What is the purpose of an academic journal? To provide a permanent vetted record of a specific research endeavor.
The ways we communicate scientific research has vastly improved, particularly with the advent of the Internet, but the need for that basic mission will never go away.
Noam Nisan laments
that journals do not provide a quick form of dissemination or do the proper amount of vetting. He's correct on both points. Computer scientists need to take journals more seriously to improve the vetting process and the speed to publication. But also journals have never played the role of quick dissemination in computer science. That role has been taken by conferences, departmental technical reports and more recently on-line archives. Journals don't compete with sites like ArXiv, they play different roles.
Tim Gowers suggests
a commenting/scoring system for reviewing papers. I'd love to see such a system built into ArXiv and ECCC. But it won't supplant the need for academic journals. Most papers won't get reviewed and most researchers won't review papers. Collaborative projects like Wikipedia, Polymath
, Math Overflow
(and the TCS descendant
) are incredible resources but just a small number of researchers are significantly involved. If you reward people for reviewing papers (through reputation or otherwise) then people can decide not to review guilt free.
We are moving to a world where we rank research papers not on where they appear but by how many citations they achieve, a statistic the Internet has made easier to measure. One can cite an ArXiv paper just as easily as a JACM paper. The incentives for an author to do more than throw up a paper on an on-line site are going away. We will no longer fulfill the mission of journals and future scientists will struggle understanding the how and why of what we did. Is this the gift we want to leave to the next generation?
Posted By Lance Fortnow to Computational Complexity
at 11/03/2011 09:39:00 AM