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Math Science Your Rights Online

Mathematicians Aim To Take Publishers Out of Publishing 162

Posted by Soulskill
from the you've-been-subtracted dept.
ananyo writes "Mathematicians plan to launch a series of free open-access journals that will host their peer-reviewed articles on the preprint server arXiv. The project was publicly revealed in a blog post by Tim Gowers, a Fields Medal winner and mathematician at the University of Cambridge, UK. The initiative, called the Episciences Project, hopes to show that researchers can organize the peer review and publication of their work at minimal cost, without involving commercial publishers. 'It’s a global vision of how the research community should work: we want to offer an alternative to traditional mathematics journals,' says Jean-Pierre Demailly, a mathematician at the University of Grenoble, France, who is a leader in the effort. Backed by funding from the French government, the initiative may launch as early as April, he says."
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Mathematicians Aim To Take Publishers Out of Publishing

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  • by durrr (1316311) on Friday January 18, 2013 @09:52AM (#42624939)

    Converting to mechanized agriculture had its casualties too.
    Converting to steam power had its casualties too.
    Converting to digital IC computers had casualties too.
    Invading Nazi germany had its casualties too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @09:54AM (#42624951)

    You know, slave traders also had to feed their families. And they all got out of job when slavery got forbidden.
    Also, you should welcome all spying on you, because it gives jobs for spies.

    On the other hand, it is not a given that this will kill publishers. It might just force them to make a better offer. Note that there are already commercial Open Content journals. The only effect on those might be that they get a bit cheaper.

  • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Friday January 18, 2013 @09:55AM (#42624957) Journal
    I am sure the buggy whip manufacturers had families to feed to. Progress does come with casualties, but keeping a moribund institution alive does not come for free either, this choice has casualties too, even if they may be hard to spot.
  • by Morgaine (4316) on Friday January 18, 2013 @09:59AM (#42624973)

    Converting to free and open source everything, whatever you opinion of it, does have casualties.

    That's dangerously close to being a "Think of the publishers!" argument. It's not convincing.

    If you want to keep people employed then give them something of positive value to do, not the negative value of restricting access to academic research.

  • I call Godwin (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @10:01AM (#42624995)

    Seriously, did you really need that last night to prove your point?

  • by Covalent (1001277) on Friday January 18, 2013 @10:02AM (#42625001)
    Oh please...they can easily get new jobs making buggy whips...

    Industries change, people find new careers. It's evolution, baby!
  • by feedayeen (1322473) on Friday January 18, 2013 @10:08AM (#42625067)

    The articles are written by scientists, generally using taxpayer money to do so.
    The scientists pay the publisher to publish their work.
    Other scientists, who are usually not paid, review the work before publication.
    The publisher uploads the pdf to a website and then charges universities thousands of dollars to have unlimited access to their pdfs.

  • by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Friday January 18, 2013 @10:14AM (#42625123)

    Having a Fields Medal winner leading the charge helps. If you can point out that this is where the greatest in the field are publishing, old faculty will have difficulty in denying their relevance. Those who are "names" in their respective subjects can make this happen.

  • by TFAFalcon (1839122) on Friday January 18, 2013 @10:20AM (#42625159)

    Well those people can now be employed by the universities that no longer have to pay the extortionate journal subscriptions, with the end result that more research can be done for the same amount of money.

  • by ax_42 (470562) on Friday January 18, 2013 @10:39AM (#42625287)

    You're missing some points -- adding them strengthens your argument though.

    Other scientists, who are usually not paid, review the work before publication.

    They are paid, usually by the taxpayer (as they tend to work at public institutions).

    The publisher uploads the pdf to a website and then charges universities thousands of dollars to have unlimited access to their pdfs.

    Universities are again funded (to a greater or lesser extent) by taxpayers, so the taxpayers pay again. The system continues to exist because the publishers own the "big name" journals like Nature, and because the insiders (e.g. established peer-reviewers) get fast-tracked when they want to publish in these journals. It's a racket which siphons huge wealth from the taxpayers to the publishers for little effort. May it end quickly.

  • And I don't agree (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Friday January 18, 2013 @10:44AM (#42625321)
    He was making a valid point, and not (as per Godwin's Law) comparing anything to the Nazis. WW2 rather changed my father's career plans and caused him considerable inconvenience. After the War, there was little promotion opportunity for Navy officers with combined ops experience, but he found another job. Changing the mould of European history resulted in a lot of casualties, but the usual Franco-Germanic war every 20-40 years is now long overdue and unlikely to recur.
  • Editorial work? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Friday January 18, 2013 @11:00AM (#42625455) Homepage

    Unfortunately the vast majority of posters have never had any work published and make the false assumption that its all gravy for the publishers. Editing anything - scientific papers, manuscripts, text books is a considerable effort, far more than spell check in word. Layout is also important to make best use of space and present the work clearly to the reader. So the text (including tables and figures) that the author sends to the publisher do not equate to editiorial review or layout work. All costs must also be spread over the expected readership of the journal, which in the case of most scientific journals is not a very large audience.

