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How do faculty decide where to publish?
A new study finds that their perceptions of "relative quality"are key to making that choice, especially where new academic media - and their inconsistent approaches to peer review - are involved

| 04 October 2006

How and why do faculty make choices about where they publish? What factors color their attitudes about publishing in new electronic venues, such as open-access journals and blogs? According to a study conducted by researchers affiliated with the Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE), faculty are wary of electronic-publishing venues primarily because they are associated - in their minds, if not always in reality - with a lack of quality control through peer review.

"Conventional peer review," the researchers say, "is so central to scholars' perception of quality that its retention is essentially a sine qua non for any method of archival publication, new or old, to be effective and valued. Peer review is the hallmark of quality that results from external and independent valuation. It also functions as an effective means of winnowing the papers that a researcher needs to examine in the course of his/her research."

The study, "Scholarly Communication: Academic Values and Sustainable Models," was motivated in part by the oft-cited "lack of willingness of faculty to change" as the key barrier to moving to more cost-effective publishing models in an environment of escalating costs and constrained resources. It is based on approximately 50 in-depth interviews with faculty, administrators, librarians, editors, and publishers, nearly all of whom have some association with the Berkeley campus.

Among the study's findings is that there is a tendency for many members of the research community to equate electronic-only publication with a lack of peer review, despite the fact that there are many examples to the contrary. Moreover, because of the very nature of peer review, this factor holds back even those who are fully aware of the advantages of fully peer-reviewed e-journals, because they know that the individuals reviewing their work for the purpose of determining their advancement may well not have that awareness.

Publishing in online-only resources is perceived among junior faculty as a possible threat to achieving tenure because online publication may not count for as much as publication in more traditional venues. (Some junior faculty hold that it may not count for anything at all.) Such perceptions are likely to account for the fact that faculty are happy to consume material in new electronic forms of publication in their day-to-day scholarly practice, but for the last stage of that practice - the archival dissemination of scholarly work - they rely (with few exceptions) on traditional publishing formats.

Less concern about work in progress

Although the study suggests that approaches that try to move faculty and deeply embedded value systems directly toward new forms of archival, final publication are destined largely to failure in the short term, it does note that there is much more experimentation going on with regard to means of "in-progress" communication, where single means of publication and communication are not fixed so deeply in values and tradition as they are for final, archival publication.

The authors conclude that what scholars value and want will eventually become accepted practice. This is a more realistic way of looking at issues, they say, than is devising models and modes of communication because of their cost-efficiencies or other non-research criteria and then trying to draw scholars to them. From their perspective, "a more promising route is to (1) examine the needs of scholarly researchers for both final and in-progress communications and (2) determine how those needs are likely to influence future publishing scenarios in a range of disciplinary areas."

The study was conducted by C. Judson King, Diane Harley, and a team of researchers, and supported by the A.W. Mellon Foundation. It is part of the Future of Scholarly Communication Project ongoing at CSHE under the direction of King and Harley. For information on the project, and to download the full report, visit cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/publications.php?id=230.