Open Journal of Astrophysics: Update

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) may recall that a few weeks ago I posted an item in which I suggested setting up The Open Journal of Astrophysics. The motivation behind this was to demonstrate that it is possible to run an academic journal which is freely available to anyone who wants to read it, as well as at minimal cost to authors. Basically, I want to show that it is possible to “cut out the middle man” in the process of publishing scientific research and that by doing it ourselves we can actually do it better.

I have been unwell for much of the summer, so haven’t been able to carry this project on as much as I would have liked, and  I also received many messages offering help and advice that I have been unable to reply to individually. But I can assure you that I haven’t forgotten about the idea, nor have I quietly withdrawn the financial backing I suggested in my earlier post. Indeed, my interest in, and excitement, about this project has grown significantly over the summer as new possibilities have been suggested and my resentment about how the academic publishing industry hijacked the Finch Report has deepened.

In fact, quite a lot of effort has already been put in by people elsewhere thinking about how to set this journal up in the best way to make maximal use of digital technology to produce something radically different from the stale formats offered by existing journals.  I hope to be able to report back soon with more details of how it will work, when we propose to launch the site, and even what its name will be, Open Journal of Astrophysics being just a working title. I think it’s far better to wait until we have a full prototype going before going further.

In the meantime, however, I have a request to make. The Open Journal of Astrophysics will need an Editorial Board with expertise across all astrophysics, so they can select referees and deal with the associated correspondence.  The success of this venture will largely depend on establishing trust with the research community and one way of doing that will be by having eminent individuals on the Editorial Board. I will be contacting privately various scientists who have already offered their assistance in this, but if any senior astronomers and/or astrophysicists out there are interested in playing a part please contact me. I can’t offer much in the way of remuneration, but I think this is an opportunity to get involved in a venture that in the long run will benefit the astronomical community immensely.

Oh, and please feel free pass this on to folks you think might be interested even if you yourself are not!

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61 Responses to “Open Journal of Astrophysics: Update”

  1. It looks like this might actually take off. I think there are two key ingredients: a) have eminent scientists on the editorial board and b) make sure that they know that they are on the editorial board. (Apparently it is not uncommon for vanity-publishing journals to list prominent names on their editorial board without said board members even being aware of the fact, much less having been asked.)

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Yes – I know of someone who kept an eminent scientist on his letterhead, as a consultant to his project, even after the eminent scientist had died, and when I complained simply added “(deceased)”.

  2. This is excellent news. Probably the type of thing that Berners-Lee had in mind with his developing of the web.

    It’s a very exciting idea and I hope the astrophysics community can provide a successful model for other academic fields to follow.

  3. I’d like to suggest creating a mailing list (i.e. Google group) to set up the journal – I’ve found dedicated mailing lists to be excellent catalysts for grassroots project, otherwise it’s hard for people to know who else is involved, and to have group discussions.

    • Please, please, please don’t even consider something like a Google Group. Just use normal email. Anyone who isn’t comfortable with that shouldn’t be allowed to publish in the journal. :-)

      First, one shouldn’t tie the journal to some company like Google, whatever one thinks of said company. Use some sort of open protocol. Second, if one uses more than one Google service, if one is logged into one, one is logged into all. This is new behaviour and annoys many people. Third, the user interface to Google Groups is really, really, really bad. Just search usenet for complaints from people who access usenet through Google Groups and are told they can solve all their problems by using 1990s technology.

      Quote of the day:

      The basic functionality of Google Groups is lower, and its implementation far more ignorant, than, say, a 1990 version of Majordomo.

      —RobertPlamondon at http://www.wired.com/epicente/2009/10/usenet/

      • Just to be clear, I’m not talking about officially tying this ‘journal’ to a Google group, I’m talking about *planning* the journal, i.e. now. We’re still far from actually having a journal – I’m just saying that by organizing some kind of discussion group, it’s easier to have focused topic-based discussions than in comments on a blog post.

        Whether it’s google groups, majordomo, mailman, etc. is unimportant. My suggestion was simply to have some kind of email-based discussion group where people can join and view all previous discussions.

        (off topic: you can use google groups without having a google account and every going through their web interface, just using email)

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter, if this very worthy project takes off then you will be offered a very large sum of money by an academic publisher to hand it over to them. In the past I have thought seriously about sending a copy of Faust to some physicists who became ‘quants’ in finance. I have every confidence that you are less temptable.

    As Tom Wilson implies in his fine critical comment on Finch (to which you have linked, above), open access journals exist already. Is the different model, toward which you are aiming, different because of the hope to coordinate with the arXiv?

