A Journal of Judgment and Decision Making

Jonathan Baron

From the SJDM newsletter, December 2005

This is a proposal for an open-access SJDM journal. I have volunteered to be the founding editor.

1  Open access

Open-access academic journals have been advocated with increasing stridency by scholars, librarians, and policy makers in the last 20 years. This page provides some history, which includes contributions from Stevan Harnad, George Soros, and the National Academies.
The main arguments are simple:
As Eric Johnson (2001) put it, "There is something odd about a system where neither authors nor reviewers are paid, yet they are billed to see the result that they do not own." Given the existence of the World Wide Web, it seems Pareto inferior for us, as scholars, to turn over our work to publishers, who then charge us to read it and, in order to defend their copyright, reduce our readership. The continued existence of commercial scholarly journals is surely a massive example of the status-quo bias.

2  Why SJDM?

SJDM is in a nearly unique position to start an open-access journal. Most of our peer societies (Society for Medical Decision Making, International Association for Research in Economic Psychology) are committed to commercial publishers for their journals. SJDM as yet has no journal, although we have a book series. If we were to start a traditional journal, dues - now low - would increase substantially. By taking a commercial publisher out of the loop, we can start a journal without increasing dues.
Based on a survey sent out to members and to the SJDM mailing list, it seems that the best form for a journal to take would be one that emphasizes short articles (which have almost no outlet other than Psychological Science), practical applications as well as contributions to basic science or theory, readability, speed of decision making, and high quality. The combination of the last two criteria would mean that many articles would be rejected without review, a practice now common in journals such as Science, New England Journal of Medicine, and Psychological Science. Such a practice would reduce substantially the risk of submission (compared, for example, to the possibility of waiting months for a rejection, which now happens even at Psychological Science).

3  Do we need a new journal?

Worldwide interest in JDM (judgment and decision making) seems to be increasing. JDM has become more relevant to many applied fields. Medical policy makers are attending more to cost-effectiveness analysis, which relies on utility measurement. We now have "behavioral law and economics," and "behavioral finance," and (recently) "behavioral public economics," which draw on JDM extensively, as does the older field of experimental economics.
Yet, the availability of journal space for basic JDM articles does not seem to be increasing. To get some very rough data on this question, I searched PsycInfo for "expected utility" from 1980 through 2004. Here are the numbers going backward. You can see that there is an increase (going right to left).
62 93 73 64 37 40 23 16 18 28 30 20 35 19 34 17 33 24 14 14 13 8 5 8 7
A lot of these are book chapters, but the basic idea is that there has not been a decline of interest in this topic.
Then I counted all of these articles in: Journal of Experimental Psychology [all versions, including Quarterly ... and Canadian ...]; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; Psychological Science; and Memory & Cognition. I combined these. The corresponding numbers are:
0 3 0 3 0 3 2 3 1 1 5 0 4 1 5 0 4 3 0 1 1 2 0 1 0
Then I took the ratio of the latter numbers to the former, year by year. The question is, then, whether this ratio is declining. That is, are the main experimental journals publishing less work on a topic central to JDM.
As you can see from the graph, there has been a recent decline in this ratio. The points are year by year. The line is the result of applying loess, a smoother. The downward trend wasn't quite significant over the whole 25 years. But I think it does provide some evidence than main-line experimental journals are not becoming more friendly to JDM articles.
We still have OBHDP and JBDM, but we no longer have such easy access to JPSP, JEP:HPP, and JEP:Applied as we did in years past. We are pretty much limited to JEP:General, which tends to favor multi-experiment articles that are of interest to "a broad readership." Psychonomic Bulletin and Review has just announced that it will be accepting more JDM articles, but it is a general journal and cannot accept that many. Psychological Science went through a lull but now seems to be publishing more JDM articles again, but it, too, is general and cannot solve the problem. It also has a very high rejection rate.
I conclude that there is some need for a new journal. I do not think this is the main reason for doing it, and the increased need is small, but the opportunity is there. In putting it this way, I recognize that a new journal will, to some extent, compete with existing ones. However, the shorter articles we would encourage would mostly not be published in current journals.

4  Absent readers

In the long run, it matters how easy it is for people to read articles in a journal. The relevant people are not just active researchers but also students at all levels (high school to graduate school), journalists, and bloggers. The main method of access now is institutional (usually university) libraries. After that, perhaps, is individual subscriptions, but very few students and journalists have these.
To get an idea of how available our work is, I looked in the OCLC WorldCat database, which combines library catalogs from all over the world . The first few items listed below estimate the number of relevant institutional libraries in the database, probably about 2000. By this estimate, OBHDP is in less than 40% and JBDM in less than 20%. On the assumption that institutional subscriptions represent most readership, JDM work is not easy to access.

