It is quite long and touches on many topics, but the most interesting (for me) part of the discussion centered on the differences between various models of academic research environment. Here are some excerpts:
In France we have a marvel which is the CNRS. It’s a place where gifted people can get positions that they can keep for the rest of their lives. The main point is that it makes it possible for people like Lafforgue to think for many years about a problem without having to produce n papers per year and apply for an NSF grant. Young people can invest in long term projects which they could never do in a system with a short time unit.
You cannot decide before hand whom will be a Lafforgue and you will almost automatically have other people that will produce very little. It’s a rule. It is the price to pay to eliminate this pressure to write n papers per year which is nonsense in subjects which are really difficult. It takes 5-6 years to learn such a subject and you don’t produce anything in that long interval. The French system is extremely efficient in that sense that it gives to some people the ability to work without being constantly bugged by the need to produce a paper. It is totally different from other systems but it is successful. Most of the CNRS researchers in mathematics are very interesting and productive mathematicians
I believe that the most successful systems so far were these big institutes in the Soviet union, like the Landau institute, the Steklov institute, etc. Money did not play any role there, the job was just to talk about science. It is a dream to gather many young people in an institute and make sure that their basic activity is to talk about science without getting corrupted by thinking about buying a car, getting more money, having a plan for career etc.... Of course in the former Soviet Union there were no such things as cars to buy etc so the problem did not arise. In fact CNRS comes quite close to that dream too, provided one avoids all interference from our society which nowadays unfortunately tends to become more and more money oriented.
Yep, this is pretty much what I imagined my future to be when I was just starting out. Unfortunately, France seems to be the only country left in Europe (indeed, the world) which still maintains such a system, while the rest of the world is stampeding towards the US-style competitive grant-based system, in spite of the enormous amounts of waste and misery it generates, with the country where I live -- the Netherlands -- leading the pack (a friend once described the Netherlands as "a poor man's America"). I should have listened to my mother and learned French while in grad school.
More recently Springer realized that even books out of copyright could generate new revenue and offered authors the "benefit" of keeping their books in print indefinitely by voluntarily extending copyright to infinity. Actually, you can get nearly all math books free online at the rogue Russian "Genesis Library", with websites libgen.in and gen.lib.rec.ec (most of my books are there -- help yourself). Which is better: lunch money royalties once a year or wider free distribution of your books? (Emphasis added)
Yes, that is a senior mathematician telling people "go to Library Genesis and download my books for free".
More telling is the history of mathematics publishing and relatively recent, and unfortunately unsuccessful, efforts in establishing the World Mathematics Library.
Here is Mumford on the issue of money:
Of course, I hear loud cries of "who pays?". Yes, it's not free. But moving to something like the above would free up large amounts of library money currently being spent for overpriced journals, e.g. Springer and Elsevier (maybe even shaming NYU into reducing its ridiculous price for Communications in Pure and Applied Math). The cost of running an online journal is certainly fairly small, though by no means zero. There are no printing, mailing and storage costs and no subscription record keeping. Refereeing is done for nothing, manuscripts are prepared by the author in latex with fixed formatting packages so they are ready to post, editing beyond a spell check is a luxury we can omit, esp. in our multi-lingual world where the niceties of grammar are increasingly forgotten or never learned by foreign speakers.
The image below is a personal letter of thanks to Springer, the man, from mathematicians (Hilbert! Caratheodory! Courant! Bieberbach! Hecke! Landau! etc) thanking him for his efforts and sacrifices to keep two important journals going. This would never happen today. Mumford is in the league of the signatories, and he is giving modern publishing corporations what for.
(Ignore the date of posting---1st April---it's a serious article)
"In 1958, Philips tried to make "popular" electronic music.
For a couple of years "room 306" of the Philips laboratory in Eindhoven
was allowed to make records like this. It did not catch on.
You could say they were 30 years ahead of their time..."
The first two links below are tracks from the late 1950's, the third one a modern remix of one of them.
Imagine someone loving his life and work that much. I bet he was genuinely baffled at why anyone would disagree.
Bulshytt: Speech (typically but not necessarily commercial or political) that employs euphemism, convenient vagueness, numbing repetition, and other such rhetorical subterfuges to create the impression that something has been said.
In that world, this is not an expletive but a technical term.
Use this example if you ever need to explain the meaning of the word "backfire".
The NSA and others want a crypto backdoor that only they can use. If you know anything about security, you know that's a logical impossibility -- a lock that only good guys can open. It doesn't work because the lock has no way to tell if you're a good guy. It only knows whether you have the key.
What's really interesting about that is that the NSA, of all organizations, must know that what they're asking for can't exist. (Or else they're woefully incompetent and should be shut down for that reason alone.) So they clearly don't care whether your information is stolen by criminals, as long as they get to continue spying on you.
Thus, every demand they make to weaken our security is a reminder of just why we need better security. Keep demanding, ya jerks. Keep demanding.
 Determining the overlap between "spies" and "criminals" is left as an exercise for the reader.
 That's how the NSA sees themselves, of course. It isn't how the rest of us see them. Yet another reminder not to make their lives easier by using a deliberately weakened lock.
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