It is difficult to judge whether readers were meant to take seriously Jeffrey B. Moran’s article “The Journal Glut: Scientific Publications Out Of Control” (The Scientist, July 10, 1989, page 11). On the assumption that he was not being facetious in at least the first half of his article, I offer the following reaction.
The “proliferation of scholarly journals” is unfortunately a knee-jerk cliche used by those who fail to give serious thought to the problem. Journals, by their nature, are chronicles of their times. In the 40 years since Biochemica and Biophysica Acta (BBA) [which Moran used to illustrate the “out-of-control” proliferation of science publications] consisted of one volume, there has been an information explosion, especially in science and engineering. No serious reader of The Scientist will deny that scientific discovery during the latter half of this century has been extraordinary in the history of mankind and continues to accelerate. Moran would say that it does so at an alarming rate, but would he prefer that the research being done at the University of Missouri (where he is a researcher) be discontinued in order to relieve the librarian’s burden?
The cause of the “glut of journals” is the wealth of research going on in the world, not the desire of publishers to use up our forests. Publishers do not create journals, scientists do. If “a lot of heavyweight academics now have a vested interest in journal proliferation,” it must be added that many more academics as well as researchers in industry, government, and private research depend on journal papers to keep abreast of innovations at the forefront of scientific discovery.
Yes, journals do “provide real jobs for publishers, printers, editors, and so on” because in a free enterprise system there is clearly a need for the dissemination and exchange of scientific information and ideas. Scientists need to know what other scientists have achieved. If they were not interested in the information, Current Contents and other Institute for Scientific Information publications would not exist and, by natural selection, many journals would also cease to exist. By tracking successful editions of Ulrich’s International Directory of Periodicals,. one can see that tens of thousands of journals do cease to exist every decade. This procedure, and not any artificially imposed rules, should decide which shall live and which shall die.
Chief Operating Officer
University Science, Engineering
and Technology Inc.