Monday, September 26, 2011

Don't publish in the wrong journal!

I just read in interesting paper by James Acheson, "Ostrom for Anthropologists" (International Journal of the Commons 5 (2), 2011, pp. 319-339). Acheson reviews Elinor Ostrom's work on the exploitation of common pool resources and relates it to work in anthropology. One of the stated reasons for publishing the paper is that Ostrom's work is not as well known in anthropology as it should be, and Acheson wants more anthropologists to know about it and use it. So why publish it in a journal that anthropologists don't read?????? Does this make sense?  If anthropologists DID read this journal, then presumably this article would not be necessary. This paper would be far more successful in a mainstream anthropology journal, and it is a case of "publishing in the wrong journal." I saw the paper only because the journal started emailing me its tables of contents, probably because I reviewed a manuscript for them a few months ago. But it is a great journal, and fully online and open access.

By the way, archaeologists could stand to pay more attention to Ostrom's work also. I've only seen a couple of papers that use it, including:

Bayman, James M. and Alan P. Sullivan, III
2008    Property, Identity, and Macroeconomy in the Prehispanic Southwest. American Anthropologist 110(1):6-20.

Ostrom's research is very relevant to archaeological work on land tenure and property, and also to the growing fields of archaeological research on collective action and cooperation.
An archaeological example of publishing in the wrong places is Roland Fletcher's work on demography and settlement size. His model of the significance and implications of changes in the population size and density of settlements is quite important, both for archaeology and for general and comparative research on urban demography. He develops the model most fully in his 1995 book, The Limits of Settlement Growth, but all of the papers listed below deal with it in some way. One of the intriguing aspects of Fletcher's model is its applicability to modern and future urban growth. He develops this theme most fully in the book and in his 1999 paper, but it is touched on in most of the papers cited below.

How many explicit models do we have by archaeologists that make realistic empirical predictions about future social trends? Not many. Fletcher's work really needs to be read by demographers, sociologists, planners, and others interested in urban growth (that is, just about anybody interested in contemporary urbanization). But do these folks read books with titles like Time and Archaeology, or A Companion to Archaeology? Hardly. They might be temped by the title of Fletcher's 1995 book, but I have rarely if ever seen it cited by a non-archaeologist.

In this case, Fletcher is technically not publishing in the wrong journal. What he has done, in fact, is worse: he published in obscure edited volumes that have close to zero probability of being seen by scholars of modern urbanization. If he were to publish his model in a major urban journal, and cite his book and other papers, then perhaps others would take note. Last night on the airplane I read another paper on modern urban demography that really needed Fletcher's insights, but of course his work was not in the bibliography:

O'Brien, Daniel Tumminelli2009    Sociality in the City: Using Biological Principles to Explore the Relationship Between High Population Density and Social Behavior. In Advances in Sociology Research, edited by Jared A. Jaworski, pp. 1-14, vol. 8. Nova Science Publishers.

I've made a few of these mistakes myself, of which I'll just mention that a couple of my best papers appeared in obscure (and in one case, low-quality) edited collections that no one reads. These papers would be much more visible, with much higher scholarly impact, if I had published them in journals.

So please think carefully about where you publish your papers. If you want someone besides archaeologists to read them, then think about what kind of journal will get them seen where you want. Yes, the situation is much better with journals posted on the internet today, making it much easier to find papers in other fields. But just because something is published and is online does not mean that the target readers will find it.

Fletcher, Roland
1993    Settlement Area and Communication in African Towns and Cities. In The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Towns, edited by Thurston Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah, and Alex Okpoko, pp. 732-749. Routledge, London.

1995    The Limits of Settlement Growth: A Theoretical Outline. Cambridge University Press, New York.

1999    Appraising the Urban Future: An Archaeological Time Perspective. In Time and Archaeology, edited by Tim Murray, pp. 88-108. Routledge, New York.

2004    Materiality, Space, Time, and Outcome. In A Companion to Archaeology, edited by John Bintliff, pp. 110-140. Blackwell, Oxford.

2009    Low-Density, Agrarian-Based Urbanism: A Comparative View. Insights (University of Durham) 2:article 4.  .

2012    Low-Density, Agrarian-Based Urbanism: Scale, Power and Ecology. In The Comparative Archaeology of Complex Societies, edited by Michael E. Smith. Cambridge University Press, New York.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. However, you did not discuss how Acheson's article is freely available online AND is subject to a creative commons license which is UNLIKE most anthropology / archaeology ejournals where there is a paywall that severely limits readership or unrealistic copyright distribution laws (like they are proposing in canada) that is, if the anthropology/archaeology journal even has a web distribution service (e.g., american antiquity). Through word of mouth (this blog post), and through thrifty student searching and course reading pack decisions, expedient, this piece might eventually be read more widely than an american anthropologist article.... itd' be interesting to do a comparison at least...

Michael E. Smith said...

Great point. I did mention that the journal is online and open access, but I hadn't thought about the larger implications that you bring out. Does an anthropology paper in an online OA non-anthropology journal reach more anthropologists than that same paper would in a traditional print-based journal (with limited, toll-access, online distribution)? I think what I had in mind was that older, more traditional anthropologists, probably less internet-savvy than their students and junior colleagues, are less likely to find the paper in the Int. Journal of the Commons.

Hmmm, I wonder if the clever librarians and others who do bibliometric research have looked at this question.

David said...

I'm happy to learn of this article, Mike. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!