It’s official — the embattled editor-in-chief of the math journal, Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, is out. A new editor has not been announced, yet the number of accepted manuscripts waiting for publication has grown to nearly one-thousand, according to the journal’s website.
A controversy in the mathematical physics community erupted late last year over the practice of the controversial editor-in-chief, Mohamed El Naschie’s practice of publishing his own articles. While this practice was not new, it came to a head last December, with 5 of his papers appearing in the same issue. El Naschie is the founding editor of Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, which began publishing in 1991. His practice of self-publishing began in 1998.
Because of the backlog in accepted manuscripts, the publisher has asked for a “temporary submission stop” so as not to exacerbate the publication delay for authors. As of February 5, 2007, there were 942 articles in press. All of these articles are corrected proofs, meaning they merely lack an issue and page number. All have been formatted in fulltext and PDF, have been registered with a DOI and contain a full citation (albeit one that says “in press”).
So why the wait for the new editor-in-chief to “publish” them?
In a strict sense, these articles have been published. They merely lack the formality of an issue and page number designation. This sounds strangely anachronistic in an age of digital publishing.
Scientific publishing is a gift-economy, with authors exchanging manuscripts for peer-recognition. The exclusivity of a journal, the prestige of the editorial board, and its editor-in-chief, all play a role in rewarding the author for his or her gift. No one wants to associate their work with a controversy, especially a controversy that questions the integrity of the peer-review process. The fact that an article was originally accepted nearly two years ago under the old editor is important, but may be missed in the general Zeitgeist of a journal.
Waiting for the blessing of the editor-in-chief before an article is formally published may be ceremonial in nature, but ceremony is at the core of scientific rewards.