Reflections on 5 years of the WEA journal Economic Thought
By John Latsis
Economic Thought was launched in January 2012 with a first issue that included contributions by Tony Lawson, Donald Gillies, Richard van den Berg, Sheila Dow, Geoffrey Hodgson and Irene van Staveren. As founding editors, Alejandro Nadal, Annalisa Rosselli and I were extremely fortunate to have such an impressive line-up of economic thinkers grace our inaugural issue. Five years later the journal has seen an injection of fresh blood, enthusiasm and research expertise with the arrivals of Constantinos Repapis and Michel Zouboulakis, who have joined Sheila Dow and John King as editors. As I am the last founding editor to have ridden off into the proverbial sunset, I thought some reflection on what has happened over the last five years would be appropriate.
As a student of history and philosophy of science, I had always been somewhat sceptical about the power of individuals to transform the world around them. I tended to view stories of individual heroism against the odds as ex-post facto rationalisations that served the purposes of their authors. All this was before I had met Edward Fullbrook. It is no exaggeration to say that Edward’s career in heterodox economics stands as a convincing counter example to my early beliefs. He started with few resources and huge ambitions. His plan was to create an organisation to regroup heterodox and dissident economic thinkers; to give them venues to publish, interact, and exchange ideas and opinions; to use new digital technologies to facilitate collaboration at little or no cost; and to open up the economic conversation to alternative voices. The result is what you see today: an organisation with about 15,000 members that not only sponsors this publication and the journal that I have edited for the past five years, but also two more journals, a successful book series, conferences, blogs, student networks, national chapters, and a range of teaching materials. When Edward approached me to edit the journal less than six years ago almost none of this existed. What WEA has achieved under his stewardship is exceptional and I am proud to have played a very small part in it.
When we launched the journal we had little in the way of experience, money or other material resources to support us. What we lacked in resources, however, we made up with enthusiasm and a willingness to innovate. Many aspects of the journal were designed by Grazia Ietto-Gillies prior to the formation of the editorial team, and I believe that we have stayed faithful to the principles that she laid down. The journal remains free to all, electronic (despite some concessions to the traditionalists), and our editorial process remains transparent. In all three of these areas, Economic Thought was a pioneering publication. It is true that e-journals are now much more common than they were six years ago, but many journals that claim to be free and open access charge authors a fee to cover the cost of publishing their work, something that we have never done. To my knowledge no other journal in the discipline of economics has opened up its reviewing process to public scrutiny in the way Economic Thought does through the Open Peer Discussion (OPD) forum. In order to translate the principle of transparency into practice the Economic Thought team had to struggle against the inertia that affects any well-established profession. We had to convince authors that posting a paper under review to a public forum was not as risky as it seemed. We had to convince referees to publish reviews that would normally only be shared with editors and authors. And we had to do all of this whilst removing the shield of anonymity that has been an unquestioned feature of journal publishing for decades. In addition to these challenges, the editorial team had to cope with an environment that was becoming more and more hostile to ‘start-ups’ for macroscopic and structural reasons. As more countries began to ape the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise, the dystopian vision of research assessment painted by Donald Gillies in his contribution to our first issue started to resemble reality. Journal lists have now become the norm and the value of an ‘output’ is often judged by colleagues, department heads and academic auditors of all stripes principally on the basis of where it is published rather than what it says. Within economics this contributes to the already significant bias towards a very small number of well-established American journals, edited at elite universities, publishing papers by a relatively small group of high-profile US-based scholars. In this context, convincing anyone who wishes to build an academic career that it is a good idea to send their cherished paper to a brand new, heterodox e-journal with a public refereeing process is seriously challenging. Somehow we managed it, and eventually high quality submissions began to flow and the respectful and creative discussions that we had hoped to stimulate began to unfold on our OPD and in the pages of the published issues of the journal.
Nothing is perfect and some of the goals that we set for ourselves have not yet been achieved. For the benefit of our authors, and in order to meet the highest standards of modern journal publishing, we must add DOI numbers to our articles, list the journal on Scopus and widen our referee database amongst other things. But these things take time, and they require an established track record. After five years of successfully (and punctually) publishing two issues per annum, we now have the track record and experience to make the next step and fulfil Edward and Grazia’s vision.
On a personal note, editing Economic Thought came at a very significant time in my life. I was appointed to my first permanent academic job in the same week as I was offered the editorship, and my daughter was born a few days after I started working on the journal. As a relatively young academic with no experience of editing, I was honoured to have such eminent scholars as close colleagues and delighted to be able to contribute to the construction of something as original and worthwhile as Economic Thought. I would like to thank my editorial colleagues Alejandro, Annalisa, Sheila and John for their kindness and collegiality. I had known of them and their work before joining the editorial team, but I now count them as friends. Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the brilliance and quiet efficiency of Kyla Rushman, who, since she became managing editor, has worked tirelessly on keeping the journal on track and is largely responsible for making Economic Thought what it is today.
To read the latest issue of Economic Thought click here.
From: pp.5-6 of WEA Commentaries 7(2), April 2017