The Future of the ASA’s Electronic Publications
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.
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?
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?
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.