Thursday, October 30, 2014

The mess we are in with scientific publishing II - not in the club

previous post in this series; next post in this series

I mentioned various problems with scientific publishing in the previous post.

I neglected to mention the most discussed problems like the ownership of results by private companies, the lack of free access, the uncontrolled costs, the publicly funded work by referees and editors, et cetera.

Today I want to talk about another change in scientific publishing which has occurred in my lifetime. When I was young (1970) there were many fewer journals, mostly of scientific societies, and mostly journals of mathematics with a content intended to be of interest to all mathematicians.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014


I just linked up this blog with Google+. This is a test to see what the effect of that is. I assume my posts will now be visible from Google+.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

My 1992 FTP site

Don't believe any links, or email addresses. Almost all have disappeared. Notice the strange domain name for mathematics at Sydney.

We did not get to see the web until at least 1993 when Mosaic came out (though we had to use Chimera on the Appollos). I haven't found my first email but I think it was around 1985 when I went to conferences announcing the importance of email, in particular to us in Australia. Hard to remember those times.

ftp site at the University of Sydney


ftp site at the University of Sydney

Date: Thu, 2 Apr 92 13:35:18 +10

      Category theory material
         Available by Anonymous FTP

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The mess we are in with scientific publishing

Next post in this series

I am a little out of the Italian academic scene since my retirement, but if I understood the recent rounds of hiring in Italy they occurred in the following way. It was possible to apply for  "abilitazione", that is a judgment was made if you were at an appropriate level to hold a post. This was made in most cases on the grounds of purely numerical indicators, and was supposed to be a threshold. It was not a competition. A deeper analysis, actually looking at the papers or asking experts who had read the papers, was clearly impossible since, for example, in Computer Science a committee of 5 had to judge in a year the qualities of approximately 900 applicants. (There were even complaints when more than numbers were used, since that gave power to the "barons".)
After this judgment a great number of the abilitati were given permanent posts, thus filling up vacancies for some time.

The pressure this type of thing puts on scientific publishing is enormous. Referees, while trying to make judgments on papers, now have to consider that they are deciding the careers of young people, the grants for older people, that the prestige of the journal will affect jobs and grants. The reason the pressure is so enormous is that the job and granting committees don't look at the papers, just the numbers.
The job of a referee has become impossible, at the same time that there is more and more need for referees since scientists are being forced to publish more and more.

Scientific publishing must free itself from these pressures.

Thinking about this situation brought back to mind some thoughts of Bernhard Neumann.
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Arguments for funding

From the blog of Sabine Hossenfelder regarding the argument for funding the next supercollider:

"The next argument I keep hearing is that the worldwide web was invented at CERN which also hosts the LHC right now. If anything, this argument is even more stupid than the war-also-wastes-money argument. Yes, Tim Berners-Lee happened to work at CERN when he developed hypertext. The environment was certainly conductive to his invention, but the standard model of particle physics had otherwise very little to do with it."

I am glad that some physicists are being a bit more honest in their arguments for science funding. (However even this statement is inaccurate since Berners-Lee did not invent hypertext.)