How (not) to edit an academic journal, part 1: two little problems

August 2, 2017 6:50 am Published by Leave your thoughts

There are two little problems: truth and authority. Academic journals aspire, or maybe pretend, to both. They assert claims to both, explicitly and tacitly. Tacitly, we collectively, the readership, pursuing REF ranking, promotion, reputation or maybe simply learning, grant journals their aspiration or conspire in the myth.

Truth and authority, as concepts, are open to debate, what they are, their ontologies and what they mean (or know), their epistemologies. Epistemology is an effort to give legitimacy and currency to a particular truth. That is epistemology is about establishing authority to tell truth. But if truth were obvious we wouldn’t need such an apparatus.

In their policy on authorial self-archiving Springer, for example, say:

the author may only post his/her version provided acknowledgement is given to the original source of publication and a link is inserted to the published article on Springer’s website…

Prior versions of the article published on non-commercial pre-print servers like can remain on these servers and/or can be updated with the author’s accepted version. The final published version (in PDF or HTML/XML format) cannot be used for this purpose. Acknowledgement needs to be given to the final publication and a link should be inserted to the published article on Springer’s website, by inserting the DOI number of the article in the following sentence: “The final publication is available at Springer via[insert DOI]”.

This assertion of finality, closure — end-of — is a claim to authority. There may be other versions about but this one is more something? Is it more true than others? Maybe something got lost in a final redaction that seemed unimportant at the time. Maybe the author added the sentence back to the article version on their own website. Authority, simply, is claimed by Springer to rent that small square of epistemic territory for at least 12 months (the embargo). And, that rent ultimately funds the global apparatus of intellectual property rights, much of which has little to do with truth and everything to do with power: resources backed by force.

Is this what publishing a journal is about? Resources backed by force? For what? Springer can make a claim for longevity and archiving that these days few universities could match. Storage, cataloguing, searching and retrieving unique authoritative versions of something (truth?) are not trivial functions. It takes armies of clerics (clerks) or other bots to comb the registries and storage. I recently stumbled back across a project report I produced in 2009, that I feared was lost to one paper copy and maybe an old hard drive sitting on a shelf because the purchased hosting provider timed out when the url registry was acquired by another and that £12/year cost got forgotten. But much that was said in the report remains (I assert) true and authoritative. Can we rely on Google to provide global archiving, search and discovery for ever? Even if the article or report persists somewhere will any current address last for even 10 years let alone a lifetime or millennium? Could we rely on our University? Have truth and authority been replaced by what can be discovered now? Given so much can be discovered now, do we need longevity among our criteria for determining authority? My next post might have to address making it across the great extinction barrier.

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George Roberts

George Roberts is Principal Lecturer Student Experience in Educational Development. He has been at Oxford Brookes since 2000 and joined OCSLD in June 2006 as an Educational Developer (e-Learning). In his previous role he advised the Head of e-Learning and the Senior Management Team of the University on policy for off-campus e-learning and e-learning partnerships. He leads the MA Education (Higher Education) and teaches on the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE) as well as conducting other educational development activities: workshops and consultancies. He completed a doctorate (July 2011) at the University of Southampton on biographical narratives of adult users of a community IT centre on a large estate. He also undertakes research into the pedagogical, social and technical dimensions of e-learning nationally and internationally and is interested in the interactions between personal identity and the values and beliefs that are embedded in the artefacts of Learning Technology. George is editor of the Higher Education Journal of Learning and Teaching (HEJLT). Previously, George taught on the Open University MA course, “Language and Literacy in a Changing World”. He was on the Executive Committee of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and head of the organising committee of the ALT-C conference from 2005-2007. For 10 years before joining Brookes he was an instructional designer in the international energy industry. If you want to know more about his professional activities online:

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