What happens to journals that break away?

Although it is still a relatively rare occurrence, several journal boards have broken away from large commercial publishers. A good list is at the Open Access Directory. These journals usually are required to change their name, because the previous publisher will not relinquish it. They are cut off from the enormous support provided by large commercial publishers (after all their subscription prices are so high, the money is surely being put back into developing better infrastructure, rather than, say enriching shareholders, giving inflated honoraria to editors or paying inefficient support staff). Thus one might expect that these journals would struggle.

I looked at the fortunes of the mathematics journals that have taken this route. Below I list the original title name, the approximate date of the breakaway, the new title and publisher, and citation impact measures taken from 2014 data at eigenfactor.org, and compare them to the results for the original journal. Those measures are EF (size-dependent measure of importance) and AI (analogous to Impact Factor, but based on the same kind of reasoning as underlies PageRank – not all citations are equal). Each has a maximum value of 100. These are of course not the only measures one could use. I also list CE, the 2013 cost-effectiveness rating from journalprices.com (essentially, subscription cost per citation) – the smaller the better.

Old: Journal of Logic Programming (Elsevier), changed name more than once to Journal of Logical and Algebraic Methods in Programming, still publishing, EF = 0, AI = 0, CE = 84.73
New: (1999) Theory and Practice of Logic Programming (Cambridge), EF = 31, AI = 40, 42.33

Old: Machine Learning (Springer), EF = 77, AI = 92, CE = 27.01
New: (2001) Journal of Machine Learning Research (diamond OA), EF = 94, AI = 97, CE = 0.0

Old: Topology and Its Applications (Elsevier), still publishing, EF = 78, AI = 33, CE = 32.34
New: (2001) Algebraic and Geometric Topology (Math Sciences Press), EF = 77, AI = 77, CE = 3.67

EDIT: I received email from Alex Scorpan saying: “The facts are that AGT was born by splitting off from “Geometry & Topology”. The resignation of the board of “Topology and its Applications” may have occurred at the same time, may have involved people on the board of AGT, and may have involved the same ethos that moved the founders of GT and AGT, but otherwise the two events are not connected.” Alex has edited the OAD wiki to fix this. I haven’t looked into the question any further.

Old: Journal of Algorithms (Elsevier), stopped publishing after 6-7 years.
New: (2003) Transactions on Algorithms (ACM), EF = 60, AI = 76, CE = 5.57

Old: Topology (Elsevier), stopped publishing after 6 years
New: (2006) Journal of Topology (Oxford), EF = 70, AI = 93, CE = 39.24

Old: K-Theory (Springer), stopped publishing very soon, and archives disappeared.
New: (2007) Annals of K-Theory (Math Sciences Press) (after an intermediate change to Journal of K-Theory (Cambridge), EF = 59, AI = 79, CE = 102.47), too new for EF, AI

Old: Journal of Philosophical Logic (Springer), still publishing, no EF, AI or CE listed (the website lists only “interim editors”)
New: (2007) Review of Symbolic Logic (Cambridge) EF = 35, AI = 49, CE = 222.58

It seems clear that the new journals are doing considerably better than the old ones overall. I wonder whether the idea often touted by radical leftist OA advocates that large commercial publishers don’t add much value could have a grain of truth in it.

We have met the enemy, part 2: clueless authors

In recent discussions, an editor-in-chief of an Elsevier journal made the assertion that there is no point in going through the hassle of switching to an open access publishing option, because authors are allowed to post the final accepted version (“postprint”) publicly, for example at arXiv.org.

Ignoring the rather cavalier attitude to readers (what if the author doesn’t bother to do it?) and the tacit admission that journals serve no real purpose other than (possible) post-publication peer review improvements and giving a 0-1 quality stamp, let us focus on the authors.

After all the hard work involved in writing and paper and having it accepted, few authors relish the extra work involved in ensuring that the readership of the paper is maximized. But this is a very small amount of work in comparison to the total for the project. Uploading to arXiv takes only a few minutes, and there are plenty of other venues with similarly low overhead (institutional repositories, sites like ResearchGate (if ethically acceptable to the author), and other subject repositories). Even putting the postprint on a personal webpage is better than nothing.

Yet despite the ease of making their work available, a large fraction of authors simply don’t do it. In 2011 Kristine Fowler surveyed mathematicians’ views on various issues (the linked article is well worth reading) and found that only about half of authors practise self-archiving (some publish in open access journals but this is relatively rare). She lists several other barriers to self-archiving found in previous studies: lack of time, not regarding it as an important dissemination venue, concerns about copyright, publishers’ attitudes, the quality of the archive, inadvertent changes to the work, and the deposit procedure.

Fowler’s survey also discusses author rights. The results are remarkable to me, two striking quotes being:

Several open-ended comments indicate that some mathematicians do not know or do not care about author rights issues: “I don’t usually think much about this aspect of publishing” and “I have to say that I generally just ignore any associated author rights and do what I like with my paper.”


… only 16% of mathematics authors (91 respondents) report having tried to improve the terms of publication, whereas most have signed a publisher-provided author agreement, either before (27%) or after (59%) reading it (participants could report more than one action). Among those who have negotiated with publishers to retain more author rights, 92% report they are usually or always successful.

So: my working hypothesis is that a sadly large fraction of my colleagues just don’t think it is important to ensure that their work is available to read, use excuses for inaction, and are happy to live up to the stereotype of the unworldly academic. For me, this is unacceptable.

