The Purpose of Journals

February 14, 2013

The editor of the Economics Bulletin, John Conley, has noted that many things go wrong with economic journals. Here is the abstract of his letter:

This letter calls attention a recent trend in economics publishing that seems to have slipped under the radar: large increases in submissions rates across a wide range of economics journals and steeply declining acceptance rates as a consequence. It is argued that this is bad for scholarly communication, bad for economics as a science, and imposes significant and wasteful costs on editors, referees. authors. and especially young people trying to establish themselves in the profession. It is further argued that the new “Big Deal” business model used by commercial publishers is primarily responsible for this situation. Finally it is argued that this presents a compelling reason to take advantage of new technologies to take control of certifying and distributing research away from commercial publishers and return it to scholarly community.

According to Conley,

The purpose of academic journals is to facilitate scholarly communication, filter for errors, and maintain the record of scientific advance.

This is, in my opinion, an idealized conception that does not reflect  the purpose of economic journals anymore. For economic research, the current economic journals are largely redundant. Conley himself notes this:

I seldom actually read journals  any more. I research topics using Google Scholar, RePEc, SSRN, and so on. It is inconvenient to sign up  with publishers to get tables of contents emailed to me or to login to my university’s library web portal to  search a journal issue by issue. I find it adds very little value over a more general search in any event. In  short, certification remains important to help people gain tenure and promotion and to get a sense of the  quality and centrality of individual scholars. However, neither certification by a journal, nor the collection  of similar papers within the bound or even electronic pages of a specific journal has very much meaning to  me when I am trying to understand where the debate in a subfield is at any given moment. As a result, I  was beginning to come to the conclusion that while they are irritating, commercial publishers are “mostly  harmless” to the research enterprise itself as publishing itself is becoming mostly irrelevant.

This coincides with my own observation: researchers don’t need journals. The main purpose of the journals is currently to ease the work of hiring committees. People publish in order to get a job. The wish to communicate new findings appears secondary in most cases.

Journals could serve worthier aims, however: they are needed by students, college teachers, and others who would like to obtain reliable information but can not as easily  separate the wheat from the chaff as active researchers can.

The important point Conley is making is, however, that the current journal system, although largely irrelevant for research, is nevertheless

bad for scholarly communication, bad for economics as a science, and imposes significant and wasteful costs on editors, referees. authors. and especially young people trying to establish themselves in the profession.

I fear, however, that John Conley’s suggestion to increase the number of journals would not improve the situation very much. As long as hiring committees use the reputation of journals, rather than the reputation of individuals,  a useful system of  “communication, filter for errors, and maintain the record of scientific advance” is practically blocked.

What can be done besides increasing the number of journals? Here some further suggestions.

1. Hiring committees can restrict the number of papers to be considered for judging an applicant to, say, three and disregard all other writings. This may help to reduce the number of publications and thereby reduce the need for further journals; it would also tilt the quality-quantity trade-off in favor of quality. (I think this has been a practice in Berkeley.)

2. Hiring committees that feel incompetent to judge the substantive quality of a contribution and have to resort to statistics of some sort may turn to citation counts of individual authors, as obtainable through  Google Scholar, Web of Science, or RePEc). This is a better solution than the the current practice of relying on the prestige of journals and would take account of the fact that  many papers in top journals are not so good, and medium-quality journals publish excellent articles.

About Open Access

October 26, 2012

This week is Open Access Week, created to raise awareness about the possibility that research can be accessible for free and this can be viable economic model. In some way, RePEc has always been part of the Open Access movement. It tries to improve the dissemination of research in Economics, not by publishing said research, but by democratizing its discoverability both for the author and the reader. There are various ways in which RePEc helps Open Access, and also in which Open Access helps RePEc.

RePEc was initiated to disseminate working papers, which are pre-prints that emerged due to the horrendous publication lags economics enjoys. While working papers were initially distributed in the print format, it is now standard to find them online, and with only very few exceptions, they are not behind a pay-wall. As RePEc tries to match working papers with their published article versions, a reader frustrated by a pay-wall for an article can often find an alternative Open Access version.

Note that even when authors are not in an institution with a participating RePEc archive, they can still get their works indexed in RePEc by uploading them to MPRA, as long as they satisfy their publisher’s copyright. For a handy list of what individual publishers allow, see SHERPA/RoMEO. This list also shows that it is very rare for a publisher to require that one has to withdraw a working paper upon journal publication. In such cases, we strongly recommend not to remove it from RePEc, but rather to remove the link to the pdf only (and certainly not to remove the paper from the author profile).

RePEc also helps promote Open Access journals. Those are usually young and do not (yet) enjoy the reputation of their older, gated peers. At RePEc, every article is on the same footing and we let the market decide what people find interesting or citable. In fact, we find that material that is available in Open Access is downloaded 73% more frequently than gated material, and in the latter case there may also be quite a few failed downloads as we can only count clicks, not their success.

