[Air-L] Open-What?

Barry Wellman wellman at chass.utoronto.ca
Fri Feb 8 18:47:24 PST 2008


I'm an evil senior professor of the sort that has been denounced by some
list posters. I referee, edit, have published -- and I read.

Here are some thoughts:

1. Evil senior professors have more -- rather than less -- scope to
publish where they want. So they don't have a vested interest in
squelching journals. I don't think somewhat paranoid discussion about what
evil senior professors want and do helps analysis.

2. Printing and mailing costs are not the only costs of journals. A
journal that I helped start pays the equivalent of a Research Assistant's
salary to the Managing Editor; it has to arrange for reduced teaching load
for the editor; and there are some computer and office costs. In short,
this is $30-$40K per year, and it is damn hard to find universities to
cough up that money. Subscription fees might, though. I do know we are
working hard to find a few qualified editors in another journal who are
willing -- and whose universities will help. Unpaid volunteers work as
referees and advisory editors -- I do a lot of that -- but would rarely
last at the daily grind of constant submission, referee-finding, and
editing. Treasure such people, and reward them, either with released time
or with some salary.

3. The real problem is readers need filtering. Not eveyone wants to read
everything. Journals serve as a filtering mechanism. Sometimes they make
mistakes, but as a frequent editor, I am usually gladdened by the rough
consensus among reviewers. As someone who has solicited pieces from
all-comers and then filtered for publication, I know how much is not ready
for prime time. Do you, as a reader, want to wade through this? I am not
talking about genre, theory, qual vs quant, or stuff like that. I am
talking about quality level.

4. Refereeing also serves a mentoring function. Not everyone was lucky
enough to be mentored at a good university by a caring advisor or three.
Moreover, I've had the experience of turning down a paper written by
someone at a great university. "How dare you?" they basically asked. We
explained why, and with luck, they learned something. One of the unsung
benefits of refereeing is having some folks take a careful look at what
you wrote and give you feedback

5. I was at a conference last week at which a frequent blogger was often
quoted as the authority, although I think this blogger has had at most one
refereed article published. "Have you checked on the validity of [this
blogger's] assertions?" I asked. "Well now, we just assumed," was the
answer. Is this any way to build a discipline?

6. So the real question is Open What? JCMC avoids printing and mailing,
but is still a refereed journal -- of high quality. That is quite
different than the anything goes model. Of course, there are variations in
that. I tend to put on my web page serious conference papers and even
recently, developed ppts. One of my mentors, by contrast, will only put up
articles a decent interval after they have been published. "I like to know
that I am right when I go public with something."

7. I'd love to see more journals and other venues. But the day a journal
abandons the refereeing process, is probably the day I will stop reading
it.

YMMV
 Barry Wellman
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  S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology, FRSC              NetLab Director
  Centre for Urban & Community Studies           University of Toronto
  455 Spadina Avenue          Room 418          Toronto Canada M5S 2G8
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