I’ve been involved in a depressing discussion on the Astronomers facebook page, part of which was about the widespread use of Journal Impact factors by appointments panels, grant agencies, promotion committees, and so on. It is argue (by some) that younger researchers should be discouraged from publishing in, e.g., the Open Journal of Astrophysics, because it doesn’t have an impact factor and they would therefore be jeopardising their research career. In fact it takes two years for new journal to acquire an impact factor so if you take this advice seriously nobody should ever publish in any new journal.
For the record, I will state that no promotion committee, grant panel or appointment process I’ve ever been involved in has even mentioned impact factors. However, it appears that some do, despite the fact that they are demonstrably worse than useless at measuring the quality of publications. You can find comprehensive debunking of impact factors and exposure of their flaws all over the internet if you care to look: a good place to start is Stephen Curry’s article here. I’d make an additional point here, which is that the impact factor uses citation information for the journal as a whole as a sort of proxy measure of the research quality of papers publish in it. But why on Earth should one do this when citation information for each paper is freely available? Why use a proxy when it’s trivial to measure the real thing?
The basic statistical flaw behind impact factors is that they are based on the arithmetic mean number of citations per paper. Since the distribution of citations in all journals is very skewed, this number is dragged upwards by a few papers with extremely large numbers of citations. In fact, most papers published have many few citations than the impact factor of a journal. It’s all very misleading, especially when used as a marketing tool by cynical academic publishers.
Thinking about this on the bus on my way into work this morning I decided to suggest a couple of bibliometric indices that should help put impact factors into context. I urge relevant people to calculate these for their favourite journals:
The Dead Paper Fraction (DPF). This is defined to be the fraction of papers published in the journal that receive no citations at all in the census period. For journals with an impact factor of a few, this is probably a majority of the papers published.
The Unreliability of Impact Factor Factor (UIFF). This is defined to be the fraction of papers with fewer citations than the Impact Factor. For many journals this is most of their papers, and the larger this fraction is the more unreliably their Impact Factor is.
Another usefel measure for individual papers is
The Corrected Impact Factor. If a paper with a number N of actual citations is published in a journal with impact factor I then the corrected impact factor is C=N-I. For a deeply uninteresting paper published in a flashily hyped journal this will be large and negative, and should be viewed accordingly by relevant panels.
Other suggestions for citation metrics less stupid than the impact factor are welcome through the comments box…
Posted in Open Access on December 22, 2015 by telescoper
It has taken a lot longer to get to this point than I thought it would when I first proposed the Open Journal of Astrophysics way back in 2012 but better late than never!
For a while now we have been testing the platform with submissions we have solicited quietly for a while now and are satisfied that it works so we can now open up to the general public. The journal itself will go live early in the New Year when we have completed the refereeing process for those papers currently in the pipeline. There will be quite a few further things to announce then too.
Before I give more instructions on how to submit let me briefly recap the philosophy of the Open Journal project.
We no longer need traditional academics journals to disseminate research in astrophysics and cosmology. We all post our research to the arXiv and read other papers there too. It’s been years since I last accessed a paper in a journal. The only useful function that journals provide is peer review, and we in the research community do that (usually for free) anyway. We only need journals for peer review, although we also like the prestige that is associated with them. But traditional journals have an unnecessarily slow and expensive editorial process, along with a nasty habit of placing the articles they publish behind a paywall.
The Open Journal does things differently, because we are not a publisher in the traditional sense. Instead, we are a peer-review platform, piggybacking on the arXiv for all the “publishing.” The Open Journal provides peer review for arXiv articles, making the process as fast and easy as we can. Once peer review for a particular article is successfully completed, we mark that article as accepted and send that information to the arXiv. Accepted articles will receive a DOI, and citations to them will get picked up through the CrossRef system just as they would in any other journal — but in a fraction of the time, and at a fraction of the cost. In fact, the service is provided free of charge both for authors and readers. There is no Article Processing Charge, no submission fee and no subscription is payable. The Open Journal is a service to the academic community, not a profit-making venture.
Moreover, articles published by the Open Journal are open, in that all articles are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The infrastructure is open too – the code running the Open Journal is available under an MIT license. The reviewer comments can be made open too, with the agreement of both the authors and reviewer(s). In the long run I hope that the community will embrace the spirit of open reviewing so anonymous confidential reviews will become the exception rather than the rule, but we’ll see how that goes just for now.
