Call for Papers: The Economics of Limited and Open Access Publishing

May 29, 2008

Economic Analysis and Policy (EAP) is a 38 year old journal published by the Economic Society of Australia (Queensland branch) that has just adopted an open access policy. To celebrate this important step, EAP intends to publish in 2009 a special issue on the Economics of publishing, with special reference to different business models, like the commercial, university press, open access and pre-print models. Academic publishing is undergoing a profound transformation that we wish to better understand.

EAP particularly seeks to publish passionate, critical, and controversial articles. It is open to orthodox but also unorthodox approaches.

We expect to publish 5 to 8 articles. They will be peer-reviewed under the guest editorship of Christian Zimmermann (University of Connecticut). Please submit your manuscript in PDF format through the journal’s online submission.

Update: The submission deadline is set for November 1, 2008.


The Budapest Open Access Initiative

March 22, 2008

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) was signed on 14 February 2002. Its goal is to encourage an international effort to make research in all academic fields freely available on the internet. It defines open access as “the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds.” This definition is not limited to articles published in journals but also encompasses pre-prints (discussion or workings papers as we call them in Economics).

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) list (as of the writing of this post) 3289 journals, including 68 in Economics, that satisfy the requirements of BOAI. While Economics is relatively underrepresented, the working paper culture in our field allows to find in open access many, if not most, of the articles published in non-open access journals (RePEc tries very hard to identify links between different versions of the same work). In fact, most publishers explicitly allow authors to publish pre-prints or post-prints of their articles in institutional repositories, including working papers series. A good list of policies by publishers can be found at RoMEO.

If you think this is a good initiative, you can sign the BOAI here. Foremost, make sure your publications are available in free access through a working papers series, or absent this option, through the Munich Personal RePEc Archive. In particular, in most cases, authors should not remove their working papers once their are published in journals.


World Ranking of Repositories, RePEc is #2

February 14, 2008

The Webometrics Ranking of World Universities is an initiative that tries to establish which universities provides to most content on the web and get visibility from it. The ranking of universities is based on the size of the web domain (20%), the number of rich files available (PDF, RTF, etc., 15%), Research on Google Scholar (15%), and link visibility (50%). Not surprisingly, US universities monopolize the 24 first spots, led by MIT.

Webometrics also ranks repositories, the criteria being the same as for universities. The ranking is led by Arxiv, the grand-daddy of all repositories covering much of Physics and Mathematics. RePEc is number 2, followed by E-LIS, a repository in Library Sciences founded by Thomas Krichel, who is also at the origin of RePEc!

Other notables down the list: HAL, a French repository that feeds to RePEc at number 9, CDLIB, the University of California Repository, a RePEc participant at number 19, SSRN, not in RePEc, at number 37, the Munich Personal RePEc Archive, barely a year old, is already number 56, and AgEconSearch, not in RePEc, is ranked number 126.


Supplementary Open Access

January 23, 2008

Most economic publications do not provide open access. Yet the articles published there may be accompanied with related Internet material that is openly accessible—in particular pre-print, post-print and other versions of the published articles, and including additional material that is unavailable in the published versions. I refer to this as “supplementary open access.”

It is obviously in every author’s best interest to make their works freely available on the Internet, and it is in the interest of all economists to enjoy unhampered access to as many economic research papers as possible. It is also helpful to have open access to other versions of articles in case the original article is not available, too expensive or shortened. This makes it advisable for authors to provide supplementary open access to their published work, in particular access to pre-print versions and post-print versions. (“Pre-print” refers here pre-refereed and “post-print” to post-refereed versions of a published paper).

Supplementary open access has several advantage for authors:

Visibility and citations. In his article “Online or Invisible,” Steve Lawrence has analyzed the effect of online availability of published journal articles in physics on citation. He concludes:

“The results are dramatic. There is a clear correlation between the number of times an article is cited, and the probability that the article is online. More highly cited articles, and more recent articles, are significantly more likely to be online. … When considering articles within each year, and averaging across all years from 1990 to 2000, we find that online articles are cited 4.5 times more often than offline articles. “

There is no reason to assume that economics would be any different, although I do not know a comparable systematic study. My own experience is, though, that those articles I placed online attracted much more attention than comparable articles not available online. The further spreading of Internet publishing since 2000, also witnessed by the growth of the RePEc database, may have further strengthend the effect.

