A couple of recent events has caused me to think about the issue of the scarcity of journal space. Recently, the Law and Courts Section of APSA formed a committee (and surveyed its membership) about the need for a section journal. One of the strongest arguments put forth in support of a section journal is that it would provide more opportunity for scholars (particularly junior scholars) to get their work published. This is of no small concern to junior faculty as tenure decisions are often based on the quantity and quality of their scholarship. More opportunities for publication will also benefit the community as a whole since we all would benefit from the additional knowledge being disseminated in articles. Additionally, I have noticed both the shrinking size of the APSR (the flagship journal in the discipline) and the increasing size of the JOP (a premier journal, widely recognized as the 3rd best journal in the discipline). Finally, some (links not readily handy) have argued that academia should do away with the peer-review publication system and publish everything on-line. In the marketplace of ideas, the best works would be most heavily cited and those papers that were less useful (or fatally flawed) would be ignored. There is obviously positive and negatives to such an approach–I’ll save that for another blog post.
Pre-tenure, I was all in favor of a section journal. Selfishly, I did not care much for the argument that the scarcity of journal space (especially in the top 3) was an indicator (however imperfect) of the quality of the research. After all, those who study legislatures have LSQ. If you do mass politics, you have POQ and Political Behavior (and maybe even some others). For courts people, there are no comparable journals. LSR is interdisciplinary as is JELS and JLS. Both Judicature and JSJ are fine outlets, but the audience for these journals is composed of practitioners as well as academics (thereby limiting the type of research published there). So, there is no LSQ for courts people.
However, the more I think about it, the less sure I am that a section journal is a good idea. The reason for this has to do with the issue of scarcity. It seems to me that we should want scarcity–it is a quick measure of quality. That is not to say that there are no “clunkers” in journals. However, I have found that, on average, the best papers tend to be published in the best journals. Moreover, I have found that there is a home for just about all quality papers. Is the status quo perfect? No. I am sure we can all blog at length about problems with the current system. But it is unclear to me that providing more “supply” is the answer. Indeed, even if demand has increased, then keeping supply at the same level would help journals to be of even higher quality. While I think the APSR should accept more articles than they seem to be currently accepting, there is little doubt that the prestige of an APSR article has increased with the smaller number of articles being published. Likewise, if all research is published, then having a “publication” is of little value. Indeed, this is why some journals are perceived as “better” than others: some journals are far more selective than others. This selectivity is a cue for evaluating scholars’ records as well as individual articles: the more selective the journal, the “better” the publication.
So, I guess I am ambivalent about increasing the amount of journal space and whether the Law & Courts section should go down the road of a section journal. There seem to me to be good arguments on both sides. I guess I would be persuaded that it is a good thing if we had evidence that there were articles worthy of publication that were being kept out of the system. Also, I wonder where the journal would fall in the current hierarchy. LSQ, by virtue of publishing high quality articles for years, is a good outlet for legislative scholars. It would take a Law & Courts journal several years to reach that status (if it does at all). Finally, given the split in the Law & Courts section between judicial politics scholars and public law scholars…the control and administration of the journal (editor, editorial board, etc.) is likely to be contentious, with neither side finding the journal as useful as it could be.