Multimedia and the Journal of Number Theory

I recently heard from David Goss, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Number Theory, that the journal is planning on introducing video abstracts for papers that they publish. Here’s his e-mail explaining this:

Dear Colleagues:

By now I believe that all of us have had the pleasure of watching a famous scientist or mathematician discuss their work on internet video. I have certainly done so myself and learned much. Indeed I can readily give a long list of mathematicians who I would very much like to view presenting the ideas behind their great works.

For example, it would be fabulous to watch a young Serre discussing the ideas behind FAC or GAGA; or a young Faltings discussing his solution on the Mordell Conjecture etc. I am sure that each of you can compile your own long list (and obviously not just papers on number theory!).

It is in this spirit that I suggested to Elsevier that all JNT authors be allowed to present a short (4 minutes max) “video abstract” of their accepted manuscript. Elsevier has kindly accepted this idea and is now quite excited about it.

The idea is very simple: When a paper is *finally accepted* for JNT, the author will be notified and given the option of putting up a video abstract — THIS IS ONLY FOR ACCEPTED PAPERS! The video will be watched to check for professionalism etc., and those videos deemed offensive will not be used (and the author sanctioned!). The video will then be linked next to the paper on the JNT website. Information on how to upload files, etc., will be on the JNT website by April 23, 2008.

Videoing virtually anything is now deeply a part of our culture as witness the rise of YouTube. In fact, we will be using YouTube itself temporarily until Science Direct is augmented to handle flash files (which I hope will be within a few months). The url is:

where there is a short video about these multimedia abstracts!

I expect the video to be very low key like the one on the above url. I also think that, frankly, it will be a fun thing to do after all the hard work producing an accepted manuscript! Certainly the technology to produce such videos is now ubiquitous worldwide.

It is important to note that ALL such videos will be archived by Elsevier and thus will be available for future scholars and mathematicians.

With a little thought one can see vast possibilities here: For instance a paper on the topology of elliptic curves could be proceeded by a short video of computer graphics narrated by the author etc.

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19 Responses to Multimedia and the Journal of Number Theory

  1. Jason Starr says:

    Why do we need Elsevier for this? Anybody can post video to YouTube, and no university libraries need be bankrupted in the process.

  2. Arun M T says:

    An open repository would be truly great. `You Tube’ wouldn’t be a bad idea.

  3. tom says:

    I agree that libraries don’t need an extra Elsevier charge for this and that anybody can post on youtube.

    On the other hand since the aim is really to talk only about accepted papers, all such videos posted to the youtube group of the journal should have both comments and ratings disabled since any youtube user (think laymen, children and anonymous colleagues) can comment and rate any youtube videos that allows it. In fact I’m not sure that ratings can be disabled in youtube, which would be a problem.

  4. Klaus Korak says:

    Hi, I am a co-founder of the Journal of Visualized Experiments in Cambridge, MA.

    Please visit our site at

    we would be very happy to support this effort!

  5. Pingback: Journal of Number Theory op YouTube at QED

  6. Bee says:

    I can only say about this what I said previously: the quality of a video and how well one can sell oneself or the topic does greatly depend on professional support. If the journal doesn’t provide a service that ensures videos can be produced with roughly equal quality, this will just widen the gap between the scientists in institution where there is such a support (e.g. by the public outreach department or by a hired contractor) and where there isn’t. When I read a sentence like ‘videoing virtually anything is now deeply a part of our culture’, I have to ask myself exactly whose culture is meant here? (I certainly don’t see it as part of my ‘culture’.) As much as I like watching videos myself, I am afraid this can bias people’s opinions towards those who have the possibilities to come up with great videos. Yes, I would expect that the first some videos are low key, but if this becomes an established procedure and gains in importance, researchers and their institutions will try to produce the most convincing videos they can possibly come up with. The analogy to commercials and their influence on the ‘free marketplace’ lies at hand.

  7. Alejandro Rivero says:

    It is important that youtube (and, I expect, other storage sites in the future) provides now a “chromeless player” which allows full control of video, jumping to specific positions, sinchro with slides or other videos, all from javascript.

  8. Steve Myers says:

    At first it seems like a good idea, but I think it would also cause fear & trembling to run through math depts. The few times I’ve been forced to “present” it is usually a disater with an hour lecture condensed to 5 minutes of quick explanations & scribbled derivations & questions answered by pointing to an equation. And it could easily start the wrong kind of competition (American math idol?).

