In the sky with diamonds

Diamonds in the sky

While I was on holiday, one very good thing happened.

First as background, you might like to look at this post on SymOmega by John Bamberg, adding two new types to the existing gold and green open access. The significant one is diamond open access, which refers to publication which is free both to authors and to readers; that is, journals run by volunteers, such as the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics.

I think that choosing the name “diamond” for this was a stroke of genius. John refers to Tim Gowers’ blog, in which Tim describes this method, and calls it

what Marie Farge (who has worked very hard for a more rational publication system) likes to call diamond open access

Marie Farge, I salute you!

There was also an email from Liz Billington, managing editor of the Australasian Journal of Combinatorics. The council of the Combinatorial Mathematics Society of Australasia have decided that, from 2014, the journal will cease publishing the print version and will go over to diamond open access. I applaud their brave decision, though there is one special factor here: the Society have built up rather large assets, which free them from the need of making money by publishing a journal. Their reserves should suffice for beyond the foreseeable future. Again on SymOmega, Gordon Royle discusses the decision here.

Every subject is different, but as I have said several times before, I think this model is best for mathematics. There is no guarantee that penny-pinching universities will pay for all their staff to publish all their papers; and in any case, there are many (students, postdocs, emeritus staff, and freelance mathematicians) who do not necessarily have such support. Also, there are already signs, both from university administrations and from research councils, that paying for authors to publish gives them the power to influence what research we do and where we publish it. It is very important that this be resisted, as it will surely drive our research towards mediocrity.

So how can we help? Here are a few random thoughts; others welcome!

  • Use the term “diamond open access” wherever possible. It has great psychological value; it sounds clearly superior to gold or green.
  • Send your best papers to diamond journals. It is very important that we use the time we have to build up the reputation of these journals, however measured (e.g. by impact factor) so that bureaucrats will have to allow us to publish in them.
  • If you have influence with the editorial board of a journal not in a big publisher’s pocket, try to lobby for it to go diamond.
  • In your own department or national mathematical society, try to ensure that diamond journals are kept on the “approved” list.
  • There are problems faced by diamond journals: finding volunteers to do the work, ensuring that systems for permanent archiving are in place, and so on. Do what you can to help with these.

The picture at the top is from Diamonds in the Sky, an anthology of science fiction by Michael S. Brotherton. It is partly funded by NSF as public outreach; I hope they don’t mind my re-using it here.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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10 Responses to In the sky with diamonds

  1. David Craven says:

    One of the problems with diamond open access is that it would effectively kill the LMS though, right?

    • It has existed for 20 years, and the LMS shows no sign of dying just yet. The CMSA don’t seem to be too afraid either, even though their assets are something like 1% of those of the LMS.

      Gowers’ new journal is trying to be a kind of halfway house, charging 500 pounds per article (though it will be free for the first few years). He thinks this is very cheap; I am not so sure.

      • David Craven says:

        OK, what I meant was, if the LMS journals went diamond, they would have to curtail their spending on other activities massively, so that in effect it would be the end of the LMS funding in the UK. It funded about £400k last year in grants, and although I can’t seem to find the figure for income from journals easily, in 2009 it was £800k, and it has risen more than 30% since then. Removing the million pounds from publishing means almost all LMS activities would essentially have to stop.

        I certainly agree with you that £500/article does not sound very cheap, especially if I were an amateur (in the true sense, of not being paid to do this).

  2. Gordon Royle says:

    The CMSA has not used journal profits to fund significant non-journal related activities so we are not dependent on this money.

    However the rational way to go (in long term) would be for university budgets, free from onerous library subscriptions, to spend a fraction of the savings on funding diamond journals published by learned societies, with some agreed modest percentage over costs to support the learned society.

    Of course, the devil is in the detail as everyone would need to move pretty much simultaneously. Perhaps some of the many university groupings could start up some some of the journals … “The Russell Group Journal of Pure Maths”, etc.

    • David Craven says:

      I think it would have to be more than just everyone in maths moving simultaneously; if all mathematics journals became free overnight, the response from universities would be “great, we can spend that money on other journals, and a new yacht for the vice chancellor”. That money would disappear, almost guaranteed.

  3. I should have put on my list:

    “Persuade university administrators that running diamond journals is an important part of an academic’s job.”

    As to David’s comment, yes, if we all went to the diamond model immediately then there would be casualties. But that is not going to happen. As John said in his original post, it is much more likely that diamond will struggle to survive; I think it is something we need to have, and we should try to help it survive.

  4. I had an email exchange with Ashwin Ganesan which, with his permission, I am posting here.

    Ashwin wrote (slightly edited):

    You mention on your blog that

    “Also, there are already signs, both from university administrations and from research councils, that paying for authors to publish gives them the power to influence what research we do and where we publish it. It is very important that this be resisted, as it will surely drive our research towards mediocrity.”

    I wonder what you meant by this – I would appreciate if you could please elaborate (to me, or on the blog) on what you meant by “paying for authors to publish” and how that drives research towards mediocrity. Do you mean that having funds for specific areas means we don’t pursue our own topics? Or that if there is an incentive for authors (such as monetary incentives, promotions, etc) if they publish in particular journals (such as in scopus listed journals), then that would not be good for research?

    My reply:

    “Paying for authors to publish” refers to the “gold open access” scheme which is being pushed by many people here (the government, the Royal Society, etc.) That is, there would be page charges for publishing, but once published the article would be free to everyone – no subscription charge. The plan that they are trying to introduce here is that the money that universities save on library costs (for journal subscriptions) would be used instead for the page charges for their staff.

    The problem is that the page charges are rather high (they are talking of 1500 pounds per article on average), and the money earmarked for this is not enough for the current rate of publication of British academics. So there will be some selectivity. Universities may restrict the researchers who get the money, or the journals for which they are prepared to pay, or even the subject matter.

    On the last point, research assessment here is becoming more formulaic; it will not happen in the current assessment, but it seems very likely that next time bibliometric data will be used in the assessment. This means that there will be pressure to get papers into journals with high impact factors. Already some of my colleagues have been told by the head of department, “The top journals don’t publish in your area; you should change your research to something which they do publish”. When we are dependent on the university to pay page charges, they will have an extra lever to apply this pressure.

    As to mediocrity, there are many factors pushing us this way, most notably that the bodies awarding research grants are becoming more conservative and less adventurous in the research they support, with the excuse that they are spending public money and want a guaranteed return. So researchers who go for safe topics are more likely to get grants. The University administrators who authorise payment of page charges know even less about specific research topics than the funding bodies, and are likely to react in a similar way.

    I have no evidence that this is actually happening, but it seems not too improbable that it will.

  5. David Wood says:

    One of the best ways to ensure that diamond model journals flourish is to submit your best papers to them. In addition to Electronic J. Combinatorics and Australasian J. Combinatorics mentioned above, there is: J. Computational Geometry, New York J. Mathematics, Documenta Mathematica, Discrete Maths. & Theoretical Comput. Sci., J. Graph Algorithms & Applications, Contributions to Discrete Mathematics, Theory of Computing, Ars Mathematica Contemporanea, and INTEGERS.

  6. Pingback: In the sky with diamonds | Open Access discussions |

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