Top AI Researchers Rebel Against Nature
Written by Mike James   
Tuesday, 01 May 2018

It's a good headline, but the truth is that more than 2000 people working in AI have decided to boycott Nature's new paid for journal on AI. This is an important step, but there are some missing names.

The current situation with academic publishing is archaic to say the least. Once upon a time, the establishment of journals for publishing important work in the sciences was a vital service and the companies that did it charged a reasonable amount for their services. Today it really isn't the task that it once was and academic publishers are making profits from publicly funded research and restricting access to what should be freely available. In the main, they don't pay for the peer review, do very little editing, and often don't have to make a substantial investment to produce paper copies of the journal. Yet they feel entitled to charge $20 or $30 or more for access to papers stored on the web, usually as pdfs.

If you have access to an academic library, you might not be aware of how much money goes to academic publishers so that you can read the latest research without much friction. As a technical journalist, I don't have access to paid-for copies and if the paper isn't downloadable from a pre-print server, or from authors' websites. I have to request a copy and wait for a reply. With a subject, like AI, which is of importance to non-academic companies, the situation is much the same and it really does slow down the transmission of new results.

It clearly isn't serving the needs of science and AI in particular.


Hence when Nature, now more properly called "Springer Nature", announced that it was to produce a new paid-for journal, Nature Machine Intelligence, starting in 2019 something had to be done. For the record, Springer Nature is said to make 1.64 Billion euros from its approximately 3000 journals. That's a lot of money to be made from mostly publicly funded research and paper writing.

The backlash takes the form of a promise not to submit, review or edit for the journal. You can sign up at a page hosted by Oregon State University and started by Professor Thomas Dietterich, Founding President of the International Machine Learning Society, only a few days ago. At the time of writing there are more than 2200 signatures including  83 from Google,  27 from Microsoft, 16 from Facebook and 11 from Amazon, and a very wide spread of well-known academic institutions. You will also find the names of some very well known AI researchers - Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun, Jeff Dean, Ilya Sutskever, Ian Goodfellow and more.

The missing entity is Apple - not one signature owns up to working at Apple. What does this mean?

The final words should go to the explanation on the pledge website:

We see no role for closed access or author-fee publication in the future of machine learning research and believe the adoption of this new journal as an outlet of record for the machine learning community would be a retrograde step. In contrast, we would welcome new zero-cost open access journals and conferences in artificial intelligence and machine learning.


More Information

Statement on Nature Machine Intelligence

Nature Machine Intelligence

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 01 May 2018 )