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The Executive Officer’s Column

Electronic Publication and the Health of Scientific Research

ASA is at the center of scientific journal publishing in sociology not only in the United States but internationally. Our 10 scholarly journals—including the new award-winning Contexts magazine and a successful new section journal (City & Community)—are critical to the growth of our discipline. While many principles underlie our mission as a scientific publisher, three are key to its success: (1) ensuring the highest-quality content through openness to new research and careful peer review; (2) protecting the intellectual property rights of authors as creators and ASA as copyright holder; and (3) expanding access to published scholarship to the broadest possible audience.

Rapidly expanding Internet access and the rise of electronic publishing create enormous opportunities, and some challenges, to achieving our mission and meeting the needs of our membership and the field. With the support of Council, the ASA is seizing the opportunity of electronic publishing by making the current content of all ASA journals available online starting with volume year 2004. Electronic access through Cambridge, MA-based Ingenta, Inc., will be automatically part of each member’s print subscription, and at no additional cost to members.

All ASA journals will be part of the world’s largest searchable database of online scholarly journals, so the utility of ASA’s journal content to scholars and researchers will be increased through a highly flexible system of “live” reference links that cross-reference, check, and correct those links across all journals in the database. The Ingenta database is fully searchable without access restriction through the abstract level. Accessing the full text of any copyrighted article in an ASA journal will require either a subscription or payment of a fee for document delivery.

Simultaneously, ASA will shorten the JSTOR “moving wall” window to two years (from the current five). Therefore, by 2006 the full content of all volumes of ASA journals, current and past, will be available electronically through either JSTOR or Ingenta.

There are, however, some challenges presented by electronic publishing and the use of the Internet for intellectual exchange. ASA members have raised many questions about matters such as: the posting of working papers on the web prior to their submission for publication; the electronic submission of theses and dissertations and their posting by universities on their websites; the threat of uncontrolled secondary dissemination and plagiarism of copyrighted material available on unprotected electronic sites; copyright constraints on the ability of authors to share electronic copies of their published works; and numerous other issues, concerns, and questions that plague scholars in all fields in this age of electronic publishing.

To provide an opportunity for ASA to explore some of these issues, Council created a Subcommittee on Electronic Publication in August 2002. The subcommittee is comprised of Council members Robert Crutchfield and Bernice Pescosolido, ASA Secretary and EOB Chair Arne Kalleberg, and Publications Committee member Carol Heimer, with the consultation and collaboration of Executive Officer Sally Hillsman, and Publications and Membership Office Director Karen Gray Edwards. Council charged the subcommittee with examining possible actions and policies regarding the tensions between open access to scholarly content and the importance of protecting the integrity of scholarly material and the financial base of the journals themselves. It was to report its observations and suggestions to the Publications Committee and then Council.

Open Forum on Electronic Publishing

The Subcommittee on Electronic Publications met with the Publications Committee in December 2002 and reported to Council in February 2003. After discussion of the issues, Council decided to place an “Open Forum on Electronic Publication” on the program of the 2003 Annual Meeting in Atlanta. While the form and schedule of the forum has yet to be finalized, the Subcommittee envisions a series of short presentations on current ASA policies, current intellectual property and copyright law, and the tension between the unrestricted dissemination of intellectual material and the income stream necessary to support the vehicles that carry this material. The presentations are intended to stimulate open discussion by members of these issues and to provide an opportunity to raise additional questions and concerns.

Providing the entire content of all ASA’s scholarly journals in electronic form and in the same searchable database as the content of other scholarly publications is a major move forward to fulfill the Association’s mission as a scientific publisher, nationally and internationally. But the world of scholarly publishing is an ever-changing environment, and ASA needs to continue to address new challenges to meet the needs of our members, our authors, and our discipline. I encourage you to join us at the Open Forum in Atlanta. Talking face to face is critical for electronic communications to work for our discipline.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer