Astronomy and Computing – A Journal

We’ve recently launched a journal - Astronomy & Computing - intended to serve the community sitting, sometimes slightly awkwardly, between those two fields; the community is doing work which is too ‘techie’ to be of interest to astronomy journals, but too ‘applied’ to be usefully publishable within Computing Science. ‘We’, here, is Alberto Accomazzi, Tamás Budavári, Christopher Fluke, Norman Gray, Gerard Lemson, Bob Mann, Tara Murphy, Wil O’Mullane, Andreas Wicenec and Michael Wise, all of whom are astronomers, and all of whom have moved partly or comprehensively into ’astronomical computing’.

The first issue of the journal, complete with an explanatory editorial, is available open-access at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/22131337/1/. That editorial goes into some detail about the history of and motivation for the new journal, but the key goals were, and are:

  1. to assert the identity of an academic community working in the intersection between astronomy and computing, and to assert that the discipline is, for many members of this grouping, independently interesting, rather than merely a means to an astronomical end;
  2. to provide a place where such work can be published, in a way which is useful for credit, promotion, funding, or any of the other quotidian mechanics of professional academia; and
  3. to actually exist, rather than be merely talked about (we’ll come back to this point later).

 

The journal’s pre-history starts at the Boston ADASS, in 2010, in a BoF about the publication of astronomical computing work (arXiv:1103.1982). That BoF lamented that ADASS appeared to be almost the only publication outlet for our work in this area (despite the secondary status that conference papers have), since the core astronomy journals were demonstrably reluctant to consider articles which focused heavily or exclusively on technical details. The rough conclusion of the BoF was that we should collectively go out and publish in the journals which do accept technical articles:

This might even be coordinated [...] in an attempt to produce a journal with a critical mass of material about astronomy computing.

But that didn’t happen, as far as we can tell, and in any case such entryism probably wouldn’t create the self-definition of the discipline, and the visibility, we were after. OK, so plan B.

An actually existing journal

The second key goal, above, is to provide a publication route which is ‘respectable’ for possibly rather conservative promotion committees, right from the outset. That means the journal has to look ’normal’, and it has to actually exist. And that brings us to the choice of publication route.

When we kicked this process off, we went with our instincts and found out about open publication platforms. We consulted with colleagues working with conventional and all-open-access journals, and what we found surprised us. A small all-open humanities journal still needed something like half an FTE of administration and referee-chasing; colleagues in big publishers report high production costs, as soon as one includes administration, indexing, fine-tuning author-submitted LaTeX (no, “\section{…}” is not the optimal way to get bold maths), and all the other minutiae of getting words in order. These costs hover around four figures per article.

So without actually auditing our colleagues, we concluded that there seemed to be no cheap routes to the ‘normal’ publication model we feel is necessary, and so any coupled economic and formal innovation of an alternative was and is going to have to come from other people.

Plan C, therefore, is a new journal on a broadly conventional model; Elsevier expressed interest; and here we are.

What’s in the journal?

The journal web page includes a list of topics, which is suggestive rather than exhaustive, and also lists some of the types of article we expect to see.

  • Research/standard articles (we never really came to a decision on what best to call these!); these include software release articles, which are intended to discuss new or majorly updated software releases.
  • Similarly, data release articles would be the place to describe a new release, where the authors have the space to be as technically detailed as they could want in their description of the development and delivery of a new dataset. These might be natural counterparts to a simultaneous astronomy article in another journal, which concentrates on the science outputs. Such an article is also an obvious citation target for a dataset.
  • We’d like to see notes on practice, as a way of publishing ‘lessons learned’ from an application to astronomy of some technology or technical approach (though it’s an independent discipline, astronomy computing does retain a practical motivation). These will be pragmatic, and equally interesting whether the application was successful or not – someone else’s entertaining disaster can be illuminating.
  • We’d welcome review articles and, looking in the other temporal direction, white papers, though in both cases authors should contact an editor with a proposal, rather than submitting such a thing unsolicited.

 

As a form rather than a category, we will also introduce the target article, which is familiar in some other academic disciplines but not well known in the physical sciences. It is sometimes obvious that an article is in a good position to start a very interesting argument (a ’white paper’ might naturally qualify here, though a wind-down review article on a large project’s management history might be also be interesting); in such a case, we will, with the authors’ permission, make the paper a ‘target article’. That means we’ll publicise a call for comments on the paper from the community – nothing huge, just a page or so – and then publish in a single package the original article, its commentaries, and a final summary from the target article’s authors, thus creating a richer package than would have resulted from the original paper alone.

And of course we’re open to proposals for special issues, containing conference highlights, or marking launches, splashes, openings, closures, or other times of special celebration. With all of these, and with any other article forms the community would like to suggest, we expect the formal details to develop as we get more experience with the community’s expectations.

Innovation

We have not aimed to break the journal mould, therefore, but hope to innovate in other ways.

  • We support, and encourage, authors attaching (modest volumes of) code, videos and other auxiliary artefacts to their papers. This is already supported in Elsevier’s journal management system, as are some other features such as the intriguing idea of the ‘graphical abstract’, which summarises an article in pictorial form.
  • Elsevier supports semi-automatic discovery of links between articles and other databases (it’s used in biology journals for links to proteins); the mechanism has been extended to work with ASCL, so that an in-line mention of “ascl:1110.012″, for example, will generate a link to the Starlink software set. We’ve not yet fully exploited the possibilities here.
  • We’re looking to integrate ORCIDs where possible though, again, it’s not yet transparently clear just what needs to be done here.
  • Finally, the Elsevier journal software supports authors submitting papers direct from arXiv, by providing the identifier of an existing preprint.

 

Overall, we’re in a good position to take advantage of Elsevier’s enthusiasm for, and (technical support for) experiments in, the ’Article of the Future‘, so we’re interested in suggestions for missing functionality.

A&C, therefore, is a subscription journal with an open-access option. There are no page charges for a subscription-only article, but authors have the option of paying an open-access fee to make an article immediately freely available. This fee is higher than we as editors might wish, but lower than it could have been, and lower than it is for other journals with this option. On the editorial board we have a variety of opinions on what could, should, and must happen in the long-term future of academic publishing; but we don’t yet feel we have enough experience of the problem to start being dogmatic about the solutions (at least, not outside of licensed premises).

There are slight restrictions on posting articles to arXiv (minimal, of course: only that authors can’t post the Elsevier PDF, but arXiv wouldn’t accept this in any case, for LaTeX-originated content), and authors can submit to the journal by providing an arXiv article identifier. The journal contents will be indexed by ADS, and other such services, as usual.

Where we are now

As of now – July 2013 – A&C is a good way towards completing its second issue. We’ve received a reassuringly diverse range of submissions, and have heard from colleagues of a broader range of articles currently being drafted. We feel confident that A&C is heading towards being a welcome fixture in our community, and look forward to more news from the frontiers of an established and developing discipline.

Norman Gray - http://www.journals.elsevier.com/astronomy-and-computing/

About Norman Gray

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  1. [...] Astronomy and Computing – A Journal | .Astronomy http://dotastronomy.com/We've recently launched a journal – Astronomy & Computing – intended to serve the community sitting, sometimes slightly awkwardly, between those two fields; the community is doing work which is too 'techie' to be of interest … [...]