oldmathpapers.org, version 0

A while ago we discussed the idea of “oldmathpapers.org”, a public repository for maths papers that aren’t readily available online. Many people quickly pointed out that this was a dangerous idea, getting very quickly into the deep waters of copyright violation.

Nevertheless, here’s version 0, ready for your consumption! It neatly sidesteps the whole copyright issue by not keeping copies (or even looking at) actual versions of the paper — it’s simply intended to keep track of links to old maths papers, hosted elsewhere. That elsewhere, of course, is meant to be your and my web pages!

Functionality is extremely limited; you can add a paper, you can list everything there so far, but there’s no searching, no sorting, no deleting, no correcting. On the other hand, I think that won’t be too too hard to add. The most important thing to note about the design of “oldmathpapers.org” is that it relies on MathSciNet identifiers to keep track of things. These exist for pretty much every published maths paper, and they’re a ready source of high quality metadata — and it’s this that will hopefully make the searching and sorting easy.

Below, I’ll walk you through adding a paper: “Canonical bases in tensor products and graphical calculus for U_q(sl_2)”, by I. Frenkel and M. Khovanov. After that, please take a moment to contribute some old math papers!

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Yet more on evil journals

Just in case any of you were still wondering: yes, evil journals actually are evil. They hire evil PR reps. They attempt to deny taxpayers access to research that is publicly funded, just to make a buck. They start astroturf front groups with names as Orwellian as Bush’s “Clear Skies Initiative.”

They do what they can to sound like science is their priority, but this is transparent bullshit. Should we be surprised that these companies put money before science? No, they’re a corporation; that’s their job, in fact, their legal responsibility to their stockholders.

So, everybody, please, take a couple of minutes out of your day to go to write your congresscritter, and senators too and tell they the exact opposite of these clowns’ talking points: publicly funded research should be public. Period. None of this “well, maybe if the author gets around to it” stuff. And if that’s such a threat to the bottom line of Elsevier et al., maybe they should consider getting out of the scientific publishing business. I doubt they would be all that sorely missed.

My discovery of the week is that we don’t even need these jokers for publishing books anymore; you can sell books as print-on-demand for a base cost of less than $10 (for a paperback; less than $20 for a hardcover), and keep the copyright, and 80% of the margin. [Don’t you want a link here?
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Pass the word on.

More on journals

Since my post on journals seemed to strike a few nerves (I even received an email about it from the publisher of the Elsevier pure mathematics editor), I thought I would clarify a little bit about my previous post. You might call it a prequel.

There was an important but unstated personal belief of mine as regards journals. I would sum it up as follows: “It no longer makes sense for mathematics research aimed at mathematicians to be published by for-profit publishers.” Let me unpack that below. Continue reading

It’s contagious!

Well, it would seem that the editorial board of K-Theory has “pulled a Topology” (I’m really hoping this becomes an actual phrase) and resigned en masse.

Since we seem to be the last in the mathematics blogging community to have noticed, let me offer some editorial content to make up for our tardiness: good for them. Whether you believe that there is a place for for-profit publishers in research mathematics, or like me, you think they are doomed by technology changes (the capital investment required for a journal has dropped so much that they’re just not necessary), I think all mathematicians should see this as a positive development. Why?

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Websites someone that isn’t me should make: MathJournalWiki

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).

Why do people still referee papers for Elsevier?

Maybe I don’t have a whole blog post’s worth to say on this topic, but it is a question that bugs the hell out of me. I mean, I know perfectly well why people publish in Elsevier journals: it’s good for their career. I’ll confess I have a publication coming out in the Journal of Algebra some time in the near future (and another in Tranformation Groups, which is a Springer journal).

But if Elsevier sends me an article to review, I’ll send the editor a polite letter along the lines of

Dear Editor,

I’m sorry, but I won’t do free work for a for-profit organization. I encourage you to do the same.

Cheers,
Ben Webster

If everyone would do that, there would be no more for-profit journals in a matter of weeks, and it wouldn’t be particularly hard. I mean, is there anbody who derives enjoyment or even career advancement by refereeing papers for Elsevier? It really doesn’t seem like it would be the case. Most other questions of interactions with evil journals are much more mixed. It’s a genuine dilemma for a library to decide to drop Inventiones, or for a mathematician to decide not to publish there. But refereeing for them? Come on.

EDIT: Scott mentions there is a list of people who have publicly committed to not participating in the operation of high priced journals by agreeing to the so-called Banff Protocol. I encourage you all to sign up.