Posted by: Administrator | 09/11/2018

Alexandre Borovik: Amendment of the Charter, put in context

The LMS has started discussion of proposed changes to its Royal Charter, Statutes and By-laws; the discussion blog could be found here: charter.lms.ac.uk.

I was a member of the Standing Orders Review Group (SORG) which worked, since 2014, on the draft text of a new Charter and other governing documents. In my personal opinion, the old documents, especially the Charter and Statutes, worked well and required only minor cosmetic changes and updates (say, the address of the LMS given as “Burlington House in the Parish of Saint James in Our City of Westminster” in the preamble to the Charter definitely needed updating).

I also served on the LMS Council for sufficiently long time to witness the dramatic events of 2008-09. The Charter and Statutes were tested when the LMS was brought dangerously close to the point of legal paralysis — and, in my opinion, our governing documents turned out to be an efficient tool of crisis management. Some clauses in these may look obscure, and their meaning and their efficiency becomes obvious only when the Society faces a crisis, say, a threat of mass resignation of Trustees. I will make some specific comments on these points later on charter.lms.ac.uk. Some of the changes in the proposed documents appeared at the last minute, and, to the best of my knowledge, have never been given proper scrutiny – they deserve special attention.

I wish to put the discussion in context. The key words in Article 3 of the Charter, which lists the Objects (purposes) of the Society, are

(ii) To promote and extend (the emphasis is mine — AB) mathematical knowledge […]

In the context of the Article 3 as a whole, it is obvious that these words are about mathematical research. Mathematics cannot exist without mathematicians, and it is clear from Article 3, that the Society has duty to act as a professional body which represents, supports, and sustains health and vibrancy of the British mathematical community.

I believe that an in-depth discussion of proposed changes in the governing documents requires a closer look at the current policies of the LMS — do they fully meet the Objects? There are some issues here — for example, why have we seen a fall in grants awarded for mathematical research over the last 4 years, both in absolute value and as a percentage of the LMS income?

Here are figures for the totals of grants awarded:

2015       £550,155      18.9% of LMS income

2016       £513,429      16.4%

2017       £463,813      15.6%

2018       £437,939       14.6%

(data are from Trustees’ Annual Reports).

Members of LMS Council are Trustees of the Society, they bear responsibility for the efficiency of the charitable expenditure of the LMS. Unfortunately, they are prevented from seeing key financial documents of the LMS – records of expenditure and invoices. Last time Trustees had  access to the Society’s accounts in 2011-12 financial year. Since then, the LMS received income of £17.6M, more precisely, £17,675,176- with Trustees unable to see the records of expenditure.

In my opinion, the discussion of the new Charter is happening when we face some systemic issues in the day-to-day functioning of our Society.

Alexandre Borovik

11:48 09 Nov 2018

Disclaimer: The author writes in his personal capacity, views expressed do not necessarily represent position of the LMS, or any other person, corporation, organisation, or institution.

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Posted by: Administrator | 04/10/2018

Tony Gardiner: Education Matters

In the 90s and 00s the Society represented Mathematics surprisingly effectively in education. In recent years we have taken a back seat – with unfortunate results – abandoning our active role as a key consumer, a constructive critic, and an honest broker.

Despite our role as a major end-user of school mathematics, we cannot presume to dictate from “on high”. However, we can highlight neglected issues; we can also facilitate communal discussion, on neutral territory, of matters affecting mathematics in schools, at undergraduate level, and relating to the supply and support of competent mathematics teachers.

Nature abhors a vacuum. So the Society and its Education Committee need to renew its focus, and to actively forge ways of representing Mathematics within the wider educational setting. I would be happy to elaborate.

Yesterday, 4 September 2018, UKRI announced their

Plan S: Accelerating the transition to full and immediate Open Access to scientific publications

Since the LMS critcally depends on income from publishing, it has serious implications for out Society.

The key principle of the Plan is as follows:

“After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.”