    Demailly statement about authors doing all the typing already - did he really think publishers sent stenographers to take dictation? Hand written submissions? Sure, maybe in the 1920s.

    In the case proposed here, there is also the added need for peer review with checks and balances, not just peer review by the guy who has plenty of free time because he has nothing else going on. Who is going to run this process? Who is going to prod slow reviewers? What about the final decisions to accept or reject? The opporunity for bias in decision making is going to be far higher. While academics are involved in the process now, the publisher (in theory) acts as last guarantor of good behavior.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @11:43AM (#42625777)

    I want to state at the outset that I'm a firm believer in open access publishing, and believe that academic writing should move more toward things like academic blogging. (I'm a tenured research professor, BTW).

    However, I don't think the solution is quite as simple as everyone makes it out to be. For example, even with everyone posting papers on their own blog (which I see as the ideal), there's a certain amount of peer review that disappears. You can institute it in a journal, but then who pays for the costs of maintaining the journal?

    Pay-to-publish, which is a common response to this problem, sets up an incentive scheme with an inherent conflict of interest. This is a fundamental ethical problem that people do not want to acknowledge. The journal has an incentive to bring in money to support its own existence (even non-profit journals are presumably interested in maintaining their own existence), which then creates an incentive to publish more papers regardless of quality. It also creates a bar to researchers to publish in a peer-reviewed journal--even with exceptions for hardship, there's still a bar.

    Whether you want to admit it or not, the traditional publishing model follows solid economic principles: someone produces a product, and the quality of the product affords a price that can be charged for it. If papers aren't good, people should stop subscribing to the journal and not pay for it. We can argue about who produces the product, but ultimately under the traditional model, you are paying for the correct product--the published papers, not the privilege to publish.

    Just to be clear--I submit, review, and edit papers to and for journals. However, there's lots of tasks that I do not do. I do not do administrative tasks, for example. I do not do copyediting (editing for style, spelling, etc.), or deal with all of the page design issues that produce a high-quality publication. These issues are important, and are not handled by any of my fellow scientists.

    Open access is critical, but I think the problem now is not the basic economic model, it's the fact that there is a bubble, where journals are overvalued. There are lots of reasons for this, but one is that there's a bubble in terms of professional advancement in academics (e.g., to get tenure, get a pay raise, etc.). The right solution to the problem is to encourage researchers to start publishing on their own websites, and to encourage departments to not value frivolous peer-reviewed papers that could be posted as a blog post or directly on a researcher's website when they're evaluating professors and researchers for promotion and salary. When this happens, libraries will be able to say "sorry, we really don't need to subscribe to your journal," and will drop them. Maybe open-access will be seen as a feature that encourages libraries to subscribe to one journal versus another, when all other considerations are the same?

    I'm all for multiple journal models, and wish there were more non-profit open-access journals maintained by professional membership dues. But those are increasing at unreasonable rates also. Maybe this is what the mathematicians have in mind--we'll see. I'm just troubled, as someone who sees open access as fundamentally important, to see so many people so blindly willing to dispense with basic economic and ethical principles in trying to achieve it universally. Pay-to-publish will make things worse, not better (articles under that model used to be required by law to be denoted as advertisements--maybe they still are?).

  • by microbox (704317) on Friday January 18, 2013 @12:29PM (#42626149)

    that those commercial publishers and traditional academic journals employ a lot of people who still need to feed their families. Converting to free and open source everything, whatever you opinion of it, does have casualties.

    I am about as liberal as a person can be, from the point of view of someone who is educated in the best ideas of conservativism, and from that point of view, I gotta say that you have /specifically/ suggested what Hayek correctly articulated as "The Road to Serfdom" -- the thesis of his most famous book. If we are going to prevent economic disappointment, then the will end up in totalitarianism, and also reduced prosperity for everyone. Read the book for the arguments... they are compelling.

  • Re:Editorial work? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @01:51PM (#42626913)

    I've published several papers in scientific journals. I write the paper in LaTeX using a document class that the journal provides. I sent it to an unpaid editor-in-chief who just sends it on to an unpaid coordinator. The coordinator chooses unpaid reviewers who send back a report. I make changes to the document based on the report. I hand over the copyright to the paper to the publisher. The paper is now published without any changes. I don't believe I've ever interacted with or observed the work of a paid person while publishing my papers. Either your community is entirely different from mine or you just don't have any idea what you are talking about.

  • by fredprado (2569351) on Friday January 18, 2013 @05:37PM (#42629449)
    We can live without all of this and happily exchange it for free access to journals. Thank you.

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