I attended this biennial meeting for the fourth consecutive time. Attendance in Toulouse was substantially larger than previously. Organization was excellently led by Umberto Grandi.

Toulouse was busy with tourists augmented by fans of Euro 2016 football teams and evenings were very noisy downtown. The city seems like a pleasant, slightly provincial place.

There were many interesting talks but I find it hard to maintain concentration. The poster sessions were surprisingly interesting and perhaps in future there should be much more time spent on these, and shorter talks given.

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

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.

Renee Wilson RIP

My mother died 2016-02-02 after a fairly short battle with cancer. Although aged nearly 82 she was very energetic and this was a big shock to all who knew her. It is a strange feeling when someone you thought would be around forever leaves so early. I have a memorial website to which anyone reading this who knew her should ask me for the link.

Being orphaned in middle age is much better than earlier, but still tough to handle.

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.

Average-case analysis of random assignment algorithms

With summer scholarship student Jacky Lo, I have just submitted this paper to COMSOC 2016. This is the first time I have seriously looked at resource allocation in social choice. It was
interesting and I may do more on this topic in future.

Abstract: The problem of one-sided matching without money (also known as house allocation), namely computing a bijection from a finite set of items to a finite set of agents each of whom has a strict preference order over the items, has been much studied. Symmetry considerations require the use of randomization, yielding the more general notion of random assignment. The two most commonly studied algorithms (Random Serial Dictatorship (RP) and Probabilistic Serial Rule (PS)) dominate the literature on random assignments.
One feature of our work is the inclusion of several new algorithms for the problem. We adopt an average-case viewpoint: although these algorithms do not have the axiomatic properties of PS and RP, they are computationally efficient and perform well on random data, at least in the case of sincere preferences. We perform a thorough comparison of the algorithms, using several standard probability distributions on ordinal preferences and measures of fairness, efficiency and social welfare.
We find that there are important differences in performance between the known algorithms. In particular, our lesser-known algorithms yield better overall welfare than PS and RP and better efficiency than RP, with small negative consequences for envy, and are computationally efficient. Thus provided that worst-case and strategic concerns are relatively unimportant, the new algorithms should be seriously considered for use in applications.

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.

Predicting the 2015 Canadian election

The Canadian general election will be held on 19 October. The most basic prediction method uses the full district (“riding”) vote information from the last election (in 2011), the current poll estimate for national level support for each party, and a model of changes in district votes. There are two main models used in predicting elections under First Past the Post (single-winner plurality in districts), namely Uniform (additive) Swing and Proportional (multiplicative) Swing.

Based on the aggregate poll at, these two models predict the following point estimates for the seat distributions (after scaling up to account for the increase in parliament size since 2011):

Multiplicative: CON 133 NDP 71 LIB 125 BQ 7 GRE 1
Additive: CON 145 NDP 85 LIB 101 BQ 6 GRE 1

NDP have lost a lot of support in recent weeks, but it still looks as though no party will have an absolute majority and CON will be the largest party.

UPDATE 19 October (NZ time): using the latest poll estimate the models now give:

Multiplicative: CON 131 NDP 72 LIB 128 BQ 3 GRE 1
Additive: CON 137 NDP 86 LIB 109 BQ 5 GRE 1 predict: CON 120, NDP 71, LIB 141, BQ 5, GRE 1
Toronto Star predict: CONS 124, NDP 71, LIB 140, BQ 2, GRE 1

Let’s see the results tomorrow.