The Open Journal for Astrophysics Project

I owe many people various apologies for not posting anything for a while about the Open Journal for Astrophysics. For a start I have to admit that the call for test submissions last year was a bit premature. I should have been more patient and ensured that the system was complete before going public. I hope nobody has been too seriously inconvenienced by the ongoing delay.

The project has got stalled a bit largely because I have just had too many things to do to devote enough time to complete the final stages needed to go fully live and also one of the people helping with the project Arfon Smith moved to a new job. Arfon and Chris Lintott have posted an account of the project so far which gives a bit more detail about how we wanted to realize the project (hosted by GitHub); the code development has involved major work by Robert Simpson and Stuart Lynn in addition to Arfon and Chris.  In essence they say that the job is now about 80% complete. I would have said it was more like 75%, so the OJFA is in some sense just the OJF at the moment! Much of what remains is not actual programming stuff but administrative stuff involved with, e.g., arranging the assignement of  digital object identifiers (DOIs) and so on, all of which has been on my to-do list for several months now.

Anywhere, just to show you that the whole project isn’t just hot air here is a demonstration of the snazzy user interface which we plan to use to facilitate the online refereeing process:

However, in the spirit not only of open access publishing but also of open source programming, Arfon has made available all the codes that have been developed so far. One intention of this is that  these can be adapted  for other OJFs hence the construction of a generic website (theoj.org) as well as the hope that some folks out there might help us bright the OJFA itself to completion. Anyone out there with the requisite skills is welcome to volunteer, either through the comments box here or through the OJ repository. If we can get enough volunteers we can meet and put together a plan to bring this idea to completion at last.

Despite being forced to accept that my own workload makes it difficult for me to be as involved as I’d like to be in this project I’d still really love to get this project off the ground. I hope I can use the time freed up by no longer being a member of RAS Council to work on the OJFA. I no longer have a conflict of interest in that regard either; like many other learned societies the RAS currently makes a large fraction of its income from academic publishing!

As Arfon mentions in his piece, the recent BICEP2 episode in particular provides pretty strong motivation that we need a new concept of academic publishing. Practical difficulties may have intervened for now but the motivation for the project itself is stronger now than it has ever been.

15 Responses to “The Open Journal for Astrophysics Project”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Actually I’d call it the Nearly Open Journal for Astrophysics at this moment. Doesn’t matter how long it takes (within reason), it is a deeply worthy project, and it was your vision. I wish it every success, and likewise for sister online journals.

  2. brissioni Says:

    The birth of a new professional journal is big. It will be a good thing if it succeeds. Maybe next year it will be happy mother’s day for you guys.

  3. From one of the links above: “Authors who didn’t want to submit to arXiv and make their paper public could just create the repo directly; we mused about – in the long term – charging for this service as making users pay for privacy seems like a nice model to fund things and also encourage open, sharing behaviour.”

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and will keep saying it until it sinks in. People who don’t want to submit papers directly to the arXiv are usually neither contrarians nor privacy freaks. As an overused expression in other contexts states: Check your privilege! Some well known prestigious institutes have a policy which requires putting the paper on the arXiv only after acceptance. Whether or not you agree with this, I think it should be respected, especially since getting people from such institutes on board would increase the prestige of the new journal. People from an unknown institute, or without an institute, have a very difficult time putting something on the arXiv. Yes, there is the sponsorship system, but a) having a sponsor doesn’t automatically allow one to post to arXiv and b) for people who need a sponsor it is often difficult to get one. Yes, some gatekeeping is necessary and it is because of this gatekeeping that arXiv is as successful as it is. Crackpots should be kept out. Unfortunately, arXiv often throws the baby out with the bathwater. There is no way to appeal an arXiv decision with which one disagrees (attempting to do so would probably result in a ban for life), no information is provided as to why a paper is not allowed etc etc. Charging people who have to put up with this would add insult to injury. Also, the astrophysics moderators for arXiv are anonymous (this is not the case for all fields).

