The Irish Research Council are the body for grant giving in, among other areas. the Arts, humanities, and social sciences. They are immensely busy and grossly understaffed. That they do even the half decent job they do is a wonder. But, dealing with public money and peoples careers, they have to be above reproach. I have some questions and suggestions that might aid
Being the editor of the journal gives you a perspective on the publishing process that is not available to the majority of academic researchers. One of the issues that strikes you is that there is an enormous volume of material seeking a home. Into this gap have come open access journals, new journals from existing publishers, but also a host of predatory journals. Unfortunately, some Irish academics are either falling prey or worse are deliberately seeking out publication opportunities in these predatory journals.
The debate on Irish government and corporate tax rates rages on. Unusually, this debate is resolving into a discussion between two academics. Jim Stewart of TCD has asserted a number of claims (here, here, here) on the effective tax rate and on the rate of tax evasion and manipulation by MNC’s. Seamus Coffey of UCC has produced a report that suggests that things are not as bad as that. Not surprisingly these claims and counterclaims have been getting a lot of media attention
It is good to see academics taking a lead on this issue. However, what is of concern to me is that we are seeing a debate on what are in essence unproofed claims. That is to say, the reports and working papers seem not have gone through the usual peer review process. Peer review comes in for some justified flack. But as a mechanism to ensure some degree of bullet proofing of hypotheses, analyses and suggestions, it has enormous merit. My concern is that neither of the two protagonists in this debate have, as yet, published papers on the tax system. Checking SCOPUS, Econlit and Emerald FullText, the three overlapping databases of peer reviewed papers in management and economics, I see no publications whatsoever from Coffey, and those from Stewart are in the main on pensions and financial regulation.
Peer review in publication has a purpose. In the areas of taxation we have a number of journals of international standing that publish papers which are subject to rigorous peer review. A great part of the debate on this area appears (I am not an expert) to revolve around both the correct database to use and the interpretation of certain parts of same. Others internationally have published on these areas, in these journals. Submission, which may be happening, to these journals would achieve three things. First, it would open the debate up to a wider audience and therefore allow a wider perspective, with the result that the analyses can be placed in the literature and in the debate in a more holistic manner. Second, it would ensure that the inevitable errors of omission and commission that all authors are prone to are more likely to be caught, resulting in a more robust argument. Third, would provide face credibility to the research. Credibility in academia is a rather intangible thing. It arises from a long process of publication in peer review journals, engagement in public debate on the basis of that research, willingness to expand the debate outside the narrow peer review boundaries but within the broad scope of ones competence, and above all a solid publication record. The latter is imperative – without peer review and revisiting ones research there is a weak foundation no matter how competent the person is. Competence needs to be constantly demonstrated and as an academic the best way to do so is via the publication route. We all think our analyses are perfect, our conclusions justified and so on. It is always a shock when people disagree, and prove to you that they, not you, are in fact correct. Thats the benefit of peer review.
The researchers here have been very careful, it seems to me, in their writing, to be as scientific as possible. I for one however would be much more comfortable, given the debate and its importance, if we were discussing papers in the British Tax Journal or International Tax and Public Finance, or Journal of American Taxation Institute, or Bulletin of International Taxation or European Taxation or … you get the idea. Instead we are discussing working papers and internal reports. As academics we need to ensure that the debate on our work is carried out when we have finalised it. We all publish papers on the web, or present them at conferences. Sometimes these are as far as they go, and debate on these can and should be encouraged. But working papers and reports are a stage, not the end, of a journey. Even when a paper is published in a peer reviewed international journal it can and oftentimes is overturned later. The journey of research is constant.
We need to have debate on the issue of irish corporate tax, and there is a genuine concern about the timelags in publication. That said, the reality is that this issue has been bubbling for years and will do so for years. There is time to submit and resubmit and get published. At the end we have a more robust, more critiqued, hopefully more accurate set of findings. That is when the debate can really take off, but only if we get there.
An Irish newspaper recently published a fairly glowing report in the end sourced from a pay for publish journal. Now, the research may be fine but it struck me that this needed to be noted. The journalist, well known in the area, when contacted by me and when I noted the “you pay, we publish” nature of this journal and its publisher being on Bealls list of predatory publishers (http://scholarlyoa.com/2012/12/06/bealls-list-of-predatory-publishers-2013/) kept saying “but its peer reviewed”. Despite much attempts to get this well known journalist to note that not all peer review processes are the same, it failed. Well done Science .
FWIW, the publisher of the journal of which I noted is also one of the ones on the Science list
Alan Sokal’s influence has certainly been felt strongly recently. Last month, a critique by Sokal — who in 1996 got a fake paper published in Social Text — and two colleagues forced a correction of a much-ballyhooed psychology paper. A few days after that, we reported on a Serbian Sokal hoax-like paper whose authors cited the scholarly efforts of one B. Sagdiyev, a.k.a. Borat.
