Re: Paying Referees?

From: Albert Henderson <chessNIC_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2002 19:30:18 -0400

on 19 Aug 2002 "Manfredi M.A. La Manna" <> wrote:
> In my view, paying referees for the prompt return of full reports is an
> essential part of a successful entry strategy in a market with enormous
> barriers to entry. Especially in economics where the publishing process
> is extremely protracted (for an excellent paper on this topic, see
> Glenn Ellison's " The slowdown of the economics publishing process",

        Ellison's data is interesting, but he fails to
        take into account some fundamental economic facts.
        For example, he repeated claims no change in the
        economics profession since 1970. Actually it has
        grown substantially. EconoLit has recorded more
        than three times growth of annual published
        journal articles since 1970. Lotka's law suggests
        there must be many more authors today. In this
        respect, economics is not different from other

        Robert K Merton noted declines in "the relative
        amount of space available for publication." In
        1971 he pointed out that journal space in the
        social sciences was not increasing beyond the
        increase in numbers of scholars, in contrast to
        the situation in physics. In economics, the number
        of pages available in top journals has probably
        increased less than the increase in potential
        authors. This should be easy to verify. In fields
        like physics, where rejection rates are low, he
        noted that editors appear to be willing to risk
        errors and to "publish papers that do not measure
        up rather than to overlook work that may turn out
        to be original and significant."

        We also know that all academic serials have
        suffered huge cancellations since 1970, thanks to
        the inequity between library spending and the growth
        of R&D spending that drives authorship and
        publication (as noted by British economist David J
        Brown). Many journals outside of the physical and
        bio sciences constricted their growth in order to
        avoid increasing their prices. They stimulated the
        creation of new niche journals that fostered the
        twigging of new specialties. In short, the top
        economics journals must become more selective and
        demanding than they were in the 1960s, when every
        major institution had many subscriptions. Like a
        reduction in a pipe, financial constriction
        creates pressure on the input side. In mathematics,
        for comparison, the backlogs of accepted papers
        were so outrageous that the code of ethics adopted
        by the math society declared that editors must
        inform authors of delays.

        Moreover, Merton also explained why researchers
        have traditionally participated in the referee
        process for free. He observed the evaluation
        process in some detail. Ellison's article would
        have benefited from reference to Merton's work.
        In a paper first published in in 1971, Merton
        pointed out that economics has a much higher rate
        of rejection than physical and biological sciences
        and a lower rate than the humanities. He said,
        "for the journals in the humanities and social
        sciences, it is the potentially acceptable
        paper which is problematic." [Institutionalized
        patterns of evaluation in science, reprinted in
        THE SOCIOLOGY OF SCIENCE. U Chicago Press]

        From all of this I can see why some social science
        publishers are able to demand submission fees and
        must pay referees. The IBM journal mentioned by
        Andy Odlyzko is an exceptional case. It has always
        been, of course, a serious publicity element. Its
        production manager in the 1960s was a friend of mine.
        Its budget never depended on subscription income. As
        such, no expense would be spared.

        Best wishes,

Albert Henderson

Received on Tue Aug 20 2002 - 00:30:18 BST

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