Alternative Publishing Models Category

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The changing landscape of publishing: are we witnessing a revolution in information flow through open access? by Bernd Fritzsch

Open Access Week 2014 begins today, and we’ll be running posts by guest bloggers on open access and contemporary scholarship. Today’s post comes from Bernd Fritzsch, Chair and Professor in the Department of Biology, and panelist in last month’s Open Access and the Public Good discussion.

The changing landscape of publishing: are we witnessing a revolution in information flow through open access?

Bernd Fritzsch

I am old enough to remember the ‘good old days’ when we went through the ‘Current Contents’ every week to find out what had been published journal by journal. Once you had identified a paper of interest, you needed to request a reprint, which you received maybe several weeks to several months later. You had to keep track of what reprints you requested, what you received and archive all of that in an ever increasing collection of reprints.

This started to change with the introduction of online journals—a new concept following the introduction of the world-wide web. Now, once you had identified a paper of interest you could possibly download a PDF of the entire article or at least see its abstract for a better assessment of fit for your interest.   That was around 2000. In the last 14 years this concept of online, open access journals is increasingly pitched against the traditional journals. These novel ideas for access can potentially solve the biggest problem of the past—the unequal flow of scientific information—by providing easy access for everyone.

One major difference between open access and ‘traditional’ journals is the basic business model. Traditional journals rely, at least to some extent, on subscriptions to make a profit. How much a given journal profits from subscriptions is variable and the data is hard to come by. Given the high cost of subscriptions, budget-strapped libraries are faced with deciding which journal subscriptions are the most useful for their audience. The citation impact factor was developed by ISI initially to give libraries an idea of which journals are highly cited and read, helping them determine which journals they need to hold. Of course, once the idea of ‘impact factor’ was established for journals, the same system was used to rank authors. In essence, publishing in a prestigious journal with a high impact factor that is found in every library and many individual labs, was one way of making sure that a given scientific insight was widely disseminated. Journals, in turn, were interested in acquiring the highest impact factor to be widely subscribed. The problem with this business model is that the tax payer pays at least twice: first to finance the research that drives the lab of the author and subsequently to finance the library subscriptions. NIH has argued that this is an undue support and these arguments have changed the business model: now, papers, whose research was funded by NIH, have to be made available free to the public within one year. The authors, however, pay nothing in most cases, but have to sign over the copyright of data generated in most cases by public funding to a for profit organization. The problem with this model is that not every journal is easily accessible. In many cases one can only access abstracts unless a given University has a subscription that allows online access. Given that most researchers have their ‘reprint collections’ on their hard drive or the ‘cloud’ as PDF files, the possibility of accessing a given PDF instantly is becoming the rate limiting factor for information dissemination.

Since 2000 a different business of publishing is gaining ground: open access journals such as BMC journals, PloS journals and, more recently, eLife. These journals have no printed copies and thus no subscriptions by individuals or libraries to finance their costs. Upon acceptance of a paper, the author pays a fee to allow online access for all potential readers. The importance of this new business model is that data are immediately available for all to see and download as PDF to build up your own computer based library. Unfortunately, payments have to be made by the author, but the author typically retains the rights for his/her data. Of course, once the power of the internet become apparent to traditional publishers, most have added online access to their journals, in addition to the traditional paper journal (although this is sometimes at additional expenses to the author).  Of course, impact factors of the new exclusive online journals are next to irrelevant for libraries (they do not need to subscribe to them) and are now only used to gauge the ability of a given set of authors to move a paper into a higher impact journal, allegedly being seen by more people, a questionable argument at a time of all access search engines.

Indeed, the very perception of a high impact journal carrying more weight because it is more being widely read is becoming debatable. At a time when several online journals provide statistics for each paper such as views per months, number of downloads of PDFs, number of citations including links to citations etc., other metrics that are easily accessible to evaluate ‘impact’ are moving into the forefront. Instead of ‘guessing’ the possible impact of a given article based on the ‘impact factor’ of a journal, one can now see the impact unfolding in real time for every article in these journals or for every author across journals. This allows every author to compare the impact development of their papers published in a low as compared to a high impact journal. In fact, only time can tell how a publication will fare: some papers will be cited frequently early and phase out, others will start with few citations and last. In addition, several online indices exist (Scopus, Google Scholar) that measure the real time impacts of any given paper from any journal. I recently looked at this data for papers I had published in the same year in high impact journals (Nature, for example) and low impact journals. I discovered that it did not matter where I had published my research: over a 25 year period the quality of the paper seems to equalize, at least for my sample, the impact factor difference of the journals; both papers were nearly equally cited. In my area of expertise, one of the most cited papers by T Dobzhansky (1708 times) is in a journal with an impact factor of around 0.4, highlighting my point namely that highly cited papers can appear in ‘low impact’ journals. Moreover, since the h-index was invented nearly 10 years ago, it is now possible to calculate for every author the total citation impact of her/his publication record as a measure of the life time impact. This measure is becoming more widely accepted. In many countries tenure and promotion decisions are partly based on not only the numbers of papers published and the impact factor of the journal, but increasingly the cumulative impact of a given faculty through the h-index.

