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January 28, 2009

Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

Posted by John Baez

Here’s an important article:

I think the article should be visible for 5 days from the above link. Later, only subscribers to the Chronicle will be able to view it here. So, read it now!

Here are a few quotes:

In what some are calling a peaceful revolution, researchers have mounted a takeover of high-energy-physics publishing. One signature at a time, national research agencies and university libraries have pledged to support a radical new system that would replace expensive subscriptions to leading journals with membership in a nonprofit group. The new organization would then dole out money to journal publishers, while pushing them to distribute all articles free online and to keep their prices in check.

The key: By teaming up, the libraries, which pay the bills, and the researchers, who provide the articles, will exert unprecedented leverage. The strategy might also convince journal editors — who have been reluctant to give away all of their content for fear of losing money — that libraries will continue to pay them even in an open-access system.

The group is called Scoap3, the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics. Since the project first announced its plan, in 2007, some of the world’s leading institutions have expressed willingness to participate and pledged millions of dollars in support if the project comes together.


Here’s the pitch. Libraries would stop paying for subscriptions to journals in high-energy physics. Instead, each library or government agency would pay a set amount every year to the new nonprofit group. Each journal publisher would then apply for a portion of that money, submitting a bid spelling out how much it would cost them to review, edit, and publish their articles that year (building in some profit as well). To win a bid, the journals would commit to publishing their articles free online for anyone to see.

The amount that each library pays would be determined by the group, based on a formula that took into account how many of each institution’s researchers published in the journals. Leaders of the project estimate that it would take about $14 million a year to support all the journals in the research area.

Project leaders hope the same familiar journals would continue to appear, and with the same number of articles. But the libraries, by teaming up, would gain unprecedented power in influencing prices and dictating how articles are distributed.

Shouldn’t mathematicians be considering ideas like this, too? Like physicists, we’re used to the arXiv. Maybe we can even come up with better ideas.

Posted at January 28, 2009 9:33 PM UTC

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Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

It is difficult for me to imagine the American Math Society doing anything that could undermine the cash cow that is its publishing business, the journals in particular. But my argument, like creationism, is an argument from the lack of imagination.

Posted by: Eugene Lerman on January 29, 2009 6:57 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

Wow, that’s incredible. Who would have thunk it? Can it work? Not on its own I think — though it might be useful to push publishers to open-access models. The trouble is that, to my mind, it is inconceivable that big evil publishing houses like Springer and Elsevier will want to see their profit margin controlled by a non-profit conglomerate. In other words, I see them pulling the plug on some of their journals. That would be a good thing though. The next generation companies which take up where they left off will have business models that embrace open-access from the outset.

The trouble with this scheme is that it is still open to the conundrum: why do we need the big publishing houses like Springer and Elsevier anyway? On the other hand, it is not the end, it is just a means to an end.

The ‘Texas criticism’ is quite striking:

Some librarians at public institutions say they cannot participate even if they want to. “Most states require that public funds allocated for purchasing have to be used to actually purchase something,” said Dennis Dillon, associate director for research services at the University of Texas at Austin. That is certainly the case in Texas, he said. “They can’t be used to pay for something that everyone already has for free.”

This is a tricky one. Is it really true? Surely you must be able to use public funds to pay compulsory fees?

Posted by: Bruce Bartlett on January 29, 2009 9:10 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

membership organization as 2 drink minima; Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

“compulsory fees” are a gray area in the United States of America. I don’t know if they are a grey area in the UK.

Is a “compulsory fee” more like a coerced purchase, or a tax that politicians don’t want to call a tax?

If there’s a Two Drink Minimum in a nightclub, should they really call the music (or comedy or whatever) a “free show”?

I’ve had problems explaining this to European and Asian friends. I pay in the neighborhood of $10,000 annually ($1 x 10^4) on “compulsory fees” such as Homeowner’s Insurance, Automobile Insurance, Automobile Registration, Dog Registration, and the like. Yet this does not figure into my official tax rate.

This is not mere semantics. The State of California is running a structural deficit which is roughly $4.2 x 10^10 ($42,000,000,000) and predicted to be much larger next fiscal year. One proposal by Democratic party legislators would cover about 1/4 of that by tripling many “compulsory fees” which, because they are not technically taxes, do not require a 3/5 (60%) supermajority for passage, the way that explicit taxes do. The Republican party legislators fear that they could not be re-elected if the approved ANY tax increase, even if the nominally Republican Governor urges it.

