When academics rebel.
November 15, 2001 2:19 PM   Subscribe

When academics rebel. A group of economists is attempting to redraw the landscape of academic research publication by injecting new electronic peer reviewed journals into the marketplace. Electronic publication of research certainly has its merits at times. Case in point: Because of the pressing medical importance of analyses of the recent anthrax cases, JAMA has published the results of two studies (one of patients who survived and one of those who did not) online in advance of the print publication in order to inform health care professionals as soon as possible. Do situations like this argue in favor of a change in the way that research is conducted and/or reported?
posted by iceberg273 (14 comments total)
Until April of 2k I was working on a project that would have beat them to the punch. It was for a major US non-profit and would have been for a small sub-set of the scientific community it served...but I would have had *first post" damnit.

More power to them.
posted by m@ at 2:24 PM on November 15, 2001

The major complaint seems to be that presses charge libraries exorbitant subscription rates while stiffing the "labor" that goes into producing a peer-reviewed journal. That may be the case, but the antidote is not to pay referees and authors for papers, it's to take publishing out of the hands of publishers. Academics of a certain specialization should use their free, free, free technologies to develop their own peer-review panels and publish their own journals online. The "template" idea is a good one; it would help these independent science cells create mutually-intelligible document formats. But the business model's a waste of time. In the end, publishers are needed to supply the very thing of which this "template" would take the place: Copy-editing, typesetting, managing print ads, correcting errors in documentation. That costs money too, although I agree it doesn't cost as much as what the subscription costs.
posted by rschram at 2:42 PM on November 15, 2001

I've always been in favor of bringing the peer-reviewed journals up to date. The justification for the big cost of the journals has always been their small print run. But with web-based or electronic format publishing (a PDF emailed to subscribers, for example) would eliminate much of this issue.

Granted, there are costs, as rschram is pointing out, that would still have to be borne. But if academics are willing -- and they should be -- to understand that these publications would be pretty vanilla, then it seems to me that we don't need a for-profit context for this at all. This kind of publishing is within the reach of the funding that should be available in the higher education system. An academic journal is not a sensible venue for for-profit publishing.

Rapidity of publishing would just be one benefit: this would eliminate the research inequity suffered by students and faculty at institutions whose libraries are inadequate for research. Obviously a scientist needs much more in the way of research support, but many academics' careers live or die based on their access to a good library. Getting the major research in the field into inexpensive, electronic formats will open up opportunity for a lot of people.
posted by BT at 2:55 PM on November 15, 2001

I work in an editorial office of small peer-reviewed science journal, published by one of the large European companies mentioned in the article. It's blindingly simple to start a new online journal and post PDF files of peer-reviewed articles. It's like musical artists skipping major labels, and going right to their fans via a website.

Paying authors and referees is missing the point, though. Authors won't submit papers just because of the pocket change. They'll only submit papers if the new online-only journal is viewed as having credibility in the field. If something is prestigious, they'll submit regardless. The payments are just gravy.

The journal I work for is only 6 years old, and to get it off the ground took a great deal of personal contact to get leaders in the field to submit paper, and even more perseverance to get those same people to continue doing so.

My journal publishes papers online as soon as authors sign off on the proofs. Sometimes months before physical print publication. That's nothing new, and more and more the standard all the time.

It does beg the question of who wants/needs the hard copy on the shelf anymore. But a couple of generational shifts will have to go by before paperless publishing is truly viable. My experience is still that people don't feel it's "real" if it's only online.
posted by CosmicSlop at 3:11 PM on November 15, 2001

Electronic publication -- by which I guess I really mean web publication, which isn't, strictly speaking, the same thing -- is ideal for academe. In most print journals, circulations are relatively small (most in my field were well under 5,000) and authors generally don't get paid,* so an electronic scholarly journal wouldn't run into the same funding crunch (bandwidth, servers, salaries) that mainstream e-zines have run into, as we know all too well. Granted they'd need some technical expertise (copyediting, coding), but a lot of that is often folded into the university work of divers hands (i.e., grad assistants). Not having to worry about subscription fulfillment would actually be a bonus, I think.

None of which applies to the plan referred to in the linked article, which seems unnecessarily cumbersome to me -- too much like the library-access CD-ROMs I remember, limited access for licence fees, long waits in front of the terminals, some first-year schmuck printing out five hundred references from Historical Abstracts on an old dot-matrix . . . ah, nostalgia. (Three years ago!)

*At least not directly; they're generally salaried profs whose salary carries the expectation that they will publish, or they're grad students on the make, career-wise.
posted by mcwetboy at 3:30 PM on November 15, 2001

I wonder if this was spurred on by the Post-Autistic Economics movement. There have been some meetings and academic seminars, but a lot of the organizing has taken place over the Internet. Sites scattered across geocities, a few mailing lists and the like. Paecon.net is a fairly new development. It’s possible the ELSSS folks saw the Post-Autistic economists making headway — France’s education minister is reviewing the domestic econ pedagogy — so they decided to jump in.

