Nature and the Open Journal of Astrophysics

As I prepare to return to Sussex for the new term, I find that Nature News & Comment has published a piece on a pet project I’ve blogged about on a number of occasions, The Open Journal of Astrophysics.

There are a couple of sceptical comments quoted in the piece, which is fair enough. Such views are not at all unexpected. This is a new venture and there are bound to be people who prefer to stick to the established publishing channels. I and the others involved in the Open Journal think traditional journals have long since had their day. We’ll just have to see how many others agree!

26 Responses to “Nature and the Open Journal of Astrophysics”

  1. “Papers in astrophysics are effectively open already, van Dishoeck points out, because anyone can view pre-print manuscripts immediately on the arXiv”

    True, but irrelevant. Has she really missed the entire point? Does she have an undisclosed conflict of interest?

    The point is not that papers are effectively open access already. Does she really think that people don’t realize that they can read most papers on the arXiv?

    The point is to save money which is wasted on overpriced journal subscriptions.

    While it is perhaps a defensible position to disagree with Peter, constructing such an absurd straw man is beyond the pale.

    • No, van Dishoeck does not have an agenda and she is a highly respected scientist both in astrophysics and in chemistry. You may want to reconsider your opinion of her. She publishes mainly in A&A and MNRAS. These do not charge (at least within Europe) so there would be no cost savings for her personally. This situation is different from the main US journals which have publication charges. For her, the open access aspect will be the most important. the cost savings on subscriptions are for institutions.

      However, I have noticed a move even in astronomy to limit the cc-by license for those papers which do no pay for gold open access. I have now run into that problem twice: it is difficult to pay for any costs (e.g. a colour figure) for a paper which has the wrong cc-by license. It has not yet forced us to pay for ‘gold’ open access but there has been pressure from the university to pay up. If this becomes widespread, there would be an immediate benefit even for van Dishoeck in bypassing the main journals.

      In the end, a journal is judged on whether it adds value to a paper. Top journals do. Many journals do not and exist mainly to separate scientists from their funding. It will be interesting to see with which journals Peter’s brainchild will compete for market share. I hope the venture succeeds!

      • “No, van Dishoeck does not have an agenda and she is a highly respected scientist both in astrophysics and in chemistry. You may want to reconsider your opinion of her.”

        I’m certainly aware of who she is and the fact that she is highly respected as a scientist. This does not mean that she must always be right whatever she says. (Note that Franz Beckenbauer was a good footballer but his career as a recording artist is, rightfully, not very well known.) In particular, the comment in Nature set up a complete strawman: the purpose of Peter’s Open Journal of Astrophysics is not to make peer-reviewed papers available to everyone, since arXiv has been doing that since its inception, but rather to avoid dependence on overpriced journals. So, even mentioning that peer-reviewed papers are available on arXiv is a complete red herring.

        “She publishes mainly in A&A and MNRAS. These do not charge (at least within Europe) so there would be no cost savings for her personally.”

        As far as I know neither journal has page charges for anyone, no matter where they are from, but both cost money. They are certainly not as overpriced as, say, Elsevier journals, but perhaps priced higher than necessary. MNRAS is supported by subscriptions and, IIRC, A&A directly by the sponsoring countries (perhaps in addition to a subscription fee.) In any case, the debate is not just about page charges, but about all charges. So, saying that some journals have no page charges is a red herring if they otherwise cost too much.

        Of course, one can and should debate the question how much is too much, but setting up straw men doesn’t help.

        “For her, the open access aspect will be the most important. the cost savings on subscriptions are for institutions.”

        Money is money and has to come from somewhere. Money spent by institutions unnecessarily might be put to better use elsewhere.

        “In the end, a journal is judged on whether it adds value to a paper. Top journals do. Many journals do not and exist mainly to separate scientists from their funding. It will be interesting to see with which journals Peter’s brainchild will compete for market share. I hope the venture succeeds!”

        We agree here. Since the OJA does not collect any revenue, and if it collects any at all in the future it will collect only the actual running costs, it can hardly compete with pay-to-play journals. As you say, people should publish in a journal only if it adds value. The OJA should add value by good peer review. If the peer review is at least as good as in the handful of leading astronomy journals, I see no reason not to publish in it, except of course for young researchers who might be forced to apply for jobs with people who are concerned only with papers published in “a small number of well established and high quality journals in astronomy that everyone respects”. There is an obvious chicken-and-egg problem here. Should the currently respected journals be the only ones one should consider for all time? Or shouldn’t a new journal which publishes papers which are at least as good not be at least as respected by everyone?

        Another point is that standards in some traditional journals seem to be dropping, but they continue being respected out of inertia. But more of that anon.

      • Beckenbauer as a singer wasn’t a joke, by the way:

        While this might be dismissed as a novelty song (though it was part of an entire album, even containing the German version of the Beatles’ I want to hold your hand (which the Beatles had also released), Beckenbauer was actually the only one with any musical experience. Back in 1966 he was even in the charts:

      • The first video explains why “Bundesliga-hår” is the Danish term for a mullet. 🙂

    • I would be a lot more worried about this sort of comment:

      “We have a small number of well established and high quality journals in astronomy that everyone respects.”

      What do you say to van Dishoeck, and particularly to any young researcher trying to build a career? Academics are faced with a Prisoner’s Dilemma, where defecting to publish in a ‘traditional’ journal (or to use her words, a “well established and high quality journal… that everyone respects”) grants them career advantages (or perceived career advantages) over those that don’t, even if cooperating with everybody else will yield a better world for everyone.

