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Timothy Gowers
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Mathematician
Mathematician

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A small detail that my wife pointed out to me about the reporting of recent violent attacks in Britain. The attacker in Westminster yesterday, Khalid Masood, from Kent, has been repeatedly described as "British-born". The murderer of the MP Jo Cox last year, Tommy Mair, who was also born in Britain, was not.

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This could be worth watching: Terence Tao is giving the presentation of the work of this year's Abel Prize winner when he or she is announced next Tuesday ...


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This has to be some kind of record. The man on the right in this video is interviewing the man on the left, who became aware that he was gay at the age of five and then took 90 years, during which he had a 67-year marriage and became a father, grandfather and great-grandfather, to come out. Now he is looking for love. There are a lot of natural questions about this that don't get answered in the interview, but that doesn't stop it being very entertaining. It's sort of moving too, but always in a humorous way.

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Acta Mathematica is one of the very top mathematics journals. Until recently it was published by Springer. But now it has switched to International Press and become a fully open access journal. Two very important details are that authors (or their institutions) are not charged to publish in the journal, and that the entire back catalogue of the journal is now free to read -- not just articles published from this point on. This is possible because the journal title is owned by the Mittag-Leffler Institute and not by the publishers. We need more of this please!
Acta Mathematica now available free online

The entire back-catalogue of Acta Mathematica (one of the world's top mathematics journals) is now freely available online, from the first issue in 1882 up to the current issue. This follows a new agreement between the Institut Mittag-Leffler and International Press.

http://intlpress.com/site/pub/pages/journals/items/acta/_home/_main/index.html

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A blog post about the value added we get from Elsevier in return for the billions we pay to them.

(Spoiler: there isn't much.) 

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Let's try to understand Brexit logic.

1. It is the will of the people that the UK should leave the EU. (Proof: this was the outcome, by a very narrow majority, of a referendum.)

2. A lot of Leave voters cited immigration as a major factor in their decision to vote Leave.

3. It follows that having control over immigration must be the top priority in the forthcoming negotiations.

I've already made the simple point on Google Plus that 3 does not follow from 1 and 2. Even if a majority of Leave voters would like to pay a heavy economic price in order to reduce immigration, it certainly doesn't follow that a majority of the country feels that way. But now, surprise surprise, it turns out that we'll be paying this heavy economic price and not reducing immigration. (Personally I'm very happy about that, but I'm not one of the "ordinary working people with very real concerns about immigration".)

To appreciate just how horribly irrational all this is, one should dig a little deeper and ask why people have concerns about immigration. What we hear about is mainly economic reasons of the "they come here and take our jobs and use our public services" variety. But if this is the reason, then ripping up our trade deals is completely mad: it will cost far more jobs and do far more damage to our public services than immigrants possibly could.

Since large numbers of people don't seem to be persuaded by this obvious argument, the uncomfortable conclusion is that the arguments we are hearing are actually just a cover for non-economic reasons to do with identity: a large proportion of the country places a very high value on homogeneity of culture and appearance and is prepared to pay dearly for it. But even then the irrationality persists: it seems that they are going to pay dearly and not get it.

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An Iranian I know (I don't know whether he or she wants to be anonymous so I'm erring on the cautious side) drew my attention to yet another deeply worrying thing that's going on in the US, but that seems to have attracted a lot less attention -- or at least it certainly has over here in the UK. A bill has come before Congress that includes the following chilling clause:

The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines necessary and appropriate in order to achieve the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

So, for example, Trump would be authorized to make a preemptive strike on Iran, without first consulting Congress, should he deem it appropriate.

The full resolution can be read here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-joint-resolution/10/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22iran%22%5D%7D&r=7

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Here's a nice blog post by someone who describes what she gets for her money when she publishes with Elsevier -- which she no longer plans to do.

The journal is published by Elsevier, one of the world’s major providers of scientific and scholarly publication. Elsevier owns ~2,500 journals and publishes ~400,000 articles each year. In 2015 alone, it generated a 37% profit margin, with an annual revenue of $25.2 billion.

My salary – my research fuels – is paid for by the Australian taxpayer. I submitted my taxpayer-funded paper to Elsevier and signed ownership of my work to them. The reviewers who assessed the quality of my paper did so on a voluntary basis for the journal. The editors who stepped in to help resolve the production issues also did so on a voluntary basis for the journal.

My paper cost $US 1500 to publish, which encompasses the cost of production. This is the process that introduced a multitude of errors into my work and required ~20 emails to rectify. This was paid to Elsevier as part of their $25 billion revenue.

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The moment I've been dreading has arrived, and I'm forced to use the new Google Plus. So let me celebrate by linking to an article in the Daily Mail, something I never thought I'd do. And the fact that it's by Prince Charles is even more unexpected. But to my surprise, they let him write an article on climate change, and although all he is doing is presenting the situation as any sensible person would, the article is interesting given that it is aimed at a readership with a large proportion of people who are not at all sensible, and seems to do a very good job. I say "seems to" because I find it very level-headed and persuasive, but I suppose it would be asking too much to hope that it will change the minds of many Mail readers.

Here's a sample paragraph:

There has, of course, been an alleged ‘pause’ in the warming. Why cut pollution when warming seems to have stopped, some ask? The answer is simple enough: there isn’t a pause. The first decade of this century was the warmest measured in records stretching back to 1850. This decade is on course to be warmer still. Last year, 2016, was the warmest ever recorded. The second-warmest year was 2015 and the third-warmest 2014.



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An amusing story from a mathematical point of view and a serious embarrassment for the parti socialiste in France. They've just had the first round of their primary to see who will be their candidate for the forthcoming presidential elections. In brief, the story is that at a certain point they said what the vote count was for the various candidates, and then a little while later they updated the count, and then either a statistical miracle had occurred or the figures had been manipulated, since the numbers of votes had gone up by almost exactly the same percentage (just over 28%) for each candidate. If you read French, you can read people's attempts to explain what had happened. There's no suggestion that the final result was affected, which is why I call it an embarrassment rather than a major scandal.
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