Any paper that’s suitable for the astro-ph section of the arXiv can be subvmitted to the Open Journal of Astrophysics. We will consider any “traditional” papers as well as others which may find it difficult to get into other journals, such as papers on astrophysics education or outreach or technical papers relating to instrumentation, mission proposals, and other documents.
Now, to business. The best way to get an idea of how the Open Journal works is by watching the following video (which was made using a beta version of the site, but nothing much has changed except for a few layout issues being changed):
Note that the site is currently just called the Open Journal, which is so that it can be used with minimal modification to create similar journals in other fields.
If you don’t want to watch the whole thing here’s a quick summary of the steps you have to take to submit to the Open Journal.
Write your paper. There is latex style file you can use here, although it is not compulsory to use this and we will allow anything that produces a PDF that can be viewed easily using our mark-up tool. Single-column is strongly preferred.
Submit your paper to the arXiv. You have to be registered in order to do this. Note also that you have to be prepared to submit your paper to the arXiv before it is reviewed. There is an enormous advantage in doing this, actually, as you may get more comments and suggestions than our refereeing system will generate.
Go to the submit tab on the left hand side of the screen.
Type in the arXiv reference of your paper (you can do this in various ways)
Our software will assign the paper to an editor, who will then select referee(s). Each referee makes comments by marking “issues” on the PDF, each of which needs a reply from the author. When all issues are resolved the paper is accepted. If revision is required a new version can be submitted to the arXiv which will be picked up by the software.
When it us ready our software will automatically assign a DOI and write it to the appropriate field in the arXiv.
That’s it! The paper is published and can be accessed either directly on the arXiv or through the Open Journal website.
Go and have a beer.
One other thing is worth mentioning. Because this service is provided free we do not have the effort required to undertake extensive copy-editing or rewriting of papers that are very poorly written. If the editor or referee deems a paper to be unfit for review then we will refer the author to a professional writing and editing service who will charge a fee depending on the length and complexity of the task.
As well as submissions we are also looking for new editors. At the moment our Editorial Board is dominated by cosmologists but as word gets round we will probably need expertise in other areas of astrophysics. If you’d like to volunteer please send me an email or use the comment box below.
Well, that’s about it. I just remains for me to thank all the people without whom this project would never have got off the ground, chiefly Chris Lintott, Arfon Smith and Adam Becker, developers Stuart Lynn and Marc Rohloff, and of course the good folk of the wonderful arXiv!
We’re getting ready to launch the Open Journal of Astrophysics site so for all the folks out there who are busy preparing to submit papers let me just give you advanced warning how it works. The website is currently being tested with real submissions, but these have so far been canvassed from the Editorial Board for testing purposes: the journal is not yet available for general submission, and the site is not yet public. Once we’re sure everything is fully functional we will open up.
Anyway, in order to submit a paper you will need to obtain an ORCID ID. In a nutshell this is a unique identifier that makes it much easier to keep track of researchers than via names, email address or whatever. It can be used for many other things other than the Open Journal project so it’s a good thing to do in itself.
You can register for an ID here. It only takes seconds to do it, so do it now! You can find out more about ORCID here. When you have your ORCID ID you can log into our Open Journal website to submit a paper.
The Open Journal is built on top of the arXiv which means that all papers submitted to the Open Journal must be submitted to the arXiv first. This in turns means is that you must also be registered as a “trustworthy” person to submit there. You can read about how to do that here. When you have succeeded in submitting your paper to the arXiv you can proceed to submit it to the Open Journal.
As an aside, we do have a Latex template for The Open Journal, but you can for the time being submit papers in any style as long as the resulting PDF file is readable.
To submit a paper to be refereed by The Open Journal all you need to do is type in its arXiv ID and the paper will be imported into the Open Journal. The refereeing process is very interactive – you’ll like it a lot – and when it’s completed the paper will be published, assigned a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) and will be entered into the CrossRef system for the purpose of gathering citations and other bibliometric data.
We will be issuing a general call for submissions very soon, at which point we will also be publishing general guidance in the form of an FAQ, which includes information about copyright etc. In the meantime, all you need to do is get your ORCID ID and get your papers on the arXiv!
