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Episciences Project
January 19, 2013 3:15 AM   Subscribe

Tim Gowers has announced a series of arXiv overlay journals called the Episciences Project that aim to exclude existing publishers from research publication in mathematics. As arXiv overlays, the Episciences Project avoids the editing and typesetting costs that existing open-access journals pay for using article processing charges. The French Centre pour la Communication Scientifique Directe (CCSD) is backing the remaining expenses, such as developing the platform.

Jean-Pierre Demailly is the one responsible for convincing the CCSD to back an arXiv overlay approach. Various arXiv based approaches have been heavily discussed by mathematicians and physicists because authors do all their own typesetting work in math and physics anyways. Terrence Tao has announced his involvement as well.

Gowers has also explained his involvement with the traditional open-access journal Forum of Mathematics. In essence, Forum impose article processing charges only on an author's institution, and only if the institution will pay, and some authors may require publication in traditional looking journals when discussing their work with non-mathematicians.
posted by jeffburdges (11 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's fantastic.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:43 AM on January 19, 2013


I wonder what their epimpact factor will be.
posted by ILuvMath at 6:53 AM on January 19, 2013


this is more than a little like the NIN/Radiohead/bignamepopstar dropping out of the record labels thing. if you are already an established mathematician, then you can publish anywhere.

I have a math paper on the arXiv which was submitted to an Elsevier journal. It took almost two years to get a response from a reviewer but, you know what, I'm actually delighted it was reviewed at all (and now I have to respond to comments, which is hard when you don't have an academic job, or much of a job at all.)

Gowers and Tao have Fields medals: people are always going to pay attention to their ideas. The issue has never been cost or technology, but whether it can sustain a community of mathematicians. That's going to be more about whether little guys like me can get attention for their work rather than rock stars...
posted by ennui.bz at 7:22 AM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, re: Gowers on ELsevier
Let’s think about what you are committing yourself to if you agree with this. First, the cost to the academic community of an article published in Forum of Mathematics is £500. What is the cost of an article published by Elsevier. This is harder to judge, for various reasons, but it seems to be at least an order of magnitude higher.
It cost me nothing to submit an article to an Elsevier journal. I had finished my Ph.D. and didn't have an institutional support... I sure as hell didn't have $800 dollars to spend on getting my article published... but he says I wouldn't have to pay (of course they might not even bother looking at my manuscript):
Forum of Mathematics will not under any circumstances expect authors to meet APCs out of their own pockets, and I would refuse to be an editor if it did. (I imagine the same holds for all the other editors.) Of course, it is one thing to say that authors are not expected to pay, and another to make sure that that never happens. Let me describe the safeguards that will be put in place.

First of all, when you submit an article, there will be no mention of APCs. The article will be processed in the normal way — sent out to referees, discussed by editors, etc. — and a decision will be made whether to accept or reject it. Since APCs have not been mentioned, the decision will be completely independent of financial considerations. (Of course, it will often be easy to guess whether an author can pay. But the editors will have absolutely no incentive to take this information into account. And if there were ever any pressure from CUP to be a bit more lenient to authors who were likely to be able to pay, I imagine that the entire editorial board would immediately resign.)

If your article is accepted, and if your institution is set up to meet APCs (as an increasing number of institutions already are) or they are covered by a grant that you are on, then you will arrange for your APC to be paid. Otherwise, CUP will ask for a letter from your institution stating that they are unwilling to pay the charge. No justification for this is required — just confirmation that it is the case. If you are not affiliated with an institution, then the charge will be automatically waived.
yet, if I don't have grant support you have to get a letter from mom saying the department isn't going to pay to have your paper pubished? Gowers lives in a different world. Many many active mathematicians don't have grant support, at least in the US. The difference between mathematics and other fields is that you don't really need money to do research, just time.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:34 AM on January 19, 2013


ennui.bz, are you set up to read Elsevier published articles somehow? Maybe an ongoing library account at your alma mater? If so, someone is paying through the nose for that privilege, and if not, either you're probably missing out on papers relevant to your research, or you're benefitting from the informal workarounds (putting preprints on the ArXiv, personal homepages) which demonstrate that journals no longer do the job that they were supposed to: putting research in the hands of other researchers.
posted by Omission at 8:14 AM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


yet, if I don't have grant support you have to get a letter from mom saying the department isn't going to pay to have your paper pubished? Gowers lives in a different world. Many many active mathematicians don't have grant support, at least in the US. The difference between mathematics and other fields is that you don't really need money to do research, just time.

