Friday, February 23, 2007

Scientific publishing lags: Maths vs. Economics

I've received today this email (I receive quite often such emails since I am also interested- rather actively, I'd like to think- in Applied Mathematics). I put in bold what is the most interesting thing for my purpose here (I won't search for the rank or reputation of this journal below etc. etc, since it is not crucial for the context) and which should make any Economist shout and scream and jump from the nearest window:

[...] it is a pleasure for us to invite you to publish one work in "International Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics".
Let me inform you that the reviewing period for one paper is 2-3 weeks, the printing period is 4 weeks.
You may submit papers electronically. Please send the paper as an attachment to the following address [...]. You are welcome to visit our web-page: http://math.uctm.edu/journals
Below is some necessary information about the journal.
Sincerely Yours,
[...]

Now, for most other Maths journals, from both ends of the 'formal' (say, ISI- based)quality distribution, as far as I know, the timing is very much similar (even increased two-three times: I still wouldn't mind); there isn't really a large time lag. Moreover, most natural sciences (I know the situation in Physics best) behave similarly from this point of view. Compare this to the absolutely ridiculous periods of 4-6 months, on average (certain very good journals take much longer, my impression is that there 6 months is really a minimum!) to get a first reaction, within Economics (if, but that very rarely happens, you get accepted immediately, maybe in other 6 months you're in; in practice, revise and resubmit and reviewing that takes other 6 months, so hope that in about 2 years you can publish a good paper that you finished just now; in case of a rejection start all over again at another journal, maybe revising here and there: could take you forever- cases of 5-6 years, or more!!!, of famous 'working papers' waiting for publication, that subsequently influenced a whole subfield, are really not so uncommon in Economics). If I only had an idea about this when I decided for graduate studies in Economics (despite the fact that I was at the same time accepted for an MPhil in Theoretical Physics, for instance)! Somebody must do something about this situation and it has to start from the top. You can't expect things to change if the major journals - and I name here only what I consider the top 5 in Econ, American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics and Review of Economic Studies- do not start by providing the example.

See also a previous post on various proposals to improve and in particular, to speed up things in scientific publishing. None of these is good enough, of course. But it should be an editor's task to think about speeding up things. Does anybody do that? If so, the results are very hard to see. And if it is really nothing to do from the part of the editors and this is inherent in the Economists' species, I can only agree with and even extend Ariel Rubinstein's idea that Mathematicians are "more skilled, highly educated and intelligent" than Economists: they are also much smarter.

2 comments:

Valentin Robu said...

Daca te consoleaza cu ceva, si in matematica sunt destul reviste f. prestigioase care au un "time lag" de 2 ani (in medie). O poveste care imi vine in minte e al unui postdoc in algoritmica din grupul nostru, care la o bere imi povestea multumit ca tocmai i-a fost acceptat un paper intr-o revista de top in matematici discrete. Cand a trimis paperul respectiv spre publicare? Cu 3 ani in urma. Culmea, tipul nu era deloc revoltat, ii se parea normal sa dureze 2-3 ani (si tipul are publicatii f. serioase, stie ce vorbeste).

De fapt, cam asa e si in AI, unde lucrez eu: o revista tip Elsevier Artificial Intelligence ia cam 2 ani de la momentul trimiterii. La primul meu journal paper - in JAAMAS - am avut"noroc" sa-l accepte intr-un an + probabil inca 1 pana se publica efectiv. Sigur, 2-3 ani in Computer Science e enorm: multe chestii care sunt "state of the art" acum, cu 3 ani in urma nici nu existau. Rezultatul e ca in computer science si AI conteaza mai mult conferintele patronate de ACM si IEEE, f.f. competitive, la care reviewul ia 3 luni si proceedingurile se publica imediat. Rezultatul e interesant: in multe departamente de computer science, in special din State, conference papers se considera publicatii definitive, desi pt multe organizatii care dau granturi, inclusiv NWO-ul olandez, journal papers sunt de baza.

Chiar acum 3 zile, verificand site-ul AI Journal (unde sper sa trimit un paper cat de curand...), am fost surprins sa vad ca promit un prim raspuns in 3 luni. O demonstratie a principiului: "competition is always good". As face o paralela intra efectul proceedingurilor ACM asupra revistelor din CS cu efectul firmelor low-cost (in cazul asta: high speed) asupra companiilor aeriene traditionale.
Numai bine (si la cat mai multe papere!), Valentin

Sebi Buhai said...

