors having to go round with a begging bowl when they get an article accepted, or authors managing to get worthless articles published by paying money to unscrupulous publishers, then what you are objecting to does not apply to Forum of Mathematics. Maybe it will apply to other journals, and maybe that will be a problem: that is a question I’ll come back to.

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

There are two questions here. One is whether £500 will be a fair reflection of the costs that CUP will incur when processing Forum articles. The other is whether what they provide for those costs is worth paying for. The first question has a simple answer: it will. The answer to the second question is much less obvious, for which reason I want to postpone discussing it until the part of this post that will deal with the more serious objections to Forum of Mathematics.

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. (I repeat that in this section I am not discussing whether we want all these things.) A typical cost for all this is around $20 per page. That’s just a fact: if you go round and ask people who work for conventional maths journals what it costs them per page to process an article, that is the kind of figure you will get.

At this point, you can do some calculations yourself. If an average article is 25 pages, that’s already $500, which is approximately the same order of magnitude as £500. Then you have to take into account a number of other factors, such as that it costs money to handle papers that are then rejected (not all that much, but even arXiv needs $7 per paper), and there will probably be several of those per accepted paper, that fees will be waived for some articles, that there will be staff costs and overheads (such as part of the cost of heating the building used by the staff — things like that), and so on.

For that kind of reason, it is a straightforward empirical fact that £500 is the right order of magnitude for the costs per article incurred by a journal that operates in roughly the same way as a current conventional print journal.

Forum of Mathematics is even worse than Elsevier.

Let’s think about what you are committing yourself to if you agree with this. First, the cost to the academic community of an article published in Forum of Mathematics is £500. What is the cost of an article published by Elsevier. This is harder to judge, for various reasons, but it seems to be at least an order of magnitude higher. Let me quote Mike Taylor writing in the Guardian a few months ago.

For Elsevier, the biggest of the barrier-based publishers, we can calculate the total cost per article as £1,605m subscription revenue divided by 240,000 articles per year = £6,689 per article. By contrast, the cost of publishing an article with a flagship open access journal such as PLoS ONE is $1,350 (£850), about one eighth as much. No one expects open access to eliminate costs. But we can expect it to dramatically reduce them, as well as making research universally and freely available.

I actually think that the “real” cost of the arrangement (which I won’t attempt to define here) is higher still, because Elsevier’s bundling arrangements mean that libraries are paying for a lot of articles that they don’t really want. Or perhaps what I should say is that while the average cost may be £6,689 per article, we should think of it as quite a lot more than that for the articles we want, and quite a lot less than that for the articles that we don’t want.

But even if we accept the figure of £6,689 as it stands, that’s a lot more than £500. So to show that Forum of Mathematics is worse than Elsevier, you need to establish that it is worth paying £6,189 per article to avoid the harm associated with submitting an article to Forum of Mathematics.

Let’s remind ourselves what that harm was: it was a little piece of extra bureaucracy that has to be gone through when you submit a paper. It isn’t any of those things that people like to imagine such as hard-up graduate students being shut out from the journal, faculty being unable to publish because their universities won’t cover the fee, authors paying substantial sums out of their own pockets, people using money to buy prestige, etc. Those would all be very bad things, worth fighting against. But you aren’t fighting against them by fighting against FoM.

If you say that FoM is worse than Elsevier, then you are saying that an hour of your time (to give a generous estimate for how long you would need to write and follow up on an email requesting either payment or a letter refusing payment) is worth £6,189 to the academic community at large.

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

First, let me repeat that authors will not pay to publish in FoM. But let’s think about what the service is that authors do to the world. In some cases, they prove results that fascinate other mathematicians and stimulate a great deal of further research. That is undoubtedly doing a service. But 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. 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. It is not the reader, since readers can quite happily look at preprints. 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. There is also some benefit to hiring committees, who can look at a publication list and get a quick sense of whether an author is publishing in good journals.

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.

Let me now turn to some arguments that I think have more merit to them.

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. Maybe some of them do, but I don’t. There are two more modest ways in which it could be part of the picture: it might exist in its current form only as a temporary measure until newer and cheaper methods of assessment are developed and become accepted, or it might be that it and a few other journals would persist with traditional methods of processing articles but the bulk of mathematical publishing would be done much more cheaply, with minimal typesetting, copy-editing etc.

If traditional methods of processing articles do cost something like £500, whereas merely having an editorial and refereeing process should cost much much less (but not quite nothing, since there will be administrative costs), what is the argument for spending that much on the copy-editing and typesetting of articles that people find perfectly readable in their preprint form?

To my mind, the main argument is that moving from the current system to a radically new system is difficult unless there is a smooth path from one to the other. Imagine, for example, that somebody sets up an editorial board that does nothing except ask referees to report on papers on the arXiv, “accept” the papers it regards as good enough, and list those papers, with links, on a website. It seems to many people, including me, that such a board is doing pretty well all that we need of a mathematics journal. But suppose that a board of that kind were to be established, with the stated aim of competing directly with Journal of Functional Analysis, and that you were a postdoc trying to improve your publication list with a view to getting a good job somewhere. Wouldn’t you feel that it was safer to submit your paper to Journal of Functional Analysis than to the new “journal” that people reading your CV might not have heard of or might not trust?

I very much hope that ventures such as that will be set up, will be successful, will be trusted, and will look good on people’s CVs. But I think that that will take time. Meanwhile, FoM provides an option that is enough like a conventional journal that an article published there will look every bit as good as an article published in the journals it is competing with, and that is also open access and much cheaper to the academic community than a subscription journal.

In my ideal world, would every maths journal be run like FoM? Not at all. But to get to the ideal world, I think that it is going to be easier to persist with journals that are pretty conventional (but much cheaper) at least for now.

There is another argument in favour of what publishers currently do, which is that they help your paper appear on citation indexes, they give you journals with impact factors, and so on. I hate all that stuff: the measures are incredibly crude and far less useful than a well-written reference. I think most mathematicians share my distaste. But a lot of other scientists don’t seem to, and there is a danger that if mathematicians are perceived as “not really publishing” any more, then they will not be understood or taken seriously in situations where they are competing with people from other subjects.

