Archive for the ‘News’ Category

The selected-papers network

June 16, 2013

This post is to report briefly on a new and to my mind very exciting venture in academic publishing. It’s called the Selected Papers Network, and it has been designed and created by Christopher Lee. If you want to know what it is and what you can do to help it become a success, then you may wish to stop reading this post and turn straight away to a post by John Baez, who has been closely involved with the venture and understands it better than I do. But let me just briefly mention the main point that has struck me so far.

A problem with the current situation is that it is easy to come up with ideas for websites where people can review papers, complete with clever protocols for how the reviewing should take place, whether it is open, reward systems, etc. etc. It’s much less easy to persuade people to use the sites that are created as a result: what is going to persuade them to make the effort, when there’s only rather a small chance that the site will become in any sense “official”?

The Selected Papers Network potentially solves this problem in a very interesting way: it is not a website with a system for reviewing, evaluating, rewarding etc.. Rather, it is an environment that makes it easy to build your own systems.

Pierre Deligne wins the 2013 Abel Prize

March 20, 2013

I have just finished presenting the work of this year’s Abel Prize winner, who is Pierre Deligne. In due course, the talk will appear on the Abel Prize website. As in the last two years, I have also prepared a written version of the talk, which goes into more detail. However, even the written version leaves a lot out. It was intended for a general — that is, not necessarily mathematical — audience, though I had to assume at least some maths. If your level of mathematical experience means that you find it too elementary, then I have three recommendations for further reading. I found these slides of Kumar Murty about Ramanujan’s tau function helpful and interesting. I also very much like Brian Osserman’s article on the Weil conjectures, written for the Princeton Companion to Mathematics. Finally, Nick Katz did the laudatio for Deligne’s Fields Medal and wrote an excellent article on his work. (Another article that I stumbled on only recently that looks incredibly nice, which is not about Deligne, though it mentions him, but which sheds interesting light on some of Deligne’s work is Finding Meaning in Error Terms, by Barry Mazur. So far I have just skimmed through some of it, but I think I’ll be going back to read it in more detail.)

Why I’ve also joined the good guys

January 16, 2013

For some months now I have known of a very promising initiative that until recently I have been asked not to publicize too widely, because the people in charge of it did not have a good estimate for when it would actually come to fruition. But now those who know about it have been given the green light. The short version of what I want to say in this post is that a platform is to be created that will make it very easy to set up arXiv overlay journals.

What is an arXiv overlay journal? It is just like an electronic journal, except that instead of a website with lots of carefully formatted articles, all you get is a list of links to preprints on the arXiv. The idea is that the parts of the publication process that academics do voluntarily — editing and refereeing — are just as they are for traditional journals, and we do without the parts that cost money, such as copy-editing and typesetting.

EPSRC update update

May 31, 2012

This brief post is to update further a recent post that was itself an update on the situation with EPSRC. The good news is that EPSRC postdoctoral fellowships in mathematics are now available for “intradisciplinary research” (as was already the case with the early career and established career fellowships). I am told that a certain amount of work went on behind the scenes to achieve this: we should be very grateful to the mathematicians involved, and grateful also to EPSRC for being prepared to show a degree of flexibility in this instance. I am also told, though only time will tell how true this is, that the interpretation of the word “intradisciplinary” will be generous, so unless your research is extremely narrow, you should be able to present it in a way that will qualify.

Horizon 2020 to promote open access

May 17, 2012

If you read an earlier post of mine about Elsevier’s updated letter to the mathematical community then you may remember that towards the end of the post I claimed that Elsevier was lobbying heavily to have all mention of open access removed from the documents of Horizon 2020, Europe’s “Framework Programme for Research and Innovation”, a claim that was then denied by Alicia Wise, who is Elsevier’s “Director of Universal Access”.

Leaving aside who is right about this (which may depend rather sensitively on the precise words used to describe what happened, not to mention the interpretation of those words), news has broken today in the THE of potentially important developments. It seems that whatever lobbying Elsevier might have gone in for has been to no avail, because open access will be a very significant aspect of Horizon 2020.

The mathematics department at TU Munich cancels its subscriptions to Elsevier journals

May 4, 2012

A natural way that one might hope to bring about a genuine change to the current subscription model where libraries pay through the nose for journals is that (i) we all put our papers on the arXiv and (ii) the libraries conclude, correctly, that the benefits from their very expensive subscriptions do not justify the costs. Bundling across subjects makes this a lot more difficult of course, but it seems that some institutions in Germany do not subscribe to the Freedom Collection (see previous post for a definition), which makes it easier. And now there is an example. The Technical University of Munich mathematics department has put out an announcement that it will cancel all its Elsevier subscriptions by 2013.

Please, if you are considering submitting a paper to an Elsevier journal without putting it on the arXiv, think of the faculty members of TU Munich who will not be able to get access to your papers (or at least not conveniently), and change your mind. If you do, it will also make it easier for other departments and libraries to make similar decisions.

Polymath paper published

April 23, 2012

I’m glad to be able to report that “A new proof of the density Hales-Jewett theorem” has recently appeared in Annals of Mathematics. Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall, but you can find an almost final version on the arXiv.

I might add that my enthusiasm for this way of working is undimmed. The reason there has been no Polymathematical activity on this blog for quite a while is that I’ve been busy with more conventional projects, but in the not too distant future I’d like to do some more open research. Also, Gil Kalai and I have a plan to try soon to revive the EDP project. I won’t say any more about that now, but it seems a good moment to mention it.

Endre Szemeredi wins the 2012 Abel Prize

March 21, 2012

If you were looking for a clue about this year’s winner, you could perhaps have paid attention to the curious incident of my recent Mathoverflow question.

“But you haven’t asked any Mathoverflow questions recently.”

That was the curious incident.

Anyhow, it was wonderful to be told that Endre Szemerédi was to be this year’s winner. I won’t say any more in this post, but instead refer you to the Abel Prize website and to the written version of the talk I gave, which was intended for non-mathematicians.

It’s that time of year again

March 19, 2012

This time a year ago, I had the privilege of attending the announcement of the 2011 Abel Prize, which was awarded to John Milnor. I also had the daunting task of presenting his work to a non-mathematical audience in twenty minutes or so. The same privilege/task has befallen me this year: I leave for Norway tomorrow and the announcement ceremony for the 2012 Abel Prize is on Wednesday at midday Norwegian time (11am GMT). If you are keen to know at the earliest possible opportunity which particular mereological sum of mathematicians has won the prize this year, then you can watch the event streamed live. For instructions, go to the Abel Prize website.

April 1st comes a few days early

March 28, 2011

Most of the time I’m reasonably proud to be British. Not in an excessive way I hope: indeed, to be too unquestioningly proud to be British is somehow not British — part of our national character is to take a kind of masochistic pleasure in the country’s failures, such as being beaten to the South Pole by the Norwegians, never winning a tennis Grand Slam, regularly going out of the soccer World Cup at the quarter-final stage, letting other countries derive the economic benefit from research we do that has practical applications, etc. etc.

But recently two things have happened that are highly relevant to academic life and that make being British a straightforward embarrassment. One is that an immigration quota system has recently been introduced that has absolutely nothing to do with national interest and everything to do with pandering to the unsavoury instincts of certain kinds of voter. As a result of this system, many academics who would like to visit this country have been unable to do so because they have been denied visas, and others have had to be removed from shortlists for academic jobs (sometimes not because they have been denied visas but because the appointments committees in question cannot afford to offer a job to somebody who might discover a few months later that they are unable to accept it).


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