Scientific publication is not the same as it was, now that we can easily access the literature over the Internet. No more trips to the library, much fewer waits for interlibrary loans, and no more chasing who took or misplaced the volume in the racks. But did all this change anything in the way we publish our results?
This is what Timo Boppart and Kevin E. Staub study by looking at the diversity of topics covered in journals and how the availability of on-line publication would have changed that. The idea is that on-line publication allows to discover and read more material, and one may in particular stray away from the usual topics. No doubt about that. But I wonder why Boppart and Straub have this focus on journals. After all, working papers is where its at in Economics, and journal readership has not really increased, I believe. The treatment variable is the share of cited articles available on-line the year before publication. This seems so wrong. There is no way it takes only one year from the literature search to the print issue. Not in Economics, where I would say it is a minimum three years, with really rare cases below that. In fact, a good share of mine took more than a year from final acceptance to actual publication. Then, what about working papers? This is what people read, not articles.