When I join a professional society, am I subscribing to a free journal with a “compulsory fee” for membership dues, or buying free membership with a compulsory subscription to their flagship journal?

Consider, for instance, AAAS and “Science”; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics with “Mathematics Teacher”; Science Fiction Writers of America with the SFWA Bulletin and the SFWA Forum; or National Geographic?

Again, this is not mere hair splitting. Membership organizations such as The Planetary Society grew to their current size for lobbying clout by spending significantly more than $1.00 of marketing costs for each $1.00 of membership dues collected. When I was active in the National Space Society, I was unable to persuade the Board to publish “Ad Astra” at a loss to boost membership, and thus political clout. One who did understand was Board officer Lori Garver, who became a Friend of Hillary, and the Space Advisor to Preident Obama’s Transition Team.

Disclaimer: IANAL [I Am Not A Lawyer], TINLA [This Is Not Legal Advice]

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on January 30, 2009 4:13 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

A central theme of the Toffler Future Shock, Third Wave, Powershift trilogy is the transformation of this society through what Toffler refers to as the Third Wave into the post-Industrial era.

Much of the turmoil seen in the institutions of old (particularly as of late) all falls under the synthesis provided in this trilogy, particularly in the 1980 Third Wave (and with much more added in the 2006 addendum “Revolutionary Wealth”, which lucidly described in detail the events of 2008 2 years in advance, even to the point of calling out the buzzphrase ‘the fundamentals are sound’ and blasting it).

The creed of the industrial era (which Toffler refers to as the Second Wave) is massification, centralization, nationalization, standardization; and the civilization was centered around the development of institutions that brought these creeds to fruition.

One-by-one they have all receded into the bygone era of the previous century. Similarly, one-by-one all the institutions in which these ideals were shrouded are following suit: be it the standardization of mass consensus seen in ballot-box voting, mass fashion, mass media (e.g. newspapers), standardized education and curricula; etc. Newspapers, big name publishing, institutes of higher learning, big name music producers, centralized film production, have all become end-run around in recent times and have slowly into the obsolescence of the previous century.

The process has been on-going since around the 1950’s, and was first noted probably as early as the 1970’s by Bell, later by Toffler and by numerous others.

Whether it be You Tube, Web MD, Wikipedia, the Internet itself, cell phones, social networking sites, or new forms of real-time governance in cyberspace (which reality TV is just a foreshadowing of) we’re starting to see the landmarks of the new civilization crop up in the ruins of the fallen towers of the old world. Even the central premise of capitalism (and socialism!) of the distribution of limited resources is out the window in the new world which may be characterized as the information era. As explained in depth in the 2006 addendum, information (unlike tangible goods) is not an exclusive-use commodity or a limited resource. It costs virtually nothing to replicate, and one person’s use of it does not prohibit another person’s simultaneous use of it.

It is within this larger context that we see what may be the terminal crisis of a key institution that falls in the mould of the mass-standardization, mass-consensus creed – the peer review system itself. Even arXiv, itself, is little more than a lingering hold-over from this older era.

In its place, already, we are starting to see personal web sites crop up (much like we’ve seen with the replacement of centralized news sources by blogs and even social consensus sites where news is chosen by mass peer consensus). In a large and growing number of cases, leading researchers have simply put their work – both published and unpublished – on line on their own web sites. Instead of waiting for publication, everything is immediately available … and immediately open for the entire world to review. In place of a select few serving as gatekeepers, it is all open to the entire planet to review (as well as to the few who currently reside off-world).

There can be no continuation of or replacement for the older centralized system of gatekeeper-only access. Like the world it orginates from, it is as alien to this century and this civilization as the pre-Industrial era was to those in the 20th century and late 19th. In a way, one even dates oneself by their adherence to it.

The Third Wave

Revolutionary Wealth

Posted by: Mark Hopkins on May 27, 2009 6:09 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

the Decade 2010-2020; Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

Physics plays a role in the below, and must not be strangled by antiquated journals.

Executive Summary of the Decade 2010-2020

The decade from 2010 to 2020 is not over yet, as I write this. But we can already see that certain events and science fiction are already important.

