Archive for The Open Journal of Astrophysics

The Great Science Publishing Scandal

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , on May 1, 2019 by telescoper

There was a programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4 yesterday called The Great Science Publishing Scandal. It is now available on the interwebs here, which is how I listened to it this morning.

Here’s the blurb that goes with the programme:

Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester, explores the hidden world of prestige, profits and piracy that lurks behind scientific journals.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of articles on the findings on research are published, forming the official record of science. This has been going on since the 17th century, but recently a kind of war has broken out over the cost of journals to the universities and research institutions where scientists work, and to anyone else who wants to access the research, such as policy makers, patient support groups and the general public.

Traditionally journals charge their readers a subscription, but since the start of the 21st century there’s been a move to what’s called open access, where the authors pay to get their articles published but anyone can read them, without charge. In Europe Plan S has called for all research funded by the public purse to be open access, by 2020. If and when this is implemented it could have downsides on learned societies who depend on income from journal subscriptions to support young researchers and on scientists in the less developed world.

Some universities, and even countries, have recently refused to pay the subscriptions charged by some of the big science publishers. This has lead to some scientists using a service run by a Russian hacker, which has effectively stolen the whole of the scientific literature and gives it away, free, on the internet.

Matthew Cobb looks back at how the scientific publishing industry got to its current state and asks how it could change. He argues that scientists themselves need to break their addiction to wanting their articles to appear in a few well known journals, and instead concentrate on the quality of their research.

I think this programme is well worth listening to as it makes many of the right criticisms of the status quo. I did, however, find it very frustrating in that it doesn’t really even touch on any of the viable alternative ways of disseminating peer-reviewed scientific research. I didn’t expect a mention for the Open Journal of Astrophysics specifically, but this is one model that at least tries to challenge the status quo. I’m assuming that at least part of the reason for this is the presenter Matthew Cobb works in Zoology, and that is a field that perhaps does not have the established practice of sharing papers via repositories that we have in physics and astronomy via the arXiv. Anyway, it felt to me like he missed an open goal…

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Promoting the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 24, 2019 by telescoper

The talk I gave at the meeting I attended last week to celebrate the retirement 60th Birthday of Alan Heavens was about the Open Journal of Astrophysics project. Here are the slides:

I decided a while ago that whenever I get the opportunity at conferences or other meetings I will talk about the Open Journal of Astrophysics (OJA for short) , mainly to encourage more submissions but also to raise OJA’s profile so people aren’t tempted to dismiss review invitations as spam from predatory journals.  At the moment, refereeing is the rate-limiting step in the publication process, at least part of the reason being that people don’t really know what we’re about and perhaps assume that it’s not a bona fide operation.

The talk I gave on Friday generated a fair amount of discussion, and was hopefully a small step along the way to establishing OJA as a mainstream journal and perhaps even the default choice for papers on astrophysics. Emma Chapman posted a tweet about my talk (including a picture of me in action) which got quite a lot of attention on Twitter:

 

I’ll just add that you can read more about the extent of the profiteering going on here.

 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, let me mention I have some money (in a grant courtesy of the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation) to help promote this project, and I can legitimately spend it on travel to give talks etc.. If anyone would like a talk about this project, please feel free to contact me!

 

New Publication at the Open Journal of Astrophysics!

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2019 by telescoper

It’s nice to be able to announce that the Open Journal of Astrophysics has just published another paper. Here it is!

It’s by Darsh Kodwani, David Alonso and Pedro Ferreira from a combination of Oxford University and Cardiff University.

You can find the accepted version on the arXiv here. This version was accepted after modifications requested by the referee and editor.

This is another one for the `Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics’ folder. We would be happy to get more submissions from other areas of astrophysics. Hint! Hint!

P.S. A few people have asked why the Open Journal of Astrophysics is not listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals. The answer to that is simple: to qualify for listing a journal must publish a minimum of five papers in a year. Since OJA underwent a failure long hiatus after publishing its first batch of papers we don’t yet qualify. However, so far in 2019 we have published four papers and have several others in the pipeline. We will reach the qualifying level soon and when we do I will put in the application!

The future of journal publishing here today – Guest Post by Syksy Räsänen

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , on February 8, 2019 by telescoper

You may recall that the Open Journal of Astrophysics recently published a paper by Syksy Räsänen of the University of Helsinki. I invited Syksy to write a blog post on the Open Journal for Astrophysics about why he chose to publish with us, and I’m delighted to say that his post is now available there and, with the author’s permission, I am reproducing it below on this blog. It’s also available at Syksy’s own blog . It’s quite a long post, but there is some very interesting information in it, which will probably surprise you!

