Friday, November 13, 2009

Journal special issues for conferences - why bother?

Question: why do we bother with special issues of journals for conferences?

In an effort to appear scholarly, I googled a bit and found this article ("If Special Issues of Journals Are Not So Special, Why Has Their Use Proliferated?" by Richard T. Mowday in the Journal of Management Inquiry). That article considers special issues devoted to specific research subfields, rather than conferences, so is not very relevant to my question. (Various arguments for and against are dismissed as invalid, but they don't include the ones I mention below.) The topic arises in this blog post (Lance Fortnow, "Are conferences worth fixing?") but the topic is merely touched on in some of the comments.

My general understanding is that your conference paper is supposed to acquire a seal of approval from being invited to the special issue. The other motivation is that the journal paper should appear more rapidly than usual, but this does not always happen in my experience, and the delay of having to coordinate one's paper with half a dozen others is partly to blame. So we return to the "prestige" motivation. The trouble is, that the journal hosting the special issue, is not necessarily the one you would have submitted the paper to, in the absence of a special issue. Some people decline the invitation to the special issue (and submit to a different journal), and that seems to severely undermine this purpose of a special issue.

Am I right that special issues are supposed to be prestigious? I realise that any answer is to some extent, a self-fulfilling prophesy.


Lance said...

Without the special issues, many of our best conference papers would never get submitted to journals at all.

Paul Goldberg said...

I would hope that when someone writes one of the best conference papers, they would feel the urge to make a journal version without further prompting. (BTW, in the past I have usually accepted invitations to special issues, but like to imagine that most of those journal versions would have been written anyway)

Adam Smith said...

I agree with Lance that one of the benefits of journal special issues (and a reason that I like them as a PC member) is that they push authors to write the journal version sooner rather than later.

> I would hope that when someone writes one
> of the best conference papers, they would feel
> the urge to make a journal version without
> further prompting.

In my experience other constraints get in the way. In a deadline-driven research culture, journal versions just seem to get left behind. The special issue comes with a deadline, which appears to catalyze writing.

This comment is, not surprisingly, a reflection of my own bad time management practices, but I think my behavior is fairly typical in this regard.

Anonymous said...

I think, special issue of a Tier 1 journal for selected papers from a Tier 1 conference is a win-win situation.

But what about invitation of a Tier 2 (or 3) conference paper to a Tier 3 (or 4) journal? That's what often is happening.

Paul Goldberg said...

I agree with the anon comment above, really the conference and journal should be a "marriage of equals". Although, how about using a journal that's actually stronger than the conference, and invite more papers than you expect to accept? That way, a whole bunch of journal versions get made... on second thoughts, the refereeing burden would get too big.