Having a clearer understanding of what the changes in publication landscapes imply, one can begin to ask questions about the future success of the traditional versus the open access models, in particular in the context of faculty promotion. In my opinion, h-index is here to stay as a measure of overall citation frequency of papers of a given author. Modifications to correct for academic age, such as the m-index, combined with overall citation frequencies (provided by Google Scholar or Scopus) can provide a reasonable measure of how many people found the work of a given author useful for their own work and thus cite it. Variations of these measures can look into position of a given a faculty in the list of authors (middle name in a 20 people assembly of authors or first name in small set of authors). However, this will not change the basic usefulness of existing quantifications of a given author’s impact, they will only fine tune the results.

How will all of this affect frequency of reading of a given publication? Because it is now possible to search across all publications in seconds followed by the direct access not only of an abstract but the entire article information flow will speed up and help to develop a given idea. My expectation is that the traditional publication approach will disappear over time and most papers will go on line proportional to the phasing out of senior scientist used to the traditional model. My guess is that the revolution in disseminating information that started with typesetting by Gutenberg in 1450 (in China already around 1000) will soon be replaced by all electronic media. In addition, I expect that journal articles will transform into online fora of open discussions of the content of journals, not just consumption. ELife has already developed some of these novel publishing ideas such as the publication of the peer-review along with the article and the author’s rebuttal letter–things that are kept top secret by traditional journals. In addition, anybody can comment on the paper and such comments will become a permanent record. Combined, open access and open communication will help stamp out scientific fraud. The quality of the review process along with the publication of the name of the reviewer will ensure that anybody who cannot repeat the work can immediately interact with the authors via the online fora. This will change publication as we know it from a static process forming a one-way street of information flow (author to journal to library) into a dynamic process that will turn the scientific community into an intellectual village of worldwide openly communicating individuals. Clearly, ranking of universities such as QS University relies for 20% of the total ranking on citations per faculty, requiring that faculty should make sure that all their citations are properly credited to them. Easy ways to do this is through Google Scholar profile (or Scopus or Web of Science profiles).

I believe that the essential stumbling block for these new models of truly free communications, data, and idea exchange will be how to finance these forward looking endeavors that are transforming our publication landscape. Nearly 500 years after printing helped the public to gain access to scriptures, restricted before to the knowledgeable few, online open access publications could become the next step forward in free information flow, provided the financial models can be resolved. Other online features such as Facebook or Twitter will help to drive the free communication enterprise even further into accessibility by everyone.

Further reading:

http://www.nature.com/news/open-access-the-true-cost-of-science-publishing-1.12676

https://twitter.com/elife

http://theconversation.com/schekmans-luxury-journal-boycott-doesnt-go-far-enough-21145

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Nobel Laureate Participates in a Reddit Ask Me Anything

Randy Schekman, a co-recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, participated in an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on Reddit this weekend. Schekman, a Cell Biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, was jointly awarded a Nobel Prize for his work in understanding the transport mechanisms involved in the export of proteins from cells. Last week, he authored an editorial in the Guardian that accused the practices of journals like Cell, Nature, and Science of distorting science and has been the subject of both criticism and praise in the scholarly publishing world.

In his editorial, Schekman specifically calls out Cell, Nature, and Science (C/N/S) who are among the most prestigious journals in the biological and medical sciences.

“These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research. Like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags or suits, they know scarcity stokes demand, so they artificially restrict the number of papers they accept.” [Source]

From the Reddit AMA, the focus of Schekman’s criticism of C/N/S is the artificial restriction of publishing only the papers that fit in the print run of these journals. “Why should we have such a limitation in the 21st century?” he asks. Schekman marks this practice as a distinguishing characteristic of a “luxury” journal as well as the use of a professional editorial staff rather than working scientists in the field. This combination of management priorities, Schekman argues, distorts scientific discourse by emphasizing fashionable topics at the expense of good science.

