How a progressive academic journal should look like? A few wandering thoughts.

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Anybody familiar with the process of academic publishing should know that there are a range of quirks in the whole process, which make publishing often a frustrating game of luck that can take years from submission to publication or eventual rejection. Journals are overburdened and get much more submissions than they can handle; editors and reviewers are shamelessly exploited by publishing companies, who take our work for free and sell it back to us for ridiculous amounts of money; you get many reviewers that are great even if they tell you to go packing, but also some who have no reservations against being ignorant and superficial, yet convinced that your work is crap and who will get away with it, because nobody will know who they are; etc.

Here are a few thoughts that perhaps make the whole process a bit more modern and reasonable:

  • Starting with the trivial, let’s forget about volumes and issues. These made sense, when journals were actually printed. Why would anybody do that any more? When an article gets accepted, it should go on-line in a “stream” of accepted articles. That’s it. No need for “early access” versions and so on.
  • Open access. Let’s be honest, the publishing company does very little in the process and should not have the right to ask money for work that it has not done. Scientists essentially do a public service that is exploited by a few huge companies that just care about making money.
  • All submissions should be published. Everything that you send to a journal, you send with an intent of making public. So be it. Whether the article is eventually accepted or not, people should see it, knowing its status. Of course articles that are “accepted” and those that are not, should be clearly designated and separated.
  • All reviews should be public. “Anonymous” peer review has issues, so let’s get rid of the anonymous part. For many submissions, the reviewer must only google a few sentences from the paper to learn the identity of the author, if that was not already evident from the subject matter. But how things are now, the author will never know who the reviewers were. (Except if the reviewer is too eager to insist that his or her own work should be referred to in the article.) Nobody will, except the editor. And so you get very debatable reviews mixed with thorough and justified ones, with no accountability. Anonymity sometimes works here the same way it works with anonymous commentary all over the Internet.
  • The whole process from submission to eventual publication or rejection should be accessible. When you submit an article, it should go into a specifically designed on-line work-flow environment, where each step along the way — reviewers comments, your reactions to them, your amendments, editor’s decisions, etc. should be seen by everybody. The whole evolution of your submission.
  • And I am not even going to elaborate that all data, quantitative or qualitative, and code should be public.

I am sure most people would be uncomfortable with many of these things, but why? Own your work with all its merits and its mistakes.

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