Ok, Valentin, asta chiar nu am stiut, ca si in matematica sunt jurnale care iau atat de mult. Dar totusi cred ca fenomenul e mult mai izolat in matematica (am vreo 4-5 exemplu in care in cel mult 3 luni omul a avut raspuns si revise& resubmit sau acceptat, de la reviste cu IF okay, in matematica, dar nu stiu intr-adevar la cele foarte prestigioase). In orice caz in biologie moleculara unde am cativa foarte buni prieteni si vorbesc cu ei mai des, timpul e sub o luna pentru primirea rapoartelor referintilor, zic ei, in medie. Si in alte subfield-uri din biologie, imi zic ca e ceva similar. La un moment dat am vazut un ranking comparativ al time lag-urilor si stiintele sociale erau la coada, dar economia era mi se pare ultima sau poate penultima. In orice caz, eu iti spun sincer ca pe mine ma dispera situatia. Exista si "reguli" enuntate de prof emeriti etc. in care, mai in gluma, mai in serios, esti sfatuit sa trimiti prima lucrare in primul an de doctorat daca vrei sa ai o publicatie pana in primul an de postdoctorat/junior academic. Ori iti dai seama ca asta modifica toata motivatia pe care o au cei de la fizica sau informatica etc (in economie foarte rar se publica, orice, inainte sa termini doctoratul sau poate si un an dupa si cei care publica nu sunt deloc cei mai buni- pentru astia din urma publicatia ar iesi exact cand au primit noul job academic, sa le conteze pentru tenure...).

Ah, si apropos, si in economie in 2-3 ani tema ta poate sa fie buna de aruncat la gunoi, asta e chestia. Partea buna e ca daca prezinti paper-ul la conferinte majore si il trimiti in cateva seriii de working paper-uri, care se distribuie la toate departamentele bune, s-ar putea sa fii deja citat, pe working paper, desi poate lucrarea care te citeaza sa fie publicata inaintea lucrarii tale. S-a intamplat de foarte multe ori, inclusiv cu mine (sunt doua lucrari publicate in jurnale bune in economie care citeaza lucrarea mea, desi doar in treacat, iar lucrarea mea asteapta de luni si luni de zile un raport al referintilor si cred ca mai am de asteptat mult si bine...).

Competition is always good, dar nu e suficient. Vezi tu, trebuie sa fie un "race to the top". In Economie, daca nu misca jurnalele din top 5 sau top 10 sa zicem, nimeni nu poate face nimic pentru ca nimeni nu vrea sa trimita lucrari foarte bune la jurnale aiurea. Lumea nu are discount factor-ul atat de mic incat sa astepte pana cand un asemenea jurnal ajunge si el in top, ei vor sa publice in jurnale de top, ACUM. Deci asta e. Daca American Economic Review si Econometrica ar ajunge cumva sa "garanteze" un timp de raspuns mai mic de 3 luni, in medie, (nu vreau sa discut cum, aici e de fapt dificultatea, altfel s-ar fi facut), ar fi fantastic. Dar asta nu se va intampla foarte curand...

In Economie si in USA doar publicatiile in journals (pot sa fie si doar 'in press') conteaza, deci deloc cele de la conferinte (a propos, daca un paper ti-e publicat intr-un 'conference volume', asta inseamna ca acolo e publicat si nu mai poti sa il trimiti in alta parte ori conference volume/urile sunt de cele mai multe ori mai proaste decat cele obisnuite, vorbesc doar de Economie, deci nu trimiti lucrari bune acolo- exista desigur si exceptii, cand conferinta e World Congress al Econometric Society, care e din 5 in 5 ani, si atunci e un volum, dar foarte prestigios, care rezulta, ceva care ar avea un statut aproape egal cu cel al "handbook-urilor", unde doar experti sunt invitati).


Ok, m-am lungit cam mult. O discutie interesanta si desigur ar fi extrem de multe de spus. Subiectul ma intereseaza in mod direct si dincolo de economie, dar deocamdata nu am avut prea mult timp sa ii dedic.

La papere de cat mai buna calitate, chiar daca nu sunt atat de multe! :-)