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Are Academic Journals Obsolete?

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the all-the-cool-kids dept.

Education 317

Writing "Surely there is a better way," eggy78 asks "With the ability to get information anywhere in the world in seconds, and the virtually immediate obsolescence of any printed work, why are journals such an important part of academic research? Many of these journals take two or more years to print an article after it has been submitted, and the information is very difficult (or expensive) to obtain. Does this hinder technological advancement? There are certainly other venues for peer review, so why journals? What do they offer our society? Are they just a way to evaluate the productivity of professors?"

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Easy question (5, Informative)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702713)

Why are journals such an important part of academic research?
Quality control.

Re:Easy question (4, Interesting)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702733)

Quality control and that journals are recognizable and until now, financially viable.

Data vs information (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702839)

There is a difference between data and information. Data is what the electronic era makes available in seconds. Information takes time: you have to read more than a paragraph to really understand a complex issue. That is not to say that jounals can't be on line [] , but the process of analyzing data and turning it into information as academic journals do is long, difficult, and certainly not obsolete.

Re:Easy question (4, Insightful)

mactard (1223412) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702735)

Peer review can be done online. Journals seem like a more expensive and time-consuming way of peer review that the Internet will probably supplant soon.

Re:Easy question (3, Insightful)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702745)

Peer review can be done online.
Journals can be online. And for all we know peer review is already happening online, maybe just not in public forums.

Re:Easy question (4, Informative)

Thowllly (529311) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702795)

They are done online. At least the example a friend of mine showed me of a poor paper (It had references to obscure papers that did not in fact contain what the paper claimed) he had reviewed was.

Re:Easy question (3, Funny)

barista (587936) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702899)

Was it submitted by Ignatius J. Reilly?

Re:Easy question (5, Interesting)

smallfries (601545) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702931)

One consequence of this is that plagarism is easier to detect. Even when it is not outright theft but an author trying to game the system by double publishing work it shows up quickly in search queries. I'm aware of (reviewed) two papers recently that were rejected because another reviewer spotted the previous publication of the work.

The submitter doesn't seem to know as much about academia as he believes. What kind of scientific publication is "obsolete"? More importantly when does that change occur?

The purpose of restricting published work to that which has passed peer review is to ensure that results do not become obsolete. They must uphold the same quality standards that we expect from all scientific disciplines - not blog-style fads that have become popular and at some stage will cease to be popular. The body of the literature should contain timeless observations that have resulted from hard study. These do not become obsolete, even if they are superceded by better methods.

Re:Easy question (0, Flamebait)

Kneo24 (688412) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703225)

It's easier to detect, but is anything actually being done? I have a third hand account of a story that illustrates this. It's going to be vague as I don't remember names and dates, but whatever. My friend was doing research for his physics prof for his undergrad studies. The work was on string theory. His prof had a partner. Well, after some time the partner took whatever information he had, ran off with it, renamed it something else, and won a Nobel Prize for it. Despite the fact that the work was incomplete and had errors, named something that didn't accurately depict what the work was, and was shown to be stolen, no one cared. That particular professor didn't do all of the work. But instead he gets full credit. So where's the point in being able to detect plagiarism if no one cares enough to do it?

Re:Easy question (2, Insightful)

that this is not und (1026860) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703353)

The submitter doesn't seem to know as much about academia as he believes. What kind of scientific publication is "obsolete"? More importantly when does that change occur?

Even more importantly, why is it necessarily a bad thing if it 'hinders technological advancement'?

Technological advancement in and of itself isn't automatically a good thing. In fact, unless informed with scholarly scrutiny, it can rapidly become a bad thing. I am not speaking here as a luddite. A luddite chants 'all bad' just like a technophile chants 'all good.' The truth is more complicated than that.

Re:Easy question (4, Insightful)

Rutulian (171771) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702873)

Peer review does effectively happen online. After an article is submitted to a journal and vetted by the editors, it is sent, usually electronically, to selected reviewers. Reviewers then submit their critique electronically. There isn't a lot of mailing of manuscripts. That, like you say, is fairly pointless in an electronic age. Critique in a forum doesn't happen, but that would be fairly impractical for a scientific article. Besides, there isn't any direct communication between reviewers and submitters. It is blind, and there isn't a lot of traffic in general--just the manuscript to be sent and the review to be received.

I do think there is an important role for allows scientific themes and significant advances to be followed more easily. Somebody else (the editors) has screened a lot of submissions--looking for things like relevance to the journal, significance of data, a well-told story, etc--before it ever makes it to print, so the reader doesn't have to wade through a ton of crap to get to the interesting article he is looking for. The economics of journals will probably certainly change, but journals themselves will remain for the near future. And nothing stops a PI from publishing their findings online if it doesn't make it into a journal. It's just that fewer people are likely to see it that way.

Re:Easy question (1)

MrHanky (141717) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702801)

Sure, and many (most?) journals do their peer review "online" -- through email, mostly, with Word .docs as attachments. I'm sure it can be even more online with Google's word processor, but that's hardly going to revolutionise anything.

Re:Easy question (4, Informative)

finiteSet (834891) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703055)

Sure, and many (most?) journals do their peer review "online" ... with Word .docs as attachments. I'm sure it can be even more online with Google's word processor....
I'm sure this varies from field to field, but academic papers are overwhelming written using LaTeX in my circle. The thought of writing a paper using Goggle's online processor makes me cringe.

Re:Easy question (1)

Malekin (1079147) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703083)

LaTeX is usually required for the final submission, but a lot of journals are accepting Word files for submission for peer review.

Re:Easy question (1)

Tango42 (662363) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703299)

If the final version is going to be in LaTeX, why wouldn't you just write it in LaTeX to start with? The hard part is learning the language, which you'll have to do anyway. Once you know what you're doing, it's really not difficult to work with.

Re:Easy question (1)

that this is not und (1026860) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703387)

Believe it or not, there are people who don't consider it an important part of their discipline to know LaTeX. They might even delegate typsetting and publication to someone further down the chain.

Re:Easy question (4, Informative)

ceifeira (1230772) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703099)

That's true mainly in computer science, mathematics, physics, etc. I see little LaTeX being used in the life and social sciences. Unfortunately, the de facto standard for those really is microsoft word documents.

Re:Easy question (3, Informative)

proxima (165692) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703231)

That's true mainly in computer science, mathematics, physics, etc. I see little LaTeX being used in the life and social sciences. Unfortunately, the de facto standard for those really is microsoft word documents.

LaTeX is widely used in economics, probably more than word processors in general. It's easy to spot with working paper versions of papers; authors tend to leave the LaTeX default fonts and heading styles.

I've also noticed a significant trend away from PowerPoint towards Beamer [] for presentations. From what I understand, in the physics world, PowerPoint still reigns for presentations (and even poster making!).

Re:Easy question (3, Insightful)

NoobixCube (1133473) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702879)

Some people don't like wading through unreviewed papers. Even though I read Slashdot, OS News, Ars Technica and a few others, I still buy a copy of Linux Format every so often. Peer review is a nice idea, and I'm not saying that a published journal is inherently better or more effective, but often peer review can totally miss something. Peer review is subject to groupthink - Slashdot is a prime example, if you look in the Firehose, or how comments are rated. Recently, there was that article on Slashdot about cold fusion. Turned out to be very under tested and probably a load of crap, but peer review saw that it was big news.

Re:Easy question (1)

ceifeira (1230772) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703127)

A nice idea? Talk about an understatement...It's actually the foundation of scientific communication. What do you propose to be used instead of "groupthink"? "Singlethink"? Doublethink? Nothink?

Re:Easy question (2, Insightful)

arktemplar (1060050) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703145)

Most people who do reviewing are knowledgeable to the point of expertise in their field (This can be questioned but the reviewers are at least grad students who have published on the topic once). The people on slashdot - not so knowledgeable about high energy physics.

Better than trial by bloggers (2, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702815)

The internet is a great way to share information and ideas. The flip-side is that it is also a vehicle for disinformation and trial by popular opinion. The opinions of alarmist popularist bloggers are more influential than the review by proper scientists.

