I am the moderator who merged that synonym. The reason I did this was because they had been used without their intended distinction. That is,
- questions already tagged with publishing were no more likely to be about the process of publishing than questions with publications, and
- questions already tagged with publications were no more likely to be about the output of publishing than questions with publishing.
This made both tags less useful in practice, since you could not go to either one and expect to get all the questions about process or output (either separately or together). Any time you did a search by tag, you had to do two searches, one with publishing and one with publications.
But, you are right that for such a large tag, I really should have brought it up on meta first, and I'm sorry about that.
Note that intended use is not really relevant in merge actions:
- Merge is a tool for when Tag B carries no meaning distinct from Tag A in the way it is currently applied, regardless of how they are meant to be used, or how they will be used going forward.
- Synonyms are a tool to enforce "We've decided to use Tag A for both A and B in the future," regardless of any difference they may have carried in the past.
Merge relates to past use, synonyms relate to future/intended use, and they are independent actions. Tags that are currently not distinct in their usage but will have different future usage should be merged and not made synonyms; tags that currently have different usage but we've decided to combine in the future should be made synonyms but not merged.
Regarding future/intended use, I'm not convinced that making the tag wikis more clear would solve this issue. In practice, tags whose distinction is not obvious (even without the wiki) tend to be abused.
Instead, I would propose to have a series of more specific tags about the publishing process.
We already have a set of tags which (especially when used together with publications) discriminate between many parts of the publishing process (from the author's point of view):
- writing on writing the content of the publication
- typesetting and formatting on typesetting and formatting a publication
- authorship on resolving disputes about authorship credit
- paper-submission on submitting a paper for review or publication. (Note that currently, this tag includes "The process of preparing a scientific manuscript"; I proposed to narrow its scope here.)
- peer-review on the peer review part of the process
- online-publication on making a paper available online
- copyright on the process of copyright transfer
Do we have questions about the publishing process that aren't successfully distinguished by these tags?