I wish that argument would go away, and I hope that one day it will, but that’s an even bigger battle than the battle for reasonably priced journals.

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. There is another, and to my mind stronger, argument for this, which is that APC-based journals are much more vulnerable if a better model comes along. The faults of the current subscription model have been obvious for years, but it has been very hard to do anything about it because of bundling, which means that you can’t easily cancel subscriptions. (For a great description of the problem, try this blog post of John Baez.) Suppose now that we lived in a world where all maths journals were open access and funded by article processing charges. And suppose that a lot of mathematicians decided that they were perfectly happy to publish in different ways — free electronic journals, arxiv overlay boards, or whatever. Then they could simply publish in those different ways. If you publish in a different way at the moment, your poor old library is still locked into all those expensive subscriptions, but if you publish in a different way in a world full of APC-based open access journals, then whoever would have had to pay the APC no longer has to.

I had a horrible fantasy the other day, when it occurred to me that publishers could try to reintroduce the bundling concept in connection with APCs. Suppose that Elsevier made an offer to a university that for a flat fee all academics at that university could publish free in Elsevier journals for the next five years. If the flat fee was set in such a way that the university expected to save money, then it would be a tempting offer. But what would happen then? The university would say to its academics, “If you have the choice between an Elsevier journal and a comparable journal published by someone else, please go for the Elsevier journal.” And once Elsevier (and other big publishers with similar arrangements) had driven the smaller journals out of business, it could start upping the fees, and it would be very difficult for new journals to compete. In other words, the major problem with subscription journals could be reborn in a new guise.

However, forewarned is forearmed. Now that we know that bundling arrangements, however tempting in the short term, are ruinous in the long term, we can tell our universities to have nothing to do with them. Any sign that a publisher is trying to introduce them can be met with widespread negative publicity. And I think that if this nightmare did eventually come to pass, mathematicians could have moved on to better publication systems before they were affected by it.

Maybe FoM’s waiver policy is OK, but by associating yourself with FoM, you are indirectly conferring legitimacy on many journals with much worse policies.

This is a danger, I’ll admit. However, I think that the right way to counter this danger is not to campaign against the principle of article processing charges itself, but to campaign for certain safeguards to apply to any journal that has such charges. Here is a possibly incomplete list of safeguards.

1. Editorial decisions should be completely independent of financial considerations. If the editors decide that a paper is good enough to be accepted, then it will be published. Ideally, editors should not know, when they handle a paper, whether the author has access to funds for article processing charges. [I say “ideally” simply because there will be situations where an author’s institution’s policy is known to an editor. For example, it seems that in the UK, as a result of government mandates, all universities will be obliged to have a pot of money for paying APCs, and an editor may well know that an author is British.]

2. Under no circumstances should there ever be any advantage to an author who is happy to pay an article processing charge out of his/her own pocket.

3. An author at an institution that is willing to pay article processing charges should not be at any advantage over an author at an institution that is not willing to pay article processing charges.

4. The article processing charges should be set at the level needed to cover reasonable costs of the publisher (including overheads and possibly a modest profit for the purposes of reinvestment).

As I have argued above, Forum of Mathematics has these four safeguards in place. The fourth one is perhaps less obviously essential than the others, for two reasons. One is that some institutions, such as learned societies, might want to make larger profits in order to support their activities (and perhaps replace lost subscription revenue). Another is that one might hope that market forces would operate more efficiently. If a subscription journal is outrageously expensive, bundling makes it hard to do anything about it, but if a journal charges outrageous APCs, it is easy (in many cases) to avoid publishing in that journal.

What I would like to see is (cautious) support for journals with safeguards like 1-4 in place, and strong criticism of journals that manifestly don’t — which in my case would probably include adding them to the list of journals that I am boycotting.

As always, there is much more that I could say, but I think I’ll end it there. Before I finish, I would like to mention that this post will be followed soon by a companion post entitled “Why I’ve also joined the good guys.” If the idea of APCs still sticks in your craw, then you will find that post more to your taste.

80 Responses to “Why I’ve joined the bad guys”

  1. Joel Says:

    I may have missed something, but is there a short-term reason why an institution should agree to pay APCs? My first naive thoughts are that, given that refusing to pay means that the same staff articles get published free of charge, the institution gains in the short term by refusing to pay.
    You say that an increasing number of institutions are set up to meet APCs. Does this indicate longer-term thinking by institutions?

  2. Wolfgang M Says:

    I would also suspect that it will be very tempting for the institutions to refuse to pay any of the APCs. Unless the FoM is prepared to shame the institutions into paying, I do not see why the strategy of “never paying” would ever be abandoned.

    Perhaps I have missed something in the original post that addresses this point?

    • Greg Says:

      Presumably one could argue to the institutions that refusing to support non-commercial journals will cement their indentured status to the commercial journals.

  3. Mark Meckes Says:

    Something Tim didn’t seem to point out is that APCs are already common in many other fields; I think near-universal in some. Institutions and government funding agencies already take paying APCs for granted in those fields, so I expect they’ll be much less bothered than mathematicians themselves if math journals start charging APCs.

    • Greg Says:

      I’m in a country (Canada) where government funding agencies are already coming up short in mathematics grants. I’m not holding my breath for them to decide to increase grants because of an APC movement.

  4. Andrea Raiconi Says:

    I share the same perplexities as some of the other commenters. I hope the answer is that someone is willing to pay because they understand that this is a fair system and they want it to work. Maybe in the future good-willing institutions, or governements in the first place, might pay a flate rate fee to sustain an ecosystem of open-access journals. The more join, the less each of one would have to pay.

    Thanks for clearing out how a good open access journal should work.

  5. Greg Says:

    Proposed fifth safeguard: the financial waiver policy should be made abundantly obvious on the journal’s web site (etc.), so that authors from poorer institutions/countries don’t self-select themselves out of the system.

  6. gowers Says:

    I think the basic answer to the question, “Why should an institution pay?” is that although it is true that in theory an unscrupulous institution could say, “We hereby refuse to pay APCs for our academics,” and thereby avoid the need to meet the APCs for FoM, the way things are going with open-access mandates means that it is reasonable for CUP to gamble that enough institutions will agree to pay that it will not lose heavily on FoM. But it is a gamble, especially given the waiver for the first three years.

