Maintaining a certain level of quality in research and lectures and measuring this level has become increasingly important in recent years. Due to the diversity of scientific research fields, a general approach is difficult. At the University of Mainz, the Zentrum für Qualitätssicherung und -entwicklung (ZQ, Center for Quality Assurance and Development), takes most important organization of this kind. We talked to Dr. Uwe Schmidt, head of the ZQ, about the role of evaluation and quality management in natural sciences and the humanities, the Bologna Process, and the principles of scientometrics.
Jörg Meibauer attained his Ph.D. at the University of Cologne in German linguistics in 1985. He habilitated in Tu?bingen in 1993 and is a full professor at the Department of German Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz since 1998.
Albert Einstein, in a famous speech in the London Royal Albert Hall, proposed that young scholars who want to think a problem through should be given a job as a lighthouse keeper. That was in October 1934, and what he had in mind then were job opportunities for emigrated scholars. But ever since, the idea that someone did her Ph.D. in the splendid isolation of a lighthouse has lost nothing of its fascination. The picture of a young woman working hard on a scientific problem, not only illuminating passageways for the ships, but also enlightening society, fits well our romantic ideas of academic work.
Taking the picture more seriously, we may ask two questions: Whether Ph.D. students need a job, and whether they need isolation. The first question can be answered easily. Ph.D. students need a living, be it on the basis of a scholarship or a grant, be it through a job as a research assistant. Scholarships may ensure that one can fully concentrate on one’s work; however, they are restricted in time, and it is often unclear whether a Ph.D. can be achieved within, say, 2 1/2 years. Hence jobs as a research assistant appear to be a good alternative, all the more since the young researcher is embedded into a research team or the chair’s respective work. I assume that working at a supermarket or at the gas station, while valuable and enlightening in other regards, is not very helpful when you are to describe which constituents may fill in the German prefield (i.e., the space before the finite verb in a German sentence).
Read more: How to Become a Scholar without a Lighthouse
The Frankfurt-based Peter Lang GmbH is part of the Peter Lang International Academic Publishing Group, which is domiciled in Berne/Switzerland. The company has been engaged in academic publishing for more than 40 years, focusing primarily on the humanities and social sciences. Some 1,200 works are published in Frankfurt each year in electronic and hard copy format, together with some academic journals. To find out more about the view of publishers on quality, JUnQ editoral board member David Huesmann sat down with Dr. Jörg Meidenbauer – CEO of Peter Lang GmbH – to discuss the role of publishers in the quality assurance process.
In this issue of JUnQ we set out to illuminate different ways of scientific quality assurance. How do scientists from various fields of research make sure that their work (as well as the work of others) maintains a high standard of quality? How is “quality” measured in the first place?
Quality assurance in publishing is of special importance in present times, where we experience a paradigm shift in publishing: In contrast to traditional journals, which acquire money via subscriptions, more and more journals are Open Access, which means readable for free. The whole thing started with the arXiv server for preprints in Mathematics and Physics in 1991 and now, two decades later, ca. 25% of all articles are freely available online immediately after acceptance, just like in JUnQ. In biomedical research open access got a boost eight years after the start of arXiv, when the director of the US National Institute of Health (NIH, a main source of funding in US biomedical research) proposed an archive of free biomedical papers in 1999, which led to the founding of PubMedCentral in 2000. PubMedCentral was an immediate and exceptional success, resulting in a call for boycott of journals that did not deposit their papers on PubMedCentral six months after publication. To date more than 50% of all published articles are open access at least twelve months after publication.
With the very issue you are currently reading, volume 4, issue 1, the fourth year of JUnQ is dawning. The past year started with a transition of editorial responsibility from the ‘old veterans’ to eager apprentices and it is for you to judge, whether this transition was a successful one. Do you think, we deliver high quality articles? The reader’s interest was and is a major indicator for quality in scientific publishing: A subscription based journal only survives, if it is able to ac- quire a sufficient amount of readers. Your current thought may be “But the pdf I am currently reading on the internet did not cost me anything! (or if you bought the printed version you just balanced the printing costs) and you are right about that! JUnQ is not a subscription-based journal but open access, meaning free to read (and, lucky you, also free to publish in our case). The fact that Open Access journals, which live on author fees, do not depend on the apprecia- tion of their readers for their revenue brings us to an intrinsic enigma of scientific publishing: How do we assure the quality of our merchandise? This is the very question we want to address in the present issue’s journalistic part.
THE accepted measure of publication quality is the so-called impact factor, an index which describes the “mean-citedness” of an article. Although widely applied, the impact factor is a rather ill-suited tool for quality assurance, as Prof. Konradin Metze already pointed out in JUnQ al- most two years ago. As a matter of fact, the journals with the highest impact factor are also the ones that are best known outside the scientific community. If there are now more and more voices that criticize the main quality indicator of these very journals, a general plight of scientific quality assurance becomes apparent. Days before I was writing this editorial note, one of the 2013 Nobel Price laureates in medicine, Randy Schekman, called for a boy- cott of “the big brands of publishing”, that “accept papers that will make waves because they explore sexy subjects or make challenging claims”. According to Schekman such a publishing policy can “encourage the cutting of corners” in extreme cases, meaning it makes the authors prone to submit fraudulent papers to the “big brands”. It seems almost like some fly on the wall told Prof. Schekman of our next topic! To put one thing right: We, JUnQ, do not charge the “big brands” with any wrongdoings, it is just quite satisfying how a Nobel Price laureate picks up the main idea of our journal: Science is not always flashy, it also consists of digging for dull-thought diamonds in the junk. Schekman sees “inappropriate incentives” in scientific career paths where “the biggest reward often follows the flashiest work, not the best”, while admitting that he himself followed this very incentives out of pure rationality. Although Schekman admits that the “big brands” publish “outstanding research” (they published his own papers after all), he sees not all big brand papers as outstanding and reminds us that there are other “publishers of outstanding research”. So in summary, we end up with the call for a new quality benchmark in scientific publishing. Since Mr. Schekman is editor-in-chief of the open access journal eLife (sponsored by the main biomedical funding agencies Howard Hughes Medical Institute (US), Wellcome Trust (UK), and the German Max-Planck Society) his solution is, of course, open access: Since they do not have to promote expensive subscriptions, as Schekman puts it, open access journals could “accept all papers that meet quality standards with no artificial caps”.