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The bad news:: the scientific community can no longer afford commercial science journals.

The good news: the scientific community no longer needs commercial science journals.

The bottom line: open internet archives and overlay journals are the solution.

Scientific journal publishing is in crisis. Already 25 years ago librarians referred to the rising costs of journals as a “doomsday machine”. In 2012, Harvard University Library announced that it can no longer afford scientific journals, warning that publishers had created a “fiscally unsustainable” situation. The library took the unprecedented step of asking faculty to resign from publications that keep articles behind paywalls.

In its 2015 Open Access Policy White Paper, the Max Planck Digital Library assessed the annual revenue of scientific journal publishing as 7.6 billion euros. Divided by an estimated 1.5-2.0 million published articles, they arrived at a cost of €3800 to €5000 per article. The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers has estimated $10 billion in revenue and 2.5 million articles annually, which gives €3500 per article. According to them, 68-75% of the costs are borne by academic libraries.

These are enormous sums, funnelled from science to the pockets of large corporations. (Some journals are published by scientific societies, but this doesn’t change the overall picture.)

To put the numbers in perspective, the total construction cost of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN –the largest scientific experiment in the history of humanity–was around 5 billion euros, or 500 million euros per year. The cost of science publishing would cover the construction of 10 to 20 top-of-the-line successor experiments to the LHC. It is equivalent to the salaries and overheads of 150,000 to 200,000 postdoctoral researchers per year. This is likely more than the combined number of postdocs in the United States and the European Union.

Scientific publishing is a strange business. Scientists carry out research for free, write it up for free, give the article to the publisher for free, manage the peer review process as editors (some editors get paid), do peer-review for the publisher for free – and then the scientists’ institutions pay the publisher so that they can read the articles. In some cases scientists even pay the publisher to have their articles published. (Here “free” simply means the scientists are not paid by the publisher, but rather by their university or research institute – in the end, mostly by taxpayers.)

Is there any other industry where corporations pay nothing for the raw materials, have negligible processing costs and enjoy a captive market that automatically buys everything they produce? This setup leads to record profits. For example, the profit margin of Elsevier’s Scientific, Technical & Medical publishing division in the years 1991-2013 was consistently over 30%, and in 2013 it was 39%. For comparison, in the same year Apple, Google and Microsoft had profit margins of 22%, 20% and 28%, respectively. No wonder Robert Maxwell, a pioneer of scientific journal publishing, described the business as a “perpetual financing machine”.

In the past, publishers at least had the expenses of printing and shipping journals. With the internet, this cost has disappeared for many journals. However, prices have not come down – quite the opposite. Thankfully, the same technological advances that have made commercial journals so profitable have also rendered them unnecessary.

Journals used to be needed for registering and communicating research, for archiving it (via paper journals in libraries), and for performing quality control via peer review. In cosmology and particle physics, the first three services have been provided by the internet archive arXiv since 1991. Depositing articles to arXiv is free, and they can be read for free in perpetuity. In 2018, 140,616 articles appeared on arXiv, and its estimated total expenditures were $1,915,997, or 12€ per article. Other disciplines, such as economics and biology, have followed suit, either starting new categories on arXiv or setting up their own archives such as bioRxiv. There is no reason why this model cannot be extended to all fields of science.

A lot of discussion around the cost of journals centred on open access, so it is important to emphasise one thing: the issue is not open access. That problem has been solved by arXiv 27 years ago. The question is how to organise peer review in a cost-effective manner. This is where overlay journals come in.

The idea of overlay journals is simple: they are journals that concentrate on the only thing journals are needed for anymore, namely peer review. As articles appear on arXiv (or other online archives) anyway, there is no need to duplicate their work. An overlay journal has a website where papers (typically already available on arXiv) can be submitted. Peer review is conducted as usual, and in case of acceptance, the final version of the paper is updated on arXiv, with a journal reference and DOI link to the journal website.

Custom toolkits for overlay journals have been designed for more than 10 years, for example in the astrophysics RIOJA project. These days the necessary software is also available off the shelf from Scholastica. The service costs $99 per month plus $10 per submitted article, and getting a DOI from Crossref costs $1 per published article. As in the case of arXiv, the costs scale well with the number of papers. If a journal publishes 100 articles annually and has a 2/3 rejection rate, the cost works out to €38 per article – about 100 times less than the sum currently paid for article publishing.

