After resigning en masse, math journal editors launch new publication

The editor in chief, managing editors, and entire editorial board of a mathematics journal all resigned earlier this year following a dispute with their publisher over special issues and article volume. 

Changes the publisher wanted to make to the journal “would have the effect of jeopardizing scientific integrity for the sake of financial gain,” the editors wrote in their announcement of their resignations, which took place on January 11. 

The mass resignation at the Journal of Geometric Mechanics, previously published by the American Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), is one of at least five such collective actions journal editors took in 2023, according to a list Retraction Watch has compiled

The former editors have started a new journal named Geometric Mechanics with World Scientific. 

The editors’ announcement, which was emailed to a few colleagues, stated that AIMS “introduced numerous special issues with no consultation with, nor control from, the Editor-in-Chief nor the Editorial Board,” and “insisted that the Board increase by five-fold the number of published papers over the next few years.” 

When the managing editors tried negotiating with the publisher “their attempts were largely ignored,” according to the announcement. 

Manuel de Leon, the editor in chief, told us AIMS had made the journal open access with author fees without consulting the editorial board. In addition to increasing the number of accepted papers, AIMS was giving non-specialist staff editors some control over publications and requiring the editors to publish submitted and accepted papers within two months, he said. 

The editors perceived that the two-month period for submission to publication was “pressure to sacrifice the integrity of the editorial process to increase the number of accepted papers,” de Leon said. He continued: 

As the Editorial Board, we felt that these new operational and editorial policies for the journal were not commensurate with our view of how to run JGM for the benefit of the geometric mechanics community—and the mathematical community as a whole—by maintaining the highest standards of quality and academic integrity.

The old Journal of Geometric Mechanics is now named Communications in Analysis and Mechanics, and has a new editorial board

De Leon said AIMS was operating “under directorship” of Shouchuan Hu, an emeritus faculty member at Missouri State University in Springfield. Hu is the registered agent for AIMS, LLC, a limited liability company based in Missouri. 

Hu told us the editors’ version of events was “untrue.” But in his correspondence with editorial board members, which he shared with Retraction Watch, he described the planned shift to open access and increased publication volume target as changes to make the journal financially sustainable. 

In an email sent to board members after their resignations, Hu wrote: 

It appears there might be a communicational [sic] issue between us.  Therefore, please view the following facts:

1. the journal has been around for 14 years; 

2. the journal has 52 editors 

3. the journal publishes about 20 articles each year; 

4. the journal has less than 10 subscriptions in total; 

5. thus the publishing model is not sustainable financially; 

6. the trend of journal transformation is weeping the entire industry; 

7. thus, we need to follow the trend to develop the journal into Open Access, sooner or later; 

8. it has been offered that all papers recruited by any board member will be APC waived; 

9. all special issues papers arranged by any board members will be APC waived.

Hu also wrote that since some of the journal’s editors had published their work in Mathematics, an open access publication from MDPI, “this approach should be acceptable.” He continued: 

If for any reason you should feel that we modify the approach to make it work better, please let me know. We can also offer the possibility of moving the journal back to be a regular publication again, no more Open Access, if the majority feel it might be a better alternative after the miscommunication is clarified.

In comments to Retraction Watch, Hu said de Leon had published in Mathematics, “therefore, he accepts the model of OA clearly.”

De Leon has not responded to our follow-up request for comment on Hu’s claims. 

In an email de Leon wrote to Hu last September that Hu shared with us, de Leon elaborated on his concerns, emphasizing the importance “that no quality paper cannot be published because the authors do not have the funds to pay the [open access fee].” 

He continued: 

Today I saw that there are two special issues to be published in the JGM. This is the first news I have of this; and we cannot work like this. There cannot be a JGM parallel to the current one, every paper or special issue must be previously approved by the director and the managing editors, and the consultation to the editor or editors who are closer to the topics of those papers or special issues. And it must be us, with the help of the EB members, who indicate the referees for each paper. Because if this is not done, all the work of these 15 years will be thrown away, and we will have lost all the prestige we have gained. It is no longer a problem of economics, of [open access], it is a problem of quality and procedures in the publication process. Without the usual standards in mathematics journals that have a prestige of years, the JGM cannot be continued.

“Sure, I agree with you in principle,” Hu’s reply began. He continued: 

On the other hand, as we agreed we need to target about publication of 100 papers next year and the cycle from submission to publication should be within 2 months. Thus, there needs to be a much better communication and efficiency.  We will make sure the in house staff editors communicate with you and the board timely, but they need instructions and feedback from the board in days, not weeks, in order for them to perform. Therefore, they should be given some flexibility.  Otherwise, the targets next year will not be achieved, and the journal will not be sustainable. 

