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Notes from the Incoming Editor

Kyle Siegrist

I am very happy to be the new editor of JOMA, and I am looking forward to this exciting new opportunity.

Before I say anything else, I know that everyone concerned with JOMA--the authors, readers, editors, and reviewers--will join me in thanking David Smith for his enormous contributions as JOMA editor for the last five years. David has guided JOMA essentially since its birth and during its most critical period. David has been the ideal editor: diligent, caring, conscientious, and incredibly hard working. He has the writing skills, technical skills, mathematical expertise, and pedagogical expertise necessary for this very complicated job. In his valedictory notes, David draws the analogy with parenthood; he has every right to feel like a proud parent. There are many things that I know that I will not be able to do as well as David, but I will certainly do my best.

I see JOMA as a pioneering journal, one that will help define what expository mathematics should look like in the digital age. In this context, it's interesting to reflect on the characteristics of the classical (pre-web) model of the scholarly mathematics journal:

  • The journal was the gateway to scholarship; no work, whether research or expository, was taken seriously unless published in a respected journal.
  • Only large institutions (publishing houses and universities) had the resources to publish journals.
  • Only large institutions (university libraries) could afford to subscribe to more than one or two journals.
  • An "article" consisted of expository text and mathematical expressions, perhaps punctuated with the occasional table or black-and-white graph.
  • Articles were of moderate length, almost always less than fifty pages, except for articles of exceptional merit or invited review articles.
  • An article had a standard structure, divided into pages, sections, subsections, and paragraphs, with a well-defined beginning, end, and direction.
  • To "publish" meant to print the articles on paper, bind the paper pages into books, and distribute the books to subscribers.
  • Once published, an article was fixed and permanent, unless amended or corrected by an addendum published later.

Not one of these characteristics is essential in the digital age. Our words are no longer adequate. What does it mean to "publish"? If it means posting material on a web site, then everyone publishes all the time--researchers, teachers, and students. Self-publishing is hardly considered pathetic; it's the norm. (Just think of the most recent revolution in "blogs".) Even scholarly articles are posted on personal websites long before they are printed in traditional journals or posted on journal web sites. Once posted, an article is immediately accessible to persons all over the world. A student with a blog has the same reach, in principle, as a major university or the MAA or NSF. What is an "article"? In addition to expository text and mathematical expressions, a web-based article can contain color graphics, video clips, audio clips, interactive mathlets, embedded worksheets, and many other non-print elements. Cyberspace is essentially unlimited, so an article can be any size. It could contain thousands of "pages", except that of course, the term page is no longer meaningful. The possible structure of an article is also essentially unlimited; it certainly need not have a single beginning, end, and direction. Web articles are often like living organisms, changing daily if not hourly, sometimes disappearing perhaps to be reborn in a different form at a different address.

Given the description in the last paragraph, what is the proper role of a scholarly journal such as JOMA? What types of articles should a web journal publish, and what should it mean to publish them? What are the properties of a an excellent mathematics article in the digital age? What does a web journal offer a "reader" beyond what she could find on her own with the ubiquitous Google? I'm not sure that anyone has definitive answers to these questions. However, some things are permanent. The purpose of a mathematics article, regardless of its form, is to convey mathematical and pedagogical information to an audience. That information must be correct and the presentation should be clear, precise, and succinct, Arguably the last remaining essential role of a scholarly journal is peer review. Thanks to its authors, readers, reviewers, and editors, JOMA, at the very least, has provided valuable service in this area. JOMA has published outstanding articles, and many of these articles are better for having gone through the editorial process.

I want to close by inviting you to participate in JOMA in whatever way that you can--as a reader, discussant, author, or reviewer--and to help spread the word to your friends and colleagues. JOMA and the other elements of the Mathematics Digital Library are parts of a fascinating revolution that will redefine the presentation of mathematical information.

Kyle Siegrist, "Notes from the Incoming Editor," Convergence (January 2006)