Electronic Journal of Sociology (2004)

ISSN: 1198 3655

Editorial - Science, Scholarly Communication, and Access: Open is Better.

Mike Sosteric
[email protected]

A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion.

Francis Bacon

Editorial

Hello and welcome to the new EJS.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Michael Sosteric. I am the original and founding editor of this Electronic Journal of Sociology and I am writing today for four reasons. One is to extend a heartfelt thank you to the previous editor of the EJS, Dr. Schneider for his expert guidance of the EJS during my years of technocratic hiatus. Another is to welcome Adam Rafalovich on as co-editor in chief of the journal. The third to thank all our editorial board members and reviewers for their hard work and diligence. The fourth is to talk about the direction of the EJS in the next few years.

First, to thank Dr Schneider. It is with reluctance that we see Dr. Schneider go. In his years with the journal, he has moved it forward, established it as a global icon of sociology, and placed it in league with the finest North American scholarly journals. He has expanded the audience and expanded the submission rates. Now, with over three million hits a year and long series of high quality papers, it is an understatement to say that the EJS has fared well under his expert guidance. So thank you, Dr. Schneider, for taking such good care of the EJS. It is a boon and a grace to be able to take the helm of the journal after such a long and productive run.

Second, I am sure you will all join me in welcoming Dr. Adam Rafalovich on as co-editor in chief of the journal. Adam, who is a colleague of Andreas and has worked with him on the journal for several years, has graciously agreed to come on board as editor-in-chief and assist me with the day-to-day operations of the journal. Dr. Rafalovich will take full responsibility for first tier submission and publication (this is explained below).

Third, I would like to thank all our editorial board members and peer reviewers, old and new, for supporting the EJS and contributing their time and knowledge to the advancement of this journal. It goes without saying that this journal does not exist without the editorial board or reviewers and so to all of those who are new on board or have been with us from the very start (Carl Cuneo, Mike Gismondi, Timothy McGettigan, Andreas Schneider), thank you. Your work is appreciated.

Future Direction

Now, on to the fourth reason for this editorial which is, as noted, to discuss the future direction of the Electronic Journal of Sociology.

As all of our readers will by now have noticed, the EJS is going through significant change and, we hope, evolution. The surface change is obvious. There is a new design and new navigational scheme with some new (and slightly more interactive) menu options. Our new interactive menu options include a subscription page that allows readers to sign up for news and article updates and a current submissions page that lists all current and past submissions to the journal and that allows readers to see all articles currently in the publication queue. Finally, we have added an EJS announcement page where you can go to get latest information and news on the journal, special issues, announcements, etc. Consider these changes our first and tentative steps in a process of opening up the EJS to more interactive participation from our readers.

There are other changes afoot as well. We have added both an online submission form and a user registration form that will allow authors to register with the journal, submit articles, update submissions, and track their submitted papers through the system. We will also add, over time, more interactive features as well including online commentary of submitted papers (by authors, peer reviewers, perhaps the general readership), a method for external evaluation of papers, and the capacity for authors to feedback to reviewers during the submission and evaluation process. It should be noted that as we add new features and enhance the interactivity of this journal, we are not going to threaten the editorial integrity of the EJS in any way. We will remain a scholarly journal with an intact editorial and peer review process. The features we are planning to add should be considered experimental only and for the purpose of exploring the possibilities of the technology.

In any case, there is little to worry about here. These changes we are making by adding additional interactivity are not that innovative and in these things the direction of the EJS remains relatively conservative. Really, the initiatives that we are planning are boring and uninventive when considered against the truly revolutionary modifications to the scholarly communication process that have been undertaken in other disciplines. I am thinking specifically here about the High Energy Particles Physics (HEP) preprint archive (Lawal, 2002) which, along with similar archives in several other disciplines, is well on its way to totally discarding the traditional editorial and peer review process altogether in favor of a technologically mediated open archive that allows the individual scholar to judge a paper’s value. No gatekeepers, no scholarly hoops, and no vested interests; just simple submission followed by intellectual percolation. While we may argue the details of the shift or the advisability of discarding traditional forms of gate keeping, the fact of the matter is that not only have the disciplines which have moved to new technologically mediated forms not collapsed in chagrin and embarrassment, they have thrived. Though it is true as Harnad (2000) suggests, vested interested (esp. the traditional commercial journal publishers and their revenue streams) are threatened.

