Saturday, July 8, 2017

Supply, demand, and what @peter_turchin says about academic publishing

Acronym lovers know that Rick Perry heads the DOE. Acronym lovers - and others - also know that "DOE" does not stand for "Department of Economics." CNN quoted what Secretary Perry said about coal:

"Here's a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow."

I was actually an economics major way back when, and vaguely remember how supply and demand curves work, how elasticity and inelasticity work, and how this is all founded on the premise that all people in the market have the same information. Okay.

I never entered academia, although I do have one published article to my credit). The listed co-author, Brian Kleiner, was my professor at the time. As a professor, it was imperative for him to have journal articles published, and at the time the system was a win-win for everyone. Not only did professors get publishing credit, but, as Peter Turchin notes, the publishers did well also:

Thirty years ago scientific publishers could rely to sell 5,000 subscriptions to university libraries. They could afford to keep the subscription costs reasonable, since they made money in bulk.

But Turchin notes what has happened since.

The publishers started increasing the cost of institutional subscriptions. Meanwhile library budgets started declining, so libraries started dropping subscriptions. Publishers increased the costs even more, to make up for reduced volume, and libraries responded by dropping more subscriptions.

As even Rick Perry could tell you, this is not a sustainable business model.

This does not mean that academic publishing is going away, however. Industrial Management & Data Systems is still going strong, apparently. And new business models are emerging. Turchin himself is Editor-in-Chief of Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution. All articles are peer reviewed, but the articles themselves are available for free. However, as commenter Bob Sykes notes at Turchin's post, these journals aren't considered good enough by some:

Promotion and tenure committees ... routinely use publication in high impact journals as one of the chief criteria for promotion and tenure, the others being external funding and Ph. D. production. Most of these for-profit journals are still high prestige, and so Assistant and Associate Professors, and Professors with administrative ambitions will continue to send papers to them.

But if the number of high impact journals declines, will the promotion and tenure committees have to adapt?

P.S. While writing this post, I managed to find an online version of the 1991 Bredehoft-Kleiner article. And I can easily pick out the portions that I authored. Given the content (THE COMMUNICATIONS REVOLUTION!), this is a possible topic for a tymshft post at some point.

P.P.S. I forgot to credit Edward Morbius for pointing me to Turchin's article in the first place.
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