Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Journal Manifesto

Some people say that for-profit journals do not currently serve our community well. Some even think they cannot do so. Others think they are doing a fine job as is (I don't know any such people but surely they must exist). I am not going to weigh in on this issue for now. However, I have a Manifesto: a list of actions that we as individuals can do to make the academic world a better place. I truly believe that when people see this list they will agree that everyone else should follow it.

Preamble: We academics publish papers so they can be read. We want anyone in the world to be able to read our papers. We do not expect any money in exchange. Here is what we can all do to facilitate this, not just for our papers but for everyone's papers.
  1. Whenever you publish a paper in a conference or journal, post it on your website AND on some appropriate archive. You would think this is standard practice by now, but alas, it is not.
  2. If you give a talk on a paper then post the slides and if possible a video of the talk, along with the paper, on your website. On the archives perhaps post a link to the slides and video.
  3. If you have old papers that are not available on line (it is common go to a website and see only papers past, say, 1995, are online) then get them scanned in (some schools do this for you) and put them on your website. Do not be humble. That is, do not think Nobody cares about that old paper. Somebody might.
  4. If you goto a website and it has a link to a paper, but the link does not work, then email the website owner. Do not be shy. I have done this with some of the best people in our field and they have been grateful.
  5. When you write a paper make sure that all of the bibliography entries include links to where you can get to the paper for free. If there is no such place, and you can access the paper yourself for free, then download it, put it in a file in your own directory, and have your bibliography point there.
  6. If you gather up papers in an area for your own use, then you may want to make a website out of them. I have done this with the Erdos Distance Problem, Private Information Retrieval, Constructive lower bounds on Ramsey Numbers, Applications of Ramsey Theory, and of course VDW Theorem stuff. (I understand that it can be a pain in the neck to maintain such sites.)
  7. If you get a contract to write a book make sure they allow you to post it free online. Blown to Bits, by Abelson, Ledeen, and Lewis is available this way. So is A=B by Petkovsek, Wilf, and Zeilberger. (I understand that if you are writing an undergrad textbook and expect to make real money on it then you may not want to do this.)


  1. Are (5), (6) legal? Can I really download arbitrary papers from Springer (using my school's access) and post them publicly on my website?

  2. I can sign onto that.

    Re including links to free copies of papers: I think links of the form arXiv:nnnn.nnnn are far preferable to http links, because web sites often go stale and then it can be difficult to find the papers. And commercial journal publishers often remove these links as part of their copyediting process. But in general I think this is still a good idea, especially in the copies of the papers you have control over.

    But it's also important to make sure that the version you have freely available online is up-to-date. If you make some changes as part of the journal revision process, make them in the arxiv copy too before signing over the copyright. Otherwise people who refer to the unfree version won't get the benefit of your revisions.

  3. I agree with these suggestions, except 5 and possibly 6. It is nice that most of the community agrees as well, although many people are still not using the arXiv. (Hosting a paper on your personal website is not a substitute, unless you can commit to hosting it for the next hundred years.)

    For FOCS 2009, the final versions were due about seven weeks ago. A list of papers with links is at There are still twelve papers that do not have online versions that Google can find:

    Fully Dynamic $(2 + \eps)$ Approximate All-Pairs Shortest Paths with $O(\log \log n)$ Query and Close to Linear Update Time

    A $(\log n)^{\Omega(1)}$ integrality gap for the Sparsest Cut SDP

    Learning Decision Trees From Random Examples: a Smoothed Analysis

    Exact And Approximate Pattern Matching In The Streaming Model

    One bit encryption is complete

    The Communication Complexity of Set-Disjointness with Small Sets and 0-1 Intersection

    The Intersection of Two Halfspaces Has High Threshold Degree

    Extracting Correlations

    The Data Stream Space Complexity of Cascaded Norms

    Agnostic Learning of Monomials by Halfspaces is Hard

    Models for the compressible Web

    2-Source Extractors Under Computational Assumptions and Cryptography with Defective Randomness

  4. Posting a paper on ones personal website is the best option -- and is often the first place people search for it, and the easiest way for people to find it.
    ECCC is also a very good option for complexity, and the ArXiv is good as well (except for the known P=NP papers problem).