IN ADDITION:

  • Authors retain copyright of their publication with no restrictions. All publications must be published under an open license, preferably the Creative Commons Attribution Licence CC BY. In all cases, the license applied should fulfil the requirements defined by the Berlin Declaration;
  • The Funders will ensure jointly the establishment of robust criteria and requirements for the services that compliant high quality Open Access journals and Open Access platforms must provide;
  • In case such high quality Open Access journals or platforms do not yet exist, the Funders will, in a coordinated way, provide incentives to establish and support them when appropriate; support will also be provided for Open Access infrastructures where necessary;
  • Where applicable, Open Access publication fees are covered by the Funders or universities, not by individual researchers; it is acknowledged that all scientists should be able to publish their work Open Access even if their institutions have limited means;
  • When Open Access publication fees are applied, their funding is standardised and capped (across Europe);
  • The Funders will ask universities, research organisations, and libraries to align their policies and strategies, notably to ensure transparency;
  • The above principles shall apply to all types of scholarly publications, but it is understood that the timeline to achieve Open Access for monographs and books may be longer than 1 January 2020;
  • The importance of open archives and repositories for hosting research outputs is acknowledged because of their long-term archiving function and their potential for editorial innovation;
  • The `hybrid’ model of publishing is not compliant with the above principles;
  • The Funders will monitor compliance and sanction non-compliance.
Posted by: Administrator | 28/08/2018

LMS Elections 2018

Elections are coming, and this page will hopefully be a place for discussion of challenges that the LMS faces and priorities it sets for its activities.

The meeting was amicable, and the final voting quite close. Our Motion
failed, so Council certainly has no legal obligation to implement
charitable arrangements to save the journal. However, I continue to hope
that Council will have learned something from the discussion, and may,
now that any tensions have dissipated, reflect on the hurt caused by an
almost inexplicable rush to judgement.

The fundamental issue is quality, in an intellectual sense, of the
journal. The word “quality” had been bandied about in the paper by the
Publications Secretary and in the paper of ex-President Lyons. Despite
this, repeated attempts at the meeting to get information on the quality
assessment proved fruitless. We were not given any evidence that any
experts had any reservations about the quality of JCM, in the sense just
explained. All the evidence points to Publications using only a notion
of quality based on download figures. This is shocking, and undermines
any argument for closing the journal so abruptly. Vague remarks about
concerns, or internal problems, most likely from quite a few years back,
do not affect the present high quality of the journal.

We have learned at the Meeting, too, that part of the case made by
Publications, about targets not being met, was presented in a misleading
way to Council. Two editors testified about this, and no refutation was
offered. Thus two of the main reasons for eliminating the journal are
suspect, one being simply nonsense (the issue of quality) and the other
(which to my mind involved improper pressure on Editors to meet targets
having nothing to do with quality, like number of pages) involving
exaggeration.

To the bitter end all that mattered was commercial viability. I tried to
argue in my opening statement that Publications ought long ago to have
become fully aware of the intellectual force of JCM, and acted
charitably towards it. We did not need extra journal income. We do need
respect for high originality and rather hidden service to the community.
We would do well to reflect on the apt image produced by Charles
Leedham-Green (see his piece on this blog). Can we not rely on the LMS
to provide refuge for researchers from the impact-driven pressures of
modern academic life?

In a related vein, we had some one-sided discussion on Rebranding. Dr
Hezlett was quite unable to provide any evidence (in response to a very
penetrating question) as to known advantages of Rebranding. In this
particular case there seem to be serious financial disadvantages to
Rebranding (or starting a completely new journal “supporting the areas
of mathematics and computation”, disregarding the fact that we already
have a high quality journal meeting the very specific needs of exact
computation in number theory and algebra), and no reason to expect
marketing success. The policy seems to me incoherent. It would be so
much more elegant to build on our strengths and run JCM for now, as it
is, as a charitable activity. Why do such violence to a journal which
brings us credit (intellectual of course)?

We had compelling statements, wise and collegial, from Professors Coates
and Curtis, admired researchers from number theory and group theory (and
people who have given so much to the LMS) about the quality of JCM,
the importance of its output, and the wisdom of putting aside purely
commercial criteria in considering the future of JCM.

Rob Wilson argued compellingly that JCM is the only natural place to
publish much of the specialized output that links deep computation to
some of the deepest structural problems in pure mathematics. Charles
Leedham-Green argued compellingly that the kind of algorithmic work
published in JCM goes right into the efforts of the next generation,
rapidly and not always explicitly acknowledged. The impact is not to be
measured by the simplistic ideology taking hold of academic life.

Like many colleagues I was proud to witness the passionate defence of
science, by a number of people whom I deeply admire. I mean no
disrespect to those who disagreed with us if I say that I left without a
sense of hearing any constructive arguments from them, except for an
important remark by John Hunton that Publications Committee is not
sufficiently in touch with Council (I may not be giving John’s exact
words, but I deeply appreciated the frankness of this remark, and it
would be reassuring to know that there will be closer links between
Council and Publications).

