Category Archives: publishing

I support UCLA and the UC Libraries

The University of California Libraries are attempting to negotiate a more acceptable agreement with the giant science publisher Elsevier, as they approach the end of the current contract on 31 December 2018. Elsevier is apparently contacting journal editors at some campuses, attempting to mobilize support for the corporation’s position. I support the UC Libraries and, in particular, will not review papers for any Elsevier journal, as suggested by UCLA’s vice chancellor and provost in a letter to the faculty. The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) gives a useful account of the letter and its context. In the CHE article, a member of Elsevier’s library advisory board believes that “faculty members ‘are likely to have a much more nuanced relationship’ with the company” than the deans and librarians who see directly the transfer of money from university to corporation.

I don’t have a nuanced relationship with Elsevier. I have been boycotting Elsevier across the board since about 2000 — no refereeing, no service on editorial boards, no submission of papers — inspired by Rob Kirby’s early analysis of the exorbitant costs of Elsevier journals. Eventually, I signed up to the public Cost of Knowledge boycott. My feelings on this front are as strong as ever.

In particular, I am unenthusiastic about the “publish and read” style of agreement that the UC Libraries are pursuing with Elsevier. My reaction is that they seem to protect the growing wheelbarrow of money that an institution commits to give Elsevier but simply relabel what the money is said to be buying. However, I accept that I likely take a harder line than many fellow faculty members. The UC Libraries serve us all, and they have judged “publish and read” to be the best approach for their many constituencies.

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Journal of K-Theory editorial board resigns en masse, will establish Annals of K-Theory

cats-leavingAfter protracted internal negotiations, then a publicly announced work stoppage, the editorial board of the Journal of K-Theory has resigned. They will establish a new journal Annals of K-Theory, planned to start publishing in 2016 2015 and taking subscriptions in 2016.

Today’s open letter announcing their resignation is available: here (pdf).

The work stoppage was covered at the Secret Blogging Seminar and Not Even Wrong. The Aperiodical and Aleph Zero Categorical comment on the mass resignation and the new journal.

Photo from @nylan_jalan via Content in a Cottage.

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I am trying out Open Access — UPDATE — 2nd UPDATE

My paper has been published in Forum of Mathematics Sigma (open the paper as a pdf file).

My paper, On the integral Hodge and Tate conjectures over a number field, has now — after minor revision — been accepted by Forum of Mathematics Sigma, and should be appearing shortly. On the web, lots of people seem to conflate the open access model with editorial slapdashery. As you’d expect from the editorial board, there was no sign of that in my experience with FOM. I received two serious and helpful referee reports. Among other helpful recommendations, one referee pointed me to a very relevant reference that I didn’t even know existed, and the other referee pointed out that I didn’t understand a formula that I’d thought I understood pretty well.

Original from 19 December 2012
The title of this post is, of course, an exaggeration: I already have some version of nearly all my papers on my department webpage and now diligently post new papers on the arXiv. What I mean is that I’ve submitted a paper to one of the new Open Access journals launched by Cambridge University Press, in my case Forum of Mathematics Sigma, where the algebraic geometry strand is edited by Sebastien Boucksom, Ravi Vakil, and Claire Voisin. Sigma has other strands — the nearby algebra strand is edited by Dennis Gaitsgory, Raphaël Rouquier, and Catharina Stroppel. (There is also a second journal, Forum of Mathematics Pi, for papers of broad interest.)

The journals are meant to investigate whether mainstream Open Access can be a large-scale solution in mathematics to the problem of the increasingly expensive subscription model, and there is meant to be no corner-cutting on editorial integrity or publishing standards. Since, to really put this to the test, there needs to be serious volume I thought I’d do my bit to send some their way.


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Keeping my copyright

It’s embarrassing: even after a year’s fervid discussion of scholarly publishing, much of which I followed, I was caught out today when I finally got around to checking some proofs and dealing with the European Mathematical Society’s (EMS) copyright agreement.

The first clause of the agreement reads in full:

1. The Author hereby transfers, for the duration of the copyright period, to the Publisher the copyright of the Work named above and consents that the Publisher has the exclusive right to publish and distribute the Work throughout the world, including offprints, reprints, electronic form (offline, online), licensed photocopies, microform editions, document delivery and secondary information sources such as abstracting, reviewing and indexing services.

In clause 2, I’m to warrant that the Work hasn’t been published before, doesn’t libel anyone, violate anyone’s statutory rights, etc.

Clause 3 allows me to retain the right to use my material in other, non-commercial publications provided that the original publication by the EMS is credited in a specified way.

And that’s it. Nothing explicit about my right to post the work on the arXiv (is this covered by clause 3?), and nothing explicit about derivative works (I assume, in fact, that once they hold the copyright, EMS could in theory do whatever they like). I mention these two points because they’ve been the subject of lots of discussion where “mathematics” meets “open access”.

So, I know I shouldn’t sign this as is, but what to do?

Luckily, the University of California Office of Scholarly Communication has a website with advice on managing your intellectual property, including practical advice about retaining copyright. Their “at minimum” “ideally” advice seemed to fit the bill this time, so I have sent to the EMS an agreement with amended clause 1.

What have I learned?

  • Check a journal’s copyright practices before submitting a paper. I should have done this. JEMS doesn’t hide their requirement, and I don’t know whether they will accept my amendment.
  • Don’t sign an agreement “until I read it, or someone gives me the gist of it” (as always, good advice from Homer Simpson).
  • Check for advice from my library or university. It’s daunting to think of unpicking an agreement myself from scratch, but lots of knowledgeable people have given lots of thought to these matters, and their advice is not hard to access. If your university doesn’t advise on this matter, I recommend the UCOSC and MIT sites.
  • Then do what I need to do.

