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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