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Re: Electronic availability

I have just one point to add to Alan Edelson's very reasoned contribution,
much of which I agree with and this is a qualication rather than in
disagreement. Many of the bigger commercial publishers are now, contrary
to their previous practice, very reluctant to start new journals mainly
because of the time it takes for them to become viable and the likelihood
of them failing. Look at the Elsevier programme for example.

----- Original Message -----
From: Alan Edelson <amedelson@topnet.net>
To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
Sent: Friday, October 15, 1999 12:26 AM
Subject: Re: Electronic availability

> As a recently retired publisher myself, I too cannot refrain from adding
> some comments of my own to those of Anthony Watkinson and others regarding
> the debate over quality in today's journals. I am pleased to be able to
> speak out from a safe vantage point, above the fray, as it were.
> It is true that newly started journals may benefit for a time from the
> extra efforts expended by the journal editor and his/her editorial board
> to obtain quality papers. In fact, it is tacitly understood when one is
> invited to join the editorial board of a new journal that one is supposed
> to divert one or two important articles to it rather than send them to
> more established and presumably more prestigious journals. This is
> intended to "jump start" the new publication.  I always warned my new
> journal editors that while filling the first few issues may seem to go
> fairly smoothly, albeit with a very significant effort on their part, they
> should be steeled for a rough ride when it comes to filling out the rest
> of Volume 1.  All too often, authors, having fulfilled their obligations
> to the editor, go back to their regular pattern of submissions. It is the
> rare new journal today that can sustain the quality of Volume 1 in Volume
> 2 and 3. But enough on this topic.
> More generally, let me address the flood of new journals that seems never
> to abate. There are at least three main reasons for this phenomenon:
> 1. As the volume of new research continues to expand in a given field, it
> becomes increasingly difficult to find a "home" for weaker articles, or
> articles by younger and thus less well known authors.  The stronger
> journals have the luxury of picking and choosing the best articles by the
> best known authors, fulfilling their task of screening for quality (but
> also, at times, giving unfair preference to the well connected and well
> recognized authors).Hence the opportunity for starting yet another
> journal, and another, and another.
> 2. The pressure on commercial journal publishers to add to their journal
> lists is hard to appreciate from outside the companies. Publishing careers
> may literally rise or fall based on how many new journals have been signed
> up each year. In firms that yield indiscriminately to the pressures from
> "above" to raise subscription revenue through growth of their journal
> lists, this can at times lead to an acceptance of lower quality editors,
> questionable selections of topics, and the notorious "twigging" effect in
> which the focus of new journals becomes ever narrower, sometimes to the
> point of absurdity.
> 3. Professional societies woke up years ago to the potential for journals
> to generate revenue streams to support society activities. Either by
> self-publishing or by contracting with commercial publishers, socities
> increasingly seek to start journals, using the lure of their sponsorship
> and the loyalties of their members. While it is often believed that a
> society sponsored/owned journal is going to be of a higher quality than
> that of a journal wholly initiated by a commercial publisher, I'm afraid
> that this is not necessarily the case. In both types of journals, the
> profit motive is heavily involved, with all that this implies.  And
> society politics have often been known to conflict with considerations of
> quality when it comes to choosing the most able editors and editorial
> board members, as well as articles.
> Sadly, it has often been remarked by scientists I know that virtually any
> article, however weak, can ultimately get published in some journal or
> other if the author is persistent enough. And whereas a better quality
> journal may demand revisions to improve the article, authors have
> frequently been known to decline such advice and simply resubmit to a less
> demanding journal. This raises many troubling questions about the
> beneficial effects of the peer review process today.  Suppose that one day
> soon all journals were indexable and retrievable. How would peer reviewing
> really have helped to prevent publication of articles that spread more
> confusion than light on their subject?
> It appears likely to me that a not insignificant proportion of the
> journals rolling off the presses today contain a not insignificant
> proportion of articles that the scholarly and scientific world could well
> live without, or that should not have been published in the form in which
> they were presented.  Perhaps the author tried to pad his/her CV by
> splitting a body of research into five separate publications rather than
> writing one weighty, well-documented paper, as was thought proper a
> generation or two ago. Perhaps he/she ought to have delayed publishing
> anything until more solid data leading to a more significant insight could
> be realized. Unfortunately this is unrealistic for most authors who, under
> our current systems, must frequently document their activities to obtain
> research grants or tenure, or both.
> For several years now I have followed with interest and sympathy the
> comments written here by conscientious librarians agonizing over the
> question of how to spread their inadequate budgets so as to best serve
> their clientelle. But given the present system of scientific and scholarly
> publishing, with its financial consequences to libraries and others, and
> given also the ever expanding demand, if not need, for more room for more
> articles, I do not see how this system as presently configured can be
> sustained indefinitely. I know that I am not alone in drawing this
> conclusion.
> The sooner all parties, i.e., publishers, authors, librarians, societies,
> and information technologists, as well as research funding agencies and
> tenure granting committees begin to work together toward a solution that
> incorporates at least some of the main concepts behind the Varmus
> proposal, the sooner the creators and consumers of information will be
> better served, and at a sustainable cost.
> Alan M. Edelson, Ph.D.
> (retired) President and CEO
> J.B. Lippincott Company