There have been some interesting developments this week in the field of academic publishing. A particularly interesting story concernes the resignation of the entire editorial board of the linguistics journal Lingua, which is published by – (no prizes for guessing) – Elsevier. Not surprisingly this move was made in protest at Elsevier’s overpricing of “Open Access” options on its journal. Even less surprisingly, Elsevier’s response was considerably economical with the truth. Elsevier claims that it needs to levy large Article Processing Charges (APCs) to ensure their Open Access publications are economically viable. However, what Elsevier means by “economically viable” apparently means a profit margin of 37% or more, all plundered from the tightly constrained budgets of academic research organizations. In fact these APCs have nothing to do with the actual cost of publishing research papers. In any other context the behaviour of publishers like Elsevier would be called racketeering, i.e.
Racketeering, often associated with organized crime, is the act of offering of a dishonest service (a “racket”) to solve a problem that wouldn’t otherwise exist without the enterprise offering the service.
Let me remind you of the business model that underpins the academic publishing industry. We academics write papers based on our research, which we then submit to journals. Other academics referee these papers, suggest corrections or improvements and recommend acceptance or rejection. Another set of academics provide oversight of this editorial process and make decisions on whether or not to publish. All of this is usually done for free. We academics then buy back the product of our labours at an grossly inflated price through journal subscriptions, unless the article is published in Open Access form in which case we have to pay an APC up front to the publisher. It’s like having to take all the ingredients of a meal to a restaurant, cooking them yourself, and then being required to pay for the privilege of eating the resulting food.
Why do we continue to participate in such a palpably ridiculous system? Isn’t it obvious that we (I mean academics in universities) are spending a huge amout of time and money achieving nothing apart from lining the pockets of these exploitative publishers? Is it simply vanity? I suspect that many academics see research papers less as a means of disseminating research and more as badges of status…
I’d say that, at least in my discipline, traditional journals are simply no longer necessary for communicating scientific research. I find all the papers I need to do my research on the arXiv and most of my colleagues do the same. We simply don’t need old-fashioned journals anymore. Yet we keep paying for them. It’s time for those of us who believe that we should spend as much of our funding as we can on research instead of throwing it away on expensive and outdated methods of publication to put an end to this absurd system. We academics need to get the academic publishing industry off our backs.
All we need to do is to is dispense with the old model of a journal and replace it with a reliable and efficient reviewing system that interfaces with the arXiv. Then we would have a genuinely useful at a fraction of the cost of a journal subscription . That was the motivation behind the Open Journal of Astrophysics , a project that I and a group of like-minded individuals will be launching very soon. There will be a series of announcements here and elsewhere over the next few weeks, giving more details about the Open Journal and how it works.
We will be starting in a modest way but I hope that those who believe – as I do – in the spirit of open science and the free flow of scientific ideas will support this initiative. I hope that the Lingua debacle is a sign that change is on the way, but we need the help and participation of researchers to make the revolution happen.
I can’t resist commenting on some of the issues raised by Professor Averil MacDonald’s recent pronouncements about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking” for short). I know Averil MacDonald a little bit through SEPNet and through her work on gender issues in physics with the Institute of Physics and I therefore found some of her comments – e.g. that women “don’t understand fracking, which is why they don’t support it” – both surprising and disappointing. I was at first prepared to accept that she might have been misquoted or her words taken out of context. However she has subsequently said much the same thing in the Guardian and, worse, in an excruciating car crash of an interview on Channel 4 News. It seems that having lots of experience in gender equality matters is no barrier to indulging in simplistic generalisations; for a discussion of the poll which inspired the gender comments, and what one might or might not infer from it, see here. For the record, Professor MacDonald is Chair of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, an organization that represents and lobbies on behalf of the United Kingdom’s onshore oil and gas industry.
Before I go on I’ll briefly state my own position on fracking, which is basically agnostic. Of course, burning shale gas produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse agent. I’m not agnostic about that. What I mean is that I don’t know whether fracking is associated with an increased risk of earthquakes or with water contamination. I don’t think there is enough reliable scientific literature in the public domain to form a rational conclusion on those questions. On the separate matter of whether there is enough shale gas to make a meaningful contribution to the UK’s energy needs I am rather less ambivalent – the balance of probability seems to me to suggest that fracking will never provide more than a sticking-plaster solution (if that) to a problem that which reach critical proportions very soon. Fracking seems to me to be a distraction; a long-term solution will have to be found elsewhere.