One knows (from a letter to someone submitting to JCM a few days after
Council 16 October 2015, but before we, the Membership, knew anything)
that Council were first asked to vote on making JCM a Gold Access
Journal (which seems very strange given its commercial record), and this
they voted down. They were then invited to vote on closure, and they
voted for closure, making them the first LMS Council to close a journal.

For Council to make the decision on the basis of very weak arguments
from Publications Committee, is a great shame. The Society’s reputation
has suffered, but , as I said in my opening statement at the Meeting, it
is very easy to put things right. We obviously have the money, and we
just need a bit more commitment to intellectual value supported by the
opinion of experts from all over the world.

The following letter was sent to an author of a paper submitted to the JCM; this has been done on 27 October 2015, a week after Council’s decision to close the Journal.

 

From: JCM [JCM@lms.ac.uk]
Sent: 27 October 2015 11:48
To: X Y ZZZZZZ
Subject: LMS Journal of Computation and Mathematics

Dear XXXXXXXXX YYYYYY ZZZZZZ,

I am writing with news that may have a bearing on your consideration of publishing your article in the LMS JCM, ‘[Title of the paper]’, by YYYYYY ZZZZZZ.

As you may be aware, the LMS Journal of Computation and Mathematics has been running for some years as a ‘free’ journal and the costs of publishing the journal have been borne by the London Mathematical Society. From the outset, it was intended that the journal should progress to at least break even and, for a few years, it ran as a subscription journal but did not manage to acquire sufficient support from libraries to cover the costs of subscription management. Over the last few years, we have been considering how to best get the journal to a satisfactory and successful state and, last Friday, the LMS Council (whose members are the Officers and Trustees of the London Mathematical Society) considered the LMS Publications Committee’s proposal for the JCM, which included moving the journal to a gold open access model.

However, the LMS Council did not accept the proposal, and decided instead that the journal should be closed, one reason being that it felt the move to a gold open access model would likely lead to a slow decline that could be more damaging to its reputation. Council felt that the general area of computation and mathematics was one that the Society should, in the long run, continue to be present in, but thought that there were probably better ways to use its resources in this direction. Of course the Society will continue to make the papers already published available in perpetuity.

While we are happy to continue the process of publication of your paper, we are giving all authors yet to be published the opportunity to withdraw their papers. We will continue to publish any papers still in the pipeline providing you are willing to continue.

If you wish to withdraw your paper, please let us know and we will do this on your behalf. If you do not wish to withdraw your paper, no further action is necessary on your part.

Best wishes,

[Signature]
[FirstName LastName]

De Morgan House, 57–58 Russell Square, London WC1B 4HS, UK
www.lms.ac.uk<http://www.lms.ac.uk>
Tel.: +44 20 7927 XXXX
Fax:  +44 20 7323 YYYY
Charity no.: 252660

I am Derek Holt from Warwick, the current Editor-in-Chief of the LMS JCM. I
would like to make a number of points, but I will start by clarifying my own
position as Editor-in-Chief. In the event of the JCM being revived, I would
be willing to carry on in this position in the short term, but ideally I
would prefer to step down and be replaced within a year or two. But if the
LMS Council wanted to relaunch the journal with a new editorial team, then
I would be perfectly happy with that decision.

I would like to take issue with one of the points made by the Publications
Secretary in his document opposing the motion. He states there that in
2012 the JCM editors were given some targets for the next few years, and
in early 2015 “it was clear that the targets had not been met, and it was a
moot point as to how much progress had been made towards them”.

There were two specific targets. The first was to increase the volume of
publications by a precisely specified amount without a decrease in quality.
In fact we achieved the prescribed increase in 2013 and exceeded it in 2014 and
2015. (I will come back to the question of quality in a moment.) For example,
in 2015, the target was 30 papers totalling 577 pages, and the actual amount
published was 33 papers totalling 773 pages.

The second target was to publish two sets of conference proceedings within
three years. In the even we only published one, but we will be publishing
another this year (which sadly looks like being the final activity of the
JCM), which will make two in four years. So I would descibe it as a borderline
failure to achieve the targets rather than a clear failure.

On the question of quality, I have been Editor-in-Chief since 2008, and I have
personally approved every paper that has been published since then. I can
honestly say that our criteria for acceptance have not change during this
period, and neither has the overall quality of the published papers. We were
not asked to improve the quality, but to maintain it, which we have done. I
have the impression that the goal posts have been moved in assessing the
extent to which we have achieved the targets set.