  5. FOCS 2009 pdfs are here. As Anon3 pointed out, 12 papers are missing.

  6. I do not know the legal status but it is a good point. Alternatively,
    YES, point to an archive AND
    the authors website in your
    I could ammend the MANIFESTO to
    ``try to provide links to papers in
    your bibliography as best you can.''
    And this will become easier as more and more people Do post their papers on their websites and on archives.

    A bigger problem- there are people who do not do this and its not clear what to do about that?
    In one case I wanted to point to someones papers and he did not have them on line so I set up his
    papers-website for him, but thats just a temporary solution (I'm not going to maintain it) and only one person. Even so, you can offer to help your ludite colleagues.

  7. While I agree on most measures proposed, I am quite surprised to read a call to massive copyright violation.
    Making a conscious decision to post one's papers is one thing (I read that as self-advertisement), circumventing copyright protections by downloading others' papers and posting them in a public repository is flat out wrong.
    If you strongly feel about all being free, lobby to have all proceedings available for free *legally* and boycott journals that collect a fee from readers.

  8. Illegal, maybe, but not wrong. Whose interests does respecting copyright in these cases serve?

    People generally assume that it's moral to follow laws, because they think of "illegal" as things like theft and murder. But copyright laws aren't the Ten Commandments, and in their modern form have been mostly written by companies like Disney. I think that violating copyright laws in order to facilitate scientific discussion is net beneficial to society.

  9. I read that as self-advertisement

    There's also the altruistic motivation of facilitating the spread of knowledge.

  10. I think 1, 3, 5 and 6 are technically copyright violations unless specifically authorized by the transfer of copyright contract. Publishers are presumably scared of triggering a boycott and hence don't enforce these contracts, but (5) seems like asking for trouble.

    In my opinion the best long-term solution is for NSF to:
    (i) Require NSF funded research to be published in open-access venues (as NIH does now)
    (ii) Prohibit mention of work that isn't publicly available in grant applications, whether NSF funded or not. (Works predating this policy would be grandfathered of course.)

  11. This is (in part) an absolutely terrible idea, actively harmful for the cause. Some of us are trying to deal seriously with publishers, government agencies, professional societies, and university administrations, more or less none of whom are sympathetic to the "information wants to be free, copyright sucks" approach. Coming across as a bunch of nutcases who cheerfully violate the law doesn't help.

    The cardinal rule is that you should take responsibility for your own actions as a scholar. If you don't want to give away all your rights, then don't give them away. Either pick a different publisher, or ask for different terms (you'd be surprised at how often a clearly defined, reasonable modification is accepted). If you do give up your rights, don't expect a lot of sympathy when you whine about how you really wanted to publish in that venue and how unfair it is that you have to choose between respecting your principles and optimizing your career.

  12. To the last ANON comment:
    In the next post Daniel
    Lemire proposes a more modest version: we should all post our OWN stuff on websites ASAP. Do you object to that?
    Would you object to also adding that bibliography entries should tell people where to find links?

    These questions are NOT rhetorical- my post was an attempt to see PROS and CONS of this and what to do next- how to modify (as my next post did, and which Daniel did even more).

  13. we should all post our OWN stuff on websites ASAP. Do you object to that?

    When it's legal, I agree that everyone should do it. However, it's generally illegal to scan in old papers and put them online.

    Would you object to also adding that bibliography entries should tell people where to find links?

    Relatively permanent sources (arXiv, JSTOR) are great. Personal web pages are OK. Illegal repositories are a bad idea.

    However, including this in the bibliography is vastly less important than putting papers online in the first place. Once they are online, they are easy to find by web search, and the main function of the link is just to alert readers that the paper is online.