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Websites someone that isn’t me should make: MathJournalWiki July 20, 2007

Posted by Ben Webster in evil journals, websites.
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It occurred to me while thinking about a post on journals I’m working on that the current information resources on journals suck. Especially from the perspective of a graduate student, it’s really difficult to get effective information about math journals as a whole. Each journal has its own webpage, with the editors listed and submission information. Then there are websites like Thomson Scientific (or, apparently MathSciNet) which will tell you what journals impact factors are. You have to go to yet another website, like Rob Kirby’s, or the AMS, to find a report about journal prices. And you just have to ask colleagues if you want to find out (roughly) how journals are ranked, which I’ve seen start arguments between mathematicians.

So, the obvious solution is to have a wiki with an entry for each journal, with its vital stats and important links collated. I think things like a page for each mathematician listing his/her editorial board affiliations would be really useful. It would be particularly good if you could get info like average time between submission and acceptance, though that’s probably too much to ask for (since this would require a lot of harvesting from papers).

I’m not sure I have the energy to make this site, but I think it would ultimately be an amazing resource. Anyone out there (Scott, I’m looking at you) think they know how to automate harvesting this data?

EDIT: I just want to clarify, I didn’t really mean this site to be primarily a name and shame deal.  I mean certainly there would be a component of that, to help mathematicians know who they’re publishing with.  But, more importantly, the journal system is profoundly confusing.  It’s really hard to figure out what journal it’s appropriate to submit a paper to, especially for young mathematicians, and the advice I’ve gotten from older mathematicians seems to indicate a lot of them are pretty confused as well, so a central resource could be really helpful.  For example, I’ve often found myself wishing I had some cross-reference where I could look up which journals a given mathematician is on the editorial board of (and nobody say “Google.” I’ve never gotten that to work for this purpose).

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Comments

1. Isabel - July 21, 2007

See, but that would require that people actually be willing to talk about How The Profession Works instead of requiring graduate students to figure it out by osmosis. (From what I understand, this is really a problem with academia as a whole, not just academic mathematics.) So I wouldn’t be too hopeful. It’s a good idea, though. I wonder if something similar exists in other disciplines?

2. Bruce Bartlett - August 3, 2007

Hi Ben,

Thanks for this post; I think this is a great idea. Let’s try do something. Gulp!! I’ve just written up a blurb about this at the n-category cafe. Surely if we get enough people together, we can make this work without anyone bearing a horrible workload.

3. John Baez - August 4, 2007

I’d be glad to help this effort, and since I already have a certain reputation as a gadfly of journals, maybe it should be on my websites.

There’s just one problem: a wiki format would be good, but I’m a moron when it comes to computers. For a while I’ve been wanting to set up some wikis — mainly dealing with math. Garrett Lisi has a nice one that uses jsmath for displaying equations. He says even morons like me could do this. I just haven’t had time to try it.

Anyway, I’m digressing, but a wiki with a suitably inflammatory title like Math Journals: the Good, the Bad and Ugly would be a nice thing.

4. Bruce Bartlett - August 5, 2007

Ok great, so far that makes three of us. Blake Stacey is a supporter too. He already set up a skeleton wiki page here, but we can discuss this and change it to your website, it’s definitely up for negotiation.

Are there any other supporters of this idea? Anonymous yes/no posts are welcome.

I had in mind that we would set up a page outlining the principles of the thing, and a clear list of “What you can do”, so that when people visit the page, they can join in the effort. This list would range from very easy things which every casual visitor could fill out, like a poll-type question “Do you think that Google’s setup with the publishing houses is ethical?” (after you click yes/no, the percentages are displayed), to slightly harder tasks like “Find out how much your library is paying for these journals : X, Y, …” (we shouldn’t just rely on the AMS data, that’s old already), or “Find out which journals your library has unsubscribed to or subscribed to this year”, to more hard-core things like “Do some homework on the history of SpringerLink for that section of the webpage”.

Of course, all that is up for negotation! The principle though is that it shouldn’t be thought of as a “committee” who is running the thing; it’s a wiki project and runs on the energy and enthusiasm of all who visit it.

But this will only work if it’s clear that there would be a reasonable amount of support from the mathematical community in general. If not, then that is very discouraging… it calls into question the basic princple behind the project, namely that “the big publishing houses are greedy and unethical and just about everyone in the mathematical community agrees on this.”

5. Bruce Bartlett - August 5, 2007

A skeleton Wiki has been set-up here . Everything is up for negotiation. Any input/wise words from 6 recent and future Berkeley mathematics Ph.D.’s would be most welcome!

6. Bruce Bartlett - August 7, 2007

Peter Woit reports that the editorial board of K-Theory has “done a Topology” and resigned en masse. Hooray! That’s two down, 231 to go.

7. Bruce Bartlett - August 7, 2007

Regarding the addendum “Edit” above : Point taken. Mmm… Just about all of the information you suggest should be available at a “MathJournalWiki” is definitely part of the proposed site. This includes editorial affiliations (for individual editors), editorial boards (for individual journals) and ranking/impact factors. The only thing I haven’t yet mentioned is displaying the average times between submission and acceptance. I was afraid of this, since it might lose goodwill with editors. Nevertheless, since it seems to be important to the mathematical community (I myself would certainly want it), it should be part of the site too.

I guess the thing to decide is whether it’s wise to have a wiki that sort of has two agendas : (a) fighting back against overpriced journals using information, and (b) a valuable resource for mathematical researchers.

On the other hand, maybe that’s the point : these two things aren’t so different, really, and they go hand-in-hand. The second (b) will certainly be very sellable.


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