is open access equal access?

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.

6 thoughts on “is open access equal access?”

  1. 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.

    I could be speaking just as someone who both has unusual substantive interests and is a methodological minority in his department, but I don’t know how much of this is actually done on the ground even at better institutions. It seems like sociology is so sparse that a lot of “finding one’s community” is outside one’s university regardless.

    Happily, though, it’s not like this initiative will reduce anybody’s opportunity for “developmental reviews” if that’s what they are looking for. If anything, maybe this sort of initiative would help better match authors with the sort of feedback they are looking for in the review process.

    I think if the Sociological Science model is successful, the most likely influence it might have on other generalist sociology outlets would be not speeding up review times but reducing the number of multiple R&Rs, which it seems like a lot of people believe has gotten out of hand at a couple major sociology journals that shall remain nameless.


    1. Fair enough on the specific subject matter. I would hazard to guess that several people in your department or your campus would know general methods that you use or have enough connections to what you study to provide knowledgeable feedback. A member of a very small department would not have those opportunities.

      I hope that your prediction proves true. Having just served as a second round reviewer for a generalist journal, I really hope the practice of multiple revisions stops. It wastes reviewers’ time, authors’ time, and editors’ time.


  2. The website does not list what the submission fee will be. While I am a total fan of open access, the submission fees at many open access journals put submission out of reach for scholars at institutions that do not provide pots of money to cover such fees.


  3. What I really like about this new journal is that they say “Papers that primarily address (or document) empirical puzzles have equal standing with papers that tackle conceptual puzzles”. My own opinion is that our two leading journals have become so obsessed with methodology and “theoretical contributions” that many of the articles are tortured through the review process into talking more and more to a narrow audience, and to saying less and less about the real world we all live in and hopefully are trying to understand. I have seen this happen to many papers–they get less and less interesting and the writing gets less clear and more “theoretically sophisticated” as they go through the review process. I would hope this new journal would be more open to good social science. I look forward to reading it and submitting my work to it. Mary Waters


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