Subject: Letter to the CACM on electronic journals - forwarded FYI
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Date: Sat, 1 Mar 2008 17:13:25 +0100 (MET)
Subject: Letter to the CACM on electronic journals

And to make it clear: The new TOSEM editor, David Notkins, has done a terrific job, is in no way to blame for recent queues.

Til orientering: ACM er den amerikanske dataforeningen og Communications of the ACM (CACM) dens fremste, dog halvpopulære tidsskrift: og

Public debate in Norwegian media:

Intervju med Reidar Conradi i Universitetsavisa ved NTNU, tirsdag 11 mars 2008 kl 15:36: "Legg ned papirtidsskriftene!", ved Arne Asphjell (motivert ut fra brevet nedenfor til ACM av 1 mars 2008).

Intervju med Reidar Conradi i Aftenposten, side 18 i Kultur-delen, tirsdag 18 mars 2008: "Tiden går fra tidsskriftene", ved Per Kristian Bjørkeng.

Leserbrev i Universitetsavisa ved NTNU, onsdag 19. mars 2008 kl 08:13, ved Jan Erik Frantsvåg: "Tidsskriftpublisering".

Leserbrev i Universitetsavisa ved NTNU, onsdag 19. mars 2008 kl 08:40, ved Reidar Conradi: "Svar til Frantsvåg".

- reidar

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Reidar Conradi, NTNU, 1 March 2008:
Letter to the ACM president - Let all ACM's journals be electronic!

Several authors of journal papers in Computer Science (CS) have experienced that it may take a year in "queue" to have an accepted and print-ready paper finally published. This is an unacceptable, almost unbelievable situation. One of the reasons is the strongly increased volume of paper submissions. This again is a response to that most universities nowadays are awarding internal research funds based on research "production", i.e. published papers and especially those in more prestigeous journals like IEEE Transactions of Software Engineering (IEEE TSE) and ACM Transactions of Software Engineering Methodology (ACM TOSEM). So our publication infrastructure has gotten overloaded.

ACM TOSEM (see our print-ready paper here from February 2007 - 34 p., 290 KB in .pdf-format), for example, comes with four issues per year and with 3-4 papers (ca. 100 pages) per issue. In Febrary 2008 there were 24 print-ready papers in queue, meaning more than 1.5 year's delay for the last ones! This delay comes in addition to an often lenghty review and rewrite process. So research results in CS often become 3-5 years old before being published in a journal paper. In contrast, Mathematics and Medicine both appear to have twice as many publication channels (mostly journals) per faculty member than CS.

According to our university's publishing counts for 2007, CS has a channel/faculty ratio of 0.95 (38 channels for a faculty of 40; totally 80 papers published in these channels), Mathematics has 2.1 (86/41; 89) and Medicine 2.2 (219/99; 412). Medicine has also many more electronic journals. For instance, the Bioinformatics journal ( comes with 24 electronic issues per year. A successful paper to this journal, being submitted in June-July a given year, will typically be published in one of the two December issues the same year, and often accessible by a sneak preview from October that year. But such a six-month lead-time is typical for conference papers in our discipline! So we (CS) loose on all points, regarding publication rates in other disciplines.

Furthermore, authors, reviewers and most editors work for "free" in the academic disciplines. Nonwithstanding, many journals try to solicit a publication fee of around 100 USD per page for final printing - incredible! The annual subscription fee for many journals has also increased unproportionally in recent years, to the sole benefit of the publishers and the common chagrin of the university libararies.

Given the typical delays and price of journal publication, the obvious solution is to abandon paper issues as soon as possible. For instance, the number of papers in a certain issue could simply reflect the accumulated number of accepted and print-ready papers during the interval between two issues, typically 1-3 months.

We therefore welcome the recent electronic issue of CACM, but there are dozens of other ACM journals urgently awaiting the same "modernization". CS journals should not be the last ones to stay on paper in first editions. Please act.

Let us finally console ourselves about the non-profitability of scientific writing, by learning about the submission of Volume I of Principia Mathematica to Cambridge University Press in October 1909, as reported by its main author, Bertrand Russell, in his autobiography [1]:

"I worked at it from ten to twelve hours a day for about eight months in the year, from 1907 to 1910. The manuscript became more and more vast, and every time that I went out for a walk I used to be afraid that the house would catch fire and the manuscript get burnt up. It was not, of course, the sort of manuscript that could be typed, or even copied. When we finally took it to the University Press, it was so large that we had to hire an old four-wheeler for the purpose. Even then our difficulties were not at an end. The University Press estimated that there would be a loss of £600 on the book, and while the syndics were willing to bear a loss of £300, they did not feel that they could go above this figure. The Royal Society very generously contributed £200, and the remaining £100 we had to find ourselves. We thus earned minus £50 each by ten years' work. This beats the record of Paradise Lost."

Ray Monk adds in his Russell biography [2]:

"The huge manuscript, with its special logical symbols, many of which had been invented solely for the purpose of the book, presented Cambridge University Press with enormous printing problems, and the task of having it typeset, proofread and published dragged on for another four years, the third volume being published in 1913. ..."

We have at least made some progress over the last century in typesetting manuscripts. :-)

- Reidar Conradi and Parastoo Mohagheghi

[1] Bertrand Russell: "The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell 1872-1914", Vol I, 1951. First American Edition by Atlantic Monthly Press, hardcover, 1967, Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 67-14453, p. 229.
[2] Ray Monk: "Bertrand Russell - The Spirit of Solitude", Vol. I, Vintage, paperback, 1996, ISBN 0-09-973131-2, p. 193-194.

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