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If you trust empirical evidence, science is currently heading for a cliff that makes dropping off the fiscal cliff look like a small step in comparison. As we detail in our review article currently under revision, retractions of scientific articles are increasing at an exponential rate, with the majority of retractions being caused by misconduct and fraud (but also the error-rate is increasing). The evidence suggests that journal rank (the hierarchy among the 31,000 scientific journals) contributes a pernicious incentive: because funds are tight and science is increasingly under pressure to justify its expenditure, people are rewarded for publishing in high-ranking journals. However, there is no empirical evidence that science published in these journals is any different from scientific discoveries published in other journals. If anything, high-ranking journals publish a much larger fraction of the fraudulent work than lower ranking journals and also a larger fraction of the unintentionally erroneous work. In other words, journal rank is like homeopathy, astrology or dowsing: one may have the subjective impression that there is something to it, but any such effects disappear under scientific scrutiny.

As journal rank has only been used as an instructor for the hire-and-fire policy and institutions world-wide for a few decades, the data also project some potentially catastrophic consequences of journal rank: science has been hiring those candidates who are especially good at marketing their science to top journals, but maybe not equally good at the science itself. Conversely, excellent scientists were fired who did not reach institutional requirements for marketing their research. If this is really what has been taking place, it has now been going on just long enough by now to replace an entire generation of scientists with researchers who are particularly good at marketing, providing one potential explanation of why the fraud and retraction rate is exploding just at this particular point in time. However, until a few years ago, this has been a trend that has only been observed by a few bibliometricians.

At the same time, a much more obvious trend has been receiving a lot of attention: the rising costs of acess to the scholarly literature. To counter this trend, three different publishing models have emerged, which only address the access problem, but not the parallel, and potentially underlying problem of journal rank. These models aim to provide unrestricted, open access to publicly funded research results either by charging the authors once for each article (gold), or by mandating them to place a copy not of the final PDF, but of the version approved by the referees (i.e., the version before the publishers format it) in institional repositories (green), or by providing an option for authors to make heir article accessible in a subscription journal by an additional article fee, i.e., if the authors pay the fee, their article becomes openly accessible, if not, it stays behind a paywall (hybrid). Importantly, the three models which are currently aimed at publishing reform are not sustainable in the long term:
  1. Gold Open Access publishing without abolishment of journal rank (or heavy regulation) will lead to a luxury segment in the market, as evidenced not only of suggested author processing charges nearing 40,000€ (US$~50,000) for the highest-ranking journals, but also by the correlation of existing author processing charges with journal rank. Such a luxury segment would entail that only the most affluent institutions or author would be able to afford publishing their work in high-ranking journals, anathema to the meritocracy science ought to be. Hence, universal, unregulated Gold Open Access is one of the few situations I can imagine that would potentially be even worse than the status quo.
  2. Green Open Access publishing entails twice the work on the part of the authors and needs to be mandated and enforced to be effective, thus necessitating an additional layer of bureaucracy, on top of the already unsustainable status quo.
  3. Hybrid Open Access publishing inflates pricing and allows publishers to not only double-dip into the public purse, but to triple-dip. Thus, Hybrid Open Access publishing is probably the most expensive version overall for the public purse.
Thus, what we have now is a status quo that is a potential threat to the entire scientific endeavor both from an access perspective and from a content perspective, and the three models being pushed as potential solutions are not sustainable, either. The need for drastic reform has never been more pressing.
Posted on Friday 28 December 2012 - 14:19:07 comment: 5
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Comments
tomolijhoek posted on30 Dec 12: 15:57:
Comments: 3

Registered: 22 Jun 12: 14:42

I agree that journal ranking as provided by the impact factor will be an obstacle for sustainable open access. In my view the jornal impact factor should be abandoned alltogether as I have argued in the recent Berlin10 conference at Steelenbosch. We need to assess science and scientists by assessing the quality of the articles . In such a system articles can be published anywhwere, and single journals will no longer have status that enables them to charge ridiculous fees. The normal publishing fees will be easily paid for from existing library budgets after cancelation of toll access journal subscriptions and from a small percentage of research budgets.
This would give us a kind of gold open access without prestigious journals dictating the rules and without ranking.
Green (repositories) can also be useful but as you say this has to be imposed. Current practice shows that still only a minor fraction of scientists use existing possibilities for storing their work in repositories. Apart from causing another bureaucratic layer , in my view green open access would result in a lot of fragmented information where we would have to rely on computers and flawless programmes to get hold of specific information. I am not so optimistic that this would work. I favor the organisation of information according to disciplines where each nodule would be manages by dedicated communities as I have explained in more detail in recent blogs (access.okfn.org) and in a presentation at the OAAfrica conference nov 2012 in Capetown.

bjoern posted on30 Dec 12: 19:57:
Comments: 322


All good points, indeed!
The problem is: how to get rid of journal rank? I don't have a good idea, to be frank.
And once you have gotten rid of journal rank, what does 'journal' even mean, in the digital age?

