22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: What’s Different about the Social Sciences? Why One Size Doesn’t Fit AllAugust 31, 2007 at 1:31 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment
What’s Different about the Social Sciences? Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Leo Walford, SAGE Publications
Reported by Mary Bailey
One size doesn’t fit all, especially when looking at professors, researchers and journal publishers in the social sciences vs. the hard sciences. Walford researched the common themes and differences between how journals are used and why. He stated that it is hard to define what the social sciences are and that they change over time; even universities do not agree on what the social sciences or humanities are, except that neither is part of the hard science field and that these researchers work differently.
Researchers in the science, medical and technology fields want the most current, up-to-the-minute facts immediately, preferably in an electronic (instant) format. Those in the social sciences want yesterday’s information. They are willing to read it in any form available, including brown and brittle primary materials from a dusty attic. The date of the material is important only in relation to the subject. There is little need for publishing speed.
Due to the type of research and subject matters, editors and publishers are more involved in social science journals. The editors and publishers of science journals may have less understanding of the material being researched or published. The information needs to be available as quickly as possible and peer review is extremely important. In the social sciences, the editors and publishers become more engaged in the subject matter and the boundary lines between the editor, publisher and authors are harder to define. There is more discussion about moral issues and copyright because everyone is more involved.
Publishing revenue sources for social science titles are more restricted. Academic libraries are the primary purchasers unlike the science fields where firms or companies need the same information.
Another area to consider is how the journals themselves differ. An analysis of citations in science journals shows 90% of all citations refer to other science journals. In the social sciences, more than half of the citations refer to materials outside the social science journal literature, thus lowering the impact factor for social science journals.
Walford created graphs to illustrate usage of the different types of journals. For science titles, 60% of use is within the first year of publishing. Social science titles are opposite, thus creating a much longer shelf life.
Other areas of difference include pricing since social science titles require less technology and are cheaper to produce. How relevant that becomes in the world of package deals is still to be decided. There are also some questions about open access and social science titles. Since science titles are in high use early in their shelf life, open access is fine after a certain time. However, for social science titles, 75% of their usage is after six months, so social science publishers are less willing to engage in open access because the economics are different. Of the four to six thousand social science journal titles available, only about eight hundred are open access.
In conclusion, Walford stated the social science journals are different. They are a vibrant, vital part of the scholarly endeavor, enriching society and disseminating knowledge, and that the social sciences’ users, researchers and publishers all need the library.