The Society of Informatics (GI), the “Informatik-Spektrum” and Ethics

The Society of Informatics (GI), the “Informatik-Spektrum” and Ethics

On August, 6th, 2008, Dr. Stierlen and yours truly met the vice president of Munich Technical University, Prof. Bode. We discussed a possible cooperation between TUM and InterFace AG. Since Prof. Bode is also co-editor of the Informatik-Spektrum, I suggested making the Informatik-Spektrum, which is the GI’s central publication, a little more attractive. I offered to write a column “Informatics and Ethics” for the Informatik-Spektrum. In order to make this column a little different from what is commonly – and rather long-windedly – published in the Spektrum, I proposed to limit my column to one page.  Professor Bode mentioned me to Herrn Hermann Engesser, the programming director for Informatics and CR Informatik-Spektrum at Springer, who asked me to send him 3 samples of potential articles.

Here is what he wrote in his email:

…for a possible new column in the Informatik-Spektrum has been forwarded to me by Prof. Bode. Thank you very much for your interest in our magazine. Counting the members of GI and SI, the magazine has about 24,000 readers. In order to decide whether your proposed column might be a good addition to our range of themes, I would kindly ask you to send me three sample articles (of your own choice). These articles will then be forwarded to be Peer Reviewed. … One page in the Informatik-Spektrum should be 3,500 symbols … Deadline for contributions is usually two months before the copy is due to be printed  …

Always a believer in prompt delivery, I wrote three sample articles and sent them to Herrn Engesser in September 2008. I also told him that these were just sketches and that modifications could easily be made. The most difficult task was to limit myself to 3,500 symbols … Not having heard anything for several weeks, I asked about the progress in October and received a reply on October, 24th, which (among other things) said:

…a new column always necessitates several Peer Reviews, for which we are still waiting. I am confident that they will arrive within the next two weeks….

The next time I remembered that I had heard nothing was early February. So I sent another email asking about the state of affairs. On February, 5th, Herr Engesser wrote (among other things):

… We came to the conclusion that we do not wish to add your column to the articles in the Informatik-Spektrum. The main reason for this decision is that your proposed articles are stylistically like a blog. The readers of the Informatik-Spektrum are a very heterogeneous group. People in science and industry and administration, as well as students, executives and professors are among them. As opposed to many magazines tending towards ever shorter articles, we encourage our authors to take advantage of the opportunity to relate connections and their deeper spheres at great length. This is true for all themes covered in the Spektrum. Your representation of modern issues in a less grave way is certainly very suitable for publication in a blog, possibly even for some computer magazine or other. However, we do not see the Informatik- Spektrum as a suitable platform …

I can easily live with that. Communication with Herrn Engesser, too, was always very agreeable. I fail to understand why the decision took so long. Since I am myself a reader of the Informatik-Spektrum and know quite a few other readers’ opinions, I think the given reasons are less than satisfactory. I know many readers who say that it might be a good move for the Informatik-Spektrum to publish considerably shorter articles.

Mind you, the reason for putting me down contains the solution to the problem. As I see it, the Informatik-Spektrum would be well advised to add a new section “Blogs” in which authors could regularly write short comments on current topics. That would make the Spektrum more attractive – and blogs are certainly something you must not discard when talking informatics! I would recommend a survey among readers. I am sure the result would be enlightening.

I am now publishing my three sample articles in the IF blog.

ethics und informatics

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