      The solution is obviously to make the Open Journal exactly one such well established and high quality journal, that everyone respects. Peter has talked about this issue before, so I know he’s considered it and its difficulties. I really hope this issue can be surmounted, even though I know it will be the most challenging part.

      • telescoper Says:

        This comment merely confirms my belief that academic publishing is now hardly different from vanity publishing, another highly lucrative industry.

      • “The solution is obviously to make the Open Journal exactly one such well established and high quality journal, that everyone respects.”

        This is really the most important point.

      • Peter, sure. I’m not convinced that’s what you want to be saying to young career academics though.

        And Philiip, yes. Thanks for distilling that.

  2. When will it actually go live?

  3. http://scholarlyoa.com/ is devoted to investigating predatory (pay-to-play publishers of low quality). While some overpriced journals actually have reasonable quality (though there is an obvious conflict of interest if the profit increases with the number of pages published), there are very many journals of essentially no quality which charge hefty fees for publication. In some cases, random text has been accepted and published.

    What amazes me about the blog mentioned above are the many questions. Surely, if someone working in the field has to ask if a journal is a scam, then either it is or the person is incompetent.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    The aim now is to gain a good reputation. That takes time and effort, and the fact that some people apparently prefer to disparage the fact OJA does not yet have one should not deter. I’ve nothing but praise and encouragement for OJA’s board in following their own vision.

    • I agree. I think that the acid test is whether the board members, or or at least those with permanent jobs, publish their own stuff there.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        They’d be accused of getting preferential treatment. OJA just has to ignore negative criticism and win itself a reputation through talent, vision and hard work. It has what it takes.

      • “They’d be accused of getting preferential treatment.”

        I see your point, but surely people on the board of A&A publish there and similarly for other journals. Not publishing there would be like the chairman of VW driving a Mercedes, or vice versa.

        Maybe there could be a publicly known rule that papers submitted by those on the board will be refereed by someone not on the board.

  5. I don’t know when Andrew King became a cosmologist, but (as I’ve mentioned before) his point about such journals needing to be run by accountable organizations like the RAS seems bang on the money for me, and it’s the reason why I won’t be publishing in the OJA any time soon, much as I approve of your aims. What I basically want is MNRAS without the involvement of a profit-making publisher; I’m still hoping I may get it one day.

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t see the word “accountable” in Andrew’s comments. The RAS does publish accounts however. They show that most of its income derives from the profit it takes from MNRAS, ie mostly from institutional subscribers. I regard this as a form of stealth tax.

    • A chance might have been missed (I don’t know) to get the RAS on board at an early stage. It’s probably too late for that now. Perhaps at some point the RAS will offer an onlne-only journal (it could still be called MNRAS; after all, the current MNRAS is neither monthly nor does it contain the notices of the RAS).

      Although I agree that having, say, the RAS behind such a venture would be a good idea, why won’t you publish in the OJA any time soon? Would you publish if, after a while, it has demonstrated that its quality is similar to that of MNRAS?

      • telescoper Says:

        I was aware of this – Rob Ivison told me about it some time ago. We will have to wait and see how long it remains free..

        It’s not an overlay journal of course so isn’t the same concept…

      • From the FAQ:

        Where can I find information about Article Processing Charges?

        We are currently offering an introductory waiver on all Article Processing Charges.

        After this period, the Article Processing Charge for authors will be £1000/$1600/€1220. Charges will only apply if an article is accepted for publication (there will be no charge for submission). Prices will be subject to VAT, where applicable. Requests for fee waivers will be considered where authors do not have the available funds.

      • telescoper Says:

        There you have it. Another ripoff Journal..

  6. “I don’t know when Andrew King became a cosmologist”

    From his web page: Andrew King researched for his PhD in relativistic cosmology, supervised by George Ellis at Cambridge, where he also worked with Stephen Hawking. I would say that that qualifies him. However, he seems to have moved on to other things. Maybe “former cosmologist” would be appropriate. 🙂 But maybe cosmologists are like US presidents: even years after they have left office, they are still “Mr President”.

    This seems to be the reverse of a more common trend. I think it was Chandrasekhar who said that cosmology is the graveyard of astronomers. This might have been true in a sense a long time ago, when cosmology was very observationally starved, so someone who had retired and wasn’t keeping up with his own field might have become lost by, say, the introduction of computers, or CCDs, or whatever, whereas in cosmology not much changed for several decades, so it was perhaps easier to (think that one could) do something here after retirement.

    Now, the reverse seems to be happening. It seems that Ed Turner is doing exoplanets and Max Tegmark cognitive systems. What is this world coming to? 🙂

    I was moved, to say the least, by Jack Steinberger’s attendance at the last Moriond cosmology meeting. Even for someone who lives in nearby Switzerland, for most people it would be a feat to get there at all at his age. (Although at well over 80 he cycled the 10 km from his home into CERN every day.) He didn’t give a talk, but sat in the front row the whole time and asked many questions.

    A relatively young person gave a talk on BAO or some similar theme in modern cosmology. Maybe his first talk at a big meeting. Jack asked him if he could find some time at dinner to explain some details to him, to which, though a little baffled, he agreed. I don’t think he knew who Jack was. At lunch, I was sitting across from him and thought of asking him if he knew who had asked him to explain his work in more detail, but then though better of it. He might have been too nervous to do a good job, and Jack was interested in the science, not in someone talking to a famous bloke.

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