AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIX , No. 1, Spring 2007

 

AIP Adopts Policy on Preserving Journal Referee Files
by Joe Anderson

We’re pleased to announce that the American Institute of Physics has adopted a policy (see below) on preserving referee files for the journals that it publishes and making them available to researchers 50 years from their date of creation. The policy also recommends that the AIP Member Societies follow the same procedures for journals that they publish on their own.

In September 2005, Daniel Kinnefink published “Einstein Versus the Physical Review” in Physics Today (online at http://ptonline.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_58/iss_9/43_1.shtml). The article, an impressive piece of scholarship,
illustrates the rich information that referee records can provide, in this case regarding a disagreement between Physical Review editor John Tate and Einstein over a manuscript that the latter submitted in 1936. Because individual Physical Review referee reports for the 1930s no long exist, Kinnefink had to piece together incomplete, albeit persuasive, evidence from the journal’s log books (thanks to editor Martin Blume the originals are now in the Niels Bohr Library & Archives) and from the papers of Howard Percy Robertson, who wrote the referee report that led to the rejection of Einstein’s original submission. Robertson’s papers are available at the CalTech Archives.

In addition to tracing individual controversies like this one, Harry Marks, Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins, notes that “ referee reports are an invaluable source of information about experimental practices and social networks. . . .” He adds that “I cannot think of any comparable source as rich in information about tacit knowledge, the role of evidence and judgment, etc. . . .”

The 50-year restriction is based on existing policies of the Nobel Foundation, the Royal Society, and a number of journals in other fields. The policy was drafted by the staff of AIP’s Center for History of Physics and was revised and approved by the Institute’s History Advisory Committee, Governing Board, and Publishing Policy Committee. AIP publishes approximately one-third of the world’s journal literature in physics each year, and when implemented, this new policy will ensure a very valuable resource for researchers in the future. We hope that it may offer a model to other publishers as well.

AIP Policy on Preservation of Journal Referee Files

The American Institute of Physics recognizes that review files of leading journals represent an important resource for historians and other scholars. They provide unique insights into the state of science at the time they were written, and they often illustrate contemporary issues and controversies. The reviews for rejected manuscripts can be of special value. Accordingly, AIP adopts the following policy for its own journals and further recommends the policy for AIP Member Society journals.

(1) Journal publishers are responsible for preserving the historically valuable records of their journals when feasible and should arrange to place their peer-review files at an appropriate archive (e.g., their home institution archives, the Library of Congress). The AIP Niels Bohr Library & Archives is one appropriate repository for the records of AIP and AIP Member Society journals, but shortages of space and funds make it impossible for AIP to save any but the most historically valuable files of leading journals. Library and History Center staff will help journal editorial boards find other appropriate repositories for files that AIP cannot accept, or if they prefer another repository. The Center and Library will also provide help and advice in placing records of Member Society journals that are not published by AIP, but they do not have the resources to house these records in the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.

(2) Review files should be access-restricted for a period of 50 years from the date of creation. A restriction of this length provides for the privacy of reviewers during their active careers, and it makes the files available to the scholarly community within a reasonable amount of time. It also reflects general archival practice. For AIP journals, the current Editor and AIP Executive Director, acting jointly, may provide access to qualified researchers before the 50-year time period expires, at their discretion. Similarly, the current Editor and appropriate Member Society official, acting jointly, may provide earlier access to Member Society journal records stored in AIP’s archives. In any case, permission must be sought where feasible from relevant parties (referees, editors, authors) if still living. Data analysis without individual identification would be permitted, subject to all basic policy requirements, before the expiration of the 50 year restriction.

(3) If resources permit, AIP further recommends that paper review files be digitized and/or microfilmed on an annual or other schedule to eliminate the need for permanently storing voluminous paper records. Materials already in digital format should be retained permanently by the appropriate repository if feasible. The AIP Center for History of Physics can provide advice on archival microfilming standards and on preserving digital files.

March 2007



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