    At the very least, you need to come to some understanding with arXiv which would allow anyone to post a paper to arXiv if it is intended for your journal, at least initially (so that you can ban crackpots as well later if desired). With the new arXiv numbering system, papers can be re-classified, so perhaps some special category could be created and, on acceptance, the paper would be moved to the normal category (and arXiv would have to agree to do this for every accepted paper). However, this would still not address the problems of those who are not allowed by their institute to post to arXiv before acceptance, or who don’t want to for other reasons.

  4. David Crawford Says:

    I am disappointed by the delays in getting OJFA up and running. I had submitted a paper in January to the test system. The major reason for this submission is that it is a very controversial paper that has been summarily rejected by major journals and I wish to get a proper criticism from someone who is not completely biased against a static universe. The title is “Type 1a supernovae observations are consistent with a static universe” and is can accessed at
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1307.6589

    I welcome any comments, especially those that show that my analysis is flawed.
    Regards
    David Crawford

    • Your paper stands or falls with the underlying cosmological model it is based on. Anyone familiar with cosmology reading “tired light” will recall numerous objections against this hypothesis. There is, of course, the possibility that your tired light is somehow immune from these objections. So, one looks in the references for a paper about your model, and finds papers in the Journal of Cosmology which is known to publish crackpot papers. So, I don’t think anyone would take the trouble to read the paper you mention unless the papers on which it is based (i.e. your cosmological model) have been published in a respectable journal. “Respectable” is the key here; the Journal of Cosmology is allegedly peer-reviewed (for some definition of “peer”).

      Although one would have to look at things in great detail to decide one way or the other (and probably no-one* will until the basic paper is published in a respectable journal), the fact that your model did not predict these observations, but rather postdicted them, raises suspicions. Yes, at some level a postdiction is just as good as a prediction (or, in some cases, even better, e.g. avoidance of confirmation bias), but such a postdiction must be uniquely derivable from the theory. Had you predicted the observed magnitude-redshift relation in advance, that would have been more impressive. (Note: It is not essential. It is often down to various contingent factors whether observations or theory lead. For example, the details of the CMB power spectrum were predicted years before they were observed, whereas with regard to large-scale structure theory/simulation is still behind observations, simply because of the computational complexity involved.)

      *I would, of course, expect a referee to give reasons for rejecting the paper after having read it in enough detail to do so.

      • David Crawford Says:

        I thank Phillip Helbig for providing a good example of why it is extremely difficult to get alternative papers on cosmology accepted by major journals. First he condemns the paper by association with the fact that a previous paper was published in the Journal of Cosmology. My excuse at the time was that it is a very long paper (~150p) and I could not get it published in a more reputable journal.

        Next he goes on at length about prediction and postdiction of observations. It was not clear to me what he was talking about. However he suggests that the magnitude-redshift relation was constructed to fit the data. If he had checked references he would have discovered that the much of the theory was published in ApJ 410, 488 (1993) and the magnitude-redshift equation was published in ApJ 440, 466 (1995). There were no changes to the theoretical model made in the supernova paper.

        Finally he suggests that he expects, without any justification, that a full reading of the paper would uncover sufficient reasons to reject the paper. Since he posted his note within hours of mine being published I can only surmise that his purpose was to get in early and condemn the paper without any reasonable analysis.

        As a side issue I will briefly describe the rejections I have had from major journals for the supernova paper.

        MNRAS : “There are numerous observations, not considered here, which exclude a static Universe model and hence the work is of no practical relevance for our Universe. Supernova data are certainly not crucial, or even necessary, to reach that conclusion. ”
        ApJ: “We have now completed our review of your manuscript, and I regret to tell you that we are not able to undertake further consideration of your submission for publication in the The Astrophysical Journal.”

        A&A: ” After consideration by our Editorial Board, I regret to inform you that your manuscript cannot be considered for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics.”

        I have also tried PASA with similar results.

        Regards
        David Crawford

      • “My excuse at the time was that it is a very long paper (~150p) and I could not get it published in a more reputable journal.”

        The question here is whether the cure (publication in a questionable journal) is worse than the disease (difficulty of getting a long paper published). You can be absolutely certain that no serious cosmologist wastes his time with the Journal of Cosmology. So, publication there doesn’t help you, and hurts you by association. If you just want to make the paper available, you can do that on your website. These days, publication is not primarily about distribution, but about quality control.

        ” There were no changes to the theoretical model made in the supernova paper.”

