About author rights

February 17, 2010

Authors are always very happy when their paper is accepted for publication in a journal, as this shows that their work was deemed important but editors and referees. But they also want to make sure that their work gets read and does not disappear behind a subscription wall. There are several steps an author can take here.

Retain copyright

The author is the copyright holder until this is transfered to someone else. Publishers asks very soon after a paper is accepted for publication that the copyright be transfered to them. Typically, the form asks for all rights, which implies that the author cannot use her own work in other publication or in presentations, even in her own classroom. There are two ways to avoid this: 1) ask for the “other” copyright form, which publishers provides upon request only. This form allows the author to retain certain rights. 2) amend the copyright form. SPARC has developed a standard form that is available here [pdf]. See further details regarding this procedure.

Keep pre-prints online

In many cases, a paper was previously made available online as a working paper. Do not remove it. Indeed, you are the copyright holder and do not have to relinquish this. Even if you did not follow the steps above, in most cases, you can still keep your working paper online. Many publishers have made public that they tolerate, to various degrees, that these pre-prints remain in place. You can check this at SHERPA/RoMEO.

Provide post-prints

You can even archive so-called post-prints. These are accepted versions on your article. Many universities and research funders actually require that post-prints be publicly archived, for example in an institutional repository. In Economics, it is also common to publish an accepted work in a working paper series. Again, to see what publishers officially allow in this respect, see SHERPA/RoMEO. You have more rights, of course, if you took steps to retain them.


Why Journals?

December 16, 2009

When I started studying economics in the ‘sixties, there was no Xerox. Journals were printed, and then mailed. Because printing (type-setting by hand, no computer at that time) was expensive, only selected articles were distributed through journals, and journal editors had to select carefully. Researchers and even students subscribed to journals in order to have articles of interest available; otherwise they had to copy them by hand, or excerpt them, or go to the library to have a look. Distribution by print was the cheapest and most economic way of distributing research.

Hence the journals had a dual function: 1.) They selected research articles and 2.) they distributed them. The first function (selection) was necessary because printing–especially printing of mathematical formulae–was quite expensive. So the bundling of selection and distribution had an economic reason.

This reason has vanished. It is possible to distribute practically for free (through MPRA for instance). So the question is: Do we need journals, simply for the purpose of selecting articles, as the function of distributing articles is redundant nowadays. Let me share some thoughts on the issue. I concentrate on research journals, whether open access or not. Survey journals like the Journal of Economic Perspectives or commentary journals like Economists’ Voice are another matter.

Do We Need Quality Stamps?

Some people argue that journals provide a “quality stamp” for scientific contributions, just like rating agencies assess firms or assets. We know that rating agencies may induce unwarranted herding effects, yet the point that journals perform a rating function is true. But is it needed? And if needed, can’t it be provided more cheaply?

As to whether a quality stamp is needed: This may be different for different groups of users. So look at different groups that may benefit from a quality stamp.

Researchers

In my fields of research, I certainly do not use journal names for selecting articles. I search the Web and have my subscription to NEP. Most articles (99%) in top-ranking journals are of no concern to me because they discuss issues I don’t work on and seem too specialized, technical and boring as to make it worthwhile to read more than the abstract. But I get the abstract much earlier through NEP and other services. And further, I obtain the articles I am really interested in much earlier (one or two years earlier) over the net than through the journals. (Note that the articles in good journals are typically available on the Net at the time of publication.) If I find an article on the net that I like, typically a pre-print, and see it later published in a good journal, I feel a kind of satisfaction about the journal, but this does not seem to justify the existence of journals.

Further, I am not interested in seeing only the good papers that some referees approve of. As I know my field, I do not think that referees know better. Actually many papers in top journals are not so good, and mediocre journals publish excellent papers. Further, many rejected papers are rejected for reasons such as being badly written, ill organized, or employing faulty reasoning, but they often do contain useful references and interesting ideas, and therefore they interest me as much as a superbly crafted paper elaborating on rather sterile detail.

