Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Academic journals: in need of reviewing? Part 1: Access

The mantra of 'publish or perish' may seem rather cliched, but it's no joke either. Most academics in the UK effectively have a price on their heads at the moment, based upon the total, or average, 'score' of their four published/forthcoming articles for the 2014 REF. These scores are typically obtained, not by reading the actual articles themselves, but by a proxy measure: the ranking of the journal on the ABS list. Despite the fact that the REF sub-panel has recently stated publicly that accounting journal hierarchies such as ABS will NOT be used, and that even working papers are explicitly welcome within submissions, faith in the ABS rankings as an accurate proxy of research excellence continues to dominate managerial (and thus inevitably some academic) behaviour.

So, if you have a total score of 10 or more: congratulations, you're safe (for the moment), but realise also that you might not even be shortlisted if you fancy a change of job. 12 points in the bag? The world's your oyster. Less than 8, well, even if you've got working papers that might be your best work yet, they will probably score a big fat zero on that master spreadsheet used by management.

Our obsession with measures such as outputs, citations and rankings generates plenty of debate, but in doing so it tends to overshadow some other aspects of academic publishing that may also be of concern. In this short series of blog posts I'm going to address three issues that have, well, seriously annoyed me over the last few months: access, reviewing and self-plagiarism.

The issue of access is one that is often taken for granted within academic departments. Other than the occasional grumble about access to this or that specific journal, most of us rather enjoy the fact that we can browse journals electronically rather than having to visit something as quaint as an actual library. Of course, there is a serious problem in relation to the rising costs of access for universities, as well has the nagging concern that, because access is all on-line and hard copies tend not to be provided, the level of access can disappear just as quickly as it can be granted.

Recently the behaviour of the large academic publishers was highlighted by George Monbiot in his Guardian column, who pointed out that:

"the academic publishers get their articles, their peer reviewing (vetting by other researchers) and even much of their editing for free. The material they publish was commissioned and funded not by them but by us, through government research grants and academic stipends. But to see it, we must pay again, and through the nose."

I'll deal with the issue of peer reviewing in the next blog post, but on the question of access, it's important to understand how academics and universities are increasingly locked in to the publishing game, mainly because of rankings hierarchies like the ABS list and research assessment exercises like the RAE and the REF. This, in turn means universities have to provide access to the journals, because that's where the best work is published.

Some have suggested open access journals as an antidote, but this is only likely to provide very marginal changes. Rather, the key question is whether academics can exploit loopholes in copyright restrictions, to make versions of their published work available for free.

This is indeed possible - it's generally perfectly legal to publish a pre-publication draft (ideally the version of the manuscript you sent in that was accepted). However, most academics, faced with the job of trying to do this themselves, can't usually be bothered - which is a real shame. If we all put our draft publications online, these will show up in Google scholar when doing a search, alongside the 'official' versions which lie hidden from public view behind paywalls.

The best option currently available to increase the number of free-to-access articles provided by academics themselves are the journal repositories operated by universities themselves. I'd encourage everyone to ensure they make available their work this way.

Such loopholes still rely on us to make the effort and upload our papers online, but another even simpler approach has been suggested by Danny Kingsley in his blog post. If the next REF was to require us to provide final accepted manuscripts in addition to/rather than the published PDF's, then it would be a simple task to create a national repository of the country's best published research. Surely the REF panels ought to consider such a hugely important and relatively costless task?

CSEAR 2011 Australasian Conference

The 10th CSEAR Australasian Conference is taking place in Tasmania from the 5th - 7th December 2011. Plenary speakers are Rob Gray, University of St Andrews, Richard Laughlin, King’s College London and Jane Broadbent, Roehampton University. Full details of this exciting conference can be found at their website: http://www.utas.edu.au/csear/home

The Conference Committee and AAAJ are pleased to announce an award of £250 and a certificate for the best paper presented at this conference. The selection of the paper to receive the award will be based on the peer review process and the presentation of the paper.

In addition to the main 10th CSEAR Australasian Conference taking place in Tasmania, there is also a preceding 1 day Doctoral Colloquium being held on the 4th December. This colloquium is for doctoral research degree students and emerging researchers Participants in the Emerging Scholars’ Colloquium will have the opportunity to discuss their research in a supportive and collegial environment with peers and senior research faculty from the Social and Environmental Accounting research community. To encourage emerging scholars and students to attend both the Conference and Colloquium a special discounted registration fee has been arranged.