And today, we bring you news of an effort by John Bohannon, of Science magazine, to publish fake papers in more than 300 open access journals. Bohannon, writing as “Ocorrafoo Cobange” of the “Wassee Institute of Medicine” — neither of which exist, of course — explains his process:
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I have been a journal editor for over three years now, as in Editor in Chief. At present I am editor of two journals, and on the board of three others. I have reviewed for over 25 separate journals and done special issues as a guest editor for half a dozen. One of the most frustrating things about being a journal editor is dealing with the process of getting good reviews. First you have to get someone to agree, and then typically it’s a chase to get the review in. Some thoughts below and bear in mind that editors have probably committed every sin here and then some….
- It’s called peer review for a reason. You, putative reviewer, are the peer. If you don’t do it for them why should they do it for you?
- It’s good for you. This is one way to keep up with the literature. Don’t whine.
- Saying “i’m busy” is not a good excuse. The chances are really really high that the editor is much much busier than you.
- Saying “it’s not my area” is a slightly better excuse. But, it is not a good one when you have published a very closely related paper recently. And saying ‘I’m only one of the authors’ in response? That doesn’t cut it.
- Be open. Unless it’s a review for the Journal of Incredible Specialization, specialists and generalists have a role to play. At least they do in social sciences, IMHO. If you are a finance professor specializing in say markov switching portfolio allocations, that’s great. But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have an informed view on a paper on say the role of alternative investments in portfolios, or portfolio planning for sovereign wealth funds. Specialization is for ants. Editors, especially of general journals, will try to get specialized and more general reviewers
- Be honest. Don’t agree to do it then not do it. We all find ourselves having at times to back out of agreements. Its much better to say “sorry, I now find I cant” than to sit mum.
- Be timely. Try to do it on time. You can’t complain about how long it takes a paper to be deal with if you are sitting on reviews like a dragon on its hoard.
- Be meaningful. A review is more than a suggestion to revise or to reject or to accept. It should be meaningful. It should guide the author on what is good and what is not so good as you see it. If it’s short then it probably isn’t going to do that.
- Read the invite. Most journals now have in their email inviting you to review a link to accept and one to reject. Don’t respond with a long apology about how you would love to you cat has kittens and you have a paper yourself to do and anyhow Prof von Juntz at Miskatonic would be better. Click. The. Link
- Be humble. Don’t use the review process to puff your own work. Its perfectly ok to suggest that your work be included as part of the paper if your work is relevant and missing. But ask .. if its missing is it really as good as you think? If it is and the paper misses it, what else is it missing…
- Don’t be cruel. If the paper is truly awful, suggest a reject but don’t engage in ad hominum remarks. Rejection should be positive.
- Be definite. Ok, its our role as editors to make the call but try not to sit on the fence. Tell us what you think in the cover letter.
- Be conscious of your role. Don’t get upset if the editor doesn’t take your advice. Its our call to determine, with you aid, what to do with the paper. You are part not the totality of the decision making process.
- Be scientific. Don’t fall back on filling the review with editorial and typographic issues. IF the paper is rife with errors, tell the editor and give examples. Concentrate on the added value of your scientific knowledge and not so much on missing commas etc. If as part of your revision you think that the paper should be professionally proof edited (as I sometimes do with my own) then say so.
- Be sensible. A caveat to this is that the paper is an act of communication. If it is so poorly constructed as to fail then tell me that also. Remember however that this is not Proust or even Lee Child. Its not about style but substance until the style gets in the way
- Ask the editor. If you are unsure about something then ask. Don’t stew – your wasting your time and worse that of the author.
- Be aware of that for which you are reviewing. Reviewing for a conference is not the same as for a journal. The aim of most conference organizers is to have decent work needing feedback presented. Therefore the bar in terms of completeness etc is lower. The material still needs to be scientifically good enough but this is a step on the way not the final stage.
- Thank the author if you learned anything, even if you are suggesting rejection.
- Be realistic about the process. You and the editor and the journal will make errors. Poor (in retrospect) papers will be accepted, good ones rejected. Therefore don’t beat yourself up if such is made, learn from it.
- A review is a mini paper – structure it as a logical flow of argument. You can’t critique a paper for being a rambling mess if your review is one also.
- Don’t tell the author what you think the editor should do – reject etc. Tell the editor in a cover letter.
- Be helpful. Make suggestions to the authors as to how to overcome the shortcomings you identify
So, I today signed off on the agreement to be the new editor of another Elsevier journal, International Review. Of Financial Analysis (IRFA). It's a pretty decent journal, ranked in the top 40 by a recent study; it was ranked as “internationally excellent” in the 2008 Aston rankings; as “highly regarded” in the 2010 Association of Business Schools journal ranking ; as “top international” in thr 2010 Cranfield School of Management list; for mere details see http://www.harzing.org with the usual caveat that rankings are not the only or even the most desirable indicator of the quality and impact of a journal.
Now, I am aware that elsevier raises the hackles of many with regard to the debate on open access versus pay walls, but that's a debate that I'd like to avoid at the present. What I am interested in is the views of people on how we might make the articles forthcoming in IRFA more accessible and interesting. elsevier have their views on the article of the future- which of these would you be interested in seeing rolled out? For example, should video abstracts be available freely viewable? Would people be interested in a twitter feed of articles? Whst about an editorial,video, of each issue? Your ideas are sought!