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Timothy Gowers
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The background to this story is that Germany and Sweden have been setting a great example to the rest of the world by refusing to let Elsevier walk all over them in negotiations. (My own country, the UK, talked tough and then meekly accepted a deal that basically changed nothing.) Interestingly, Elsevier decided at first not to cut off access to its journals. Why might they have done this? My interpretation, which could be wrong, is that they were afraid of the world seeing that an entire country can walk away from its expensive subscriptions to ScienceDirect, the Elsevier platform, and continue to function without any major inconvenience.

But of course, that left them in an awkward position: if they are letting you read their articles for no charge, then you have no incentive to reach a deal where you will start to pay for them -- quite the reverse. So now they have done what I suppose they had to do and finally cut off access to their papers. This is a very important moment: please, Germans and Swedes, hold firm. If it becomes clear that your academics are suffering badly, then maybe you'll have to do something, but it is in the interests of the whole world that you should do this experiment properly so that we get an idea of how serious the consequences are of not having access. Of course, I'm expecting that they will not be all that serious, which would, in principle at least, hugely improve the bargaining position of everyone who negotiates with Elsevier.
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If you think that something isn't quite right about Elsevier being chosen by the EU to monitor Open Science, there is still time to add your name to a list of signatories denouncing the decision. You don't have to be from the EU. Details about what exactly the complaint is can be found in the document.


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A relief -- for now at least

For some reason, as others have observed, G+ won't let one post BBC articles on this topic.
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This awful story provides quite a good riposte to those who use the slogan "Guns don't kill people -- people kill people." If the person who carried out the attack had used a gun, it's hard to imagine that there would have been no deaths. Maybe a better slogan would be, "Knives don't kill people nearly as easily as guns do."
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A group of us are setting up a new combinatorics journal. The aim is to provide an ethical alternative for papers at the level of the top specialist journals (such as Combinatorica), where "ethical" means that there are no charges for authors or readers.

For more details about the journal and the reasons for starting it, see the blog post below. And if you are combinatorialist reading this and would like to help us off to a strong start, then we'd be delighted. Our part of the bargain is that it will be the journal's policy to accept papers if and only if they are of a high standard: if we don't receive many good papers then we won't publish many papers. That way, you can submit a good paper to us and be confident that it won't be selling it short.
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A great piece in the Independent about the absurdities of Brexit, pointing out that the additional money needed for the NHS as a result of an ageing population is about 20 billion, the same as the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the Hard Brexiteers "max fac" option for replacing the Customs Union would cost, which itself is far more than the 13 billion we currently pay to the EU each year, much of which we get back in the form of agricultural subsidies and the like.

If there were a second referendum, the Remain camp should learn a lesson from the first one and come up with some decent slogans. One could be something along the lines of "Let's stay in the EU -- it's much cheaper than Brexit." Another could be "Brexit will cost us hundreds of millions of pounds per week: let's spend it on the NHS instead."
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This is what Britain has come to. The story below is about a woman who after several years of receiving disability benefits did not attend a work capability assessment, was accordingly judged fit to work, and had her benefits stopped. The reason she didn't attend: because the relevant building was not wheelchair accessible. As the journalist says, if this were a scene from a novel or film, one would think they were laying on the irony a bit too thickly.
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Better than Yanny vs Laurel

If you haven't been hiding under a rock for the last few days, you'll have listened to the latest variant on the blue-and-black/white-and-gold dress debate, which is whether a certain word, which you get to listen to, is "Yanny" or "Laurel". I'm almost exclusively a Laurel person myself: a couple of times I heard Yanny, but most of the time I can only hear Laurel, however hard I try.

One explanation offered for the Yanny/Laurel phenomenon is that it depends which frequencies you hear -- Laurel is more at the lower frequencies and Yanny at the higher ones. I found that in my family, where I am the oldest by a certain distance, I was the only one hearing Laurel, which made me worry that I'm starting to lose my upper-frequency hearing. But the phenomenon in the video below is harder to explain. Do you hear "Brainstorm" or "Green Needle"? The weird thing is that it's entirely up to you. If you decide it's going to be Brainstorm, then that's what it is, and likewise for Green Needle. Pretty disconcerting.
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Just heard that Sweden is not going to renew its contract with Elsevier. Is the trickle gradually turning into a flood? What a pity that the UK came up for renewal just before all this started rather than a little time after. But maybe there's hope that this will be the last time we throw money down the drain.

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Comments are disabled for +John Baez's post, but as a mathematician I couldn't help enjoying part of a tweet by Mike Pence on this subject. He wrote, "I still believe with all my heart that FAITH in America is rising." In other words, his belief that faith is rising is itself a matter of faith. Is metafaith the new faith?
Faith is gaining new life across America every day

Vice-President Pence writes:

“The percentage of Americans who live out their religion on a weekly basis — praying, going to church, reading and believing in the Bible — has remained remarkably consistent over the decades, even as the population of the United States has grown by leaps and bounds. I mean, think about it, today, relative to the population, four times as many Americans go to church on a regular basis than at the time of our nation’s founding. Religion in America isn’t receding. It’s just the opposite. Faith is gaining new life across America every day.”

Below is the main graph from the study he cites to back up his claim.

An author of that study, Landon Schnabel, says that Pence missed the key point about his study:

Pence’s language is “imprecise because it chooses one thing to highlight while leaving out an equally important part of the story of American religious change: Although intense religion persists, moderate religion is declining quickly,” Schnabel told The Fact Checker. “It may in fact be because of the intensity of American religion, and the perceived partisan polarization of American religion, that moderately religious people are leaving it behind.”

Schnabel added that one aspect of Pence’s remarks was

“wrong by more than omission: Weekly attendance is declining. It’s only more-than-weekly attendance that persists.” Once-a-week attendance has dropped from 28.5 percent in 1972 to 17.5 percent in 2014, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives.

Schnabel also said his research does not support Pence’s bottom-line conclusion — that “religion in America isn’t receding.”

“Our data do not support the conclusion that religion is on the rise in the United States,” Schnabel said. “Some of the coverage of our paper made that argument, including the Federalist coverage, but our study simply shows that intense religion is persistent even as moderate religion declines. Subsequently, of those who remain religious, a higher proportion are intensely religious.”

He likened it to a “container getting smaller, but more concentrated,” such as espresso vs. coffee.

For more details:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/05/15/pences-claim-that-religion-in-america-isnt-receding-its-just-the-opposite


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