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.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The twist ending. 4

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

Finally, a few thoughts about what I see as the main problem with Gowers's new journals projects: the intended competition with “Annals of Mathematics” (Princeton UP), “Inventiones Mathematicae” (Springer) and “J. of the AMS” (AMS). These three journals are widely recognized as the main and the most prestigious journals in mathematics. As I mentioned already, only one of them, “Inventiones”, is expensive.

In fact, its real price is unknown, and in a sense does not exist. Nobody subscribes to this journal alone; it is way too expensive for individual researchers, and libraries nowadays subscribe to huge packages of Springer journals and electronic books in all sciences and mathematics. As is well known the price of such a package is substantially lower (may be by an order of magnitude) than the sum of list prices of subscribed journals. Of course, these package deals are one of the main problems with big publishers: most of journals in these packages are of very limited interest or just a plain junk. My point here is that this practice makes the list price of a journal irrelevant. But I do consider “Inventiones” as a very expensive journal.

The Gowers-Tao-Cambridge UP project is planned as a competitor not only to “Inventiones”, but to all top mathematics journals, both the general ones and specialized. If the project succeeds, the main and the most influential journal will be not “Annals”, but the new one. This would be very much like a corporate hostile takeover. The power will be shifted from the mathematicians at the Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Studies (both of which hire just the best mathematicians in the world available, without any regard to country of origin, citizenship, and all other irrelevant for mathematics qualities) to a much more narrow circle of T. Gowers’s friends and admirers.

The choice of the managing editor is, probably, the best for achieving such a goal. R. Kirby is the only mathematician who attempted something similar and succeeded. This story is told in the previous post. The choice of R. Kirby as the managing editors raises strong suspicion that the Gowers’s goal is the same as Kirby’s one. Only Kirby’s ambitions at the time were much more moderate: to control the main journal in one branch of mathematics. Gowers aims higher: to control the main journal in whole (or may be only pure?) mathematics.

I do realize that Kirby will deny my explanations of his motives, and so will Gowers. Both will claim that their goal was and is to ease access to the mathematical literature. Neither me, nor anybody else has a way to know what was and is going on in their minds. This can be judged only by their actions and the results of their actions. The result of Kirby’s project is that he controls the main journal in his area, and nothing is cheaper than it was. I expect that the result of Gowers's initiative will be the same.

So, this is the sad twist in the story: the only thing done by T. Gowers in the last 10-15 years (after his work on Banach spaces) which I wholeheartedly approved only two months ago, now seems (to me) to be a supporting campaign for his attempt to get even more power and influence in mathematics. The attention he got by inspiring the boycott of Elsevier and the accompanying attention to the problems of scientific publishing allowed T. Gowers to present his new journals as a solution of these problems.

And one should never forget that one of his goals is the elimination of mathematics as we know it, and turning mathematicians into service personnel for computers.

Next post: William P. Thurston, 1946-2012.

Conclusion of the series about Timothy Gowers: To be written.

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