The JSC has also been criticised for lack of diversity in the range of
subjects covered. It is true that, in the past, the best papers published have
been in a few specific areas, particularly Computational Number Theory and
Group Theory, and I would not dispute that the strongest papers continue to be
in these areas. A new editor and numerous new editorial advisers have been
appointed in the past few years with a view to addressing this situation.
After looking again in detail at the papers published by the JSC in 2015, I
see clear evidence of progress in this area, and a generally broad range of
topics covered including, for example, numerical solution of differential
equations. But it takes time to build up a good reputation in new areas,
and it seems a great pity that we have been so abruptly curtailed just as we
were beginning to make some headway.

Posted by: Administrator | 06/02/2016

Professor Charles Leedham-Green

I address my remarks to the Chair, who is impartial, copied to the Publications
Secretary, who, like myself, is not.

Academia has become infected by metrics. No doubt these metrics have their uses,
and we all know their dangers.

I suspect that topology (the subject, not the journal) suffers from metrics. Topology
is a profound, difficult subject; and profound, difficult papers may attract fewer readers.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is more widely read than War and Peace.
Computational mathematics suffers from metrics, in that the use of our work by
computers is unrecorded.

Leonard Soicher and I published a paper in the JCM in its early years. I am rather
pleased with the paper. If the papers published by JCM were ordered by perceived merit
it might not come far below the median point. I don’t suppose it has helped the Journal’s
metrics. But whenever anyone calculates in an infinite nilpotent group, or in a p-group
with p > 7, they will probably use our algorithm. To repeat, a typical JCM paper.

But there is a more serious point.

Computation is increasingly the glue that binds mathematics together.

Take a topologist; or rather a CW complex. You can write down a presentation for its fundamental group. This is likely to be as informative to the naked eye as a National
Insurance Number; but show it to the machine, and it comes to life. Thus a very clever
algorithm killed off Dunwoody’s putative counter-examples to the Poincar´ e conjecture,
scoring 0 on metrics for obvious reasons.

Some serious work on absolute Galois groups is led by machine computation.

Topologists, number theorists, physicists, chemists can learn the group theory relevant
to their research by using computational packages. I could not have carried out my own
work on 2 F 4 without the support provided by Magma.

The Publications Secretary illuminates some of his work with splendid computer generated diagrams. Computer graphics are, in many cases, driven by topology, if modern
dynamics is a branch of topology.

We all use computation more than we think, and computation uses more original and
profound ideas than we realise.

Our motion instructs Council to change its decision. But what we want is not so much a change of decision as a change of mind; a change of heart. The decision to close the Journal was made in understandable ignorance of the esteem with which the Journal
is held by those best able to judge it.
Council should be very proud of the JCM, and do all in its power to foster and
encourage it, and not treat it like a dubious junior lecturer on probation.
I support the motion

Posted by: Administrator | 06/02/2016

Professor Peter Cameron

Academic publishing is in a period of rapid change. Part of this is driven by
pressure from the funding bodies. The research councils mandated open access,
preferring the gold model; the LMS responded by starting a new journal, the
Transactions. Then the funding council undermined this somewhat by announcing
that, in order to count for the next REF, a post-acceptance version of the
paper must be freely available within three months of the acceptance date.
Why would anyone pay a 3- or 4-figure sum for gold open access when they have
to put a free copy up anyway? The LMS JCM should qualify under either regime.

Another recent directive from the research councils on “open data” requires
that data supporting the conclusions of a paper must be freely available,
accompanied by “high-quality metadata”. This directive is particularly
relevant to people at the interface of maths and computing, who might have
large programs or output from them to justify a mathematical result. The
JCM is one of the very few journals which actively support this at present.

My colleague Alexander Konovalov surveyed the bibliography of papers which
cite the computer algebra system GAP in their references. There are 331
journals in the list; the JCM stands at number 9 on this list. Right there is
the community who will suffer the most damage from the closure of the JCM.