    If you’re interested in what is going on in the UK, then have a look at this statement from the UK research councils about their plans to oblige UK academics to publish in open-access journals. I imagine that CUP is banking on other countries following suit over the next three years. What happens in the US will obviously be of critical importance.

  7. B. Says:

    I don’t get a point, for some time, on your support of FoM’s policies. You explain that APCs are needed and that it is the least bad situation in some sense. How is it possible that the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics or Theory of Computing (and others too) are free of charge for authors and readers? Is there some magic going on, allowing those journals to exist without fees?

    Of course I am being ironic on purpose, but I just think that being involved in this kind of journals (and creating new ones) is a much more interesting way of making things change…

  8. Quick reaction on Gowers’ “Why I’ve joined the bad guys” « chorasimilarity Says:

    […] 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 […]

  9. Gil Kalai Says:

    The author-pays/institution-pays model

    1.1) Overall, I don’t like the model of author pays, even if it’s only mean that the author needs to ask for support from his institution.

    I also expect that:

    a) The costs of open access journal will go up and eventually will come closer to that of subscription journals. (There will be some gap between for-profit and non-profit publishers partially due to the fact that non-profit publishers are indirectly supported by host institutions, and also between established journals and new ones.)

    b) The nice waiver policy of CUP is not viable. Eventually journals will be much tougher.

    c) A substantial move towards author-pays-open access will lead to additional expenses of granting agencies to monitor and regulate scientific journals. This means more administrative duties on scientists and more overhead for administrators in grant agencies. (On the other hand, it will save money on distribution overhead, and probably also on librarians who may lose their jobs.)

    1.2) 500 pounds per article is a reasonable estimate for actual costs.

    1.3) An initiative like the new CUP journal is fairly harmless. I don’t see anything wrong with several financial models living side-bye-side.

    1.4) Forcing an “institution-pays-open access” models of publishing will probably be harmful. It can give incentives for institutions to cut on research/researchers. It will effectively subsidize strong and rich institutions with many grant-ful researchers on the expense of weaker institutions.

    The Elsevier boycott

    2.1) I don’t support the high costs of Elsevier. It seems that the boycott had substantial effect to lower the costs and to change policies towards more free access.

    2.2) I did not support the boycott, and still do not support it. I think such an action is potentially harmful for the mathematical community for various reasons.

    Open access

    3.1 ) When it comes to mathematics, the open-access movement is a little silly. (Unlike the journal cost-reduction initiative which is valuable.) Most papers are publicly available on the arxive or personal homepages. If 100% stands for full access, and the situation before email and the Internet was 20% the access now comes close to the maximum possible, maybe 80%.

    3.2) There are mathematician who don’t care or even don’t want to give open access to their work and it is not the business of the community to force them. They account for much of the extra 20% and not the paywalls.

    3.3) The author-pays model will not necessary make the access more open because it is likely that more mathematicians will avoid publishing altogether.


    4) Personally (with very few exceptions) I will not mix matters of publishers financial model with academic decisions regarding my involvement, Certainly this applies when it comes to refereeing and also in other types of involvements.

  10. JeffE Says:

    From the FOM FAQ:

    In the first three years, the publication costs of all such papers will be underwritten by Cambridge University Press. After this time, a more restrictive waiver policy will operate, but Cambridge will still meet the costs for those from eligible countries (see appendix). Others who genuinely have no access to funds will also be able to apply for a waiver.

    So authors might have to pay in 2016?

    • gowers Says:

      Authors will not have to pay. For the first three years, payment will be voluntary: CUP hopes that people with easy access to funds for payment will pay, since they will have nothing to lose by doing so and it will help the journal keep prices down. After that, the policy I described above (either you arrange payment or you get a letter from your institution saying that it will not pay) comes into effect.

  11. Sam Leach Says:

    I think you’ve raised some interesting points on the ethics of APCs and how to implement safeguards. Could I ask a question: What do you intend to do with all the letters of refusal / requests for APC waivers ? Could you aggregate this information and publish it ?

  12. Orr Shalit Says:

    Dear Gowers
    Thank you for your detailed reply. I am quite happy too that you are opening another discussion on the matter.

  13. Tam Says:

    Why isn’t anyone talking about the elephant in the room? How do the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics and Theory of Computing stay afloat if articles apparently cost $750+ to publish?

    An obvious answer is that they somehow provide fewer services than FoM will. What are these services? And why are we paying $750 for them? Can’t we simply have more journals like EJC and ToC?

    • gowers Says:

      The elephant in the room was discussed in a comment above, but it still deserves an answer. There are people who know more than I do about this, but the rough answer is that those journals tend to depend on at least somebody who is enthusiastic and ready to put in a lot of work, so it is not clear that it is possible to scale up to a workable model for the entirety of mathematical publishing. However, I would certainly agree that having more journals of that type can only be a good thing if people prepared to run them can be found. (I myself am an example of someone who is prepared to put in the work necessary to be an editor of FoM but is not prepared to put in the work necessary to run a journal.)

    • Tom Leinster Says:

      I’m an editor of Theory and Applications of Categories, which has run for 18 years, free to everyone. We publish about 25 papers a year. As Tim says, the issue is probably scaling: a small journal like this doesn’t need sophisticated systems.

      It’s true that there’s some cost in time put in by enthusiasts. But that shouldn’t be overstated. The founding and managing editor, Bob Rosebrugh, wrote about this in a recent piece for the Notices:

      Colleagues in my field often suppose that managing a subject area electronic journal is a heroic endeavour. The truth is very different. … each article published in TAC requires well under an hour of the managing editor’s time.

    • mixedmath Says:

      This reminds me of sites such as [MSE](http://math.stackexchange.com/) and [MO](http://mathoverflow.net), sites in which one’s math questions can often be quickly answered at no cost to the user or any institution associated with the user. I understand that the services provided are very different in scope, so I don’t mean to say that the review process should run on a stackexchange engine.