        But did you publish (anywhere, in any form) the magnitude-redshift relation before it was observed? I don’t mean the 150-page underlying theory.

        Again, this is not essential, but a confirmed prediction will create much more interest than a postdiction the correctness of which can be confirmed only by examining the underlying theory in detail. Since the magnitude-redshift relation is a standard observable in cosmology, it is strange that a new theory does not state its prediction on this from the outset.

        “Finally he suggests that he expects, without any justification, that a full reading of the paper would uncover sufficient reasons to reject the paper.”

        What I meant was that I would expect that a referee who reads the paper and rejects it would read it in enough detail to find reasons for rejection; this was not a comment on the value of the paper. (I admit that my formulation was unintentionally a bit ambiguous.) In other words, while you can’t expect anyone who matters to read it if it is published by the Journal of Cosmology, you can expect the referee to read it. (I mean “expect” in a “moral” sense; whether or not, statistically, you can be confident that the referee will read it, I don’t know. Certainly a journal which rejects a paper without saying why is somewhat questionable. I also don’t know whether all journals send the referee report to the author or, at least in some cases, the editor sends an opinion based on an “internal” referee report which is not sent to the author.)

        MNRAS : “There are numerous observations, not considered here, which exclude a static Universe model and hence the work is of no practical relevance for our Universe.

        Do any of your papers discuss all of these observations which exclude a static universe and rebut them?

        Have you requested more detailed reports from the journals in question?

      • Here’s your shot at world (dare I say universal?) fame. Make the most of it:

        One usually thinks of the cosmological redshift of an object as a fixed quantity, but of course in general it changes with time. How the redshift changes with time depends on the redshift and the cosmological model. This is a completely straightforward result from classical cosmology which has been, at least in principle, around since the 1930s at least. (I think Allan Sandage was the first to point it out; certainly he was instrumental in getting the effect known.) This hasn’t attracted much attention since it is very difficult to observe. Spectrographs are now sensitive enough, however, to detect changes in the cosmological redshift over a period of at most a few decades, i.e. within the lifetime of an astronomer, perhaps even within a few years. The predictions of classical cosmology have been published and the observations will be in soon. (There are some programmes at ESO for this.)

        My educated guess is that it is extremely unlikely that your model makes the same prediction. So, does your model make a prediction for the dependence of redshift on time? Does it depend on any free parameters? Make a prediction now and publish it. You can just send it to me and I will dig it out when the observations are in. If the observations confirm your model, then your fame is secured. If not, your model is ruled out.

  5. David Crawford Says:

    I thank Phillip for his extensive comments . Most of the article he is so disparaging about (arxiv 1009.0953) is about comparing my model to numerous astrophysical observations. In particular it has excellent agreement for the magnitude-redshift equation with quasar and galaxy observations. Clearly in a static model it does not have time dependence.

    All I have requested is that anyone who wishes read my paper as a referee and let me know your criticisms. (My email is in the paper)
    If you find it acceptable I am more than willing to discuss other aspects of the theory.

    Regards
    David Crawford

    • “Clearly in a static model it does not have time dependence.”

      This is a clear prediction. This is the mark of a good model (not necessarily a correct model, of course; that depends on whether the prediction is confirmed). In this sense, the steady-state model was a good model because it made clear predictions from very basic principles with no wiggle room.

      Check out slide 31 from this talk I heard a few weeks ago. There is a graph showing the effect and some references for further reading. Conventional cosmology also makes a clear prediction: the cosmological redshift depends on time. OK, details of the signal depend on the cosmological parameters, but those are pretty well known by now. If this effect is not observed, then there is something seriously wrong with our understanding of cosmology. And there is no way to wiggle out. On the other hand, if it is observed, it will definitively rule out your theory.

      (Of course, even at cosmological distances objects can have other redshifts of comparable magnitude of the signal one is looking for in the “redshift-drift test”. However, the magnitude of the cosmological signal is the same for all objects at a given redshift, whereas changes due changes in other types of redshifts should cancel statistically.)

  6. peter: any thoughts on this – which i believe is going to cover astronomy (and i assume cosmology)? ian

    https://royalsociety.org/news/2014/royal-society-open-science/

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