March highlights from the world of scientific publishing

An update on what I learnt from Twitter last month: dodgy citation metrics, mislabelled papers and journals and more.

Metrics

A wonderful Perspective piece appeared in the open access journal mBio entitled Causes for the Persistence of Impact Factor Mania. Here, Arturo Casadevall (Editor in Chief of the journal) and Ferric C. Fang treat the misuse of the journal impact factor as if it were a disease and suggest possible causes and treatments. They diagnose the main problem as: “Publication in prestigious journals has a disproportionately high payoff that translates into a greater likelihood of academic success” and that these disproportionate rewards “create compelling incentives for investigators to have their work published in such journals. ” Their solutions are not new but worth reading. (via @PeppeGanga)

A less useful post was a widely shared news feature in the Pacific Standard: Killing Pigs and Weed Maps: The Mostly Unread World of Academic Papers. This gave an interesting look at citation analysis, but it started with a rather dodgy statistic:

A study at Indiana University found that “as many as 50% of papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors.” That same study concluded that “some 90% of papers that have been published in academic journals are never cited.”

This ‘study’ turns out to be a feature in Physics World from 2007 by Indiana University Librarian Lokman I Meho, in which these numbers are simply asserted, with no citation and no data to back them up. Yoni Appelbaum (@YAppelbaum) pointed out a paper by Vincent Larivière and Yves Gingras on arXiv that effectively debunks these numbers. I also found a paper from 2008 whose Discussion section cites various studies on the proportion of uncited papers – which ranges from 15% to 26% for scientific and mathematical research papers, but was much higher in the social sciences (48% uncited) and humanities (93% uncited). So the situation isn’t as bad as the Pacific Standard made out, unless you are in the humanities.

Open access

The Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest provider of non-governmental funding for scientific research, released a dataset on Figshare of the fees paid in the 2012-13 financial year for open access publication (APCs). @ernestopriego posted an initial analysis, @CameronNeylon posted a tidied up version of the dataset and @petermurrayrust and Michelle Brook (@MLBrook) initiated a crowdsourced attempt to check whether all the articles paid for were actually made open access by their publishers. The resulting spreadsheet will continue to be used for checking whether any paid open access papers are being wrongly marked as copyright of the publisher, or being put behind a paywall, or being given a link to payment for a licence to reproduce or reuse (anyone can help with this if they wish). Peter Murray-Rust has identified some examples where these errors have been made, which seem to be mostly from Elsevier, and this prompted Elsevier to post an explanation of why this is taking so long to fix (they were alerted the problem two years ago, as Mike Taylor has explained). 

Richard Poynder (@RickyPo) pointed me to a post on Google+ by David Roberts about changes in the APCs of Elsevier maths journals. Some have been pegged to small annual increases, others have gone up 6-8%, while one has had its APC reduced by 30%. The latter just happens to be the journal for which the editorial board threatened to quit in protest at Elsevier’s continuing lack of sufficient support for open access. The APCs are generally between US$500 and US$5000. In response to this, Ross Mounce (@rmounce) pointed out that Ubiquity Press (@ubiquitypress), whose APCs are US$390, have given a full breakdown of what the APC pays for. @HansZauner asked why all publishers can’t do the same, but this seems unlikely to happen.

It was also Richard Poynder who tweeted a very useful guide to choosing an open access journal, produced by Ryerson University Library & Archives in Canada. This gives a series of tests to see whether a journal is likely to be reputable rather than a ‘predatory’ journal, including membership of OASPA, journal metrics, peer review procedure and editorial board membership. @BMJ_Open pointed out that the page implied that double blind peer review was the most widely accepted standard. The page has now been changed, perhaps in response to this comment, to say “Take into consideration that blind peer review and open peer review are both considered a credible standard for scientific publishing.”

Other open access and open data news:

  • @WoWter posted an analysis of how much it would cost the Netherlands to convert completely to gold open access.
  • The Directory of Open Access Journals (@DOAJplus) published a new application form that all journals must fill in to apply to be in the database. This includes a ‘DOAJ Seal’ that indicates the openness, indexability and discoverability of the journal. (via @MikeTaylor).
  • PLOS published an update and clarification of their open data policy, following the debates that I covered last month.
  • David Crotty wrote a good summary of the debate about PLOS’s open data policy for the @ScholarlyKitchn.
  • A new service called JournalClick was announced, which gives recommendations for open access papers to read based on what you have read (via @RickyPo).
  • A German court has ruled that the Creative Commons non-commercial (CC:NC) clause means that the material is only for personal use, so even state-owned radio stations with no advertisements, for examples, are not permitted to use CC:NC material without permission (via @petermurrayrust).
  • Duke University
    Scholarly Communications Officer, Kevin Smith

    Scholarly Communications Officer Kevin Smith (@klsmith4906) posted about two problems with Nature Publishing Group licencing: they have recently started to require Duke authors to request a formal waiver of their faculty open access policy, and their licence to publish requires the author to waive or agree not to assert their moral rights.  @grace_baynes of Nature responded in a comment.