To get any serious scientific review there has to be a place for this to happen - off the internet highway.

Perhaps what we have is good enough: true scientific journals for the scientists; Nature and Scientific American etc for the informed amateur; bloggoshere for the great unwashed.

Re:Better than trial by bloggers (1)

moranar (632206) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702935)

There's nothing that forces the peer review process out of the interwebs. Accountability is there with gpg/pgp, the intercommunication is obvious. Journals could be organised over the web, even with subscriptions and all. Thing is, the time needed for proper review won't change significatively: the amount of time and attention a person must give to a review doesn't depend on the publication medium. The publishing time, OTOH, would be reduced, but I don't know how much that is.

Perhaps the journals don't do it because they feel it would threaten them in the same way it threatens the media industry?

Re:Easy question (0, Flamebait)

Cutterman (789191) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702837)

"Are they just a way to evaluate the productivity of professors?"

Depends how you define productivity. If it means the ability to publish then yes. If you mean the ability to produce useful and/or interesting work then no.

The vast majority of published articles are literature reviews, rehashes of previous papers, boring but easy research about things that are already well documented, or statistical juggling with dubious data from equally dubious research. Perhaps one in a thousand is both good, true, original and honest. The rest are just badly written dross.

Peer review counts for very little. A small inner circle publish (or at least have their name appended to) 90% of papers in any one discipline and they act as peer reviewers for themselves on a "You scratch my back I'll scratch yours" basis.

The "Publish or perish" mentality has completely debased and largely destroyed good science. Tenure depends on quantity of publications not quality and so vast reams of garbage are generated every month making it really difficult to find the needle in the haystack of irrelevant tripe.

The Cutter

Re:Easy question (1)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702911)

Tenure depends on quantity of publications not quality and so vast reams of garbage are generated every month making it really difficult to find the needle in the haystack of irrelevant tripe.
Not exactly. It depends on what the research is about. If it's something that furthers an established industry, chances are industry is behind it all the way and publications come out purely because they are easy to produce in that context and help complete the academic process. If it's someone's personal dream project (or requirement to get their thesis finished) then you're right, the departments that generate this kind of research need to be very competitive but, as with anything, mediocrity abounds.

Re:Easy question (5, Informative)

Rutulian (171771) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703027)

Some of what you say is true, but I wouldn't be quite so cynical. A "useful or interesting work" can have a lot of different levels. Most journal articles represent a work in progress, not a complete understanding of a topic, so there are always more experiments to do. You just have to publish what you have at some point. Now some experiments are done sloppily and not caught by peer-reviewers, but not everybody is an expert in every field. I try to know what I'm talking about when I publish something, but if it's not directly in my expertise, a real expert can almost certainly find something wrong with it. But the article doesn't have to be perfect to get something out of it. Readers will be critical--that's their job after all if they're good scientists--and not necessarily agree with the conclusions of the authors, but they can usually conclude something from the data that is presented, and I consider that a helpful contribution to science.

I also don't agree that the vast majority are reviews, at least not in experimental science. A simple search on PubMed will tell you which articles are considered reviews and which present original research. Unless you do a very general search, articles typically outnumber reviews 10 to 1.

As in every politically driven community, there is corruption in academia. Big name scientific egos can have an undue influence over a field, but that doesn't happen very often. Most scientists are fairly collegial toward each other and respect each others work, even if they don't agree with it.

But, you are right, publish or perish is a problem, and it leads to things like blocking of competitors publication, bad grant reviews, and fabrication of data. I have, unfortunately, seen some great scientists get driven away by some sort of bs, like an insufficient number of publications. But I've also seen a lot of great scientists succeed in the system. Unfortunately, given the current economics of research, it's not a system that is going to change easily. And academia is the only place with problems. Cutthroat environments in industry can create the same sort of problems.

less and less (1)

nguy (1207026) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702985)

Unfortunately, the quality control by academic journals is getting worse and worse.

Re:Easy question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23703073)

Yes, only if you call a process that takes 2 years and nobody really cares "quality control".

Further reading (1)

shawse (922786) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702729)

I will let someone else who can express this better than I explain: []

Re:Further reading (1)

Joe Tie. (567096) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702749)

That's what a journal was, way back in the day. It's not what a journal is.

The same could be said about online publishing. The methodology might not be implemented today, but there's nothing preventing it.

Because... (4, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702747)

...they tend to have saner content than your average crackpot with a web page. It's all about recognition, any professor can just spew out as much junk as he likes on his webpage to show how "productive" he is. Getting journals to publish something however takes work, and that usually means you've said something significant about something significant. I suppose you could have other things like "mod points" but the current system seems to work well enough for science.

Re:Because... (3, Insightful)

jc42 (318812) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702917)

...they tend to have saner content than your average crackpot with a web page. It's all about recognition, any professor can just spew out as much junk as he likes on his webpage to show how "productive" he is.

Indeed. But this doesn't necessarily mean that paper journals are the long-term answer. What's more likely is that such "papers" will be submitted to appropriate professional scientific organizations, which will vet them via the usual peer-review process, and accept approved articles into the organization's web site. Such web sites will be the replacement for printed journals.

OTOH, there might still be a role for print publications. We can see a sign of thiis in the recent revamping of the venerable Science News periodical. Their publication has traditionally arrived weekly, and contained summaries (mostly 1-4 per page) of breaking scientific news. Within the past month, they have announced a new format. They are now biweekly, and rather than reporting isolated breaking news stories, they are concentrating on "summary" articles. These articles still mention recent advances, but concentrate on tying them into their general subject matter. Their first few issues in this new format have been quite good, and Science News is still a good investment for anyone reasonably well-educated who wants to keep up with current scientific advances.

However, their print edition might still be doomed. Such summary articles can well work online. So they might end up a purely electronic "publisher", specializing in high-quality scientific summary articles for the well educated. People might be willing to pay for membership to get rid of the (mostly irrelevant) ads. We'll see.

Re:Because... (1)

that this is not und (1026860) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703415)

Indeed. But this doesn't necessarily mean that paper journals are the long-term answer.

Actually, they have been. For, uh, a long time.

Re:Because... (4, Insightful)

hackstraw (262471) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702959)

I second the parent's opinion.

Journals are peer reviewed, and getting a paper accepted to different journals is not the same. Meaning, that some have super mod points over others.

Also, keep in mind that the creation of the web was to more easily transfer scientific data to scientists, but I don't think its intent was to replace journal publications.

Another point, is that in academia, they have a saying "Publish or perish". I simply don't think that "throwing some crap on the web" is a drop in replacement. Like the parent said, any bozo can put something on the web, but its not the same as putting something in a scientific journal. Now, many of these journals are available over the web, and they often cost money, and that money is spent on the review process and overhead costs. These journals do not have advertising, they are about science. The web is about, I dunno, piracy, porn, and slashdot or something.

Good science doesn't have to be important science (1)

selfevident (171984) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702989)

Because of the strict limits on the number of atoms per issue, journals reject perfectly good science that isn't important enough science. And that makes us stupider.

So you resubmit to a specialized journal. (4, Insightful)

ajdecon (233641) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703085)

There's plenty of good science that isn't important science, but the place for it isn't Science or Nature: it's in Journal of Tiny Sub-field. Most of the time, when a good article is rejected by a broad or high-impact journal, it later appears in a more specialized one which is read only by people working on the same type of thing.

This is not a bad thing! This is the kind of sorting that is supposed to happen, and the existence of lower-tier journals is vitally important when you're looking for specialized work. I know I read articles form these journals at least as often as I read the big names, because they include details vital to my work. By the same token, we expect articles in the broad-based journals to have enough general interest that they will spark ideas in people outside their own tiny fields.

Re:Because... (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703403)

I suppose you could have other things like "mod points" but the current system seems to work well enough for science.

I dunno. How much money is wasted on journal subscriptions that could be put to better use in other ways? Many journals cost thousands of dollars per year to subscribe to.