Although Schekman’s model has an undeniably pleasant feel, its mere suggestion does not solve any problems: Even if future journal’s are to be “edited by working scientists” as Schekman suggests, these editor’s will need a high performing measure of quality in a fast growing publishing business. We want to provide you with further insight into this topic by presenting a possible future of scientific publishing, an article by Prof. Michael Schreiber on the impact factor’s younger brother, the “h-index” (page 5), and an interview with Jo?rg Meidenbauer from the academic publisher Peter Lang Verlag (page V). But we do not want to restrict assurance of quality to science, since it is of equal importance in teaching, a task met by the center for quality control (ZQ) of Mainz University. Its head, Dr. Uwe Schmidt, was interviewed by the editorial board (page XI). In addition Andreas Neidlinger and myself tried to shed shome light on the current publication behavior in our essay “Open Access and Public Peer Review – The Future of Scientific Publishing?” (page III). What may be rather uncontrolled in the German system is what qualities a doctoral candidate has to possess and how he is to be advised, a question addressed from the perspectives of the humanities by Prof. Jo?rg Meibauer in his essay “How to become a Scholar without a Lighthouse” (page VIII).
Before you, dear reader, miss JUnQ’s usual qualities: This issue contains again articles of science, be it on the above mentioned “h-Index” or on the puzzling fact that liquid crystalline elastomers without a shape change at the phase transition do exists (page 1). But the feel of change that, hopefully, was not to apparent last year shall remain part of JUnQ: With this issue we want to fuse Open Questions and Articles to general scientific articles and introduce a new type of contribution that is thought to address the humanities in particular, but also any researcher that hatches interesting thoughts or opinions on a (controversial) subject. With our new category called “Views on life, the universe and everything” we want to invite YOU, dear reader, to write us about anything that you always wanted to elaborate on. We are looking forward to your submissions!
Enjoy the present issue of JUnQ and have a nice start into 2014!
 K. Metze, JUnQ 2012, 2, 2, XV–XVIII.
 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/ how-journals-nature-science-cell-damage-science (last access on 15.12.2013).
We are happy to announce the publication of the latest issue of JUnQ. Reaching our fourth year with the seventh issue we thought it was time to reflect on “Quality of Science”. In the current issue we deal with various ways of quality assurance in science and the humanities. We present two interviews, one with Dr. Jörg Meidenbauer, CEO of Peter Lang GmbH, and the other with Dr. Uwe Schmidt from the Center of Quality Assurance of the University of Mainz. Furthermore, we have two essays about our journalistic topic. Prof. Jörg Meibauer presents the humanities’ perspective on the qualities a doctoral candidate has to possess. The other essay was written by editorial board members Andreas Neidlinger and Felix Spenkuch about open access and public peer review.
In addition you can find scientific contributions on smectic liquid crystals from Patrick Beyer and Rudolf Zentel as well as a view on measuring scientific performance with the h-index by Michael Schreiber. Furthermore, we announce a new category of contributions in the latest issue. It is called “Views on Live, the Universe, and Everything”. It addresses authors wishing to discuss topics of interest and their views on them. The first essay is from Wolter Seuntjens and deals with the studying of mankind.
We wish you a good time with JUnQ. Please let us know what you think in the comments.
— Andreas Neidlinger on behalf of the Editorial BoardJUnQ Volume 4, Issue 1, January 2014
1Institute of Physics, Technische Universität Chemnitz, D-09107 Chemnitz, Germany
JUnQ, 4, 1, Article, 5-10, 2014 (Received 16.10.2013, accepted 17.12.2013, published 30.12.2013)
The h-index proposed by Hirsch only 8 years ago is already frequently used to measure scientific performance. Nevertheless, several open questions are unsolved, e.g. what does the h-index really measure? Are there better variants available? How reliable is the determination of the h-index? Does it have predictive power?
1Dutch Academy of ’Pataphysics, Amsterdam
JUnQ, 4, 1, 11-15, 2014 (Received 30.05.2013, published online 30.12.2013)
Science supposedly seeks true knowledge or, simply, truth. Much has been written regarding the scientific method. But what about the sources of science? In the history of science, both the textual and the empirical have been favorites. This article poses the question which is the proper, superior or even supreme source for the study of mankind. An integrative solution is proposed: poetic science.
Patrick Beyer, Rudolf Zentel1
1Institute of Organic Chemistry, University of Mainz, Duesbergweg 10-14, 55099 Mainz, Germany
JUnQ, 4, 1, Article, 1-4, 2014 (Received 14.06.2013, accepted 25.07.2013, published online 28.08.2013)
Liquid crystalline (LC) elastomers are well known for their reversible shape variation at the phase transition from the LC to the isotropic phase. We managed to prepare an oriented smectic monodomain of a crosslinked LC-polysiloxane, which showed – contrary to the expectations – NO shape variation at all. This observation is in agreement with mechanical measurements on small LC-elastomer balloons made from the same materials. It is completely unknown, why this type of “diluted” LC-polysiloxane (only about 25% of the repeating units are functionalized with mesogens) behaves like this.