EDIT (Nov. 21, 2011) - follow up
For those who are interested by this question, let me mention that a similar one is discussed quite seriously on Timothy Gowers' blog (many thanks to r0b0t, who pointed this to my attention in a recent comment).
There are many reasons for being unsatisfied with the current situation concerning scientific communication in mathematics. Let me summarize a few issues that I consider quite important:
- math journal are expensive.
- there is an increasing number of papers/preprints and the refereeing process starts to be a bit overtaken.
- main preprint archives and review databases do not use the full potentiality of the web.
- journals used to be a tool for communicating results... it is no longer the case and they became a kind of "label of quality" for papers (a more pessimistic way of saying this would be that journals became a tool for a blind management of sciences solely based on a quantitative index).
With respect to the first issue John Baez suggested broadly to stop publishing in and collaborating with journals that are highly priced. The main drawback of this is that it is not really a collective answer from the math community; moreover, I guess that only established people can allow themselves to do so.
I remember that Greg Kuperberg had a suggestion about publicity of referee's reports, whenever papers are accepted. The idea is indeed quite nice but addresses only one issue. My concern here is about a global answer.
My question is
How could we (the math community) answer globally, and collectively?
I actually have a naive proposal, which emerged after some discussions with Vincent Borrelli. My dreamed answer is a website on which we can find
- archived preprints and/or links to all versions of the same document that exists on the web.
- a discussion page associated to each preprint, so that interested people can ask/answer questions about the paper (and even suggest improvements).
- a review page on which one can find a review of the paper. It would be like on Mathscinet and Zentralblatt, except that the review is a collective work (nobody asks someone do to it). There should be rules (the most obvious one is that authors of the paper cannot edit the review page).
- an editorial board having the possibility to "publish" some of preprints. Here "publish" simply means there is a label on the document certifying that the editorial board consider the paper relevant and (i) either the discussion page converged to a consensus about the validity of the results, (ii) or the editorial board have asked experts to write reports on the paper, that happened to be positive, and that will be freely available together with the paper.
One can of course imagine having different types of labels (by fields, by standards of quality, by length, etc... like for usual journals), but starting with one would be already great.
Only point (4) cannot be developed with solely "the help of people who want to help". Here we would need to start with a board of well-established and famous mathematicians.
My second question is then
Do you have any suggestion or criticisms to improve this proposal? And would you be ready to help ?
Please just tell me if this is not the place for such a question, in which case I would simply delete it.
Let me add a more funny question:
How should we cite labeled papers? I.e., do you have a suggestion for the name of this virtual journal ?
EDIT : Thierry Zell pointed this MO question about a possibly free alternative to MathSciNet or ZB. It seems to me that all the objections to such a project could have been addressed to wikipedia. Nevertheless, I think it is not the heart of my question.