There is also a matter of principle. Most academic research is paid for by taxpayers in some way. And yet, taxpayers are not permitted to read the fruits of this research without paying for it. As a matter of law any publication arising from public grants should be in the public domain.

I'm all for filtering, and peer review. Why can't an appropriate non-profit institution create an online forum for publication? This forum could have both reviewed and non-reviewed articles (with no limit on size). The forum would have lots of filtering/indexing available - users could view only reviewed publications, for example. Also, as part of the review process every article would get a notability score - which is both an overall indicator of importance and also an indicator of what fields an article is relevant to.

So, as a researcher doing my weekly reading, I might look at the list of the top-25 articles of the week (in any field), the top 1% of articles in my general discipline, all peer-reviewed articles reasonably close to my area of work, and maybe everything that is available in a very specific area (I can judge the quality of non-reviewed work on my own if it is in my area of specialization).

Lots of options become available when you ditch the paper-based world. You don't need to give up peer-review. And the cost savings would be huge. It wouldn't be free, but I think that public funding should be able to cover it - after all they're already doing that indirectly and if anything this will save them money. It also would make the results of research free for all to read.

Peer reviewerd journals vital to science (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702767)

Was this question even asked by an actual scientist?

With all the kook and crackpots blogs around, of course it's vital to have peer reviewed journals. I don't have time to wade through hundreds of websites and then carry out my own verification of whether what I am reading is valid and whether they followed correct basic scientific experimental procedure. Are they basing what they think on hearsay, is it stuff that sounds obvious and intuiotive but totally wrong? A peer review process, while not perfect is essential to reducing the amopunt of noise out there.

Peer reviewed journals must stay in place, and are even more relevant today.

Re:Peer reviewerd journals vital to science (4, Insightful)

SlashWombat (1227578) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702921)

Don't forget, these publications are also a source of money to the publishing bodies. 99% of searches for modern scientific data ends up at one of several sites, and all you can see is an abstract. To see anything more, you need to pay cold hard cash. So, really, these publishing bodies are actually slowing down the advancement of mankind!

Same is true for "standards". (ISO or otherwise). IMHO, if they want to call it a standard, it really should be free. (Especially considering that the standards bodies have the "standard" written by people/companies giving their time for free!)

Peer review! (2, Informative)

p_trekkie (597206) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702803)

Many of these journals take two or more years to print an article after it has been submitted,

Peer review, peer review, peer review. It takes months or years for an article to be properly refereed and revised and revised again until it is properly ready for publication.

There already exists [] for many sciences, where people can publish results before they have been printed. However, many people that read their appropriate newsfeed will only read the articles on their that have already been published or accepted for publication. A lot of drivel gets posted on there since it is not required to be peer reviewed. Journals are a way of filtering for content that is notable and peer-reviewed.

Re:Peer review! (2, Insightful)

nxtr (813179) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702851)

Peer review works for Digg. They don't take 2 years to publish an article!

Peer vs. Layman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702929)

A "peer" is someone of like education who is likely considered an expert in your field.

A "layman" is everybody else.

Digg has a lot more than just your peers reviewing it. Also, Digg publishes _NO_ articles, they just hyperlink them.

Re:Peer review! (5, Funny)

Spasemunki (63473) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702941)

Uninformed readers voting on something is to peer review what being beaten to death by apes is to getting a good massage.

Re:Peer review! (1)

stm2 (141831) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703399)

Nature has precedings too: []

No, jobs are defined by publication record (4, Insightful)

fantomas (94850) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702821)

Are academic journals obsolete? Not as long as academic status is measured by your publication record.

Good points made in the ./ story - journals may take years to be published after articles are submitted, the peer review process can take a long time and may be faulty, paper journals might cost a lot more than online journals to produce, they may not add much to wider society.

*But* being published in peer reviewed journals is still perceived as being a solid indicator of one's academic status and career progression. It's a key element of an academic CV. It's one way of getting a PhD. Poor publication record, poor career prospects. Published in prestigious journals? you're going places. Until this changes, peer reviewed journals (whether paper or online) will remain central to the academic world.

I'm speaking as a junior academic. Interested to hear of senior academics perspectives...

Re:No, jobs are defined by publication record (1)

teslar (706653) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702965)

Interested to hear of senior academics perspectives
Well, I'm not senior, but as a medium academic, I think you pretty much nailed it. I think it's worth mentioning, within the "it's gonna take forever to get published" context, that many journals do offer pretty speedy advance online publication. Which, in today's world, is really all that matters.

Re:No, jobs are defined by publication record (5, Informative)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703045)

Another junior academic here.

I feel like the original submitter question slightly confuses the issues of "paper vs. online", "pay access vs. open access" and "journal vs. something else." The fact is that the "paper vs. online" question is already nearly completely settled: journals have shifted aggressively over the last decade towards being online. Many of them still release paper versions--but nearly all academics access journals online nowadays. The business model has shifted from selling print subscriptions to libraries, to selling online subscriptions to institutions. Any decent journal nowadays is online, and searcheable both from the journal site and due to integration with other search services (e.g. Web of Science).

Journals are adapting, and online systems have helped them streamline their operations. "Two or more years" is no longer the norm. Good journals (with online submission) turn around papers in a few months. The paper is usually available online as soon as it has been accepted and typeset--so the publication is available to anyone interested long before the delayed dead-tree copy is shipped. Also, preprint servers (arXiv [] being the most famous) help academics get their results out quickly, while still publishing things in more official/traditional sources.

With respect to the "pay access vs. open access" question--this is a more difficult thing to change. Journals are very accustomed to their ability to charge for the spread of information. Many academics (myself included) consider this unfair (as they seem to do very little, relying on volunteer reviewers, and requiring authors to do quite a lot of editing and formatting themselves), and even detrimental to the free spread of information that is crucial to science. Despite the inertia of the entrenched players, things are changing. For instance, the Public Library of Science [] journals are all open-access, and are doing quite well at attracting high-profile science. The list of open access journals [] is growing all the time. The pressure has even induced many traditional journals to sponsor preprint servers (e.g. Nature Precedings [] ), or to give authors the option of making their contribution open-access (usually through a page charge).

With respect to the "journal vs. something else" question... it's unclear why we should switch away from journals if they suit our needs. The current journal process (rigorous publication requirements, peer review, editorial oversight) is very important to modern science. It helps maintain the rigor and transparency, while reducing fraud and sub-standard work.

All of that to say that I'm a little confused by the initial submission. The situation is changing. Nearly everything is online. Open access is gaining traction. Modern journals bear little resemblance to the printed versions of a few decades ago... so the suggestion that they are "obsolete" somewhat misses the mark.

Re:No, jobs are defined by publication record (4, Insightful)

myc (105406) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703125)

There is also a new NIH mandate that any research results that are published as a result of NIH funding must be open access after 6 months of the publication date. There is definitely a shift to the open access paradigm. How this will affect the business model of traditional publishing houses is not known, nor do I particularly care. Support open access journals [] !

Re:No, jobs are defined by publication record (1)

stranger_to_himself (1132241) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703429)

Don't forget that we still pay for open-access, but the submitter pays and not the reader. If you don't pay for each article you print through PLoS then it's likely that your institute has bought a subscription to cover your charges.

Re:No, jobs are defined by publication record (3, Insightful)

Rutulian (171771) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703095)

*But* being published in peer reviewed journals is still perceived as being a solid indicator of one's academic status and career progression.

And not for a bad reason. Economics is driven by productivity. A carpenter or a plumber can perform a service for somebody. A physician can treat somebody. A computer programmer can write software needed to help you run your business.

A scientist does research, but what's the difference between him and the above? The above are fairly tangible and their contribution to society easily measured. A scientists contributions are not. But people try, and the most popular method is via publications. Still, the benefit to society of basic research is a long-term affair and isn't usually realized right away. So how do you determine how much of your resources to allocate to it?