Michelle posted on03 Jan 13: 22:57:
Guest


Regulating APCs would also be one approach which may make gold OA more achievable - e.g. Governments could set a maximum APC which is tied to the true cost of publishing.
However perhaps instead of abolishing JIF, we can look at it the other way around and encourage researchers to publish their work where they want (e.g. in low or no APC journals) and to re-educate the scientific community about the limitations of IFs? Just a thought!

Stevan Harnad posted on04 Jan 13: 03:02:
Guest


Harnad, Stevan (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In, Anna, Gacs (ed.) The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age. , L'Harmattan, 99-105.

Abstract: What the research community needs, urgently, is free online access (Open Access, OA) to its own peer-reviewed research output. Researchers can provide that in two ways: by publishing their articles in OA journals (Gold OA) or by continuing to publish in non-OA journals and self-archiving their final peer-reviewed drafts in their own OA Institutional Repositories (Green OA). OA self-archiving, once it is mandated by research institutions and funders, can reliably generate 100% Green OA. Gold OA requires journals to convert to OA publishing (which is not in the hands of the research community) and it also requires the funds to cover the Gold OA publication costs. With 100% Green OA, the research community's access and impact problems are already solved. If and when 100% Green OA should cause significant cancellation pressure (no one knows whether or when that will happen, because OA Green grows anarchically, article by article, not journal by journal) then the cancellation pressure will cause cost-cutting, downsizing and eventually a leveraged transition to OA (Gold) publishing on the part of journals. As subscription revenues shrink, institutional windfall savings from cancellations grow. If and when journal subscriptions become unsustainable, per-article publishing costs will be low enough, and institutional savings will be high enough to cover them, because publishing will have downsized to just peer-review service provision alone, offloading text-generation onto authors and access-provision and archiving onto the global network of OA Institutional Repositories. Green OA will have leveraged a transition to Gold OA.

Harnad, Stevan (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine, 16, (7/8)

Abstract: Plans by universities and research funders to pay the costs of Open Access Publishing ("Gold OA") are premature. Funds are short; 80% of journals (including virtually all the top journals) are still subscription-based, tying up the potential funds to pay for Gold OA; the asking price for Gold OA is still high; and there is concern that paying to publish may inflate acceptance rates and lower quality standards. What is needed now is for universities and funders to mandate OA self-archiving (of authors' final peer-reviewed drafts, immediately upon acceptance for publication) ("Green OA"). That will provide immediate OA; and if and when universal Green OA should go on to make subscriptions unsustainable (because users are satisfied with just the Green OA versions) that will in turn induce journals to cut costs (print edition, online edition, access-provision, archiving), downsize to just providing the service of peer review, and convert to the Gold OA cost-recovery model; meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the funds to pay these residual service costs. The natural way to charge for the service of peer review then will be on a "no-fault basis," with the author's institution or funder paying for each round of refereeing, regardless of outcome (acceptance, revision/re-refereeing, or rejection). This will minimize cost while protecting against inflated acceptance rates and decline in quality standards.

Julien Colomb posted on06 Jan 13: 09:53:
Comments: 12

Registered: 06 Aug 08: 11:04

Looking at the data, gold OA seems to be only slightly correlated with JIF, which would make it sustainable .
On the other hand, there is something in the journal ranking which is valuable: some very important papers are not cited a lot, but may become a milestone ten years after their publication. This was more or less included in the journal reputation but cannot be linked to any metrics at the present (of course not journal IF, but not even actual citation of the paper).
The critical question is "how to decide who to hire" and one cannot read all articles of all applicants. The only solution I see: post publications reviews. New tools are developed every months (F1000, researchgate, altmetrics), and maybe one hitting our need will be invented soon (see this for the problems that are arising: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2012/04/19/post-publication-peer-review-what-value-do-usage-based-metrics-offer/). The tool would need to ask for little time for the post print reviewer and give metrics of a paper, as well as giving some advantages to the reviewer (money/feedback/time spared/...). Since we cannot really hope for a public organisation to develop it, it should also be implemented in a way to be commercially sustainable...
It is a lot to ask, but if one look at mendeley or readcube, one could get some ideas...


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