ITA Workshop : Panel on publication issues

Part of ITA was a panel on publication issues in information theory. Paul Siegel was the moderator and led off with three binaries to spark discussion “paper versus plasma” (the medium of publication), “prophets versus profits” (the financial model), and “peer review versus page rank” (quality measurements). Pretty much everyone thought page rank was not really a measure of anything except… page rank, so peer review was not under attack (thank goodness). In general people were in favor of paper at least for archival purposes, so that the ability to browse would still be there. Finally, everyone said they liked the IEEE (no surprise there) and its publication model.

Dave Forney talked about the spiraling costs of Elsevier-owned journals to libraries and urged people to just say no. He implicated those professors who choose to be on the editorial boards of such journals as being part of the problem, and urged them to divest from Elsevier, as it were. In general, he wanted faculty to be more proactive and aware of these important issues, a stance that I was 100% with. He then turned to ArXiV, and told everyone to submit their preprints to ArXiV so that people could know what research is being done. He said usage was increasing, but too slowly.

Andrea Goldsmith said that she found ArXiV to be of limited use since articles posted there are not peer reviewed, and the value of an article is only guaranteed via publication in the Transactions. For the publication model, she stressed the importance of access to the Transactions for the entire IEEE, so that the IT Society should not drift off. She also urged faculty to put institutional pressure on Elsevier by boycotting.

Steve McLaughlin also brought up the ties that bind IEEE and IT. The online Transactions are a major source of revenue, and it was the IT Society that spurred the creation of IEEExplore. He lauded ArXiV as a good impetus to embrace new ideas and models for publication, and floated the idea of an Open Access (OA) journal to complement the Transactions.

Dave Neuhoff reiterated that the journal should be the focus of the field, and that conference papers are not archival for information theorists. Because of this and other reasons, the IT Society was able to convince the IEEE to grant online access to conference proceedings.

Vince Poor, the current Editor-In-Chief, talked about copyright issues in the age of ArXiV and pointed out how reasonable the IEEE is. He seemed to indicate that Elsevier doesn’t affect our community much, but I didn’t really follow his argument there. He also claimed that market forces will push the publication industry to embrace electronic formats.

Rüdiger Urbanke was very excited about ArXiV because it could provide timestamps, and since the field is moving faster these timestamps are important. He also questioned the 5 page ISIT paper, which is not reviewed that carefully, and said that if there is a 5 page limit on correspondences the scale doesn’t make sense, especially in light of conference papers being non-archival. Finally, the pressure to publish is what enables Elsevier, and so this pressure must be alleviated somehow.

In the Q&A, one person asked about double-blind reviewing, which the panel wholeheartedly embraced. I think they should do it to, and I really have no idea what is holding it up, except that perhaps Pareja, the online paper management system, has to be hacked to do it. Someone else asked why we need timestamps from ArXiV when there are timestamps on the IT Transactions papers already, but Urbanke said that it has to do with time scales more than anything, and ArXiV lets you track revisions. Another person complained that ArXiV could become a repository for erroneous results and rejected papers, but Forney was quick to note that ArXiV’s value lies in showing who is working on what, and clearly there are no guarantees on the veracity of the claims made there. The last question was on the nature of journal papers versus conference papers — if conference papers are not archival, does that make it ok to merge 3 conference papers to make a journal paper? The panel seemed surprised to hear that this could be considered double-publishing, and the informal consensus seemed to be that doing so was not self-plagiarism.

I was most disappointed that nobody took up Steve McLaughlin’s comment on making an OA journal that is peer-reviewed and pay-to-publish. I’ve already written about having a new letters journal, but an OA journal would provide an alternative place to publish papers that is not evil and possibly has faster review turnaround than the IT Transactions. Given there are 900 papers submitted a year to the IT Transactions now, it seems like the benefits would be great. It would also help alleviate the Elsevier-feeding publication pressure. But the IT Society could never endorse such a project and thus a panel like this would not address that issue. You’d have to get professors without their official IEEE hats on to discuss this freely, and that wasn’t going to happen at this panel. I think if the OA option is on the table it could get modified into something more palatable and friendly to the iEEE, but it of course would take some discussion and a desire to make it happen.

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7 thoughts on “ITA Workshop : Panel on publication issues

  1. I’m an area editor for an Elsevier journal, am I being evil? The EiC invited me, and I did not see a reason to refuse the favor that was asked.

    Maybe Elsevier is to blame for the increasing cost, but what about adverse selection. Was it brought up in the panel? What insight does Forney have into Elsevier’s business model?

    If digital publishing reduces the subscription base of a journal, and the publishing cost stay constant, then less and less library subscribe, driving the price up and up for the remaining ones. I would assume that all technical paper publications have spiraling costs. Of course, I have no clue about these costs, they are transparent to me (I don’t pay for it, I don’t get paid), so maybe elsevier is particularly egregious.

  2. Adverse selection is a problem in many fields, where all the highly-regarded journals are published by large for-profit publishing conglomerates. However, in information theory, as Vince Poor noted, the pressure is not as great, since the Transactions are published by a non-profit technical society.

    The issues with Elsevier are multiple, but let me bring out two salient points:

    1) The content, reviewing (quality control) and editing is done pro bono by the research community. What really is the value added by the publisher? If you look at the price of the publication and subtract the value of the technical content, is it really worth the price?

    2) Elsevier’s business model involves bundling journals into increasing larger subscription “packages” that are crippling the acquisition budget of academic libraries.

    Some more information can be found at the Open Access Blog and Jim Pitman’s page.

    Stanford has already taken action against Elsevier, and Berkeley has taken some similar actions. Peter Suber’s blog, as always, is full of information.

  3. Just to be clear, I don’t think that people who are on the editorial boards of Elsevier journals are evil. The problem is the publisher and publication model, and I think that being informed about these dynamics in scholarly publication is important. This lets you decide whether doing a favor to your friend is on the balance helping or hurting the research community, and to what degree that is important to you in your decision.

  4. I admit I had no idea about these problems re:elsevier. Glad to know I’m not evil, just clueless:-)

    Regarding 1), this is true of many research outlets. Publications, but also conferences (registration fees are out of control, but, until someone takes a stand like stanford does with elsevier, no one cares, because the conference participant is not the one footing the bill, it is the grant or the corporation). You should take a look at Create-net business model, which is basically to organize conferences on the cheap (“organize” means booking the conference room, as committee work is done pro bono by the community), charge the same fees as IEEE (which is pretty inefficient in the first place) and pocket the difference. That’s a neat transfer of NSF money into the private pocket of create-net. I do now boycott create-net conferences.

    Regarding 2): what some see as a bundle, some would see as a subsidy to lesser known journals. Infocom is expected to have a 20% profit I believe (that is, registration cover 120% of costs) to make up for losses in other conferences.

    I am trying to look at the Peter Suber blog, I want to educate myself on this before I renew my term as editor, but right now i get a 504 connection timeout.

  5. Beating a dead horse, but if you are not a TCCC member, you should head over to the archive to read the spiraling cost conversation regarding conferences and in particular IEEE ICC. You should be at isit at the time, but ICC’07 reg costs 570 british pounds (early reg com soc member), which means US$1,110.

  6. Holy crap! That’s absurd!

    Equally absurd is the fact that being an IEEE Student Member has no more benefit that being a student, as far as I can tell. I’ve been a Student Member since 2000, and I don’t remember it getting me any sort of extra discount for registration fees or anything other than a cheaper membership and cheaper society dues.

  7. Pingback: “Fixes” for peer review « An Ergodic Walk

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