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The Future of the ASA’s Electronic Publications

1 February 2013 993 views 6 Comments
Ron Wasserstein, ASA Executive Director

    During the last decade, the publications industry has undergone revolutionary change. Just a few years ago, most research journals were print-based; their organization and management were essentially the same as they had been for centuries. Now, virtually every journal is available electronically, and most new journals are electronic-only publications. Books, academic and otherwise, are undergoing comparably radical changes. This change from hardcopy to electronic media is opening new avenues and poses important challenges to the ASA.

    The ASA publishes 16 journals; some are owned entirely by the ASA, and some are jointly published with other societies or publishers. These journals are foundational to the ASA’s mission as a professional society because they disseminate knowledge and advance research. They also serve as a key source of revenue for our association, allowing us to provide other services to our members and society.

    Clearly, change in the publishing industry will have a significant effect on the ASA. For that reason, 2012 ASA President Bob Rodriguez appointed a panel to consider the future of electronic publications. In November, the ASA Board received a report from the panel, which raised a number of important and complex issues.

    Over the next few months, Amstat News will publish a series of articles to address these issues and seek feedback from the statistics community on how our association should manage publications going forward. Here are some of the issues that will be addressed:

    • Electronic-only publication versus hybrid (print and electronic)
    • Open access to journals and how to pay for this access
    • Content in an electronic-only publishing world (data sets, code, case studies, discussion threads, gray literature, research-in-progress, etc.)
    • Living versus static publications (Should articles be immutable, or should they be corrected and updated in response to reader feedback?)
    • Alternative approaches to article submission and review
    • Interaction with the content (notifications, search capabilities, use of code with new data sets, and more)

    In this, the first article in the series, we invite ASA members and the rest of the statistics community to comment about issues related to journal structure and article submission. Here are some possibilities presented by current and anticipated capabilities in electronic publications and some questions that arise from them.

    Journal Structure

    There are numerous ways by which articles can be discovered, searched, and accessed easily. Most do not involve browsing through a particular journal to look for content of interest. In the future, will we need journals at all, or can they be replaced by articles collected in a repository (or networks of repositories) without a journal designation? In the shorter term, do we still need “issues” for journals that are published only electronically?

    Submission Process

    In the current system, authors select a journal to submit their work to. After review, the article may be declined, and the author often chooses to begin again with another journal. Multiple rounds of refereeing can result as the article moves from journal to journal.

    One alternative is for authors to submit papers to a repository that allows reader comments and ratings and from which editors can invite authors to submit their work. The repository could allow for sophisticated methods of crowd-sourced review (see Peer Review). Another alternative is journal cascading, the strategy of automatically (with the author’s consent) having a paper that is rejected by Journal A submitted to Journal B, in which case the reviews from the rejecting journal are sent to the second journal, along with author rebuttal/explanation if the author so desires. Designed cascading could shorten the time to publication and saves on refereeing effort by reusing reviews.

    Do either of these alternatives have appeal? What are their advantages and pitfalls? What other approaches might simplify this process and increase its efficiency?

    Peer Review

    The current peer review process has served for generations as the way to measure and/or ensure the quality of an article. Peer review is the gold standard for determining whether articles are worthy of publication. While careful refereeing can lead to improvements in content and readability, it is also labor-intensive and slow, and it takes almost no advantage of the new capabilities of electronic publications.

    Numerous methods have emerged that allow users to evaluate the content of material they receive. For example, material can be reviewed and rated by anyone, and the weight of these ratings can be adjusted for the expertise of the reviewer. Would such approaches have use or merit in evaluating research work?

    Some journals are allowing reviewers and authors to interact directly as a way to speed up the review process while increasing the quality of the finished work. Does this model have appeal? What are its advantages and pitfalls?

    Articles could be posted for open review by any reader for a period of time, after which the author could modify the work if needed and submit it through traditional means. This would have the advantage of getting preliminary work out and available, allowing authors to make their work known and to get relevant feedback. Does this approach have appeal? What are the problems associated with it?

    We are eager to receive your comments about these matters. To comment, please go to the comment section below. All comments will be read by a panel appointed by the ASA Board to review and summarize feedback.

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    • Paul Murrell said:

      Some brief comments/votes on the list of issues:

      + Electronic-only publication versus hybrid (print and electronic)

      Electronic-only (lower costs and less waste)

      + Open access to journals and how to pay for this access

      “Yes” to open access; not sure how to pay, but may have to charge higher conference costs (for example)

      + Content in an electronic-only publishing world (data sets, code, case studies, discussion threads, gray literature, research-in-progress, etc.)

