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Citation data for 66 agronomic and soil science journals indexed in the 1989 Science Citation Index (SCI) are examined to determine how publications of the American Society of Agronomy compare with others in the field. For these “core” journals, rankings by number of articles, citations, and impact factors are presented. The journals are then treated as if they comprised a single “Macrojournal of Agronomy” to see what publications it cited and what it was cited by. Highest impact articles and most active research fronts in agronomy and the soil sciences are also presented. Based on these data, 11 journals are identified as occupying a prominent position in the field.
Release of some scientific information gained by Federal government scientists, both through official channels and through private citizen participation in public affairs, has been subject to political controls. Such control is exercised by delay in release and censorship of reports, and by intimidation of scientists and interference with their constitutional rights. Specific case histories are cited here that illustrate these forms of suppression. Conflict of interest regulations governing Federal scientists may also have a chilling effect on participation of employees in public affairs. Currently, there is little recourse for these scientists because of the power of the bureaucracy. Consequently, a mechanism is needed through which scientific data collected at taxpayer expense can be more effectively brought to bear in the public debate about politically sensitive issues.
Widely publicized occurrences and allegations of fraud and plagiarism in scientific publications have eroded public confidence in the integrity of scientists. They have caused scientists to question the wisdom of our traditional reliance on the honor system and the self-correcting nature of the process. Concerns about such misconduct have also raised questions about the ethical climate in our scientific institutions and how to improve it. One important way institutions establish and maintain their ethical climate is through their publication policies. Although allegations or instances of scientific misconduct in the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have been few, it is currently reviewing its ethical climate and procedures for dealing with scientific misconduct, reflecting science and society's general concern. In ARS, classification (rank, promotion, and demotion) and annual performance appraisals of research scientists are based largely on accomplishments documented in scientific publications. There is a pervasive trend among scientists both within and outside ARS toward summarizing achievement in terms of numbers of papers published. It is easier to count publications than to objectively assess their quality and impact. Procedures used to assess quality and impact of publications rely heavily on formal peer review of publications during the classification process. Therefore, continued reinforcement is required to keep the focus on quality and impact during review. Manuscripts reporting original research are also peer reviewed within ARS before they are approved by ARS for submission to journals. The ARS is developing a Code of Scientific Ethics to emphasize ethical responsibilities and aspirations relevant to its activities. Procedures for dealing with allegations and instances of data falsification and plagiarism are under review and an ARS directive formally defining the procedures is being developed. It is anticipated that both the code of ethics and the directive for dealing with misconduct in science will be officially adopted by ARS in 1992.
A membership survey regarding policies and attitudes germane to the peer reviewing and editing practices and policies of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America was deemed worthwhile. A second survey queried agricultural experiment station directors on related institutional aspects of the same topic. Briefly, responses indicated good demographic representation of editorial boards with some underrepresentation of non-U.S. addressed members. One-third of the membership has served on the editorial board of some journal, and 1 in 7.4 has served on the editorial board of a Tri-Society journal. Females are used as reviewers one-third as often in proportion to their membership as are males. The publishing membership of the Tri-Societies is essentially those members with Ph.D.’s. Two-thirds of the papers submitted to Tri-Society journals require institutional review before journal submission. There is twice the support among the membership for dual anonymity (author and reviewers) as for reviewer anonymity only (the current policy). Nearly one-half the membership perceived shared responsibility by authors and editors for accuracy of published manuscripts. There was strong concern for seeking qualified reviewers, guaranteeing quality of reviews, admonishing poor reviewers, and instituting training in the Tri-Societies for writing/reviewing/editing. Greater openmindedness was supported for publishing “negative” or unusual results where methodology and analysis were acceptable. Concern was expressed about influence networks undermining the fairness of the review process. Significant support exists for a rapid-publication journal in the Tri-Societies. Two-and-one-half times more authors indicated movement away from Tri-Society journals than to them, with 44% indicating no change. The major reasons for journal migration were gravitation to journals that better reflected some recent shift in research focus, and various aspects of dissatisfaction with Tri-Society journals. Institutional responses indicated a strong rationale for developing and endorsing codes of ethics and limiting Tri-Society responsibility for ethical infractions.