2206 Journal of Abnormal Psychology
2129 American Psychologist
1891 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
1859 Psychological Bulletin
1835 American Economic Review
1639 Psychological Review
1396 Ethics
1302 Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
1049 Management Science
940 Journal of Consumer Research
845 Memory and Cognition
648 Psychological Science
409 Journal of Mathematical Psychology
309 Risk Analysis
307 Journal of Economic Psychology
264 Medical Decision Making
250 Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization
179 Journal of Risk and Uncertainty
153 JBDM

Looking at individual subscriptions, the picture is not much different. JBDM has an estimated individual circulation of 450 (from the Journal, thanks to Lauris Olson for digging this up). JEP:General, by contrast, has 726 individual subscriptions. Of course, Psychological Science has about 12,000, all the members of APS, but APS includes relatively few members from Europe or developing countries.
Notice also that web publication makes a journal accessible to Google and other search engines. News reporters as well as students will find relevant articles this way. My impression is that very few students know how to use PsycInfo compared to the number who know how to use Google.
My conclusion is that open access, on the web, will increase the potential readership of JDM articles by something on the order of 500%, probably even more when we count undergraduates and journalists. Of course, if we are going to take advantage of this boost in readership, we need to make sure that articles are readable. Many journals appear to be write-only and do not worry much about this.

5  How it could work

The journal would have an editorial board drawn mostly from members of SJDM, and it would include the publication committee. The board would have an editor, associate (action) editors, and consulting editors. The editor would appoint the initial board with the advice and consent of the publication committee. The board would make major editorial decisions, including decisions about format changes, selection of new editors (main, associate, or consulting). Policy decisions, such as dissolution of the journal, will require approval from the publication committee. The editor's term would be five years, renewable, at the discretion of the publication committee.
The review process would work much like that of Psychological Science. The editor and action editor would both have power to reject without review. Reviews would include reviewers recommended by the author. The general presumption is that articles sent out for review look like they are publishable, but reviewers may find fatal flaws or prior art, so probably about half of these would actually be published. This means that probably another half of submitted articles, or more, would be rejected without review.
One successful open-access journal is the Journal of Vision, produced by a society much like SJDM. Many of its features are specific to its field, and the author charges starting at $85/page seem excessive to me right now. (They are only a little better than PLoS, the Public Library of Science, which charges $1,500 per article.)
Another model is RNews. This journal, while shorter than what I would eventually like to see, demonstrates the technical and financial feasibility of a lower-cost solution. It is produced entirely by volunteers, and no money changes hands at any stage. The contributors to RNews all submit articles in a standard LATEXformat. We could not do that because most non-economists use word processors. However, if contributors follow a standard format with minimal formatting and with EPS images, the translation to LATEXmay be almost automatic. If this does not work, we will charge small author fees - probably less than $100 per article - and these will be waived for those who can submit usable copy or those from developing countries. Of course, reviews will be done using whatever the author submits.
If there is sufficient demand, a print version of the journal, with a nice cover, will be produced and mailed to those who request it. The cost of this will be much less than for a standard journal because everything is done except the printing and the cover.
The journal will be archived by volunteers on their computers. Librarians now regard digital archives as more durable than paper, and I shall seek their advice about how best to do it. Records will be kept using free software, and backed up locally. Volunteers will be solicited for duplicate backups, as well as for mirrors of the entire journal site.
The journal will be indexed in PsycInfo and other standard indices. A mailing list will announce new issues, with titles and abstracts.
Copyright issues remain to be worked out, although the Journal of Vision seems to have a good starting point. My inclination is for the journal to have copyright but allow authors to excerpt articles for other publications, to include excerpts or entire articles from published conference proceedings unless the publications were "generally available" (i.e., books published by a standard publisher).
We could accept advertising, especially if we needed a little money.

6  Conclusion

As pointed out to me by Bud Fennema, we can view this as a decision under uncertainty, but the downside risk to SJDM is small. This journal could succeed. If it does, it will bring prestige to SJDM, and possibly new members, and it could encourage more research in JDM, especially by those now largely shut out by lack of access, including those who don't even know we exist and will discover us through Google. It could also maintain standards for research and provide encouragement to novel approaches. I think that the probability of success is greater than 50%.
It could also fail. Based on discussions with someone who edited such a journal that failed, this would mean that the journal would attract too few high-quality submissions, despite the editor's beating the bushes for them. In this case, the main loss would be the editors' time spent trying to get the journal started. (Presumably the reviewers and editors would be reading roughly the same papers for some other journal.) In my case, the loss would also involve my current editing positions, with which I am quite happy except that the journals are not open-access.
I am willing to take this risk. But the important thing, I think, is that failure would not have much cost, if any, to SJDM. SJDM would still have the option of starting another journal in some other way, or giving up the journal business.
If you have gotten this far and if you are willing to help, please let me know, at baron@psych.upenn.edu. The early stages will require help from someone with a better sense of design than I possess, as well as volunteers to review or serve as consulting editors.