Gas station without pumps

2011 July 13

Yet another open access journal

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:31
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With hundreds of journals and journal publishers starting up open-access journals, why would I bother picking out one to write about?

As a researcher without funding, I can’t afford to pay $3000 for every paper I want to or ought to publish, and the University is not likely to provide funds for that (they have all those administrators to pay outsize salaries to and all that bonded debt to start paying down, after all), so the author-pays model for publishing does not work well for me, though I appreciate the value of free access to scientific literature.

I’ve blogged before about  an AAUP article on open-access publicationISCB open-access policies, and IEEE open-access publishing, as well as passing on an announcement of an advertiser-pays open-access journal.

There is a new journal coming out (name still undecided, so far as I can tell), that is trying a different model: direct subsidy of the journal by funding agencies.  A press release from HHMI announced that Randy Schekman, a cell biologist and HHMI investigator at the University of California, Berkeley will be the senior editor and gave a few details about the publication:

… their fundamental goals: publication of highly significant research; an independent editorial team comprised of active, practicing scientists; and a rapid and transparent peer review.

Expected to launch in about a year, the journal will be online and open access. Schekman says he does not expect the journal to hold the copyright to the literature, but to utilize Creative Commons licenses so that the data can be widely shared.

Schekman reports that editors will be appropriately compensated, noting for example that senior editors will be expected to devote 20 percent of their time to the journal and would be paid accordingly.

For the first three to four years, to help establish the journal, no fees will be charged to authors. Once the journal is established, it is anticipated that authors will be charged an article processing fee to cover some of the ongoing costs of publication.

So they almost got it right.  They’ll have direct funding of the journal for 3 or 4 years, but after that they switch to author-pays.  I’d rather see less “appropriate compensation” for editors and a promise to directly fund publication for longer.  I suspect that Schekman’s experience at PNAS (where he pushed a little in the direction of better science, but did not eliminate the old-boys’ network submission policies) will lead him to gold-plate the new journal and run through the funding agency money without leaving a lasting legacy of free-for-authors, free-for-readers journal.

I think that part of the reviewer and editor fatigue that makes it hard to recruit reviewers is not that they aren’t paid, but that there is a huge revenue stream which they are not part of.  People don’t mind doing volunteer work, but they hate someone else making money off their volunteer work.  I don’t like reviewing for the journals owned by the publishers who are making millions ripping-off libraries, and I’m reluctant to support a “vanity press” where the reviewers’ comments to reject are ignored in the quest for more author fees.  I would be much more willing to do volunteer reviewing work for a subsidized journal which made no money and had no expensive paid editors.

This new journal had the potential to be a low-cost, high-quality journal, but I think it just misses the mark, and by paying editors “appropriately” and paying referees a retainer, they’ll end up being too expensive to continue.  Funding agencies are in the habit of starting things, then killing them off a few years later by discontinuing funding.  Planning to switch to an author-pays model after a few years is essentially setting this up to be just like other open-access journals, but with much higher costs, and so higher author fees. If this high-cost model is followed, then it will end up being a colossal waste of money, when for about the same amount of funding, the journal could have been set up as a free-for-authors, free-for-readers journal for at least a decade.


  1. “free-for-authors, free-for-readers” is not a business plan. Funders already pay for publication when they award grants. Institutions and authors have a responsibility to publish and thus pay the necessary costs of publication. This is the real world we all live in.

    Comment by Rich Jorgensen (@iBiosphere) — 2012 March 18 @ 07:10 | Reply

    • You are making the assumption (common among supporters of open-access journals) that only funded research deserves publication. Much of my recent research has been unfunded, which would mean I would have to pay out of my pocket to publish in a purely author-pays model. Funding publication through grants to researchers is one model, but it had better not become the only model for publication, or we’ll lose far more than we gain.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 March 18 @ 10:41 | Reply

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