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Sunday, 4 November 2018

Academic Publishing in Olden Times - and Now


I suppose everyone remembers their first time. Mine was in the pages of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research which in 1973 printed my first CV- citeable academic journal publication. Its title is perhaps indicative of how they did things differently then, “The Experience of Politics”.  I find it hard to imagine that anyone would get away with anything like that now.

Let me remind younger readers of olden times. You or your secretary typed up the paper and you (or your secretary – I had one at the age of 23, a temporary university lecturer) put it in an envelope and posted it off to the Editor, in this case at SUNY Buffalo. The journal published no guidelines for submission, other than to note that “Papers submitted for publication will not be returned unless accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope, or return postage …”. Yes, that was it. But in April 1971 I did receive an acknowledgement of safe receipt and in July 1971 an acceptance – “there will, however, be a considerable period of unavoidable delay …” Not yet used to such delays, I wrote impatiently in March 1973 to enquire about date of publication; I was scheduled for June and would soon be receiving a galley proof. And June it was, calloo, callay.

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research was I thought a mid-ranking philosophical journal. (It still exists). It was indexed in The Philosopher’s Index at Bowling Green University. Since my article appeared without an abstract, I was asked to provide one for the Index and still have their proof of my text. It ends “It’s quite a good paper, if I may say so”. It had not been edited out, so I assumed my Abstract had gone unread. (I ran these little experiments in those days and have just started up again: see the Blog post on this site dated 11 September 2018 ).

 Click on Image to Magnify

I would like history to be my judge, but Google Scholar does not index this quite good paper. It may have been cited somewhere, but in all probability, not. I have no correspondence relating to it.

This I now understand has nothing to do with me; it is a quite general problem. 

The other day, I looked at one of the Word docs. on my desktop and thought it might make an academic journal article. I prospected but rapidly gave up. The whole process of submission seems to have been bureaucratised to the nth degree and I set that fact (which would raise my blood pressure if ignored) against a couple of others. Even if accepted, it is highly unlikely that the Word doc. would find any new readers, even more unlikely that it would end up being cited. I googled and the consensus seems to be that in the humanities, about half of all published articles go completely unread and about eighty percent will go uncited by anyone, not even the author’s Facebook friends. Since in retirement I am not trying to build a CV, why bother? I have no answer to that question other than, Why indeed?

And why would anyone bother, unless to build a CV? Well, there is of course a gambler’s chance that your article will be one of those that gets read and a smaller gambler’s chance that it will be cited – though, of course, there is only a fifty-fifty chance that anyone will see the citation and, worse, one of my online sources makes it the criterion for an article having been read by anyone that its first two pages should have been read. That’s tough on the citations.

There is a further reason why I baulk at the academic journal. In the past and even now, the journal took copyright. Oh, we were told that it relieved you of the burden of negotiating permissions and they threw in promises of profit-sharing. But there are two big practical disadvantages, as I have discovered. First, when putting together anthologies, editors apply to copyright holders not authors. This can mean, to give an example from my own experience, that an editor may pick an early version of something and miss out on the fact that there exists a later, more polished attempt on offer. You could have told them, if asked. Second, when in retirement you put together  a collection of your own work and try to do the dutiful bit of obtaining “kind permission” (obs. “without charge”), you discover that your journal is now owned by some conglomerate using an online permissions program which doesn’t even recognise the journal, now defunct, which it owns. More blood pressure problems.

As a result, you will find this recent would-be article on this Blog for 11 September 2018. 

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