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I’ll start the discussion on the future of journal publishing by repeating something that I put in the comments on Tim Gowers’ blog ^{1}. I don’t claim to be the only one who had this idea, nor the first. Here’s what I said:
My proposal would be to have “boards” that produce a list of “important papers” each time period (monthly, quarterly, annually – there’d be a place for each). The characteristics that I would consider important would be:
The papers themselves reside on the arXiv. A board certifies a particular version, so the author can update their paper if they wish.
A paper can be “certified” by any number of boards. This would mean that boards can have different but overlapping scopes. For example, the Edinburgh mathematical society might wish to produce a list of significant papers with Scottish authors. Some of these will be in topology, whereupon a topological journal might also wish to include them on their list.
A paper can be recommended to a board in one of several ways: an author can submit their paper, the board can simply decide to list a particular paper (without the author’s permission), an “interested party” can recommend a particular paper by someone else.
Refereeing can be more finely grained. The “added value” from the listing can be the amount of refereeing that happened, and (as with our Publications of the nLab) the type of refereeing can be shown. In the case of a paper that the board has decided themselves to list, the letter to the author might say, “We’d like to list your paper in our yearly summary of advances in Topology. However, our referee has said that it needs the following polishing before we do that. Would you be willing to do this so that we can list it?”
I can’t find the actual comment right now, I’ll add the link when I can. ↩
The idea which I proposed after the 1-hour discussion on interaction of mathematicians and physicists in a special session in the 2000 orbifold conference in Madison to make a comment section of arxiv was somewhat different and it is based on the following observations
1) in postings and publications people post a paper only once a very hi threshold of importance and quantity of results is achieved
2) in discussions not aimed at concrete results on the contrary, the voluntary, vague and opinionated may ruin sometimes the level, trust and balance
To answer this I proposed (paraphrasing) a
comment section which would consist of concrete contributions, referring to the elsewhere started or existing work which is made of scientific contributions, remakes and corrections which are not significant or elaborated enough to warrant a journal level publications but have concrete achievements, concrete corrections or other added value which makes them useful to exist in concrete form in public.
For example
you find a minor gap in a proof in a theorem or even in a lemma in some paper. You write the correct proof.
you describe a mathematical relation between the result of the paper and some earlier known result
you offer an alternative proof of published result
you write a historical note on the surrounding of a result
you find a new example of a definition from the paper, which has so far not many examples offered
you offer an intuitive explanation or heuristic why something described in a paper is true, or what is behind the notion in the paper
you offer a worthy list of typographical and other minor errors in a longer reference
All such works, comments are below the publication threshold, even for proceedings, while they could be very useful. On the other hand, unlike nonconcrete comments, such content contributions tailored to supplement existing publications are noncontroversial, unlike pure opinion works.
8: If any linear scale rating for anything is proposed, the numbers are more comprehensible. I do not understand BB+, AA-, AAA+, as I have no interest in Wall Street myths, and this kind of double and triple letters would be confusing to me.
Sasha, the creator if impact factor Garfield wrote extensively that it was intended as a statistical measure for comparing institutions rather than the individuals. This is well known but it is used contrary to its well known assumption. Once administrators have the numbers forget the warning signs.
Sasha, introducing and being loud about the practices, failour of the systems etc. has a role. When we serve on committees we can do some civil disobedience. A colleague of mine, when he served on a promotion board, at the time when they would COUNT papers, when he saw a couple of publications with more or less the same results (self/plagiarism) he would STAPLE them together with a stapler and count as the same paper. The law in Croatia says for such and such title one needs to be a scientist with world level achievements and so and so many papers minimum. Now they read this as if one has a minimum and comes to a selection, one has to be elected into the title. They neglect the qualitative phrase “world level achievement” which gives them right to dismiss mere number. Why people are not informed of such key details ?? Why we do not do some counterpropaganda. Why would I care about politics dealing with me ? I fight it without respect. And you should.
I have created a chemistry overlay journal using Blogger.com: http://compchemhighlights.org. The main point I want to make here is that anyone can set up such a site in a few hours. The real challenges are “social”; building prestige and recognition associated with the journal and recruiting editors. It is not clear how best to do this, but I think the best approach is to create many such journals and see what works and what doesn’t. (I will cross-post over at the overlay journal site).
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