10 August 2015

Dear publishers, please buy a calendar!

I’ve been beset by dates recently.

Exhibit one arrived in my department mailbox about a week ago (the old fashioned one where physical objects arrive). It was a new issue of a journal. Sort of.

“February 2012 (Published June 2015)”.

Obviously, this particular journal had a backlog that they are struggling to work through. This is admirable, but the dating is confusing. How I am supposed to cite the publication date? 2012? 2015? 2012 (2015)?

Exhibit two is the new book I blogged about last week, Freshwater Crayfish: A Global Overview. i blogged about it last week because the publisher said it was out last week:

5 August, 2015. But when you open it up, everything in it is dated 2016. I can forgive this is the book is maybe being released in December, say. But it’s the middle of summer and a long way from New Year’s.

Exhibit three is my latest journal article, which the publisher informed me by email was published on Friday, 7 August 2015. The webpage was indeed updated that day, and there is a link and a DOI... but no abstract and no text and no PDF. Compare the entry for my article compared to the one above it.

The journal emailed me the PDF the next day, so I know the paper was done production. But no text was available for anyone else to read for days. This is a very strange definition of “published”: showing the information needed to cite the paper, but not the actual paper itself.

Exhibit four is from the archives:

My “received” date was a month after I submitted, and the publication date on the cover of the issue, December 2013, was months before the issue actually hit the web. (June 2014. - ZF)

Publication dates matter to authors, because they help to establish the priority of discovery.

Why is something as simple as a publication date so hard to get right? Perhaps part of the problem is that publishers do have incentives to futz with dates. First, authors are looking for prompt publication, so there is incentive to list publication dates that are earlier than when someone can read the paper. Second, Impact Factor and citation analyses use dates, so there is incentive to set dates later than actual publication, because it gives the impression that citations have accrued faster than they actually did.

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1,017 days: when publishing the paper takes longer than the project

1 comment:

Torsten Reimer said...

Some would argue that extending embargo dates is another incentive to change the date of publication. A move to the date when the output first was made publicly available, print or online, would fix this issue.