Brief update on publishing

A couple of quick things about publishing.

First, some good news. The court case between Nature and its reporter Quirin Schiermeier, on one side, and Mohamed El Naschie, the editor of the dodgy Elsevier journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, on the other, has been resolved in favour of free speech. Nature’s report is here.

Also, on SymOmega, Gordon Royle has proposed an alternative to Tim Gowers’ pledge, one which appeals to me far more than the Elsevier boycott did. Gordon has made the following statement:

I will not publish in, referee for, or join the editorial board of any journal that requires direct payment from authors (or their universities/grants) as a prerequisite for the publication of a specific paper.

All my life I have, at heart, accepted this principle, even if I never went as far as stating it publicly. Maybe now is the time …


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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10 Responses to Brief update on publishing

  1. Mark C. Wilson says:

    I find it a little strange that a payment of, say, $10 to cover costs would be considered beyond the pale, yet refusing to work with a clearly defective publisher such as Elsevier would be acceptable. I very much hope that the mathematics research community can avoid various schisms which will allow exploitation by others. The newly announced Forum of Mathematics journal by CUP is of course pay-to-publish, and much discussion has been undertaken about it. Of course it is too expensive, but I don’t think we can conclude that the entire model is wrong. Some experimentation is needed. The spam journals Gordon complains of are very annoying, and clearly something is wrong with the whole state of scholarly publishing and peer review. However I don’t see why any journal owes its authors free publication.

    • That’s a question for Gordon rather than for me. But I think two things can be said.

      First, the publisher’s costs are, at least partly, incurred by any paper which is submitted to the journal, so a nominal charge should really be for submission. On the other hand, that would clearly open the door to even worse abuse.

      Second, $10 would not cover the cost of collecting it, and would be entirely pointless for the publisher and just annoy authors.

  2. Yemon Choi says:

    I apologize in advance for the glibness/crassness/sweeping generalization of what I am about to say, but I am fighting jetlag and sleep deprivation which have exacerbated my crankiness:

    Doesn’t an “author/institution pays” model raise the prospect of those with more money getting to publish more, and possibly more crap/hype? Authors should be the resource base of a journal, not its customers.

  3. Yemon Choi says:

    Furthermore, there is a false dichotomy. What if I don’t care for Elsevier (or Springer, or Wiley, or World Scientific), but want to support the Journal of Operator Theory, Mathematica Scandinavica, and Studia Mathematica, rather than swelling Hindawi’s coffers?

    (These comments were really intended as a response to those of Mark Wilson; apologies for misplacing them. I blame aforementioned lack of sleep.)

  4. I agree! Have a good sleep and get over the jetlag, Yemon!

    I am about to retire, and when I am retired I will have no institution or research grant to pay my page charges for me. I doubt if I will be able to afford the thousands of pounds it will cost out of my pension.

  5. According to mathscinet Peter Cameron has 292 papers. This is $219,000 at a rate of $750 per paper. Would Peter’s grants and/or department have covered this much?

  6. My concern is similar to Peter’s, but to my mind there is a more critical career stage than retirement (sorry Peter): namely the gap between completing the PhD and starting a postdoctoral position. Some people are fortunate enough to be able to begin a postdoc straight away: I wasn’t quite so lucky (and this isn’t an uncommon situation either).

    After my PhD was finished I spent 18 months loitering around QMUL, scraping a living by doing various teaching and admin-related things (aided by claiming Housing and Council Tax Benefit), before I got a proper postdoc position. However, I was able to keep my hand in doing research, not just writing up papers based on my thesis, but on some new material as well, which led to at least two papers.

    The question is, if someone had had to pay to publish those papers, who would have paid? I certainly wouldn’t have been able to. I wasn’t being paid by QMUL to do that research, so they wouldn’t have. If this was the standard publishing model, then perhaps the department may have paid for papers that were taken from my thesis, but not the subsequent ones. I doubt that the borough council’s benefits office would have been much help, either.

    And why did it take 18 months to get a job? This being in the lead-up to the 2008 RAE, a contributory factor in at least one job I was interviewed for and didn’t get was that I didn’t have enough papers published…..

    • I completely agree. I did mention this last time I had a rant about author-pays publishing. The point is that there will not be enough money to pay the greedy publishers, and people who are less valuable in research assessment terms will suffer – this includes postdocs, or indeed people trying to get postdoc positions (who are always undervalued by the assessment) and retired people (who don’t count at all).

      We have to come to terms with this now.

    • Yemon Choi says:

      Good point – I was luckier in that I only spent a few months between finishing the PhD and being offered a postdoc, but I still had to support myself while the paperwork was being sorted out with some editing and TeX work. (Oh, wait, I forgot: apparently we don’t need sub-editing for mathematics, according to some.)

      While I didn’t actually submit any papers in that transitional period, I agree that needing to find funds to pay author charges would have been a big disincentive. Moreover, when I started my postdoc, I was being funded by a combination of several people’s NSERC Discovery Grants, none particularly opulent; hence if page charges had existed back then, I might not have been encouraged to publish papers unrelated to the nominal postdoctoral project.

      [That last sentence drifted into Newspeak. Apologies.]

      Lastly, like Robert, when I finished my PhD I found myself not having enough papers to be employable. Fast-forward 4 years, and one reason why I landed my current job was, so I am told, that the selection committee were impressed by my number of publications. Would I have written so freely and with as much energy had I faced author charges? Would my postdoctoral supervisors/bosses have been as supportive of these “extra-curricular” activities if they faced 750GBP charges on each accepted paper? It is all very well for those supporting the “author pays” model to say that publishers will waive the fees for those without institutional support, but the publishers have to make up the shortfall somehow, and when a line is drawn I suspect they will not follow the maxim of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”.

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