We of course do not wish to create a JGM within JGM.  We just need to follow others on how to develop an OA journal.

In another follow up, Hu told de Leon he “did not realize that the solicited two special issues are causing an alarm till now,” and “we should then stop the two issues from further development.” 

Hu also wrote that “any future actions should be under your supervision,” and asked de Leon to confer with other board members to develop ideas for potential special issues and contributors, which staff editors for the publisher would handle. 

After several more emails from Hu, de Leon responded that he was busy with meetings and a student defending his doctoral thesis, and wanted “to think quietly about the future of the JGM.” He proposed meeting over Zoom, as Hu had suggested, in October. 

In the next email in the chain, dated December 7, Hu wrote: 

I am sure we could iron out our differences and move forward when we have a talk.  I don’t feel like intervening with the editorial structure of the journal unless I have to.

On December 26, Hu sent another email complaining de Leon had not replied to him. He called the journal “dysfunctional,” and said he “may intervene if this dysfunction should continue into 2023.” He reiterated an earlier invitation for de Leon to speak at an upcoming AIMS conference, and proposed a meeting at the conference “so that we can try to come up with a working plan for the journal.” 

Weeks later, de Leon and the rest of the editorial board resigned. 

James Montaldi, a reader in mathematics at the University of Manchester and formal editorial board member, told us the previous Journal of Geometric Mechanics “was a specialized journal which reported much of the best material in the area,” and published special issues proposed and curated by members of the editorial board (rather than the publisher). 

“The journal worked well from an academic point of view before,” he said, and “we had enough warning of the changes to all resign before they were realized.”

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12 thoughts on “After resigning en masse, math journal editors launch new publication”

  1. “6. the trend of journal transformation is weeping the entire industry”
    Indeed. As the profit margins of the commercial publishers indicate, the field has devolved into rent-seeking and there are other ways to manage things rather more effectively without them. Their traditional functions are, to a significant degree, obsolete.
    The linked list is handy, and has been bookmarked. I’m starting to keep a list of the publishers I will not referee for (only a few so far, but they run quite a few journals). If they don’t see value in serving the academic community, I don’t see value in donating my work to them – and I do see harm.
    I don’t see this so much as a problem to be solved as a phase to be outgrown.

    1. 3. the journal publishes about 20 articles each year;

      Is this encouraging to Authors who wish to publish their articles with JGM?

  2. No sane mathematician will consider AIMS or World Scientific as trustworthy publishers. MDPI’s Mathematics mentioned here is of dubious reputation, too.

    Chances are high that we are talking about some fringe activities, and no more than that.

    1. At least in my field (geometric group theory), IJAC and Journal of Topology and Analysis (both published by World Scientific) are quite good (not the top though). Agree on the rest of your comment.

    2. I guess Hu is referring to his own “AIMS Mathematics” https://www.aimspress.com/journal/Math, which is apparently different from MDPI’s Mathematics. Surprised they haven’t sued each other, using the authors’ fees to pay the lawyers, over this. Hard to keep track anymore; indeed, “the entire industry” should all be “weeping” …

  3. The announcement referred to is:

    Announcement concerning Journal of Geometric Mechanics, previously published by AIMS (American Institute of Mathematical Sciences):

    On 11th January 2023, the Editor-in-Chief and the two Managing Editors resigned from this journal, together with the entire Editorial Board.

    Discussions with the publishers during 2022 made it clear that the direction in which AIMS wished to take the journal would have the effect of jeopardizing scientific integrity for the sake of financial gain. The Managing Editors attempted to negotiate with AIMS, but their attempts were largely ignored. In particular, AIMS (1) introduced numerous special issues with no consultation with, nor control from, the Editor-in-Chief nor the Editorial Board; (2) insisted that the Board increase by five-fold the number of published papers over the next few years.

    Following the resignations, the Editor-in-Chief, Prof Manuel de Léon, has made a new agreement for a similar journal to be named Geometric Mechanics, and published by World Scientific. The entire Editorial Board from the old AIMS journal has transferred to the new journal.

    Postscript: AIMS has discontinued the title Journal of Geometric Mechanics, changing it to Communications in Analysis and Mechanics. This journal has a new scope, a new title and a new editorial board, so it is not clear on what grounds it is a continuation of the previous Journal of Geometric Mechanics.

  4. I was puzzled by this story until I realised that the American Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) aimsciences.org is not the same as the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) aimath.org .

  5. I will never accept being an editor for AIMS or MDPI, and I have been offered several times. That’s the best way of avoiding this kind of problems.

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