On academic publishing

I don't know who is going to find this blog besides spam-bots, but assuming some academic-y folks do, I thought I'd post on academic publishing. Specifically, I'll post on academic publishing in education (and my corner of it, which is learning sciences). I'm inspired partly because these were largely tacit rules I learned over time and also because I just saw this circulating: http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2015/9/191173-should-conferences-meet-journals-and-where/fulltext

For good or ill, publishing is our bread and butter. It's how we are judged as being valuable as researchers (although if you keep generating big money grants and don't really publish much, I think your university or institution might see the value of having you). Let's ignore how the "publish or perish" mentality means too much stuff of "meh" quality gets written just so we can report large numbers of pubs to our institutions. It's a problem, but not one I want to talk about here. 

In a nutshell, goodness of publication venue is a judgment we should defer to the experts in that academic community. They know what is good and why. There are journals that are highly ranked that have the boring same old same old and, frankly, doesn't advance our knowledge in a meaningful way. Also, I say this deference to people in the field is important because I hear time and again that fields like Computer Science are penalized at the university level because the publications expected in the CS community are conference proceedings but institutions want journal articles. Hey, CS conferences are no cakewalk! Their acceptance rates are tougher than a lot of journals. If I'm evaluating a job or tenure candidate's CV based on CS conferences, color me impressed if I see regular papers in well known and top conferences. My field is, I believe, getting to a point that conference proceedings papers have some real oomph to them. Conferences with published proceedings also have a quicker turnaround, so the inherent delays in the journal publishing system are mitigated. We actually learn what is going on in the field much sooner rather than reading really interesting stuff on data collected in 2005 (seriously, I'm pretty sure I just reviewed a journal manuscript like that.) (I think it was fine, but I have been reviewing a lot of papers and can't remember each and every one after I submit my review)

So here are my opinions, influenced by my field, of publication types - probably aimed toward junior faculty, and subject to dissent from others: 

  •  Journal articles  are still considered the gold standard and probably because nearly all fields have them and have to go through the same sort of review process. Impact factors and official rankings help for letting people outside your field know it's a respected journal (although talking about impact factor at a cocktail party of non-academics isn't going to win over any new friends) but people inside your field know the true good journals. (defer to the specific community!) Good journals may not have high impact numbers, but impact factor is for show. If someone tries to impress me by mentioning the impact factor of a journal they published in, they fail. Frankly, an article in a lesser known journal that is good and gets read and cited is plenty good IMHO. Just don't do that for all your papers. And journals that are crap and will publish what you write as long as you pay publication fees reflect terribly on the scholar. I actually think it is okay to have possibly one or two articles in unimpressive journals as long as they have a respectable process and the paper is interesting. While a journal exists for nearly every topic, there are some things you may write about that just don't fit a known journal. That's fine. But, it's not good to have half or most of your articles in those. And special issues, I think, are frankly great. Special issues are getting more popular because people read them. So fine by me if you publish in a special issue. Often, it means you are respected enough in the sub area to be part of the club, and the club is big enough to populate an entire journal issue. 
  • Book chapters:  good to have some in books with respected publishers, good to have them with a well known editor. Bad to have them with unknown publishers, but again, an occasional piece in an unknown isn't awful so long as it is an interesting chapter that people will choose to read. I like book chapters because you often see some pretty bold assertions made that would often get sanitized in journal peer review. Doesn't mean the assertions are right, but they can spark interesting ideas and new directions. They can be really fun to write! In fact, I expect solid folks to have at least one or a couple showing they are respected enough to get invited. 
  • Book reviews:  fine for grad student, not for faculty. The only exception is if you are famous and are reviewing someone else who is famous. Then people want to see what you have to say. Because we are nosy.  
  • Encyclopedia entries:  depends on the publisher and editor. Obviously not where you want to put all your efforts, but if it has big names and you are invited, that's a privilege. No one is going to cite your entry but people may read it. This is, like book chapters, a situation where you are judged by the company you keep.
  • Published conference proceedings papers:   Great if it is from a respected and competitive conference that makes its proceedings accessible. People will cite published conference papers! Good also if it is in a CS conference or a close cousin of a CS conference. 
  •  Conference papers without proceedings  you have to have a steady stream of these, but no one but you is going to ever cite it. Good to have for known conferences and good to have lots of them. Doesn't give you any special perks - it's just the price of admission. And we are assuming these are peer reviewed, rather than "pay and you can present"
  • Authored Book:   not worth it unless it is with a well known press, it will have wide distribution, and is on a specialized topic that doesn't have books and is something lots of people really care about even if they aren't academics. This is time sensitive - a topic that used to be in vogue but isn't now is not a good use of time. Gotta be ahead of the curve and gotta be right about being ahead of the curve! And it doesn't replace journal articles, or even published conference proceedings papers, IMO. In general, not worth the time for someone young, but there are exceptions.

  • Edited Book:   icing on cake, but it isn't the cake. Mostly shows you can coordinate a big writing project. A lot of the respectability of the book rides on the topic, press, and the quality of contributors.  (Note: I did an edited book and I am proud of it, but I think it's because I just wanted to do it and would not be stopped. It's definitely not for the money - I could make more money at a neighborhood poker night, and I am not a great poker player. I could make more money holding a yard sale. I could make more money if I got to search the couch cushions of every house on my street, etc)

  • Popular press articles:   better be a really popular press, like the New York Times or Time Magazine or a very popular blog (i.e. Not this one!) 
  • Practitioner articles:  lots of us want to improve practice and these things might actually get read by a teacher. So one or two are okay but should be in addition to rather than instead of the other stuff deemed important.  These do get read and cited, but the academy is like that gymnast from the Olympics who made that face that went viral: not impressed. 
  • Textbooks  : nope, bad idea, especially for noobs.   

well, those are my piecemeal thoughts. Someone who reads this is likely to disagree with me, but in 2015 and in the little corner of education research I live in, it's what I am noticing. I may update this all in the future.  I am pretty sure the fonts are screwy so I should update it just to fix that. 

Update: I know html but don't have the patience to dig around in the code and fix the formatting that this web service thing hides from me. So shifting fonts it is.