This paper was just released on the arXiv, and will appear in the Notices of the AMS.

Mathematicians take a stand, by Douglas N. Arnold and Henry Cohn

Abstract: We survey the reasons for the ongoing boycott of the publisher Elsevier. We examine Elsevier’s pricing and bundling policies, restrictions on dissemination by authors, and lapses in ethics and peer review, and we conclude with thoughts about the future of mathematical publishing.

]]>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 arXiv.org begins after 1:23 in video.

]]>Here are some other remarkable failures of peer review at Elsevier journals.

I know of several problems at Nonlinear Analysis. For example, they accepted for publication a nonsense claim of a solution to Hilbert’s 16th problem (see news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3243736.stm for news coverage of the claim, and tesugen.com/archives/03/11/grigori-rozenblioum-on-elin-oxenhielms-paper for a refutation).

Nonlinear Analysis also published the following ludicrous paper, which remains unretracted despite severe criticism (see arxiv.org/abs/math/0603599 ):

Carvalho, L. A. V., On some contradictory computations in multi-dimensional mathematics, Nonlinear Analysis 63 (2005), 725-734. dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.na.2005.02.074

The journal Applied Mathematics and Computation actually accepted for publication randomly generated text produced by the program SCIgen, with no actual meaning at all:

pdos.csail.mit.edu/scigen/blog/index.php

Amusingly, Elsevier’s copyeditors had eight questions and corrections for the authors, despite the fact that the text was utter nonsense.

Applied Mathematics Letters retracted the following weird paper:

I’m sure there are other cases beyond these, because this list is not based on an exhaustive search. How could this be happening? Each case is ridiculous – these aren’t borderline papers involving a judgement call, but rather completely unpublishable in any reputable journal, no matter how low its standards are.

One case could just be a freak coincidence: maybe a paper accidentally got moved to the publication queue without going through peer review. However, there are enough of them that it suggests a systematic problem. And this is at five different journals (Chaos, Solitons & Fractals; Computers and Mathematics with Applications; Nonlinear Analysis; Applied Mathematics and Computation; Applied Mathematics Letters), so it’s not likely to be one rogue editor.

Elsevier owes the community an explanation. Are they actually publishing papers without any peer review? If not, what kind of peer review process could possibly lead to results like these? Either way, this problem must be fixed.

]]>To Martin Kulldorf: try journalprices.com. ]]>

http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/03/08/essay-problems-state-journal-publishing

]]>For example the list price for Linear Algebra and its Applications lists 5202 EUR (6977 USD at today exchange rate) or 5820 USD.

For other journals the situation is even more intriguing:

Advances in Mathematics is listed at 4994 EUR or 3878 USD

J. Differential Equations: 5777 EUR or 4614 USD

J. Functional Analysis: 5143 EUR or 4022 USD

J. Math. Anal. Appl.: 10210 EUR or 8119 USD

J. of Algebra: 7226 EUR or 5677 USD

]]>I am against rankings in general and of journals in particular because the only sure way to avoid their inappropriate use is not to have them. Here are a few remarks on the subject.

A journal should have as only purpose the publication of papers on their intrinsic merit (whatever that may mean) and of all the papers of merit that are submitted (in contradistinction to those that would maintain or improve the acquired rank).

Value is a matter of fashion. When I was an undergraduate, I heard an excellent and renowned mathematician claim that there were no longer any worthy problems in analysis (many recent Fields medals are in tha area).

I have been doing reviews for the Mathematical Reviews since the 1970’s. What I see is more and more papers that do not seem to be edited (the one I am reading presently, from one highly ranked journal, contains a reference to a theorem in the paper that does not exist). I believe the reason for that situation to be that editors of journals use implicit rankings to value the papers and thus avoid actual evalution of their actual merit (I am aware that that means that rankings already exist: my opinion is, the fewer, the better).

A.F. Gualtierotti, Emeritus, University of Lausanne

]]>There is much discussion in the boycott statement of purpose (at http://gowers.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/elsevierstatementfinal.pdf ) on the question of “Why just Elsevier?”. It comes down to two main points:

1) A boycott of one large commercial publisher who exemplifies a great deal of what is wrong with the current system of publishing of math journals has a chance to be effective, while a very broad boycott of the entire industry does not. There is a long record of such protests, some of historical importance. One apparently successful example is on the front page of today’s New York Times which reported that “Responding to a growing outcry over conditions at its overseas factories, Apple said Monday that an outside organization had begun to audit working conditions at the plants where the bulk of iPhones, iPads and other Apple products are built, and that the group would make its finding public.” And from the same article: “‘This is a really big deal,’ said Sasha Lezhnev at the Enough Project, a group focused on corporate accountability. ‘The whole industry has to follow whatever Apple does.'” My hope is that our boycott will prove similar in that focussing large pressures on Elsevier will provoke major changes from them, and also much more widely in the scholarly publishing enterprise.

2) Then there is the question whether Elsevier is the right target. The reasons for this choice are discussed at length in the statement, and I think that there are a lot of good ones. Elsevier has not built up the store of goodwill with the community that some other publishers have through more open communications and other projects, Elsevier has had a continuing sequence of ethical and quality lapses that have alarmed the community and hurt the literature, Elsevier has gone to great lengths to hide information from the community thereby stifling informed debate, Elsevier chose to be a major advocate for the Research Works Act while the other big math journal publishers were mostly against it or took no position, etc. The best evidence that Elsevier was the right choice, was the huge response the boycott had. Tim Gowers just mentioned the idea, without any expectation of starting a mass movement, but within days there was a massive response.

By the way, I certainly am not against for-profit publishers making decent profits, nor, I think are the other people I have heard from who are supporting the boycott. But I am not comfortable with the 36% profit margin Elsevier got in 2010, and I am not comfortable with many of their business practices, independent of their profit margin. Thus I do not wish to cooperate with them, and I hope that, together with many other people who feel similarly, we can force some change.

Concerning your penultimate paragraph, I agree strongly with you that there are many things to we should be looking to change in our own behavior, inside the math community. There is much more to say on all of this, and I hope that we keep the discussion going. Thanks again for your contributions to it.

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