Posted by: Administrator | 14/11/2015

Rob Wilson: Questions over the costing of the JCM

[Reposted from comments on the Open Access blog of the LMS]

  1. The figure of 380k quoted by the outgoing President in his letter to the 30 signatories was actually over 15 years, rather than 18. In conversation with me yesterday, minutes before handing over to the new President, he upped this figure twice, first to 415k, then to “nearly half a million”, while continuing to protest that the decision was not about money (!). His parting shot was to bemoan the fact that the SGM would cost another 10k which could be better spent on something else.
    Now we will never get an explanation from the LMS as to how they calculate these figures. They are not audited, and they are not subject to any accounting rules, they are simply internal figures used by the LMS executive for their own purposes. Nevertheless, they do not amount to more than about 25k per annum. This is less than 1% of the annual budget of the LMS, and therefore it is nonsense to claim this is expenditure is “unsustainable”. It is more instructive, however, to look at the audited figures in the annual accounts, where the direct costs of the JCM are listed as 15275 in 2015, more than doubled from 7224 in 2014, and 6180 in 2013, and 5930 in 2012. At the AGM yesterday I asked for, but did not get, an explanation for the doubled figure this year. In any case, the audited figures would appear to be approximately one-quarter of the figure that the outgoing President quoted.
  2. I would like to comment also on the aims and scope of the JCM. There appears to be a lot of confusion on the Council as to what these are, or should be, and to what extent they are achieved in practice. Even the name of the journal, the Journal of Computation and Mathematics, is routinely misquoted as the Journal of Computational Mathematics. In fact, I would argue that the latter name is more appropriate for what the journal, actually is. The former name is too broad, too ambitious, and too vague. But the appointment of editors suggests that the LMS is, firstly, confusing Computational Mathematics with Mathematical Computation. There is a huge difference: I, for example, work in the former area, but not in the latter. Worse, it seems there is a widespread inability to distinguish between Computation, and Computer Science. The attempt to get computer science papers into the journal was always doomed to failure, and in my view the attempt should never have been made. To some extent, then, the JCM may have been killed off by the setting of inappropriate targets.
    Even within the field of Computational Mathematics, there are many disparate subfields. A broad distinction can be made between Exact Computation, exemplified by computational group theory, representation theory and number theory, where the JCM has had a big impact, and Approximate Computation, typical of more applied areas, where it has had little impact. A more realistic focus on the area of Exact Computation might be what is needed to re-brand the journal successfully.
  3. There is a third issue which I think is much more important than the two I have already discussed, and that is the issue of open access to research data. This feature has been offered by the JCM since its inception, and is a feature which is not offered by any other LMS journal. It is a feature currently offered by very few mathematics journals, but it is a feature that is going to be increasingly required, in particular by UK authors where open access to research data is now a requirement in many cases. I seem to remember seeing an announcement recently that de Gruyter are starting up a new journal offering (gold) open access to research data. Of course, the LMS could use the Transactions for this purpose, although it does not currently do so. But the experience gained from the LMS being first in the field 15 years ago should not be lightly thrown away. I too have experience in this field, having for 20 years maintained an open access data repository for finite simple groups and their representations. Both my website and the LMS JCM are highly valued in the community for their ability to reach parts of mathematical research that no other means can reach. In my view, the propaganda benefits to the LMS in being able to claim it is years ahead of the field in open access to research data, far outweigh the small costs involved.
  4. A fourth comment is about the charitable aims of the LMS. The LMS is a registered charity, and needs to be mindful of its charitable aims at all times, in order to maintain its charitable status. The charitable aims are formal statements with some legal force, and the one which covers publications is the following:
    Objective 3: To disseminate mathematical knowledge and make it available worldwide, where appropriate seeking to create an income stream to support the Society’s activities.
    (Quoted from the annual report for 2012-13, as I could not find it in the report for 2014-15.)
    The objective, therefore, is dissemination of mathematics. The objective is not primarily generation of funds. Generation of funds is mandated only ‘where appropriate’. One can argue forever about the meaning of ‘where appropriate’, and it may not be appropriate to argue it here. Nevertheless, it is clear that an inability of a particular dissemination activity to generate funds cannot be a reason for closing down that activity.
    In the early years of the LMS, publication of the Proceedings was one of its primary activities, and one which proved very expensive, and which threatened to bankrupt the Society, until the donation of 1000 pounds by Lord Raleigh in 1874 enabled it to continue. The focus at that time was very much on raising money in order to disseminate mathematics. The focus today seems to be the exact opposite, that is, disseminating mathematics in order to raise money. I think the LMS would do well to reflect more on its origins, and its fundamental purpose of existence.

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