Publishing and reviewing philosophy

#Key message: When CV assessments are needed, I will not evaluate anyone based on where they publish, but will limit my evaluation to the content of their work to the best of my professional judgment; I will prioritize reviewing for society or non-for-profit journals; and as first author, I will equally prioritize submitting papers to society or non-for-profit journals with Diamond OA options

‘What to publish’ and ‘where to publish it’ are important questions to the work of any scientist. Knowledge has to be made public, and we need to know (guess) which audience will benefit the most from the work that has been done, thus affecting the choice of journal for submitting our papers. However, recent developments in the scientific publishing industry are affecting the publishing culture, with large implications for scientists around the world. Several institutes and governments are pushing towards policies that demand scientific articles to be published Open Access (OA), which means lifting the paywalls so that anyone can read those papers.

Although having a good goal in mind, the OA option that is being rapidly implemented is entangled in a highly commercialized form of publication, where scientists, or their institutes or governments, have to pay a high value for publishers to make their work publicly available as OA. This is good news for the public, but not good news for those generating knowledge. While some few rich countries may handle this problem easily (and they are the one pushing for this plan), all other poor and middle-income countries (about 90% of the planet) will see yet another barrier for their science to flourish.

Most OA journals charge now something around U$/€ 2000 to publish a science paper, or even more!1 Estimates from the European Union indicate that the costs for publishing a science paper are actually around € 7802. Without entering in the important topic of how publishing industries make astronomical profits over publicly funding research, those paper charges are insulting and clearly disconnected from the reality in our world. The price for publishing one single science paper in these journals could easily cover the salary of a post-doc or even senior scientist for months (or more) in all but some handful of countries. If you are surprised reading this, check how much a post-doc earns in a ‘middle-high’ income countries as Brazil or Argentina. As an example of this absurdity, a single OA article in Nature Communications costs some € 4500 to be published. This sum could very well cover the salary of a talented post-doc for six months in Brazil! Imagine what it would do in all other 150+ countries that have lower salaries than that! This is just not right.

Open access has to mean free to read and free to publish for all. If it is only free to read, it will likely impose barriers for knowledge producers around the world, turning the OA world into an elitist world where only rich scientists or scientists from rich countries manage to publish. I am an advocate for open access and open science. But I am also an advocate to stop colonialism, including colonialist practices in science. If we really care about knowledge dissemination and a non-colonialist/imperialist world3,4, then we should be opposed to the elitist form of OA.

It is important to remember that as scientists, we also contribute by assessing the quality of articles before they are published. This peer-review system is done freely, using our working hours and too often our free time as well. Recent estimates indicate that the total hidden cost of this free labour lies above two billion dollars a year5. At the same time, the big publishing houses have the highest profit rates among all industries in the rich world, at ca 40% a year6,7. And these are the same companies that will profit, once again, on the meager science funding available for publishing articles in expensive OA journals.

While having research freely available to be read is good for the public (and one must say, for the English-speaking public mostly, as per day emphasis on English-speaking literature), the publishing fees are often offensive to the greatest majority of scientists and students around the world.

Scientists are still judged by scientists and administrators according to their publication record. While the ‘judging culture’ varies somewhat from country to country, and even from institute to institute, the general understanding is that the number of articles and where they are published are still important topics for ranking scientists.

It is important to acknowledge that early career researchers (ECR), ranging from MSc/PhD students to post-docs and early-career scientists, have a much more limited opportunity to act on this issue because they will most likely have their job and funding applications assessed by the more advanced and senior researchers with old-fashioned world-views. In practice, this means that ECRs are to a large extent forced to join the silly publishing game imposed by their older colleagues. But they can definitely contribute to a change, at least indirectly by discussing it among their peers and raising their voice whenever they feel comfortable and safe about doing so.

Thus, I have two very simple rules for how I want to act as a scientist (which I will always update as I discuss and learn more about the issue):

(1) I will not judge researchers based on the number of publications, impact factor of the journals where they publish, number of citations, HI index, or anything alike. These values may be useful now and then, but are not enough if my aim is to decide whether a candidate or project is good enough for a position or grant. Other things like the content of the research, how that fits in the application/job description, quality of supervision, teaching philosophy, networking, and science dissemination are more relevant to the vast majority of science positions available.

(2) When publishing peer-reviewed articles as first author, I will always favour society-based journals or journals that follow a diamond OA policy.

List of Diamond/Platinum OA journals in Ecology and Freshwater Science (not exhaustive)

Perspective in Ecology and Conservation (ABECO) https://www.journals.elsevier.com/perspectives-in-ecology-and-conservation

Peer Community In https://ecology.peercommunityin.org/

WebEcology (EEF) https://www.web-ecology.net/

Limnetica (AIL) https://www.limnetica.com/en/limnetica

Acta Limnologica (ABLImno) https://www.ablimno.org.br/publiActa.php

https://open-research-europe.ec.europa.eu/for-authors/publish-your-research

References

  1. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/cen-09902-cover14
  2. https://open-research-europe.ec.europa.eu/for-authors/article-processing-charges
  3. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/science-bears-fingerprints-colonialism-180968709/
  4. https://decolonizeallthescience.com/
  5. Aczel B, Szaszi B, Holcombe AO. A billion-dollar donation: estimating the cost of researchers’ time spent on peer review. Res Integr Peer Rev. 2021 Nov 14;6(1):14. doi: 10.1186/s41073-021-00118-2. PMID: 34776003; PMCID: PMC8591820.
  6. Buranyi S. Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science? The Guardian 27.6.2017. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/27/profitable-business-scientific-publishing-bad-for-science Accessed 25.2.2020. (5)
  7. Page B. Elsevier records 2% lifts in revenue and profits. The Bookseller. https://www.thebookseller.com/news/elsevier-records-2-lifts-revenue-and-profits-960016 Accessed 25.2.2020.
  8. https://open-research-europe.ec.europa.eu/for-authors/article-processing-charges

Further reading

Beyond Plan S and the global south: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20181107234431569

Plan S and the global South: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2019/03/06/plan-s-and-the-global-south-what-do-countries-in-the-global-south-stand-to-gain-from-signing-up-to-europes-open-access-strategy/

Anti-colonial feminist lab: https://civiclaboratory.nl/2017/12/29/feminist-anti-colonial-science/

Decolonize all the science lab: https://decolonizeallthescience.com/

Can science be anti-colonial? https://scientificslug.com/2021/06/08/anti-colonial-science/

Researchers reject APC-based publications: https://forbetterscience.com/2019/06/11/researchers-reject-apc-based-oa-publishing-as-promoted-by-plan-s/

For better science: https://forbetterscience.com/2018/09/11/response-to-plan-s-from-academic-researchers-unethical-too-risky/

EU expert group on publications: https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/expert-groups-register/screen/expert-groups/consult?do=groupDetail.groupDetail&groupID=3463

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06178-7

International Science Council in favour of Plan S(?) https://council.science/current/blog/could-plan-s-be-a-turning-point-for-global-open-science-interview-with-robert-jan-smits/

Science bears the fingerprints of colonialism: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/science-bears-fingerprints-colonialism-180968709/

The money behind publications: https://tidsskriftet.no/en/2020/08/kronikk/money-behind-academic-publishing

We need decolonial scientists: https://decolonizeallthethings.com/2016/11/10/we-need-decolonial-scientists/

Decolonise science and science education: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2158244016635257