Sunday, September 21, 2014

Alton from Apollo Beach Updates Us On The World of Journal Publishing.

OK. I’m pissed.

I mean I am highly pissed.

Can someone explain to me what in the name of all that is unholy is going on over in academic journal land? Who is running the fucking show out there on the other side of Manuscript-MuthaFuckin-Central and the other submission applications these days? Some of us poor bastards are on the tenure-track, and don’t have time to wait for years and years for our shit to be reviewed. Or to be “in press” for sixteen months.

I have six pieces out under review right now. Here’s the status of each:

1. A co-authored piece on a character from a famous TV show that was written an initially submitted in July of 2013. Never heard from the journal. Pulled it in May of this year and submitted it to another journal. We wait.

2. Submitted a piece on how information technology employees push back against their managers. First submitted in May 2013. Never heard back after many inquiries. Pulled it at the one year mark year. Sent it to another journal in June of 2014. I wait.

3. A submission on the closing of a once popular social networking site. Sent October 2013. Pulled after 10 months of no action. Sent to another journal. I wait.

4. A piece on why IT pros quit their jobs. Been in revise and resubmit for over 16 months.

5. A analysis of the development of serial narratives in supernatural dramas on television. Submitted April 2014. No word yet.

6. Ethnographic research done at DragonCon. Submitted January of 14. Still waiting.

What’s making me really lose my everloving mind over this is that I just finished up editing a special issue of a journal. It took about a year from the time the call went out, to when it came out. It was my first time, and I really had no idea what the fresh hell I was doing, but I did it. It’s done. I got the hard copy in the mail today.

Sure, dealing with the authors was sometimes very painful - akin to pulling a hair out of my scrotum. But you deal. And you stay in contact, and you maintain contact, and you send out reminders, and you tell them you got their submissions, and you send the things out for review, and you maintain contact with your reviewers, and you do all of that shit. And you rant and rave and gripe and lose your shit in your office about all of it.

BUT you get the damn job done, because you know for a fact that there are people out there who need publications, who have to have pubs so they can keep their jobs, whose livelihoods are dependent on you.


  1. I don't know either. My situation is not as bad as what you describe but it still takes six or more months to get something reviewed and published, longer if there's extensive revisions and resubmissions. My colleagues get reviews back in a few weeks and it's published in the online version of the journal in a month or so. Seems to be discipline-specific.

  2. It's not as bad in my field, I guess. Most say authors should hear from them within four months, I'd inquire after five.

    Alton, your specialties sound really cool!

  3. I suspect Tuba Playing Prof's post from last week also provides a partial explanation: the few remaining TT proffies are so busy doing All The Things that would normally have been spread among a much larger tenure-line faculty, plus all the new tasks imposed by a growing administrative class (and state legislatures, accreditation bodies, etc., etc.), that anything that can slip to the bottom of the to-do list, does. That doesn't make it any less frustrating, but such delays are, I suspect, a reality of modern-day academia.

    At least you did your part to buck the trend. And it does sound like cool research. One of these days, I suspect, you're going to be the guy who published 6 articles in one year. I just hope it's a year when there are raises available.

  4. "BUT you get the damn job done, because you know for a fact that there are people out there who need publications, who have to have pubs so they can keep their jobs, whose livelihoods are dependent on you."

    This is a much of what keeps me going. My undergraduate education was marred by deadwood professors who abused their tenure by coasting to retirement, inactive in research, and wouldn't you know, what they taught us was 20 years out of date.

    I promised I would never stoop to that, and I think I've succeeded. Life loves its ironies, however. Now I get no shortage of students who squander the opportunities that I knock myself out to make for them.

    A particularly nasty breed I've come to notice recently are students who say they want to do research projects, but are "too busy" to do research. Since research is largely a free-form activity, not scheduled and micromanaged every minute like every minute of their lives seemingly since birth, research invariably gets convected downward in their list of priorities. Such students need to be reminded that if they're too distracted to do what they signed up to be doing, the powers-that-be that dote upon them might turn their attention elsewhere.

    Regarding the long time it takes between when a paper in a refereed journal gets accepted and when it actually appears in print, Ben is correct: what happens is very discipline specific. In my field, astronomy, we have the astro-ph server. These days, once a paper (electronically submitted, of course) is e-mailed by the editor to a referee, the referee is expected to take 2-3 weeks to read it. If the referee recommends publication without any changes (only 2 of my 50 papers were like this, and it's worrying: it makes you wonder whether the referee even read the paper), the paper will be accepted for publication. Once a paper is accepted, one may upload the paper to the astro-ph server, here:

    Twenty years ago, at this stage we often made photocopies of papers and sent them by postal mail to colleagues. Nowadays, once you've uploaded your paper to astro-ph, your colleagues can read it. It's of course considered the height of irresponsibility to upload a paper to astro-ph before it's been accepted, not that this stops some people, as you can see here (beware, the following paper was considered too unwholesome for publication even in Astronomy magazine);

    Once a paper is two years old, NASA will scan it and put it in their Astrophysics Data Service abstract server. The journals stay in business by hanging onto this two-year margin.

  5. "And you rant and rave and gripe and lose your shit in your office about all of it."

    Having served as Chair of the Department of Physics, I know exactly what you mean. But, after all, we're the adults now. It's our turn, and many of the things we need to do were done well for me, when I was young. So I do my best when doing them now.

    If there's anything I absolutely can't stand, it's Baby Boomers who refuse to grow up. Younger generations, of course, tend to know better, but are not without exceptions.