Friday, October 7, 2016

The mysteries of SSRN e-journal classifications

The distinguished criminal law scholar Susan Bandes (DePaul) invited me to share a story she recently shared via a listserve:

In September I posted an article on SSRN (What Executioners Can--and Cannot--Teach Us About the Death Penalty  I chose the allotted 10 subject matter classifications. I learned yesterday that three of these classifications were rejected: criminal law e-journal, criminal procedure e-journal and criminology e-journal. I was surprised by all of these rejections, and especially criminal law, since the article is focused on the purposes of punishment, a core criminal law concern. I called SSRN this morning, and they explained to me that SSRN sometimes rejects classifications, even when they are substantively appropriate, if they view them as overlapping with other classifications. In this case, they accepted my "corrections and sentencing" classification, and apparently viewed the criminal law, criminal procedure, and criminology e-journals as overlapping with corrections and sentencing and therefore rejected all three of those broader classifications. In short, the only criminal-law related e-journal in which my article will be listed is corrections and sentencing. I asked SSRN to review this decision, which they are now doing.

To my mind, there are a few problems with this way of doing things:

First of all, I haven't checked the subscription numbers, but it's hard to believe that the corrections and sentencing journal reaches nearly the same audience as the journals with broader classifications, such as criminal law and criminal procedure. As both an author and a reader, I expect relevant articles to be included in the broader topic areas. What is the interest in refusing to include an article in an e-journal squarely within its substantive reach? I suppose the goal is to avoid inundating e-journal readers. Is this an adequate justification? (it might be; that's a genuine question).

Second, SSRN authors are permitted 10 classification choices at the outset. My article will now be distributed in only 7 of the 10 journals I chose. Until now I assumed such rejections were based on substance. To the extent they aren't, shouldn't SSRN give us the allotted 10 journals to disseminate our work?

And finally, for those of us who care about such things (and I count myself among that group), CrimProf Blog has a nice feature: it lists the top ten downloads in the Criminal Law e-journal and the Criminal Procedure e-journal. That's a very reasonable choice of e-journals, since one would think they cover the broadest substantive areas. But for those who like to read--and for those who hope sometimes to be included on--the CrimProf blog list, SSRN's practice of rejecting relevant articles from those classifications (for reasons that cannot be predicted) is all the more problematic.

Professor Bandes tells me that "on appeal," the article was included in the criminal procedure journal!  Why the criminal law e-journal excluded a piece on the death penalty by a leading criminal law scholar--who knows?  Interestingly, the problem is somewhat the opposite for the "Jurisprudence & Legal Philosophy" e-journal, which (though better than in the past) often contains articles that are neither jurisprudence nor legal philosophy.  (Please, if your work isn't jurisprudence or legal philosophy, don't put it there!)   Here are some examples of recent articles that appeared in, but do not belong in, the "Jurisprudence & Legal Philosophy" e-journal:

Law and Macroeconomics: The Law and Economics of Recessions

New Wine in Old Wineskins: Metaphor and Legal Research

The Impact of Biological Psychiatry on the Law: Evidence, Blame and Social Solidarity

No doubt these are useful and interesting articles, but those of us subscribing to that e-journal aren't expect these pieces!

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