At the moment I am two-thirds of the way through what is one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I am certainly not going to twitter (with a small t) about it until I have reflected on it a bit. But here is something else. While I was away at the BCC last week, the current European Mathematical Society newsletter arrived. This always has some stimulating reading, and is not afraid to be controversial. A couple of articles caught my attention.
The first, by Alexey Nikolaevich Parshin, is about the golden epoch of Moscow mathematics around 1960s, when people like Gel’fand, Kolmogorov, Arnol’d, and Shafarevich were there, and what has happened since. What caught my eye was a description of Gel’fand’s seminar. After describing the topics that were discussed in the seminar, including algebraic geometry, algebraic and differential topology, complex analysis, dynamical systems, Lie algebras and groups, representation theory, differential functions and discrete groups, Parshin says,
This involved a large circle of people, each working in their own subject, yet everyone is interested in everything.
This seems to me to be a necessary condition for a successful seminar, and very difficult to counterfeit. It may even be sufficient.
Later he explains how the easy availability of information nowadays has not necessarily made mathematics more universal; we feel overwhelmed by information and tend to retreat into our niches. A timely warning.
The second article was by Tomaž Pisanski, entitled “Open access – who pays?” He distinguishes between “author pays” and “neither author nor reader pays”, what I have been in the habit of calling gold and diamond open access. He doesn’t mince his words:
The “author pays” model discriminates against poor mathematicians, and is therefore unethical and totally unacceptable.
He does go on to describe several ways in which this discrimination works, including the fact that “young and unknown, but talented, mathematicians […] will offer their work [to holders of large paying grants], increasing the brain drain” away from places without such stars.
He also has several recommendations for the EMS about how to counter author-pays and foster free access.
In an email he said to me “Since EMS Newsletter does not have very wide readership I am very grateful that you will make the article better known to the concerned.” This I am very happy to do.
The Newsletter is on the web here, but I have not found a way to link to individual articles.