The central issue in the context of Averil MacDonald’s comments seems to me however to be the perception of the various risks associated with fracking that I have mentioned before, i.e. earth tremors, contaminated water supplies and other environmental dangers. I think it’s a perfectly rational point of view for a scientifically literate person to take to be concerned about such things and to oppose fracking unless and until evidence is supplied to allay those fears. Moreover, it may be true that most women don’t understand science but neither do most men. I suspect that goes for most of our politicians too. I’ve commented many times on what a danger it is to our democracy that science is so poorly understood among the general population but my point here is that the important thing about fracking is not whether men understand the science better than women, but that there’s too little real scientific evidence out there for anyone – male or female, scientifically literate or not – to come to a rational conclusion about it.
I’ve yet to see any meaningful attempt in the mainstream media on the actual science evidence involved when surely that’s the key to whether we should “get behind” fracking or not? It struck me that quite a few readers might also be interested in this issue to, so for them I’d recommend reading the Beddington Report. The problem with this report, however, is that it’s a high-level summary with no detailed scientific discussion. In my opinion it’s a very big problem that geologists and geophysics (and climate scientists for that matter) have not adopted the ideals of the growing open science movement. In particular, it is very difficult to find any proper scientific papers on fracking and issues associated with fracking that aren’t hidden behind a paywall. If working scientists find it difficult to access the literature how can we expect non-scientists to come to an informed conclusion?
The widespread use of hydraulic fracturing (HF) has raised concerns about potential upward migration of HF fluid and brine via induced fractures and faults. We developed a relationship that predicts maximum fracture height as a function of HF fluid volume. These predictions generally bound the vertical extent of microseismicity from over 12,000 HF stimulations across North America. All microseismic events were less than 600 m above well perforations, although most were much closer. Areas of shear displacement (including faults) estimated from microseismic data were comparatively small (radii on the order of 10 m or less). These findings suggest that fracture heights are limited by HF fluid volume regardless of whether the fluid interacts with faults. Direct hydraulic communication between tight formations and shallow groundwater via induced fractures and faults is not a realistic expectation based on the limitations on fracture height growth and potential fault slip.
However, it is important to realise that, as noted in the acknowledgements, the work on which this paper is based was funded by “Halliburton Energy Services, Inc., a company that is active in the hydraulic fracturing industry in sedimentary basins around the world”. And therein lies the rub. In the interest of balance here is a link to a blog post on fracking in the USA, the first paragraph of which reads:
For some time now, proponents of the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” have claimed there was little or no evidence of real risk to groundwater. But as the classic saying goes: “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” of a problem. And the evidence that fracking can contaminate groundwater and drinking water wells is growing stronger with every new study.
I encourage you to read it, but if you do please carry on to the comments where you will see detailed counter-arguments. My point is not to say that one side is right and the other is wrong, but that there are scientists on both sides of the argument.
What I would like to see is a proper independent scientific study of the geological and geophysical risks related of hydraulic fracturing, subjected to proper peer review and publish on an open access platform along with all related data; by “independent”, I mean not funded by the shale gas industry. I’m not accusing any scientists of being in the pockets of the fracking lobby, but it may look like that to the general public. If there is to be public trust such studies then they will have to be seen to be unbiased.
Anyway, in an attempt to gauge the attitude to fracking of my totally unrepresentative readership, I thought I’d relaunch the little poll I tried a while ago:
And if you have strong opinions, please feel free to use the comments box.
This post is to announce the start of a new mathematics journal, to be called Discrete Analysis. While in most respects it will be just like any other journal, it will be unusual in one important way: it will be purely an arXiv overlay journal. That is, rather than publishing, or even electronically hosting, papers, it will consist of a list of links to arXiv preprints. Other than that, the journal will be entirely conventional: authors will submit links to arXiv preprints, and then the editors of the journal will find referees, using their quick opinions and more detailed reports in the usual way in order to decide which papers will be accepted.
Part of the motivation for starting the journal is, of course, to challenge existing models of academic publishing and to contribute in a small way to creating an alternative and much cheaper system. However, I hope that…
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