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May 8, 2007

Support the Banff Protocol!

Posted by John Baez

The senior writer for the Notices of the American Mathematical Society has an article about how the whole board of Topology resigned to protest Reed–Elsevier’s high prices:

She points out the Banff Protocol, in which mathematicians agree “neither to submit to, referee for, nor participate in the operation of any journal that charges an excessively high per page subscription fee, as compared to the average of the 25 highest impact journals in pure mathematics”:

At the time she wrote her article, only about 40 people had signed onto this protocol. I bet this is mainly because few people have heard about it. So, if you’re a mathematician, please consider clicking on the above link and supporting the Banff Protocol! I did it today. It only takes a couple of minutes.

For more on the problem of journal prices, try this:

Besides its monopolistic journal practices, Reed–Elsevier has also run arms shows where cluster bombs are sold. These are a major cause of civilian deaths. For more, see this:

In case you’re wondering, the average price of the 25 math journals with the highest impact factors was US $0.59 per page in 2004. The price of Topology was $1.00 in 2003 and $1.18 in 2005. The journals of the American Mathematical Society range in price from $0.19 to $0.29 per page.

Posted at May 8, 2007 12:34 AM UTC

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If you don’t want to commit yourself to a boycott (and even if you do), there’s a different petition to sign.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on May 8, 2007 11:02 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Support the Banff Protocol!

Another tangential point is that an institutional subscription based on per-page charges (at some appropriate price) made sense in the pre-WWW days when you’d trek to the library to look at the journals. I now have the technical capacity to get information following up a reference to a journal (that it wouldn’t make sense to make a long-term subscription to) and receive the information on my PC at a “cost” to the publisher which is probably below 5 US cents. However, the “profit margin” seems to be set very high: I’ve just seen a charge of 14.95 English pounds to purchase one article from a math journal publisher. Given that this is for a technical detail related to an applied problem and I can’t tell from the abstract whether this paper definitely has information relevant to what I’m doing, this price is a huge disincentive to trying to build on the work of others in different fields.

Whilst those with focussed research programs probably have all the relevant journals under full subscription, the high prices to view individual papers acts as a barrier to the creation of interdisciplinary work in science and engineering.

Posted by: dave tweed on May 8, 2007 11:26 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Non-established researchers

There are a number of morally correct choices and boycotts that hover out there for any conscious mathematician to pay attention to. There is the Banff protocol. There is the CRC Press/Mathworld debacle. Examples go on - but these are the ones I personally would love to jump headfirst into.

However, I am very early in my introduction to mathematical society. I don’t have a name. I need to build a publication record. And I am not really convinced that actively cutting down on the journals I’d even consider publications in is a good idea. I will, and I gladly say so, try journals first according to Banff - but excluding the rest seems almost reckless at this point in my career.

There is also the issue of bundling, which I’m not entirely convinced that Banff will handle that.

Posted by: Mikael Johansson on May 8, 2007 5:54 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Non-established researchers

Of course, one tends to acquire more power in this kind of matter the older one gets: the power of a better-known name, the power of having tenure, the power of being able to withdraw your services (impossible if you’re not already offering them). I agree that people who agitate for these good causes should bear in mind that many of the people who would be their ardent supporters do not have this kind of power.

One reason why I mentioned the Elsevier petition is that it doesn’t involve any commitment, and can be signed at no risk to one’s career.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on May 8, 2007 6:09 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Non-established researchers

Oh, I’m bearing it in mind all right… wimps.

Seriously, Tom — it’s true that self-proclaimed bigshots like me should take the lead on this issue, in part by shunning ripoff publishing companies (which I do), in part by setting up good new journals (I haven’t done that), and in part by coaxing other mathematicians to do the same (see previous paragraph).

But, you did a huge service by pressuring Cambridge U. Press to keep your book available for free on the arXiv. Spearheading that trend was more important than signing a measly little petition. More people should follow your example!

Posted by: John Baez on May 8, 2007 8:28 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Support the Banff Protocol!

Not being a mathematician myself, is there somewhere I can find a list of the ‘25 top mathematics journals ranked by impact factor’ ?

Posted by: Suresh on May 8, 2007 6:16 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Support the Banff Protocol!

The top 25 are here.

Posted by: John Baez on May 8, 2007 8:25 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

economic publishing puzzles; Re: Support the Banff Protocol!

There’s an underlying economic question whose answer is not known. There is a cost to publishing a paper in Science or Mathematics, one component of which is the publishing/distribution cost. The publishers charge the author (who passes on the costs to university, corporation, granting agency) and charges the university or corporation again for subscription.

Why do scientists and mathematicians put up with this? (1) The social benefit of writing for colleagues, in venues edited by colleagues; (2) there must be SOME economic benefit to the authors. The author is presumably closer to be hired/promoted/tenured with each paper. On the average, I’ve heard estimates of $3,000 to $5,000 lifetime benefit from a paper publication, according to Prof. Geoffrey A. Landis (NASA, MIT professorship, Hugo and Nebula-award winning science fiction author) when we discussed this.