    • I think the idea is that it not only is publicly available (what many people mean by “open access”), but will be free, i.e. accessible without pay, for readers and without page charges or other fees for authors. OK, arXiv also provides all of these, but arXiv is not refereed. Think of the new journal as something with an infrastructure similar or identical to arXiv but with refereeing. OK, the Journal of Cosmology also had all of these, so think of it as a non-crackpot version with big names not only on the editorial board but also actually involved and with refereeing by non-crackpots and the refereeing overseen by a non-crackpot editor.

      Whether or not arXiv is used remains to be seen. This would be less effort. Ideally the journal would consist of a list of links to arXiv papers which have been accepted by the journal. (It would also be nice if there are good LaTeX macros for the new journal.) I think arXiv would be nice to have as part of this, but there needs to be a mechanism for authors to submit papers if arXiv does not allow them to (note that not even the author always learns the reason for this, much less a third party) and, if the paper is accepted, the journal needs to have enough clout to get arXiv to host the paper. “Accepted by the journal but not by arXiv” is not a status one wants to have, and would also (somewhat) limit access but more importantly would greatly limit visibility of the paper.

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      We’re working on a number of new ideas that make this venture very different from anything that exists at the moment, including ways for readers to comment on the papers and also regular editor’s commentaries on highlight papers which should make it more accessible to people outside academic research.

      On your first point, I’d hope that if we can set this up and get it working then I’ll be able to persuade the Royal Astronomical Society to take it over and run it on a not-for-profit basis. However it currently makes so much money out of Monthly Notices that this might be difficult!

      Peter

      • I definitely think the RAS should get involved. First, ask them to switch MNRAS from the current setup to the new journal, i.e. set up the new journal then rename it MNRAS at some point. If they don’t accept the offer, wait a couple of years until the journal takes off then ask them if they want to merge, retaining the MNRAS title for the merged journal.

        How much profit does the RAS make from MNRAS? How does this compare to other sources of income for the RAS?

  5. What is your bottom line? That is very very important!!

    • telescoper Says:

      This is a not-for-profit venture.

      • Would you tell us the major differences between your journal and the journal: Journal of Cosmology (Rudy Schild)?

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        I very much expect the difference will be that the new journal will have a strict standard of refereeing, a standard like mainstream journals such as the Astrophysical Journal, the Monthly Notices of the RAS, and Astronomy and Astrophysics.

      • “Would you tell us the major differences between your journal and the journal: Journal of Cosmology (Rudy Schild)?”

        A rhetorical question, surely! The Journal of Cosmology is more or less completely crackpot.

      • Am I a crackpot??

      • I don’t know. I don’t know you nor anything you have written. Perhaps not everything in the JOC is crackpot. However, much of the stuff is.

      • Take this as a starting point. It ticks most of the boxes:

        http://leilabattison.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/microbes-on-a-moonbeam-disentangling-the-meteorite-microbe-claims/

        The JOC is free to readers, free to authors, online only and (maybe) peer-reviewed. I don’t know any serious scientist who takes it seriously. Most probably haven’t even heard of it. This illustrates why the points I have mentioned are essential to get a new journal off the ground: good peer review, serious people on the board who actually contribute to the journal, at least a minimum of editing etc. Otherwise, even if it is not, there is danger that it will be dismissed as just another online journal one doesn’t need to bother about.

        arXiv, if used, will provide some filtering. If arXiv is not used, and the editors take the “let the readers decide” attitude, then it will quickly deteriorate into a crackpot journal, especially if it starts out on a good foot which will attract crackpots who want to publish in a serious journal. The result is that people with good papers won’t want to be associated with it.

        The main reasons that most of the stuff on the arXiv is OK are that most of it is intended for submission to a traditional journal and arXiv keeps obvious crackpots out.

      • Correction: The JOC has a non-refundable $35 processing fee for submission and a $150 publication fee.

      • MAX PLANCK: “An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents; it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning. “

      • First, even if Planck said it, it doesn’t mean it is true. Second, even if it is true, this does not mean that every crackpot idea will eventually become the new paradigm. Quote of the day:

        A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right.

        —Stephen Jay Gould

      • It is true that you would have welcomed Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang for their Parity violation when you had been in the 1950s.
        However, according my understanding of you, you would not have welcomed Planck’s quantum idea when you had been in the 1900s. you would not have welcomed Nicolaus Copernicus’ heliocentric cosmology when you had been in the 1550s.

      • “Am I a crackpot??”

        On you later comments, you supply a link. Readers can follow it and judge for themselves.

      • Modern trouble with physics is that the population on the globe is huge and people have to make a living of their own, so do physicists who run the huge dark business which is supported by the same religion: The Big Bang theory.