I don't really understand your objection. Is it that there's not enough money available to mathematicians to publish articles to keep these things afloat? It's mildly irritating to get a letter from the department head or whoever saying there is no money in the budget for such things, but I would also guess that they'd would just write a generic letter and keep it on file. I suppose I can see the NSF going "Damn it, the pure mathematicians just got more expensive because they're trying to fund the journals themselves." But that cost is dwarfed by the cost of funding a graduate student, say. At least some of the applied math people are publishing in journals that charge already because it's the norm in whatever field their application is in. The need to publish in $otherfield's journals is problematic because it assumes access to grant money that you don't necessarily need to do applied math (that said, there seems to be a lot more grant money floating around in applied math) and it seems like Gowers has proposed the obvious compromise. Of course, I think the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics is run with no money--their hosting is donated and everything else is volunteer. I don't think that model is so feasible if you intend to print the journal.

I think the bigger issue for those of us without name recognition or status is that if $topjournal will take the paper, we're much better off publishing there even if it's Elsevier. I suppose the idea is that if enough of the people with status boycott $topjournal, it will cease to have such high status.
posted by hoyland at 8:15 AM on January 19, 2013


And, for what it's worth, I don't know that I buy Gowers's argument. I just don't understand ennui.bz's objection. I think Gil Kalai laid out a nice summary in the comments.
posted by hoyland at 8:25 AM on January 19, 2013


I'm happy to see this development and it could be a very good thing for the mathematical community. The way that mathematics research and the arXiv work together is, as far as I know, unlike any other field of science; it's standard for most people to put their papers on the arXiv when they've finished a solid draft and then update them until a final draft is reached, and for that reason it's the only place I go to find new mathematical research in my field. I recently wrote a paper that was based in part on an arXiv preprint that had not yet been peer reviewed; I read through the paper, made sure I believed it, and then used its results fundamentally in my paper.

But when it comes to publishing those papers, it's a different story . . . and indeed my paper is slated to appear in an Elsevier journal. As an academic at the beginning of my career, I don't have the luxury of avoiding well-known journals in my field. But if senior mathematicians who are more secure start publishing in the Episciences Project, it could develop the same high reputation that many of the well-known Elsevier journals have.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 8:58 AM on January 19, 2013


I don't really understand your objection. Is it that there's not enough money available to mathematicians to publish articles to keep these things afloat?

How about no money... zero. The research group I was a part of was not able to get funding for years. It wasn't until my advisor moved to europe that he was able to get funding. The NSF wants to fund large interdisciplinary research groups with applications. Not some guy twiddling his pencil for 5 years. "APCs" shift the funding from the University down to individual research groups.

ennui.bz, are you set up to read Elsevier published articles somehow? Maybe an ongoing library account at your alma mater? If so, someone is paying through the nose for that privilege, and if not, either you're probably missing out on papers relevant to your research...

I'm not missing anything, it's all on the arXiv anyway. Journals aren't about getting information out, they are about signaling to the community that your idea is worth paying attention to. Without a journal system you are left with folk-reputation: so-and-so is a student of such-and-such who worked with this friend of mine, etc. I mean, that's the way it largely works anyway, but it tends towards cliques and fashion.... my point is that volunteerism reinforces the tendency to support things you already support rather than taking the time and effort to go through something you aren't familiar with.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:23 AM on January 19, 2013


Being published in a big-name journal indicates, since the mid-twentieth-century at least, that your paper has (or should have been) subjected to rigorous peer review. Before that, the journal existed as the most efficient way of getting your paper into the hands of the people who should be reading it. I guess at some point the number of papers got too big for the existing informal process of deciding what to publish, and peer review was instated. At some point, people in university hiring looked for a way to weigh different candidates for a position started using the number of peer-reviewed papers as a metric.

For a while after that, the physical journal (and the publishing house it emerges from) remained a service worth having, because there was no better way of distributing research. Now there is, but the journals are still there, charging massively in excess of the production costs for journals containing papers which (in mathematics, theoretical physics, and my field, theoretical computer science, at least) are already available elsewhere (arXiv and other preprint servers), while paying the people who put value into their product (the peer-reviewers) nothing for hours of professional expertise.

It's true: if you want prestige, you have to publish in a journal with a prestigious name, and those are typically held by big publishing houses. There have been several instances of editorial boards resigning and taking their prestige with them, establishing a new journal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsevier#Resignation_of_editorial_boards), so in principle it's possible to decouple the prestige from the journal. In all the cases before (that I know of) the new journal has been another physical journal, published by a more reasonable, less predatory publishing house. arXiv overlay journals seem to be an excellent alternative to that. (I'm not really sure why all the attention in this thread has been on Forum of Mathematics).
posted by Omission at 10:35 AM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


As Glowers explains, journals exist as a service to impart prestige on the author and their institution, readers gain nothing from journals since arXiv offers more useful preprints. If your institution won't pay Forum's APC, and you imagine this might impact acceptance, then simply publish with the Episciences Project instead. If enough people like Glowers and Tao drop the Elsevier journals, then all the prestige transfers to Forum, Episciences, etc. anyways.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:05 PM on January 19, 2013


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