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.

February highlights from the world of scientific publishing

Some of what I learned about scientific publishing last month from Twitter: new open access journals, data release debates, paper writing tips, and lots more

New journals

Two important announcements this month, both of open access sister journals to well established ones.

First, at the AAAS meeting it was announced that Science is going to have an online-only open access sister journal, called Science Advances, from early 2015. This will be selective (not a megajournal), will publish original research and review articles in science, engineering, technology, mathematics and social sciences, and will be edited by academic editors. The journal will use a Creative Commons license, which generally allows for free use, but hasn’t decided whether to allow commercial reuse, according to AAAS spokeswoman Ginger Pinholster. The author publishing charge hasn’t yet been announced.

Second, the Royal Society announced that, in addition to their selective open access journal Open Biology, they will be launching a megajournal, Royal Society Open Science, late in 2014. It will cover the entire range of science and mathematics, will offer open peer review as an option, and will also be edited by academic editors. Its criteria for what it will publish include “all articles which are scientifically sound, leaving any judgement of importance or potential impact to the reader” and “all high quality science including articles which may usually be difficult to publish elsewhere, for example, those that include negative findings”; it thus fits the usual criteria for a megajournal in that it will not select for ‘significance’ or potential impact.

These two announcements show that publishers without an open access, less selective journal in its stable are now unusual. Publishers are seeing that there is a demand for these journals and that they can make money. Publishers also see that they can gain a reputation for being friendly to open access by setting up such a journal. This also means that papers rejected by their more selective journals can stay within the publisher (via cascading peer review), which, while saving time for the authors by avoiding the need to start the submission process from scratch, also turn a potential negative for the publisher (editorial time spent on papers that are not published) into a positive (author charges). The AAAS has been particularly slow to join this particular bandwagon; let’s see if the strong brand of Science is enough to persuade authors to publish in Science Advances rather than the increasingly large number of other megajournals.

PLOS data release policy

On 24 February, PLOS posted an updated version of the announcement about data release that they made in December (and which I covered last month). I didn’t pay much attention as the change had already been trailed, but then I had to sit up and take notice because I started seeing posts and tweets strongly criticising the policy. The first to appear was an angry and (in my opinion) over-the-top post by @DrugMonkeyblog entitled “PLoS is letting the inmates run the asylum and this will kill them”.  A more positive view was given by Michigan State University evolutionary geneticist @IanDworkin, and another by New Hampshire genomics researcher Matt MacManes (@PeroMHC). Some problems that the policy could cause small, underfunded labs were pointed out by Mexico-based neuroscience researcher Erin McKiernan (@emckiernan13). The debate got wider, reaching Ars Technica and Reddit – as of 3 March there have been 1045 comments on Reddit!

So what is the big problem? The main objections raised seem to me to fall into six categories:

  1. Some datasets would take too much work to get into a format that others could understand
  2. It isn’t always clear what kind of data should be published with a paper
  3. Some data files are too large to be easily hosted
  4. The concern that others might publish reanalyses that the originators of the data were intending to publish, so they would lose the credit from that further research
  5. Some datasets contain confidential information
  6. Some datasets are proprietary

I won’t discuss these issues in detail here, but if you’re interested it’s worth reading the comments on the posts linked above. But it does appear (particularly from the update on their 24 February post and the FAQ posted on 28 February) that PLOS is very happy to discuss many of these issues with authors that have concerns, but analyses of proprietary data may have to be published elsewhere from now on.

I tend to agree with the more positive views of this new policy, who argue that data publication will help increase reproducibility, help researchers to build on each other’s work and prevent fraud. In any case, researcher who disagree are free to publish in other journals with less progressive policies. PLOS is a non-profit publisher who say that access to research results, immediately and without restriction, has always been at the heart of their mission, so they are being consistent in applying this strict policy.

