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How does this work for a mathematics professor at Alma College (or your choice of highly teaching-oriented institution) who publishes one paper in an obscure area of graph theory every several years and has no friends or colleagues active in research, must less in his area? Who would write comments for his or her paper?
For that matter, how would it have worked for Yitang Zhang before he became famous?
Sergey, a few comment on your first message.
Epijournals should not be expect to have a commenting feature, at least not in the episciences project. This issue is debated, and we want to focus on our priority : epi means over, so “epijournal” is mostly a French translation of “overlay journal”. It might happen at some point that comments could be open in some of our venues, but it is neither a priority nor something meant to be universal.
Commenting features have been tried (notably by PLOS ONE) but as far as I know, none of them have attracted many comments yet. So incentives are probably the first thing to think about, not the last one.
In any case, without the current process of submission (on the initiative of the author) and explicit hiring of referee, I very much doubt that most papers will get feedback. Incentives strong enough to motivate people to comment on more than the 10% most visible papers, and that are not meant as a favor to a third party that ask it to you, are very likely to have huge side effects.
What you propose is highly sophisticated, and very different from the current habits. It makes it all the more difficult to enforce on the community. If you want post-publication refereeing, you should try to keep it simple and related to habits that already exist (in this regard, something MathOverflow-like might have a chance if it is simple enough).
Dear Sergey,
I fear that you are not really getting my concern.
The problem here is that, under the current system, papers of close-to-zero interest still do get refereed for third-and-fourth-tier journals. This refereeing provides a valuable service for the authors of these papers and the communities they work in.
Unless asked by an editor, no expert is going to touch one of these papers even with a ten-foot-pole. How will your system cater to these papers?
I wrote about this problem in more detail long ago in
/discussion/56/how-will-your-system-work-for-mathematicians-at-alma-college/
Part of the problem is that you are assuming the mathematician at Alma College wants to get noticed by a research community. This is NOT going to be the case. The mathematician at Alma College is first and foremost a teacher. They are doing research primarily to be a living example of mathematics to their students, and not really for the purpose of contributing to mathematical knowledge. They simply want some expert out there to check to make sure they haven’t forgotten how to do mathematics and are still providing a good example of doing mathematics to their students.
The current system organizes the provision of a subsidy (in refereeing time) by those with more expertise to those with less expertise. The provision of this subsidy has tremendous benefits to mathematics, and especially to education at the undergraduate level. I don’t see how a collaborative open refereeing system organizes the provision of this subsidy.
Sorry, Sergey, for the iterated questions, but…
Thank you for answering my concerns about refereeing. Now onto the next question: Who is going to bother voting on whether or not to accept this hypothetical paper? I seriously doubt anyone would care enough about the paper to even spend fifteen minutes to read it and do the exercises. The assigned referee does it because he or she has been asked to. Who else? Does the editor also need to ask specific individuals to read the referee report(s), skim the paper, and vote?
There are a fair number of write-only journals out there, and they serve a valuable purpose. How does acceptance or rejection work for write-only journals?
As you perfectly well know, in the United States where almost all citizens purport to value being in a democracy, half the eligible population does not bother voting, and, even worse, in some parts of the country, when it comes to local elections for mayor, school board, and the like (where each vote has a much greater effect than in a Presidential election!), three quarters of the people don’t bother voting. Voting on a paper is perhaps more like jury service than voting in an election, and my experience talking to other people tells me that almost everyone would avoid jury service if they had a free choice in the matter.
I don’t think I spend 15 minutes on more than a dozen recent papers (say written within the last 3 years) per year, not counting the three or four I get asked to referee. I might be comparatively lazy as far as reading papers is concerned, but I don’t think I’m a whole order of magnitude lazier than average.
(Completely separately - just for the record - I am sure that, assuming you have done enough research to earn a PhD, your teaching ability (in the style of teaching desired there) will matter far more than any amount or type of research activity as far as getting a position at Alma College is concerned.)
As heretical as this viewpoint might be on a forum most of whose audience is research mathematicians, I think broadening (or at least maintaining) access to a mathematical education in contact with the actual practice of mathematics is far more important for society than accumulating proofs of theorems. (Of course, as anyone vaguely conversant with economics knows, it does NOT follow that everyone should personally focus more on education rather than research.)
I think almost everyone agrees that this goal of broadening access to a genuine mathematical education is an important one, even if they might disagree with me on its relative importance. I just want to make sure this goal does not get lost when we discuss future models for publishing.
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