This decade included the dramatic commercialization and penetration of World Wide Web culture; the explosion of genotechnology; the first hundred million entertainment, retail, and household robots; the commercial development (and first market crash) of Nanotechnology. Technically, the Voyager 1’s passage beyond the Transition Zone and across the Heliopause marked a start to the First Interstellar Age.

The last vestiges of the Cold War paradigm faded. The bipolar world (Capitalism versus Communism) was replaced by a multipolar world, with the economic balance between the North and South American Free Trade Zone, Greater Common Europe, and the Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Still unsettled was the question of whether there was still an underlying Clash of Civilizations (Judeo-Christian, Islam, Hindu, Shinto-Confucian, Animist), a have-versus-have-not division between Northern and Southern Hemispheres, or whether the realignment along Pre-Modern, Modern, and Post-Modern pseudonations was crucial.

World War III had long past (Korea, Vietnam, and various proxy wars) and World War IV (Bush I’s Iraq War, Bush II’s Afghan-Iraq-Chad-Somalia War) merged with the so-called War Against Terrorism as part of the transitional chaos before the New World Paradigm stabilized.

Among Christians, the Easter of 24 April 2010 was the latest in the season since 1943.

The Ancient Mayan Long Count Calendar ended on 21 December 2012, causing messianic unrest in parts of South America. The world did not come to an end. That year, 2012, included the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. She pointedly did NOT step down to allow Charles to become king, even though tabloids hinted that she would on the condition that he almost immediately step down and allow the coronation of Henry IX.

There were the amusingly symmetrical dates abbreviated as:
* 10/10/10
* 11/11/11 [with its later, tragic resonance]
* 12/12/12

The impact of Technology was perhaps the dominant theme of the decade. First, there were the 25 major technologies not quite commercially effective, but clearly on the verge of market success:

1. A.I.: True Artificial Intelligence
2. Political backlash attempts to “preclude singularity” Practical use of sustained Fusion for energy and neutrons
3. Super-cheap desalinization of seawater ends Fresh Water Crisis Artifical growth of new limbs and organs, in situ and for transplantation
4. Robotic-limb Backlash as predicted by Bernard Wolfe in “Limbo” Room temperature superconductors
5. Super-cheap electrical power distribution; mag-levitation trains Major use of rockets for commercial and private transportation (Earth and beyond)
6. Effective chemical or biological treatment for most mental illnesses
7. Political dissent on whether or not Therapy should be mandatory Almost complete control of marginal changes in heredity
8. Conservative backlash against genetic modification of humans Suspended animation (years or centuries)
9. Maximum length of this technology unknown until 22nd century Practical materials with nearly theoretical limit strength (nanotubes, etc.
10. Plans to build “orbital skyhooks” or “space elevators” Conversion of mammals to fluid-breathers
11. Covert military maneuvering on the Continental Shelves Direct input into human memory
12. “We can remember it for you wholesale” Direct augmentation of human mental capacity by brain-computer connection
13. Brain-race between post-modern superpowers Major rejuvenation and/or significant extension of vigor and lifespan (100-150 years)
14. Maximum length of this technology unknown until 22nd century Chemical and biological control of human character and intelligence
15. Automated highways
16. Higher traffic density, fewer accidents, reconfiguration of suburbs Extensive use of moving sidewalks and Segways
17. Continuum from Pedestrians to vehicular traffic Substantial lunar and planned planetary installations
18. Start of multiplanetary economy Electric power available for under 0.3 mill per kilowatt hour
19. semi-industrialization of pre-modern world Verification of some extrasensory phenomena
20. Planetary engineering
21. tested on minor moons, asteroids Modification of the Solar System
22. Competing proposals Practical laboratory conception and nurturing of animal and human foetuses
23. “Brave New World” Production of recreational drugs equivalent to Huxley’s Soma
24. Neo-opium is the Religion of the Masses Technological equivalent of telepathy (brain-computer-brain web)
25. Post-human group-think entities Some direct control of individual thought processes; Meme Wars

[truncated] [much more on web page]

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on May 27, 2009 7:02 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Corrected URL; Re: the Decade 2010-2020; Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

I’m on a javscript-disabled high school PC. So let’s try this [hypertext transmission protocol abbreviation and colon and pair of slashes]
Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on May 27, 2009 7:16 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

Hey, Mark Hopkins! (Not to be confused with topologist Mike Hopkins.) Long time, no see. I seem to recall that the Unwritten Book used to be larger than the copy on your site, but perhaps not.