      But the amazing aspect of MSE and MO is that the expertise is provided for free, similar to how reviewers are not paid to review. And the overall appearance is paid for in man hours put in by enthusiasts, to take a phrase from Dr. Leinster. Meanwhile, the actual funding comes from a variety of things, both those widely replicable such as non-obtrusive advertising and essentially impossible-to-copy services such as matching employers and employees.

      Would it be terrible if a math journal had advertising? I don’t know anything of the actual numbers of how advertising works, and I’m always stunned at the tremendous size of money in internet advertising (is it really *that* useful?).

    • matthias beck Says:

      Based on my (arguably limited) experience as an editor of both EJC and two “traditional” journals, the biggest difference is that to run a “traditional” journal one needs administrative support and release time for the editor-in-chief. At EJC, we overcome both needs by having (1) a computer system that takes care of almost all mundane things (this system is maintained by 1-2 of the editors), (2) about 4 editors taking care of front-end (submissions, work-load distribution) and back-end (final formatting checks, publication) business, and (3) more than one editor-in-chief. So yes, one does need “somebody who is enthusiastic and ready to put in a lot of work”; on the other hand, if lots of work is distributed among a few people, it becomes surprisingly manageable.

  14. DSP Says:

    Just wanted to comment on the GBP 6,689 revenue per article calculation you quote for Elsevier – this figure is utterly wrong. It’s arrived at by using the profit of Reed Elsevier, which is a much larger company with divisions that have nothing to do with academic publishing (for example, LexisNexis, which provides legal information). For proof see: http://reporting.reedelsevier.com/ar11/business-review/reed-elsevier/

    Further, note that in the link I provide the profit of Elsevier is shown as GBP 768 million. Please don’t simply repeat your calculation with this number and expect to get a meaningful number, as this also includes earnings from Elsevier businesses that are not related to subscription journals.

    • Tom Leinster Says:

      The trouble is, Elsevier seems to make a habit of legally forbidding libraries from disclosing how much they’re paying for Elsevier journals. This makes it impossible to find out the average amount paid per Elsevier-published article.

      If information is hidden, we’re left with no choice but to guess.

      Let me put it more positively. Assuming you’re employed by Elsevier, how much do you say is the mean revenue per Elsevier-published article (say from libraries in the UK, Europe or the USA)? And what evidence can you give for your figure?

    • gowers Says:

      I’d better let Mike Taylor respond to that (meaning DSP’s comment above). However, I think the general point — that the total cost to the academic community of an article published in an Elsevier journal is much higher than £500 — is correct.

      Here’s another calculation. A major university in the UK typically pays Elsevier about £1,000,000 per year for access to all 2,735 of Elsevier’s journals. That works out as about £400 per journal per year. Most of those journals, however, are only there because of bundling arrangements: the cost per article in a journal that people are actually interested in is considerably higher. Let’s assume that 25% of Elsevier journals are ones that libraries actually want and the remaining 75% are thrown in as part of the big deal. (I don’t know whether that is a good estimate, so I may have to revise my conclusions.) That lifts the average cost per interesting journal to more like £1500. Now let’s suppose that an average interesting journal has about 100 articles per year. That works out as £15 per interesting article. Now finally let us suppose that the number of subscriptions worldwide is in the region of 200. (I think, but am not sure, that this is not an overestimate.) Then we reach £3000 per article — less than Mike Taylor’s figure, but substantially more than the £500 charged by FoM.

      Another way of thinking about it is that if Elsevier switched to open access journals with APCs of £500, then a major UK university would be able to use that money to pay for 2000 articles by its academics per year in Elsevier journals. That sounds to me like more than it would need.

  15. Tom Leinster Says:

    One thing I don’t understand is how CUP hopes to break even. If the cost to CUP per article is about £500 (which seems reasonable to me), and each paid-for article brings in £500, and some articles are not paid for, then the average revenue per article is less than the cost.

    Or is CUP simply going to take a loss on this, even after the three-year period?

    • gowers Says:

      I don’t know the answer to that, but I think that they have made at least some allowance, in setting the cost, for the fact that some articles will not be paid for.

  16. Dr. Jonathan Swift Says:

    Given the amount of energy in the Elsevier boycott as well as this initiative, I believe that the mathematics community is in a unique position to innovate in the arena of publishing. This opportunity is squandered by duplicating existing methods of charging for articles; the idea of the Forum of Mathematics is already well-trodden by publications such as the Public Library of Science.

    A truly inspiring new journal should re-distribute its costs in a more democratic manner, consistent with the ideals of our community. The Forum of Mathematics currently collects all of its charges from the authors (or more specifically, as you elucidate, from their institutions). I believe this is unfair, because the authors are not the only persons contributing to a given article!

    I propose redistributing the £500 cost to better represent typical contributions. Specifically, I suggest a charge of £300 from the author, £100 each from two referees, and £50 from the editor in charge.

    I trust that you will find that many of your arguments in favor of the Forum of Mathematics carry over to this proposition. (Institutions will pay the processing charges, not the referees themselves. The amount of additional bureacracy is negligible compared to the amount of work referees already do.) However, this suggestion is definitely a much more fair implementation of the principles behind article-processing charges.

    • gowers Says:

      Hmm … is this a deliberate wind-up or should I explain what’s wrong with your argument? I’ll go for the latter: the principle that there should be a charge for contributing to an article is ridiculous.

      Two arguments against it: nobody would agree to referee an article if they had to pay to do so, and the same principle would also lead to the conclusion that the publishers should contribute to the payment. So, contrary to your expectations, I don’t find that any of my arguments in favour of FoM support this proposition.

      Apologies that your comment has only just appeared — it went to my spam folder so I’ve only just discovered it.

    • Benoît Régent-Kloeckner Says:

      This is probably redundant with Gower’s answer, but let me clarify why the role of authors, editors and referees are not symmetric with respect to funding publication (so that arguments in favor of asking the author to get funding for its article do not carry over to the obviously flawed argument in favor of asking it to editors and referees).

      What a journal with APC sells is the service it provides: organize a framework for editor’s work and format and correct (language, typos, etc.) the article. These services are an help to the author, performed with the contribution of editors and referees. It makes sense to ask to arrange funding by the author, not by the editor and the referees.

