Beyond Journals

The electronic era of publishing presents an opportunity to move far beyond merely adapting the current journal model.  In my September, 2011 column in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, I noted that, of the four original benefits offered by traditional journals — enhancement, dissemination,archiving, and validation — in the electronic era only the last remains: validation of the correctness, originality, and status of papers, thereby validation of its authors’ status for hiring, promotion, grant funding, salary, etc.  However, not all fields remain in thrall to the journal system, and status in areas such as computer vision, cryptography, and computer algebra relies nowadays primarily on prestigious conference proceedings.
In the column, I propose, as a possible alternative to journal validation, establishing a “Michelin Guide” to mathematical works on the internet.  Thus, one’s vita might contain 5 one-star, 3 two-star, and one very rare three-star “Mathelin” rated paper, as evaluated by the Guide’s referees.  Moreover, unlike journals, Mathelin ratings can well be time-varying.  One can even envision a variety of general purpose Guides, with competing ratings, as well as specialized Guides that convey status within a particular field.  What is less clear is how such a system could be practically instituted, although it is worth noting that a large amount of money is now being fed to commercial publishers from libraries and institutions worldwide, and even diverting even a small fraction would easily support the running and compensated refereeing of such a Guide.
Related proposals include Stefan Müller’s that internet-based journals be overlays of the arXiv, where posted preprints can be submitted and refereed.  Once accepted, no additional publication would be required, but the paper would then carry the imprimatur of the overlay journal and be listed therein.   Timothy Gowers, in an earlier (12.12.2011) comment on this blog, points to his proposal to implement a system “something like a cross between the arXiv, a social networking site, Amazon book reviews, and Mathoverflow”, detailing its advantages over traditional validation based on unpublished, anonymous referee reports.  As I state in my column: “The time is ripe for a radical rethinking of the traditional academic model for scholarly communication within mathematics.  …  If we are not properly engaged, the future will be decided for us and, almost certainly, will not be to our liking.”

Peter J. Olver

4 thoughts on “Beyond Journals

  1. Jean-Paul Allouche Post author

    Directeur de recherche CNRS, Paris
    I agree with most of what is said BUT one thing, namely “rating”. Again this temptation to give marks like for pupils at school? This is slightly different from, but actually essentially equivalent to, ranking journals (see the other discussion): what universal criteria would be used? how to prevent fooling the system with your good friends-colleagues giving good marks provided you do the same with them, etc.

    What is needed is validation, period. No mark, no ranking, no numbers: please let us stop this primary school tendency.

    Sorry for my strong opposition, but the (mis)use of numbers and ranks is perversely invading everything: let us at least struggle against it in our scientific publications.

  2. Anatoly Nikitin Post author

    Editor in Chief, SIGMA (Symmetry, Integrability and Geometry: Methods and Applications)
    There exist an interesting project concerning scientific publishing in the field of hep-th, namely, the SCOAP 3 project

    Speaking briefly, this project is targeted to making all quality journals in this field open access. These journals would be paid by some fund to make the published articles open access, and libraries would pay not to publishers, but to this fund.

    There are certain criteria for the journals to be eligible for this programme. At the moment the selection and evaluation of journals is in process, and the procedure will be fully operational from 2013.

    It might be reasonable to consider using a similar funding model also for mathematical journals, or just joining this project.

  3. Carol Hutchins Post author

    “The Scientific Evolution: Open Science and the Future of Publishing” Panel
    Event chaired by S. Benjamin (Oxford Materials), including T. Gowers, Victor Henning (Mendeley), Robert Kiley (Wellcome Trust), Alison Mitchell (NPG), Alicia Wise (Elsevier), Cameron Neylon, and Lord Robert Winston.

    Gowers discussion of review boards overlaid on begins after 1:23 in video.

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