As Jenn and Brayden both write, a high-powered group of sociologists incoporated a new online journal, Sociological Science. Most commenters at orgtheory debate the prospect of Sociological Science succeeding in the near future and Brayden wonders whether this model can displace established journals. I, however, question how much the journal will promote or exacerbate inequality across academic institutions.
The editors tout the “evaluative not developmental” editorial reviews as a main feature of the nascent journal. One month review times and no R&Rs. It sounds great, after all I frequently get frustrated with the fact that reviewers do not recognize the my brilliant ideas, eloquent prose, and innovative statistical techniques. Who likes being forced to explain regression models to reviewers or to be asked by an editor to add three literatures and simultaneously cut 3,000 words?
At the same time, editorial focus on “evaluative” rather than “developmental” reviews implicitly assumes that authors can equally access venues to support the development of their work. I do not think that this is true.
None of the deputy editors work in a small liberal arts college or even a medium size university. All can find colleagues knowledgeable enough in their field to read their work down the hall, on campus or, at worst, across town. In many places, such opportunities do not exist.
Perhaps a quick decision will compensate for the loss of more extensive reviews or the opportunity for less experienced scholars to fix the fixable elements of papers. After all, if they truly hold to a month long review process, then it doesn’t hurt a new scholar much to try for publication and, if unsuccessful, send it out to a journal with a more developmentally-minded editor.
Perhaps, too, we expect too much of the editorial process. It is, as the editors write, “a poor structure for developmental feedback.” Reviews and editorial comments cannot provide complex advice to develop papers; though on the margin, developmental feedback from editors and reviewers can help newer and less well-established scholars learn how to write. I don’t expect reviewers to serve as dissertation committee members, but I hope that the editorial process does not simply become pass/fail either.
I do not mean to denigrate the effort of the editorial board; quite the opposite, I applaud it. I think that the publication of Sociological Science provides a boon for the field. One or two journals that provide this type of review might create incentives for other journals to decrease review times. The fact that only well-formed ideas and prose written by established scholars will certainly help the journal’s prestige initially. And there should be room for more than one editorial model within our field. Open access will certainly increase our potential audience.
That said, I am as yet unconvinceed that open access will create equal access for members of the discipline.