Yet there may be the benefit coming with having an article revised during the refereeing process. The probability that the mathematics are correct is slightly increased. Typically, the exposition is improved, too. Further, the references are enlarged by adding some quite relevant stuff, but also by adding things suggested by the referees for sundry reasons that hurt overall consistency. But this does not hurt much.

The benefits going with having an article refereed carry side-effects, however: Sometimes the editors’ and referees’ demands make papers worse. In the same vein, have a look at Bruno Frey’s amusing paper, and especially at what he reports about Robert Frank.

Regarding the publishing of my own research I see that publishing in a journal does not affect citations, but making a paper available on the net does so. Hence journal publication is of very limited value to me (but I don’t have to care about the journals I am publishing in because I am close to retirement).

So, overall, I think that researchers do not benefit significantly from journals that publish research papers.

Hiring Committees

A benefit from having quality stamps is that this helps hiring committees to select candidates under conditions of ignorance. This may be true, but I would consider this a dysfunction: In the first place, hiring committees should comprise knowledgeable members; otherwise you would not need hiring committees and leave the decision to bureaucrats; and second, citation numbers are much better indicators for the impact of an author’s work than the journals the author has published in. So ignorant hiring committees may better resort to RePEc citation scores, rather than being enthused by journal titles. (But then they will end up with hiring candidates who work in fields many people work in. So they end up with conventional candidates, rather than creative ones. But this will be the case whenever you have incompetent hiring committees.) In any case, hiring committees won’t need journals, as RePEc citation scores are independent of journal names and do not rely on the existence of journals.

However, the reliance of hiring committees on journal rankings may entail strictly negative consequences. I read, for instance, that Notre Dame University intends to dissolve the department of economic history because the economic historians do not publish in mainstream journals.

It seems to me that hiring committees do not benefit from the existence of journals either.

Libraries

It is sometimes said that journals permit journal rankings, and this is a help for librarians for deciding which journal to subscribe to. This is, of course, not an argument for supporting journals. Without journals, there would be no problem of selecting journals, and the librarians could concentrate on selecting books.

So I conclude that libraries would perform better if we had no journals.

Economics Without Journals

Imagine we had no economics journals. What would happen? Presumably people would write more books. I would consider this an advantage, as knowledge is much too fragmented at the moment. Further, institutions would be in demand to channel the flow of information better than possible through journals, such as blogs specializing on some topic or another, and meta-blogs like Econ Academics. I could imagine that collections of papers on certain topics would emerge. The Special Issues feature of the economics E-journal provides an example.

A Suggestion for a Next Step

My impression is that the existence of journals is a feature of the past. Journals will die, and this will be an improvement for academic economics. The process will be sped up if new ways of channeling information are devised. So here is just one idea:

I could think, for RePEc, to devise a feature that lists related papers to any given paper. Google Scholar has a feature like that, but I think that could be improved tremendously for our specific purposes. An easy way would be to look at the citations of any given paper and give all papers with similar citations. This could, theoretically, be achieved by building on the citation data created by the CitEc project. If someone with programming expertise could adopt such a project, this would be a great help for economists world-wide. (As a side effect, such a feature would put pressure on Elsevier to release its citation data.)

There are certainly many more suggestions. I am looking forward to see them, perhaps in comments to this blog. And certainly my general point must be controversial. I must have overlooked some important aspects. The world can not be as inefficient as I portray it. Otherwise we would have no journals right now.

Maybe we can have an exchange of ideas.


International Open Access Week

October 20, 2009

RePEc is highlighted in the Boston College Libraries’ newsletter, special issue for OA Week:
http://www.bc.edu/libraries/newsletter/


A new initiative on research blogging

September 30, 2009

We have discussed on various occasions new means of research dissemination and peer review on this blog. One way that could show promise is blogs that discuss research. There are still only few of them, and their readership is still rather small compared to the big current events blogs (and it may be better so). We want to explore whether blog can become a sustainable and useful way of dissemination, discussing and even advancing research in Economics.

