It is our unanimous assessment that the Society needs to make profound and rapid changes in its scientific journals to counteract declining reader interest and library subscriptions. We recommend that the following plan, which involves reorganization of existing journals and creation of new ones, be instituted on or before 2001:
1) Ecology: Ecology, the Society's flagship journal, will be redesigned as a monthly "magazine" containing topical articles of interest to a broad audience. In length and format the magazine will resemble a hybrid between Nature or Science and TREE, but just for ecologists. It will contain short and longer scientific papers of wide and conceptual interest, reviews and commentaries on recent publications, and items of news and special interest to ecologists.
2) Journals of the Ecological Society of America: The Society's present scientific journals will be published as Journals of the Ecological Society of America (JESA). While still available to individual and library subscribers in print form, JESA will be largely electronic. This will make it easy in the future to add additional journals and to highlight material of interest to particular subdisciplines or other classes of readers (e.g., educators, managers, or policy makers). For the moment the journals will be:JESA: Ecological Research: This will contain the majority of the specialized papers currently published in Ecology, JESA: Ecological Applications, JESA: Ecological Monographs.
3) Working Papers in Ecology: This will be a strictly electronic publication consisting of papers posted by the author without peer review and of commentaries on posted papers.
At this time we do not recommend any major changes in the other publications of the Society. A major effort will be required to enact the above recommendations. Among the issues that will need to be considered are: I) selection of an Editor and Editorial Board for the revamped Ecology, ii) advertizing and pricing the reorganized journals so as to maintain and hopefully increase subscriptions from individual members and libraries, and iii) development of a new long-term vision for publications in the context of the membership services provided by a scientific society.
When our committee was established in 1998, President MacMahon, the Governing Board, and the committee members all believed that our charge was to come up with ideas and plans for the future of ESA publications on a time frame of 5-10 years. As our committee began its deliberations, however, we rapidly became convinced that big, rapid changes were necessary. Changes in scientific publishing, most notably the rapid shift to on-line electronic journals and the increasingly aggressive competition from for-profit publishers, are threatening to capture the readership and library subscriptions of traditional publications of scientific societies. Changes within the discipline of ecology and the membership of ESA, most notably increasing specialization and greater interest in applications to education, management, and policy, are posing new challenges for the Society and its publications. We believe that the Society must move quickly and aggressively if it is to maintain its position of leadership in this rapidly changing environment.
The nature of science is undergoing unprecedentedly rapid changes. Science is becoming increasingly fast-moving, technical, and specialized, so that there is a demand to rapidly publish small, incremental "advances." For-profit publishers are competing aggressively with society-based journals to publish scientific articles in a combination electronic and print journals. The competition is waged on two fronts: for authors seeking rapid, conspicuous outlets for their work, and for subscriptions from academic libraries with limited budgets. These changes pose major challenges to scientific societies, whose journals and meetings have traditionally served as the primary media for dissemination of scientific information. These changes are occurring throughout all disciplines of contemporary science, and they are threatening the scientific leadership and financial health of many scientific societies.
Ecology and the Ecological Society of America are feeling these changes. The majority of papers in ecological journals - not just those of the ESA - are increasingly specialized and technical, of interest only to a limited number of readers in a narrow subdiscipline. Although readership per article is decreasing, the numbers of journals and articles per journal are increasing,. Although ESA and other ecological societies are having difficulty maintaining membership and library subscriptions, the subscription prices for Oecologia and other commercial journals are skyrocketing, TREE has been enormously successful in filling a niche not exploited by any society journals, and several new journals such as Ecology Letters, Ecosystems, and Global Ecology and Biogeography Letters have seemingly established readership and library subscription bases by promising some combination of rapid publication and specialized content. Both society and commercial journals are moving rapidly toward electronic publication. While on-line journals offer both authors and readers wide and rapid communication of scientific and other kinds of information, there is as yet no answer to the crucial question of who will pay the costs of electronic publishing.
This committee had originally interpreted its charge to be to develop ideas and plans for the future of ESA publications over the next 5-10 years. It rapidly became apparent, however, that time is of the essence. ESA does not have the option of enacting changes slowly, cautiously, and deliberately. If it does so, it will miss many opportunities to take advantage of the electronic medium, to compete with the for-profit publishers, and to retain its position of prominence and leadership in the discipline of ecology. There are risks, primarily financial ones, in moving rapidly and aggressively. But we believe that the risks can be minimized by a bold, innovative, intellectually compelling plan. We believe that there are even greater risks in failing to act with sufficient speed and vigor.