      Make everything as open as possible. Public funding should mean open access; open access means constant (peer) review; open access means greater collaboration and reuse; open access facilitates replication.

      + Living versus static publications (Should articles be immutable, or should they be corrected and updated in response to reader feedback?)

      Living documents; use version numbers and time stamps.

      + Alternative approaches to article submission and review

      Journal cascading might work if the author gets to specify her preferred cascade.

      + Interaction with the content (notifications, search capabilities, use of code with new data sets, and more)

      Just provide content (with useful metadata) and let others build services on top.

      + Peer review

      Blinding in review process is still very important to avoid bias and personal conflict.

      Feedback on early drafts could work well with existing technology, such as blogs with comment threads. This does not have to be controlled by a journal (e.g., use host institution service instead or something like arXive).

    • Tamara Broderick said:

      According to the following account, the Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) seems to provide open access at little cost: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/pamphlet/2012/03/06/an-efficient-journal/

      At the very least, I imagine the community (authors, reviewers, readers) of JMLR are not so very different from their counterparts in the statistics community and therefore provide a valuable example in considering open access.

    • Eswar Phadia said:

      I preferred hybrid journals where the authors publish main results and leave proofs, examples etc. on his/her website. This way journals will be lean and thin saving paper and cost.
      Blind refreeing is very important and so is quality of journals. Tenure and promotions depend on quality of publications.
      Access to journals should be available freely to members and for tothers through their institutional libraries.
      Cascading articles is fine as long as the author is allowed to suggest the order.
      I am not in favor for raising registration fees at conferences. However, we may charge a reduced rate for hybrid journals.

    • Bill Woodall said:

      I support testing a new system, but I think the current review process adds a lot of value. I am afraid of a flood of poorly written manuscripts being posted containing a lot of half-baked ideas. I think editors would say that most submissions are poorly written. This has been my experience as an editor.

    • Ron Low said:

      Journal cascading-probably a good idea, assuming that it is set up appropriately (My preference is to publish in journal A, if not A then B, if not B then nowhere…)

      Peer Review: “Reviewed and rated by anyone…” I’m sure there are plenty of statisticians who have more experience than I in this form of game theory, but I have more than enough: The stakes are high, publish or perish. If you, assistant professor Smith, will give me a glowing review, then it would be my honor to give your paper an equally glowing review. I might even found a for profit company that specializes in reviews.

      I can’t nearly keep up with all of the articles that do go through the current winnowing process. If you “publish” an even larger number of articles and wait for the groundlings to distinguish among them, I will probably miss even more important articles.

    • Lauren Hannah said:

      Journal Structure:
      – Electronic. It saves time and money for everyone involved.

      Submissions Process:
      – Cascading submissions will not work. First, if someone is gunning for a big name journal, he is not going to automatically submit to a lower tier journal after a rejection. He is going to go laterally. Second, if he does get rejected, he probably doesn’t want the first set of reviews following him to the second journal. (And what if he has made major revisions in between?) Third, do you really think that Not-So-Big-Name-Journal will accept a paper based on reviews that recommend “reject” at Big-Name-Journal? No way. They want their own reviewers to give it the go ahead–and there is the duplication of effort that cascading reviews tries to avoid.

      Peer Review:
      – The largest problems are time in review and review quality.

      Time in review is mainly a cultural problem. People in biosciences gasp in horror when they hear that a review takes 3 months. I have never had anything reviewed that quickly, aside from conference papers. There is a much higher desk reject rate in that area, but there is also a culture of doing reviews within 2 weeks. We could move to more of a conference system for journals (wait X weeks for reviews and if they are not submitted place the onus on AE’s).

      Review quality is much harder to solve. There are a good number of reviews that are inane, vicious, or downright wrong. High quality reviews are vital to authors, but there is little incentive for reviewers to produce timely, high quality reviews. (Except karma?) Some measure of professional recognition for good reviewing (ASA reviewing fellows?) or tying publishing privileges to reviewing (ASA black lists?) may help.

      I do not think that Arxiv-like paper posting with a comments section will produce better reviews. Scanning through all *published* papers is hard enough to do. How am I supposed to scan through all *submitted* papers and find time to read the relevant ones and make comments?

      Paper matching systems like TMS could help bring in a larger set of reviewers and send more appropriate papers to each reviewer.