Didn’t this get discussed from another angle in January 2007, after

“… There is no
universal figure for the cost of publishing research
papers because it depends strongly on the proportion
of papers that are rejected. Publishing research
papers is unusual in the business sense because a lot
of time, energy and money goes into dealing with
papers that do not meet the quality threshold of the
journal in question and so do not appear as a
“product”. Most commentators now agree that the costs
in the quality end of the market are about £1500–£2000
per published paper.

Some advocates of open access have talked about
charging researchers a certain amount when they submit
a paper and then making them pay an additional fee if
their paper is published. However, this approach is
bureaucratic and open to abuse. Imagine sending a
paper and cash to a publisher and then having the
paper rejected. Could you then ask your funding agency
for more money so you can submit the paper again and,
if so, for how long could this continue?…”

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on May 9, 2007 7:05 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Support the Banff Protocol!

A friend pointed out the following rather creepy statement made by Stephen Cowden of Elsevier, attempting to justify Elsevier’s role in running a weapons trade show:

The defence industry is necessary for upholding national security, for the preservation of democratic values and supporting the ever widening role played by the armed forces.

Posted by: John Baez on May 19, 2007 2:06 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Support the Banff Protocol!

(1) “Excessively high” seems rather vague. How many of the top 25 journals are excessively high-priced w.r.t. the average of the top 25 journals?

(2) Isn’t it a little weird to use a high-priced commercial publication like JCR as a tool in your crusade against high-priced commercial publications?

(3) It don’t believe that support for the protocol is enhanced by mixing the professional with the political.

Posted by: Chris Grant on May 19, 2007 5:20 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Elsevier pulling out of arms trade

Apparently Elsevier are going to stop running arms fairs. Here’s the email I just got from Tom Stafford:

From: tom stafford
To: tom stafford
Subject: BREAKING NEWS: Elsevier to quit hosting arms fairs
Date: Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:20:05 +0100

“Reed Elsevier announced today that it is to exit the defence
exhibitions sector. This portfolio of five shows is part of Reed
Elsevier’s global Business division and represents around 0.5% of group
annual turnover.

An email from the CEO of RE, Crispin Davis says

“Over the last year or so it has become increasingly clear that growing numbers of important customers and authors, particularly in the science and medical markets, have very real concerns with our involvement in this sector. They believe strongly that our presence here is incompatible with the aims of the science and medical communities. I am also very aware this is a view shared by a number of our employees. We have listened closely to these concerns and we have concluded that the long term interests of Reed Elsevier as a leading publisher of science, medical, legal and business content would be best served by withdrawing from defence exhibitions. We intend to complete the withdrawal during the second half of 2007.”

Thanks to everyone who has worked towards this, who signed the petition or the open letter or wrote directly to RE.

More news when this is confirmed, and I get more details


Tom Stafford
Department of Psychology
University of Sheffield
Western Bank,
Sheffield, S10 2TP, UK

Posted by: Tom Leinster on June 1, 2007 4:09 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Elsevier pulling out of arms trade

Yay! Now we can just focus on Elsevier’s monopolistic journal practices, instead of their role in selling cluster bombs and torture apparatus.

Posted by: John Baez on June 2, 2007 6:42 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Elsevier pulling out of arms trade

For additional details, see Bob Grant, “Elsevier ditches arms trade”, The Scientist 4 June 2007.

Smith added that the decision also makes sense fiscally, since organizing arms fairs only represents about 0.05% of the total annual revenues generated by the Reed Elsevier’s Defense and Aerospace Group. “In some ways I’m not surprised,” Smith said. “Why on Earth, for such a small part of the business, would you threaten the major part of the business?”

Reed Elsevier has organized weapons trade shows, such as the yearly Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) Exhibition in London, since 2003 and will sell their investments in such shows over the next year, “subject to honouring its obligations to partners, customers and other key stakeholders,” according to the publisher’s statement.

This means, however, that the company will still be involved in arms shows that are scheduled to take place in the remaining months of 2007. For example, the DSEi exhibition will take place in September, and Reed Elsevier will “almost certainly” be involved in the event, according to spokesperson Patrick Kerr. Because organizing the arms fairs can take more than a year, Reed Elsevier’s extraction from the business is necessarily measured, he explained. “It’s not a case of dropping them overnight,” Kerr told The Scientist.

Posted by: Blake Stacey on June 7, 2007 9:40 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Banff Protocol’s current threshold?

What is the average price of the top 25 math journals in 2007? I have used the JCR 2007 and the 2007/08 price list linked from the Banff Protocol page to do my own computations, which give an average of $0.65 for the categories MATHEMATICS and MATHEMATICS, APPLIED combined, and an average of $0.78 for MATHEMATICS only (average of journals in the price list only, 15 in the first case and 22 in the second.) It would be good if someone updated that page with current figures, by the way.

Also, are there other protocols to which people are adhering too?

Posted by: David Sevilla on November 12, 2008 1:15 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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