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December 8, 2012

Bob on TAC

Posted by Tom Leinster

Every month, the Notices of the American Mathematical Society carries a piece on mathematics publishing: journals, parasitic publishers, and the like. This month, it’s by Bob Rosebrugh, founder and managing editor of Theory and Applications of Categories (TAC).

Bob’s piece relates how TAC was set up, and why, despite TAC being one of the first electronic mathematics journals, he wishes he’d followed his gut feeling and done it even earlier. He briefly mentions TAC’s sister publication, Reprints in Theory and Applications of Categories, which seems to me to represent an idea that should have caught on much more widely.

But most of all, he urges action —

So, if your subject area of mathematics doesn’t yet have a free electronic journal, it’s time to start!

— and tells us that it’s actually much less work than you think:

Colleagues in my field often suppose that managing a subject area electronic journal is a heroic endeavour. The truth is very different.

Posted at December 8, 2012 12:11 AM UTC

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Re: Bob on TAC

I hope this helps get TAC into the bean counters’ books. Famously, TAC is not indexed by the usual companies, so that citations don’t count and it has no impact factor, which, while I don’t believe in impact factors, lacking one looks dodgy.

Posted by: David Roberts on December 8, 2012 3:00 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Bob on TAC

Should have read the article; TAC is indexed now.

Posted by: David Roberts on December 8, 2012 4:20 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Bob on TAC

What would be even better, though, would be if every subject would start a free mathematics journal, everyone would start publishing in them, and then within a few years no one would take impact factors seriously any more, since it would be obvious that the best work was in the free journals along with everything else. (-:O

Seriously, while TAC has its idiosyncracies, it really is an example of a stellar journal according to any sensible metric. The Reprints are an invaluable service to the community. The copyright policy is extremely favorable to authors. And moreover, the turnaround time from final acceptance of a paper to the time it appears online is sometimes measured in hours, sometimes as much as a few days. In my experience, journals run by large publishing houses can take weeks. Massive props to Bob.

Posted by: Mike Shulman on December 8, 2012 4:59 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Bob on TAC

while TAC has its idiosyncrasies

I know I’m picking up on the only thing in your comment that wasn’t purely complimentary about TAC, but I’m curious to know what you have in mind here. (Drop me an email if you prefer.)

Posted by: Tom Leinster on December 8, 2012 12:39 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Bob on TAC

Haha, no, I don’t mind elaborating publically. TAC requires all (final) articles to be in a single LaTeX file, including not only all macro definitions but also all bibliography entries (you have to paste in the .bbl file after running BibTeX). It also asks that the file use lines of limited length. This costs me a few extra moments when submitting a final version (probably less time than I’ve spent writing this blog comment), and neither is something that I’ve encountered elsewhere.

The TAC style file is slightly unusual in that its “theorem” environments are actually subsections: this breaks some features of some other packages, like hyperref, and is incompatible with others, like amsthm. This causes some slight additional headaches if you like to hack TeX, but in the process of dealing with it I’ve learned more about TeX, so I won’t complain. I’ve also had similar experiences with the style files produced by commercial publishers (for different reasons). Hence, a suggestion for anyone thinking of taking Bob’s advice to heart and starting their own free electronic journal: don’t fiddle too much with the standard style files!

One other thing I’ll say is that TAC’s author information web page might lead you to believe that LaTeX features which don’t work with DVI (such as TikZ pictures) are frowned upon. However, my recent experience suggests that this is not so much actually the case any more. Back when TAC began, of course, DVI was an established and open file format, whereas PDF was new and proprietary.

Posted by: Mike Shulman on December 9, 2012 4:47 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Bob on TAC

Thanks. I believe some of those things are being looked into at the moment.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on December 9, 2012 11:57 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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