  • @damianpattinson of PLOS posted a report of an interesting talk entitled ‘The future is open: opportunities for publishers and institutions’ that he and his colleague Catriona MacCallum (@catmacOA) gave at the UKSG conference ‘Open Access Realities’ in London in November 2013.

New journals

The IEEE launched its new journal, IEEE Access, which claims to be an open access megajournal and was listed as one that was ‘coming soon’ in Pete Binfield (@p_binfield)’s December 2013 post on megajournals. However, the FAQ makes clear that in fact the authors are required to sign over copyright to the publisher, and reuse is not allowed, although the papers are free to read online. A discussion with @MattJHodgkinson and @BenMudrak clarified the situation for me. Matt pointed out that the Budapest Open Access Initiative FAQ says “Open access journals will either let authors retain copyright or ask authors to transfer copyright to the publisher”. So copyright transfer is allowed within open access, but restricting all reuse means that this journal should not be called an open access journal. IEEE Access also doesn’t conform to the standard definition of a megajournal, as the FAQ states “IEEE Access will publish articles that are of high interest to readers, original, technically correct, and clearly presented.” Megajournals do not select on the basis of perceived ‘interest’, so this is not a megajournal.

Other developments

  • I haven’t kept up fully with the controversy surrounding the publication of a new method (called STAP) to produce stem cells that was published in Nature in January. Paul Knoepfler’s stem cell blog (and @pknoepfler) is the place to go for full updates, but I was concerned to read that Nature has declined to publish a ‘Brief Communication Arising’ reporting that the method does not work. It seems important to me that such follow-ups should be published in the same journal as the original paper.
  • Jocelyn Sze (@jocelynesze) pointed me to a series of 2012 articles in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience on visions for the future of scientific publishing. This editorial by Nikolaus Kriegeskorte introduces the series.

A comparison of open access publication charges

Having covered submission fees and other charges, it is about time I covered the main event, isn’t it? I’m talking about open access publication fees, also known as author publishing charges (APCs) and many other names. This is a fee for making your article free for readers to read, and usually for them to download, distribute and do whatever they like with as well.

What do you get for your money?

Before agreeing to pay a fee to make your article open access, make sure you check the licence. True open access (as defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative) means that it should be equivalent to the Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC:BY), which allows others to copy, distribute and make derivative works, including for commercial purposes, as long as they attribute it to you. Some publishers have a similar licence but with a non-commercial clause (CC:BY-NC) – there is debate about whether the NC clause stops something being open access. Others allow reading for free but restrict other uses, which really can’t be called open access at all. If the rights of readers and re-users are restricted, you are getting less open access for your APC than if there is a CC:BY licence.

Surveys of APCs

To find journal open access charges you usually need to look on the website of the individual journal. However, several organisations have usefully put together summaries of licences and charges. The Wellcome Trust and the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) both have mandates that all research they fund must be made freely available within 6 months of publication, and they both have lists on their websites of journals that do and don’t comply with this mandate. The following lists are available:

  • The MRC has a downloadable spreadsheet listing licences and charges of the most popular couple of hundred journals in which their authors publish
  • The Wellcome Trust has a list of the top 200 journals used by their authors showing which are compliant with their mandate, but not including charges
  • BioMed Central has a page comparing their APCs and licence with those of other publishers
  • The University of California, Berkeley library collections have a similar comparison page covering many subject areas
  • The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) provides information on charges, but this doesn’t seem to be searchable
  • SHERPA/RoMEO has a list of charges by publisher

I have taken the MRC spreadsheet, converted the currencies and calculated some statistics, and the result is in a Google Docs spreadsheet here. Some journals have two different fees depending on whether the author is a member of the society that runs the journal (or has a discount for some other reason). Of the 209 journals that allowed open access publication of some kind (ie gold open access, not just allowing deposition in a repository, which is called green open access), the mean fee was US$2845.08 (£1793.60) for members or US$2881.93 (£1816.21) for non-members. The standard deviation of the fee was $729.17 (£459.71) for members or $687.09 (£438.60) for non-members. The median is $3000 (£1891.33).

