the stimulus and scientific publishing

Previous posts on this topic:
scientific publishing: a screed
update: PLoS
more on scientific publishing

It’ll be interesting to see the effect of the stimulus on scientific publishing. One interesting thing to think about is that all these projects will be funded, but the journals will not be selling more ads, so they won’t have more pages to print articles. Which means one or more of at least four things:

(1) The science stimulus will be seen as a failure because it will not have increased productivity according to scientists’ preferred metric, journal publications.

(2) The quality of scientific publications will increase in about two years’ time (whether this increase is noticed and, if so, whether it’s attributed to the stimulus are open questions; if it’s noticed but not attributed to the stimulus, science may get more funding because it’s perceived that it’s “doing better”).

(3) Journals like PLoS and Frontiers in Neuroscience will (a) improve their reputation and (b) become temporarily profitable because more and better articles will be getting kicked down from the established print journals.

(4) The established print journals will try to accommodate the increased influx of articles (and realize the concomitant publication fees!) by offering discounted online-only publishing.

(5) The established print journals will impose stricter length limits to try to accommodate the increased demand.

Another overall meta thing to think about is the issue of contingency: A lot of what’s going to be funded are projects that can be completed in two years, which is fast for science but not so fast that people will necessarily remember why the publication landscape is changing once all this new research comes rushing through the pipeline. This could fuck the journals over if they’re not careful, e.g. if PLoS thinks they’ve suddenly done something right and starts investing in a bunch of new servers and bandwidth that’ll barely be used before demand dwindles again. (Not to pick on PLoS — I’m just trying to point out the general dangers of forgetting why scientific publishing might suddenly seem like it’s on an upswing when it’s really just a time-shifted effect of the stimulus.)


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