Posted by: Administrator | 06/02/2016

Opening statement by Professor Angus Macintyre FRS

Opening statement by Professor Angus Macintyre FRS

In 2015, the LMS celebrated its 150th Anniversary. It will be sad indeed if 2015 is remembered in the Society’s history as the year in which the LMS first closed a journal, the Journal of Computation and Mathematics (henceforward JCM). The abrupt decision to close JCM has caused consternation in the international mathematical community ( as evidenced by the contributions to the “Future of the LMS” blog), and has resulted in glowing tributes to the quality of JCM in open letters to the President and Council. Among the testimonials are three from Cheryl Praeger, John Cannon and Melvin Leok. The first, who said she is appalled, is an Honorary Member of the Society, a very distinguished group theorist, and someone who has occupied positions of high responsibility at world level in IMU. The second, a major authority in the field, points out that the abrupt closure has probably deprived JCM of a contribution of great interest, likely to provoke much discussion, concerning new methods for confirming the famous calculations underlying the Classification of Finite Simple Groups. Leok’s eloquent letter brings out, inter alia, the very important point that JCM is a major resource for mathematics in the developing world.

I have come here today simply as an LMS member committed to collegiality , transparency and respect for the diversity of our community. That I have been President, from 2009 to 2011, is relevant only in that I have a lot of experience of Council and overcrowded agendas, and saw no inclination during my Presidency to move towards closure of JCM, nor have I ever detected any reasoned doubts about the mathematical quality of JCM.

I am going to concentrate on quality, in the sense of intellectual quality quite independent of marketing potential, and charitable objectives. In my judgement, JCM has already for some years achieved distinction, particularly in connection with number theory and group theory and such great works of intellect as Classification of Finite Simple Groups and Langlands Programme. Any negative judgements about the quality of the journal seem to come from considerations of commercial viability and the numerology of impact. The high reputation of JCM is largely based on its emphasis on exact computations near the limits of the possible, thereby illuminating the theory of some of the most fundamental structures of mathematics. At the beginning of JCM it was quite reasonable to aim for conventional commercial success, but I feel that the Society has pursued this far beyond the point of diminishing returns. JCM was, and is, a pioneering journal, by no means conventional, deeply admired in the world that should mean most to us, that of ideas and new methods for advancing understanding. In retrospect, it is surprising that management did not, much earlier, consider making JCM a special case, driven by charitable objectives, and funded modestly towards that end by our still very considerable profits from more conventional journals. Instead we have proposals, probably very costly in terms of time and money, to “rebrand” or replace the journal by a “better” one. Both options are based on a peculiar judgement of quality , and the speculation in John Hunton’s paper that Council must have had doubts about quality for a long time , since closure has not been resisted, is nowhere justified, and is certainly false about my tenure of the Presidency It has been clear for years that JCM has achieved a very high reputation, in a crucial area, and in addition provides rare opportunities for the financially constrained mathematicians working in the developing world. The decision to close the journal (and the very abrupt enactment of this, even before the Membership knew anything) has badly damaged the reputation of LMS, a sad end to 2015.

Even granting that much money (how much is hard to judge) has gone into “supporting” JCM, I claim that the principal costs were incurred in the probably unrealistic pursuit of commercial viability, and have no implications about present quality. Moreover the undoubted pressure to diversify was driven largely by commercial objectives and has achieved little.

We have clear evidence that this intellectually distinguished journal can be run for very little as a free journal, and in a spirit of pioneering intellectual freedom. By now a number of LMS members have expertise on such matters, which are not a traditional concern of Publications Committee.

I personally believe that closure of a journal is a dire event in the long history of our society, a scholarly charity whose prosperity is ultimately based on the unflagging, and unpaid, service of many members (and foreign colleagues) over many generations. The LMS had enhanced its reputation as a scientific society by its boldness in launching this very distinctive modern journal, which is thriving intellectually.

No one is denying that Council, and only Council, has the right to make LMS decisions. This is a heavy responsibility, especially when one has to consider, for the first time in the Society’s history, closing a journal. It would have been wise to have Membership’s opinions beforehand. This would certainly have compensated for the total absence of any authoritative negative opinions on quality in the case put to Council for closure. In fact, I take it as a basic point of principle (and courtesy) that no journal should be closed without the membership ever being informed that such a possibility existed. To do otherwise shows an alarming lack of sensitivity and transparency. Why the rush?

I close with a quotation from Tim Gowers:

But some sort of line has surely been crossed when a mathematical society closes down a journal that is successful mathematically on the grounds that it is insufficiently successful economically.

The situation is easily put right, and this is the point of our Motion:

MOTION

Instruct the Council to continue publication of the LMS JCM as a charitable activity, thus reversing the Council’s decision to close down the journal.

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