Schekman is a supporter of the open access movement and is the Editor-in-Chief of eLife, an open access journal of life sciences papers. His boycott of C/N/S has drawn criticism for his eLife affiliation and his previous 46 publications in these journals.  [Read the AMA here]

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UI Libraries Join Knowledge Unlatched to Support Open Access Books in the Humanities and Social Sciences

The University of Iowa Libraries has signed up to support Knowledge Unlatched, a collaborative initiative to make scholarly books in the humanities and social sciences available open access. Knowledge Unlatched uses a model that brings library funds together to a set of books that academic publishers have agreed to make open access with a Creative Commons license.

Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. -Peter Suber [source]

The first collection of books in this pilot collection cover History, Political Science, Literary Studies, Anthropology and Communications  [The full title list is here]. This project is the first of its kind and is expected to pave the way for more scholarly books to be freely available online without the usual licensing restrictions of eBooks. If 200 libraries sign up by January 31st, these books will be “unlatched” and future collections will be expected to emerge in 2014.

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Publish in PeerJ for Free Until 2014

PeerJ Logo. License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Available: https://peerj.com/about/press/

PeerJ Logo. License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Available: https://peerj.com/about/press/

PeerJ will publish any accepted article that was submitted for review before January 1st, 2014. PeerJ is an open access publisher of peer-reviewed articles in the biological and medical sciences [full list of subject areas]. From the statement:

[a]s we approach the end of our first calendar year of publication, we want to open up the PeerJ experience to as many researchers as possible. By doing so, we also want researchers like you to experience the benefits that our ‘end-to-end process’ provides (i.e. the close integration of PeerJ PrePrints with PeerJ).

As a result, we are pleased to announce that from now through the end of 2013, any article that is submitted to PeerJ PrePrints (including any articles which have already been submitted there) can go on to be published in PeerJ (the journal) entirely for free (assuming it passes peer review and assuming you initiate the PeerJ submission process before Jan 1st 2014)*.

As we celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Berlin Declaration (one of the seminal moments in the history of Open Access), we want to make sure that researchers realize that Open Access publishing has evolved, and we want as many as possible to experience what it has become!

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Note: * For the sake of clarification, your preprint must be posted to PeerJ PrePrints before the associated PeerJ submission is editorially Accepted, or before Jan 1st 2014 (whichever comes first). Ideally, of course, you should submit the PrePrint first, and then submit the same article to PeerJ. Your resulting PeerJ submission must be initiated before Jan 1st 2014
Normally, PeerJ operates on a membership model, where authors pay a one-time fee to publish in the journal. Any interested University of Iowa authors are encouraged to apply for the Open Access Fund to have the membership fee covered.
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On the “Open Access Sting” Published in Science

Earlier this month, Science published a news article (“Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?”) by John Bohannon, a reporter and Harvard University biologist, that investigates the quality of the peer-review process at some fee-charging, Open Access journals in the life sciences. Bohannon submitted a credible, yet “hopelessly flawed” scientific article on cancer research to 304 relevant, fee-charging Open Access journals, 158 of which accepted it for publication It is worth noting that journals from the Public Library of Science, BioMed Central, and Hindawi, the three biggest Open Access publishers, rejected the paper outright.

The news of this study sparked spirituous debate in the blogosphere and the popular media (especially in the comments sections), oftentimes confounding its implications on the future of science, open access, and peer-review. As we approach Open Access Week (Oct. 21-27), it is important to consider what this article means in the broader context of scholarly communication.

“The takeaway shouldn’t be that Open Access is broken and not worth trying. Open Access is great and everyone believes that. It’s just a question of how to implement it.” – John Bohannon on NPR.

While Bohannon’s article uncovers problems in academic publishing, it is not clear that any of the problems are specific to Open Access. Bohannon specifically studied a subset of Open Access journals (many of which were known to be problematic) as a response to his colleague’s experience with a publishing scam, in which a fraudulent scientific journal collected publication fees from the author without performing any legitimate peer-review. Given the scope of this question and the nature of the fake research paper, the findings represent less than 4% of Open Access journals, of which less than 2% accepted the bogus paper (figures according to the Directory of Open Access Journals). Because the article did not study subscription based-journals, non-fee charging journals, non-English journals, and non-life sciences journals, it cannot be concluded that the problem is unique to Open Access.

One major effect of Bohannon’s work is the fascinating discussion on Open Access and peer-review that emerged in the wake of his article. Michael Eisen, a UC-Berkeley Biologist and co-founder of the Public Library of Science, suggests that the problem Bohannon’s study reveals is in the antiquated and opaque standards of the peer-review process. Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Office of Scholarly Communication, reminds us that Open Access is not just about publishing; to tie this news to Open Access is to ignore the far more popular Open Access archiving option (such as depositing work in Iowa Research Online or PubMed Central) which is compliant with most traditional publishing agreements. Not interested in reading other blogs? Take a listen to this Science Live Chat with John Bohannon on the response to his study.

