January highlights from the world of scientific publishing

1st Feb 2014

Some of what I learned last month from Twitter: new journals, new policies and post-publication reviews at PLOS, and some suggestions for how journals should work.

New journals

Three new journals have been announced that find new and very different ways to publish research. The most conventional is the Journal of Biomedical Publishing, a journal aiming to publish articles about publishing. It will be open access (with a low fee of 100 Euros) and promises only 2-4 days between acceptance and online publication. The journal has been set up by four Danish researchers and is published by the Danish Medical Association. One of them, Jacob Rosenberg, will present a study of where articles about publishing were published in 2012 at the forthcoming conference of the European Association of Science Editors.

A journal that goes further from the conventional model is Proceedings of Peerage of Science, a journal for commentaries associated with the journal-independent peer review service Peerage of Science. The journal will publish commentaries on published research, mostly based on open reviews of papers that have been generated as part of Peerage of Science. These will be free to read [edited from ‘open access’ following comments below], but there is no fee to the author – on the contrary, the authors of these commentaries will potentially receive royalties! Anyone who values a particular commentary or the journal as a whole can become a ‘public patron‘ and donate money, some of which will go to the author of that commentary. I will be watching this innovative business model with interest.

Finally, it is difficult to tell whether @TwournalOf will be a serious journal, but it certainly claims to be: a journal in which the papers each consist of a single tweet. ‘Papers’ are submitted by direct message, and the journal is run by Andy Miah (@andymiah), professor in ethics and emerging technologies at the University of the West of Scotland. I wondered (on Twitter of course) how this would work given that you can only send someone a direct message if they follow you. The answer came immediately: the journal will follow everyone who follows it. One to watch!

Developments at PLOS

Two announcements by Public Library of Science caught my eye this month. The first was actually in December but I missed it at the time and was alerted to it recently by @Alexis_Verger: PLOS have released a revised data policy (coming into effect in March) in which authors will be required to include a ‘data availability statement’ in all research articles published by PLOS journals. This statement will describe the paper’s compliance with the PLOS data policy, which will mean making all data underlying the findings described in their article fully available without restriction (though exceptions will be made, for example when patient confidentiality is an issue). This is another step in the movement towards all journals requiring the full dataset to be available. I hope other journals will follow suit.

The other announcement was about a post-publication review system called PLOS Open Evaluation. This is currently in a closed pilot stage, but it sounds like it will finally provide the evaluation of impact that the founders promised when they set up PLOS ONE to publish all scientifically sound research. Users will be able to rate an article by their interest in it, it’s article’s significance, the quality of the research, and the clarity of the writing. There is also the opportunity to go into more detail about any of these aspects.

How journals should work

The New Year started off with an open letter from Oxford psychology professor Dorothy Bishop (@deevybee) to academic publishers. She points out a big change that has happened because of open access:

In the past, the top journals had no incentive to be accommodating to authors. There were too many of us chasing scarce page space. But there are now some new boys on the open access block, and some of them have recognised that if they want to attract people to publish with them, they should listen to what authors want. And if they want academics to continue to referee papers for no reward, then they had better treat them well too.

Bishop urges journal publishers to make things easier for authors and reviewers, such as by not forcing them through pointless hoops when submitting a paper that might still be rejected (a choice quote: “…cutting my toenails is considerably more interesting than reformatting references”). She calls out eLife and PeerJ as two new journals that are doing well at avoiding most of the bad practices she outlines.

Later in the month Jure Triglav (@juretriglav), the creator of ScienceGist, showed what amazing things can be done with scientific figures using modern internet tools. He shows a ‘living figure’ based on tweets about the weather, and the figure continuously updates as it receives new data. Just imagine what journals would be like if this kind of thing was widely used!

Finally, this month’s big hashtag in science was #SixWordPeerReview. Researchers posted short versions of peer reviews they have received (or perhaps imagined). Most of the tweets were a caricature of what people think peer review involves (perhaps understandably for a humorous hashtag), and a few people (such as @clathrin) pointed out that real peer review can be very constructive.