      • If I am not wrong, you are the first person on the globe who wrote, though indirectly, that I am a crackpot.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Dear HeJin

        You are wrong. Don’t twist Phillip’s words.

        Have you any connection to or publication in JOC?

      • No, I did not try Journal of Cosmology. But I tried almost all other Physics and Astronomy journals in this world. The recent rejection letter is from Indian Journal Of Physics which held my article for over one year and half:
        Ref.: Ms. No. INJP-D-12-00047
        Identification of Nature’s Rationality via Galaxy NGC 6782
        Indian Journal of Physics

        Dear Dr. he,

        Reviewers’ comments on your work have now been received. You will see that they are advising against publication of your work. Therefore I am unable to proceed further with it.

        The reviewers’ comments can be found at the end of this email or can be accessed by following the provided link.

        This is your login information:
        Your username is: mathnob
        Your password is: he8422

        Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work.

        Yours sincerely

        Editors IJP
        Editor-in-Chief
        Indian Journal of Physics

        Reviewers’ comments:

        The abstract is not written to a standard that warrants review by a legitimate journal

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Why did you not try Journal of Cosmology?

  6. Bryn Jones Says:

    Is the intention for the new journal to publish freely, that is without page charges?

    (Many astronomers in British universities publish in MNRAS and in Astronomy and Astrophysics because they do not have to pay page charges – many people do not have access to money to pay page charges.)

    • telescoper Says:

      There will be no page charges and no subscription charges. Any “processing” charges paid by the author will be nominal (i.e. tens of pounds rather than hundreds).

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      Right. A processing charge of tens of pounds. That is cheap, though it does still require authors to have some funding.

      That’s still more than some people will have access to, other than from their own bank accounts (never underestimate the extent to which PhD students and postdocs in some departments cannot access funds).

      • telescoper Says:

        We’re not going to charge at the start, but if it takes off I think we’ll have to charge something..unless we can generate some (appropriately-selected) advertising revenue

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Perhaps a compromise would be to charge established academics only?

      • Some sort of sponsorship (RAS?) would be much better than charging authors. Sure, you and I can pay the charges, but maybe not everyone can. Other journals, including ones without page charges but with expensive subscriptions, will still be around. Some poor third-world researcher or first-world student shouldn’t be tempted to publish there rather than in the new journal.

        Why not set up a not-for-profit charity? This would enable people to make tax-free donations. They could then, if they wish, appear on a list of sponsors. At least give these things a try before charging even a few pounds for page charges. (Note also that it is extremely expensive for people outside the UK to pay pounds into a UK bank account.)

        Or get a big sponsor. Richard Branson? Brian May?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Branson? Virgin Journal of Astrophysics?

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Brian May not…

      • If Branson sponsors it, one could call it Virgo, in the tradition of Icarus. (I still like the newspaper headline when Branson floated his company on the stock exchange: Virgin goes public.)

        If May sponsors it, then of course we must call it Mercury. :-)

        If May sponsors it, once the new journal starts killing off the traditional ones, he can write an editorial entitled “Another one bites the dust”.

    • Note that MNRAS doesn’t have page charges for anyone, neither for folks at British universities nor elsewhere. Neither does one have to have a (personal or individual) subscription in order to be allowed to publish.

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Virtual Journal of Astrophysics?

    Virtuous Journal of Astrophysics?

    (Journal of Virtuous Astrophysics?)

    Free Journal of Astrophysics?

    Online Journal of Astrophysics?

    Green Journal of Astrophysics?

  8. I think that buzzwords such as free, open, online, green etc should be avoided, since different people understand them differently. Virtual sounds like it is not real. Virtuous, OK, but that is a bit arrogant. We also need a title which still sounds good in 200 years.

    I don’t think the “special” status should be reflected in the name. After all, the idea is for the new form to be the only journal form in the future.

    What about “Journal of Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology”? This is serious, descriptive and broad enough to cover what such a journal should cover while making it clear that this is not the place for evolutionary biology or quantitative finance.

    Of course, whatever the name, one needs to make sure that there is not obscure journal with the same name already.

    If the new journal is called MNRAS, then we don’t have anything to worry about. (OK, it’s not monthly and it doesn’t contain the notices of the RAS, but it is a good name with a nice and distinctive journal colour.)

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Green Journal of Astrophysics has the advantage that today it has culturally positive connotations which relate to how it got founded (no trees needed for paper) and if the website frontpage has a green background then in 20 years time the next generation who have never seen paper journals will regard it as relating to that.

      • What is the net environmental advantage or disadvantage after replacing paper stuff with computer stuff? Keep in mind all the computers running 24×7 so that we don’t need the paper copy. How many grams of CO2 does a Google search produce? (I think someone has actually calculated this.) Of course, this depends on the source of electricity, which could change in the future. Still, “no trees cut = green” might not always be true.