I think publications, to an extent, are a measure of productivity. If a scientist can get a research project off the ground, get relevant data, analyze it, answer an important scientific question, and put it all together into a nice story, that is productivity. If he can't, for whatever reason, it doesn't mean he is unproductive, but it is a lot harder to measure his contribution. And just like the computer programmer who is fresh out of school with no real experience to demonstrate, an employer is more likely to go with somebody who has proven himself than with somebody who hasn't.

Printed journals are obsolete (4, Interesting)

dj_tla (1048764) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702823)

The question posed is, as other commenters have pointed out, ridiculous, as science must be peer reviewed.

However, a question that should be asked is whether or not printed journals are obsolete. Whenever I need to research papers, I search almost exclusively through online journals and professors' publication pages. Google scholar makes this search pretty painless, and there are free, open journals that are getting quite decent. Is it time to move to online-only publications to save costs and speed up distribution?

Re:Printed journals are obsolete (2, Insightful)

poopdeville (841677) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702937)

Is it time to move to online-only publications to save costs and speed up distribution?

That's a pointless idea. I like the interbutts as much as the next guy, but you need to realize that the distribution phase of academic publishing takes only a small fraction of the time of producing a work. Most of that time is spent by the peer review process, which is already done electronically.

Re:Printed journals are obsolete (1)

Myuu (529245) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703029)

Well, this question is posed out of that "internet makes everything better, faster" hypothesis.

Which is totally false, especially in the fields of Political Science and the like. The fact is, I still cite articles that are fifteen years old and they still aren't 'obsolete.'

Re:Printed journals are obsolete (1)

memnock (466995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703001)

i signed up for a membership to ESA [] this year just to have access to Ecology, since i'll likely lose my access through the uni's library system with graduation. reading journals like Ecology and The American Naturalist is a good way to keep up with issues in my field of interest, so i consider it requisite.

like you point out though, i don't really want all that paper, so i have electronic access. if i move, i won't have to miss an issue. unless i won't have access to the Internet. but that's not likely to happen.

as well, it seems a fair share of /. articles point to stories that started with something printed in a journal for one field or another.

Re:Printed journals are obsolete (1)

jellie (949898) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703123)

However, a question that should be asked is whether or not printed journals are obsolete. Whenever I need to research papers, I search almost exclusively through online journals and professors' publication pages. Google scholar makes this search pretty painless, and there are free, open journals that are getting quite decent.
My understanding of "online journal" is a journal that is only published online, such as PLoS. Most journals that have printed articles also have websites, often e-publishing before the printed journal comes out.

I work in the biomedical sciences, and it seems that most journals are not open-access, and most scientists do not publish their articles on their websites. Personally, I find Google Scholar to be lacking when compared to PubMed, and gives far too many odd results and dates. I wish that the open-access journals would be able to support themselves through advertising, rather than having authors pay thousands of dollars.

Yes, and the alternative is called PLOS. (5, Informative)

refactored (260886) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702831)

Public Library of Science []

PLoS Core Principles
  1. Open access. All material published by the Public Library of Science, whether submitted to or created by PLoS, is published under an open access license [] that allows unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
  2. Excellence. PLoS strives to set the highest standards for excellence in everything we do: in content, style, and aesthetics of presentation; in editorial performance at every level; in transparency and accessibility to the scientific community and public; and in educational value.
  3. Scientific integrity. PLoS is committed to a fair, rigorous editorial process. Scientific quality and importance are the sole considerations in publication decisions. The basis for decisions will be communicated to authors.
  4. Breadth. Although pragmatic considerations require us to focus initially on publishing high-impact research in the life sciences, we intend to expand our scope as rapidly as practically possible, to provide a vehicle for publication of other valuable scientific or scholarly articles.
  5. Cooperation. PLoS welcomes and actively seeks opportunities to work cooperatively with any group (scientific/scholarly societies, physicians, patient advocacy groups, educational organizations) and any publisher who shares our commitment to open access and to making scientific information available for the good of science and the public.
  6. Financial fairness. As a nonprofit organization, PLoS charges authors a fair price that reflects the actual cost of publication. However, the ability of authors to pay publication charges will never be a consideration in the decision whether to publish.
  7. Community engagement. PLoS was founded as a grassroots organization and we are committed to remaining one, with the active participation of practicing scientists [] at every level. Every publishing decision has at its heart the needs of the constituencies that we serve (scientists, physicians, educators, and the public).
  8. Internationalism. Science is international. PLoS aims to be a truly international organization by providing access to the scientific literature to anyone, anywhere; by publishing works from every nation; and by engaging a geographically diverse group of scientists in the editorial process.
  9. Science as a public resource. Our mission of building a public library of science includes not only providing unrestricted access to scientific research ideas and discoveries, but developing tools and materials to engage the interest and imagination of the public and helping non-scientists to understand and enjoy scientific discoveries and the scientific process.

Re:Yes, and the alternative is called PLOS. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23703193)

The one flaw with open access is the charging of the paper's author. This is equivalent to paying for your code submission to be included into an open source project which seems counterintuitive as the author has presumably spent months or years working to generate this paper. If it is cheaper not to publish results than to publish them, we are counting on prestige/tenure urges to overcome the cost in swaying a researcher to publish. This also (long term, I mean no disrespect to PLoS or others) gives publishers a financial incentive to publish increasing quantities rather than just selecting the few good papers that warrant a subscription. This also drives up research costs - making NSF, NIH, etc funding less effective. This may be more of an issue in my own field of (non-computational) mathematics where funding is spent on time and travel to meet with coworkers rather than lab apparatus costs that dwarf publishing fees.

Re:Yes, and the alternative is called PLOS. (2, Informative)

astaines (451138) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703385)

It still costs money to do Open Acess, at least as long as editors want to eat...

Most journals are electronic already (1)

dstates (629350) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702845)

The image of a journal as dusty hardcopy on a shelf is out of date for the vast majority of academic publications. Reviews are now handled in days or weeks and electronic preprints appear within hours or days of acceptance. The vast majority of readers access the content electronically.

Peer reviewed academic journals serve the same purpose they always have. They provide high quality information and disseminate scientific knowledge.

Conditions any replacement must meet (1)

MaizeMan (1076255) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702847)

As others have said, the essential difference between journals and other forms of publishing discoveries is peer review and with it the implicit endorsement that other credible experts find these experiments valid. Any replacement for the current journal format is going to need to replicate the essential elements of the journal format in that: 1. Theories and data should only be presented when they have been reviewed and found valid by others uninvolved in the research project. 2. Those who do the reviewing are correctly selected as experts well trained enough in the area of research to be able to make valid judgements regarding the veracity of the information. 3. The format must become widely enough accepted that those who use it won't be disadvantaged in hiring and tenure decisions. (Which often hinge the opinions of professors older than 60.) There's no hard and fast reason these conditions couldn't be met in other forums than scientific journals, but so far they haven't been, and institutional inertia is going to make meeting #3 relatively difficult.

Responses (2)

Drive42 (444835) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702853)

1. "why are journals such an important part of academic research?"

Reliability and respectability. You know a respectable journal has high standards. This can be reproduced on the internet, and sometimes it is, but this reproduction is still an academic journal article from a certain staff.

2. "Many of these journals take two or more years to print an article after it has been submitted, and the information is very difficult (or expensive) to obtain. Does this hinder technological advancement? "

No. There are significant delays for publication, but there are also reasons for this delay. There simply might be too many submissions for the staff available, but it is also important to note that a submission often has to be worked and reworked in order to be considered for publication. In fact, it might be the delay itself that allows the more important articles, once refined, to promote a higher level of advancement due to the clarity and response to objection.

The access to this information is often difficult and expensive to obtain. Colleges often provide access to journal articles free of charge to the students, but there's also a push to release the articles a specific publication finds important for free. The problem lies in how to monetize this type of distribution. There really is quite a limited audience for a lot of these journals, so a high price-point is often unavoidable.

3."There are certainly other venues for peer review, so why journals?"