Posted by: Toby Bartels on May 27, 2009 9:48 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

I do not understand all these strange efforts with fee based open access. I mean arXiv is massive and cheap to fund by the society, free for the end user. The author who is a creator, should not be feed for his good will to give away the work he spent life for!!!!!!
And not every author has a grant agency.

The only thing which one needs to add to the arXiv is the stamp for good refereed articles. Some of the articles could be stamped if they are submitted for stamp consideration and pass the selection.

We referee for free. Why not moving editorials from comercial and quasiopen
journals (like author-paid-fee criminal
practice) to the overlay journals which will be cheap services on top of arXiv which will make refereeing process, including final “publication” polishing for those arXiv papers which authors decide to “submit” to the consideration of certain overlay journal ??

I mean I, ZS, send a paper to the arXiv as version 0911.9999v1. After three months I post v2 as 0911.9999v2. Then I decide that v2 is good enough and submit it to editorial journal of arXoverlay-Category-Theory and to its editor Michael L. Groupoid.

Prof. Grouopoid then sends a notice to two referees telling them that 0911.9999v2 is considered for publication and also notifies the arXiv that the paper is submitted and no other overlay journal can consider it before the decision has been made.

After two months Prof. Groupoid sends me the notice back, Dear ZS, the referees so and so, like your paper, but they require that you amend proof of Theorem 2.7 which is incomplete before final publication.
I work on that, submit 0911.9999v3 to the arXiv and send a notice to Prof. Groupoid that I am done with that. [Of course the journal correspondence and its arXiving could be automatized by some public service similar and independent of arXiv]

Prof. Groupoid and the referees are now happy with 0911.9999v3 and they produce and send a proof version (maybe with style-file or other editorial final changes, like format of bibliography), by posting it to the arXiv as version 0911.9999voverlay4
That version is not public yet, just v3 is. After reading the ‘proofs’ version in 3-4 days I confirm to the arXiv that 0911.9999voverlay4 may be published. The published version on the arXiv will have a stamp of journal authorized by Prof. Groupoid.

Next day in postings 4-days old 0911.9999voverlay4 appears as now public 0911.9999v4 with a stamp,
and with Journal ref. arXoverlay-Category-Theory v.2, art.6, 1-24 (2010) in the abstracts listings. The number art.6 could be assigned by arXiv which would keep track how many papers are published in each overlay, or instead after confirmation from the author, the editor could authorize the number and replace overlay version without generating new version number, with art number included.

It is now free forever, it is refereed, and it was all cheap, because arXiv is far cheaper than say 6-billion dollar year revenue publishing system of commerical journals in science. And Prof. Groupoid can at his University of Santa Quategory may keep a separate web page of the journal with cheap html links
to my art.6-verified at arXiv. His web server automatically or manually detects that art.6-proofs version has been authorized by me, and posts the link to the web page as pusblished.

Of course, the arXiv would need to change in few things: allowing temporary proofs version (above overlayv4 submitted by the editorial staff), keeping track which articles are under consideration (no double submitions!), and giving 3 categories in daily listings: new, replacements and overlay-published.

And we can have better overlay journals and those with a bit lower criteria. Hierarchy not worse than current. Or some journals can have the mainstream stamped papers and few of extra quality which would be stamped with stamp “featured article”.

Posted by: Zoran Skoda on February 19, 2009 4:28 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

OK, how’s about this?

arXoverlay-Category-Theory publishes public pgp keys submit-Category-Theory(pub) and approved-Category-Theory(pub); submissions to the journal take the form of a LaTeX article document whose body consists of


{source of 0911.9999v2 encrypted to submit-Category-Theory and encoded Radix-64}

{author’s-key signature for source of 0911.9999v2}


arXoverlay-Category-Theory subscribes to, and when it finds an article encrypted to it, opens referee and corrections negotiation (extracting and decrypting the main source, checking the signature against submissions to other journals, sending an email to Prof. Groupoid, etc.). Upon arriving at source for 0911.9999voverlay4, the editorial board composes 0911.9999v4 by computing a fingerprint for the source of 0911.9999voverlay4 signed with approved-Category-Theory(sec), and inserting a command to typset this signature in a footnote or “watermark” on the title page.

