The future of academic publishing
I’ve been talking a lot to mathematicians in the past few days about the future of mathematics publishing (partly because I gave a talk about Math in Business out at Northwestern).
It’s an exciting time, mathematicians seem really fed up with a particularly obnoxious Dutch publisher called Elsevier (tag line: “we charge this much because we can”), and a bunch of people have been boycotting them, both for submissions (they refuse to submit papers to the journals Elsevier publishes) and for editing (they resign as editors or refuse offers). One such mathematician is my friend Jordan, for example.
Here’s a page that simply collects information about the boycott. As you can see by looking at it, there’s an absolutely exploding amount of conversation around this topic, and rightly so: the publishing system in academic math is ancient and completely outdated. For one thing, nobody I’ve talked to actually reads journals anymore, they all read preprints from arXiv, and so the only purpose publishers provide right now is a referee system, but then again the mathematicians themselves do the refereeing. So publishers are more like the organizers of refereeing than anything else.
What’s next? Some people are really excited to start something completely new (I talked about this a bit already here and here) but others just want the same referee system done without all the money going to publishers. I think it would be a great start, but who would do the organizing and get to choose the referees etc? It’s both lots of work and potentially lots of bias in an already opaque system. Maybe it’s time for some crowd-sourcing in reviewing? That’s also work to set up and could potentially be gamed (if you send all your friends online to review your newest paper for example).
We clearly need to discuss.
For example, here’s a post (hat tip Roger Witte) about using arXiv.org as a collector of papers and putting a referee system on top of it, which would be called arXiv-review.org. There’s an infant google+ discussion group about what that referee system would look like.
Update: here’s another discussion taking place.
Are there other online discussions going on? Please comment if so, I’d like to know about them. I’m looking forward to what happens next!