Because they still work? I don't know what you're going for here. A peer-reviewed publication is a peer-reviewed publication. The method by which it's published doesn't really matter here. If you're referring to a dead-tree journal, I admit, it's a bit anachronistic. Electronic publication can remove a lot of the delay and cost, but it will be a journal nonetheless.

4."What do they offer our society? "
A good source of information? Specialized ideas put under significant scrutiny? Something to read on the toilet? You might as well rally against citrus fruit.

5."Are they just a way to evaluate the productivity of professors?"
No. They do evaluate the productivity of professors. But that's not their sole purpose. They provide a good way for people in specialized fields to share information that would otherwise lack an audience. And what's wrong with productive professors?

There, troll. You're fed. Go away.

Re:Responses (1)

stranger_to_himself (1132241) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703091)

I agree. If Slashdot stories were peer-reviewed and not just put on the front page on an editor's whim then we wouldn't get factually incorrect trollish crap like this.

There is an interesting debate going on regarding the future of academic publishing, but it centers more around the question of how the dissemination of science should be funded, ie by researchers themselves or by the readers. Nobody seriously thinks that peer-reviewed journals are a bad thing.

This trend is being widely examined: (1)

karmer (1269290) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702863)

cf. "Science 2.0".

Journals are moving online (1)

hereisnowhy (710189) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702869)

Many academic journals are gradually moving online. Some are moving towards free open access (a great idea given the ultimate purpose of academic research and the public funding behind it). And some publish each article as it becomes ready, rather than gathering them up and waiting for a full issue -- the Journal of Ecocriticism [] is an example. Considering the benefits of a proper peer review system, I don't see any reason why journals would become obsolete; they just have to evolve along with information technology.

Paper lasts longer (1)

barista (587936) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702871)

I'm sort of ambivalent about the paper vs. online argument because they both have their positive and negative aspects.

For my part, with a paper journal, I don't have to worry about a server being down, or losing access to older articles because my subscription ran out. I also don't have to worry about broken links. OTOH, with electronic journals, I can access my "library" when I'm at a conference and finishing up a presentation I'll be giving. I won't need to bother with carting around years worth of journals in a suitcase.

Without peer reviewed journals (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702877)

then there would be no accountability in science.

We're deep into the information age now and one of the most important challenges for the current generation is to be able to deal with tons of information and even more misinformation. Peer reviewed articles are (for the most part) a safe haven uncontaminated by misinformation. And sure, printed dead-tree journals will get replaced with online journals, but the peer review process can't be compromised on.

After writing this I'm no longer sure if the submitter's beef is with dead-tree printing, with the peer-review process, or something else that I missed.

Re:Without peer reviewed journals (1)

NetSettler (460623) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703151)

Without peer reviewed journals then there would be no accountability in science.

Well, in fairness, although I agree that peer review is quite important, what is an open question is whether peer review needs to happen in advance of publication, or if there isn't some way for peer review to happen after-the-fact. This would accomplish three things: (1) it would allow faster access to raw ideas in the marketplace [at the sometimes expense of reliability], (2) it would allow more opportunity for someone who thought something was valuable to make themselves known, since in at least some cases the reason something isn't accepted to a journal may simply be lack of room or lack of interest by a particular target community, and (3) it would allow dynamic assignment and unassignment of support over a long period of time. Sometimes the sense of what's important at the moment is wrong among peers, and this would assure that such things could be later corrected.

I'm not especially advocating after-the-fact peer review. I'm just saying it's not obvious that it can't occur, and it does seem like there are at least some benefits (even along with what I am sure are also new risks that I've not detailed, but that almost certainly involve the need for society to come to grips with the notion that publication does not imply community acceptance, something that may never have been true even in the past but that may be doubly uncertain in a world where there was no barrier to publication).

Then again, the web is available as a form of unfettered publication path to anyone who wants it, so nothing is stopping individuals on a case-by-case basis from publishing without peer review. The sad thing is that there's no way to take a finding that is already out on the web and promote it to journal status in terms of peer acceptance. If anything, I suspect there's some hidden desire, as probably happens in the regular publishing industry too, to punish those who go outside the system for not having followed the rules. And that kind of thing seems a less good side of the peer review process.

slanted question (4, Informative)

ghostlibrary (450718) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702883)

This question isn't even asking the right questions, just (I'm guessing) pushing an anti-journal agenda. One inaccuracy:

> Many of these journals take two or more years to print an article after it has been submitted,

Any journal that takes that long in the hard sciences wouldn't stay in print. Their own requirements are that the work be timely. I've had papers pulled because our team took too long (3 months) to submit a rewrite.

Now, an article _might_ take 2 years from 'first blog post announcing a discovery' to 'peer-accepted academic paper', but that's because the _research_, not the paper process, takes time to be both complete and thorough. I can blog "I discovered X", but any paper needs to explain why I know it's X and not Y, what the confidence levels are, and how it compares with competing explanations. In short, you have to analyze, write and edit.

The actual submission process for, say, Astrophysics Journal can go by in 3 months from submission to publication if the writing team is keeping up with the requested edits.

I will also point out ADS (at has provided free searchable access to astronomy journals since 1992. Further, most (if not all) astronomy journals require electronic submission (and review rounds are electronic too). So for that area of science, journals are ideal: timely, thorough, and vetted.

Re:slanted question (3, Informative)

jmv (93421) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703057)

I've seen one of my papers take one year to get reviewed. I know someone who's paper took two years and came back from peer review with "good idea, but the work is a bit old". So yes, it happens. Not always, but frequently enough that it's a problem.

Re:slanted question (2, Informative)

techstep (80533) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703219)

I am an economics student, and I am working on my first paper right now. As such, I'm becoming more cognizant of the glacial pace publishing takes in economics. When I heard that it could take two years or more in some cases from first submission to appearing in an issue, I thought it was an anomaly, that there were a few papers that were in such a state.

But then I read a paper by Glenn Ellison in the Journal of Political Economy from 2002. His work suggested that not only is the mean time in publishing papers upwards of two years (especially in fields like econometrics), but that the submit-review-revise-publish cycle has been slower and going through more iterations over the past two decades, especially at the top journals.

I get the sense that there's very little in economics with any credibility in the field that has a cycle on par with Astrophysics Journal or Physical Review.

There are two questiions here... (1, Redundant)

Spasemunki (63473) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702893)

1) Why do they exist at all, and 2) why are they published primarily in print? The first question is easy; journals are structured the way that they are in order to vet quality and remove bias. The refereeing process for prestigious journals is quite complex; the papers are often anonymized, and then read by multiple readers, each of whom are recognized as significant contributors to their field. Changes or additional data may be asked for prior to publication to clarify or improve the article. It's comparable in many ways to the work flow of any magazine or other publication, but more rigorous and involved. Also keep in mind that the people who are editing and reviewing important papers are not primarily editors; they often have full-time loads of teaching and research for a university as well. These are areas where expertise is more important than number of eyes; having 10,000 people with a sophomoric understanding of a field review a research paper in a technical field is much less useful- and possibly counter-productive- than having one or two people who have a more complete background in the topic (they've read all the papers that the new paper sites, as well as having performed their own research in the field- in other words, they have a PhD).

Why are they published on paper instead of primarily online? Well, one reason is certainly inertia. On the other hand, there are relatively few individual subscribers to these journals. They are mostly shipped to universities and research institutes, which keep them in the periodicals room for a month/quarter/whatever, and then bind them into collections and keep them in perpetuity in their library collection. After that point, the institution is not dependent on permission or payment to anyone else in order to provide access to the work in question. Print publication provides a good back-up in the event of a journal ceasing publication (taking its web site with it), or a paper or publisher running afoul of the law in some other area.

Another point to be made here is that increasingly, journals are publishing material online in addition to their print releases. There are fees associated with access (typically that only universities want to pay), but on the other hand keeping this system of rigorous refereeing going requires some monetary inputs (as does perpetually hosting and indexing these papers in a robust system). Print publication is slow, but significant papers are often also available on the web from their authors, are shared in pre-publication formats, or are presented at conferences or seminars. The rights granted to a journal on publication are often narrowly defined enough that the authors can do whatever they want with the paper before or after publication. In these scenarios, publication in a journal acts primarily as a stamp of approval, rather than as the primary channel of distribution for the information that the paper contains.

