Environmental journal editors reply to publisher

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We regard all of these statements by Sage to be untruths, either deliberate falsehoods or grossly misleading. Sage is putting its own profits before academic freedom.

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The resigning editorial review board members of the journal Organization & Environment have asked us to publish the following statement. It follows on Editors resign from leading environment journal, published in Climate & Capitalism on October 18.

We repeat our view that they deserve broad support for their firm stand in defence of editorial autonomy, independent scholarly research, and scientific freedom.


October 31, 2012

Bob Howard, executive director of Sage journals, issued a “statement” to Inside Higher Ed on October 28, 2012, in response to our collective resignation from the editorial review board of Organization & Environment (Scott Jaschik, “Coup at Environmental Journal?Inside Higher Ed, October 29, 2012).

We were protesting the editorial coup engineered by Sage that has transferred editorial control of what was previously a notable peer-reviewed “ecosocial” journal to the” sustainability management” Group on Organization and the Natural Environment (GRONEN).

In defending Sage’s actions, Howard stated that, “the number of scholars publishing in this field [environmental sociology] is small. As a consequence, the journal does not have strong copy flow and many issues publish late.” He went on to say that, Sage’s “intervention was solely about maintaining the journal’s quality and impact over the longer term.”

He concluded: “I believe that by broadening the journal’s remit, we can grow its reach and impact and that this will benefit the articles it publishes in environmental sociology, as well as in other related areas. In addition, according to Inside Higher Ed, “he said that the journal will continue to welcome pieces in environmental sociology, even as it moves into ‘other approaches.’”

We regard all of these statements by Sage to be untruths—either deliberate falsehoods or grossly misleading claims.

(1) Organization & Environment throughout its history has been an ecosocial journal publishing work in both critical organization and management studies and environmental sociology, as well as related fields such as ecological economics, environmental politics, environmental philosophy, environmental history, and cultural ecology. At no point was the journal exclusively devoted to environmental sociology. Nor were its editors ever drawn exclusively from that field. It has always published some work dealing with issues of sustainable management and corporate environmentalism and has been open to more incremental approaches along with critical perspectives.

(2) Environmental sociology is not a field in which the “number of scholars” publishing “is small.” It is a rapidly growing and dynamic research area that has gained considerable prominence in the American Sociological Association, for example, with articles now appearing fairly regularly in all of the top journals in sociology in the United States(such as the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological Review, and Social Problems), and with O&E until now constituting one of the leading specialty academic journals in the environmental field. O&E‘s editorial board included scholars from three continents and overlapped with internationally based, interdisciplinary journals such as Ecological Economics.

(3) It is incorrect to say that O&E was published late in recent years under the current editors. From the standpoint of readers and subscribers it was notable for its regularity of publication. Sage’s complaint in this respect had rather to do with O&E’s failure on occasion (by a matter of weeks) to meet Sage’s own internal production deadlines, which became more inflexible and moved further and further away from just-in-time production, as it offshored production to India, turning O&E along with its other journals into global commodity chains.

(4) Nothing could be more ludicrous than the notion that an editorial intervention by Sage was needed to protect the “quality and impact over the long term” of a journal that had already doubled its impact factor since 2006, with an impact factor in 2011 higher than established journals such as Social Problems (widely considered one of the top three general journals in sociology in the United States).

(5) The claim that Sage’s and GRONEN’s goal was to “broaden” the journal is contradicted by the fact that the incoming editors and their associate editors are all drawn from the fields of “strategic management” and “sustainability management” based almost exclusively in business schools. Those who have recently submitted critical social science articles received messages from the incoming editors indicating that such material is no longer within the domain of the journal and will not be considered for publication.

(6) Likewise it is sheer dissimulation to claim, as Sage has, that the journal “will continue to welcome pieces in environmental sociology” and other areas of critical environmental social science given that the editors and associate editors include no one with expertise in fields outside of the narrow realm of mainstream management studies. Indeed, the editorial review board members of O&E who protested over the transition and who sought to retain continuity for the journal were told flatly by Sage and GRONEN that the journal would no longer centrally address environmental sociology or critical environmental social science in general.

