Re: Restructuring Learned Society Communications

From: Patrick Wilken <> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 25 Sep 1998 05:17:41 -0400

I would just like to remind people how recent the ejournal phenomenon really
is. I have been an editor of the small electronic journal PSYCHE since
1992. When we published our first articles there were less than 20 (<15??)
ejournals world-wide, most of which had been started less than 5 years
before. More importantly, while incarnations of the Internet had been around
for decades, academic acceptance (esp. in the humanities) of it as
anything other than an ephemeral form of communication had not. It was not
an unique experience for myself, and I am sure others in this forum, to
have introduced academics in the last five years to email let alone
publishing online.

Its much simpler getting people to write for our journal than it was five
years ago. In 1993 authors were both worried that no one would read their
work, and perhaps as bad, feared that readers would think their work inferior
because it was not published in paper format. Obviously, as the journal has
become more established it has become easier to attract authors, but, more
important, authors are no longer as fearful of the medium. Moreover, they
are attracted to the idea of being able to share their ideas in what they
perceive as a more immediate and interactive medium than print.

I wonder if this discussion has been too laden by the print metaphor? After
all, there isn't that much you can do in print. You can publish articles
that are nice quantifiable units (useful for academic promotions and no
doubt for getting ideas across). However, as soon as you get into electronic
publishing (esp. if you are doing so as an academic to promote
communication and not just to make money) you realise that academic
communication is much broader than simply publishing articles and that
there is no reason why journals cannot be involved in the broader sense. So
in addition to publishing articles, commentaries and book reviews like any
paper journal, PSYCHE has been actively involved in the creation of online
seminars much like this one (see the ASSC website below), as well as in
moderating two mailing lists -- Psyche-B and Psyche-D -- that allow
participants to discuss general themes related to the journal.

We were even a major force in the establishment of a learned society,
largely because we wanted an appropriate group to organise annual
conferences related in theme to the journal, as it was felt that some
communication can only be done effectively face-to-face (see the ASSC
website below). And interestingly enough, apart from a physical conference
once a year, the society exists purely electronically, with all
communications with members, or within committees, or even within the Board
itself, conducted via email or the web. Even our annual elections are held

Of course an article is very different from an online seminar or learned
society. Perhaps what the electronic medium offers is a new mindset for
academics. If you are not beholden to a third-party (i.e. the publisher) you
no longer need to think of academic communications in terms of what is really
a false dichotomy of quantifiable 'sound bites' easily convertible into dollars
(i.e. articles), rather than less quantifiable units which are not
(e.g. online seminars, discussion lists, pre-prints).

A final point relative to the 70% vs 30% discussion: Whether PSYCHE as it now
stands could be simply converted into a profitable print journal is an open
question (though I believe it could). I do know that we could not have
afforded to start as a print publication. Certainly we could not have
afforded to do so ourselves, and its my strong belief that publishers would
not have assessed the journal as viable unit economically (and, just as
important, by charging money, would have put up all sorts of barriers to our
development). So it was the electronic medium with its reduced costs that
allowed a bunch of academics to start both a journal and learned society.

Patrick Wilken
Editor: PSYCHE: An International Journal of Research on Consciousness
Secretary: The Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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