This is worth considering and discussing especially given the obscene increases in the commercial cost of scholarly communication that we have seen over the past decade (see Table One)...

Table One: Monograph and Serial Cost in Arl Libraries (1986-2001)

http://www.arl.org/stats/arlstat/graphs/2001/monser01.gif

Source: ARL Statistics http://www.arl.org/stats/arlstat/
Graph Available at
http://www.arl.org/stats/arlstat/graphs/2001/2001t2.html

and the not-so-recent challenges to effectiveness and integrity of peer review that can be found in the social studies of science literature and in the writings of our reflexive colleagues in medicine (Jefferson, Alderson, Wager, and Davidoff, 2002; Evans, Nadjari, and Burchell, 2000) which highlight the sometimes commercially biased (Melander, et. Al., 2003; Commentary, 2002) and frequently fragile nature of scholarly peer review.

As Kassir (1994) notes of peer review:

Critics point out that some reviewers are unqualified and others, because of personal or professional rivalry, are biased. Editors may even select reviewers on the basis of the reviewers’ biases. Furthermore, two or more reviewers may have widely discrepant opinions about a study. Critics also make the point that peer review not only fails to prevent the publication of flawed research but also permits the publication of research that is fraudulent. Some have described peer review as arbitrary, subjective, and secretive. In addition, many critics (including some of the popular press) maintain that it is simply unnecessary and slows the communication of information to the public.

Perhaps, a reflexive examination of the sociological peer review process is overdue.

However, as I have said, a critical examination of our honorable peer review system is not my intent. Even though some practitioners may sense a bubbling revolutionary cauldron of change just beneath the surface, at this time I am more likely to agree with Okerson (2001) that change should be approached slowly, cautiously, and with a mind to preserving what works.

In the end, however, as scientists and educational practitioners we are all of us explorers and researchers and our own disciplines and our own research may benefit by exploration, experimentation, and hybridization of the peer review/gate keeping process. It is in the spirit of exploration, the original motivator of the scientist, the sine-qua-non of scholarly endeavor, that we will move forward at the EJS with some experimental processes. Rest assured though our intent is not to whip up the type of revolutionary fervor that brought down the Berlin Wall (Okerson, 2001) (even though it may be justified given the growing penetration of commercial interests into the academy). Our interests here are scholarly and the changes we institute conservative, cautious, and measured

With all this in mind, let us examine some of the “deeper” changes occurring at the EJS.

Deep Changes

First of all, we are currently integrating the EJS into an editorial management system that will allow us to track paper submissions, generate statistics, and issue live web site updates on the ongoing process of submission and review. This editorial system, which is provided by The Scholarly Exchange Inc., is a very slick, efficient, and flexible system and will underpin many of the interactive features we will be adding to this journal.

With this system in place, all submitted papers will go directly into a database where they are time stamped, tracked, collated, and archived in the system. The database enhancement of the journal provides big potential for the EJS. Already we are seeing one benefit of this which is the real-time updating of the “current submissions” web page http://www.sociology.org/inque.html which is linked directly into our database. Whenever a paper is submitted to the journal it instantly appears as a new submission on that page. Similarly, whenever a paper is placed under review, accepted, or rejected, the results of the process are immediately exposed on the page.

This sort of enhancement is only possible with database technology and it is just the start. As we get a handle on the technological potential provided by database publication, there will be more enhancements and more exploitation of technological potential in order to enhance the publication and peer review process.