Some notes on these figures. Firstly, they are from the MRC document last updated April 2011, with currencies converted using xe.com on 23 March 2012. Secondly, they cover journals in medicine and related fields, particularly biology. Thirdly, they include 8 BioMed Central journals, 10 BMJ journals, 52 Elsevier journals (including 11 Cell Press journals), 14 Nature Publishing Group journals, 17 OUP journals, 4 PLoS journals, 12 Springer journals and 48 Wiley/Wiley-Blackwell journals. The median charge is $3000 because non-Cell-Press Elsevier journals charge this amount and there are lots of Elsevier journals in the list.

The MRC list also includes journals in the Lancet stable (The Lancet, The Lancet Neurology and The Lancet Oncology, published by Elsevier ), which charge £400 ($634.47) per page. I’m not sure how many pages the average research paper is, but at 6 pages this would be £2400 ($3808.46) and at 10 pages it would be £4000 ($6344.70).

Waivers

These fees may seem very high to some. Don’t forget that many publishers have waivers for those who cannot afford to pay the APC. PLoS offers a waiver for anyone who does not have funds to cover the fee (and I’ve heard informally that they ask no questions). BioMed Central gives an automatic waiver to authors from a WHO list of developing countries, and also considers waivers and discounts on a case by case basis. I haven’t researched all publishers to find out their policy on waivers – perhaps that’s for a future post! If you can’t afford the APC for a journal to which you would like to submit your paper, I suggest explaining this when you submit and asking for a waiver or discount.

Your experience

Do you know of other sources of information on APCs for different journals or on average APCs? Have you spotted any errors in my spreadsheet?

Journal submission fees: why are they so rare?

In a previous post I discussed fees that journals charge for colour printing, per page or for supplementary material. All those fees are charged only to authors whose papers are accepted. Here I’ll look at fees that are charged to the authors of all submissions, included those that are rejected.

In 2010 a report on submission fees by Mark Ware was published by the Knowledge Exchange, a collaboration of the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) with similar organisations in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. This followed a study investigating whether submission fees could play a role in a business model for open access journals. They concluded that for journals with a high rejection rate in particular, submission fees can help to make the open access publication fee more reasonable and could thus make the transition to open access easier.

Although the report focuses on submission fees in the transition to open access, they also noted:

In certain disciplines, notably economic and finance journals and in some areas of the experimental life sciences, submission fees are already common.

Which journals charge a submission fee?

The Knowledge Exchange report includes a table of journals that already charge a submission fee. For biology journals, these fees are listed as mostly being around US$50-75.

I’ve checked on the journal websites for a selection of those listed in this report, and some seem to no longer charge for submission – in particular, the US$400 submission fee that Ideas in Ecology & Evolution charged when it launched in 2008 seems to have now been dropped, and I can’t find any mention of submission fees on the websites of Journal of Biological Chemistry or FASEB Journal.

The journals that I could verify as charging submission fees are:

  • Journal of Neuroscience (Society for Neuroscience) has a submission fee of US$125 (as well as the page charges and colour printing charges mentioned in the previous post)
  • Hereditas (an open access Wiley-Blackwell journal) charges 100 euros (US$133)
  • Stem Cells (Wiley-Blackwell, with an open access option) charges $90
  • Journal of Clinical Investigation (American Society for Clinical Investigation) and Cancer Research (American Association for Cancer Research) charge US$75
  • several other journals mentioned in the Knowledge Exchange report charge around US$50.

Elsevier say in their FAQ that you need to look in each journal’s guide to authors to find out if they charge submission fees (as with other charges).

All the above except Hereditas are subscription journals.

Why submission fees, or why not?

The Knowledge Exchange report interviewed publishers about the pros and cons of submission fees. Unfortunately, they don’t give any details of who was interviewed, except that they were ‘stakeholders including publishers, libraries, research funders, research institutions and individual researchers’, or the text of the interviews, so it is difficult to interpret the results. However, from these interviews the report identified the following advantages:

  • The costs of publication are spread over more authors
  • The fee may put off authors from submitting ‘on spec’ to a journal where they know their paper has only a tiny chance of getting accepted, thus saving work for the journal.

The disadvantages mentioned included:

  • The fee might put off authors and thus make the journal less competitive
  • It was unclear whether funders would cover the charge (though interviews with funders for the study suggested that they would)
  • It would require administration.