Survey of opinions on mathematical journal reform

I am running a survey (via Google Forms) on behalf of an international group of researchers and librarians interested in improving overall performance of the publication system in mathematics and other subjects. Its results will be made public later this year. We aim to get responses from a large and representative sample of the world mathematical community. The results will be used to focus efforts on improvements that have borad community support. As far as I know nothing like this has been tried before. Some commercial publishers have undertaken author surveys on open access, but our survey is much more.

The survey (for editors, referees, authors, readers on mathematical journals) can be accessed at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1r4LBUJk1VF9e4Dl4aXgS4fW-O8HR9yz1cqmXdzz0CjM/viewform?c=0&w=1&usp=mail_form_link. Google login is required for authentication and to safeguard data integrity, but no personal data will be stored.

Los Angeles

Today marks the end of an expensive and rewarding 5-week visit to Los Angeles. Most of it was vacation. We experienced some excellent museums (Petersen Automotive, Getty Center, La Brea Tar Pits) and the Santa Monica caught up with some old friends and colleagues, and spent a lot of time with many relatives. As expected, there was a lot of driving and eating, and not a lot of exercise. Weather was excellent, around 16-20C most days and with a lot of sunshine, and smog much less than I had expected. In the end we forwent the delights of the big theme parks, couldn’t stomach the crowds around the Chinese Theatre, and missed out on being part of the audience for a TV show recording.

I did manage to do a small amount of professional work: a talk at UCLA (in Igor Pak’s Combinatorics seminar, my first ever visit to the campus – it looks like a wonderful place, and I ran into Terry Tao in the line for lunch!) and my first ever discussant appearance, at a very interesting political science workshop in Laguna Beach organized by Bernie Grofman. Overall this has been the longest break from work I can remember, and it’s time to start serious research and teaching for 2016.

PolNet 2015 and APSA 2015

In June and September I attended two contrasting political science conferences on the West Coast of the USA. PolNet 2015 was small (of the order of 100 attendees) and focused on political networks. APSA 2015 was huge (about 7000 attendees), covering all areas of the field, with many business meetings and other professional activities in addition to research talks. Both were very well organized and had unusually good food available. These trips were very tiring physically, but very stimulating intellectually.

Personal highlights:


  • according to Skyler Cranmer, statistical inference on survey data usually makes an assumption of independence, which makes no sense for networks, and he found 700 published papers making this methodological error
  • David Lazer (and many collaborators) Moneybomb video
  • Kathleen Carley: 25-50% of tweeters are not human – biased data for social scientists!
  • really useful introductory tutorials by Skyler Cranmer, Lorien Jasny, Katherine Ognyanova, Scott Pauls


  • plenary talk by Robert Reich – in addition to the main substance, the anecdotes were very entertaining, especially his interview by a journalist askingabout a date he went on with Hillary Clinton about 50 years ago
  • British Election Forecasting session – interesting to see how so many different predictions were all so wrong, and concerns about “forecaster herding”
  • political networks session where several people agreed that it is a fad, but that is OK because it gives good results
  • APSA business meeting into which I was press-ganged in order to make a quorum. It seems that elections use Australian House of Representatives rules. The quorum was lost partway through, and a complaint made … The political scientists can sure talk!
  • talk by Carey, Masoud and Reynolds showing how close Tunisia came to failing like Libya and Egypt (small differences in the voting rules used)
  • Alex Montgomery’s favourite international organization is the  African GroundNut Council
  • many other interesting topics: why is there no right-wing party in many countries? ; effect of preferential voting on representation of minorities; poll herding hypothesis – low quality pollsters adjust results to match high quality ones; how can polarization be measured?


Barriers to open access – reading

Here is a list of references that may be useful when considering barriers to open access.

Reforming the profession

I have been following several issues in the world of academia and science over the last few years, all of which require urgent and serious attention, in my opinion. Progress has been less than I hoped, but it makes sense that inertia is large in such a system.

I collect here a list of important and interesting links, and hope they are useful for others.

Visionary stuff

Evaluating researchers

Evaluating research

Access to research

Researcher ethics

Inclusive culture

People to follow

Older writings

The sad story of OJAC

This is a short post to explain that I have resigned from all duties with Online Journal of Analytic Combinatorics. After 2.5 years during which I (among other activities) converted the journal’s online presence from PDFs on a Google site to an Open Journal Systems installation, kept proper archives of peer review, recruited several new editors, convinced LOCKSS to archive the journal, ensured that it was indexed by Zentralblatt, Scopus and Thomson Reuters, and processed several papers from submission to publication, I was given an ultimatum by the other three managing editors who wanted me to step down from the role. This occurred at the same time as an approach by Springer, which I was not given any details of. Of course I am very unlikely to agree to any deal with such a company, given my beliefs about the importance of open access and control of scientific literature by the research community.

Differences in style and expectations are inevitable in such an enterprise. I did become frustrated with what I saw as extreme lack of commitment by two of the other three managing editors. I can see that reasonable people can differ on such issues, and that my personal style might offend some. What is very irritating is having to work closely with people whose non-performance affects my reputation. What I find inexcusable is those same people using differences of style as an excuse to stage a clumsy coup with obvious ulterior motives.

Anyway, I don’t have much hope for the future of the journal, but I might be wrong. I have moved on to other pursuits. I am now an academic editor of PeerJ Computer Science, for example.