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 Szemerédi. 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.
Friday, August 17, 2012
The twist ending. 3. R. Kirby
R. Kirby (UC at Berkeley) is the Managing Editor of Gowers's journals. This justifies the following digression into Kirby's past achievements in scientific publishing.
In the 90ies he declared a war on the main journal in his field, namely “Topology”. Originally published by “Pergamon Press”, it was sold in early 90ies to Elsevier by late Robert Maxwell when his financial empire started to face serious problems. Of course, this wasn’t a good development, but it remained an excellent journal due, most likely, to its excellent and small editorial board. It was moderately expensive. I still fail to see any reason to single it out (as I don’t see any convincing justification for singling out the Elsevier in the recent boycott).
R. Kirby launched a new journal “Geometry&Topology” specifically intended to compete with “Topology” (and to eventually bring it down). It was published both online and in paper version. Online version was free; the paper version was very cheap initially. In contrast with “Topology”, the editorial board of “Geometry&Topology” was big and growing with time. The journal was also growing, and with the number of pages the price of the paper version was growing (the libraries were encouraged to subscribe to it; technically, for libraries the electronic access never was free). “Geometry&Topology” succeeded in diverting a lot of papers from “Topology”, and the editorial board of “Topology” was constantly pressured to attempt to lower the price (even when the individual subscription price to the paper version of “Topology&Geometry” surpassed that of “Topology”). Elsevier argued that the list price of a subscription is not relevant anymore (by the reasons I explained above using the example of “Inventiones”). The purpose of a relatively high list price, I believe, was to encourage participation in “package deals”. Eventually, the editorial board and Elsevier made a quite reasonable deal substantially lowering the price, but it was too late (and the list price already was not relevant).
On August 10, 2006 the whole editorial board of “Topology” resigned. Elsevier continued to publish the already accepted papers and managed to fill by them the 2007 volume. The subscription to 2007 volume was free for subscribers to the 2006 one. But the journal was, of course, dead.
Within a month (if I remember correctly, already in August 2006) “Geometry&Topology” closed free access to its electronic version or at least announced the imminent closing. Since then the access to the electronic version is by subscription only. Well, this is how much one can trust promises to be freely accessible in perpetuity. At the same time, “Geometry&Topology” doubled the subscription price, and invented some convoluted reason for quadrupling the subscription price for year 2007 (for any form of subscription, electronic or paper, individual or library). Being a member of our Library Committee, I attempted to understand their reasoning, but failed.
Nobody saved any money as a result of success of Kirby’s project. A slightly modified editorial board of “Topology” launched a replacement, “Journal of Topology” (apparently, Elsevier own the rights to the trademark “Topology”). “Geometry&Topology” is not a part of any package deal. I don’t know if the Oxford UP, the publisher of “Journal of Topology”, offers package deals, but our library had to subscribe to it as a standalone journal. So, the cost of subscription to specialized journals in the field of topology for our library substantially increased. If anybody was subscribing to “Geometry&Topology” or “Topology” as an individual, she or he, most likely, lost these subscriptions because of much higher prices.
During this struggle with “Topology” mathematicians gradually started to consider “Geometry&Topology” as the journal of choice for paper in topology and related fields.
So, the main result of Kirby’s ten-year effort is the fact that he now controls the main journal in his field (topology, of course). It seems that he had no chances to get into the editorial board of “Topology”. The co-author of his most famous papers, L. Siebenmann, was a member of the editorial board for decades, first as a regular member, then as a honorary one.
Next post: The twist ending. 4.