    • Jamie Taylor Says:

      Dear Professor Gowers, I am the original author of the comment above. I apologize for not labeling my post more clearly as satire. (However, please note that the byline is the famous writer “Dr. Jonathan Swift” with a Wikipedia link.)

      The intention of the post was precisely to make the argument that you summarize as “the principle that there should be a charge for contributing to an article is ridiculous”. It follows that author page charges (or “article processing charges”) are ridiculous.

      You presumably disagree with this conclusion, but I don’t think that the arguments you mention are correct. You say that “nobody would agree to referee an article if they had to pay to do so”. Let me illustrate why I believe that is false with a thought experiment. Suppose any time you refereed an article, you submitted a form that said what department you were from; if your department had the required funds, a “referee page charge” would automatically be deducted from its account. Furthermore, assume this was the status quo. I don’t see why people wouldn’t just referee as they do now.

      You could respond with a variety of arguments as to why this situation would be unsustainable, eg “it would be in the financial interests of a department to not have its members referee papers, and it follows the system would collapse”. But I think such arguments carry over to the current status quo. A person who was unaware referees were unpaid would certainly exclaim “nobody would agree to referee an article for free”. I have spoken to bright people unaware of the details of academic publishing and they are frequently surprised that authors don’t get paid! And editors don’t get paid! And, yes, referees don’t get paid!

      I admit that in the end, the argument probably doesn’t hold up and is flawed. For example, Benoît highlights some of the asymmetries between authors, referees, and editors. (But in response still: editors, too, derive a benefit from their work. There’s definitely status issues at play with prestigious editorial boards. The point is that just because authors derive some obvious benefit from publication doesn’t mean they should pay for it. We can hold ourselves to ideals higher than that.)

      I’d like to ask you to consider the proposition that our current status quo has some weird properties and you should not take these things for granted. If you really think “nobody would agree to referee an article if they had to pay to do so” then please consider why people do agree to referee articles for free (currently) and also why you believe it’s okay that an author has to pay to publish.

      (I have taken the liberty of saying “author .. pay” instead of “the author’s institution .. pay” because you said “referee .. pay” in response to my post.)

    • gowers Says:

      Benoît’s argument was a clearer version of the argument I had in mind. Why do I submit a paper as an author? Because I want the benefits it brings — a boost to my CV, some prestige conferred by the journal, etc. Why do I referee a paper? It’s a chore that I hate, and I do it because I feel a moral obligation to do so. It is a service to the author, and the moral obligation comes from the fact that others have very kindly performed the service for me.

      In short, the asymmetry is very basic: authors benefit from having their papers published, while referees lose by doing their job (they lose time that they could have spent doing other things). There may be arguments against article processing charges, but your attempted analogy between authors and referees isn’t one of them.

    • Jamie Taylor Says:

      Thank you for taking the time to consider my comments, even though I admitted above that this particular argument is flawed (and you apparently agree with that strongly).

    • gowers Says:

      I’ll hold my hand up there. I replied to your comment, noticed that you had admitted it, and was a bit lazy about modifying my reply. The reason I wrote what I wrote in the first place was that before you described the argument as probably flawed, you appeared to be taking it seriously and pursuing the analogy.

      Incidentally, to answer another of your points, I think that although editorial work confers some prestige, I think that such prestige as it confers is nothing like motivation enough — at least when significant work is involved. So I think the analogy fails there too, though less trivially.

  17. Aaron Says:

    You may be interested to know that in the machine learning community, we are experimenting with the “put the paper on the arXiv” model:
    It has just started this year, time will tell if it takes off.

  18. philliplord Says:

    The cost is an issue, though. I want to publish much more often than I do, about smaller things, because I think that rapid publication is to the benefit of science. I publish my research onto my blog as I go; but, then, I have to turn the same material into papers. These also go straight onto my blog, but I have to send them to a publisher as well, because otherwise it’s not “real”.

    The publishers process costs significant time and effort over and above the cost of writing the articles and doing the science (which is always going to be hard). In most cases, it achieves nothing in terms of scientific communication, because all the material is out there already.

    So what am I spending my Universities money for?

    • gowers Says:

      I think you answer your own question when you write, “I have to send them to a publisher as well, because otherwise it’s not “real”.” You are spending your university’s money for the “reality” that is conferred by the journal. In the UK at least, it may even be worth it financially for the university, since every few years the university’s research is assessed and the results of the assessment have significant financial consequences.

      A number of problems would be solved if we could find (and adopt) more sensible ways of judging each other’s work …

  19. Stijn Says:

    In the fields of biology/bioinformatics this model is completely accepted. I don’t know hard numbers (of journals), but for example the Wellcome Trust is (which is responsible for a *lot* of funding and grants) definitely supports this model. To me it makes complete sense. There *are*costs associated with publishing. To put the costs on the side of the institute associated with the author that publishes is to put the incentives in the right place. The institute gets a publication (which it wants) and it gets a much wider readership (which it wants). Research that was sponsored by tax or trust money is not subsequently further taxed and coralled. Mechanisms exist to unburden authors without institutes or institutes without the means. What’s not to like?

    • gowers Says:

      An important difference is that biologists are much more used to obtaining grant money than mathematicians are. However, my guess is that if this model became widespread in mathematics too, then people would get used to it fairly quickly.

      Just out of interest, would you say that the mechanisms you refer to are good enough that the safeguards I talk about in the post apply to a typical Gold Open Access journal in biology? In particular, what happens if an author is at a rich institution that refuses to pay, or does that situation not arise?

    • Stijn Says:

      I do not have sufficient overview to answer that question unfortunately. My feeling is that a strong ethos pervades the big institutes. I’ll see whether I can ask someone higher up in the institutes I am familiar with (EBI, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute). It is important to take into account the relative cost and the long term cost (as you described). The relative cost of APC compared to wages, traveling, conferences, wet labs, compute facilities, upkeep and heating of buildings et cetera is in our field quite minuscule. Long term, if APC becomes more pervasive and account for a larger share of published articles, there will be substantial gains to be had in decreasing subscription costs. My instinctive reaction is that this is *very* obviously the Right Thing To Do.

