Followup: Change academic publishing
I really appreciate the amazing and immediate feedback I got from my post yesterday about changing the system of academic publishing. Let me gather the things I’ve learned or thought about in response:
First, I learned that mathoverflow is competitive and you “do well” on it if you’re quick and clever. Actually I didn’t know this, and since it is online I naively assumed people read it when they had time and so the answers to questions kind of drifted in over time. I kind of hate competitive math, and yes I wouldn’t like that to be the single metric deciding my tenure or job.
Next, ArXiv already existed when I left math, but I don’t think it’s all that good a “solution” either, because it’s treated mostly as a warehouse for papers, and there is not much feedback (although I’ve heard there’s way more in physics). Correct me if I’m wrong here.
I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, because the above two things really do function and add a lot to the community. I’m just pointing out that they aren’t perfect.
We, the mathematics community, should formally set out to be creative and thoughtful about different ways to collaborate and to document collaboration, and to score it for depth as well as helpfulness, etc. Let’s keep inventing stuff until we have a system which is respected and useful. The reason people may not be putting time into this right now is that they won’t be rewarded for it, but I say do it anyway and worry about that later. Let’s start brainstorming about what that system would look like.
That gets to another crucial point, which is that the people we have to convince are really not each other so much as deans and provosts of universities who are super conservative and want to be absolutely sure that the people they award tenure to are contributing citizens and will be for 40 years. We need to convince them to reconsider their definitions of “mathematical contributions”. How are we going to do this?
My first guess is that deans and provosts would listen to “experts in the field” quite a bit. This is good news, because it means that in some sense we just need to wait until the experts in the field come from the generation of people who invented (or at least appreciate) these tools. There are probably other issues though, which I don’t know about. I’d love to get comments from a dean or a provost on this one.