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Interesting times in academic publishing

Interesting times in academic publishing


In this post I want briefly to mention four current goings on in the world of academic publishing.
First, I’ll just briefly say that things are going well with the new journal Discrete Analysis, and I think we’re on course to launch, as planned, early next year with a few very good accepted papers — we certainly have a number of papers in the pipeline that look promising to me. Of course, we’d love to have more.
Secondly, a very interesting initiative has recently been started by Martin Eve, called the Open Library of Humanities. The rough idea is that they provide a platform for humanities journals that are free to read online and free for authors (or, as some people like to say, are Diamond OA journals). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this initiative is that it is funded by a consortium of libraries. Librarians are the people who feel the pain of ridiculous subscription prices, so they have great goodwill towards people who are trying to build new and cheaper publication models. I think there is no reason that the sciences couldn’t do something similar — in fact, it should be even easier to find money.
The OLH is actively encouraging existing humanities journals to move to their platform, which brings me to the third event I wanted to mention: the resignation of the editorial board of the Elsevier journal Lingua, which is in linguistics. The story in brief is that the editors made demands of Elsevier that were both reasonable and unreasonable: reasonable in the sense that they would be fine if we had a sane publication system, but unreasonable in the sense that it was quite obvious that Elsevier wouldn’t agree to them. They wanted to become an open access journal with publication fees of $400, way below the usual rate for an Elsevier journal. Since Elsevier owns the title, Lingua has now become its Greek counterpart Glossa — or, if you look at it Elsevier’s way, an entirely new journal has been founded called Glossa with an editorial board that has an entirely coincidental resemblance to what was until very recently the editorial board of Lingua, and it just happens also that the future editorial board of Lingua will be disjoint from what was recently the editorial board of Lingua. A nice term has been coined for what Lingua (that is, the Elsevier version) is about to become: a zombie journal. Maybe it will go the way of another famous zombie journal, Topology, the soul of which entered a new body called the Journal of Topology, and which staggered on for a couple of years before being put out of its misery. Here is an article about the Lingua story, which includes some priceless quotes from the managing editor. And here is Elsevier’s response, which is as facepalmish as usual. For example, at one point they say the following, which needs no comment from me.
Lingua is a hybrid open access journal which means that every author who wants to publish open access (i.e., free-of-charge for the reader), can do so. However, we have observed little uptake of the open access option in Lingua or elsewhere in linguistics at price points that would be economically viable.
The Open Library of Humanities will be helping to support Glossa.
Lastly, there is a story brewing at the LMS, which made the decision to close one of its journals, the LMS Journal of Computation and Mathematics, which has been going since 1998. Somebody with a paper submitted to the journal told me that he received an email saying the following.
Dear [TITLE LAST-NAME],
I am writing with news that may have a bearing on your consideration of publishing your article in the LMS JCM, ‘[TITLE OF THE PAPER]’, by [FIRST-NAME LAST-NAME]
As you may be aware, the LMS Journal of Computation and Mathematics has been running for some years as a ‘free’ journal and the costs of publishing the journal have been borne by the London Mathematical Society. From the outset, it was intended that the journal should progress to at least break even and, for a few years, it ran as a subscription journal but did not manage to acquire sufficient support from libraries to cover the costs of subscription management. Over the last few years, we have been considering how to best get the journal to a satisfactory and successful state and, last Friday, the LMS Council (whose members are the Officers and Trustees of the London Mathematical Society) considered the LMS Publications Committee’s proposal for the JCM, which included moving the journal to a gold open access model.
However, the LMS Council did not accept the proposal, and decided instead that the journal should be closed, one reason being that it felt the move to a gold open access model would likely lead to a slow decline that could be more damaging to its reputation. Council felt that the general area of computation and mathematics was one that the Society should, in the long run, continue to be present in, but thought that there were probably better ways to use its resources in this direction. Of course the Society will continue to make the papers already published available in perpetuity.
While we are happy to continue the process of publication of your paper, we are giving all authors yet to be published the opportunity to withdraw their papers. We will continue to publish any papers still in the pipeline providing you are willing to continue.
If you wish to withdraw your paper, please let us know and we will do this on your behalf. If you do not wish to withdraw your paper, no further action is necessary on your part.
Not too surprisingly, this has annoyed a lot of people. The following letter, with many signatures, has been sent to the LMS Council to urge them to reverse the decision.
In accordance with Statute 19 of the LMS Charter and Statutes, we, members of the LMS, make a requisition to convene a Special General Meeting of the Society; the object of the meeting shall be the reversal of the LMS Council’s decision to close down The LMS Journal of Computation and Mathematics.
The Council’s decision to close the Journal seems to conflict with the public benefit statement of the Trustees’ Annual Report. Moreover, closing The LMS Journal of Computation and Mathematics may be at odds with the charitable aims of the LMS as spelled out in its Charter. Indeed, Article 3 of the Charter says:
“The objects for which the Society is incorporated shall be: […]
(vi) To *make grants of money* or donations in aid of mathematical investigations or *the publication of mathematical works* [our emphasis] or other matters or things for the purpose of promoting invention and research in mathematical science, or its applications, or in subjects connected therewith; […]”
We trust that our requisition will be treated in line with Statute 19 of the LMS Charter and Statutes:
“19. The Council shall within twenty-eight days of the receipt of a requisition in writing of not less than twenty Members of the Society stating the objects for which the meeting is desired convene a General Meeting of the Society. If upon a requisition the Council fails to convene a Special General Meeting within twenty-eight days of a receipt of the requisition then a Special General Meeting to be held within three months of the expiration of the said period of twenty-eight days may be convened by the President or the requisitionists.”
The LMS Journal of Computation and Mathematics is an electronic journal, so very cheap to run. Perhaps the LMS feels that to run a cheap journal at a small loss sets a dangerous precedent, given that it depends so heavily on the income it gets from its journals. But some sort of line has surely been crossed when a mathematical society closes down a journal that is successful mathematically on the grounds that it is insufficiently successful economically.
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