Therefore, we urge the Society to move rapidly to implement the key elements our recommendations. If financial and editorial planning is begun immediately, we believe that the recommended reorganization of ESA journals can be largely completed by January 2001. We also believe that the framework that we propose is sufficiently flexible to accommodate new trends in electronic publishing and future changes in ESA journals for some time to come.
We have concentrated our discussions and the contents of this report almost exclusively on scientific publications, both basic and applied. We have been concerned with communication within the community of research scientists, students, educators, managers, and policy makers, who need to obtain and disseminate accurate, timely information in ecological science. Therefore, we have focused on the subject areas and kinds of materials currently published in ESA's three scientific journals, Ecology, Ecological Applications, and Ecological Monographs. We recommend sweeping changes, because we do not believe that these journals, as presently constituted, are adequate to meet current and future information needs in basic and applied ecological science.
We recommend that these changes in ESA publications be viewed within the broader context of changes in "membership services." The traditional functions of a scientific society, to foster scientific communication by publishing journals and hold meetings, need to be re-evaluated in the context of the changing role of science and scientists in modern society. From this perspective, we briefly considered the contents and functions of ESA's other communications, including not only Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, Journals of the Ecological Society of America, NewSource, and Issues in Ecology, but also the ESA website and other means of disseminating information. These media seem to be serving valuable functions and changing to become increasingly electronic. We do not recommend any changes at this time. All publications must continue to change, however, if they are to effectively communicate the results and implications of ecological science to society as a whole as well as to other ecologists.
We recommend that ESA move as rapidly as possible to reorganize its scientific publications into a three-tiered system. This will involve major changes in the identity and content of existing journals and the establishment of new ones. The three tiers are as follows:
Ecology will be completely redesigned as a monthly "magazine." Contents and Format: Each issue will contain two kinds of scientific articles, short reports and longer papers, describing original research. In addition, it will contain reviews of important subject areas, commentaries on recent publications, and items of news and special interest to ecologists. Included in each issue will be the contents of the articles published in the latest issues of the JESA journals. All of the material in the magazine should represent the cutting edge of current ecology. Articles will be reviewed and subject areas will be selected for a combination of scientific importance, immediate relevance, and interest to a broad audience of ecologists. Length and format of the new Ecology will resemble a hybrid between Nature or Science and TREE, but just for ecologists. It will consist of a slim issue with full-color cover.
Production and Distribution: Use of the title Ecology for the new magazine is deliberate, for two reasons. First, we want the new Ecologyto remain the Society's flagship journal - the one that we hope all members will read and all libraries will subscribe to. Second, by retaining the name Ecology for this journal, we hope to preserve its readership loyalty and its subscription base. Ecology will be produced in both print and electronic form. We recommend that the two versions be priced equally, with an additional charge to libraries that want both versions. The motivation for creating the new Ecology is to produce a timely, high quality journal that all ecologists will want to read. If a sufficiently large fraction of the contents are of interest, then most readers will want to purchase the print version so they can stick it in their briefcases and take it home, on the plane, or in the field to read. To guide the launching of the magazine will require an Editor-in-Chief of broad vision, who will take the initiative to seek out the best research and most timely material for the journal. The contents, even the research papers, must be of broad interest and importance, and written in a jargon-free language accessible to a wide audience. Transition to the new Ecology should occur as soon as possible, preferably by January 2001.
2. Journals of the Ecological Society of America
The Society's present scientific journals will be published as Journals of the Ecological Society of America (JESA). For the moment the journals will be:
JESA: Ecological Research, which will contain the majority of the specialized papers currently published in Ecology,
JESA: Ecological Applications,
JESA: Ecological Monographs.
Contents and Format: JESA will represent a constellation of journals that collectively will publish the majority of peer-reviewed scientific papers. We envision that the JESA journals will remain generally similar to the present versions of Ecology, Ecological Applications, and Ecological Monographs, but they will evolve rapidly to become largely electronic. This means that an increasing fraction of some articles, including not only the material currently placed in appendices but also details of methods, statistical analyses, additional illustrative material, videos, computer programs, and so on, will be placed in referenced electronic boxes or supplements. The transition to increasingly electronic publication will also make it easy in the future to add additional journals and to create sub-journals or special sections that highlight material of interest to particular subdisciplines or other classes of readers. Examples of possible additional JESA journals or subsections of existing journals that might be published by ESA include: Evolutionary Ecology research or other existing journals that might be adopted by the Society, new specialty journals in scientific areas such as physiological ecology, mathematical modeling, and others not well represented by current ESA journals, and new special publications targeted for educators or managers and policy makers.
