Editorial: Changes

By Mason A. Porter

Welcome to the second 2016 issue of DSWeb. Our theme this issue is Changes.


Changes in DSWeb:

As many of you know, we're making some changes in DSWeb.

You saw some of them earlier: we're now on Twitter (@DynamicsSIAM) and Facebook. We've been trying to tweet various notices (such as for conferences of interest), popular articles, and fascinating-looking journal articles on a broad array of topics.

Starting with this issue we're adding a new student feature to DSWeb. Our first article is a piece by Sean Cornelius of Northeastern University on network control.

DSWeb also has a spiffy new logo.

Finally, after a large amount of discussion and very hard work, we're going to shortly be rolling out a new interface for DSWeb. It will be ready very soon, and it promises to be excellent. Stay tuned!


Changes in Publishing:

I'd like to give some of my thoughts on the changing nature of publishing scientific results. These are my own opinions, not those of SIAM, the Activity Group, other DSWeb editors, or others.

As probably all of you know, we are experiencing ongoing changes and experiments with different models for how we publish our work. The stars certainly look very different today.

There are of course academic journals with traditional subscription-based pricing models, but it's crucial --- and often now required --- to ensure open access to our work, and it is imperative to disseminate scholarship as widely as possible. Of course, somebody still has to pay the bills, as processing articles takes time and money.

The Wikipedia entry for open access describes various models for open-access publishing.

Some enlightened journals, like SIAM journals, simply let authors post articles on their personal websites even if they do not choose to opt for a broader form of open access. (In practice, some people also choose to post their articles for other journals that don't technically allow it.) Preprint servers like the arXiv --- and now also bioRXiv, for those who are biologically oriented --- are also available, but the posted papers are not the final published versions, which I also think are important to make freely available.

Other journals allow various types of article posting after some delay, though in principle the work should be freely available before then.

Various journals either have options for publishing as "gold open access" (in which the authors pay a charge) or even demand it. In principle, such publishers should allow access for authors who don't have money to pay those fees --- and there are systematic differences in such capabilities across different disciplines, institution types, and countries --- but for many of those journals, the procedures for how to get publishing charges waived are very hard to find, and in other journals it's not clear if they exist at all. The open-access-publishing requirements in some countries, such as for research-council funding in the UK, were applied retroactively to past grants, and sometimes the institutions aren't playing along the way they are supposed to, which can leave authors hanging and forced to pay from other funds or even personal funds if the institution decides that it won't pay the publication charges for a particular article. (This has now happened to me personally multiple times.) Meanwhile, research councils and similar organizations appear to act like the open-access-publishing issue is resolved when that is very far from the case.

Among journals that require gold open access, there is also a considerable variety. It ranges from extremely good and well-meaning journals, such as Physical Review X, to rather predatory journals. This is a wide spectrum of styles, and somewhere in the middle lie journals such as PLOS ONE and Scientific Reports, which do publish some genuinely good articles but which also do some things that I find questionable. (For amusement, take a look at the actual topics covered in the articles that PLOS ONE labels as "algebra" and "number theory".)

There are other variations in open-access models. For example, there are different ways of paying for open access, such as one-time fees for all articles ever submitted or the current convention of charging for articles as they are published.

Open access is already a controversial issue, and many mathematical scientists (who tend to have less funding for such things than people in many other fields) are understandably resistant to it, though things can get even worse. I have witnessed people suggest (and some journals even have in place) a "pay to play" policy, which I find insidious, of charging processing charges just for submitting an article for review.

Open access is good, and with good reason it's becoming a de facto requirement even when it's not literally required. It's clear that scholars are going to have to adapt to this landscape whether we like it or not, but it's far less clear which open-access model or set of models is the best way to go. I'm sure many of you have opinions on this, so please send in your thoughts (on this or other topics!) by e-mail to DSWeb. As a community, we need to continue this discussion. We'll publish a selection of these letters in subsequent issues of DSWeb.

As I mentioned earlier, the above opinions are all mine. (Mine! Mine! Mine!) The folks at SIAM and others all have their own thoughts, and my words above don't represent them.

Mason A. Porter

Categories: Magazine, Editorial

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