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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeMay 12th 2013

    I was really surprised to hear that an associate editor at Discrete Mathematics gets a “low four figure” annual payment from Elsevier. I have been told that editors-in-chief of some journals get an order of magnitude more (and in fields like chemistry, money available is maybe 1-2 orders more than that, amazing as it may seem).

    My feeling now is that this is ethically very dubious. It certainly creates an incentive to maintain the status quo. Am I wrong in thinking that it is something we just shouldn’t tolerate as a community? If it turns out my view is the majority one, how would we go about changing the situation?

    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMay 12th 2013

    I certainly don’t like the idea of paying editorial board members, and I’m not paid anything myself as an editor (I think these payments are much less common with non-commercial publishers). What’s tricky is that I also object to commercial exploitation of unpaid academic labor, in which case shouldn’t payments be an improvement?

    I think the fundamental issue that bothers me is this. When someone in academia (or an industrial research lab) serves as an editor, it’s typically as part of their scholarly job for which they are already receiving a salary, so there is no need for further compensation unless the duties go well beyond ordinary academic expectations. In other words, it might be reasonable to offer an honorarium or to pay for a course release for a managing editor, but not a typical associate editor. Unnecessary payments could create a conflict of interest if they are offered by organizations that are undermining the mathematical community at large (and indeed it sounds like these organizations are more likely to offer payments).

    On the other hand, I doubt there’s much to be done about it. Compared with the overall list of Elsevier’s problems, paying a few thousand dollars to associate editors is not going to inspire outrage, and I imagine the money plays at most a small role in anyone’s decisions.

  1. I would say that this compensations should be made public. Maybe universities could enforce this: at least in France, to be paid in addition to your salary you need a waiver from your university, which therefore must be informed of the payment. Certainly, if a well-known editor speaks and acts for the status quo, that everyone knows that he or she is being paid in the five figures as an editor would undermine his or her legitimacy.

    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeMay 21st 2013
    • (edited May 21st 2013)

    A related note - mathematicians are clearly pretty poor compared to chemists. Look at page 9 of this document from American Chemical Society and compare with page 11 of this one from American Mathematical Society

    I was surprised by the size of some of the numbers involved.

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeMay 27th 2013
    • (edited May 27th 2013)

    In last year’s negotations between the Journal of Number Theory and Elsevier, Elsevier started paying the editors there $60 per article handled. One editor promises to take you out to a fancy dinner in Chicago for each 10 papers submitted to him.

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2013

    I’m sure I could submit 50 papers to him, if he likes, and he can reject them quickly, and we could make some spare change. No dinner necessary.

    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2013

    I wonder if there are other JNT resignations to follow:

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2013

    This is of course scandalous. The profit margin per paper must be high, as Greg Martin points out. How can this sort of thing be happening without the editorial board complaining? Do these people have no scruples or self-respect? If they were happy with the ethical nature of accepting such payments, why was it not made public before? Can they seriously believe this money should go to them personally? It disturbs me that mathematicians would do this kind of thing.

    • CommentRowNumber9.
    • CommentAuthorravivakil
    • CommentTimeJun 16th 2013
    • (edited Jun 16th 2013)
    I fear there may be a misunderstanding based on the previous comments. I'm on the editorial boards of a reasonable number of journals (I've lost count; perhaps around 7), and I get nothing for any of them, but spend a rather huge amount of time on it.

    (I realize second-hand claims have been made about payments to editors of other journals; I'd like to hear more evidence before taking this as fact.)
    • CommentRowNumber10.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeDec 19th 2013

    A related data point: I received email from the Editor in Chief of another Elsevier journal that I refused to referee for. It seems that payments are highly variable: he says “Running a journal that receives about 350 papers a year requires web support, editorial support (such as I receive from XX) and monetary support (my university receives a modest amount to buy me out of one large course each year). Without all this the workload of running a journal simply becomes prohibitive.”

    For interest, he also says: “All of this does not mean that I or many of our board members are particularly happy with how commercial publishers have positioned themselves in the past decades. Well before Gowers appeared on the scene we tried to sever ties with Elsevier, but for example the AMS told us they were not in a position to significantly increase the number of journals they published. Other societies expressed a similar opinion. Simply abandoning the journal en masse did not seem to be in our own best interest. Many board members have lobbied hard for Elsevier to make changes to its publishing model in mathematics, and this is something that is very much ongoing. A number of modest but nonetheless significant changes have already been realised … “

    I suggested switching to a proper provider of publishing services, such as MSP. It is hard to believe that a learned society can’t take over an established strong journal and run it much more cheaply than Elsevier. Of course, Elsevier might insist the name be changed, but it is worth fighting.

    I have now gained a fair bit of experience running a much smaller journal and using OJS software. I wonder whether I should start a company providing publishing services …

    • CommentRowNumber11.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeDec 24th 2013

    Web support for editors-in-chief? Is this because the system is so bad? Or do I misunderstand? And what’s wrong with approaching a university-run publishing house (although some of them are not exactly squeaky clean in their dealings), or even a publisher outside the US?