The end for journals is closer than we think

After reading about the aparent lunacy of Rupert Murdoch a while back, I entertained the idea that newspapers may not have to die a lonely death. In fact, I imagined that, given the last 5 – 10 years of technological change, a time when academic journals would disappear.

I tested out the idea that a world where the paper an article is printed on might have little to do with it’s quality, importance and impact on several of my friends. Understandably, I met a fair amount of resistance. Afterall, I wouldn’t consider myself as the salesman type when it comes to oration. But, it turns out that I’m not alone in thinking that the end for journals is near. Both the Economic Logician and Ekkehart Schlicht of the RePEc blog have recently posted about this idea… an admittedly more convincing fashion than I would be capable.

Ekkehart Schlicht even goes so far as to say:

“My impression is that the existence of journals is a feature of the past. Journals will die, and this will be an improvement…”

I couldn’t agree more. My two cents regarding how the death of journal articles could be an improvement in list form is:

  • Lag time between when research is ready for dissemination and when it is published will be cut considerably. One needn’t wait for other authors in the edition your paper is to be published in to finish themselves.
  • Greater simplicity and transparency in the review process. Thousands or millions of readers can do a much better job of assessing the quality of research than three or four reviewers.
  • Focus of quality of research will shift from the standing of the journal in which it appears to other measures such as the number of people citing the work. (and the downstream quality of those citations, etc.) A paper used as a citation by a Nobel laureate like Paul Krugman surely provides more information than whether or not it is published in a ‘top’ journal.
  • New mediums of publication, exchange and collaboration will emerge to fill the hole left by defunct journals. It’s difficult to speculate on this one, but we humans are pretty good at adapting to change, so I have no doubt that something interesting will appear on the horizon as the sun goes down on journal articles.

Any comments? How far out-of-touch am I on this one?

via the RePEc Blog.

Comments on this article can be sent to me by e-mail..

4 Responses to “The end for journals is closer than we think”

  1. Ekkehart writes:

    I find myself somewhat uneasy with point 3 above, relating to “quality of research.” Let me explain.

    A paper does not become any better by being cited by Paul Krugman, nor does it become any better by being published in a top journal rather than a mediocre one. To put it bluntly: This widespread desire for assessing “quality” may have more to do with vanity, than with the search for truth and insight.

    True, ignorant hiring commitees must rely on some indicators, but the more knowledgeable members will form their opinion by actiually reading the stuff.

    In other words: I think that quality assessment is superfluous, or even a hindrance, regarding the development of economics as a discipline. It is important only for people who cannot form their own judgments, like hiring commitees lacking members with competence, or librarians.

    For researchers it is more important to identify relevant papers for their particular project. A poor paper may be of more relevance than a high quality paper, and it is of little concern to them how other papers are assessed.

    In other words: I consider it more important to find indicators of relevance for a particular problem, than opf assessing the “quality” of a paper in the abstract. I have talked to researchers in other fields, and they seem to think alike.

    Just to add a little anecdote that highlights the silliness (in my view) of quality assessment: I saw recently a referee report on a paper of a colleague that was actually favorable, but the referee was concerned that the paper replicated a study that appeared in a low-ranking journal. (The original paper was, as far as I can judge, quite important, written by a well-known author, but not written very well.) The referee argued that this should not be considered a reason for rejection, because tha origanl paper was “underplaced.” So even specialized referees form their judgements by relying on secondary indicators, although they could form their opinion first-hand. You get an idea about the underlying trend ….

  2. Andrew writes:

    Another excellent comment Ekkehart. Thanks! On many points, I couldn’t have said it better myself….

    Your comment regarding research relevance over quality is an important one that shouldn’t be understated. I hope to keep up this discussion further in later posts.

  3. Neil Slater writes:

    The major journals’ advantage is that papers are peer-reviewed before publishing. Of course, modern journals seem to be slipping in their review processes; Scientific American’s style is not at all what it was 20 years ago.

    Send me an email at the Balkwill Centre, Andrew. I have news for you!

  4. Arlyne Lewinski writes:

    Awesome article once again. Thank you!