        Also, I wonder if the number of pages in printouts of online journal articles is more or less than the number of journal pages back when everyone just read the articles in the journal (corrected, of course, for the increase in volume between then and now).

        On the other hand, I am sure that online pornography has more environmental impact than the paper version did!

  9. Has anyone sounded out the arXiv or RAS yet?

    Since this chimes with Willetts’ open-access policy (e.g. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/01/open-free-access-academic-research), what about asking him to chip in?

    • From the article you link to:

      “These questions explain why I have asked Dame Janet Finch, one of the UK’s most experienced and respected academics, to produce a report setting out the steps needed to fulfil our radical ambition. She is working with all interested parties and her report will appear before the summer. It is expected to chart a course towards a world where academic articles are freely and openly available at or around the time of publication.” (Emphasis added.)

      Since this report didn’t result in what Telescoper wants, it would be interested to hear whose side Willetts is on now. (For those outside of Blighty: remind us who Willetts is.)

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I wrote to Willetts 2 weeks ago saying that the Finch report was a missed opportunity to save a lot of money and explaining why. I’ve yet to receive a reply but ministers normally do; at a guess he’s on holiday, which is fair enough in August.

  10. Bryn Jones Says:

    Several people have mentioned the RAS.

    I’ll just note that the RAS receives much of its income from journals, through subscriptions paid by the libraries of universities and research institutes. Indeed, the report of the RAS’s honorary auditors this year stated, “60% of income derives from publications. The possible threat from the `open access’ publication model is being thoroughly prepared for.

    The RAS is aware of the potential change in the mode of publishing and is budgeting for a major reduction in the money it receives from the Monthly Notices and the Geophysical Journal International within the next several years. The RAS expects a move to open-access, web-only research publishing; it is just that it is waiting as long as possible before changing itself because of the strong financial advantage it gets from the current model.

    The RAS also employs several staff members to run their journal operations: I believe it is currently seven people. These handle the administration tasks associated with processing submissions, interacting with referees and preparing papers for publication. The salary costs are substantial. Any new journal would surely need to provide similar support?

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I doubt it. Most of those 7 positions are probably sinecures that accreted over time. In the pre-internet age I saw 1-man journals of genuine academic stature. This is not to diss the 7 people who are presently in those positions – I have no reason to doubt are competent and conscientious – but are they actually necessary?

      • telescoper Says:

        Actually, the positions are actually mostly part-time, just a few hours a week each. And much of their time is spent interfacing with the publishers Wiley-Blackwell.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        I had assumed those people employed by the RAS were in full-time positions and carried out essential administration tasks for the journals. Peter was once on the RAS Council and will have some insider knowledge.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        The RAS accounts for 2011 published in the trustee’s report clarify issues, although any conclusions depend on how we treat income and expenditure as opposed to net income.

        The 2011 total income was £3.78 million, and this mostly comes from the £3.13 million from publications. However, there were costs of £2.55 million on publications. So there was a net income of £586000 from publications. This compares with an income of £251000 from “membership” (presumably subscriptions). The total non-publication income was £650000, so the publications profit amounted to 586000/(586000+650000) = 47% of the total income after publication costs are taken out.

        The standard annual RAS subscription rate is £98 (for people who completed full-time education more than 5 years ago).

    • It’s not clear what the figures actually mean. OK, assume 60% of the RAS income is from subscriptions. How much of that goes to Wiley-Blackwell, which is a for-profit company?

      The German Physical Society has dues of about 80 pounds per year (the amount depends on one’s income). What do RAS members pay in dues?

  11. Paul Stevenson Says:

    Welsh Journal of Astrophysics?

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      That would in practice deter too many people from submitting. But if, paradoxically, you replaced “Welsh” by some appropriate adjective that was actually IN Welsh, then it would not deter and would be a nice way to acknowledge its basis in Cardiff.

  12. In case anyone doubts my worries that real peer review is essential for getting a new journal accepted, consider this: http://blog.richmond.edu/physicsbunn/2012/10/19/math-journal-publishes-computer-generated-fake-paper/ which describes how a machine-generated nonsense paper got accepted by an “open-access” journal. (To be sure, the journal has page charges.) Not just the arXiv, but several journals, with varying costs to the author, are available for open-access publication. The reason that traditional journals are still going strong is because most of the reputable ones provide at least some degree of serious refereeing. Thus, any new journal needs this (and a serious board of directors etc) as well. (If open access itself were the only issue, then arXiv would have already taken over. It hasn’t. And the reason that most of the stuff there is OK is because it is published in real journals as well.)

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