I would be happy to see every journal in the world parallel-publish their content on the web free of charge, and frankly think that a lot of academics would too. It will probably happen, eventually. However, right now you can get access to almost anything that has been published through either a university, or even public library in most cases. Technical articles in particular are increasingly made available on the web by their authors- hit the home page of any professor of computer science or a related field and you'll find lots of papers to download. Access is lagging behind primarily in non-tech savvy fields- you can very easily find free copies of significant papers in engineering fields, not so much in philosophy and ancient history. These fields will likely catch up over time, and in the meantime the number of people who have 1) the background sufficient to contribute to the field but 2) no ready access to these papers is likely to be very small. As such, I would be surprised if the journal system is really holding back progress in any meaningful way.

No. (1)

wanax (46819) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702903)

Peer review and good editing, typesetting etc. are absolutely vital to academics as a first line of quality control. Even with unpaid referees, the value-added still has notable cost.

A more rational question would be: Is there any reason for journals to keep publishing in paper? This is especially true in most fields of science, where most papers have either a short useful life or are only useful in a super-specialized area. Spending university library budgets on getting many of these things in print seems like a waste, especially since many fields are moving to pre-print systems to get faster turnaround and exchange of ideas.

But while many journals should probably move to low-cost, online only distribution, that doesn't mean we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are many things that PDFs are not sufficient, mostly to do with high resolution or large scale imagery. Certain types of cell staining, reproductions of art or rare and damaged papyrii for example, require a professional print job to be useful.

I think that many journals that can do so are already moving away from printing, because most university libraries can't afford to buy them all, and the low-prestige or specialized journals are seeing dipping subscriptions. The journal industry is already modernizing fairly quickly because of these budget pressures, and I don't think this will be a major issue for much longer.

most definitely not obsolete (1)

jschen (1249578) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702945)

Academic journals most definitely are not obsolete. Turnaround time is very reasonable at the top chemistry journals. We're talking about times on the order of weeks for some rapid communication journals (from submission to peer review to edits to proofs to online publication), and a small number of months for full papers and reviews. Maybe some other fields suffer from slow publication, but that's not an inherent quality of academic journals.

In the electronic age, journals retain information in a searchable format that keeps up with the times. For some journals, even articles back in the 1800s are now online in PDF format. And the indexing services like Chemical Abstracts have gone online, too, moving tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions) of abstracts to an online database. Don't publish within the paradigm, and your stuff doesn't get abstracted, and when your peers search for it, they don't find it.

Academic journals haven't become obsolete. They've evolved.

Yes, this isn't some shitty news source (1)

Robert1 (513674) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702949)

We're not talking about shitty corporate news sources like CNN being supplanted by web loggers. That worked because the quality of reporting is the same on both - i.e. non-existent. They offer the same info, but with private web loggers you can at least get a little bit of flavor to the story, rather than the dry cookie-cutter rehashed AP/Reuters four paragraph 'news' report.

Throw the thoughts that the same thing will happen to scientific journals away. Scientific progress NEEDS peer-review. If it were somehow opened like web blogging then it would be impossible for anyone to separate actual science from the ubiquitous noise of slop-science and at worst total pseudoscience/nutjobs.

Ugh, it gives me visions of a wikipedia for scientific articles. Just imagine, several hundred pages devoted to people's research into "body toxins," "chi," and "maintaining harmony with nature." I mean wikipedia proper already does that, but no one considers it a serious scientific resource (thank god).

Peer Review (3, Interesting)

mathimus1863 (1120437) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702951)

Peer review is the single most important aspect of scientific/mathematical development, and that doesn't exist online, unless it's reprinting the peer reviewed journals. The process for journal publication is what ensures that there is quality being printed and that multiple other scientists agree with the results (or rather, don't find problems with it).

You'll notice [] has seven, $1million problems and the money won't be awarded until a solution has been published, and survives the peer review process for two years. Without this process, there is no mechanism for separating people who sound like they know what they're talking about, and people who *actually* know what they're talking about.

New Journals are Online (5, Informative)

Kryptikmo (1256514) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702961)

As a member of an active high energy physics collaboration, we just published our first paper at JHEP [] which is an open access journal that does not charge for access to papers. It works like any other journal - you email your submission, and it is refereed by, IIRC, two independent anonymous referees.

Not only is it free, it has a high impact rating in the UK, so we can even publish there without having our careers impacted. Backed by the Institute of Physics, it is an example of what journals could easily become in time. I doubt that much in there will be of interest to the /. community, but it's a harbinger of things to come across all fields, I hope. I would expect that within 10-20 years, there'll be very few, if any pay-to-publish-and-pay-to-read journals.

In the same way that HEP has been using linux now for at least a decade, we are getting there with publishing too. Let's hope we can have some more examples here of other serious sciences with open-access journals.

Publications are essential (1)

quo_vadis (889902) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702967)

Peer review is an essential part of scientific progress. In the academic and research community an innovation is not just something you think is new, but is something that someone else in your field can acknowledge is new and improves the state of the art in the field.

That said, there are many improvements that can be made. It would be nice to move the whole review process online for all journals(a large fraction of it already is, especially for engineering journals by IEEE). Sites such as arxiv help the physics community a lot by allowing others to view preprint versions of articles. Conferences and technical sessions, which have shorter deadlines also help a lot in publishing shortened versions of new directions in research.

As for those who think it should be free, that is another story. Cost of publication is already moving more and more to the author. The current model, where subscriptions are paid for takes some of this burden off the author. In most cases, most universities have site licensed access to digital libraries, with publications (such as pubmed for medical research, IEEE digital library for engineering etc). Individuals can access publications by going to a library. I do not think it is realistic to expect that price of access (to nonacademic or non-research) people is going to come down.

Practically speaking it should not, as the costs will be directed to the authors (grad students and professors) who will then have to pick and choose what to publish and where due to publication fees. To give you an idea, there are some journals where publication carries a voluntary charge of $110 per page for the author, and this is despite having subscription. If subscription prices were removed, the author would be forced to pay that.

No. (3, Insightful)

ajdecon (233641) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702973)

Journals act as a combination of quality control and aggregation/filtering of "interesting" material. When you read an article which has been published by an academic journal, you have some assurance both that the content is of reasonably high quality and that it is likely to be important and interesting to someone interested in the field the journal covers. The journal also assures you that these evaluations have been made by competent experts in the field who do not have a conflict of interest in evaluating the work. The system also gives scientists access to reviewers they may not be personally familiar with, who frequently make recommendations to improve the work before publication. Obviously there are problems on occasion (conflicts of interest occur, or bad articles make it in/good articles are rejected) but journals still act as a pretty decent filtering mechanism.

Is it possible that this could be handled purely online in some decentralized manner? I suppose so, but I expect that the signal to noise ratio would be much lower and the quality of reviewing would be likely to suffer.

Note that I'm not defending the current expensive paper-publication restricted-access model: the jury is out on how well that will survive. But I think it's worth noticing that even online open-access journals like PLoS ONE still follow a recognizable editor-reviewer model, and still charge submission fees to operate.

Brand name journals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23702977)

In addition to the need for the extensive peer review process, there's the bit that many journals are intended for archival of work, to give a complete account of a sort of microcosm of research.

The main thing I wanted to point out is that the name of a journal is very relevant to how much kudos you get for publishing there. Some journals are prestigious and others are so-so, like conferences. What I mean is that a new journal (or conference) has to prove itself over a long period of time before people will treat its publications with the same respect as an established journal.

Plenty of journals offer their papers free online, and more are moving that direction. It'll just take time for existing journals to move over cause it takes a shift in their business model and it'll take time for any new purely online journals to establish themselves. In terms of trust, even if there had been online journals with the advent of the public internet 15 or so years ago, 15 years is vastly shorter than many of these journals have been around.