Production and Distribution: The JESA journals should be viewed as being primarily electronic. A print version will be produced for archival purposes and for those individual and library subscribers who are willing to purchase a hard copy. The electronic nature of JESA should be emphasized by a price structure that charges an additional amount to cover the costs of paper, printing, and mailing. It is anticipated, however, that both individual and library subscribers will increasingly purchase the electronic version, and they have the option of printing out selected articles or even the entire contents. Care will have to be exercised in the transition to the new Ecology and JESA: Ecological Research, so that individuals and libraries wanting to continue receiving the material in the old Ecology will encouraged to do so by means of an advertising campaign and a favorable price structure. Procedures for submission, peer review, and copy editing of the journals can continue pretty much as at present, but will inevitably become increasingly automated and electronic.
3) Working Papers in Ecology
This will be a new, strictly electronic publication of the Society. It is intended for the rapid dissemination of research in progress and other scientific material of possible immediate interest but limited shelf life.
Contents and Format: Working Papers in Ecology will provide a forum for authors to publish scientific papers, progress reports, posters, and abstracts rapidly in an electronic journal sponsored by a reputable scientific society. It will meet the growing need for scientists to stake their claim for an idea or result, and to receive commentary and criticism from peers. Authors will assume total responsibility for the contents of their articles. An electronic template will facilitate preparation of publications and provide some standardization of format. Authors will be able to view the final versions of their papers before submission. Articles will be indexed by title, author(s), and key words for purposes of search and citation. Working Papers in Ecology should be designed to mimic the best features of recently initiated rapid, non-refereed, on-line publications, such as the High Energy Physics Archive at Los Alamos and the new chemistry journal being produced by Elsevier. The experience of Paul Ginsbach, Editor of the former, is that making authors responsible for all contents of their papers minimizes the posting of poor science and bad grammar, while the open opportunity to comment on previously published material serves another important function of peer-review. We anticipate that many active researchers, including the majority of younger ecologists, will rapidly take advantage of Working Papers in Ecology to publish and keep up with timely work in their field.
Production and Distribution: Working Papers in Ecology will be posted on ESA's web site. There will be no charge for posting, reading, and downloading and printing papers. Membership in ESA will be required, however, to publish an article, but not to comment on a previously published working paper. While there will be no traditional peer review of working papers, the webmaster may screen submissions for authors' membership in ESA and for inappropriate material. Working Papers in Ecology is a formal publication of the Society, not an informal discussion forum as the existing EcoLog. While there may be some start-up costs and bugs to work out, we feel that it is important that ESA sponsor Working Papers in Ecology and get it on-line within the next few months. Failure to do so risks losing this important medium of scientific communication to a for-profit publisher or another society.
IMPORTANT ISSUES AND CONCERNS
This committee was charged with making visionary recommendations about the future of ESA publications without regard for the financial implications and other such practicalities of implementation. Nevertheless, in our discussions several issues were raised that the Governing Board, Council, membership, and Headquarters Office staff may want to consider in deciding whether and how to implement our plan. The most important of these are:
1) Alternative Model: We considered many alternatives to and variations upon the plan outlined above. Most were readily discarded as being either scientifically undesirable or impractical. There is not time to summarize all of these discussions here. One alternative plan that was considered at length, however, was to start two new magazines, Ecology and Ecological Applications, which would target the distinctive contents and audiences that these highly successful journals have established for themselves. While initially favored by the committee, the Governing Board voiced well-founded conceptual and practical concerns. In addition to compounding the financial risk, logistics, editorial problems of effectively launching two new journals, it was thought that this plan would contribute to the isolation rather than the unification of basic and applied ecological science. Therefore, upon further reflection, we unanimously recommend the alternative of producing just one new magazine, the new Ecology, as outlined above.