    • Benoît Régent-Kloeckner Says:

      The point is not only for biologists to have the habit to get money to publish, but they simply cannot work without strong founding (this is true at least for most experimental fields). So asking them to manage to get money to publish is no big deal.

      Mathematicians, as historians and in other humanity fields, can work pretty well without much funding. So asking money to publish is intrinsically more problematic to us. That’s why I hope the APC model will not extend to most mathematical publication (but of course weaver can be an answer to that, and I welcome an initiative like FoM, especially given the reasonnable price).

      A last point: in France, we got used to ask for grant money pretty fast, and it is one of the worse recent evolution in my opinion. We would do more math if we could care less about finances.

  20. Second thoughts on on Gowers’ “Why I’ve joined the bad guys” « chorasimilarity Says:

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

  21. Gil Kalai Says:

    Hi Tim, For me the crucial question is this: Is the purpose of the new initiative to promote this model of publishing, and to complete with journals based on the traditional subscription model, or is the intention is, now, or at a later stage to force this model, by legislation, or by other means.

    • gowers Says:

      This is pure speculation on my part, but I think the answer may be something else: a perception by CUP that this model is going to become much more widespread thanks to mandates by grant-awarding bodies, and that they want to be well-prepared if the subscription model declines quickly.

      In other words, there is a strong possibility that this model will be to some extent forced, but FoM is a response to that situation rather than a way of trying to encourage it.

  22. mixedmath Says:

    My greatest concern with this type of model is that there is always an incentive to publish a few more articles, as the money gained increases directly in proportion to the number of articles printed. In one sense, it might be good to print ‘All the Math That’s Fit to Print,’ so long as it’s all reviewed. But it would be terrible if standards were lowered to make ends meet.

    • Stijn Says:

      Journals will still have reputation and standing, and the review process and editioral board should safe-guard this. The fact that vanity-press use a superficially similar model is, well, superficial. APC journals must be buffered in some way, so that troughs in output do not impact them. This seems entirely feasable. Running or publishing in a high-profile high-impact journal will add to a CV, and the same clearly does not apply to vanity press.

  23. Pablo Says:

    Dear Tim,

    You state unambiguously that a letter from the institituion certifying inability to pay will be enough to waive APC in FOM.

    CUP however is much more vague: “Others who genuinely have no access to funds will also be able to apply for a waiver”.

    Say that I have a small grant that I can use to pay for APC for 1 article in FOM or to attend a conference, would I in the eyes of CUP “genuinely have no access to funds”? Likewise if my institution has a small pot of money to support research in general. This is not an abstract question; I’m likely to be in this situation in the near future.

    Furthermore, the wording “apply for a waiver” instead of “get a waiver” also suggests a far from automatic process in which CUP will have ultimate discretion.

    As another commenter said, even if CUP has this vague language in order to encourage researchers/institutions who are able to pay to pay, this will result in people with limited/no funding self-selecting out of FOM.

    So while your clarification is most welcome, I would be personally wary of submitting to FOM (after the first 3 years) if CUP doesn’t make its waiver policy more transparent.

    • gowers Says:

      I think “access to funds” means access to funds that have been earmarked for the purpose, or to grant money that could, without any disadvantage to the author, be used for that purpose. However, my word should not be taken as gospel here. In this comment and in the post above I am saying what the situation is as I understand it.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Dear Prof. Gowers,
      With all due respect, I find this response to be rather weak; I hope I am not misunderstanding.

      Consider the following situation (which owing to the language in the FoM FAQ seems like a plausible scenario): the editors accept a paper, and a waiver of the APC is applied for. This waiver is denied by CUP, and the paper correspondingly does not get published.

      What happens now? Is this a case of an editorial outcome being determined by financial considerations, prompting the resignation of the editorial board? Would the board first examine the merits of the waiver application, and only resign if they disagreed with CUP’s determination?

      You mentioned in your post that a letter from one’s institution expressing an unwillingness to pay the fee, without reason, would be sufficient to obtain a waiver. Is CUP bound in writing to such a policy?

      Clearly you appreciate that the waiver policy is integral to the transparent operation of the journal, I can’t imagine how one could go ahead with this project without laying out the rules under which it will operate. Or perhaps there are clear criteria for the waivers (after the 3 year period) which are not being publicized?

    • gowers Says:

      These are all good questions. I very much hope the situation you describe will not arise, but if it does, then I think a lot will depend on the precise details. I for one would need to know exactly why CUP made the decision it made, and in particular whether it had departed from the policy of granting a waiver whenever an institution is unwilling, for whatever reason, to pay.

  24. Niall MacKay Says:

    Would it not be a whole lot simpler and better if, instead of asking authors’ institutions whether they might like to pay £500, much as a nation might ask an international coffee shop chain to pay some tax, the journal were set up with decent funding to cover its (what should be, with authors doing their own LaTeXing) minimal costs?

    RCUK or HEFCE or EPSRC ought to be willing; it would be great academic value, and perhaps even of net financial benefit, to the country. Of course they won’t be – so it comes back to the authors. (Which, despite FoM’s laudable but surely unsustainable model, it will in the end.)

    If these bodies might perhaps be convinced — by the Journal running successfully for a few years — perhaps Cambridge U could subsidize the operation initially. (Or is it indeed already doing so?)

    • gowers Says:

      I would certainly prefer an arrangement like that if it could be organized, and I think CUP will be looking for funding if it can find it. I suppose one objection that a national body such as EPSRC would raise is that it doesn’t want to subsidize authors from other countries. But that’s a tragedy-of-the-commons problem: one would really like national bodies the world over to subsidize journals directly, so that everyone would save, but it is in the interests of any given body to opt out.

  25. quasihumanist Says:

    I can almost guarantee you that, should an institution-pays APC model become widespread, about half of the states in the United States will pass legislation prohibiting their publicly funded institutions from paying APCs with institutional funds, on the grounds that paying such a charge is optional and therefore a waste of the taxpayer’s money. (They will continue to allow payment of APCs from grant funds, since they realize the NSF and NIH may require this as a condition of their institutions getting grants.)

    Just to ground this in reality: My university is in fact prohibited by state law from paying my AMS and MAA dues, although some accounting dodges are possible. (That’s the American Mathematical Society and Mathematical Association of America, the two professional organizations for mathematics in the US.)