Given that open archives and overlay journals could save 7 to 9 billion euros every year, why haven’t they already replaced commercial journals?

Unfortunately, the existence of a more optimal configuration does not automatically lead the community to shift there. Instead, people respond to individual incentives, and scientists are no exception. The publishing peer Robert Maxwell noted that “scientists are not as price-conscious as other professionals, mainly because they are not spending their own money”. As journal fees are paid centrally, there is little motivation for an individual researcher to change their publication pattern. Established journals are seen to provide a quality stamp that is necessary in the competition over positions and grants. Also, founding an overlay journal requires an investment of time that does not necessarily yieldproportionate professional rewards.

So researchers as individuals have rational reasons for not changing the system. What about libraries and scientific consortia that are struggling to bring the costs down? Unfortunately, institutional efforts have often concentrated on the narrow problem of getting journals to accept payment from the author rather than the reader (i.e. open access). However, the main issue is not whether the money is paid by the author or the reader (or rather their institutions), but what they are paying for.

Thus, for example, the SCOAP3 consortium has become part of the problem by providing life support to commercial journals. It has arranged to pay publishers vast amounts of money, entirely incommensurate with the actual costs, to make articles open access, guaranteeing them a steady stream of revenue.

The open access initiative Plan S launched last September is more ambitious. Particularly noteworthy is the commitment to provide incentives to establish new open access journals and platforms. However, open archives are only “acknowledged because of their long-term archiving function and their potential for editorial innovation”, not as publishing channels of their own right when paired with overlay journals. A lot depends on how the initiative will be implemented, but for now the scheme seems to focus on the old-fashioned aim of getting commercial publishers to convert journals to open access.

According to the Max Planck Digital Library White Paper, switching all commercial journals to an open access model would drop the cost of publication to between €1,100 and €2,000 per article. This would cut expenditures by a factor of 2 to 5, saving billions of euros every year – and continuing to waste billions of euros every year.

It is striking that the principles of Plan S contain no commitment to maximising the returns on public money and optimising financial sustainability, even though this is the heart of the matter. Instead, it supports the continuation of the commercial publishing model in co-operation with corporations, whose interests are at odds with those of the scientific community. We do not need to reform the business model of scientific journal publishing, we have to abandon it.

Open access consortia should start supporting a publishing model that begins from the needs of the scientific community and aims to fulfil them in an economical manner, while helping to make the transition as smooth as possible. This involves communicating with scientists about the costs of corporate publishing, following and expanding on Harvard’s example of calling on scientists to use the power of their labour (often given to the publishers for free) to change the situation, and providing incentives and support to establish and publish in overlay journals. Scientists, in turn, need to re-evaluate their brand loyalty to established journals, and give appropriate career merits for time spent on changing the publishing system.

Open archives and overlay journals are not a utopian solution for the future. Discrete Analysis, Open Journal of Astrophysics and others are publishing already. They are a proven model for open access publishing and quality peer review in a modern, cost-effective manner tailored to the needs of the scientific community. The sooner they become the new standard, the more money we will save for science.

Plan S Open Access Briefing

Posted in Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on January 22, 2019 by telescoper

This morning I found myself in the centre of Dublin to attend an event at the Royal Irish Academy, in Dawson Street. Coincidentally this is just a few yards from the Mansion House, scene of the meeting of the First Dáil on 21st January 1919 (which I blogged about here) and also scene of the commemorations of its centenary yesterday. I’m guessing that the removals van was taking away some of the paraphernalia used for yesterday’s event.

Anyway, the event at the Royal Irish Academy organized by the National Open Research Forum (NORF) was intended to disseminate information about Plan S – a European initiative for Open Access publishing.

I have blogged about Plan S and some of the reactions to it before (e.g. here and here).

The main point is that comprehensive technical guidance on how to comply with Plan S and you can also submit feedback on the guidance here until the deadline of February 8th 2019. Full implementation is expected by January 2020. Things are moving relatively quickly, which is a very good thing. Some people thing this deadline is unrealistic, but I think it was a smart move to make it close so as to galvanize researchers into action.

I learnt a particularly interesting fact during the talk by Maynooth’s own Cathal McCauley, namely that the global revenues of the academic publishing industry amount to about, €22 billion per annum. This exceeds the global revenues of the recorded music industry. Profit margins for these publishers are much larger (up to 45%) than Apple, Google and BMW. The research community is being fleeced, and the worst offenders are the `Big Four’: Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and Taylor & Francis.