Database integration is significant step forward for the EJS. However, all the changes noted so far (the graphical and navigational enhancements, submission and review modifications, and future hybridizations which we may consider are really only window dressing on the somewhat subtle but fundamental (and experimental) additions in editorial policy that we are implementing at the EJS. Beginning formally in April of 2004 (but practically just this month) EJS now accepts papers on a tiered submission basis. From this point on, the EJS will publish in three distinct and mostly mutually exclusive submission categories that I will call, for lack of a more creative terminology, Tier One, Tier Two, and Tier Three publication.

A word of explanation about each tier is in order.

Tier One – Traditional Scientific Peer Review

For the EJS, Tier One publication will represent what we traditionally think of as publication in a scholarly journal. That is, in Tier One we expect authors to submit methodologically and empirically valid, logically consistent, and grammatically correct original research. Authors who are submitting to Tier One are submitting fresh empirical or theoretical contributions to the corpus of scholarly knowledge. Contributions to Tier One will be fully peer reviewed using the full arsenal of methodological, theoretical, and empirical quality control mechanisms available to us as a discipline.

Originality, focus, rigor, methodology, consistency, and presentability will be important criteria used to adjudicate publication in Tier One.

I agree. There is nothing new or exciting here.

Tier Two – Popular Dissemination

In addition to Tier One, the EJS will also publish Tier Two papers. The primary distinction between Tier One and Tier Two is centered around the requirement of originality. Unlike Tier One where we expect the author to submit an original paper, within Tier Two we expect authors to focus on popular dissemination of sociological ideas. The primary difference here is one of audience. Authors who submit to Tier One are writing for peers while authors who submit to Tier Two are writing for a more general audience. This audience will include not only their colleagues in other disciplines but also the general public who exist outside the sacred halls of scholarly inquiry and up until now have been only passive consumers of the output of scientific inquiry. There is obviously a political agenda here but it is one that is being championed by many including our own Canadian funding agencies that are now moving toward encouraging this sort of “transfer journal.”

In Tier Two we expect authors to submit methodologically and empirically valid, logically consistent, and grammatically correct popular articles conveying important ideas or information about the discipline and its subject matter and/or empirical knowledge to the general public. In this tier we are looking for authors who can write well, who can communicate ideas, and (most importantly) who can take simple sociological ideas (like class, inequality, and subjectivity) and avoid making them complex and unintelligible. The goal here is to open the discipline to a wider national and international audience and a wider spectrum of educational attainment on the assumption that many individuals out there want to and are capable of learning without the constant tutelage and guidance of our formal institutions. I think, given the explosion of the WWW and its arguably positive impact on those with technological access, this is a safe assumption.

Again, like the EJS’s upcoming experiments in interactivity, we find little that is revolutionary or earth shattering in this change. The American Sociological Association, the Canadian agencies that fund scholarly journals, and others are all beginning to look seriously at developing programs for the popular dissemination of knowledge.

As a note, submissions to Tier Two will not be peer reviewed in the traditional sense. Instead, submissions in Tier Two will be editorially reviewed. That is, a single EJS editor with a familiarity with the topic matter of the submission will vet the paper for empirical accuracy, communicative effectiveness, grammar, spelling, and clarity. Obviously, a publication in Tier Two will not count as much towards tenure and advancement as publication in Tier One which is fine because we are hoping to draw articles from seasoned researchers with a broad base of experience who are less interested in academic advance (because they have already successfully jumped through performance hoops designed to encourage continual performance) and are more interested in uplifting the general population with their years of scholarly experience.

So You Say You Want A Revolution

Up until now I have noted that nothing we are doing at the EJS qualifies as revolutionary or earth shattering in any way. Indeed, all we are really doing with our interactivity and our popular submission stream is following behind experimental revisions and initiatives that others have taken. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately in the eyes of some), with the introduction of Tier Three publication at the EJS, we can no longer claim to be standing behind the work of others. Instead, in Tier Three we move up shoulder to shoulder with some of the more interesting, and certainly more controversial, fields of inquiry in scholarship and science today. In fact, with Tier Three publication, you might say that the EJS dons the colorful paisley robe of the scholarly heretic.

What do I mean by this?