  26. Steve Carlip Says:

    “If your article is accepted, and if your institution is set up to meet APCs … or they are covered by a grant that you are on, then you will arrange for your APC to be paid.”

    The crucial question is what this means. Suppose I have a grant with funds budgeted for graduate student support or conference travel, but my funding agency says that APCs are an allowable use of the money. Does this count as being “covered by a grant that you are on”? In other words, would publication in this journal require that I support fewer students, or spend less on travel (essentially paying out of my own pocket, because I’d have to pick up the extra travel costs)?

    There is a widespread belief among open access advocates that because funding agencies are sympathetic to the idea, it should be possible to simply ask for additional money in your grant to cover APCs. In my field, at least, this is simply not true. The agencies have fixed budgets, which are already too small to support all of the good grant applications they get. They are not going to take money from one person’s student support or summer salary to make it easier for another person to publish. In practice, a PI has a fixed grant, which can be used as one wishes; but using the money for APCs means, very directly, taking it away from something else.

  27. Math journals and the fight over open access « mixedmath Says:

    […] perhaps Gowers will step in with his next grand idea. As Gower’s says, he has ‘Joined the Bad Guys.’ But by bad guys, he doesn’t mean Elsevier, but instead the general idea of Gold open […]

  28. Michael Nielsen Says:

    A useful model to look at may be the Journal of Machine Learning Research. As I understand it, JMLR has the following four properties:

    (1) Open Access;

    (2) It’s arguably the best journal in its area;

    (3) No APC or any analogue;

    (4) Authors retain copyright.

    Corrections welcome – I’ve never submitted to JMLR, so maybe I’ve misunderstood something. But it seems to me to be a very interesting model, and possibly worth emulating.

  29. Orr Shalit Says:

    I agree with Gil Kalai that this initiative is fairly harmless, but only if we take it in perspective and remember that we are only talking about the academic world, and that we have much more serious problems in the real world. However, in the context of the academic world, this initiative is harmful, especially because eminent people are endorsing it. The danger in this initiative is that it makes it much more likely that the gold open access model will be embraced, and then, eventually, forced (there is already some evidence that this is the direction).

    I did indeed imply (in another post than the one linked here) that FoM is worse than Elsevier, and I stand behind that. As I see it, the old model is dying, and a new model is on the rise. The new model is green open access, and includes (if I am not mistaken) many journals at various levels like Documenta Math, New York Journal of Math, Banach Journal of Math, Journal of Machine Learning, Electronic Journal of Combinatorics, Theory of Computing, etc.; and this model includes also the arxiv, personal webpages and the new and welcome idea of epijournals.

    New initiatives like FoM can only disrupt the advent of the new model. They cast sand in the eyes bureaucrats and mathematicians alike, making them believe that here we found a way to free ourselves from the old system. Don’t worry about Elsevier — they will switch to gold open access. The rise of gold open access is a life saver for them.

    My biggest objection to gold open access is that there is no need for it. In light of what I wrote in the first paragraph, I object severely to spending public funding on something which I (at least for now) do not need.

  30. Thierry Bouche Says:

    I’m sorry for two things:
    1. I don’t agree with you, and
    2. I didn’t read all the comments so I can’t be sure that my comment will be original.

    Anyway, here it is: giving different meaning to APC is marketing people’s bullshit. We know what it is and we know what it means.
    There is something plain wrong in your computations: if £500 is the cost of making a typical article published online, then how is it possible to waive the fee? I mean: this means that any author who’s not required to pay the APC has to be sponsored in some way. My best bet is that CUP computed things like 20% of feeless authors, 80% getting the £500 paid, so the real cost is somewhat below £500 and the number of authors “for free” is necessarily subject to some quota.So here we are again: what if authorship of Forum Pi shows surprisingly that 50% of first class papers come from those unfortunate territories where no institution would pay for publishing? Will the publisher sponsor them or delay some of these best papers, waiting that medium class papers by paying authors support them?

    In short: how can this model comply with a quality-only goal? Economics necessarily interfere with science…

    Hoping you can prove me wrong,
    Th. B.

    • gowers Says:

      “Anyway, here it is: giving different meaning to APC is marketing people’s bullshit. We know what it is and we know what it means.”

      Would you like to be explicit about what you are implying here?

      In answer to your paragraph about CUP’s computations, I do not know what percentage of articles they think they will need to waive the fees for. However, they are a big organization, and we already know that they are ready to take a significant loss for three years. My guess is that they are thinking of this as a long-term project and are ready to take a smaller loss for a few years after that, in the hope that more and more organizations will be prepared to pay APCs. Since that prediction may turn out to be wrong, and since it is the policy of the journal that editorial decisions are strictly independent of financial considerations (any hint that this principle was being compromised would be met by mass resignations from the editorial board), they are taking a fairly big gamble, and we should be grateful to them for being prepared to do that.

      I’m not saying that all that is true in general of the maths journals that charge APCs. It’s worth repeating that £500 is a great deal less than the usual amount that publishers charge, which is more like three or four times as much.

  31. Dr. Gowers and Mr. Hyde | AMS Graduate Student Blog Says:

    […] the issues he recorded. This work is not without criticism, which he addresses in the first post: Why I’ve joined the bad guys. This article defends his involvement in a new open access journal funded by article processing […]

  32. Anonymous Says:

    The argument concerning reducing the aggregate cost to the academic community seems to have a flaw which wasn’t addressed. A more accurate way of phrasing it is that this model might reduce the costs of subscribing to math journals, but at the same time add an extra financial burden on the math departments or researchers with limited grants. If this generates net savings to the university, ideally you might want university administrators to immediately realize it and channel the difference to the math department from the library budget. University administrators, unfortunately, are often not so ideal.

    It also isn’t clear to me why one can’t simply set lower subscription prices in the traditional model with the aim of generating the same required revenue. If the only difference is open access then that seems to be a minor concern to me, since the vast majority of papers in my field are put on ArXiv anyway.

