My summary of the meeting of the

Publications Commission

of the

American Meteorological Society

(12 January 1998)

Created: 02 April 1998

Disclaimer: As usual, this document is solely based on my personal opinion. It does not represent any official statement or policy within the National Severe Storms Laboratory, the Environmental Research Laboratories, Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce, or the President of the United States.

I was invited by Keith Seitter of the AMS to attend this meeting, to make a short presentation on behalf of enhancing communication between the members of AMS and the Publications Commission. The Publications Commission is made up mainly of the journal editors, the Publications Commissioner, some AMS staffers (notably, Keith), and miscellaneous folks associated with various publications (e.g., the monographs).

This was a fascinating meeting from the perspective of someone whose interaction with journals has mostly been as a contributor and referee. Lately, I have been serving as an Editor for a new monograph, so that is a new perspective for me and I am not very used to it. Most scientists in this meteorological community (that also includes oceanographers, hydrologists, etc.) see the publications process as one that affects many aspects of their careers. Publishing has come to contain several facets that go beyond the purist's view of publications as communication of scientific ideas; performance evaluations, tenure, success in obtaining grants, etc. all seem to hinge on success at publishing.

Most of the meeting seemed to be consumed with problems tied to the length of time needed for publications to appear in print. Most scientists are frustrated with this aspect of AMS publications and the meeting included considerable discussion that revolved around Keith Seitter and his efforts to convey to the Commission the problems that the AMS confronts in trying to get papers from their final form (as accepted by the Editor and transmitted to the AMS Technical Editing staff) to actual publication. There are many reasons why the final process takes the time that it does, and I recommend that you consult Keith directly to discuss those reasons. However, many attendees (including me) noted that the editors have trouble getting timely reviews from the referees, which is a separate factor contributing, at least at times, to lengthy delays in publication.

An interesting method for facilitating publication was suggested ... omit the "accept with major revisions" option, such that either the paper is accepted at the "minor revisions" level or rejected. This idea was then discussed at some length, with no conclusion being reached. In fact, I found the whole discussion rather troubling. As a contributor and reviewer, apparently, if this policy is adopted, the first I will hear about it is when it becomes part of the "law" that governs publication. I find it worrisome that the Publications Commission could debate this topic without seeking input regarding this suggestion from outside the Commission. My informal "survey" of folks to whom I broached this suggestion resulted in the uniform response that they thought it was a bad idea. What is most troubling to me, then, is not this idea so much as the process by which any idea could be adopted by the Commission and subsequently implemented without the members even being aware that such an idea was being considered, much less given the opportunity to provide input concerning the idea.

As another example of the problem with the process: I'm becoming aware that the drive to change the name of Monthly Weather Review was the idea of a "vocal minority" on the Commission and it was only when some members forced the issue and "leaked" this idea to a number of AMS members that an overwhelmingly negative response killed the idea once and, hopefully, for all.

My "presentation" was a brief plea that, in this age of electronic communication, it is inexcusable for the journals and the Publications Commission to be unaware of, and unconcerned about, the support of the members for changes in the publications process. I am in favor of much more openness about the ideas being batted about in the Publications Commission, and I think that ideas for improving and streamlining the publications process should be sought from the membership at large. Given the import of publications in our scientific lives, it is unconscionable for the Commission and all the Editors to be isolated from the concerns of the membership. The aforementioned discussion about the omission of the "accept with major revisions" option for reviewers is exemplary of how things should not go, in my opinion.

Another hot topic was electronic publishing. As I have said elsewhere, Keith Seitter and his associates seem to have done a pretty decent job of getting the AMS moving on this topic and I am optimistic for the future of this. However, some interesting issues remain to be settled. I think this is also a topic that ought to involve more than just the Publications Commission.