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In Practice: An Interview with Francesco Maggi & Enrico Valdinoci (Ars Inveniendi Analytica)

Published onNov 02, 2021
In Practice: An Interview with Francesco Maggi & Enrico Valdinoci (Ars Inveniendi Analytica)
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In this interview, Francesco Maggi (Professor of Mathematics, UT Austin) and Enrico Valdinoci (Professor of Mathematics, University of Western Australia) talk with Colleen Cressman about their new fee-free, open-access journal in Mathematics, Ars Inveniendi Analytica, for which they are the founding Editors-in-Chief. Established in 2020, Ars Inveniendi Analytica leverages the open-access repository arXiv as infrastructure: An author posts a manuscript to arXiv and then links to it in the submission form to the journal. Upon undergoing peer review, and if accepted for publication, the final version of the article is made available on arXiv. Francesco and Enrico discuss the merits and challenges of this model of publishing.

Take a moment to introduce yourselves.

Francesco Maggi: I’m full professor of Mathematics at UT Austin. 

Enrico Valdinoci: I’m full professor of Mathematics at the University of Western Australia, and together Francesco and I are the founding Editors-in-Chief of Ars Inveniendi Analytica, a new open-access journal in Mathematics.

What is Ars Inveniendi Analytica all about—its mission and operational model? What makes it an overlay journal?

Francesco & Enrico: The Ars Inveniendi Analytica initiative aims at exploring the receptivity of our community (mathematicians working in Analysis) in supporting a top-level journal in the arXiv overlay model, which we’ll describe in more detail below. This kind of support for a new journal is a big commitment from a community of scholars; it means sending papers which could be easily accepted on top journals, with already established reputations, to a new journal. At the same time, our community seems willing to take actions aimed at making the mathematical publishing landscape more sustainable. 

Details about the arXiv overlay model: The journal is entirely free for authors and readers. The editorial work and journal website are hosted on the for-profit platform Scholastica, which charges the journal a yearly invoice of about $2,000 (which, in the case of Ars Inveniendi Analytica, is paid by the University of Texas Libraries). Published papers carry a Creative Commons license and they are stored on the arXiv, which is of course an expensive structure—although one funded by a consortium of universities and research institutions on a non-profit basis. ArXiv overlays, as a mode of publication in Mathematics, have been pioneered by Tim Gowers, who founded the journals Discrete Analysis and Advances in Combinatorics. ArXiv overlays provide an extremely sustainable peer-review publication model, whose growth and implementation have the potential to reshape the mathematical publishing landscape.

As mentioned above, UT Libraries is providing financial support for the first several years of the journal’s operation. In addition, Harvard Library is providing administrative support for policy development, indexing and other matters, like securing an ISSN for the journal, as the journal continues operation.

What excites you about the future of open access publishing in Mathematics?

The financial sustainability of the system. It is easy (almost automatic) to connect open access (OA) to the sustainability issues of the scientific publishing system, and to identify OA as a sort of magical solution. But, as a matter of fact, OA itself is just a mode of publishing (essentially made possible by internet infrastructure), and one that may or may not be realized in a sustainable way. As a publisher, can you realize OA, make profits, and decrease the burden on public budgets? Difficulties may also arise depending on the area of research, for which OA may be structurally hard to achieve (e.g., a study in Marine Biology will rely on terabytes of data stored in proprietary file formats, so it is something intrinsically less shareable in open form than a theoretical article amounting to a single PDF file).

OA in Mathematics is particularly exciting. Mathematicians have been typesetting their work with professional-level outcomes, thanks to the TeX system, for a few decades—so the typesetting function of a traditional publisher is essentially evaporated nowadays. (Actually, a recurring story is that outsourced typesetting services often end up introducing typos and problems in otherwise neat and seamless TeX files!) And, thanks to TeX, electronic journals in Mathematics (published OA) have been around for a long time now. The impression is that, in the past, their success may have been hindered by the cultural attachment of mathematicians to journals as physical objects, whose single issues had to be checked out from libraries.

Today, all that is gone. The oldest journals in Mathematics, even if still printed and shipped to libraries, are overwhelmingly read in online format, with readers limiting to print, for their own use, a copy of that one article they want to read in detail. In Mathematics, what you can offer with an arXiv overlay is exactly what the most renowned publisher can offer, the latter at an exorbitant cost. So, yes, in Mathematics the connection between OA and sustainability is promising.

Given the complexity of the publishing landscape, what challenges do you anticipate? For your journal, for your field, or in the open-access ecosystem more generally?

On a short timescale, the main difficulties will be launching new open access journals without article processing charges (APCs), and keeping attention on and interest high for those journals that have recently launched (like Ars Inveniendi Analytica). We think eventually OA journals without APCs will start growing in number and influence. A difficulty could be providing a stable publishing support behind them. In the case of Ars Inveniendi Analytica, there isn’t really a traditional “publisher” behind the journal; it is just the work of the two of us as the Editors. On a longer timescale, this could create problems in guaranteeing the continuity of the journal's activity. Eventually, it would be useful to have a more formal publishing entity for these journals to put their existence on a firmer legal and administrative ground.

Another aspect is the role of repositories in the overlay model. As repositories grow, the need for moderation increases. Today this moderation process is often really basic. For example, a repository may have programs checking submissions for text overlaps. This is generally useful—though there are, sometimes, paradoxical results, as when papers are flagged for “substantial text overlap” in situations where authors are simply citing verbatim a theorem with a long statement from some other paper. These flags are resolvable, of course, but they add a layer of complexity to the editorial process when running a journal over a repository.

Similarly, many repositories also moderate the types of content they will accept. ArXiv, for instance, accepts research papers, which means that we need to host our journal announcements separately from the repository. Strictly speaking, this is easy to understand, and our alternative solution was simple to implement; however, one is left with the feeling of a missed opportunity to keep all the journal's contents together in one space.

As overlays grow in popularity, it would be useful to work together with repositories to see if moderation rules and other policies could be adapted accordingly. After all, moderation itself is a mild form of editorial control, and it may potentially evolve into areas which overlap with the editorial control exerted by an editorial board: in other words, there could be, in a distant future, a paper with controversial implications for some political issues, that an overlay journal may like to consider for publication, but that a repository may not take in. I think that, ideally, repositories should be as neutral as possible, considering that all the involved documents are signed by authors with their own scientific reputation and institutional affiliation. Eventually, it may be interesting to explore more formally the various aspects of the relationship between an overlay journal and its repository.

Anything you’d like to share about Ars Inveniendi Analytica, to close?

We have just accepted our 6th paper for 2021, and we are currently processing that many papers as well. These are all high quality submissions from extremely visible authors, so the journal seems en route to become a very visible reference journal in Analysis. We are still campaigning with potential authors in order to keep the flow of high quality papers.

We have recently obtained an E-ISSN from the Library of Congress. The process of getting the journal indexed on various databases is very important, but less certain. It seems that some time is required for citations to build up before being able to appear on Web of Science and Scopus, while Mathematics-focused databases like Zentralblatt and Math Revs look more accessible and where our applications for indexing are currently under review.


Editor’s Note: Learn more about Colleen Lyon, Head of Scholarly Communications at the University of Texas at Austin, who has been facilitating UT Libraries’ financial support for Ars Inveniendi Analytica.


Text: © 2021 the President and Fellows of Harvard College, Francesco Maggi, Enrico Valdinoci and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license

Media: Header image by Agnes Monkelbaan, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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