    • gowers Says:

      I think I’d be satisfied with much lower subscription prices and a general culture where all papers worth reading were on the arXiv. However, if we stick with the subscription model, the commercial publishers have no incentive to lower their prices, and if all papers worth reading can be obtained free, then at some point libraries will stop subscribing. So I don’t see how the situation you describe can actually be achieved.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Authors already put their papers on ArXiv, and even the much maligned Elsevier explicitly allows it, so somehow this seems to be working already.

    • Yemon Choi Says:

      If this generates net savings to the university, ideally you might want university administrators to immediately realize it and channel the difference to the math department from the library budget. University administrators, unfortunately, are often not so ideal.

      Pavlovian conditioning means I wish I could give this a +1 or a “thumbs up” or similar. Actually, I rather wish I could give it a +100

  33. R Says:

    Basic question here. The impression many have in the community, per my understanding, is that CPU is a non-profit operation. In the US, non-profits must make their financials transparent to anyone who wishes to review these. If CPU is a non-profit, does this transparency hold in the UK? Is CPU the for-proift arm of a non-profit institution (CU)? Or is it a non-proift in the same way a US based non profit would be positioned–meaning all financials are available just for the asking?

  34. Felipe Voloch Says:

    CUP falling squarely on the side of the bad guys.

  35. Gordon Royle Says:

    The worst thing about all this is that it legitimises the “you pay, we publish” model of Hindawi and all the other vulture vanity publishers that relentlessly spam my inbox. A mathematician may be able to distinguish between Forum of Mathematics and Antarctica Journal, but Deans may find it harder.

    CS publishing is a dog’s breakfast because they have to pay for registration at conferences to get things published. So with every paper, there’s the question of whether it was accepted because it’s good (enough) or because the organisers need enough registrants to cover the 5-star hotels that, coincidentally of course, house many CS conferences. Of course, there are good CS conferences with low acceptance rates, but nobody from the outside can tell what they are.

    I don’t want this to happen in Maths.

  36. ☆ New models for academic publishing | Mostly physics Says:

    […] priced The Forum of Mathematics, which some of the people behind the Elsevier boycott are backing; the PLoS-like Open Library of Humanities; and a series of IZA’s economics […]

  37. ☆ New models for academic publishing | Mostly physics Says:

    […] priced The Forum of Mathematics, which some of the people behind the Elsevier boycott are backing; the PLoS-like Open Library of Humanities; and a series of IZA’s economics […]

  38. anon Says:

    Another open access journal:

    Click to access TLMS-Announcement.pdf

  39. mixedmath Says:

    How are the two Forum of Math journals coming along? Is there an anticipated date of initial publication?

    • mixedmath Says:

      I’d like to update my comment above by saying that I also asked Terry Tao about FoM at his site, and he responded by saying that Sigma has a couple dozen articles in the tubes and some will start appearing soon. Pi has only a few, and will take a bit longer. (In case anyone else was interested).

  40. Bobito Says:

    “If your article is accepted, and if your institution is set up to meet APCs (as an increasing number of institutions already are) or they are covered by a grant that you are on, then you will arrange for your APC to be paid. Otherwise, CUP will ask for a letter from your institution stating that they are unwilling to pay the charge. No justification for this is required — just confirmation that it is the case. If you are not affiliated with an institution, then the charge will be automatically waived. ”

    It seems terribly naive to believe that editorial decisions will not be affected by the ability to pay.

    It seems ridiculous to demand that the institution confirm unwillingness (or inability) to pay. Why does the author’s word not suffice? This is just creating more bureaucracy, more hurdles. Small pains in the ass accumulate.

    500 pounds is a ridiculous number, even in most of Europe. Here in Spain I work in a major university. My school’s budget for paying this sort of fee is a few thousand euros a year – for 150 researchers. University employees are being fired right and left, salaries are being slashed, and you expect institutions to pay for publishing costs?

    The following summarizes my feelings about author pays models: Go to hell.

    • gowers Says:

      As a matter of interest, what does your university library pay to Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and Taylor Francis? The aim here is that institutions should end up paying less for publishing costs, though I admit that bundling makes it very difficult to cut down on subscription costs, so the aim may be hard to achieve.

  41. Joel Says:

    Where does the new journal “Transactions of the LMS” fit into this scheme? Is this based on the same model?

  42. FoM: denied publication | chorasimilarity Says:

    […] deserves a “stamp of quality”. Providing such stamps is one of the roles of FoM, according to Timothy Gowers. So, I went for such a stamp, because really that’s all this article needs. […]

  43. isomorphismes Says:

    The benefit to rich authors clearly only matters if the cost is significantly high. The zero-versus-nonzero argument should be distinguished from a how-high argument, unless the former is a slippery-slope type.

    Currency differences and other regional pay differences could favour researchers from countries with strong currencies. But if it’s merely a case of US and UK researchers paying $100 upon publication to defray costs (and it stays at $100, not a slippery-slope), then that could remove pressure elsewhere in the balance-sheet. If that reduced pressure results in a more ethical approach otherwise that could easily be worth it—as long as the eg Indian researchers get some kind of break.

  44. Matthew Says:

    What if the forum allowed people to upload their papers for free for the first 30-60 days, and during that time, the site allows people to “donate” money in the name of the paper, if they find it worthwhile, the donation going towards the 500£. If, after the 30-60 days, less than 500£ is gathered through donations, the author pays the rest him/herself. It might not be fool-proof, but I think people always feel better when giving voluntarily than having an obligation to pay.

  45. andgranville Says:

    Universities, granting agencies, etc set up systems to pay bills that are accepted as legitimate costs so for most of us, paying this money is simply an administrative burden as Tim says. If you publish five articles a year at this cost it probably won’t greatly effect your grant’s ability to pay for students, visitors, travel etc. (Though at my uni getting any senior admin person to commit to a policy, like not paying for non-grantees, would be a challenge).

    I have a different objection — why do we continue to undervalue the input of referees, editors etc? Why are the people processing articles getting some renumeration while the people doing the heavy lifting, getting nothing but “job satisfaction” or community kudos? We have allowed a strange business model to rule academic journals (Robert Maxwell and his ilk make lots of money for owning the press and distribution, the people creating the content getting none), a model you would be hard-pressed to find in any other activity where people spend so many hours working on it. Can we/ should we aim for a model that more fairly rewards the work done?

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