ZBW MediaTalk

On 11 June 2018, twenty-five publishers and editors met at the ZBW in Hamburg for the 8th symposium on the state of social sciences and humanities journals to discuss current developments in the field of journals. The question, of which developments fit the journal concept and can be reasonably anticipated, comes up time and again.

Journal Concepts

Marika Przybilla-Voß from the Göttingen Institute for Democracy Research presented (at the beginning of the conference) the concept of INDES – journal on politics and society (link in German). The journal is published quarterly and addresses key issues from a social science perspective.

As research should be understandable for everyone, comprehensible language is of central importance to the journal. Junior researchers are specifically recruited as authors in order to get a different view of topics. The concept includes interviews and contributions to debates, which are emphasised by their own illustration concept.

Sebastian Waic, one of the co-founders of Junior Management Science e. V., presented the review and publication system of the journal JUMS. The journal has set itself the task of publishing the best business administration theses to raise interest in academic papers at an early stage. The priority is on quality assurance as part of a double-blind review process to ensure that the articles (via citations) are compatible. The journal thus constitutes an instrument for the promotion of young talent in the field of economics.

The journal has set itself the task of publishing the best business administration theses to raise interest in academic papers at an early stage. The priority is on quality assurance as part of a double-blind review process to ensure that the articles (via citations) are compatible. The journal thus constitutes an instrument for the promotion of young talent in the field of economics.

Open Access

Diverse transformation processes have been initiated in recent years through open access initiatives. This applies above all to the publication of academic journals. Eckhart Arnold from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences asked the following questions in his lecture on open access in the humanities: where is the journey going? Where should it go?

Technical possibilities, in particular the dissemination of technical articles, cannot always be fully utilised due to copyright and exploitation rights. From this perspective, the role of publishers has reversed: they hinder dissemination more than they facilitate it. The interlocking of evaluation and publication systems also leaves researchers little room for manoeuvre when it comes to selecting publications. After all, peer review is a generally accepted quality assurance method in academia, which to date has been linked to publication in certain journals.

Subsequently, Jens Lazarus of the ZBW spoke about the DEAL negotiations with major publishers and developments in the publication market.

The DEAL negotiations affect the three major publishers in the journal market with a concentration of 25% for Elsevier as well as 12% each for Springer and Wiley. The goal of the negotiations is that all publications of authors from German institutions are automatically switched to open access. Appropriate pricing, which should be based on the number of publications, is also being negotiated.

Blockchain Technologies

New blockchain technology methods are also starting to be used in academia. Martin Etzrodt from the ETH Zürich presented several ideas regarding how academics could make use of this technology.

The only objective to date has been to map the publication system on the blockchain. However, it could also be used to support the knowledge production process. The blockchain allows complete transparency about which researcher has stored which knowledge, which data, and which analyses at a certain point of time. This makes it possible to clearly determine which researcher was the first to make a given ‘discovery’ and thus ensure the associated increase in reputation. It also facilitates collaborative work by researchers worldwide in real time. Platforms for proposing and ranking research ideas that also provide financial backing for the research project are just one of many possible applications.

Peer Review and Impact Factors

Review processes can also be automated. Martina Franzen from the Berlin Social Sciences Research Centre showed the possibilities of big data for the academic review process. For example, data can be collected on how, who, when, why, where, and what is being reviewed.

The prediction of high-impact articles, automatic generation of evaluations and automated decision-making systems are possible on this basis. One experiment showed that even current technical methods (including machine learning) can be used to create fake reviews, which were considered true in 30% of the cases.

Finally, there is the ongoing question about the role of impact factors in measuring academia. Margit Osterloh from the universities of Zürich and Basel and the CREMA Zürich, once again underlined how problematic the current interpretation of journal rankings is.

It is thus erroneously assumed that the impact factor of a journal says something about the quality of a single essay. 75% of articles in ‘Nature and Science’, for example, are below the impact factor of the respective journals – some articles from a C-journal are quoted more frequently than those from an A-journal. This assumption, however, has an immense effect on the careers of junior academics in particular. After all, careers depend less on citations and thus the compatibility of their own research in the academic community, and rather more on publication in certain journals. Due to these negative influencing factors, Osterloh advocates that pre-selection should be followed by a controlled, focused random selection when it comes to staffing. The benefits are obvious: no corruption and advantages due to having good connections; it motivates candidates who do not enjoy competition; it corresponds to the fundamental uncertainty in academia and diversifies risks.

Author: Kristin Biesenbender (ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft), academic editor of the journal “Wirtschaftsdienst”; doctoral candidate at the University of Hamburg in the field of sociology, with a specialism in academic research.

The ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics is the world’s largest research infrastructure for economic literature, online as well as offline.

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