Friday, May 2, 2014

Farewell to Notes

When the first issue of the American Economic Review, which would become the preeminent research journal in academic economics, was published back in 1911, it devoted 13 pages to "Notes"--that is, news about the profession of economics. At a time when the number of academic economists was much smaller, and methods of broad-based communication were much slower, the "Notes" included mentions of conferences that had already happened, books that were soon to be published, contributions of historical papers to libraries, even the sabbatical plans for some prominent economists. When I took the job as managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives in 1987, we inherited the "Notes" from the AER. But now, after a run of 103 years, the rise of the web means that the time has come to stop publishing of conferences announcements, calls for papers, awards, and the like in a quarterly journal--or indeed on paper at all.  

In the just-released Spring 2014 issue of JEP, I commemorated the occasion with a  "Farewell to Notes." Here are the opening and closing paragraphs:

The great composer Johannes Brahms once remarked: “It is not difficult to compose; but it is incredibly difficult to let the superfluous notes drop under the table” (as quoted in Musgrave and Pascall 1987, p. 138). Here at the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the challenges of composing each issue remain, but the "Notes” have become superfluous, at least in their paper version.
The “Notes,” as those who lurk in these back pages of JEP know well, announce forthcoming conferences, calls for papers, awards, and the like. However, the Internet has made it obsolete to deliver such information on paper in a quarterly journal. ... But as we say farewell to the print version of the “Notes,” a moment of remembrance seems appropriate. The first issue of the American Economic Review, published in 1911, found it worthwhile to devote 13 out of 219 total pages to “Notes.” ...
Admittedly, the ending of the “Notes” section as printed within the covers of the Journal of Economic Perspectives doesn’t rank with some of the other great endings, like the revelation of what Citizen Kane meant by “Rosebud”; or “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown”; or “Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!” But in its own small way, the end of the paper version of the “Notes” after its run of 103 years is one more sign of the remarkable changes in information and communication technology that surround us—and thus worth remarking.