F1000Research did a Storify of a selection, taking the opportunity to point out the advantages of open peer review at the same time. Some of my favourites were:

@paulcoxon: “Please checked Engilsh and grammar thoroughly” (actually happened)

@girlscientist: Didn’t even get journal name right. #SixWordEditorReview

@McDawg: Data not shown? No thank you


8 Comments on “January highlights from the world of scientific publishing

Thanks for the great summary. One comment: I’m not sure I would call Proceedings of Peerage of Science Open Access. The content is free to reed, but not free to reuse, and I don’t see any of the Creative Commons licenses associated with the article. Public Patron licenses are an interesting concept, but they are not Open Access.

sharmanedit says:

Thanks Martin, I think you’re right. The about page (http://www.peerageofscience.org/proceedings/#patronage) claims that the journal is open access, but the copyright line on the articles says “©Author, All Rights Reserved. To use this article, obtain a Public Patron License.” So strictly speaking the journal is free to read but not open access.

Perhaps the journal should use words “open access” (or “Free to Read”) instead of “Open Access”? The term, if written in capitals, apparently has to many people a meaning beyond the mere semantic meaning of the two words.

You are right Martin, if someone wants to use the articles in ProcPoS for something covered by author’s copyright, they are legally required to obtain a license. For example, Altmeric plans to use the commentaries as part of their products, and is therefore obtaining Public Patron licenses to all articles.

Since license is priced at “pay-what-you-want”, the barrier is not exactly insurmountable; but yes, it is a little barrier nonetheless. Using a credit card could be a barrier for some people, but you can pay with bitcoin too. Beyond that, obtaining a license involves the hard task of doing four mouse clicks, filling two text fields (name and email; you are free to use a pseudonym), and optionally uploading a logo if you want to display one.

There are a number of uses, such as academic research, citing, or journalistic use, that legally fall within “fair use” and are therefore unrestricted with any copyrighted content, including of course articles in ProcPoS. Personally I think it would be good manners to obtain a license for those uses as well, if one wants to acknowledge to the author and the publisher that providing the article to the world has given some value to others, but obtaining license for these cases is of course entirely voluntary.

Janne Seppänen (ProcPoS Executive Editor)

Janne, thank you for the comment. Don’t misunderstand me, ProcPoS is a great product, and your approach is very reasonable. But the Term Open Access (or open access) has a very specific meaning, and that is different from “Free to Read”. Take for example the Berlin declaration (http://openaccess.mpg.de/286432/Berlin-Declaration):

The author(s) and right holder(s) of such contributions grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship…

Obtaining a license beforehand, even if it involves only 4 mouse clicks, is against this spirit, as it makes knowledge sharing more difficult. And “fair use” is tricky terroritory best avoided.

I would appreciate it if you would be clear about this by either rethinking your licensing terms, or not using the term open access.

I think it is a barrier for human communication whenever a perfectly understandable pair of words takes a meaning that would not have been obvious before, and starts to require membership in a cognoscenti. At least the lowercase usages should, in my opinion, be left to refer to the commonsense, globally shared semantic meaning. But alas, such is the way the world works (it happens a lot in my field of behavioural ecology too!), and I agree with you that it is better to avoid charged terms.

The term “Open Access” was used only on the information pages (not in the actual articles), and you will now find the journal uses “free access” throughout.

As you probably noticed, the articles themselves never used the term “open access”, they just have words “free to access” at the header.

Janne, the term open access has a globally shared meaning in the scholarly communication community with a ten year history and enough written and said about it that there should be no misunderstanding.

Thanks a lot for changing the ProcPoS information pages to make it clear that the journal content is in fact not open access, but free to access and read.

sharmanedit says:

I’ve now edited the post to reflect this conversation.

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