About the title

About the title

I changed the title of the blog on March 20, 2013 (it used to have the title “Notes of an owl”). This was my immediate reaction to the news the T. Gowers was presenting to the public the works of P. Deligne on the occasion of the award of the Abel prize to Deligne in 2013 (by his own admission, T. Gowers is not qualified to do this).

The issue at hand is not just the lack of qualification; the real issue is that the award to P. Deligne is, unfortunately, the best compensation to the mathematical community for the 2012 award of Abel prize to Szemer├ędi. I predicted Deligne before the announcement on these grounds alone. I would prefer if the prize to P. Deligne would be awarded out of pure appreciation of his work.

I believe that mathematicians urgently need to stop the growth of Gowers's influence, and, first of all, his initiatives in mathematical publishing. I wrote extensively about the first one; now there is another: to take over the arXiv overlay electronic journals. The same arguments apply.

Now it looks like this title is very good, contrary to my initial opinion. And there is no way back.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The twist ending. 2. A Cambridge don

Previous post: The twist ending. 1.

Mel Nathanson made a right on the target comment "Mel Nathanson Says, July 8, 2012, 9:14 a.m." in Gowers's blog about ethical issues stemming from the fact that Timothy Gowers is a professor at Cambridge University, of which the publishing house Cambridge University Press, the publisher of his new journals, is a for-profit branch. The university as a whole is non-profit, i.e. cannot distribute profits to people not employed by it.

Next post: The twist ending. 3. R. Kirby.

Behind the jump break I posted the complete text of Mel Nathanson's comment as an insurance against the disappearance of the original. Nothing on the web is really permanent, and I hope that Professor Mel Nathanson will not object to this and will not consider this to be a copyright infringement (I am relying on the "fair use" doctrine, but will remove the text at his request immediately).

“If Cambridge University Press (CUP) wants to establish a “gold open access” journal (Forum) with the assistance of Tim Gowers, Terry Tao, and others, then it will, and the world of mathematics will not collapse. However, because of the proclivity of proponents of Forum to self-describe their activity as highly moral and ethical, it is worth identifying other ethical issues related to Forum.

The major issue, of course, is the impropriety of asking mathematicians to raise money for CUP in order that their papers be published. This has already been sufficiently debated on both the Gowers and Tao websites. I note that the criticism on the Tao site has been sharper than on the Gowers site, presumably because the former has more American than British readers, and we Americans are less polite and more direct than the British.

A different ethical issue is “truth in advertising.” There is NO problem about open access in mathematics. An author who wants his or her paper freely available can simply upload it to arXiv. There is no need to pay Cambridge. Open access already exists. Proponents of Forum do include a lot of snob appeal in their description of the new journal, but that is symptomatic of an unrelated problem in mathematics.

There is the ethical issue of the involvement of Cambridge University Press. On its website it wrote, “[CUP] is the not-for-profit publishing arm of the University of Cambridge, and any surplus generated from our publishing operations is reinvested back into the Press and the University. We have established the Forum of Mathematics in order to offer the community an open-access journal outlet which stands as a genuine and sustainable alternative to the journals currently owned by the leading commercial publishers.” The simplest reading of this text is that CUP is trying to create a dichotomy between itself and the “commercial” publishers that will lead to the failure of math journals owned by the commercial publishers and more profits for CUP. Both university presses and privately owned presses are businesses. They want and are expected to make a profit, the larger the better. They publish to make money, and their editors and managers are evaluated and remunerated on the basis of how much money the company makes. The difference is that privately owned publishers distribute their profits to their owners, and CUP passes it profits to the University of Cambridge. Of course, Cambridge is one of the richest institutions in the world, and its annual budget for claret would suffice to feed the starving children of the Congo for a long time. That diversion of funds is not likely to happen. Nonetheless, like most academics, I would rather pay the wine bill of Cambridge dons than Rupert Murdoch, but the difference between CUP and a “commercial” press is small.

Finally, it must be recorded that there is an ethical question about a Cambridge don organizing an academic campaign to divert to CUP the income of a business rival of CUP. Because it is so easy to create an online journal, there is absolutely no necessity for the involvement of Cambridge University Press in this project. And the new online journal could be free to authors and readers.”

As usual with critical comments, T. Gowers did not respond to this one, except of writing a short note asking for a clarification of the last paragraph. In fact, the whole comment clarifies this more than enough.

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