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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorTom Leinster
    • CommentTimeMay 1st 2012

    …at least in the UK: Wikipedia founder to help in government’s research scheme (The Guardian). Personally, I’m not getting my hopes up: the fact that the government are consulting him by no means implies that they’ll do the right thing.

    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorTom Leinster
    • CommentTimeMay 1st 2012

    Accompanying opinion piece by the British minister with responsibility for universities: Open, free access to academic research? This will be a seismic shift.

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2012

    I’d say that the fact the government is consulting Jimmy Wales is a sign of incompetence. “He’s also going to be advising us on the format in which academic papers should be published and data standards”? There are a lot of people with serious expertise in these issues, but nobody could mistakes Wales for one of them. I hope that this is nothing serious - perhaps he volunteered his services, and some low-level bureaucrat got terribly excited and started leaking information to the press. (But I have a bad feeling that it’s a high-level bureaucrat, who probably values Wales’s opinions more than those of researchers or librarians.)

    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2012

    On the other hand, people running arXiv, including Ginsparg, should be consulted about any scientific repository project.

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorPeter Krautzberger
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2012
    • (edited May 2nd 2012)

    @Henry don’t we need all the help we can get? Wikipedia/Wikimedia can offer its experience with both pre- and post-publication peer review, they actively research reputation management, they have experience with large open access projects. Sure, Wales is just a fancy name at this point, but why jump to conclusions about his involvement?

    Coordinating with other kinds of publishing and, more importantly, other research areas is crucial if there’s going to be any progress. The mathematical sciences are simply too small on their own to bring about fundamental change.

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2012

    I guess I was partly reacting to the quote from a government source that Wales was going to helping with formats for academic papers and data standards, which aren’t areas where Wikimedia has anything to contribute (and where going to non-experts for advice could be actively harmful). Who knows who it was that said that, but I view it as a bad sign.

    But overall I don’t think we need all the help we get can. Librarians, publishers, and the research community seem to me to have all the technical expertise and domain knowledge we need. This really isn’t the bottleneck. If governments are treating it as such, then I worry that either they don’t know about or respect the expertise that exists, or they don’t understand the real issues.

    I actually think the mathematical sciences are capable of fixing mathematical publishing on our own, but you’re certainly right that it’s wise to coordinate with other areas. I’m a little worried about one thing, though. As I see it, the big issue we face now is control. For example, the real problem isn’t just that Elsevier is charging too much, but rather that Elsevier owns the content, so we have to try to beg and pressure them to behave reasonably. Ultimately, mathematicians should be fully in charge of mathematics publishing. We should decide on how publishing will work and we should own the content. Of course, we need to seek input from experts about certain issues, like archiving, and anyone else is free to offer advice too, but we cannot let outsiders dictate how scholarly publishing should work in mathematics. This includes not just big commercial publishers, but also other academic fields or governments. Publication practices vary substantially between fields, for good reason, and we should expect that this will continue.

    So I see the Elsevier boycott as a declaration of independence. Mathematicians are taking back control of our publishing system, not preparing to transfer control from Elsevier to someone else.

    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorPeter Krautzberger
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2012
    • (edited May 2nd 2012)

    Henry, thanks for your thoughtful response. I must admit I worry a bit. I see a lot of what you aptly describe as “declaration of independence”, but I see very little in terms of “building a nation” to stay in the imagery. Publishing, as Shirky aptly put it, is not a job or industry anymore, it is now a button. So in a real sense, “publishers” have already lost their place and the question is how we want to organize our community now that this independence has been achieved, how we deal with new problems we are facing (like archiving).

    If I understand correctly, most people in this forum want to stick with the papers-in-journals model where editorial boards decide what’s important. This model seems to actually work better with publishers as we have them now, artificially shrinking the space for making research public, and I wonder what will happen if those publishers “disappear”. Tim Gowers once proposed a crowd-sourced approach and there are also other forms, like liquid democracy. If we want to try something like that, I think, it’s very important to talk to people outside of mathematics, coordinate experiments, share experiences, discuss options.

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMay 2nd 2012
    • (edited May 2nd 2012)

    I think publishers still have a valuable role to play, but as service providers rather than content owners. To the extent they can provide organizational and IT assistance, do copyediting and formatting, deal with archiving, etc., they will still be able to earn a profit. We just need to move to an equilibrium where they don’t see themselves as being in charge of publishing, and where they aren’t in a position to exploit the literature.

    I agree that it’s important to experiment with different options, but I think it will be impossible to coordinate a successful large-scale shift that is planned in advance (unless it’s obviously a Pareto improvement, where nobody worries that things might get worse). The only feasible approach is to try lots of small experiments, refine the ones that seem promising, and then try to scale them up as needed.

    I get worried whenever I see someone from an influential institution (government, big foundation, etc.) who seems to think they have the future of scholarly publishing all figured out, or to believe that it’s possible to figure it out if you assemble the right team of experts. In the short term, we have the technical ability to do whatever we want to do, and the hard part is coming to a consensus about what it is that we want. (It’s depressingly hard to get widespread agreement even about issues like how good a job Elsevier is doing of serving the community.) In the long run, nobody can do more than guess about the future.

    • CommentRowNumber10.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeMay 8th 2012

    I get worried whenever I see someone from an influential institution (government, big foundation, etc.) who seems to think they have the future of scholarly publishing all figured out

    Hear! Hear!