In a community where trust in the review process is so important, things change slowly, cause building trust takes time.

*High Prices* for Academic Journals are Obsolete (5, Informative)

kklein (900361) | more than 6 years ago | (#23702981)

As an academic myself, I can only say it would be utter madness to do away with academic journals. Peer review, though sometimes flawed (editorial bias), serves as information quality control. Yes, tripe still gets published. Yes, good papers still get refused. But it works well enough.

However, again, as an academic myself, I am very much opposed to the insane prices to get at research, both as a researcher and a writer. I have found that, if your research budget can't handle getting at a key piece of research, an email to the person who did it oftentimes results in a Word file or a PDF, because what they want is for you to read and use their work as well.

All this really is is the same copyright/IP storm we see everywhere else. Producers and consumers want each others' lives to be easy and to be able to meet each others' needs. But there is a massive organization in the middle that maybe costs too much but which handles some of the important work necessary to avoid wasting people's time. It's fun to research, but no one really likes reading all the unfiltered crap, so those people--regular professors--on those editorial boards have to be paid.

I'm seeing Creative Commons licenses creeping in, slowly, though. I think we'll see big changes coming down the pipe in academic, peer-reviewed journals, same as anywhere else.

Like the Dinosaur (2, Interesting)

aurizon (122550) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703021)

Classical Print Journals(CPJ) have small brains, long and slow nerve pathways....and they are extinct now, but will take a while to die.

In truth, the CPJ must adapt or perish. The threats they make to discourage people from using the online journals are only effective against others whose brains are also like dinosaurs.
Is also harms the third world who either do without, or get e-mailed copies.(although there is a little 'mercy-sex' availability given by the CPJ

This means a parallel community who uses online journals and who love their immediacy will supplant the CPJ.

So how will they adapt? They must become online journals and find another funding model.

You are really asking two questions. (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703047)

Your question is actually two questions blurred together. Changes in technology are finally unblurring them.

Question One: Is a mechanism for quality controlled, peer reviewed papers to be exchanged between researchers in a given field? Answer: Yes, yes there is. I strongly suspect that dead trees are no longer a good way to do that(and given the limited circulation of some journals, electronic copy + print on demand is probably more viable than printing up a bunch in any case). At very least, I assume we'll be seeing journal articles being exchanged in PDF or similar form; and there are numerous directions for online collaboration(wikis, distributed version control systems, listservs, etc, etc.) that researchers will experiment with. Some will work, some will die, progress will be made.

Question Two: Are journal publishers obsolete? Yes, oh dear god yes. For the most part, publishers in our present system are parasites. They have some editors, and handle the logistics of printing; but the researchers, the research, the papers, and the peer reviewers are all provided gratis by academia. Publish or perish and all that. Sometimes researchers have to pay some sort of publication fee, and even give up print rights to their own work. The publishers turn around and earn, shall we say, generous margins by selling the fruits of researchers back to themselves.
The publishers do provide necessary elements(editors, logistics, etc.); but they are insanely costly for the service they offer. There will always be some sort of company(s) around to provide these services; but we need to push them into the position of providing these services at market rates, not extracting monopoly rents on the labor of researchers. I'm sure online is cheaper than paper, and definitely more convenient; but profit, not paper, is the real money sink here. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against companies being profitable; but only by providing actual service, not by exploiting market power.

Wow this article is out of touch (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703059)

It depends a bit on what you're arguing about here. Printed journals have largely gone the way of the dodo bird, but the content and process of journals has moved online. Admittedly I only read chemistry, physics and comp sci journals so I might be a bit biased here but just about every article published in the last 30 years is online, or is in the process of being put online already. Other fields may have different luck, essepcially if you're looking for works more than about 30 or 40 years old where works were published in english, french, german, russian and earlier latin, all of which is a pain to move online in any usable form (there's no nice PDF to work with).

Getting access to journals does cost. I have a membership in the canadian association of physics, the asscoiation of computing machinery and will need to get an IEEE membership as well. Most universities have subscriptions and you can directly access the articles from the web as long as you're logged in on an university machine or if you go the round about route of logging into your library web site or via your professional society membership site.

I'd be interested to know which journals take 2 years to print anything? If you have an article that takes 2 years to print it's usually because it isn't any good, that could be that the content isn't good, or the writing style isn't good but either way if it takes that long to get anything published the problem is with the person trying to publish (when in doubt, try a different journal because yes, some journals are a bit dickish about who they'll accept articles from).

There are a lot of benefits of journal content presentation sytles. While journal articles are written for 'experts' in a field, they still need to be accessable to people in the process of becomming an expert. That forces papers to dumb down the first part of their presentation so that an undergrad can understand it, and establishes a standard form for presentation of results so that other experts can understand it.

The big advantage of print journals is the easy of which I can 'browse'. The web certainly does this better for young people like myself, but for people in there late 30's and older who still get a magazine and read it on the couch or in their office, journals work well. I've never been an astrophysicist, but as a physical scientist I should probably have some vague clue what the major work in that field is, and I should also have some attention to what goes on in say, biology. Browsing /. style condensed headers is ok but flipping through a full article and results has it's advantages too.

Comp sci seems to live and breathe on conferences far more than journals (there are journals but I think it's difficult to establish a journal for a field that won't exist in 5 years and didn't exist last year). After spending two years trying to do research in comp sci (after 6 years doing research in physics), I prefer the electronic journal system of physics better. Conference proceedings vary wildly in their quality and conference attendance is far more expensive than a decent journal.

I'm not really sure there's a much better measure of a researchers quality. As with any profession, periodically you document the work that you've done, someone who ought to understand the work looks it over and gives either a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Journals are a means of both disseminating that information in consistent form, and assessing quality by other people who would understand it. It's never quite that simple but the system really works reasonably well.

Today's Editors maintain the Status Quo (1)

trevmar (188523) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703097)

Today's Academic Journals maintain the status quo, and retard scientific progress.

It took Einstein 5 years to convince Max Planck he had something worthwhile in Special Relativity, yet the paper was published by the editors of the day. Today's editors would not have published it, as they are scared stiff of publishing anything which might be 'incorrect', or anything which the peer reviewers won't endorse.

Maintenance of the status quo is the price we pay so that University bean counters can have a standard by which they measure academic performance. It is a high price, indeed.

Two worlds (1)

robertdfeinman (829025) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703115)

There are two worlds of scientific publishing, the non-profit publishers and the for-profit ones. They have different motivations.

The non-profits' mandate is to further scientific knowledge by aiding dissemination. Many don't charge authors to publish their papers, some ask for covering of publication cost (usually covered in the research grant). If you opt not to pay you will be placed in a queue since there is a page budget for free articles and your paper may be delayed for quite awhile. In principle these journals see nothing wrong with online dissemination (after the paper is accepted for publication and reviewed).

Some disciplines like physics have pioneered in putting up preprints so that work can move forward more quickly. The journals don't regard this as prior publication. The non-profits don't charge much beyond printing and overhead costs to the libraries and much less to individuals.

The situation is a bit blurred for those journals that accept advertising, especially in the medical field.

The for-profit publishers charge thousands or even more for a year of a specialty journal. They don't charge authors but they overcharge libraries. They are, of course, reluctant to see their market undermined by online publication. These journals have gotten so expensive (and there are so many of them - especially in biological sciences) that libraries have formed consortiums to share copies. The for-profits are not doing a service to science, only their bottom line.

It's peers, not paper (1)

Sir Holo (531007) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703119)

It's not that it's on paper. The important aspect is the editorial board that performs the peer review, and the reputation of that board (i.e., that journal).

There have been cases of revolt of editors against the greedy paper publishers, some of which abandoned one title journal to form a new title journal, covering the same area. The main one that comes to mind is something like the Journal of Symbolic Mathematics of something like that. They successfully dumped the paper publisher.

Paper is not going away. Sure, more libraries will go to electronic-only, but the fact is that the underpinning of our entire civilization (law, science, etc.) relies upon physical recordation. If it ain't written, it don't exist.

