The Unapologetic Mathematician

Mathematics for the interested outsider

Overpriced journals

In the May issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, there is an article by Allyn Jackson: Jumping Ship: Topology Board Resigns about the mass resignation of the entire editorial board of the Elsevier journal over its exorbitant pricing. This has been a steadily mounting problem to academic mathematics. In 2005 a group set up the Banff Protocol, refusing to have anything to do with excessively-priced journals. If you’re a professional mathematician, go there and sign up.

May 8, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. While I agree with the Banff Protocol in theory, I think that it is a bit unrealistic for us untenured folks. For instance, Invent. Math. is one of the high priced journals! Among the top journals, they are the only one with a decent turn-around time on reviewing and what not. I submit my best papers to them rather than the Annals because I can’t afford to wait around 1+ years to get my acceptance (or rejection). There are many other high-priced journals about which one can make similar arguments (though there are also many which only publish crap — I have no idea why they stick around).

    Comment by Adam Smith | May 8, 2007 | Reply

  2. Dear Adam and John, I think that if all tenured mathematicians stopped publishing on expensive journals, these would be out of business pretty fast. BTW, Springer (e.g. Inventiones) is in my opinion less overpriced than Elsevier (e.g. Topology). I still find the EMS-Springer relationship objectionable, though.

    Comment by Estraven | May 8, 2007 | Reply

  3. If you’re good enough to publish in Inventiones, you’re probably good enough to get a job without publishing in Inventiones.

    But, it’s hard to feel sure about these things. One tends to want every little bit of prestige one can get, to make sure one gets a job. That’s how the journal racket works. They take our papers, get us to work for free refereeing them, and sell them back to us at high prices. They get away with it because they’re really just selling ‘prestige’.

    The really sad thing is that by the time people get tenure, they’re usually hooked on ‘prestige’ and keep feeling the need for more. There’s always that next promotion, that better school somewhere… or just the prestige itself: the feeling of validation.

    So, it will be quite hard to break the journal racket. If the journals didn’t keep raising prices so fast, it might never happen. But since they’re pushing libraries to the breaking point, it might.

    Talk to your local librarian!

    Comment by John Baez | May 12, 2007 | Reply

  4. This kind of energy inspired me to try and push the concept of a MathJournalWiki, in this blurb at the n-category cafe. Advice, volunteers, expertise and willpower is required. We can beat these guys… I hope.

    Comment by Bruce Bartlett | August 3, 2007 | Reply

  5. Great idea, Bruce. I’m not sure what I can do, especially since I’m a little out of the loop as journals go. Still, I know of at least one regular around the math blogosphere (and this weblog in particular) who’s a web hosting guru…

    Comment by John Armstrong | August 3, 2007 | Reply

  6. Thanks for your enthusiasm, John. If you have any suggestions or comments, please feel free to edit the skeleton wiki page that is in embryonic form at the moment, or just make some comments here or at the n-category cafe. We need to get as much input from everybody before we start. Web hosting gurus are certainly most welcome too!

    Comment by Bruce Bartlett | August 6, 2007 | Reply

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