Macmillan have released an interesting press release, announcing that all research papers published in their 49 Nature Publishing Group (NPG) journals, including Nature, will be made free to read online, via one of Digital Science’s pet projects, ReadCube (note that Digital Science is also owned by Macmillan). These articles can be annotated in ReadCube, but not copied, printed, or downloaded.
This is not open access*, and NPG have been very careful and explicit about stating this.
What is the reason for this move, then, when we have a globally shifting environment towards open access? Well, academics love to break rules. We share papers freely, and often illegally, with our colleagues all the time. It’s a sort of passive rebellion against paywall-based publishers. A great example of this is #icanhazpdf on Twitter, whereby articles are requested, and then hopefully shared privately by someone else. This kind of activity is what NPG are calling ‘dark social’, like some terrible name for an evil media organisation. By this, they simply mean sharing, but out of their control. This new initiative seems to be a way of controlling, and legitimising this sort of ‘peer-to-peer’ practice.
A Nature News piece is out today featuring comments from me, about how high retraction rates correlate with impact factors in scholarly journals. However, the piece cherry picks my comments a little, and doesn’t really go into that much depth. Bjorn Brembs already has a response up, and seeing as when I was contacted for comments, I mentioned a piece of research from him and other colleagues, I feel it is in the spirit to echo what he mentions by publishing my full response to Nature here.
In response to a tweet about an article on retraction rates, I was contacted with the following questions: “Did anything in particular inspire you to share this paper at this time? Can I assume that you feel the paper is still relevant?”
My full response:
“The reason why I shared it? Well, in all honesty I didn’t see the date, and just came across it and thought it was fairly relevant to a lot of current discussions about impact factors. I don’t think studies like this really lose their usage that quickly. It’s remarkably similar to a more recent study, in fact, that calls for a complete overhaul of the publishing industry and the use of impact factors (see Fig. 1 http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00291/full).
I do feel the paper is relevant still, especially given several recent ‘horror stories’ regarding retractions, and falsification of results. However, I do feel it is missing key discussion points, such as what is creating the pattern. I think there are two ways of reading it. The first, is that the ‘publish or perish’ culture very much alive and prevalent within academia is still causing academics to chase after ‘high impact’ journals, and in doing so are more likely to create incorrect results, deliberate or not, in the pursuit of achieving substantial enough results deemed worthy of ‘top tier journals’ – sensationalism over quality. The second way is that journals with higher impact factors generally have higher readerships, and as such increase the probability of detection of incorrect results. However, there is no current information that I’m aware of to support this latter link, beyond anecdote.
The raw way of reading it, however, is that the higher the impact factor of a journal, the increased probability that the contents within are wrong. I think although it is not as black and white as this, it is certainly another piece of evidence to caution against ‘impact factor mania’ within academia (something that I still see my colleagues suffer from on a daily basis, and try to engage with).
Perhaps more significantly is that it draws attention to the short-comings of peer review, if detection of incorrect results is not picked up during this screening process. Perhaps even further, it highlights the rift between editorial decisions and recommendations of review, highlighted in the ‘Bohannon Sting’ operation last year, if you recall (i.e., bad results, accepted for publication anyway). Either way, it highlights a need for more transparency in the review process – this will ultimately drive down retractions as mistakes can be detected and dealt with much quicker.”
Anyway, that’s my thoughts on glamour mags and retraction rates. What are yours? Have I missed any key information here too?
Top scientific publisher chooses not to advance open access
By Erin McKiernan, independent, and Jon Tennant, Imperial College London
Access to research is limited worldwide by the high cost of subscription journals, which force readers to pay for their content. The use of scientific research in new studies, educational material and news is often restricted by these publishers, who require authors to sign over their rights and then control what is done with the published work. In response, a movement that would allow free access to information and no restrictions on reuse – termed open access – is growing.
The journal Science Advances, to be launched in February by the AAAS, plans to publish articles under a license that would prevent commercial reuses by default. This includes publication on some educational blogs and incorporation into educational material, as well as reuse by small-medium enterprises. By definition, this is not open access. AAAS will give authors the option to publish their work under a fully open license, but will levy a US$1,000 surcharge on top of the US$3,000 base publication fee. A reason for this surcharge was not given.
Science Advances is going to be an online-only journal, but AAAS will also charge authors US$1,500 more to publish articles that are more than ten pages long. They believe editorial services are enough justification for this charge, but there is no calculation to support this claim. They reason this limit is also necessary due to concerns about brevity and writing quality. However, these issues can be addressed during peer review – a process by which scientists judge other scientists’ work as objectively as possible and which is done at little to no cost to the journal.
Some scientists worry that a page-limit surcharge could lead to the omission of details necessary for replicating experiments, a core tenet of scientific research. Leading open-access journals from publishers such as PLOS and BioMedCentral offer unlimited page lengths at no additional cost.
A comparison shows that fees to be charged by Science Advances are among the highest in the publishing industry.
AAAS says it is fully committed to open-access publishing, but an examination of its recent actions are cause for concern.
In June, AAAS wrote a letter to Farina Shaheed, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights at the United Nations. Shaheed is preparing a report on open access for the UN Human Rights Council. AAAS expressed reservations about open access, calling the movement “young”, the approaches “experimental”, and encouraging Shaheed not to ignore the potential benefits of the reader-pays publishing model.
Concerns about AAAS’s approach to open-access publishing recently led more than 100 scientists, including us, to sign an open letter to them providing recommendations to improve Science Advances. AAAS have not responded formally to the open letter, choosing instead to publish a FAQ which makes no changes to their policies.
It is unfortunate that AAAS and others have chosen not to fully embrace open access and maximise the impact of publicly funded research. These are missed opportunities for the world’s largest general scientific society to lead the way in increasing worldwide access to information.
Erin McKiernan co-authored this piece. Jon Tennant receives funding from The National Environmental Research Council.
Apologies for the third post about open access publishing in a row. Normal service will resume shortly!
I wanted to bring attention to a second open letter published, inspired by our first one to the Association for the Advancement of American Science (AAAS). This letter was aimed at a smaller society, the Society for Neuroscience, and spearheaded by Erin McKiernan, who was also a signatory on the original letter.
My thanks go out to Josh at The Winnower for such speedy publication of these letters, and to everyone who has contributed to these letters in some way so far.
Do you know any publishers or journals with pretty crap policies, or that you’d like to pick a bone with? Issues like licensing or horrendous costs we can tackle, as have been shown here, but it’s nice to see academics taking the fight to publishers – remember, they’re supposed to serve the academic community, not troll it and extort every penny from us while being as regressive to the progress of science as possible!
Drop a comment below if you’d like to join the OA train. We’ll be sending more public letters out shortly. Watch this space!