Medium fright

November 22, 2002

I am surprised you report that the research assessment exercise "does not yet recognise digitally published research" ("Take away the books and chairs collapse", THES , November 8).

As a monograph publisher who sees academics straining to churn out major research to meet RAE deadlines, I set up an online journal ( Before Farming ). The research content is peer-reviewed and publication speed depends ultimately on reviewers' response times.

To allay concerns that any research published would be judged equal to print, I sought reassurance from RAE headquarters. Two team members affirmed that there was no discrimination on grounds of medium, solely on quality.

The RAE process helps ensure that the early publication of monographs is seen as the sine qua non of an academic career. But it causes stress and encourages academics vying for jobs to spin out sometimes rather esoteric and thin theses to unnecessary lengths. They then find it difficult to find a publisher.

I am all in favour of the serious research article becoming as valued a pearl in the academic crown as the monograph. This would allow academics to produce that special volume when they have rather more considered work under their belt.

It should mean fewer, more rounded books that would be of interest to a wider but still scholarly audience, thus producing better sales. Simple, isn't it?

Mary Earnshaw
Western Academic and Specialist Press Ltd

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