Prestige. Theodore Bergstrom and Rosemarie Lavaty have looked at all articles that appeared 33 economic journals in August 2006 and determined for all papers whether or not an open access version was available on the net. The result:

“… freely available versions of about 90 percent of the articles in the top fifteen listed journals can be found by Google-searching the title and author. [...] the self-archiving norm is less strong among those who publish in the less influential journals. Freely available versions of about 50 percent of the articles in the eighteen lower-ranked journals in our sample could be found on the internet.”

Several top-ranked journals (among them QJE, JPE, and Econometrica) scored 100% free accessibility, while lesser journals scored significantly less. The prestige of the journal thus correlates strongly and positively with supplementary open access.

Career concerns. Many hiring decisions are influenced by citation scores. I have mentioned above that open access improves citations and citation scores. These are usually taken from Thompson (Web of Science). The RePEc citation scores are increasingly used for these purposes as well. They refer not only to published work, but also to pre-prints and all other material available through the RePEc services.

For these reasons, authors should be interested in providing supplementary open access to their works. At the same time they help others.

Now to the publishers. Most publishers make supplementary open access easy, but a few still try to restrict public access, in spite of calling themselves “publishers.” (It would be better to call them “concealers.”) You may want to submit only to those publishers that permit some form of supplementary open access. These publishers are “green,” “blue,” and “yellow”:

Green publishers (most publishers) permit you to archive pre-print and post-print versions of your article.

Blue publishers permit you to archive post-print (i.e. final draft post-refereeing) versions of your article.

Yellow publishers permit you to archive archive pre-print (i.e. pre-refereeing) versions of your article.

All these publishers are fine, as far as supplementary open access is concerned. The publishers that are neither green, blue or yellow are “white”:

White publishers (a few) do not support archiving.

As supplementary open access is blocked only by the white publishers, don’t submit to the corresponding journals if possible–and don’t help them with referee reports. They obstruct the dissemination of knowledge.

You find further details on individual journals at the RoMEO database. The publishers’ websites usually offer additional information.

In order to realize the advantages of supplementary open access it does not suffice, though, to shun white publishers. You need also to make your paper available on the Internet. The usual way is to deposit your pre-refereed manuscript at the working paper series of your institution.

Make sure that all information is supplied to the RePEc database. This will guarantee inclusion in the CitEc citation compilations done by RePEc. At the same time, the paper will become easily available through the RePEc services such as IDEAS or EconPapers, as well as Google Scholar and OAIster. In addition, the paper will be advertised through the NEP mailing lists that target specific subjects. All this will make the paper very easy to find.

If your institution’s working paper series does not supply its data to RePEc, you may suggest that they do. (instructions). Otherwise you may consider depositing your paper with MPRA which provides this service. You can also have it both ways: If your institution’s series is not covered by RePEc, you may publish it in addition in MPRA, but this makes sense only if your institutions series is not covered by RePEc. Otherwise please don’t do it, as it creates confusion.

Once your paper is published, leave your pre-print on the repository—do not remove it. If you remove the open access (pre-print or post-print) versions, you lose all citations to these works, which reduces your citation score. Further you prohibit access to readers who have no subscription for the publisher’s data banks. In short, you lose all the advantages mentioned above.

Some further observations. Yes, it is true, readers can buy articles at the publishers’ data banks (such as IngentaConnect, ScienceDirect, or Blackwell Synergy), or at British Library Direct even without subscription, but prices are excessive: You may be easily required to pay 30$ for a book review of just a few pages! Most readers won’t buy a pig in a poke, though. Open supplementary access versions of the original articles help the reader to gather an impression about whether it is worthwhile to have a closer look at the original article. Publishers may increasingly become aware that supplementary open access effectively helps them to sell stuff through their data banks. Hopefully they pass some of the earnings to the authors.

