New Open-Access Journal Launched

June 15, 2012

I’ve written here a few times before about efforts by academic authors to make research results openly accessible on the Web.  A faculty advisory committee to the Harvard University Library has recommended that all faculty members seek to move to open-access publications.  There has also been a boycott, organized via the Web site, of the journals published by Reed Elsevier, which are particularly expensive; there are now more than 12,000 academics who have signed up to join the boycott.

A new article posted at Technology Review describes another move away from the traditional publishing model.  A new open-access, peer-reviewed journal, PeerJ, covering medical and life sciences research, has been launched, and will operate on a membership model.  There are several tiers of membership.  The most basic level, which requires a one-time fee of $99, entitles an author to publish one article per year with PeerJ; the author must also agree to perform peer review on one article annually.  Members also have access to all of the published material.

This strikes me as a potentially valuable development.  Like many other content production businesses, the economics of publishing research have been fundamentally changed by the Internet.  Traditional publishers will argue that they perform a “gatekeeper” function, by ensuring that research is refereed before it is published.  There is a certain amount of truth to this; however, the argument is undercut by the fact that the peer review is usually performed, in many cases without compensation, by the same academic authors that write the papers in the first place.  When digital publication reduces the marginal cost of additional copies to, effectively, zero, it is not reasonable to expect to continue collecting large economic rents just by virtue of owning a printing press.

Code-Breaking Papers by Turing Released

April 19, 2012

The BBC News site is reporting that the UK Government Communication Headquarters [GCHQ] has released two papers by Alan Turing on the mathematical theory of cryptanalysis (code breaking).  (GCHQ is roughly analogous to the US National Security Agency.)    The papers had been classified since Turing wrote them, approximately 70 years ago, apparently while he was working at Bletchley Park.

The papers, one entitled The Applications of Probability to Crypt, and the other entitled Paper on the Statistics of Repetitions, discuss mathematical approaches to code breaking.

A GCHQ mathematician said the fact that the contents had been restricted “shows what a tremendous importance it has in the foundations of our subject”

According to the BBC report, the papers have been given to the UK National Archives, although the news does not seem to have made it onto the Archives’ site yet.

(There is one small aspect of the BBC’s article that I found amusing.  It has an image of a small section of a page from one of the papers, with the notation, “The papers are typed but contain hand written notes, tables and formulae.”    Well, yes.  That is the way we produced technical papers back in the days of stone tools.)

The release of these papers is timely, too, in this year which marks the centenary of Turing’s birth.  It is good to see that his many contributions in mathematics and computer science are being recognized.

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