News like this reminds us that changes in the scholarly publishing system can be far more nuanced than expected and that it is important to continue these discussions as members of the scholarly community.

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The Open Library of Humanities

Open Library of Humanities

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit open access publisher of scientific research with the mission to accelerate progress in science and medicine. Each PLoS article is free to read and is available through a Creative Commons license, optimizing the ability for researchers to build upon the work. Since its founding in 2000, PLoS journals have risen to the top of their fields and has help revolutionize the ways in which scientists communicate their work. In the spirit of PLoS, the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) will bring sustainable open access publishing to the humanities.

The Open Access movement is partly a response to the rising costs of the traditional publishing system, but it is mostly an effort to bring scholarly communication into the age of the web. No longer bound by the timetables and infrastructure necessary for a print-based publishing system, the OLH will offer rigorous peer-review and publish each work online when it is ready and offer article-level metrics to track each work’s impact in the scholarly field.

The OLH is still in the early stages of planning but is expected to fill a much needed gap in open access options for humanities scholars. To get involved, you can subscribe to their email newsletter or contact Chris Diaz to receive updates as the project develops. Right now, the OLH is recruiting editors and is asking interested authors to Pledge to Publish in the OLH’s first year.

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eLife Editor Wins Nobel Prize for Cellular Research

eLife

Image: eLifesciences.org

The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to James E. Rothman, Thomas C. Sudhof and Randy W. Schekman for their research on cell transport systems. This work has strengthened the medical community’s understanding of neurological diseases, diabetes, and immunological disorders. Schekman, a Cell Biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, is a prominent support of Open Access publishing and is the Editor-in-Chief at eLife, an innovative Open Access journal in the biomedical sciences. eLife joins The Public Library of Science and PeerJ in offering a cutting-edge Open Access publishing platform for prestigious scientists to share their work, data, and rich media. eLife is currently free to publish (no author-side fees). For more information, please visit the journal’s website or watch the video.

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Support for PeerJ Memberships via Open Access Fund

PeerJ Logo. License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Available: https://peerj.com/about/press/

PeerJ Logo. License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Available: https://peerj.com/about/press/

Calling all Biological and Medical scientists! The University Libraries is pleased to begin supporting PeerJ memberships for all interested University of Iowa faculty and researchers through the Open Access Fund. The University Libraries and the Office of the Provost established the Open Access Fund to pay the processing fees related to open access publishing.

Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.Peter Suber

PeerJ is an Open Access publisher of scholarly articles in the biological and medical sciences [full list of subject areas]. Rather than charging a per-article fee for making an article Open Access, PeerJ charges a one-time membership fee for authors [Breakdown of membership types]. All interested UI faculty, graduate students, and research should contact Michael Wright for more information about setting up a PeerJ membership.

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University of Iowa Authors Publish in Open Access Journals

lib-oa-faculty

Table of UI Open Access Publications

 

Table of University of Iowa faculty Members Publishing in Open Access Journals

Open Access journals are peer-reviewed and are freely available online to students, researchers, and the general public. As an alternative to the subscription-based model, Open Access publishing removes access barriers to increase the availability and impact of scholarly literature. University of Iowa authors have been publishing in Open Access journals since 2006. While Open Access journals provide free access to their content, they are not always free to publish. Some journals, particularly in the sciences, charge article-processing fees to cover the costs of publishing. Luckily, the Universities Libraries and the Office of the Provost have established the Open Access Fund to cover these fees. Not sure if Open Access is right for you? Browse this table of University of Iowa Open Access publications and consider if this route is right for you.

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PeerJ Survey Shows High Author Satisfaction

PeerJ Logo. License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Available: https://peerj.com/about/press/

PeerJ Logo. License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Available: https://peerj.com/about/press/

The results of a survey of authors who submitted their research to PeerJ for publication were released today. The survey measures the satisfaction of authors from the first six-months of the journal’s publishing operations. With a 51% response rate, the results looks promising. Some highlights:

  • 92% of authors report having a “good experience” or better with publishing in PeerJ
  • 83% of authors intend to submit their future research, with 17% reporting “maybe,” depending on the subject appropriateness for the journal
  • 94% of authors would recommend PeerJ to a colleague

PeerJ is a peer-reviewed, open access publisher of research articles in the biological, medical, and health sciences. Operating on an author membership model, as opposed to article-processing fee model, member authors can submit articles for publishing after paying a one-time membership fee. For authors interested in soliciting feedback on works-in-progress, there is also a free PrePrints option.  [Read the announcement]