The identical article can’t be submitted to two journals because then their signatures by the author’s key would be identical.

Although, I suppose, some trivial change could be made, such as a deliberate mis-spelling, e.g. “Private correspondence with Joan Baez” in the bibliography.

But does that approach what you have in mind?

Posted by: some guy on the street on February 20, 2009 9:47 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

A is A; Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

Joan Baez explained, on Tavis Smiley last night, what I thought was a mere tautology as a song title on her critically praised new album: “God is God.”

It’s a phrase from Recovery, i.e. in a 12-step program, and thus has to be interpreted as something like: “It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about God, and God is God, to which higher power I must admit that I need help.”

Now, if only I could get the correct association for the TV ad for the action figure: “Only G.I. Joe is G.I. Joe.”

Joan Baez did mention that her father was a Physicist, but she did not mention John Baez. Same family, different type of performance.

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on February 21, 2009 10:05 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: A is A; Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

“God is God.”

Oh boy, right again. Let x = x.

Posted by: Todd Trimble on February 22, 2009 2:04 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Theodicy; Re: A is A; Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

I recall a Lemma on Theodicy:

If God is good, He is not God;
If God is God, He is not good.

There are both proofs and disproofs of this lemma in the literature.

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on May 27, 2009 7:08 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: A is A; Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

Sorry to be a spoilsport, but I would like this blog entry on ‘Can Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals’ to remain focused on science publication issues, and we’re drifting into theology.

Posted by: John Baez on February 22, 2009 11:28 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

Surely, one can use pgp to have better automatic, cheap and rational overlay peer-reviewed publichation system over and with an input from the arXiv. I believe the physics/math community could get with sufficiently many improvements to make it an order of magnitues cheaper than various author-pay etc. systems of “open” access. In any case, if the editorial boards who do their work are us = scientists, then it is stupid (whatever is the paying algorithm) to pay to do online publishing via individual-commercial publishers.

Making complicated crosss-breeds between open and commercial of the kind like the consortium discussed above is not a solution to the problem, but the indicator of the problem!

As long as we do not need print editions, and as long as editorial boards are from
our community, we do not need anybody from any other community except a big arXiv-like site (and corresponding gurus plus the add-on inventions like the ones I propose above) to do all the publishing we can imagine!

The only reason why people send papers to the individual publishers is to get them peer-review approaved! So, let us add the mechanism for this reviewed-stamp to the arXiv via overlay peer review systems and we are in principle done!

Of course, we loose various things like uniformity of layout of commercial journals, uniformity of bibliography, and checkers of english style etc. They can be here or there added for some money, but it is not the real value. In one journal, I send a reference to J. J. Jeje and the journal corrects me that in their journal it should be quoted as Jeje, J. J. or Jeje J J without dots, in another journal they correct me backwards to J. J. Jeje. So what is the point of paying for that crap of getting uniform along J. Algebra style or instead PNAS style ? In everyday research every paper I download is from a different journal so no uniformity in my practical reading. Before in 1950-s if one sit in chair and opened Zeitschrift one could enjoy that every article had the same layout of bibliography thanks to the publisher, but now the only thing I care is availability and kind of qualities which are approved by referree and editor. Not kind of quality which is improved by people correcting J. J. Jeje to Jeje J. J.

Posted by: Zoran Skoda on February 23, 2009 4:11 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

Hear, hear, Zoran. I don’t know why anyone thinks that uniformity of style within a journal is important — as if we read journals cover to cover.

The insistence of some journals on fine-tuning the format of the reference list is one of my pet hates. What a waste of everyone’s time! The only light it’s ever brought to my life was the time when the publisher of one of my papers asked me to supply an extra piece of information for the reference list: in which city, they wanted to know, is Cambridge University Press? I enjoyed answering that.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on February 23, 2009 11:23 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Can Particle Physicists Regain Control of Their Journals?

How about submitting the raw Bibtex data to the journal
then they could massage it as they see fit.

Posted by: jim stasheff on February 24, 2009 1:48 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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