Open Access also helps RePEc, foremost by allowing us to download the research material for citation analysis. Indeed, if publishers do not provide us access to their reference lists in one way or another, we cannot count citations. Users may now help us in this regard, but all these efforts would not be necessary if the pdfs were freely available.

And if you are interested in bringing a journal to Open Access, do not hesitate to contact the author of this post. We can help in giving this journal visibility and find the right partners to make the move or the birth easy.

NEP now sponsored by Penn State

August 26, 2012

Since 2005 one of the main RePEc computers, the one handling New Economic Papers (NEP) has been housed at the State University of New York at Oswego. NEP handles the weekly email notifications of new working papers in about 90 field-specific reports. As part of its academic mission, SUNY Oswego kindly let the RePEc project place the machine on its network in one of its server rooms. While Bill Goffe was the local sponsor, the vast majority of the effort of running it fell to Thomas Krichel.

Bill has now taken a job with Penn State and this server hast just moved with him. Bill and the entire RePEc team would like to thank SUNY Oswego for its support over the last seven years and it looks forward to working the Information Technology in Liberal Arts group at Penn State for hosting this machine for the foreseeable future.

How does RePEc get its data?

April 24, 2012

The RePEc team regularly gets requests to from authors to add this or that item to the database, or enquiries from editors why RePEc is discriminating against their journal by not listing it. It is therefore useful to discuss again how RePEc gathers all its bibliographic data, and thus what various users can do to enhance the listings.

RePEc does not have any data entry staff, one because RePEc has a budget of zero, two because the data entry is done by the respective publishers. The same rules apply to all, whether it is a large commercial publisher with many journals or a small research center with a working paper series: they have to open a local metadata archive with bibliographic information formatted in a way that RePEc services can automatically gather and analyze on a regular basis (usually every night). So far, over 1400 archives have followed the detailed instructions necessary for participation. Authors with institutions that fail to participate in RePEc can still get their work listed, by uploading it with MPRA. They need copyright clearance for this, which is granted by most publishers, according to the list compiled by SHERPA/RoMEO.

Author profiles are also maintained by the authors themselves, by registering at the RePEc Author Service. The citation analysis (CitEc project) also depends on the collaboration of publishers, either by allowing the free download of the full texts or by providing the metadata about references separately.

The extremely decentralized nature of RePEc is what allows to reduce central costs to almost nothing and thus keep RePEc free for all: publishers, authors, and readers. The collected data can then be offered by the various RePEc services, and those bear the (small) cost of massaging the RePEc data to make it useful for everyone.

Aggegating discussion of economics research on blogs

April 10, 2012

The discussion of economic issues on the blogosphere is too little based on actual research. To promote blogs that discuss research, the blog aggregator was created a few years ago, showing for a select few blogs their last posts. has now been completely redone, with a radical change in concept.

The site now monitors a large number of economics blogs and selects the posts that discuss research. These posts are currently identified by a link to material on EconPapers, IDEAS, or NEP. The selected posts are then displayed on the site (main page and respective language) and linked from the relevant IDEAS page. We hope this will further promote the discussion of economic issues based on research and the blogs that do so.

You can find the new blog aggregator at

Who uses RePEc?

December 17, 2011

The goal of RePEc is to enhance the dissemination of research in Economics, and in particular to make it more accessible to those who do not have the resources of large and rich institutions. Here, I analyze traffic on IDEAS, the most popular of the RePEc services, since its move to the Economic Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

IDEAS is in English, but of course a substantial share of the material in RePEc is in other languages. Looking at the browser settings of those visiting IDEAS, 65% of visitors have the language set on English, 6% Spanish, 5% German and Chinese, 4% French. Browser settings can reveal more about the users. Browser chares are 37% for Internet Explorer, 29% for Firefox, 23% for Chrome, 8% Safari and 2% Opera. 85% of visitors use Windows, 10% some Mac OS, 2% some mobile OS and 1.2% Linux.