P.S. The paper in question: Line bundles with partially vanishing cohomology (arXiv:1007.3955v1 [math.AG]).

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Compositio meeting


Update on other commitments: supervising the grading of exams

Reviewing the course


December 19, 2012 · 8:10 pm

Reed Elsevier funded ALEC — a climate-change denial group

Thanks to Michael Harris for the following dramatic example of Elsevier’s misuse of its profits, including those from scientific journals.

Reed Elsevier has just announced its resignation from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. But it has been giving money to ALEC for many years, and long served on its leadership body.

ALEC supports a long list of far-right legislative ideas — including efforts to require that denials of climate-change be included in high school science classes. Researchers who have published in Cell, The Lancet, and other Elsevier journals might be shocked to learn that profits from those publications have helped to block awareness and action on global warming. If you know people who would be interested in Reed Elsevier’s ALEC connections, you may want to point them to an exposé just published by the faculty union newspaper at City University of New York (CUNY), and another on how ALEC operates.

By the way, the ALEC website still lists Reed Elsevier as a member of its “Private Enterprise Board.” But here is a Reuters report on the company’s resignation.

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Why does the Elsevier boycott continue?

Shortly after the Elsevier boycott began, Elsevier withdrew its support from the Research Works Act, which immediately led to the act being shelved by its congressional sponsors. Elsevier also announced some new policies for its core mathematics journals.

Nevertheless, the Elsevier boycott continues, and continues to grow.

Henry Cohn and Doug Arnold have written a piece for Notices of the American Mathematical Society, now posted on the arXiv, that discusses several of the most important reasons for the boycott from the point of view of mathematics

If you haven’t yet taken a firm position on the boycott because you haven’t had time to get to grips with the issues of journal pricing and bundling, this article makes a good entry point.

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I am not a radical, but I am boycotting Elsevier

I’ve signed the Elsevier boycott declaration at the costofknowledge site inspired by Tim Gowers’ blog post on the many problems with Elsevier’s behavior.

I am not a publishing reform radical. I value the traditional model of subscription journal publishing and have invested time and effort in making peer review work.* I suspect that lots of people in similar positions are among the majority of mathematicians who have not signed the boycott declaration yet.

So, why do I think we should boycott Elsevier?

The mathematical scholarly community operates under a strong social compact — this is one reason so many of us do so much for free. With very rare exceptions, mathematicians hold themselves to a higher standard than the minimal criterion of what they can get away with. So should the publishers we deal with. Scholarly society and university press publishers, for the most part, do. Springer used to but is in transition. Elsevier does not. Elsevier has demonstrated again and again that it will cross the boundaries of acceptable behavior on pricing, on editorial integrity, on legislative lobbying.

None of what Elsevier does is illegal. There is no law against running a journal as Chaos, Solitons and Fractals was run. There is no law against political donations to elected officials who bring forward advantageous legislation. There is, apparently, no law against bundling and ruthless pricing that produces a profit margin in line with what monopolies achieve.

There is, however, social sanction — if we’ll use it. I won’t deal with Elsevier as if it’s part of the mathematical community when it shows little commitment to the standards of behavior that membership implies.

*I was co-editor of Proceedings of the LMS from 2003 to 2008, and am currently a managing editor of Compositio Mathematica.


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Turing’s offprints

The (mathematical) headline today is that Turing’s papers have been saved for the British nation. I was puzzled when the papers first came up for sale in November 2010, because upon a bit of investigation it turned out that what was being sold were offprints. I realize that Turing is personally more interesting than most mathematicians, and that there’s been a vast expansion of the “collectables” market, but are people really collecting offprints of mathematical papers now?

Apparently, yes, and they have been for a while. The Scientist wrote about offprints and other scientific collectables in 1996. An offprint of Claude Shannon’s “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” was auctioned at Christie’s NY in 2005 for $9000.

So, if tastes ever turn to interwar algebraic geometry, I’m sitting on a gold mine.

When I came to Cambridge in 1999, I was put into Tim Gowers’ old office (this was when we were still in the converted CUP warehouse in Mill Lane). Tim apologized for the lack of storage space. The cupboards were full of J.A. Todd‘s offprint collection, and he hadn’t had the heart to throw it away.

The collection was an impressive sight — organized alphabetically in special document boxes in elegant, faded colors. I didn’t have any particular need for storage, so I left it alone. When, a year later, I had to pack up to move to the CMS, I found that I too couldn’t bear to throw it out. So I duly packed the collection for carriage to Pavilion B of the CMS, and then packed it again when I moved to the geometry pod (Pavilion E). It’s now arrayed across many feet of shelf space in my office.

I can’t say that I use it. Several years ago, out of curiosity about my predecessors in Cambridge geometry, I extracted a paper by Du Val and I could not make heads or tails of it. It was an astounding reminder of what a difference Weil and Serre and Grothendieck made to algebraic geometry. Igor Dolgachev is only person I know who really understands the old language.

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Poor old Crelle!

Douglas Arnold and Kristine Fowler have done a spectacular piece of reporting in “Nefarious Numbers” <arXiv:1010.0278v1 [math.HO]>, about the manipulation of impact factors. The central example is the International Journal of Nonlinear Science and Numerical Simulation (IJNSNS). After reading Arnold and Fowler’s article, I was curious about what else the publisher of the journal, Freund Publishing House, might be up to. As usual with Google, I got a surprise: De Gruyter, publisher of Crelle’s Journal, has bought IJNSNS along with about 20 other journals from Freund. I suppose De Gruyter gets what it deserves, since it seems to have bought an impact factor rather than an intellectual enterprise, but it’s sad to see Crelle in this kind of company.

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