Skip to main content

IMU-Net 29: May 2008

A Bimonthly Email Newsletter from the International Mathematical Union
Editor: Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel, University Paris Descartes, Paris, France


Dear Reader,
Last week here in Oslo, Norway, we celebrated this year's Abel Prize Laureates, John Griggs Thompson and Jacques Tits, who were awarded the Prize "for their profound achievements in algebra and in particular for shaping modern group theory". The mathematical high point of the celebrations were the four Abel lectures given by the prize winners and by Michel Broué and Alex Lubotzky.

Another, smaller, event that took place in Oslo, in February, was a conference on Higher education and research in developing countries. Among the presenters were mathematicians from Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. For example, we heard from Cambodia about the project initiated by CIMPA, supported by IMU and others, to rebuild mathematical research and education in that country. Such projects depend heavily on the support and participation of mathematicians from around the world. Indeed, IMU's Developing Countries Strategy Group is currently working on establishing a database of mathematician who are willing to volunteer to give short courses as invited by developing countries.

The Executive Committee met in Budapest, Hungary, in April. A couple of the items on the agenda are mentioned in this newsletter, others will follow in later newsletters.

Finally, I would like to repeat a plea from my editorial in IMU-Net 8, 2004: if you have a suggestion for an item or a piece of news from your part of the world that you think might be of interest to the international mathematical community, please let the editor of IMU-Net know! You can also help us increase the distribution of the newsletter by forwarding this issue to colleagues and encouraging them to subscribe.

Ragni Piene
Member of the Executive Committee

IMU Prizes: Chairs and Nomination

The International Mathematical Union will award the following prizes during the Opening Ceremony of the International Congress of Mathematicians on 19 August 2010. The IMU Executive Committee has now appointed the selection committees for these prizes. The Prize Committee Chairs are

The names of the other committee members will be made public at ICM 2010.

Information about the prizes and the Nomination guidelines can be found here.

Nominations should ideally be sent by 15 December 2008 to the Prize Committee Chairs.

International Congresses of Mathematicians: Database of ICM speakers-Missing names

A database of ICM plenary and invited speakers since 1950 can be found on the IMU website.

This list, which now consists of 2084 entries, has been a work in progress and has been compiled from the proceedings volumes of the ICMs. It is searchable by name, section, and year of the congress. However, this database does not include those invitees who, for whatever reason, did not participate in ICM and consequently were not included in the table of contents of ICM proceedings. It has been pointed out to the IMU Executive Committee (EC) that a number of mathematicians were invited speakers but were prevented by their local governments from attending ICM and giving their talks. Most of these mathematicians were from the former Soviet Union.

The IMU has consistently supported the freedom of circulation of scientists around the world and has continued to endorse the principle of universality expressed by the International Council for Science. In particular, the 15th IMU General Assembly (Santiago de Compostela, 2006) reaffirmed this position and passed a resolution (Resolution 10) in this regard.

In its meeting in Budapest in April 2008, the EC approved a proposal by A. Vershik, Russia, to include on its web site a list of mathematicians who were invited to speak at one of the previous ICMs and who, for political reasons, were unable to participate in the congress. (This list will not include those invitees who either declined the invitation or were unable to attend for personal reasons.) The names of these mathematicians will not be added to the already existing database mentioned above, but will rather be posted as a separate list. It is not an easy task to compile such a list from IMU records spanning several ICMs. Therefore this will be a work in progress, and it is hoped that inaccuracies and omissions are reported to IMU and can be corrected accordingly. If you can help with this, please send your information to or

IMU on the Web: What is the Price of a Journal

For that matter, what is the price of a car or a novel or a loaf of bread? All these things are frequently discounted, but we don't say they have no real price. Yet on several occasions recently, I've heard people say that we can't tell the price of journals because they are often discounted.

When the editorial board of the journal Topology resigned and began a competing journal, Elsevier wrote: "Because the majority of our subscribers purchase this journal in a larger set of journals, most are paying a fraction of the institutional subscription price." I've heard similar arguments from other publishers, who like to compute the "price" of a journal by dividing the total revenue by the number of subscribers. But that's not the price! It's the average revenue per subscriber.

The (list) price of a journal is set by the publisher, and it's plainly visible to anyone who examines annual price lists. Just as for cars or novels or bread, journals may be sold at a discount. But it's important to remember that publishers discount journals for business reasons, not because, in a sudden fit of remorse, they want to lower the price. Journals are sometimes discounted to agents, who consolidate them to help libraries purchase from multiple publishers. They are discounted to institutional members of scholarly societies as a member benefit, in return for dues. And journals are discounted to subscribers who buy bundles of journals, often making a commitment to buy for several years. In each case, the publisher is discounting journals in order to gain some advantage -- it's a business arrangement.

