Posted by: Administrator | 09/02/2016

Angus Macintyre: Reflections on the discussion at the SGM 05 February 2016

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.

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