Libraries are for Use

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Two on academic publishing in The Economist


I love reading The Economist, because the writers & editors attempt to address issues in a balanced and thoughtful manner.  Recently, I noticed two short articles that are particularly relevant to this blog.  The Economist website allows non-subscribers a limited number of stories per month, so you should be able to read these yourselves.  But I hope to discuss them well enough for those without access.

In The Useful Science?, they point out how America-centric academic economics really is.  In a study published in The Journal of Development Economics, researches found that of the papers published in the “top-tier” economics journals between 1985 and 2005, only 1.5% are about countries other than the United States (see chart from The Economist).

chart showing that the vast number of economics papers were about the US

Country of focus of economics papers

This phenomenon persists even after taking into consideration that the majority of these top-tier journals are published in America.  The point that The Economist was trying to make is how “the dismal science” is neglecting the importance of other countries in this global economy.

But they only reported part of the story.  Like Paul Harvey, here is “the rest of the story”.   Essentially, in order to have articles published about you, you have to be rich (sounds a little like pop-media).  The researchers found a direct and strong correlation between “per-capita income and the extent of (per-capita) empirical research on the country”.  Interestingly, even wealth and population were not enough to interest publishers in countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Also interestingly, the extraordinary dominance of the US does not persist when looking at the entire set of journals (versus just the “top-tier”).  Yes, there are many articles published about the American economy, but not more than would be expected, given our population and (relative) wealth.  The researchers point out that about 4% of all 76,000 articles are published in the top-tier journals, but when looked at by country, 6.5% of articles that focus on the US are in this exclusive (and well-read) set, while only 1.8% of those on other countries are.  That’s a big difference.

This got me thinking about collection development.  When budgets are tight, the temptation is to ensure that the most important (aka “top-tier”) journals are preserved, and “lesser” journals are sacrificed.  But this could have an effect on what our academic economists study and what our students are learning.  It may not be enough to simply look at subject classification, usage, citation and impact, but rather, does the content of the journals support the focus and goals of the institution.  Many universities are attempting to bolster their international focus, bringing in more students from other countries and developing more international curricula.  I have read other studies that point to the First World and US/UK bias in medical publications.  I imagine that this is not limited to these two fields.

The other article in The Economist that I wanted to point out here is about the recent attempts of Elsevier to reign in its content from sites like Academia.edu.  In “No peeking…“, The Economist points out that “though the firm may be right legally, culturally it is on trickier ground, given the ubiquity of current practice.”  And then, they actually quote a librarian (how often do you see that?).   The Chief Librarian at the University of Calgary, Thomas Hickerson, notes that this practice “‘seems at odds with the nature of an academic enterprise…'”.  The article then discusses the “legal workarounds” that scientists and institutions are using, including posting pre-prints or earlier drafts, as well as the “perverse effect, from the publisher’s point of view” of increasing the value of open access.  It ends with the statement about Elsevier’s profits: £780 million from £1.2 billion in revenues. Hmmm…

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This entry was posted on January 25, 2014 by in Open Access, Publishing, Scholarly Communication.
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