Editorial peer-review procedures did not develop to detect fraud or even, originally, to establish the standards and authority of science. Peer reviewing evolved from the need of editors to choose among a surplus of submitted manuscripts and the growing inability of an editor to possess enough expertise to judge quality in all specialized fields that a journal might cover. Referring papers out began as early as the eighteenth century in some forms, but the practice was quite unusual until the twentieth century. Each journal came to the practice in a unique way, and occasional bits of evidence show how journals in the agronomy and agriculture fields are excellent examples of the variety of practices that developed among all scientific journals so that refereeing of some kind was commonplace by the mid-twentieth century. In the 1970s and 1980s, following some sociological investigation of editorial practices, journal editors began to question and critique peer reviewing. By the mid-1980s, general public and legislative concern over grant peer reviewing had intensified concern about wholly independent and various refereeing practices that were grouped together as editorial peer review.
I analyzed the development of editorial leadership, editorial board structure, and manuscript review responsibility in Agronomy Journal. I investigated the evolution of benchmark editorial actions of the journal and associated them with the evolution of editorial board structure and with the tenure of editorial leaders. I also examined how time was used by editors and authors in various steps of the peer review-editor process in several Society journals, and suggested where improvements in the timeliness of manuscript processing might be made. Society editorial policies have roots that trace to the early officers and editors of the Society. Certain developments in policy, e.g., the division of labor between editors and editorial boards, or the establishment of minimum standards for peer review, trace to the tenure and institutional affiliations of specific persons. Peer review by scientists outside of the editorial committee or board started about 1926. There is no evidence that adoption of peer review reduced the proportion of manuscripts accepted for publication. The adoption of a policy establishing a minimum number of favorable reviews, and an increase in the minimum number of reviews, is associated with a decline in manuscript acceptance since 1961. In 1988 the seven steps in the peer review-editing process for four Society journals required an average of 216 d across journals. The return of an acceptable manuscript to the associate editor after peer review used the most (40%) time. Peer review consumed 19%. Eight to eleven percent of the review-editing time was used each time the associate editor corresponded with the author or forwarded the manuscript to the next higher review authority. There is a twofold range among journals in time used for specific review steps.
Scientific writing is difficult; so difficult that it often involves three different groups of people—individuals who did the research and produced the original paper, technical reviewers and editors, and style and language editors. Scientific and style editors are the first readers of each paper and, as such, represent all subsequent readers. Their contributions can be invaluable to authors who cooperate with them. Unless a paper is carefully written, the only persons who will be able to fully understand it will be the authors and perhaps a few other scientists working in the same field of study. Students just entering the field of study and scientists in a slightly different field or whose native language is not English will have a particularly difficult time trying to interpret poorly written research papers. The higher the quality of writing in an article or book chapter, the larger will be the audience that reads it. High-quality writing is a goal worth pursuing because it benefits both the author and science. A detriment to science, on the other hand, is the increasing incidence of breaches of scientific ethics and a few cases of outright fraud. The subjects to fraud and ethics are becoming increasingly important to the scientific community. Scientists need to become aware of the problems of scientific ethics. Once they do, perhaps they will be able to help develop practical solutions to this perplexing problem.
An editing-writing workshop was conducted as an adjunct of the Peer Reviewing-Editing Process Symposium. The purpose of the workshop was to provide an opportunity for ASA members to inquire about: (i) steps in the review process, (ii) review policies of Tri-Society journals, and (iii) an appropriate writing style. Two panels, one on editing and a second on writing were composed of experienced editors and writers who are members of the Tri-Societies. Each panel member presented brief, informal, remarks and then questions were fielded from the audience. Participants were given insight into what to expect when submitting manuscripts to a scientific journal and advice from veteran writers about the writing process. All panel members differed in their approaches regarding how, when, and where they were most inspired to write. The major point of agreement among panel members, whether discussing editing or writing, was that authors must give first priority to clearly written objectives. Failure to write clear objectives leads to a poorly written paper and one that editors are more likely to release in the review process.