12 June 2008

On Academic Journals

The Good Professor Bainbridge recounts having an article rejected by a law review after they had informed him of the acceptance and begun the editing process. If you are unaware, this is a Herculean feat of unprofessionalism.

But if law journals are anything like those in the natural sciences, this seems at once outrageous and typical. (It's one of those things like waiting six hours at the DMV: you can't understand how it could possibly be that screwed up, but you're really not all that surprised either.)

And not only did they jerk Bainbridge around and waste his time, how about the time of the editor they wasted? Again, assuming things are structured somewhat similar to the sciences, that editor was probably a volunteer. This is one of those situations in which the executive staff of some organizations seem to think they're the be all and end all. (See high school principals, presidents of universities, regional managers of small northeastern paper companies.) They do not recognize that they exist to help the people doing the real work. News for EICs of journals: your organization needs good referees and authors more than the referees and authors need you.

In my (admittedly somewhat limited) view of the academic publishing process, the entire system is just incomprehensibly inefficient. I just submitted a piece to a journal we specifically choose for it's fast turn around times. We expect to hear something in 6-8 months. Yes, 6 months is fast. And that's just initial critiques. That doesn't count the editing process, or the lag from final draft to actually seeing print. I know people who have had papers in the publishing pipelines for years.

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