Archive for Mike Edmunds

Page Charges and Monthly Notices

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on January 31, 2023 by telescoper

Some time ago (in 2020) I reported here that the publishers of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (known as MNRAS for short) had decided to abandon the print edition and only have online articles. This is not surprising as demand for hard copies was falling drastically.

At the time I heard from a reliable source that MNRAS was also planning to introduce page charges – fees paid by authors to publish papers in the journal – and posted a comment to that effect here. This comment led to wild accusations of “serious academic misconduct” by me from a certain individual who shall remain nameless.

Well, the “rumour” I reported in 2020 is now confirmed to be the truth (as I knew it was). At a recent meeting of the national societies affiliated to the European Astronomical Society, Royal Astronomical Society President Mike Edmunds confirmed that, in the near future, all authors publishing in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society will have to pay page charges. The timescale is “within a few years”.

This is part of a move to making all articles Open Access, largely forced by Plan S through which funding agencies require research outputs to be made freely available upon publication. Page charges are Article Processing Charges by another name.

Other notable journals, such as the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ) and Astronomy & Astrophysics (A&A), have levied page charges for as long as I can remember, though in the latter case it is complicated because there is a waiver for researchers in “member” countries. ApJ and other journals also have a waiver scheme for those who cannot afford to pay. For those who have to pay, the fee is usually about $100 per page. For a long time MNRAS was the exception and indeed the only feasible choice for people who don’t have access to funding to cover page charges, including many in the developing world. More recently, however, MNRAS introduced a charge for longer papers: £50 per page over 20 pages, so a paper of 21 pages costs £50 and one of 30 pages costs £500, etc. This will now be extended to all papers. I don’t have a figure for what MNRAS will charge in future or what waivers will be offered, but it seems likely to be similar to existing journals.

The introduction of page charges is an attempt to maintain the profitability of MNRAS after the loss of income from subscriptions, as readers will no longer be required to pay to read papers. It is therefore a transfer of cost from reader to author. I chose the ‘profitability’ because the prime purpose of MNRAS is no longer the dissemination of scientific results but the generation of income to fund other activities of the Royal Astronomical Society. Despite the move to the much cheaper digital-only publishing mode, the annual cost of an institutional subscription to this journal is currently over $10,000. Most of that is goes as profit to Oxford University Press (the actual publisher) and to the Royal Astronomical Society. Page charges are nothing to do with the actual cost of publication, but are intended to protect the publisher’s profit margins.

Much of what the RAS does with the revenue generated by journals is laudable, of course, but I don’t think it is fair to fleece researchers in order to fund its activities. I think authors can see this, and the attempt to transfer costs onto researchers will backfire. In particular, it’s a move that plays into the hands of The Open Journal of Astrophysics, which publishes papers (online only) in all the areas of Astrophysics covered by MNRAS, and more, but is entirely free both for authors and readers. If you don’t want to pay page charges, or make your library pay a subscription, then you could give it a try.

For myself, I abandoned the traditional journal system many years ago, as it is so clearly a racket.

The question for the Royal Astronomical Society, and other learned societies that fund their activities in a similar way, is whether they can find a sustainable funding model that takes proper account of the digital publishing revolution. If their revenue from publishing does fall, can they replace it? And, if not, in what form can they survive?


Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2012 by telescoper

I spent a pleasant evening yesterday at a public lecture arranged by Cardiff Scientific Society and given by Professor Mike Edmunds, former Head of the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University and now Emeritus Professor here. The subject of his talk was Origin of the Chemical Elements, a subject Mike has worked on for many years. Here’s the abstract of his talk:

When the Universe was 300,000 years old, the only chemical elements with significant abundance were hydrogen, helium and a small amount of lithium. All the atoms of all the other elements in the Periodic Table have been synthesised during the 13.7 billion years since that time. Research in physics and astronomy over the last 64 years has allowed us to identify the nuclear processes involved, including the importance of the humble neutron in the manufacture of the heavier elements. We now have a good picture of the astronomical sites where elements such as the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and iron in our bodies were made, including violent supernova explosions. It is a picture that appears almost, but not quite, complete.

That last sentence is tempting fate a bit, but it’s fair comment! The lecture, which I had the pleasure of chairing, was both entertaining and informative, and very warmly received by the large audience in the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre (in the National Museum of Wales).

Inevitably in a talk on this subject, the subject came up of the classic work of Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler and Hoyle in 1957 (a paper usually referred to as B2FH after the initials of its authors). It’s such an important contribution, in fact, that it has its own wikipedia page

This reminded me that one of the interesting astronomical things I’ve acquired over the years is a preprint of the B2FH paper. Younger readers will probably not be aware of preprints – we all used to post them in large numbers to (potentially) interested colleagues before publication to get comments – because in the age of the internet people don’t really bother to make them any more.

Anyway, here’s a snap of it.

It’s a hefty piece of work, and an important piece of astronomical history. In years to come perhaps it may even acquire some financial value. Who knows?

Et in Arcadia Lego…

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on December 11, 2010 by telescoper

The Antikythera Mechanism is a remarkable mechanical computer that’s thought to date from somewhere around 150 B.C. Our own Mike Edmunds is the lead academic on the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project which has been studying this amazing artefact so I thought he and other Cardiff folks would enjoy this, which shows a reproduction of the device made from Lego:


Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 26

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes with tags , on May 21, 2010 by telescoper

I have a theory that erstwhile Professor of Astronomy at Cardiff University Mike Edmunds and celebrated poet Seamus Heaney are in fact the same person. Well, you never see them together, do you?