Low Dimensional Topology

June 19, 2015

The academic spring fails… or does it?

Filed under: Academic publishing — dmoskovich @ 5:40 am

A few hours ago, Math2.0, the discussion forum for journal publishing reform, closed for good. This is an indicator that the Cost of Knowledge campaign is effectively over. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t still add our names to it if we haven’t yet done so, but the initiative in publishing reform seems to have passed back to the corporations, and it seems to have happened a long time ago.

On the converse side, there are a lot of new OA journals out there, some Green and some Gold. This is a very good thing! Submit there, and we can beat predatory publishers through market competition.

One thing I’m seeing right now is a proliferation of metrics enhancers, promoted by publishers. One which has recently caught my attention is Kudos. It seems a decent enough service and I see no reason not to sign on to it, but the picture it paints of today’s research scene is bleak. Research consists, in that picture, of the production of mountains of papers which nobody reads, with researchers having to promote papers on Twitter and Facebook and through short catchy pop-science paper summaries for anyone to actually read them. And budgets being evaluated on the basis of citation counts, h-indexes, and various altmetrics, which may depend primarily on being in many people’s peripheral vision rather that on actually advancing a research field. I like to think things are not quite that bad in mathematics.


  1. I think I’ve come around to the idea that there are indeed a lot of math papers that nobody reads and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s like the monkeys and the typewriters: it takes a lot of noise and overproduction in the midst of which there will be hidden gems that will be useful later. How much of 19th century mathematics survives? Likely only a small percentage, but it was necessary to create a great volume of it in order to distill the essence moving forward, and no doubt much that was not clearly useful at the time was found to be useful and utilized later. It is indeed a problem that administrators want to use questionable metrics, but I think the argument against that shouldn’t always be about what “actually advances” the field and should sometimes be about it is necessary to produce many papers that are not necessarily significant now because we don’t know what will later advance the field.

    Comment by Greg Friedman — June 20, 2015 @ 2:08 am | Reply

    • Well, many math papers are very difficult to read. That’s a shame- each and every math research paper contains a new idea, at least in principle.

      A weird dream I’ve had for around 20 years is a machine-learning algorithm that reads a paper for you and places it in the context of other papers. It doesn’t try to judge importance or correctness, but it merely tells you which ideas the paper genuinely depends on (as opposed to which citations are actually included, and among those which are just for political reasons) and which other papers genuinely depends on it, and what the main result of the paper is. This would help a lot to find relevant literature, and indeed to indicate at a glance how important a paper might actually be in a much more accurate way than a citation count or even, perhaps, than a MathSciNet or Zentralblatt review.

      In any event, I find it weird that citations which are just “here is somebody else (famous) who used vaguely similar keywords” are weighted exactly the same as “my main theorem is based on this idea in an essential way”.

      Comment by dmoskovich — June 21, 2015 @ 5:32 am | Reply

  2. That post is actually quite old, and as the forum is now hosted as a flat file the relative posting time is not updating. The forum actually vanished from the internet briefly, but it’s being hosted as least for the time being to keep links alive (e.g. references in Michael Harris’ book!)

    Comment by David Roberts — August 11, 2015 @ 8:42 pm | Reply

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