What is more interesting to us is where IDEAS visitors come from. Despite substantial ISP concentration is some large countries, no single ISP accounts for more than 1.8% of visitors. By country, the visitor ranking is:

  1. 22% United States
  2. 8.2% United Kingdom
  3. 5.3% India
  4. 4.9% Germany
  5. 3.6% China
  6. 3.5% Canada
  7. 3.2% France
  8. 2.8% Italy
  9. 2.7% Australia
  10. 1.9% Philippines
  11. 1.8% Netherlands
  12. 1.8% Spain
  13. 1.5% Japan
  14. 1.5% Malaysia
  15. 1.5% Brazil
  16. 1.3% Colombia
  17. 1.2% Pakistan
  18. 1.2% Switzerland
  19. 1.2% Turkey
  20. 1.2% Mexico
  21. 1.0% Belgium
There have been visitors from 223 countries, including 8 from Saint Helena, and 3 from North Korea. By continent, Europe accounts for 34.8%, the Americas for 32.9%, Asia for 24.1%, Africa for 4.8% and Oceania for 3.2%. And if you are really curious, the top cities are London, New York, Paris, Washington, New Delhi, Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, Beijing, Bogota, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Rome, Seoul, Toronto, Bangalore and Nairobi. St. Louis, where the server is located, ranks 125th, between Dar-Es-Salaam and Adelaide. Interesting that so many cities in less developed countries are in this list.

EconStor: A RePEc Archive for Research from Germany

September 15, 2011

This guest post was written by Jan Weiland.

EconStor is a subject-based repository for economics and business administration maintained by the German National Library of Economics / Leibniz Information Centre for Economics (ZBW). It provides free access to all kinds of scholarly publications, including working and discussion papers, conference papers, journal articles, research reports, and dissertations. The main content so far comes from German research institutions and university departments. But acting as a disciplinary repository EconStor, of course, welcomes any research institution worldwide seeking for a reliable storage and publishing infrastructure for its research papers in the field of economics and business administration – especially those institutions without access to a local repository infrastructure.

EconStor’s main objectives are

  • to offer scholarly publications without access restrictions (‘Open Access’),
  • to assure free and durable accessibility via fixed and stable links (‘Persistent Identifier’),
  • to provide consistent bibliographic data (‘Metadata’) like author, title, abstract, keywords, and JEL codes, and
    to disseminate the publications via databases, search engines and social media.

In order to achieve these goals we decided to make a “Full-Service Offer” to the editors of publications being considered to be published at EconStor, i.e. the EconStor team organizes the full text upload and metadata recording – free of charge, but based on a publication agreement [pdf] which is required for copyright reasons.

Besides complete working paper series or e-journals, EconStor is also open for single authors wishing to self-archive their own publications like pre- and post-prints, research reports, or theses. For this purpose we have prepared the ‘special community’ EconStor Direct, separated into collections covering common document types.

For the dissemination of scholarly output in economics, RePEc is an ideal service. Therefore we started in 2006 with feeding publications from our repository
into the RePEc database. Further requests followed from other institutions, so by and by the idea was developing to build up a national RePEc input service – similar to DEGREE for the Netherlands or S-WoPEc for Scandinavia. And although some institutions from Germany already were (and still are) providing its research series to RePEc themselves, there was still enough demand for setting up such a national service. But at that time at first a more flexible repository system had to be implemented. ZBW decided for DSpace, still the most widely-used repository software in the world. What were the reasons that led to this decision? First of all DSpace offers an interface for bulk ingest. This is very helpful when some metadata is already available in a structured format, like Excel or CSV files, e.g. from conference management tools. Furthermore it is able to handle Unicode/ UTF-8 encoding (very important for non-Latin characters, e.g. Cyrillic), it uses the Handle System from CNRI as persistent identifier system by default, and its inherent community&collections structure fits best to our needs: covering series, journals, and conference proceedings. So it is no surprise that AgEcon Search, a very similar approach in agricultural economics, uses the same software!

The idea of building up a ‘national RePEc input service’ was convincing for the German Research Foundation (DFG), that decided to supply some extra funding for the implementation in 2009. The funding enabled us to transfer the RePEc export interface to DSpace and to prepare additional publications for the integration into EconStor. This includes several ‘back files’ from the early 1990s, which in some cases had been originally published in formats like Postscript, DVI/TeX, or pure HTML – and are now available in PDF on EconStor and in RePEc.

In the meantime EconStor is hosting the full texts of more than 100 ‘series’ (including conferences and journals) from 75 German research institutions and university departments in RePEc. And with more than 7,500 downloadable items EconStor is now a major contributor to RePEc. The demand shows, that the ‘RePEc input service’ constitutes an important incentive for an institution to participate in EconStor.

But also publications from single authors are provided to RePEc, e.g. doctoral theses are listed within ZBW’s series ‘EconStor Theses‘. And as ‘theses’ are tagged as ‘books’ within this series, those documents will be displayed correspondingly within a personal RePEc author profile. So if you wish to add your PhD thesis to your RePEc profile, listed separately from your papers and articles (see example), you are very welcome to submit your work to EconStor!

Although RePEc is a very important dissemination point for EconStor content, there are some more distribution channels making it potentially interesting to participate in EconStor: All records are fed into EconBiz (ZBW’s search engine for economics and business studies), Google Scholar, BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine) and OAIster. A certain portion of content from EconStor is provided to Economists Online and the Social Science Research Network (SSRN).


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