Writing a paper

Miscellaneous news

  • Science writer @CarlZimmer explained eloquently at the AAAS meeting why open access to research, including open peer review and preprint posting, benefit science journalists and their readers.
  • Impactstory profiles now show proportion of a researcher’s articles that are open access and gives gold, silver and bronze badges, as well as showing how highly accessed, discussed and cited their papers are.
  • A new site has appeared where authors can review their experience with journals: Journalysis. It looks promising but needs reviews before it can become a really useful resource – go add one!
  • An interesting example of post-publication peer review starting on Twitter and continuing in a journal was described by @lakens here and his coauthor @TimSmitsTim here.
  • Cuban researcher Yasset Perez-Riverol (@ypriverol) explained why researchers need Twitter and a professional blog.
  • I realised when looking at an Elsevier journal website that many Elsevier journals now have very informative journal metrics, such as impact factors, Eigenfactor, SNIP and SJR for several years and average times from submission to first decision and from acceptance to publication. An example is here.
  • PeerJ founder @P_Binfield posted a Google Docs list of standalone peer review platforms.

Journal news 28 January to 3 February

Your journal-related news for the week.

F1000Research

Faculty of 1000 (F1000), the well established post-publication peer review service, has announced a new service that will publish original research papers. According to the initial announcement, this will differ from traditional journals in that all papers will be published immediately, before peer review (as long as they pass a ‘sanity check’), and peer review will happen openly after that. Publication of datasets will also be encouraged. Fees are still under discussion. Retraction Watch discussed the proposal and received many comments, including from two members of F1000 staff, Rebecca Lawrence and Sarah Greene, who thanked commenters for helping them to develop the idea further. This looks like an experiment worth watching – if it takes off it could herald a big change in publication of peer-reviewed papers. (Via @F1000Research.)

Arsenic Life (or not) in arXiv

Microbiologist Rosie Redfield has been trying to replicate the experiments presented by Felisa Wolfe-Simon et al. in late 2010 about a bacterium (called GFAJ-1) that could apparently grow using arsenic instead of phosphorus. Redfield has now submitted a manuscript to Science and at the same time uploaded it to the preprint server arXiv. She has found that there is no arsenate in the DNA of arsenate-grown GFAJ-1 cells. She is inviting comments on the manuscript on her blog, as an experiment in open peer review. (Via @RosieRedfield.)

More on the boycott of Elsevier

See my post earlier this week for the background on this. The list of researchers who have pledged not to support Elsevier journals has now reached over 3800. An article by Josh Fischman in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Tuesday included responses from Elsevier (Alicia Wise and Tom Reller). Kent Anderson of the Scholarly Kitchen criticised the boycott, saying that other publishers have prices as high as Elsevier, bundling of journal subscriptions is useful rather than being wrong, and other publishers also support the Research Works Act. Elsevier also put their case in this blog post by Chrysanne Lowe. Meanwhile, Michael Eisen, one of the founders of the Public Library of Science, gives some historical context in his blog. (Various sources.)

Launch of Cell Reports

In an announcement that got rather lost in the furore about the boycott, Cell Press (part of Elsevier) launched a new open access journal, Cell Reports. According to its information for authors (pdf), it publishes ‘thought-provoking, cutting-edge research, with a focus on a shorter single-point story… in addition to a longer article format’ and also ‘significant technical advances’ and ‘major informational data sets’. Authors can choose between two Creative Commons licences for their papers: Attribution (CC BY) and Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works (CC BY-NC). Are there now any major scientific publishers left that don’t have any open access journals? Possibly not. (Via @WiseAlic.)

Gyrations in Life

A controversial paper was published this week in the little known open access journal Life, apparently after peer review, that claims to explain just about everything using a simple geometric figure, the gyre. It has been taken to pieces by John Timmer in Ars Technica and PZ Myers in Pharyngula. Following these and other criticisms, the editor has now responded, saying that peer review was thorough, and Retraction Watch has discussed the response. (Via @tdechant and @leonidkruglyak.)

