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Ellen Paul

Comments posted elswhere on SFO

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[trying to compile all the comments that were posted elsewhere]


Originally posted by John Smallwood; 28 March 2012


Critical to the discussion of the SFO is an understanding of what is meant by “joining” or “merging” with the new society. INDIVIDUALS can join, but there is no mechanism for a SOCIETY to join. The SFO vision is for a single society to be the sole representative of professional ornithology in the Western Hemisphere, free from competition from other societies. The councils/boards of OSNA societies do not have the ability to join, merge, or give their membership to the SFO. OSNA members are not property that can be transferred from one owner to another!


OSNA members are free to join the SFO, or not. OSNA members also are free to remain in their OSNA societies, or not. What the SFO vision is asking the councils to do is to take away their members’ ability to remain in those societies, so that joining the SFO (or not) is the only remaining option. That strategy is patently coercive, and damaging on many levels.


It makes no sense at all for a viable society to disband for the purpose of promoting another society, because if the concentration of ornithologists into a single society has overwhelming support, it will occur naturally. I.e., if OSNA members decide that they no longer want to be a part of an OSNA society and instead want to belong only to the SFO, then they’ll do that. But SFO is instead asking the boards to take away their ability to remain in those OSNA societies. This is absurd! If the SFO is such an attractive alternative to our current societies, then let it compete for members by its own merits, not by coercion.


Originally posted by John Smallwood on behalf of Christina Riehl; 28 March 2012


Several members of the WOS Council received this letter from Christina Riehl. I was asked to post it with her permission. Happy to do so.




Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Barro Colorado Island, Panama


March 19, 2012


John A. Smallwood

Secretary, Wilson Ornithological Society


Dear Dr. Smallwood:


I am a member of five different North American ornithological societies and I have published in many of the journals that would be affected by the creation of the Society for Ornithology, including The Wilson Journal, The Auk, Waterbirds, and The Journal of Field Ornithology. I am deeply disappointed in the rationale given for restructuring these journals into a tiered system, and I strongly disagree with the proposed organization of the new journals.


First, the focus on the impact factor (as emphasized in the proposal) is not productive. Although it is stated that American ornithology journals currently have a lower impact factor than European journals, this is only true of the Journal of Avian Biology and The Ibis. The differences between these journals and Auk are quite small, and even these "higher" impact journals are still below 2.5! The real reason that all of these journals have relatively low impact factors is that they are taxon-specific rather than directed to a broad audience (behavioral ecology, systematics, etc.). Other leading taxon-specific journals have similarly low impact factors, even though they are widely read and extremely well respected in their fields. For example, the Journal of Mammalogy has a 2010 impact factor of 1.54. The proposal presents Ecology Letters as an example of how short formats and fast turnaround times can cause a journal's impact factor to zoom upwards. However, I would argue that this is again misleading. A perhaps more important reason for Ecology Letters’ success has been the tremendous increase in scientists (young and old) that wish to be labeled as "ecologists" rather than botanists, ornithologists, etc. While specialist societies have been losing membership, membership to the Ecological Society of America has increased. (The ESA annual meetings are enormous compared to the ornithology meetings.) Ecology Letters has done so well partly because submissions to Ecology have increased beyond publishing capacity, and more and more of these have ended up in Ecology Letters. The stated goal of the proposal is to publish high-quality, comprehensive science, and that should be the real goal here. If the impact factors of the journals do in fact go up, so much the better.


Second, I am concerned by the model proposed by the tiered system. There are real dangers in having each paper reviewed by a central editorial office and then rapidly categorized into one of the proposed journals. Streamlining would increase efficiency, but at the expense of a diversity

of independent opinions. Currently, I frequently review articles for The Auk that I recommend to

be sent to one of the other journals – equally, I review articles for Behavioral Ecology,

Proceedings B, and other top journals that I recommend to be sent to The Auk! I don’t consider this a waste of time; it’s a valuable part of the process. Editors already have one tool at their

disposal for articles that clearly belong elsewhere: they can reject without review. The American

ornithology journals have already separated themselves in a functional sense (for example,Auk is

the leader of the group, Journal of Field Ornithology has become the go-to “methods” journal,

etc.), but the overlap between them means that authors still have a number of different options

for submission.


Finally, this may seem like a minor point, but I suspect that the new names proposed for the journals will cause a great deal of confusion. “Letters,” “Discoveries,” “Advances,” and “Applications” are so formulaic that even after having read the proposal several times I still can’t remember which is which. I am not sure how the proposed name changes will improve the publications and as a “re-branding” attempt it seems to be somewhat lackluster. The current names of the journals connote unique identities, unique histories, and unique integrities – you might as well rename them “1, 2, 3, and 4.”


All of this having been said, I understand that many of the proposed changes are made necessary by the economics of publishing and distribution. I support the goals of fast turnaround times and open access. It would be wonderful to have a more streamlined online process for submission, review, and revision. If it makes financial sense to move from a membership-based model to an NGO model, so be it. But I wonder whether it might not be possible to combine some aspects of the current societies – such as the administrative boards and annual meetings – without entirely losing the independence of their scientific publications. I imagine that it would even be possible for them to be managed as the same family of journals, while retaining their current names, identities, and at least some degree of their editorial independence.


The American and Neotropical ornithological communities are strong precisely because they are taxon-based. There is an interest in, and a need for, specialist journals that publish important research that would not be appropriate for a more general forum. I believe that the ornithology journals will continue to thrive only by filling a niche that is different from the larger journals, not by imitating them.


Sincerely yours,


Christina Riehl


Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute &

Harvard Society of Fellows

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