Let me add a quite important additional benefit of supplementary open access: Authors keep the copyright for all material they put on the Internet. If they do not pre-publish, they may lose all rights for their own works! (The current German legislation will transfer all electronic rights to the publishers, for example, unless the author explicitly states by the end of the current year that he or she wants to keep the rights. German university libraries are very worried.) You avoid all these problems to some extent by pre-publishing on the Internet, as all pre-published versions will remain yours, even if the rights for the published version go to the publisher.

A further point: Keep the electronic manuscript of your final version. Green publishers allow you to deposit the final version, but, as a rule, not the publisher’s final PDF. This restriction, if it applies, may be inconvenient, but it does not pertain to the substance of your work. Given this state of affairs it is advisable that you produce your own PDF right after correcting the galleys (by using the free software PDFCreator or the pricey Adobe Acrobat). So you have a version that you can safely use to enhance the impact of your work by providing supplementary open access. But if this seems too cumbersome to you, just leave the pre-print version on the net! The RePEc listings will show these along with the final versions, so that readers are informed about which versions exist, and which one is the latest.


The end of print journals?

December 8, 2007

The (US) Association of Research Libraries released a few days ago a report entitled “The E-only Tipping Point for Journals: What’s Ahead in the Print-to-Electronic Transition Zone” (pdf). It makes the argument that sooner or later every publisher will turn to an electronic-only format in the face of rising (relative) costs of print formats. Currently, we are in a transition period where most journals went from print-only to print and electronic, and it is predicted that with 5 to 10 years, the printed journals will be only from the most specialized and small ones who cannot afford the fix cost of setting up the electronic editions. Another feature of the transition is the large proportion of new journals that do not even bother with a print edition.

This discussion largely pertains to university press publishing, but can probably be extended to commercial publishing. Indeed, commercial publishers show signs that they want to discourage print editions, either through their subscription price structure or by modifying subscriptions to be by default electronic-only. In Economics, the dissemination of research, in terms of readership, is dominated by pre-prints (working or discussion papers) that have gone all electronic for some time now, with only few exceptions. As far as I know, nobody regrets the period of the all printed working papers: they were difficult to obtain unless you were in the “club”, only few institutions had a systematic (but costly) way to disseminate them, and only established researchers had any chance of being read through this medium. People would even travel to some libraries to consult their working paper collections. Today, research is much more widely disseminated and researchers from outside the elite institutions have a better chance to follow and contribute to the research frontier. We hope RePEc has contributed to this democratization. Never has been the use of electronic pre-prints as widespread as now, possibly at the cost of reducing journals to historical records of research. Well, journals also act as gateways through peer-review, but you sometimes have to wonder about this as well when hearing all the complaints about this process.

A few interesting numbers from the study: 60% of 20,000 per-reviewed journals are available in electronic format, library-provided electronic editions are at least ten times more read than print ones, only 30% of library subscriptions are print only.


More on peer review and blogging

November 15, 2007

A community of research bloggers tired of being confused with “news, politics, family, bagpipes, and so on” blogs has started its own blog at BPR3 (Bloggers for Peer-Reviewed Research Reporting). The idea is to encourage peer review bloggers to certify themselves and use an icon on their blog. We discussed earlier whether such blogs would be appropriate in Economics, along with some past experiences. Other fields seem to have some active research blogs. Do we have any blog in Economics that would qualify?

Inside HigherEd has two articles on academic blogging, one discussing how painful it is, the other how great it is. Both authors are graduate students, but they can still offer interesting perspectives to more seasoned researchers tempted by academic blogging. A few excerpts:

Over the past three years, I’ve learned what it’s like to write in a way most academics never have: namely, for an audience. If this seems like a simple point, that’s because it is. Nor is it one of those profoundly simple points, either: it’s straight simple. When a blogger sits down to slave on her dissertation, article, or book, she doesn’t turn her back on the public sphere. Because in the end, the public sphere is us.

I’m talking about the communities we currently have, only five years in the future, when we’re scattered around the country, unable to communicate face-to-face, but still connected, still intellectually intimate, because we’ll still regularly be engaged with each other’s thoughts. But I’m not only talking about us. There’s no reason our community needs to consist solely of people we knew in grad school. Why not write for people who don’t already how you think about everything? Why not force yourself to articulate your points in such a way that strangers could come to know your thought as intimately as your friends from grad school do?