To this end, a blog aggregator specialized on research blogs in Economics was created last year: EconAcademics. Some NEP editors are now starting an experiment whereby they highlight and open for discussion one working paper a week. This paper is taking from their weekly list of new working papers, specific to their field. For now, two such NEP blogs are in place: NEP-DGE (Dynamic General Equilibrium) and NEP-OPM (Open Macroeconomics). Others may follow soon and will be listed both in the side bar of this blog and on EconAcademics.

We hope that the selected papers will generate some interesting discussion. We will see whether the profession is ready for this type of discussion. Earlier attempts with the defunct WoPEc and with the Society of Labor Economists failed. A current initiative at the Economics E-Journal seems to work somewhat. Watch and participate in the NEP blogs!


MPRA, the Munich Personal RePEc Archive

August 27, 2009

The Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MPRA) has been started three years ago. It has developed into one of the largest archives within the RePEc network, comprising roughly 9000 items at the time of writing. Christian Zimmermann has suggested that I share some toughs about its history and functioning.

The initial idea occurred to me when I heard that the Economics Working Paper Archive (EconWPA), run by Bob Parks, was discontinued in 2005. EconWPA offered the possibility for individual authors to make their contributions accessible to the community through the RePEc network, given that only institutions can set up RePEc archives. Although we have in Munich our discussion paper series integrated into RePEc, not all economists are so fortunate, and the need for a personal archive (as distinct from an institutional archive) was apparent.

Given that we had successfully established our department’s discussion paper series with the EPrints software, it appeared technically feasible to clone the software and use it for a personal RePEc archive. Discussion on the internal RePEc list led to the name “Munich Personal RePEc Archive,” the main concern being to clarify that the archive was intended as a RePEc service, rather something  original, and that the name would not exclude other personal RePEc archives in other locations. (If one of the other Munich universities wants to start another personal archive, we may get into a problem…)

I asked Volker Schallehn from the University Library, who has implemented the EPrints software for our university archives, about the possibility to help with such a project. He agreed to help. The next step was to convince the president of the university as well as the director of the library to agree dedicating some resources to the endeavor that would not serve people from Munich at all. They were in favor, and so we got started on September 19, 2006.

From a technical point of view the main problem was to automatize as much as possible, as we could not supply manpower: The generation of title pages, the  creation of metadate in the ReDif format required by the RePEc harvester, and the linking to the RePEc author service. With the help of  Thomas Krichel, Christian Zimmermann, Kit Baum, Sune Karlsson, Ivan Kurmarov, and others we manged to solve these problems and set up the website. We found editors. They do the main job now. The English editors handle often more than 50 submissions per day.

As the Eprints software permits to establish series in different languages, we decided to use these feature and to offer the service in all languages for authors who deal with country-specific issues and want to make their research available in their local language. However we require for all submissions English abstracts such that all users can obtain an impression what economists writing in other languages do and, if necessary, contact them. This feature has lead to quite a number of submissions in languages like Spanish or French, and to some smaller sets in Turkish, Arabic, and others. (Some of them look extremely pretty.) Maybe this feature creates a sense that all economists world-wide see themselves as members of a community with the common purpose of helping to improve living conditions around the globe.

A central motivation for establishing a pre-print archive like MPRA was to enable authors to secure the copyrights for their pre-print versions in case the copyright for the final article goes to the publisher. This permits open access to their work, even if publishers try to make the final work inaccessible for the non-paying public. This is a great convenience for academics and, I hope, generates a countervailing power that keeps a check on journal prices. Further, this arrangement provides a means for the authors to make their work accessible to others through the RePEc services.

As an unintended by-product some authors have obtained requests from publishers to publish their contribution in a volume or journal. This may indicate a trend for the future: While authors submitted their works to publishers (and paid for it), in the future simply put your stuff on the net, and publishers approach you in order to create collections that generate value added beyond mere publication, such that people and libraries a willing to pay for it. If MPRA could contribute to such a development, this would be nice.

