Your Input Needed on the Names of Our Journals!

By Steve Beissinger

As the Chair of the ad hoc AOS Publications Futures Committee, I’ve spent the past six months working with a group of dedicated colleagues to review potential strategies for how AOS’s publications program can best respond to the revolutionary changes underway in scientific publishing. Our research is facing a lot of competition for attention, with more than 33,000 English-language journals collectively publishing three million articles a year. We’ve been considering questions such as, how can AOS adapt to the growth of Open Access in scientific publishing? How can our journals best compete for high-quality papers in ornithology to increase their impact factors and prestige? And should AOS be publishing longer-form content such as books and monographs, and if so, what’s the best way forward?

Our interim report has now been released, but the committee’s work isn’t over — we need your input on some recommendations, especially about the journals’ names. We hope you’ll review the report and then take a few minutes to complete a short survey on what influences your decision to submit to a journal, the possibility of changing the names of AOS journals, etc.

It’s the journal names I want to chat about here.

Last summer at our fun AOS meeting in Anchorage, I and most other AOS Council members were surprised to find out that the official names of our journals according to Clarivate Analytics, the Web of Science Group that produces journal citations and impact reports, are Auk and Condor. Not The Auk and The Condor, which is how the journal names appear online, or The Auk: Ornithological Advances and The Condor: Ornithological Applications, which is how the names appear on the journal masthead and in their own literature cited sections.

These portions of the unofficial journal names after the colon were added in the first issues of 2014 at the recommendation of a joint task force of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) and the Cooper Ornithological Society (COS), our predecessor societies. Part of the rationale was that, after an appropriate time, the names of the journals would be changed again by dropping Auk and Condor, leaving, Ornithological Advances and Ornithological Applications.

Perhaps that time has come, given the confusion over the exact journal names within the ornithological community and the fact that the names do not reflect the content of what is published in the journals to those outside of the ornithological community. Both situations are detrimental to attracting top-quality avian science and building journal prestige.

Rebranding the journals to more descriptive names would attract higher quality papers and increase journal impact factors. This was certainly the case when Ornis Scandinavica became Journal of Avian Biology in 1993 and rose from a mid-tier ornithology journal to one of the most highly cited ornithological journals. A name change would result in the loss of continuity, but the journal volume numbers would continue onwards in the series, partially mitigating this effect. There would be the two-year time lag for receiving the official Impact Factors for the new journal names, but informal impact factors could be produced and marketed using social media.

The Committee believes the long-term advantages of rebranding the journals to represent their content exceed the short-term costs associated with a name change.

For Auk, the Committee suggests the name Ornithology, which surprisingly is still available for use as a periodical. It was preferred to Ornithological Advances as a simpler alternative that helps to distinguish the title from Ornithological Applications. Changing to The Auk as the new official name would incur the short-term loss of the journal’s Impact Factor without yielding long-term gains. For Condor, the Committee recommends retaining Ornithological Applications. This portion of the informal name, along with the refocus to applied research, corresponds with a dramatic increase in the journal’s Impact Factor. Ornithological Applications nicely describes the research in the journal, whereas all publications about birds advance knowledge so Ornithological Advances lacks similar focus.

You can find more details about these issues discussed in pages 15-18 of the Committee’s interim report.

This isn’t a new discussion. In the 1990s some members of the AOU and COS strongly advocated for changing the names of their journals, including prominent journal editors. They argued the bird names were archaic, colloquial, and an impediment to colleagues, particularly early-career professionals, competing for jobs or facing tenure and promotion review. Other members emphasized tradition as the rationale for maintaining the journal names. See Remsen et al. 1998 and Woolfenden et al. 1998 for perspectives from more than two decades ago.

And I was surprised to learn many of the same arguments were made at the time the journals were founded and names were being chosen in 1883. This is well documented for Auk in The American Ornithologists’ Union: The First Century 1883-1983 written by K. B. Sterling and M.G. Ainley. Apparently, choosing a name for the new journal that was acceptable to everyone caused considerable debate. At the center of extended arguments among AOU founders Elliot Coues, Robert Ridgway, and Joel Allen was whether a bird name was more appropriate than a name that encompassed ornithology. Reading the account in Sterling and Ainley, the forceful personality of Coues overruled objections of the others about “aping the Ibis” and concerns related to using the moniker of a guano company!  

So here we are today, and it’s time for you to weigh in. The survey wants to know your thoughts on journal names, but also seeks to learn your opinions about the desirability of different ways of delivering the content in our journals and the importance of producing longer-form content. The survey will be open until February 15. Thanks for your participation!

—Steve Beissinger, Chair, AOS Publications Futures Committee

Click Here to read the report

Click Here to take the survey

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