More than formatting issues, however, I think that everyone needs to realize that having a productive conversation in an online format is very hard work, which is why it happens so rarely. Many bloggers can point out online conversations in which they were pushed to think in a new direction or got genuinely valuable feedback on a question, but as with all human endeavors, there is a high percentage of dross to go along with the occasional gold. Policing comments is a difficult job, and efforts to keep conversations on-topic or ensure that contributors have some substantial knowledge to share will often cause resentment in light of the “democratic” leanings of online communities. All this is on top of the obvious problems with online interaction as opposed to in-person conversations.

As more and more academic resources become available online, hopefully academic blogs will begin to fill a role analogous to the political blogs that link to and comment on particular news stories — that is, bringing new scholarly research to the attention of an interdisciplinary audience. I hope that events like this will help to push more journals toward open-access electronic formats. Failing that, however, academic blogs seem to me to be best-suited as a social outlet for academics who would otherwise feel isolated, creating camaraderie and supplementing the social aspects of disciplinary conferences.

There is also a discussion on this topic on the blog of the Association of College & Research Libraries.

The RePEc blog does not consider itself to be part of the research blog community, indeed our focus is not research but the dissemination of research. Hence, we are interested in understanding the feasibility and the interest in research blogs in Economics. And if any research blogs appear (or already exist) in Economics, RePEc would be more than happy to feature them on this blog and possibly elsewhere.


Further Thoughts on “New Peer Review Systems”

November 5, 2007

Several thoughts on various points raised in New Peer Review Systems and the comments that followed.

  • In a sense, the lag in the review process might be optimal. A publication of most any sort is valuable to the author and one in a leading journal of course has a very substantial return. Journals thus have a good reason to deter papers that aren’t at all appropriate; this was pointed out by Ofer Azar, “The Slowdown in First-Response Times of Economics Journals: Can It Be Beneficial?,” Economic Inquiry, 2007, 45 (1). The constraint here would seem to be editor’s and referees’ time. In economics, the most common cost that journals impose on authors is a lengthy review process. I’d hazard a guess that bepress gets around this by their ranking of papers into different tiers; they don’t have to deter less than stellar papers as they’ll likely get a home there. This is combined with their system where authors who submit there agree to review two papers quickly (a nice example of a virtuous cycle). Another way to speed up the referee process is a system where any reader can submit comments on a paper. But, as Christian points out, this doesn’t seem to attract many comments. It turns out I’ve looked a bit at this and found 5 journals that have tried a reader rating system and none have attracted a sufficient number of comments to make it fly. From here, one option is something that ranks papers after they’ve been out, such as citations. Paul Ginsparg has some thoughts on one approach, as does Hal Varian (now the chief economist at Google). But, these might take years to generate sufficient data to render a judgment on a paper. I think many of us want something that is quicker.

    Another possibility is something like Faculty of 1000 in biology and medicine where a level of review beyond journals takes place. I very much like the summaries in their sample web pages; you don’t see that in economics. One could imagine it working on top of our working paper culture. But, I wonder if some of their success comes from the grant culture in these fields as this is a fee-base service that seems to pay the reviewers? How might one set up something similar in economics with our working paper culture? Journals would likely see it as preempting their role.

  • I agree with Preston that perhaps the most interesting part of Economics E-Journal is the open review system (all can read reviews) and the feature that allows authors to publicly respond to referee reports. Both would seem to give referees correct incentives. I would think that journals could implement this quickly and easily at low cost. Also, while deep thinking and working through a paper you are writing is extremely valuable, so is getting feedback and discussing a paper and the ideas in it. I have a first draft of a paper on these topics (see below) but in writing this blog entry I have developed some new insights. I wouldd add that prompt discussion is something that the Internet can aid for those of us without local colleagues in our fields.A very minor point on his post: if you count economics journals by the number in EconLit, there are about 1,240. In short, most any paper should certainly be published!
  • I certainly second Christian’s point about blogs and research. All the economics blogs I know of do not discuss serious research that much if at all. Much more common are discussions of current economic events and policy that members of the public find interesting. I don’t know of a one where someone might say, “Say, that paper by Sam Jones in Computational Economics” is interesting because the algorithm he used to calculate…” Also, debates by papers take years given the time to write one and respond. This seems rather silly given today’s technology; after all, journals in the their current form came about when information traveled at the speed of a horse or ship. Perhaps a blog is too quick for complete works, but I understand in law their use is leading to a relative decline in the importance of law journals. One example (first paper found in a Google search) is Guest Blogger: The Start of the Supreme Court’s 2007-08 Employment Discrimination Docket: Federal Express Corporation v. Holowecki. Yes, it discusses current events, but the topic is one that only specialists would seem to care about. You do not seem to see such in economics blogs that I am aware of.