Given the findings of this report, I’m surprised that more journals don’t charge a submission fee. I would be surprised if it put off speculative submissions (the time it takes for a paper to be reviewed is surely a bigger cost to the authors than a charge at the level of US$50-100). But for  open access journals with high rejection rates, as the report says, it seems particularly appropriate. Is the risk of seeming uncompetitive with other journals the only reason why these fees aren’t being widely tried?

This is interesting in the context of the statements by Nature Publishing Group that Nature couldn’t go open access because they would have to charge a very high publication fee. I’ve heard this most recently from Alison Mitchell at the debate ‘Evolution of Science’ in Oxford in February: she said that the publication fee would need to be about £10,000 (US$15,850) for Nature research journals and £30,000 (US$47,550) for Nature (see the video of the debate – this statement is at 17 minutes 30 seconds).

A conversation on Twitter with Heather Piwowar (@researchremix, a postdoc with Dryad studying data use among researchers) and Ethan Perlstein (@eperlste, an evolutionary pharmacologist at Princeton University) about this NPG statement led me to Jan Velterop (@Villavelius, a director of Aqcknowledge.com and a former colleague of mine at BioMed Central), who has written on submission fees several times on his blog. He kindly emailed me with further thoughts.

Jan’s most recent blog post summarises his reasons for liking submission fees:

The basic reason I am in favour of submission fees is that it makes scientific publishing really the service industry that it is, its main task nowadays having nothing to do with publishing per se, but mainly with arranging peer review and quality assurance of one sort or another.

Of course, this might not be what publishers want their main task to be…

Another argument for them that he lists is:

It removes the suspicion that OA journals might be tempted to accept more than they should just because of the money that accepted articles bring

And what about the disadvantages? Jan tells me that journal publishers are wary of introducing new fees that other journals don’t charge (see the ‘competitiveness’ point above). They are particularly wary because of a bit of history I didn’t know about:

One of the reasons why commercial journals dominate STM these days is the fact that society journals, still mostly independent in the 1960′s, charged page charges. Commercial journals made much of the fact that (then) they didn’t, and so attracted a growing percentage of authors, who could publish with them for free…

Among the reasons publishers are not too keen are:

1) The risk that authors ‘defect’ to journals without charges. After all, that happened before.

I can see that given this history, journals might be more cautious than otherwise.

Jan goes on to mention a reason I hadn’t heard before:

2) The risk that authors might expect transparency with regard to the speed, peer-review, and acceptance/rejection procedure. If you only have to pay when accepted (as is the case for the current author-side payment OA journals), you may not care too much about the speed, quality of the peer review, and acceptance processes, but if you have to pay even if you are rejected, then that becomes a very different story. Publishers know that they cannot guarantee any quality in that regard – with a few exceptions, perhaps – and fear the pressure of quality requirements on them if they were to move in that direction.

This is a very good point. It is certainly difficult to give guarantees about the speed or quality of peer review, which relies on voluntary work by researchers. It is related to a disadvantage listed in Jan’s recent blog post:

The need to be able to justify rejections properly, particularly if challenged (after all, submitters have paid for an assessment)

Jan also gives a third reason that intrigues me: that the level of submission fees might reveal information about a journal’s rejection rate that they would rather be kept quiet:

if they reject only about a tenth of the submissions, then obviously the submission charge cannot be very much lower than 9/10th of the publication charge for the same revenue to be achieved

So a journal might want to be seen as very selective, rejecting a high proportion of submitted articles, but they might actually have a lot lower rejection rate than this. For example say a journal with a rejection rate of 90% was considering a submission fee of $50 and a publication fee of $1000 (and all authors pay the submission fee, whether accepted or not). Then for every 9 articles accepted, the journal would receive $9000 in publication fees, plus $4500 for the 90 articles submitted, making $13500. But if the same fees were applied to a journal that rejects only about 10%, then for every 9 articles accepted, they would get only $9000 plus $500 for the 10 submitted articles ($9500). The number of articles accepted is public, whereas the number rejected isn’t. To get the level of fees they would receive if they had a 90% rejection rate they would need to charge a submission fee of ($13500 – $9000)/10 = $450. This level of submission fee is unlikely to be acceptable to authors.

(My calculation comes out with a submission fee half what Jan estimates, which I think is because I am assuming both a submission fee and a publication fee are charged, whereas he is assuming only a submission fee.)

