Joachim Meyer (2001) Scientific Journals by and for Scientists. Psycoloquy: 12(019) Electronic Journals (11)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 12(019): Scientific Journals by and for Scientists

Book Review of Tenopir and King on Electronic Journals

Joachim Meyer
MIT AgeLab, Center for Transportation Studies
1 Amherst St., E40-291A, Cambridge, MA 02138
Dept. of Industrial Engineering and Management
Ben Gurion University of the Negev,
Beer Sheva 84105, Israel


Tenopir and King (2000) present a large compilation of data and analyses on paper and electronic publication of scientific journals. However, some aspects that may be very relevant for the future of electronic publishing are ignored. In particular, a more detailed analysis of the role of scientific communities in establishing journals and the determinants of the value of journal publications for individual scientists would have been warranted. These and similar factors may be better predictors of future developments in scientific communication than past economic data.


copyright, citation impact, digital library, electronic archives, electronic publishing, electronic journals, peer review, publication costs, research funding
1. "Towards Electronic Journals - Realities for Scientists, Librarians and Publishers" by Carol Tenopir and Donald W. King (2000a) provides a wealth of data on scientific journal publication. It is the culmination of a long series of studies that assessed scientific publication over the course of more than a quarter of a century. The focus is on economic analyses of the publication process, but the authors also review a wide range of background information on scientists' activities and scientific publications.

2. The book title indicates that scientific publication moves toward electronic journals. But, as the authors themselves point out, electronic journals already exist as a (although still relatively minor) outlet for scientific research. Psycoloquy is certainly one example for such a journal. In addition, an increasing number of publishers make electronic versions of their journals available to subscribers or scientists in subscribing institutions. Tenopir and King provide information on the publication process and the economics of current electronic journals. Based on their analyses, the cost of publishing an electronic journal for a relatively small number of subscribers is not much lower than the publishing of a similar print journal. Consequently the authors imply that electronic publications did not dramatically change the economics and characteristics of scientific publication. They prefer not to speculate about the future changes in scientific publications that may occur with the increase in electronic publications. Indeed, the book has no concluding chapter that presents a general thesis or predictions of what the authors expect for the future.

3. The book is clearly a competent source of information on scientific publications. However, it seems that the authors' long experience with the topic led them to adopt a very cautious position. This may be justified, but it is also possible that we are currently at a point in the history of scientific publications at which major changes in the field make accumulated experience obsolete.

4. Even though it is very difficult to predict the future of scientific publishing, it seems that developments will continue existing trends. This is one of the premises of the book and is likely to be correct. However, the economic data presented may not be the most relevant information. Instead, social aspects of scientific publication that were not particularly addressed in the book may be more important, namely the role of communities of scientists in the publication of scientific journals and the determinants of the value of a journal publication for a scientist. Issues such as these will have almost certain implications on publications in the future and may require a reassessment of the data presented in the book.


5. Tenopir and King demonstrate that academic publishing today can be a rather lucrative business. However, in contrast to other types of publishing, publishers of scientific journals depend entirely on scientists. The point becomes clear if one considers the process of establishing a new journal. This is obviously a process that has occurred quite often in the recent past, because, as Tenopir and King point out, the number of journals doubled until recently approximately every 15 years. Most new journals are highly specialized and serve relatively small groups of scientists in specific fields. Often the more established scientists in such a group form a community with members who know each other from conferences, correspond via email, exchange preprints and may have contact through students or researchers who move between labs.

6. A new journal will usually be created when some of the leaders in such a community believe that there is the need for another journal. This may occur, for instance, when existing journals fail to provide a sufficient outlet for papers in the field. After the initial contact between the initiators and some commitment to the idea of a new journal, the group will negotiate its publication with potential publishers, one of whom will hopefully agree to publish the journal. The scientists will usually decide on the editorial policy, the composition of the editorial board, and the choice of reviewers. They will also do much of the initial marketing by sending out messages and calls for submissions through electronic mailing lists that reach scientists in the field.

7. Publishers play a relatively minor role in this scenario of the establishing of a new journal. They still handle technical aspects of publication, but these seem to become less and less important. For instance, many journals already require electronic submissions of the accepted papers, so that typesetting is practically eliminated from the publication process. It is reasonable that if this trend continues, groups of scientists will be able to dispense entirely of publishers.


8. Not all journal publications are equal, and some journals count more than others for a scientist's career. Most universities still consider electronic journals as less prestigious publications and their value in the academic evaluation process, e.g., for tenure decisions, is therefore lower. Consequently authors are reluctant to submit their best work to electronic journals, hence electronic journals publish lower quality research, which again confirms their low standing in the eyes of the tenure committees. This vicious circle will continue as long as there is no clear incentive for scientists to publish in electronic journals.

9. Any analysis of electronic journals should therefore also analyze the incentive system and the ratings used to evaluate publications. Increasingly scientists, especially in top universities, are less evaluated based on the number of publications, but rather according to the quality of the journals in which they were published and the "impact" of the individual paper. These measures are closely related to the frequency of citations of papers in a given journal (for the evaluation of the journal) and the number of citations of an individual scientist's paper. For instance, one measure of a journals quality is its "current impact rating" (e.g., Garfield, 1979), which is usually computed as the ratio of citations of articles in a journal during a two-year period and the number of articles published during this period. Citations begin after a paper is published and will accumulate faster if less time is required for the publication of the citing papers. If papers in electronic journals will tend to quote previous papers in the same journal (as is the case in print journals), electronic journals could gradually gain an advantage in impact ratings over print journals.

10. The distribution of electronic publications may also have a positive effect on the impact ratings, because they can be sent to a large list of subscribers via email. Scientists are probably more likely to read papers that they receive on their desktop, similar to when they have personal subscriptions to journals. This should raise the number of citations of articles in these journals, and consequently the impact factors of the journals and the published articles will improve.


11. Tenopir and King provide a wealth of information on journal publication and electronic journals for the last quarter of the 20th century. However, they chose not to deal with the function of scientific journals for "communities" of scientists, as well as with the role and the determinants of journal publication for the individual scientist. These two aspects are crucial for evaluating the potential of electronic publications and the dynamics of their future development. Given the rapid changes in the field, it remains to be seen whether the book is a historic document on the economics and technology of late paper and early electronic publication, or whether it is still an important information source for scientists, editors, librarians and publishers and, if so, for how long it will remain one.


Garfield, E. (1979). Citation indexing: Its theory and application in science, technology and humanities. New York: Wiley.

Tenopir, C., & King, D. W. (2000a). Towards Electronic Journals: Realities for Scientists, Librarians and Publishers. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association.

Tenopir, Carol, and Donald W. King (2000b) Precis of: "Towards Electronic Journals" PSYCOLOQUY 11(084) psyc.00.11.084.electronic-journals.1.tenopir

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