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 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.

Conferences: SSCW and COMSOC

I recently (late June, but other things got in the way of this report) attended the Society for Social Choice and Welfare meeting in Boston and the Computational Social Choice meeting in Pittsburgh. Here follows a short report.

SSCW was held at Boston College with around 300 attendees.

Positives: The meeting was overall well organized and the open air conference “clambake” dinner a particular highlight. There were several famous speakers from the Boston area, including Amartya Sen and Daron Acemoglu.

Negatives: Holding parallel sessions in different buildings made switching sessions difficult, which was a problem because there were many sessions that clashed (at least for me). The schedule was very tough, with talks starting at 0800 most days, and the lack of accommodation on campus meant that, with travel time, each day was about 11 hours long. Several of the invited speakers were very hard to track down afterwards, and I suspect they only came in for their talk.

COMSOC 2014 was held at Carnegie Mellon University with around 70 attendees. It was nicely hosted by Ariel Procaccia, and the conference dinner among the dinosaurs at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was even better than the SSCW one. While less gruelling than the week before, this meeting was certainly a test of stamina for me. Carnegie-Mellon Computer Science was an impressive place, with the architecture of the Gates building and the conference auditorium coming complete with individually sponsored seats including some reserved for Manuel Blum and relatives (how many other university departments worldwide have 3 members of the same family as professors?)

I came away with some new ideas, but not as many as I had hoped, from these two meetings.

Perhaps it is time to rethink conferences of this sort. I would like to see more time for discussion, which probably means reducing the talk length even more. The main purpose of such meetings is to meet people and talk to them, but if you are sitting in talks all the time, this is not easy. Maybe everyone should give a 5-minute (or shorter) talk to advertise, and then have an enormous “poster session” where questions can be asked in detail. Speed dating for researchers has a certain appeal, perhaps.