There is nothing wrong with discounting journals or business arrangements in general. But it doesn't change the price. Indeed, the list price is the starting point for all such business arrangements, defining the amount of money "given back" to the customer: I'll return a portion of the price in return for some action on your part - consolidating, being a member, or purchasing a bundle. Confusing the discounted price with the actual price ignores one half of the bargain.

We should pay attention to the list price of a journal because some subscribers (quite often, most) pay the list price. But there is another reason not to let publishers substitute the "average revenue per subscriber" for the price: the average revenue is a quotient, and publishers control both the numerator and the denominator. We must rely on the publisher to tell us the numerator, that is, the total revenue for a journal. Calculating total revenue sounds straightforward until one realizes that when selling bundles, large publishers apportion revenue among many journals - a mysterious process that isn't easily discovered. For many publishers, the total revenue assigned to a particular journal is a very fuzzy number indeed. The denominator is even more problematic. How many subscribers does a journal have? If a publisher adds many journals to bundles at no charge, the number of "subscribers" will quickly rise. But adding unwanted (and frequently unused) journals to bundles doesn't REALLY change the number of subscribers to each journal. Allowing publishers to use these arrangements to calculate either the average price per journal (for an institution) or the average revenue per subscriber (for the publisher) is like allowing politicians to count all those people who MIGHT have voted for them (but didn't vote) in an election.

Scholars face a crisis today caused by high journal prices. If they are going to make headway in addressing that crisis, they have to get smarter about journals and more sophisticated about business practices. They can't allow publishers to redefine the problem by redefining the price. That's neither smart nor sophisticated.

John Ewing

ICMI Awards

The 2007 ICMI Felix Klein Medal is awarded to Professor Jeremy Kilpatrick (USA).
The 2007 ICMI Hans Freudenthal Medal is awarded to Professor Anna Sfard (Israel).
The official presentation of the 2007 medals will be made during the opening ceremony at ICME-11 in Monterrey, Mexico, on Monday, 7 July 2008, jointly with the presentation of the two 2005 ICMI Medals.

Abel Prize 2008

On 20 May 2008, the King of Norway presented the Abel Prize for 2008 to John Griggs Thompson, University of Florida and Jacques Tits, Collège de France.
The Abel Laureates gave their prize lectures at the University of Oslo on 21 May, followed by lectures by Michel Broué and Alex Lubotzky. 

Towards Digital Mathematics Library (DML 2008)

The workshop will take place on 7 July 2008 in Birmingham, UK. The objectives are to formulate the strategy and goals of a global mathematical digital library and to summarize the current successes and failures of ongoing technologies and related projects, asking such questions as:

  • What technologies, standards, algorithms and formats should be used and what metadata should be shared?
  • What business models are suitable for publishers of mathematical literature, authors and funders of their projects and institutions?
  • Is there a model of sustainable, interoperable, and extensible mathematical library that mathematicians can use in their everyday work?
  • What is the best practice for: 
    retrodigitized mathematics (from images via OCR to MathML and/or TeX)
    retro-born-digital mathematics (from existing electronic copy in DVI, PS or PDF to MathML and/or TeX)
    born-digital mathematics (how to make needed metadata and file formats available as a side effect of publishing workflow [CEDRAM model])?

Wolf Prize

the 2008 Wolf Prize in Mathematics has been jointly awarded to:

Pierre R. Deligne (IAS, Princeton, New Jersey, USA)
for his work on mixed Hodge theory; the Weil conjectures; the Riemann-Hilbert correspondence; and for his contributions to arithmetic.

Phillip A. Griffiths (IAS, Princeton, New Jersey, USA)
for his work on variations of Hodge structures; the theory of periods of abelian integrals; and for his contributions to complex differential geometry.

David B. Mumford (Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA)
for his work on algebraic surfaces; on geometric invariant theory; and for laying the foundations of the modern algebraic theory of moduli of curves and theta functions.

The prizes were presented by the President of the State of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres, at a special ceremony, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on 25 May 2008.

Subscribing to IMU-Net

There are two ways of subscribing to IMU-Net:

  1. Click here with a Web browser and go to the "Subscribe" button to subscribe to IMU-Net online.
  2. Send an e-mail to with the Subject-line: Subject: subscribe


In both cases you will get an e-mail to confirm your subscription so that misuse will be minimized. IMU will not use the list of IMU-Net emails for any purpose other than sending IMU-Net, and will not make it available to others.

Previous issues can be seen here.