Medical Journals (1)

BTWR (540147) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703163)

IAAMS (I am a medical student), and medical journals are PARAMOUNT to the field of medicine. I mean, after medical school, you have 3-5 years or so of residency (depending on your field), and then NOTHING forever. So basically, a guy in a private practice who graduated in 1970 has no real exposure to new medicines, techniques, surgeries and other therapies other than monthly periodicals. These are very important, and peer-reviewed and the main way doctors learn new concepts outside of hospitals, conventions and other settings which half of doctors will never encounter.

While we're at it, I'll vent that this is exactly why pharmaceutical reps are in many ways very GOOD for medicine (and therefore, good for patients like you and me). Most doctors will find a class of drug that they like and prescribe that one forever. If a doc prescribes Lovastatin (cholesterol lowering drug), he/she will probably do that out of habit for all high cholesterol patients, and never look at Zetia, Somatostatin or other therapies. Drug reps introduce them to new drugs. Only a fool would prescribe the new drug simply because the hot rep brought them sandwiches. Of 10 reps that come by, maybe one will convince the doctor to use that product. But it's still a good thing docs are exposed to them. Once you find a drug that works for a specific problem, with little (or acceptable) side effects, most docs would have little reason to say "Gee, this drug is pretty darn good. Let me try and find a new drug for no reason that may or may not have different effects." The rep will introduce the new product, usually supply a New England Journal of Medicine article studying it, and the doc will say "thanks," eat the sandwich, and decide for him/herself if the drug is right.

So in conclusion, not all doctors (and in fact, very few) are tech-wizards or Slashdotophiles. The chief of surgery at my hospital (BRILLIANT world-renowned guy here in Manhattan) could not turn on his laptop and asked me to run his powerpoint show for him. If you're going to cut him off from "obsolete" paper journals and rely on online journals for him to get information, you can safely assume that he will never again read another study that is post-2008.

Re:Medical Journals (1)

justinlee37 (993373) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703189)

But can't we begin working on a new medium now, that will grow gradually alongside paper journals and eventually replace them, once all of those brilliant old people have died off? It will only take one or two more generations of children before everybody is at least internet-proficient, if not able to build their own boxes.

Re:Medical Journals (1)

Stormcrow309 (590240) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703361)

Hard part is seperating the wheat from the chaft. That is what scientific journals are for, since readers can't just determine the validity on their own when the amount of writings are considered. Type 'how much time nurses have to review evidence based research per week and you get a ton of results that do not apply' and you get a whole bunch of results that don't answer the question. (We are statisticly certian that it is less then an hour per week. You heard it on slashdot first)

The fundemental question is are you going to believe JAMA with a peer reviewed article or what Joe Blow posted on the net. Sometimes the process is a shame. One of the most useful papers for my master's thesis never made it to press due to an interesting confluence of events. The problem is that the process will be horribly slow just to do the peer-review and expensive due to the cost of reviews, editors, and support staff. Then trying to get the article in a paper takes a while because the editors are trying to get the issues to flow somewhat. How would you improve a process while maintaining the quality?

Re:Medical Journals (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703331)

I'd agree with you but for one point. Too many pharmaceutical companies bury the results when they don't come out "the right way". If they have their way, the results you see will be skewed in a direction that might encourage you to use treatments that are not in the best interests of your patient.

Remember Phen-fen?

Not at all. (1)

Greyor (714722) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703201)

Of course they aren't. I'm a graduate student and I use journal repositories such as JSTOR [] all the time (which is a lifesaver), as well as the other databases my library offers. I'm a Classics major (not English classics, I mean Latin and Greek), and many of the sources I utilise can be quite old; we also use a lot of journal articles. Indeed, as someone said above, quality control is a good use for journals. In any case, for a paper I just wrote, I actually had to dig up a journal article from microfiche, and got a few interesting points out of it. So no, they are not obsolete in the slightest. The field in which I study, well, that's a different matter, heh...

Of course they are.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23703203)


Of course they are obsolete, who needs peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals when I can read peer-reviewed articles on Wikipedia.


CNN for scientists? (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703273)

Anybody who believes proper peer review can be done at the drop of a hat is an ass. I won't bore you with the details. Either a moment's reflection will tell you why, or you're hopelessly out of touch with how real science gets done.

There's probably some sloppiness in the system that delays the prompt publication of a well-refereed paper. But how fast, really, can people who are busy conducting their own research find the time and money to duplicate other peoples' experiments?

If you want to start cutting corners in order to get more papers through the system faster, you're going to compromise the quality of review, and you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be no shortage of Philistines eager to use the resulting errors to further undermine the scientific process.

Standard Journals - Yes - Open Access journals -NO (1)

astaines (451138) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703317)

Standard journals are dying steadily. They are based on subscriptions, which can reach $30,000 for, a single journal, for a library, and as much as $5,000 for individuals.
The research published in them is hard to access, and often invisible to search engines. Open Access journals [OAJ|] are funded by publication charges, usually not printed, although the [PLOS|] journals are an exception.

Research published in Open Access journals is more cited than similar research published in the subscription only literature, and, as a result, the latter is dying out.

The main losers are the shareholders of academic publishers, which are extremely profitable ventures at the moment.

More need then ever..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23703339)

"With the ability to get information anywhere in the world in seconds..... The noise ratio is exploding"
Should read the quote. Its actually pretty hard to find solid works just by googling and reading the "bloggings" of researchers.

Journals are losing ground to conferences (1)

AsOldAsFortran (565087) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703351)

No one has mentioned so far the growing importance of academic conferences over journals. In some fields, particularly computer science, the problems with journal articles cited by the original poster have led to a greater emphasis of conferences.

Here's some assertions I'm not going to fact check now but have seen in the past few years:

a) In computer science, the major conferences have a higher rejection rate than journals.
b) Conference papers are submitted, accepted, and appear in under one year. Journals articles in CS take an average of 32 months to appear.
c) Traditionally the model is to publish results in a couple of conferences and then sum it up in a significant journal paper. A number of cs academics have gone to a conference first and only strategy, bypassing journals.
d) Conferences are a perfectly valid venue to cite in cs.
e) ACM and IEEE have put out position papers to defend the importance of conferences when campuses consider faculty for tenure (since faculty in other fields may not understand.)
f) Conferences often bypass the for profit publishers (not that IEEE is a charity).
g) In a flip move, many conferences proceedings now appear as special issues of a journal.

Combine all this with a move to electronic distribution (no printed conference proceedings, just a CD/DVD) moves the process to an online model.

So some of the problems cited by the original poster have been mitigated in part by a move to conferences as a significant academic outlet. And the conference itself, with the chance to meet and talk with the authors, builds community and confidence in results.

Finding articles and credibility (1)

Unfocused (723787) | more than 6 years ago | (#23703377)

I'd hate to have to find articles without the organisation that journals bring. And no, Google doesn't cut it when searching for academic sources. Google Scholar can be helpful, but that relies on journals and their publishers. I'm not (generally) going to bother reading something that hasn't been publish in a journal. It has little or no credibility in the academic world. There is no way of verifying an independent source, unless you get it first-hand. I don't believe everything I read on the internet, so why would I rely on it to give me academically credible articles unless I can verify it based on the source (ie, the journal it was published). Of course, the degree of this depends a lot on your field of study.

Good reviews take time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23703421)

1. As everyone else has mentioned peer review is quality control. There are a lot of cranks out there, I have read some of their papers.

2. Yes, occasionally it takes a year or more to go from initial submission to print. Editors get a lot of papers and reviewers are busy and review papers out of the "kindness of their heart."

3. In order to do a good review it takes about a solid week or two of really careful reading. I like to think I do good reviews, cross referencing other works and trying to make sure the results provided are novel and correct. Many IEEE journals give between 1 and 3 months to make sure you get that solid week time.

4. Almost every journal I've referenced in the past 24 months is online. So ease of access at academic institutions is a non-issue.

5. As for free vs. pay, well we live in a profit driven society and the journals feel they are performing a service and wish to be paid for it.

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