On the restoration of independence.

It’s a holiday in these parts because of replacing a Spanish/Austrian king with a local one a while back. I have nothing interesting to say about this holiday, but it seemed serendipitous that in my feed reader today was this article by Ben Webster at The Secret Blogging Seminar which deals with the El Naschie fail and discusses of how mathematicians might cast off (or at least loosen) the shackles of Elsevier (and by extension big commercial publishers generally).

For me the best bit was this:

A journal is only as good as its editorial board. Affiliation with the commercial publisher, a big price tag, good production values, indexing in the Web of Knowledge(TM), all of these are essentially meaningless.

So, what is it with editorial boards? Given that good journals (those with good boards) are owned by ElSpringier it’s clear enough why we mere authors benefit from submitting there, but what do the editors think they are gaining. Clearly, (with a couple of exceptions like Topology and K-Theory) editorial boards seem to think they do have something to gain by working for Elsevier and Springer. They do after all keep doing it, rather than walking out and starting a new journal. I’ve been wondering lately what anyone could think the benefits are for editors. The best I can come up with is that:
1) the publishers own the title (hence new periodicals called Journal of Topology and Journal of K-Theory) and
2) while editors that quit on mass will take with the reputation of their journal any formal measures of this reputation (such as the Impact Factor) will belong to the title.

This presumably makes a dent on the more bureaucratic types of assessment of the editors’ work (I’m not actually sure about this but I think being editor of a “prestigious” journal should be worth a few points) and also means authors gain less in such assessments by publishing there and so may not be as keen to submit.

If point 2 in the above is a big factor it seems fixable by a small adjustment to the way things like Impact Factor and eigenfactor are calculated – simply declare that if a new journal has all the editors of the old it is the same journal for the purposes of crunching the numbers. Maybe then there would be more editorial walkouts. On the other hand it seems so small an advantage that I can’t believe it is the real reason. Are editors of academic journals (people general held to be intelligent) just letting the big publishers make a profit at their expense for no reason at all?

Incidentally, if the editors of Journal of Functional Analysis happen to be reading this, I would really appreciate if you could quit Elsevier and regroup as Journal of Journal of Functional Analysis. I’m going to submit stuff to you any way, but I’ll feel bad about it.

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2 Responses to “On the restoration of independence.”

  1. toomuchcoffeeman Says:

    Am a bit too frazzled to reflect and respond properly, butt:

    Clearly, (with a couple of exceptions like Topology and K-Theory) editorial boards seem to think they do have something to gain by working for Elsevier and Springer. They do after all keep doing it, rather than walking out and starting a new journal. I’ve been wondering lately what anyone could think the benefits are for editors.

    Being flippant/glib, perhaps it’s just the old story of trying to make a difference from the inside? There is also a certain amount of CV-buffing for the more junior members, while for those of established prestige there is always the emotional blackmail “if you don’t then put yourself on the board then the quality may suffer.”

    My old PhD supervisor used to be one of the subject-level “frontline/associate” editors for the LMS. It seemed that the main benefit for him was some free ballpoint pens.

  2. notedscholar Says:

    Yes. I agree with the coffee fellow that academic connections, insofar as they are linked with, and produce, consensus and “prestige,” recall worries of the dreaded “Science Studies” crowd, that empirical verification, foundationalism, objectivity, and other attributes of the discourse, are subject to cultural ramifications including but not limited to friendship, self-betterment (i.e. CV-development), etc.

    But I wonder if this can be avoided? One has troubled imagining an alternative journal culture that would survive.

    NS

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