2) Editor-in-Chief for the new Ecology: The success of the entire reorganization outlined above will depend crucially on the selection of a visionary, aggressive new Editor-in-Chief to launch the new Ecology. Words to be included in the job description include: creative, proactive, willing to assume responsibility, dedicated, organized, broad training, knowledge, and interests in ecology. It is necessary that the person have a taste for important, original science and a knowledge and appreciation for the full breadth of modern ecology, both basic and applied. While the editor will have the assistance of an editorial board and the publications staff, it is necessary to find someone who will want to have and to exercise considerable personal responsibility, especially in identifying authors and subject areas for articles. It is not necessary that the editor be a distinguished research ecologist, and in fact it would probably be preferable to identify someone who would get their rewards from initiating a new publishing venture that promotes the science of others and the discipline as a whole. We cannot stress too much the importance of finding the right person to assume this crucial editorial position.
3) Financial Considerations and Marketing Strategy: While there is some risk in proceeding as rapidly as possible to adopt the above plan, we believe that there is even greater risk in being too conservative and failing to do so. The main risk is the loss of both member and library subscriptions with the launching of the new Ecology magazine, and the allocation of most of the material currently published in Ecology the primarily electronic JESA: Ecological Research. To minimize this risk, two actions should be taken. First, a major publicity and advertisement effort should be initiated well in advance of the first publication to inform individual and institutional subscribers to all ESA journals of the coming changes, to explain the reasons for these innovations, and to encourage them to subscribe to both the new Ecology and the old Ecology in the form of Ecological Research. Second, subscription to both journals (or to both the new Ecology and JESA: Ecological Applications) should be encouraged by an initial pricing structure that allows subscribers to purchase both the new Ecology and one additional JESA journal for little if any more than the current price of Ecology or Ecological Applications. If the new Ecology magazine meets expectations, it should rapidly establish itself as the journal that publishes cutting edge research, reviews, news, and views in basic and applied ecology. Then its subscription base should not only be preserved, it should increase, counteracting recent declines in subscriptions to Ecology. Also important is the recommendation, made above, to have low base prices for the electronic versions of the JESA journals, with a substantial additional cost for the print versions. This will benefit academic libraries that are anxious to go electronic to save subscription costs, circulation expenses, and shelf space.
4) Changing the Culture of Ecological Science: Implicit in the above recommendations is the recognition that the nature of science as a whole, and ecology in particular is changing, and that ESA must lead rather than respond to these changes. As research programs have become more specialized, there is an increasing need for integration and synthesis across the breadth of ecology as a whole. Even though most papers will continue to be descriptive, narrowly focused, and concerned with details of methodology and analysis there is still a need to place this work in a larger theoretical framework. The new Ecology is conceived largely to fill this role of broad synthesis and conceptual leadership. In order to play this role, it will have to be, in the best sense, elitist, because it will assume the responsibility for recognizing and promoting the best of ecological science. The three tiers of ESA publications will also highlight ESA's leadership in embracing current trends toward new, increasingly electronic media of electronic communication. While seeking a high profile for the new Ecology, ESA must also recognize the crucial roles of the JESA journals and the Working Papers in Ecology. The former should remain a preferred, highly respected outlet for standard scientific papers. The latter should become a vehicle of choice for rapid scientific communication. ESA must use its influence to change the value and reward structure for new kinds of publications - so that, for example, when tenure and promotion decisions are made, authors are credited for publishing data sets in JESA journals or important new ideas in Working Papers in Ecology.
5) Membership Services Provided by ESA: Finally, we recommend that changes in ESA publications be considered and integrated in the context of the entire range of membership services provided by the Society. As the nature of science changes, scientific societies must change to meet the needs of scientists, especially the younger ones. Failure to do so will result, not just in the loss of readers and subscribers to society journals, but shrinking membership and decreasing influence for the Society as a whole. ESA must constantly reevaluate the needs of its members, and be willing to change its way of operating so as to meet these needs and thereby maintain and even increase membership. Scientific societies must compete in the modern marketplace and offer their members, library subscribers, and other "customers" services and products that they desire at prices that they are willing to pay. The strategic planning process is an important means of promoting self-evaluation and change. We urge that it be used as a vehicle to create an integrated plan for how scientific publications and meetings, the two traditional primary roles of scientific societies, are to interface with newer roles, such as education and outreach, professional certification, and involvement in government activities and public affairs.
Ad Hoc Publication Vision Committee: Ecological Society of America:
James H. Brown, Chair
J. David Baldwin
Robert K. Colwell
O. J. Reichman
Johann van Reenen
Peter J. Morin (Ex Officio)