The Broken Scholarly Record

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One of the reasons why scholarly self-publication is supposed to be dubious or bad, and self-archiving only a supplementary good, is that material posted to one’s personal website lasts until one stops paying the server bills, having died or vanished in foreign jungles or simply lost interest. One online repository of scholarly articles which seems unlikely to return, however, is that of Philosophical Frontiers: A Journal of Emerging Thought, published by the now-defunct Progressive Frontiers Press. www.philosophicalfrontiers.com has been offline for months (with nothing there but a broken Joomla installation); now the journal’s Wikipedia entry is being considered for deletion.

The most recent Wayback Machine snapshot dates from 2011, and shows that the journal had suspended acceptance of articles during a ‘phase of transition’:

We are currently in a phase of transition at the journal. We are moving from publishing twice a year, to publishing once a year. In light of these changes, and editorial restructuring, we will not be accepting submissions until further notice. This is a short-term suspension and we hope to be in a position to resume reviews in the Summer of 2011. Apologies for any inconvenience that this causes.

If operations ever were resumed, they didn’t last long. Progressive Frontiers Press was dissolved in January 2012.

In some cases, thanks to authors’ self-archiving in other repositories, it remains possible to find articles from Philosophical Frontiers. If you examine such an article, you’ll see that the page footers name Progressive Frontiers Press as the copyright holder. Demanding copyright transfer as a condition of publication is common practice in academic publishing, and not an uncontroversial one. On a good day it simplifies rights clearance, albeit at the cost of often placing greater power in the hands of large, rapacious publishers. (One wonders whether we’d have so much digitised archive material if less control of articles had been vested in publishers.) On a bad day, you find yourself realising that just looking into licensing an article for reuse might involve investigating where the assets went when a company was wound up. No doubt this is why some Open Access publications have opted for Creative Commons licensing.

I wasn’t looking to license an article; I just wanted to locate and read one. Then I found myself wondering what had become of the journal and its vanished Press. I couldn’t find an e-mail address for the former Chief Editor of Philosophical Frontiers (who, from what I can discover, was also Director and Secretary of Progressive Frontiers Press); someone who actually needed to investigate the matter might try LinkedIn or Academia.edu. I did find one for the former Assistant Chief Editor (who lists the title on her professional Web pages), and asked her by e-mail what had happened to the journal. Nine weeks later, I have had no reply.

At a time of widespread discontent with the academic publishing establishment, it would be a shame to have to conclude that small and upstart scholarly presses are too much of a gamble. (Urbanomic, for example, still shows regular signs of life, even if it’s presently unclear whether Collapse will ever reach an eighth volume.) It does seem, however, that such endeavours need to be governed by that old definition of philosophy as preparation for death.

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