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Moderator:  Calla Wiemer (calla.wiemer@acaes.us)

Nudging Asian Economists toward Open Access

The mechanisms by which research findings are disseminated and gain influence are changing. Yet the metrics by which we assess scholarly contribution are lodged in the past, particularly among universities and research institutions in Asia. Looking ahead, the rapid pace of growth in economic research in this region affords an opening to move smartly to new ways of sharing work and recognizing achievement.

Larry Summers put his finger on the transformation in a talk at the Peterson Institute (7:18): “Keynes has a famous line about everything that policymakers say or do is a reflection of a defunct academic scribbler … now everything that a policymaker does is from a blog or a substack ….” Blog posts get a researcher’s message out in succinct form, available at the click of a link and transmissable at lightening speed through social media. Of course, serious research requires more than the thousand or so words of a blog post to fully articulate. The blog post then serves as a promotional vehicle. All the same, in the internet age the full length article need be no less accessible or transmissable than the blog post. Why, then, are most research articles locked behind paywalls erected by corporate publishers, with "staggeringly profitable" Elsevier in particular able to dominate the field? The answer has a lot to do with how universities and research institutions measure and reward accomplishment, allowing profit-oriented corporations to set the terms.

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The State of Journal Publishing: Elsevier vs Academics

Loss of the Journal of Asian Economics to a takeover by Elsevier and less than encouraging responses from other publishers to inquiries about starting a new journal prompt these remarks. Why did the model of an academic society choosing editors, setting a vision, and developing content stop working for Elsevier? And is there a future for such a model?

The Journal of Asian Economics was founded in 1990 by the American Committee on Asian Economic Studies. During its 30 year run under ACAES auspices, the Journal was helmed by three Editors-in-Chief: founder Manoranjan Dutta (1990-2007); Michael Plummer (2007-2015); and myself (2015 to the June 2020 issue). The Editor-in-Chief served concurrently as President of ACAES with endorsement by the organization's voting members.

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The State of Journal Publishing: Barriers to Entry

Starting a new journal has never been easy, but in recent years it has gotten very much harder. This is the sad reality the American Committee on Asian Economic Studies (ACAES) came up against in its own quest following loss of the Journal of Asian Economics to a takeover by Elsevier (see previous post). Start-up is inherently difficult simply because reputation is so crucial to attracting submissions, and reputation takes a long time to establish. But start-up has of late become even more difficult because the journal publishing industry is caught in a state of limbo between an old model that relies on selling subscriptions to libraries and a new model that features open access with the business angle of that yet to be worked out. The dominant player in journal publishing and its major customers have squared off and failed to come to terms.

The dominant player by far in journal publishing is Elsevier. As the first post in this series documents, Elsevier's share of articles published in the top 200 economics journals was an overbearing 58.6% for the last decade. Elsevier has exploited its market power to the point that such major customers as the University of California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have finally halted negotiations and canceled their subscriptions. UC broke off negotiations in January 2019 (its struggles chronicled here). More recently, on June 11, MIT announced it was following suit. Many European universities have also taken a stand, organizing their resistance by country. In particular, a consortium of German universities canceled subscriptions in January 2017. At times, boycotts have also been staged in Taiwan and Korea.

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The State of Journal Publishing: Elsevier on Gender

 

The dominant publisher of economics journals suffers from a dearth of women among its top tier editors. The underlying problem is that academics are not making the selections; rather, the choices are made by Elsevier staff who do not read the journals they manage or appreciate how those journals distinguish themselves. They thus rely on superficial criteria and succumb to subjective biases on gender in picking editors. 

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