  9. Thomas Love says:

    The five minute limit seems rather strange, who can say anything worthwhile in that time? It would be better to have each author post a video presentation of a full hour lecture.

  10. Coin says:

    Alejandro: Lee Smolin has been posting a lecture series this past semester on the nature of time, and he is using some interesting flash player that shows a video of Smolin giving the talk in one corner of the window and the current page of Smolin’s slides in the rest of the window. It would be interesting to see this concept used more often (and especially interesting if it could be extended such that the table of contents for the slides could be used to jump to that point in the lecture!).

  11. dave tweed says:

    Since Arun talked about an open archive, let me point out that another issue is storing the video in an open format. YouTube relies on Adobe Flash, and my understanding is that whilst Adobe releases a specification of the format their licence disallows using it to implement a player, so “officially” you are restricted to hoping adobe release a player for the computer system you use. (It may be that this clause in their licence is invalid; I’m not a lawyer.) Even if Adobe do release a version for your system, I’ve had bad experiences with their installer software on minority systems like Linux, where it makes some big assumptions that are sometimes wrong. So picking a format where legally only one company can make the software presents problems that could be avoided by picking a format that’s intended to be free for anyone who wants to to implement.

  12. Pingback: Michael Nielsen » Biweekly links for 04/18/2008

  13. Pingback: “Journal of Number Theory” poderá vir a difundir resumos em vídeo de artigos aceites para publicação « problemas | teoremas

  14. Jeff McGowan says:

    I don’t get the point of this at all. I had a paper (joint with E. Makover) in JNT in 2006, 5 pages long, I could explain the proof to a good high school student. Even with an unusual paper like that, I can’t see what this would add. I could pretty much read the main part of the paper in 5 minutes, but to explain it well takes about an hour. And I don’t want to sit through 5 minutes for each paper to try and figure out if I’m interested, I want to scan though my most recent email from arxiv with a short paragraph about papers in fields I might be interested in, and figure out quickly which ones are worth putting more time into

    I’m guessing they were thinking “well, it’s great when one of your colleagues stops you in the hall and spends 5 minutes telling you about their latest result” but that is a completely different thing.

    While I’m here, hi Peter, long time. Remember getting pulled over at UCLA with Huntley. I tell that story all the time 🙂

  15. WTF is this being done using streaming technology?
    There is NOTHING streaming can do that cannot be done better with downloaded files. A downloaded file can be played on a media player away from your desktop, can be played at greater or slower than 1x, can be substantially more easily and smoothly scrubbed.

    If you want to see how to do this sort of thing properly, go to the KITP web site ( ) instead of reinventing the wheel and doing so badly.

  16. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Nice to hear from you!

    From what I remember of the incident Jeff is referring to, we were stopped by UCLA campus police, presumably on the grounds that no person with any legitimate business on campus would be driving there at night in the kind of car I owned at the time (an ancient Chrysler New Yorker, on its last legs, that I had bought for some ridiculously small amount of money from Peter Orland). It took some effort to convince the cops that we were reputable mathematicians there for a conference, with the behavior of one of our number in the back seat not helping matters… But it’s been a long time, I probably am misremembering this.

  17. Jeff McGowan says:


    That’s it, more or less as I remember. My only misbehavior in the back seat was not having my hands in view, which annoyed the officer with the gun behind the car. I seem to remember Huntley being quite loud, which is no surprise, and of course all three of us had pony tails. Ah, I miss my hair….

    btw, love checking in on the blog. I ended up interested in the whole string theory thing since I kept bumping into it at conferences (my first memory is some talk on Riemann surfaces where the number 26 popped up and someone asked “is that the 26 from string theory dimensions”), and now I’m actually doing a lot of stuff on RS and trying to learn Grothendieck’s stuff. I really enjoyed your book, and Smolin’s (I never met Lee, but always felt a connection since he was the physics student at Hampshire before me, and there weren’t many of us).

  18. John R Ramsden says:

    From David Goss’s email:
    > The video will be watched to check for professionalism etc., and those videos deemed offensive will not be used (and the author sanctioned!).

    Chortle. How in the world could a 4-minute abstract on a number theory paper conceivably be offensive? Are there number theorists with Tourette’s syndrome, or those who tend to flash their audience without warning?! Those number theory seminars must be more interesting than I thought 😉

  19. Peter Orland says:

    Well, to be precise, it was a Ford LTD, with a police-car engine.

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