One of the main concerns expressed in the discussion session was the extent that move away from traditional journals might have a negative effect on early career researchers, as those responsible for hiring postdocs and new faculty members often concentrate on the journal in which their work is published rather than the work itself. The obvious way to address this problem to use article-level information rather than journal-level metrics, which is entirely feasible to do, but it is true that we need a change of culture across the board to make this work for the benefit of science as whole. I am optimistic about this, largely because I recall very well how rapidly the culture in astrophysics adapted to the existence of the arXiv. With regard to open access publishing the way forward is to disrupt the existing Academic Journal Racket by developing alternative modes publication which demonstrate benefits in cost, reach and simplicity, combined with pressure from funding agencies imposing mandates on publications arising from their grants.

There is no question in my mind that in just a few years, when Open Access is the overwhelmingly dominant mode of publication, researchers will look back and wonder why we ever put up with the absurd system we have at present.

As a final comment I’ll mention that the Open Journal of Astrophysics got a few mentions during the session. I’m hoping to make some exciting announcements about this journal very soon indeed. Before that, however, I have to go to Belfast to give a talk…

The Open Journal of Astrophysics: Last Update for 2018

Posted in Maynooth, Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on December 20, 2018 by telescoper


As term staggers to its close tomorrow, two things this morning reminded me that I should post a final update for the The Open Journal of Astrophysics.  I’ve been regularly boring all my readers with a stream of stuff about the Open Journal of Astrophysics, but if it’s all new to you, try reading the short post about the background to the Open Journal project that you can find here.

The first item was a little piece in the latest edition of University News (which was delivered this morning) about the launch event for the journal here at Maynooth University way back in October.

I didn’t make it into the picture above as I had to leave the event before the end in order to give an undergraduate lecture, but the appearance of this piece reminds me to express once more my gratitude to Maynooth for providing such excellent support for this project.

The other event this morning was an email notification that the OJA has received yet another submission. We now have a number of papers in the pipeline, and interest seems to be picking up. I can’t say how many submissions will actually be published, but the papers we have received are working their way through the peer-review system and we’ll see what transpires.

On a related point, a few people have asked me why the Open Journal of Astrophysics is not in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). The answer to that is simply that DOAJ requires a minimum of five papers published in a calendar year and because we had a long hiatus before the re-launch we don’t yet qualify. The way things are going we should meet the threshold for 2019 pretty quickly.

Though I stress that the Editorial Board of OJA is not going to compromise standards just to get listed on DOAJ.
we are hoping to increase the number of submissions with time (in a manageable way). As it happens, we do have funds available to promote the OJA as I think quite a large number of members of the astrophysics community still haven’t heard of it. This also makes it a little difficult to enlist referees who perhaps jump to the conclusion that this is a dodgy or predatory journal. There are many of these about, sadly, but I hope we can establish relatively easily the fact that we’re not of that ilk.

I would like here to repeat a small request I posted a while ago. Do any of you have any ideas for promoting The Open Journal of Astrophysics? We could advertise directly in journals of course, but I’m wondering if anyone out there in the interwebs has any more imaginative ideas? If you do please let me know through the comments box below.

Open Journal Promotion?

Posted in Maynooth, Open Access with tags , , on November 20, 2018 by telescoper

Back in Maynooth after my weekend in Cardiff, I was up early this morning to prepare today’s teaching and related matters and I’m now pretty exhausted so I thought I’d just do a quick update about my pet project The Open Journal of Astrophysics.

I’ve been regularly boring all my readers with a stream of stuff about the Open Journal of Astrophysics, but if it’s all new to you, try reading the short post about the background to the Open Journal project that you can find here.

Since the re-launch of the journal last month we’ve had a reasonable number of papers submitted. I’m glad there wasn’t a huge influx, actually, because the Editorial Board is as yet unfamiliar with the system and require a manageable training set. The papers we have received are working their way through the peer-review system and we’ll see what transpires.

Obviously we’re hoping to increase the number of submissions with time (in a manageable way). As it happens, I have some (modest) funds available to promote the OJA as I think quite a large number of members of the astrophysics community haven’t heard of it. This also makes it a little difficult to enlist referees.

So here I have a small request. Do any of you have any ideas for promoting The Open Journal of Astrophysics? We could advertise directly in journals of course, but I’m wondering if anyone out there in the interwebs has any more imaginative ideas? If you do please let me know through the comments box below..