In conclusion, the main advantage of submission fees is also their main advantage in other circumstances: that they would reduce the number of submissions. So if a journal has a high rejection rate, it makes sense to charge a submission fee, but otherwise it doesn’t. This actually applies to subscription and open access journals equally – in both cases a submission fee provides extra revenue, which could be used to reduce other charges, included subscriptions, page charges or publication fees (or to increase profits of course). The main reason why high-rejection-rate journals aren’t currently charging submission fees seems to be because it would make them less competitive, but given that these journals are by definition the place that people want to be published, this doesn’t seem a very strong argument. I wouldn’t be surprised if one journal tries submission fees and other then followed suit in the next few years.

Your experience

Have you paid a submission fee to a journal? Would you consider it if it meant a lower level of other charges, such as page charges or fees for open access publication?

Journal editors: has your journal considered a submission fee? If you don’t have one, why not? If you do, why?

Journals that charge authors (and not for open access publication)

Among the discussion of open access recently, there have been a few comments about the level of charges for open access publication. But of course many journals charge authors even without making their articles freely available. I think these charges are worth highlighting so that you can make an informed choice of journal.

Frequently these charges are to cover the cost of colour printing, which seems reasonable given that nowadays printed journal articles are a bonus not standard. But not all: some journals have submission fees (which I’ll cover in a future post), others have page charges, and I found two that even charge for supplementary material.

I’m not going to comment here on whether I think these charges are justified. But I suggest you take the charges into account when choosing a journal, and think about whether they represent value for money. If they go towards supporting a scientific society that you would like to donate to, for example, or if you feel that your paper will have its full impact only if printed in colour, you might be happy to pay. Also, if you can afford these charges, why not consider spending the money on making your article freely available instead?

Colour charges

In the past, print journals often charged authors for printing their article in colour, as colour printing was (and still is) more expensive than printing in black and white. With online publication there is no difference in cost, so it doesn’t make sense for journals to charge authors for colour for the online version of an article. But some journals are still charging for colour printing.

A few examples (with links to the relevant page) are:

  • The Journal of Neuroscience (Society for Neuroscience) charges US$1000 per colour figure, but offers free colour when it is judged essential by the editors and when the first and last authors are members of the society.
  • J Biol Chem charges US$150 per colour figure (with discounts for society members).
  • Evolution (Wiley-Blackwell) charges $500.00 per printed figure. FEMS Microbiology Letters (also Wiley-Blackwell) offers free colour provided that the colour is deemed essential for interpretation of the figure, whereas another Wiley-Blackwell journal, Proteomics, charges €500 for one colour figure up to €1664 for four.
  • FASEB Journal charges US$350 per colour figure.
  • BMJ Journals all seem to charge £250 per article for colour printing, but the BMJ itself (pdf) does not.
  • Of Oxford University Press journals, Bioinformatics and Human Molecular Genetics charge £350/US$600/€525 per colour figure, whereas Journal of Experimental Botany charges £100/US$190/€150.
  • Some Springer journals charge for colour printing, but I wasn’t able to find out which ones.
  • Similarly, some Nature Publishing Group journals charge for colour printing, but I wasn’t able to find out which ones. As far as I can tell, Nature and its sister journals with the word ‘Nature’ in the title have no charges.
  • Elsevier’s author site seems to imply that all their journals have colour charges.

Journals that do not charge for colour printing include:

Page charges

Page charges seem to be almost as common as colour charges, but there isn’t much logic as to which journals charge for what. Only one journal that I could find, Journal of Neuroscience, has publication fees per article (US$980, or US$490 for Brief Communications) – all others charge per page, sometimes over a certain limit. For example:

  • FASEB Journal charges US$80 per printed page for the first 8 pages and $160 per page thereafter. Articles containing eight or more figures and/or tables cost an additional $150 per figure or table.
  • J Biol Chem charges US$80 per page for the first nine pages and $160 per page thereafter (with discounts for society members).

The charges don’t seem to be consistent within each publisher.

One publisher is consistent – none of the BMJ Journals or BMJ (pdf) have any page charges.

Fees for supplementary material

I had never heard of the idea of charges for supplementary material until I was researching for this post. But FASEB Journal charges for supplemental ‘units’ (presumably files) at $160 each (up to four units are allowed), and Proc Natl Acad Sci USA charges US$250 per article for up to five pages of SI (US$500 over six pages). I haven’t come across any other journal that does this.

Your experience

Have I missed any important biomedical journals that have particularly striking charging policies (not including open access charges)? What do you think about these fees? Journal editors, what is the rationale for how much your journal charges for what? Do also let me know if can expand on any of the incomplete parts of in this post.

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