Since Post-Autism is just over a year old, there isn’t any institution, let alone peer-reviewed journals, to fall back on. An article from November of last year is the earliest I can find in English about the movement.
posted by raaka at 3:45 PM on November 15, 2001

As CosmicSlop said, old-fashioned credibility is all, even if it is out of whack. Utrecht University's Roquade Project seemed like a good idea at the time(last year!): a sort of compromise between traditional scholarly standards and, well, whatever randomly-reviewed electronic stuff may nowadays have to offer. Except speed and cheapness, I fail to see what.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:31 PM on November 15, 2001

The major complaint seems to be that presses charge libraries exorbitant subscription rates while stiffing the "labor" that goes into producing a peer-reviewed journal.

It's even worse than that. I spent several years in the academy and published in a multiple journals. The process typically goes like this:

(1) Academic spends lots of time writing article (required for tenure, job prospects, general career advancement)

(2) Sends article to journal.

(3) Journal sends to other academics who hopefully read and review article in timely fashion . . . but often you don't hear from journal for months and since the norm is that you can't simultaneously submit to more than one journal, academic twists in wind.

(4) Best case scenario is that article is accepted for publication (could be 'revise & resubmit' so go back to step 2 and wait another couple of months). If accepted, author is asked to sign over their copyright to the article.

(5) Months or perhaps even a year later journal is published and author's university library is required to pay a typically exorbitant amount for journal.

(6) Author's colleague (perhaps at same institution) wants
students to read author's brilliant article. Since author no longer owns copyright, colleague must make students pay copyright fee for reprint (the author will receive no royalties). This is not theoretical: A friend of mine initially included an article I published in his course pack, but removed it when told by copier that it would add $1.5/pack in copyright fees.

The system is broken, heinous, and an affront to learning and intellectual freedom.
posted by donovan at 5:49 PM on November 15, 2001

The major complaint seems to be that presses charge libraries exorbitant subscription rates while stiffing the "labor" that goes into producing a peer-reviewed journal. That may be the case, but the antidote is not to pay referees and authors for papers, it's to take publishing out of the hands of publishers.

We discussed this in my collection management class (I'm in library school) after reading an article by Ross Atkinson, a librarian at Cornell. His belief is that libraries should take control of academic publishing, bringing it back into the academy where it belongs. With this change, academic publishing will become less of a business and more of a communication exchange.

Most academics don't get paid for publishing in academic journals. They do it because they need to publish in order to get tenure. And once electronic publication gains acceptance in tenure committees (and according to several studies, it is beginning to do so), academics will begin gravitating towards electronic publication.

If you're really interested in this subject, I recommend the following articles:

Atkinson, Ross. "Library Functions, Scholarly Communication, and the Foundation of the Digital Library: Laying Claim to the Control Zone." Library Quarterly 66, no. 3, (1996), 239-265.

Atkinson, Ross. "A Rationale for the Redesign of Scholarly Information Exchange." Library Resources and Technical Services 44, no. 2 (2000): 59-69.

Fosmire, Michael, and Song Yu. "Free Scholarly Electronic Journals: How Good Are They?" Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, no. 27 (Summer 2000).

Atkinson can be kind of dry, but his ideas are fascinating.
posted by nanette at 7:30 PM on November 15, 2001

eh.net is a pretty cool site. they haven't quite gotten around to electronic publishing, but they're willing. peer-reviewed encyclopedia tho.

i've found you can usually go to professors' sites and get stuff just fine.

btw, firstmonday has a bunch of papers on electronic journals.

raaka: maybe paecon got folded into parecon?
posted by kliuless at 8:59 PM on November 15, 2001

In some academic fields, especially those that study online culture (electronic writing, cyberculture, computer games etc.) there are already established peer-reviewed online journals with more credibility within the field than staid, irrelevant paper journals. Often there are no paper journals that cover the topic area properly. Postmodern Culture is one of the oldest, but it's now been taken over by JHP, so you can only view the most recent issue for free. So electronic publication doesn't always solve the problem of economics. Libraries and universities still have to pay subscription fees or site licences. Kairos (for writing), JoDI (about digital information) and Game Studies are examples of peer-reviewed, respected journals.

But even though academics who work in these areas respect the journals, people still have trouble getting credit for electronically published articles in tenure reviews and when applying for jobs - you need "real" publications and the bureaucrats and the old professors still tend to think that a real publication is a print publication.
It'll take a while to change it but it will change.
posted by jill at 2:01 AM on November 16, 2001

Thanks for the references, Nanette.
posted by BT at 6:02 AM on November 16, 2001

Yes, Nan, those look interesting!
posted by rschram at 3:52 PM on November 16, 2001

kliu, pare and pae don’t look related. The whole “participatory economics” things sounds like it could be developed a bit more. Since economics is inherently participatory, pushing a movement labeled as such doesn’t make much sense.

p.s. Proper citation makes me hot.
posted by raaka at 1:03 AM on November 17, 2001

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