Simply that in the Tier Three stream the EJS is going to accept submissions on any and every topic of interest that finds scholarly expression in other venues. This could include anything from the effectiveness of prayer in medical practice (Byrd, 1988; Sicher, Targ, Moore & Smith, 1998; Harris et. al. 1999), an area recently given a huge credibility boost by the announcement of a joint initiative by spiritual leaders and researchers at Harvard and Duke university by the announcement of an Office for Prayer Research (Pingree and Abend) to the impact of mass consciousness on the physical world (see for example Princeton Universities Global Consciousness Project http://noosphere.princeton.edu/), to the nature of consciousness, to just about anything that strikes the scholarly fancy of the interested academic. These are just initial suggestions and I leave it up to the reader’s imagination to come up with papers of interest. When it comes down to it, just about anything that is drawing research interest in some discipline will be grist for the intellectual mill of Tier Three.

At this point I would ask the reader for patience. I can almost hear the horrified expressions of incredulity. Certainly, I can anticipate the volcanic desire to suppress the heresy. The things I broach at this point often elicit strong reactions. I understand this feeling. As scientists and scholars, we have presented the world with a strong materialist, empirical, logical, and rational front for many decades. For all of us, our credibility, promotional advancement, and academic respectability are tied up in our expression and unquestioned support of these cannons of scientific inquiry. It is no surprise we react the way we do. The sort of phenomenon that I have just listed challenge our scholarly programming at the core and many of us are justifiably concerned as we approach the boundaries set out by scholarly canon.

I cannot help but think that this reaction that many of us share to the heresies of non-materialistic science are the same reactions that the priests must have had when Newton or Galileo came forward with the heresies of an emerging materialist/scientific world view. Did the original gatekeepers of truth on this earth (the priests of organized religions) also express horror, rejection, and perhaps even fear that in the truths of the astronomers was the beginning of the end of their careers? What would priests have done in a universe emptied of spirit where humanity was reduced to a punctuation mark and the gears of the cosmos set mechanically and mercilessly in motion?

As it turns out, the church did not collapse and the priests were not thrown out in the streets to fend for themselves. Even after centuries of scientific advance, we still have priests and they still have pretty much the same job they have always had. The truths that science brought forward did not undermine them nor even really reduce their credibility. They carved themselves out a respectable niche in the spiritual and psychological spheres of our human existence and live there to this day in comfortable and well-appointed surroundings.

So to I think will science, scholarship, and sociology survive the heresies that will be allowed expression in Tier Three publication. In fact, we may even thrive. When you think about it, the new areas of research that are emerging may, rather than marginalize our discipline and our research, in fact open up a wealth of new avenues for theory and research that break us out of the boring and seemingly unending re-hash of classical theorists that we tend, as sociologists, to get trapped into. How would, for example, evidence that human consciousness impacts the physical world (however slightly) force a revision in the Marx’s materialist version of the Hegelian dialectic? Would it force us back to Hegel’s idealism and intimations of God? Or, instead, would it force us forward to a more nuanced and empirically valid idealism complete with scientific analysis of the power of consciousness over matter? It is an interesting question and not altogether unreasonable given the work being done at Princeton or the age old claims of the yogis and mystics which science has often rejected out of hand and without careful consideration.

Still as sociologists and social scientists we are, by nature, conservative and it is in deference to our conservative scholarly nature that we shunt inquiry into these controversial areas into Tier Three. It is my hope that by clearly demarcating tier three publication from traditional areas of inquiry, we will lessen the reflexive tendency to reject the academic heresy outright. Instead, it is my hope that we shall provide a safe forum for those interested in exploring these heresies that does nto force them outside the safe and warm monastery enclosure.

In the end, we are approaching these new areas of inquiry in the most conservative fashion possible. We leave traditional structures of peer review in place, and leave traditional areas of inquiry unsullied by the more heretical leanings of some of our esteemed colleagues. We leave the thing at arms reach so to speak. However, at the same time we are also doing what every good scientist should do. We are being open to inquiry and welcoming of the truth in whatever form our inquiry may reveal it.

