CHWP D.1 Kling & Covi, "Electronic Journals"


Stevan Harnad (in press) offers a "subversive proposal" for ushering in an era in which e-journals replace p-journals:

If from this day forward, everyone were to make available on the Net, in publicly accessible archives on the World Wide Web, the texts of all their current papers (and whichever past ones are still sitting on their word processors' disks) then the transition to the PostGutenberg Galaxy would happen virtually overnight.

Harnad's proposal to move scholars from one set of communication systems to another has much in common with many utopian proposals: there is no effective analysis of how to encourage diverse scholars make a workable transition. In practice, scholars will become interested in e-journals at varying rates. Today, a scholar who is facing a choice between publishing in a p-journal and publishing in an e-journal (other than JAIR) faces a choice between legitimate (but perhaps slow) publication, and more rapid publication in e-journals that are viewed as of lesser quality (or even not serious journals). The e-journal may promise world-wide accessibility. But the scholar who wants to be read by his or her colleagues is more concerned that the article be seen by valued peers than that it be seen by a possibly larger but much less influential group of readers. Today, p-journals are better able to promise appropriate readership than are e-journals, with a few exceptions.

The scholar who selects a journal to submit an article to for possible publication cannot wave a joystick and enact Harnad's subversive proposal. If the scholar is in a field where paper journals reign supreme and electronic journals are fledgling operations, there is little incentive to try the e-journal unless the scholar has serious problems being published in higher-quality p-journals.

We have examined some of the key features of the scholarly communication system that e-journal enthusiasts must face if they wish to accelerate the pace at which e-journals become legitimate. These include finding ways to synergize with the paper world, because readers will often print out articles for subsequent careful reading even if they receive them electronically. In practical terms, it can entail using stealth strategies such as those pioneered by JAIR.

The e-journals that thrive are most likely to be those whose editorial boards can design formats that are compatible with the p-journal world, while adding e-journal virtues, such as rapid dissemination of accepted articles and the possibility of elaborate and computationally rich appendices. In our view, this is a more subversive proposal because it aims to alter the scholarly communication systems while seeming to be a routine part of the dominant paper systems.


We developed some of the ideas in this on an empirical project that is examining the role of electronic media in scholarly communication, with a special attention to university policies/resources and disciplinary differences between specialties in laboratory sciences, artifact (engineering) disciplines, the social sciences and the humanities (see the announcement). Funding was provided, in part, by US. Department of Education Grant #R197D40030.

Bob Anderson, Charles Bailey, Doug Brent, and Mark Poster made some helpful comments on an earlier draft.

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