John’s essay this week raises the question of quality in publishing. Do more journals necessarily mean less quality? Librarians have taken the time to give this question some thought: here is a partial list of important considerations ((Rousseau, Ronald. Journal Evaluation: Technical and Practical Issues. Library Trends, Winter2002, Vol. 50 Issue 3, p418)):
1. High standards for acceptance of manuscripts (results must be based on new scientific information, reliable methods, adequate controls, and statistical treatment of data);
2. Having a broadly representative editorial board with appropriate representation of subdisciplines;
3. The editor uses a critical refereeing system;
4. Promptness of publication;
5. Being covered by major abstracting and indexing services;
6. Scientists using the articles published in the journal have a high confidence level in its contents;
7. Having a high frequency of citation by other journals.
The revelations recently about Elsevier’s efforts to disguise marketing as scholarship clearly show that lists of preferred or ‘top’ journals, should likely be avoided altogether until the barriers to an unbiased rating system are removed. The standard go-to for citation numbers, ISI Web of Science, is good example of how not to inspire confidence.
But a recent article in Academic Matters demonstrates how marketing is not only ahead of academics in this game, but actually have lapped us at least once. Far from merely impersonating academic work, marketers have reached inside the academic world to turn scholars into a species of zombie. I am fascinated and repelled the extent to which research has been commodified, controlled, and, in effect, farmed for optimum returns.
What is needed is an open, community-driven process for article or journal recommendation that supplies a even playing field for all journals, regardless of presumed quality. If the usage, distribution, editorial policies, and citation data are available to all in a uniform format, then quality work will find its audience, and if needed, rankings of various flavours can be made on a more secure basis.