Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Orwellian metadata: making journals disappear

UnknownI've been spending a lot of time recently mapping bibliographic citations for taxonomic names to digital identifiers (such as DOIs). This is tedious work at the best of times (despite lots of automation), but it is not helped but the somewhat Orwellian practices of some publishers. Occasionally when an established journal gets renamed the publisher retrospectively applies that name to the previous journal. For example, in 2000 the journal Entomologica Scandinavica (ISSN 0013-8711) became Insect Systematics & Evolution (ISSN 1399-560X):

(diagram based on WorldCat xISSN history tool, rendered using Google Charts.)

Content for both Entomologica Scandinavica and Insect Systematics & Evolution is available from Ingenta's web site, but every article is listed as being in Insect Systematics & Evolution, and this is reflected in the metadata CrossRef has for each DOI.

For example, the paper
Andersen, N.M. & P.-p. Chen, 1993. A taxonomic revision of pondskater genus Gerris Fabricius in China, with two new species (Hemiptera: Gerridae). – Entomologica Scandinavica 24: 147-166

has the DOI doi:10.1163/187631293X00262 which resolves to a page saying this article was published in Insect Systematics & Evolution. The XML for the DOI says the same thing:

<issn type="print">1399560X</issn>
<issn type="electronic">1876312X</issn>
<journal_title>Insect Systematics & Evolution</journal_title>

In one sense this is no big deal. If you know the DOI then that's all you need to use to refer to the article (and the sooner we abandon fussing with citation styles and just use DOIs the better).

But if you haven't yet found the DOI then this is problem, because if I search CrossRef using the original journal name (Entomologica Scandinavica) I get nothing. As far as CrossRef is concerned the DOI doesn't exist. If, however, I happen to know that Entomologica Scandinavica is now Insect Systematics & Evolution, I rewrite the query and I retrieve the DOI.

It's bad enough dealing with taxonomic names changes without having to deal with journal names changes as well! It would be great if publishers didn't indulge in wholesale renaming old journals, or if CrossRef had a mechanism (perhaps based on WorldCat's xISSN History Visualization Tool) to handle retrospectively renamed journals.