In the end, all we are really trying to do at the EJS is avoid and/or overcome the powerful conservative tendency to resist substantive theoretical revisions and fundamental paradigm shifting that Thomas Kuhn first identified many decades ago. As Kuhn pointed out, we are, by nature, conservative, hard to move, and intellectually stubborn even. As a group, we do not like it when we are forced to change the way we think. We literally require nuclear explosions to shift our paradigms and approaches.

I realize some out there may see this as foolish and even foolhardy. To these ones all I ask is a little patience. We will apply the same rigor to tier three publication as we do to other levels. The EJS will not publish groundless research, ephemeral theoretical excursions, or astrally induced and ungrounded free associations. Tier three will be looking for grounded, empirically substantiated research and logically consistent theoretical explanations. In the end it may lead us nowhere and if it does, all we will have lost is a bit of time and a few kilobytes on our server hard drive. However, given the low cost of electronic publication, there seems to me to be no compelling reason not to explore.

Who knows, we may be opening ourselves up to some fundamental paradigm shift that will challenge the very foundational assumptions of our disciplines.

Personally, I place my money on the latter and see just on the horizon some revolutionary shifts. I for one would like the EJS to, if not be at the complete forefront of research (as noted there are already others investigating prayer, consciousness, and other heretical topics) at least not be “last in line.”

I believe we are seeing tantalizing glimpses of revolutionary paradigm shifts and I for one want to encourage those shifts.

Michael Sosteric

References

Byrd, R.C. (1988). Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population. Southern Medical Journal. 81: 826-829

Commentary (2002). A Massive Failure of Peer Review. Microwave News. September/October 2002. http://www.microwavenews.com/s-o02failure.html

Evans, J.T., Nadjari, H.I. and Burchell, S.A (2000). Quotational and reference accuracy in surgical journals. A continuing peer review problem. JAMA: 263: 1353-1354

Pingree, Geoff and Abend, Lisa (2004). New center to promote studies of effects of prayer. Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0709/p10s01-woeu.html

Harnad, S. (2000) Ingelfinger Over-Ruled: The Role of the Web in the Future of Refereed Medical Journal Publishing. The Lancet Perspectives. 256 (December Supplement): s16. http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad00.lancet.htm

Harris, W.S., Gowda, M., Kolb, J.W., Strychacz, C.P., Vacek, J.L., Jones, P.G., Forker, A., O’Keefe, J.H., and McCallister, B.D. 1999. A Randomized, Controlled Trial of the Effects of Remote, Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients Admitted to the Coronary Care Unit. Arch Intern Med. 159:2273-2278.

Jefferson, Tom, Alderson, Philip, Wager, Elizabeth, Davidoff, Frank (2002). Effects of Editorial Peer Review: A Systematic Review. JAMA. 287: 2784-2786

Kassirer, Jerome P. (1994). Peer Review: Crude and Understudied, but Indispensable. JAMA: 272:96-97.

Lawal, Ibironke (2002). Scholarly Communication: The Use and Non-Use of E-Print Archives for the Dissemination of Scientific Information. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianshi. Fall. http://www.istl.org/02-fall/article3.html

Melander, Hans, Ahlqvist-Rastad, Jane, Meijer, Gertie and Beermann, Björn (2003). Evidence b(i)ased medicine—selective reporting from studies sponsored by pharmaceutical industry: review of studies in new drug applications. BMJ. 326: 1171-1173, doi:10.1136/bmj.326.7400.1171

Okerson, Ann (2001). What Price Free. Nature: Web Debates. http://www.nature.com/nature/debates/e-access/Articles/okerson.html

Relman, A.S (1990). Peer review in scientific journals--what good is it? West J Med. 153:520-522.

Sicher, F., Targ, E., Moore, D., & Smith, H.S. (1998). A Randomized Double-Blind Study of the Effect of Distant Healing in a Population with Advanced AIDS. Western Journal of Medicine. 169: 356-363,