Last musings from JMM

To finish up on reporting from the Joint Mathematics Meetings, Eric Friedlander, former president of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), gave an address on changes in the profession. A few interesting points:

  • Among other things, he highlighted the changes that the “open access” movement brings. In particular, journals in math used to publish papers for free but charge for subscriptions. The open access movement wants to make access free, which is a great goal, but currently accomplishes this by charging to publish. There’s a lot of controversy about this and early-career scientists are often caught in a bind between wanting to make their research freely accessible and needing the prestige that comes with a non-open access journal (so they can get tenure) or being unable to pay the page fees for an open-access journal. In math, I thought we’d been able to bypass part of the ethical quandary by posting almost everything on the ArXiv, which allows anyone access for free. Friedlander pointed out a line in the new congressional omnibus bill that mandated open access and a machine readable version of the final peer-reviewed manuscript for much government-funded research. Is the ArXiv good enough, or is this going to add a layer of cost to mathematics research?
  • Friedlander mentioned that the PCAST report on higher ed and technology did not involve any mathematicians or the involvement of the AMS, even though it made some rather harsh recommendations on teaching of lower-level math courses in college. The AMS response is here.
  • He also discussed applications of math, the way math interacts with the other sciences, the public image of math, changes in who teaches and in who gets hired for what… His message in the end was that mathematicians must be involved or the change that happens will pass us by. There’s a theme in my last four posts!

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