Where does this leave RePEc? Well, I’m not really sure. It is hard to change norms in a field and I am not sure that RePEc could swing it. But, I do not think that a comment system on individual papers would get that much traction. Somehow you want to get the judgment of peers (for promotion, tenure, and annual raises) in a speedy manner. Those two criteria seem to be at odds with each other.
It turns out I have done some thinking on these issues; at the risk of self-promotion they can be found in Next Steps in the Information Infrastructure in Economics. Note that this draft was written for a conference of non-economists, so some parts will strike a very obvious cord to an economist’s ear. I have also have yet to incorporate some very useful comments that Christian kindly wrote. In a nice mix of blog and papers, further comments on the paper are greatly appreciated.


Easing the life of referees

October 30, 2007

One of the more boring tasks a referee faces is to check the algebra of a submission that looks promising. This is often trivial to do but may be quite time consuming, and it requires concentration. Given programs like Mathematica, the task can be simplified by asking authors to give their calculations in machine readable code. This would render it easier to do such boring checks and would, at the same time, help authors to avoid mistakes.

Mathematica is, however, too expensive. Is there any freeware that could be used for such purposes? If so, RePEc could recommend using it as a standard. This would ease the refereeing process. Referees could concentrate on contents rather than being immersed in ultimately trivial calculations. Such a program must of course be able to do symbolic calculations, like forming derivatives or evaluating symbolic equation systems.

Ekkehart


New Peer Review Systems

October 29, 2007

The traditional peer review system is to submit an article to a journal, wait for the editor to get anonymous referee reports and then deliver a decision. We all have horror stories on how inefficient this system is, both in terms of time lost (and Economics seems particularly bad here) and in terms of the arbitrariness of the process. Yet despite all the complaints and the many announcements of its imminent demise in the age of the Internet, this peer review system is still going strong.

What has been done to reform it? Editors have worked hard to reduce decision times, sometimes with success, but there seems to be a lot of habit in the slow response of referees (so editors claim). New models are tried, such as the bepress journals that provide quality ratings and thus avoid authors to submit repeatedly down the journal ladder, the new American Economic Journals that can “automatically” feed on the rejects from the AER, or Economic Inquiry that now asks referees to only provide an up or down vote, thus bypassing the revisions. While these are all important initiatives, they are after all only a variation of the original system.

We can think completely differently. Think of this blog. I rant on a topic, and then others can comment on it and openly declare whether this rant was valuable or not. Why not do this with academic work? An early attempt was done with WoPEc. This was the first RePEc service, similar to IDEAS and EconPapers today, which offered for some time on each paper’s abstract page a discussion section. Participation was minimal and there was very little value added (see an example, I could not find one that actually had comments). This aspect of WoPEc was finally abandoned. A second attempt was organized by SOLE (Society of Labor Economists), that would post every two weeks a new paper to discuss. Again, participation was small, and the project was finally abandoned.

The latest attempt is the Economics E-Journal, which allows registered users to rate and comment on discussion papers. Once the editors find that a paper has generated sufficient interest, it is promoted to the journal, where it can still be discussed. This initiative started this year, so the jury is still out whether it will be successful in the end. So far, it looks very promising.

From time to time, members of the RePEc team are approached and asked whether a discussion section could be added to our services. Given the past experience with WoPEc and the large monitoring costs involved, we are not enthusiastic. Of course if other volunteers are interested in working on this, we may think about it. But first we need to understand whether there is really a demand for this. Maybe RePEc is now too large for this and such initiative should be left to field specific initiatives (SOLE again?).


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