It is quite astonishing to me how many good papers we obtain, in spite of the fact that we do no refereeing at all. (The editors check only some formal aspects, making sure that the submission is of academic nature, and a certain convention has emerged in this respect.)

MPRA offers a public forum for publishing papers, but not only that: It offers the possibility to publish comments on papers in the archive. This feature is not used. Maybe somebody has a suggestion how to organize discussions around papers such that people actually feel inclined to use such a feature.

So much about MPRA. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to communicate and discuss them on this blog.


RePEc coverage outside of academia

June 29, 2009

RePEc indexes research in Economics, and one usually thinks about publications in journals and pre-prints disseminated by universities through the form of working papers or discussion papers. The fact is that a lot of research is also conducted outside these institutions. Take as an example central banks. Beyond their role of managing the money supply in their respective countries, as well as in some cases operating the payment system and regulating parts of the financial system, they conduct research to facilitate their operations and more generally understand the economy.

Much of this research is also present on RePEc. The following central bank have opened RePEc archives: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, England, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Spain, Turkey, United States (all Federal Reserve Banks). The following participate through an aggregator: Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland. And finally, the following supranational institutions have a RePEc archive: Bank for International Settlements, European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund. There are plenty of other governmental institutions participating as well, in particular statistical offices, ministries and regulators.


About self-archiving your research

May 15, 2009

When you write a paper, you typically pursue several goals. One is to publish it in a good journal in order to get recognition for your work. The other is to get read and have an impact (and get citations). While publishing in a good journal may help you achieve the second goal, this is not necessarily so as the access to most journal articles is restricted by subscriptions. One way around this is to make some version of your work available in other ways. This is referred to as self-archiving.

This can be done in several ways, greatly helped by the availability of the Internet:


  1. Have a copy on your web page.
  2. Have a copy in your local working paper series.
  3. Have a copy in your institutional repository, usually managed by the library.
  4. Host a copy elsewhere.
The first solution is clearly not efficient, as people would only find your work there by chance. This would also be the case for the other solutions, but there are good ways to make such works more widely available, RePEc being a major one. Indeed, once a working paper series is indexed in RePEc, it will be available in thematic search engines dedicated to Economics (EconPapers and IDEAS), disseminated through mailing lists and RSS (NEP) and further pushed to other indexers (Econlit, Google Scholar, OAISTER), etc.). But for this to happen, the working paper series would need to be indexed in RePEc (instructions). The same applies to an institutional repository (see more about that).

If these options are not available, the paper can be hosted elsewhere. For RePEc, the Munich Personal RePEc Archive is ready to accept uploads, and has in a couple of years accepted more 8000 papers, including quite a few older ones that researchers wanted to make available to anyone. Another option is SSRN, but this archive does not participate in RePEc.

Regarding self-archiving, the most frequent asked questions is: am I violating a copyright when uploading somewhere a working paper? The short answer is that in the vast majority of cases, no copyright that you may have signed away to a publisher is violated by uploading a pre-print, i.e., a previous version of your work. In many cases, it is sufficient that the working paper simply does not have the published layout, or that it not be the final version. Many publishers even allow post-prints, that is, uploads of final versions onto institutional repositories, as these are more and more mandated by institutions and sponsors. To check what the policy of each publisher is, consult SHERPA/RoMEO. Only in very rare cases does a working paper need to be withdrawn once published in a journal.

Note that when both a self-archived and a published version of a paper are listed in RePEc with the same title, and both are present in an author’s profile, RePEc will link between them. This allows the reader to find where a working paper was ultimately published, or to read a paper hidden behind a journal’s subscription wall. Thus authors: never remove from your profile works that you have authored.

Finally, for more about self-archiving, check out the Self-Archiving FAQ hosted by e-prints.


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