In response to this disinformation by Sage we wish to reaffirm our earlier statement that Sage’s actions have resulted in a gross infringement of academic freedom, scientific ethics, and intellectual responsibility.

Rather than the independent publisher concerned with intellectual development, scientific research, and critical thought that it pretends to be, Sage has, in this case, demonstrated that it is willing to put its own profits before academic freedom, and its own long-term growth prospects before the free development of social science discourse.

It is for this reason that we collectively resigned from the journal. And it is for this reason that we call upon our peers within higher education, social science, and the research community in general to take up the cause of academic/editorial freedom in peer reviewed journals, and not to let such actions on the part of academic journal publishers prevail over the interests they are supposed to serve.

  • Bobby Banerjee, University of Western Sydney, Australia
  • Shannon Elizabeth Bell, University of Kentucky, USA
  • David Barkin, Autonomous Metropolitan University, Mexico
  • Steven R. Brechin, Syracuse University, USA
  • Robert J. Brulle, Drexel University, USA
  • Brett Clark, University of Utah, USA
  • Debra Davidson, University of Alberta, Canada
  • Liam Downey, University of Colorado, USA
  • Michael Dreiling, University of Oregon, USA
  • Riley Dunlap, Oklahoma State University, USA
  • Robyn Eckersley, University of Melbourne, Australia
  • Marina Fischer-Kowalski, Alpen-Adria University, Austria
  • John Bellamy Foster, University of Oregon, USA
  • Al Gedicks, University of Wisconsin,USA
  • Andrew Kent Jorgenson, University of Utah, USA
  • Timothy W. Luke, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, USA
  • Arthur Mol, Wageningen University, Netherlands
  • Carolyn Merchant, Universityof California, Berkeley, USA
  • David Pellow, University of Minnesota, USA
  • Charles Perrow,Yale University,USA
  • Simone Pulver, University of California at Santa Barbara, USA
  • Eugene Rosa,Washington State University,USA
  • Thomas Rudel, Rutgers University, USA
  • John M. Shandra, State Universityof New York, Stony Brook,USA


  • Its time to build the structures to bypass these corporate parasites altogether. Publicly funded academic labour does all the work anyway. Publicly funded academics write the articles, peer review the articles, edit the editions – what do the likes of sage and elsivier do? Apart from standing like some outmoded monopolistic barrier to the development and spread of ideas? For more than a decade now the internet has provided the means to spread ideas freely. If academics as a profession were to act together, we could set up a peer-reviewed online platform or library. All the writing, reviewing, editing would be done as before – as part of our normal university funded duties. But the articles would be online for free. The UK government and other funding bodies are already making noises about ‘open access’ publishing for all publicly funded research. But of course, these rotten Tories have are exploring a worse option – where academics would then pay per article to publish! Out of the frying pan and into the fire! Anything to keep the corporate parasites in a position of power to exploit academia. But we could have free publishing and free access, with a publicly funded online library that would run at a fraction of the cost. Such a move would save universities millions. But instead jobs and conditions are cut, and our students burdened with exorbitant fees – when we could save money by cutting out the corporate parasites. This is nothing less than the rebellion of the forces of production against the relations of production.The new, collective, informational forces of production are fettered within capitalist relations. Lets help bring about the dam-burst!

    • The problem is that the transition away from established publishing regimes would take two things that are pretty effectively stymied by the tenure system and the structure of university administration: courage and collective action on the part of those working in the system. Everything is now set up to press tenure-seekers to comply with “reputation” and focus solely upon their own personal prospects.

      I think academia is heading for a big bubble moment of its own, as it continues to drift in present patterns. Tuition hikes and all these for-profit journals (and for-profit pseudo-colleges) can’t last much longer. But the heart of the system is built to avoid reform.