Publish and/or perish

A new study notes that “scholarly” academic journals are forcing the people who want to publish in them (the journals) to add useless citations to the published articles.  OK, this may sound like more academic infighting.  (Q: Why are academic fights so bitter? A: Because the stakes are so small.)  But it actually has some fairly important implications.  These journals are, in many eyes, the elite of the publishing world.  These articles are peer-reviewed, which means they are tested by other experts before they are even published.  Therefore, many assume that if you see it in one of these journals, it’s so.

(The system isn’t pefect.  Ralph Merkle couldn’t get his paper on asymmetric encryption published because a reviewer felt it “wasn’t interesting.”  The greatest advance in crypto in 4,000 years and it wasn’t interesting?)

These are, of course, the same journals that are lobbying to have their monopoly business protected by the “Research Works Act,” among other things.  (The “Resarch Works Act” is a whole different kettle of anti-[open access|public domain|open source] intellectual property irrationality.)

I was, initially, a bit surprised by the study on forced citations.  After all, these are, supposedly, the guardians of truth.  Yes, OK, that’s naive.  I’ve published in magazines myself.  Not the refereed journals, perhaps: I’m not important enough for that.  But I’ve been asked for articles by many periodicals.  They’ve had all kinds of demands.  The one that I find most consistently annoying is that I provide graphics and images.  I’m a resarcher, not a designer: I don’t do graphics.  But, I recall one time that I was asked to do an article on a subject dear to my heart.  Because I felt strongly about it, I put a lot of work into it.  I was even willing to give them some graphics.  And, in the end, they rejected it.

Not enough quotes from vendors.

This is, of course, the same motivation as the forced citations.  In any periodical, you make money by selling advertising.  In trade rags, the ease of selling advertsing to vendors is determined by how much space you’ve given them in the supposed editorial content.  In the academic journals, the advertising rates are determined by the number of citations to articles you’ve previously published.  Hence, in both cases, the companies with the advertising budgets get to determine what actually gets published.

(As long as we’ve here, I have one more story, somewhat loosely related to publishing, citation, open access, and intellectual property.  On another occasion, I was asked to do a major article cluster on the history of computer viruses.  This topic is very dear to my heart, and I put in lots of time, lots of work, and even lots of graphics.  This group of articles got turned down as well.  The reason given in that case was that they had used a Web-based plagiarism detector on the stuff, and found that it was probably based on materials already on the net.  Well, of course it was.  I wrote most of the stuff on that topic that is already on the Web …)