While the Elsevier nonlinear science journal Chaos, Solitons & Fractals (CS&F) expects to publish its delayed first issue of 2009 next week, it appears that the publisher has yet to find a new editor.
Last November, when Nature published a number of allegations about the founding editor of CS&F M. S. El Naschie, and the way in which peer review had been conducted at the journal, Elsevier informed me that M. S. El Naschie would be retiring, and that this would be announced in the first issue of the journal published in 2009.
"[A]s a former editor El Naschie will no longer be involved in editorial decision making for the journal," Elsevier spokesperson Shira Tabachnikoff added.
When CS&F's first issue of 2009 failed to appear, however, rumours began to circulate on the Internet that there had been a disagreement over M. S. El Naschie's retirement. Amongst other things, letters purporting to have been written on behalf of the editorial board were posted on the Web stating that M. S. El Naschie did not intend to step down as editor, and hinting at legal action against Elsevier.
On 13th February, however, Tabachnikoff emailed me to say that the first issue of 2009 would be available electronically on February 20th, and the paper version would be published on 10th March.
I emailed Elsevier last week to find out what had happened, and received a reply yesterday: "The delay in publishing this issue is due to very pragmatic, operational reasons," wrote Tabachnikoff. "The latest update I have been given is that the journal is now in line to be uploaded onto ScienceDirect and we expect on Monday [2nd March] it will be up."
Tabachnikoff added, "The paper version will be published mid-March. March 10th is an estimate as it is hard to say exactly what day it will be finalised."
After receiving this reply I asked Tabachnikoff for the name of CS&F's new editor. She replied: "We do not yet have a new editor, but as stated on our website we are still in discussion about filling this position. The publisher will work with the editorial board and other advisors to identify a new editor, as well as reviewing the aims and scope of the journal, as well as the editorial policies and submission arrangements."
Conscious that researchers have been wondering about the status of the 900 plus papers in the publication queue I also asked whether Elsevier planned to send any of the papers out to be re-reviewed prior to publication.
"The coming editions of CS&F will publish papers that have been pending publication which were already peer reviewed when El Naschie was the editor," said Tabachnikoff. "These papers will not be reviewed again, and authors have signed copyright agreements."
I also asked how many of the papers in the queue had been authored by M. S. El Naschie. "At this point it is hard to establish how many papers in future issues are authored by El Naschie," replied Tabachnikoff. Saying that she hoped to find out more next week she added: "I do know that the first issue will not contain any of his papers."
Finally, I asked if all disagreements between Elsevier and M.S. El Naschie, both over the journal itself, and over his retirement as editor, have now been resolved. Tabachnikoff replied: "At the moment, we have no outstanding issues and/or problems with El Naschie."
Despite a number of attempts I have been unable to speak to M. S. El Naschie.
In the meantime, it seems likely that critics of the way in which Elsevier has handled the situation will remain unappeased. Zoran Škoda, a theoretical physicist at the Ruđer Bošković Institute in Zagreb, Croatia, for instance, believes that by not having papers that were approved under the old editorial regime re-reviewed, Elsevier has "made the worst possible decision."
For this reason, he adds, Elsevier should be criticised harshly. "Before they could say that they did not understand the problem, but now they do."
As promised by Elsevier, the January 15th issue of CS&F was published yesterday, 2nd March 2009. An accompanying "Publisher's note" reads:
The Founding Editor for Chaos, Solitons and Fractals Dr El Naschie has retired as Editor-in-Chief. The publisher will work with the editorial board and other advisors to identify a new editor. This is likely to also lead to revision of the aims and scope of the journal, as well as the editorial policies and submission arrangements. Prospective authors can keep informed
of the progress on this through the journal’s homepage.
With the journal now apparently operating with no one at the helm the debate appears to be moving on to the question of whether, and for how long, a peer-reviewed journal can operate without an editor-in-chief.