Mind your Editorial Board

Evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen pointed out something not quite right about the biography of an editorial board member on a journal called Molecular Biology, published by OMICS Publishing Group. The expert in ‘oximological microbiology, non-linear submorphological endosaccharomorphosis, applied endoplutomomics’ turned out to be a fictional creation of the German satirical magazine Titanic. How the journal administrators could take him seriously when his biography says that he ‘has successfully completed his Administrative responsibilities as vice president of the universe for scientific publication ethics and spamology’, we may never know. His name is still on the editorial board page as I write. It may be relevant that OMICS has been described as a ‘predatory open access publisher‘. (Via @phylogenomics.)

Journal news for 20-27 January

A brief summary of recent news related to journals and scientific publishing.

Datasets International

The open access publisher Hindawi has launced Datasets International, which “aims at helping researchers in all academic disciplines archive, document, and distribute the datasets produced in their research to the entire academic community.” For a processing charge of $300 authors can upload an apparently unlimited amount of data under a Creative Commons CC0 licence (and associated dataset papers under an Attribution licence), according to comments on Scott Edmunds’ Gigablog. The new journals currently associated with this initiative are Dataset Papers in: Cell Biology, Optics, Atmospheric Sciences and Materials Science, though no doubt more will follow. (Heard via @ScottEdmunds.)

Peerage of Science

A company run by three Finnish scientists this week has a new take on improving peer review. Peerage of Science is a community of scientists (‘Peers’), formed initially by invitation, who review each other’s papers anonymously before submission to journals. Reviews are themselves subjected to review, which means that reviewers receive recognition and ratings for their work. The reviews can even be published in a special journal, Proceedings of the Peerage of Science. Journals can offer to publish manuscripts at any point, for a fee – this is how the company aims to make a profit. (Heard via chemistryworldblog, via @adametkin.)

Peer review by curated social media

Science writer Carl Zimmer (@carlzimmer) reported last week in the New York Times on a recent (open access) study in Proc Natl Acad Sci USA about the generation of multicellular yeast by artificial selection in the lab. He has now posted a follow-up article in his Discovery blog, in which he presents the conversation that followed on Twitter about this paper (using Storify) and invites the author to respond, which the author does. The comments on the latter post continue the conversation, and the author continues to respond. It’s an interesting example of the author of a controversial paper engaging constructively in post-publication peer review. (Heard via @DavidDobbs.)

Research Objects

Tom Scott (@derivadow, who works for Nature Publishing Group) has published a detailed blog post outlining a proposal for a new kind of scientific publication: the Research Object. This would be a collection of material, linked by a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI), including an article, raw data, protocols, links to news about the research published elsewhere, links to the authors and their institutions, and more. He credits the Force11 (‘Future of Research Communications and e-Scholarship’) community for the idea, which is developed in greater detail here (pdf). These elements may or may not be open access, although the sophisticated searches Scott envisages will be difficult if they are not. (Heard via @SpringerPlus.)

Analysis of F1000 Journal Rankings

Phil Davis of The Scholarly Kitchen has done an analysis of the journal ranking system announced by Faculty of 1000 (F1000) in October. The analysis includes nearly 800 journals that were given a provisional F1000 Journal Factor (called FFj by F1000) for 2010. Plotting the FFj of each journal against the number of articles from it that were evaluated by F1000 shows that the two numbers are closely related; in fact, the number of articles evaluated explains over 91% of the variation in FFj. Journals from which only a few articles were evaluated suffer not only from this bias, but also from a bias against interdisciplinary and physical science journals that publish little biology. It seems to me that these biases could easily be addressed by taking into account (a) the number of articles evaluated from each journal and (b) the proportion of biology articles published in it when calculating the FFj. F1000 would be wise to study this useful analysis when reviewing their ranking system, as they plan to do regularly, according to the original announcement. (Heard via @ScholarlyKitchn.)

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