Choosing a journal for the neck-posture paper: why open access is important

June 1, 2009

[Disclaimer: in this post, I am unavoidably critical of certain aspects of particular journals.  Please take this in the spirit it’s intended: I’m not out to get anyone, but I need to illustrate my points with real examples.]

When we started blogging our recent neck-posture paper (Taylor et al. 2009, for those of you who’ve been chatting in the back row and not paying attention), we expected to make two posts, maybe three.  Yet here we are in post six, and I know Matt has another up the barrel for tomorrow, so it looks like we’re going to end up having written a whole week’s worth of daily posts, just as we did for Xenoposeidon.

One of the questions a lot of people have asked me is why we published in a Polish journal (Acta Palaeontologica Polonica).  Although APP is published in Poland and edited by a primarily Polish board, it’s more accurate to characterise it as an international journal — the papers in the issue where our work appeared had lead authors based in Poland (4 papers), USA (3), Italy (2), and England, France, Japan, Spain and Sweden (1 each).  Still, that question is a nice jumping-off point to discuss something of relevance to all academics that doesn’t get a lot of coverage: how to choose a journal.

From another sauropod paper in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica: Schwarz et al. (2007: fig. 1), showing CT scans of a Diplodocus cervical

From another sauropod paper in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica: Schwarz et al. (2007: fig. 1), showing CT scans of a Diplodocus cervical

Criteria for choosing a journal

There are plenty of criteria that come in to play in picking a journal, and people will vary in how much weight they place on each.  We’ll take a look at some of them (in no very convincing order), and then I’ll explain what I think is the unifying principle.

Impact factor. I’ll deal with this first, because it’s easiest to dismiss.  The impact factor is a stupid, irrelevant number attached to journals by a private corporation with its own agenda and with no responsibility to actual scientists.  Its use is particularly dumb in palaeo, a field in which it’s near impossible to get a paper written, submitted, reviewed and published in time to hit the two-year window during which citations are counted for impact-factor purposes — which is why even the best palaeo journals (JVP, Palaeontology, APP) have impact factors close to 1.0.  All scientists should ignore impact factor whenever possible.

Prestige. Now we’re getting somewhere.  Prestige is what impact factor is a (wholly inadequate) proxy for.  Of course, it’s impossible to define or quantify satisfactorily, but we all know what we mean by it.  Sadly, top of the tree for prestige — by a long way — are the “tabloids”, Science and Nature.  It’s considered a huge deal to publish in these, very good for your career — which is a shame, as the super-short format makes it nearly impossible to do decent science in these venues.  As Exhibit A, I give you Sereno et al. (1999).  In five pages, Sereno and his ten co-authors presented descriptions of not one but two new sauropod genera, plus a time-calibrated phylogeny and an analysis of rates of morphological change through time.  It is not intended as a criticism of Sereno and his colleagues when I say that for scientific purposes, the descriptions in this paper are essentially worthless — it’s simply not possible to do anything like justice to two genera, both represented by nearly complete remains, in that amount of space.  Lest I seem to be picking on this particular team, which I honestly assure you is not my purpose here, I could equally point to Curry Rogers and Forster’s (2001) description of Rapetosaurus, Rauhut et al. (2005) on Brachytrachelopan or indeed the original DinoMorph paper (Stevens and Parrish 1999).  The publication of important work in the tabloids is not such a disaster when conscientious authors such as John Hutchinson follow up a high-prestige extended abstract such as Hutchinson and Garcia (2002) with a full-length study elsewhere (Hutchinson et al. 2005), but sadly this seems to be more the exception than the rule — after all, if you’ve already got all that credit for a short paper, why bother doing all the extra work involved in getting the full-length paper done?  That said, I am assured that Curry Rogers’s long-awaited Rapetosaurus osteology is on the way RSN.  At the risk of sounding sour-grapesy (I’ve never been published in either tabloid myself), I do think that the existence of these journals is a net negative for actual science.  I won’t go so far as to say that I’ll never publish in S‘n’N if I get the chance, but I do right here and now undertake that if ever that chance should come my way, I will do my level best to get the full-length study out as soon as possible thereafter.

Hmm, that seems to have turned into a tangential rant about the tabloids, which really wasn’t my intention, but so it goes.  More generally, there is a sense that general-science journals are more prestigious than specialist palaeo journals: notable ones include PNAS and the various Royal Society journals.  An exception to this rule is the PLoS journals: because it’s more selective PLoS Biology is considered more prestigious than the general-science PLoS ONE.  Among palaeo journals, there’s a feeling that Paleobiology is particularly well regarded, with Palaeontology, the Journal of Paleontology, JVP and Acta Pal. Pol. up on its shoulders.  Other journals are a little further down the great chain of being.

How much does prestige matter?  Quite a lot (especially if you need your CV to look good) but rather less than a few years ago, I think — for reasons that will become apparent later on.

Turnaround speed. The importance of this will vary at different times.  I’ve had a couple of my papers published in PaleoBios, the journal of the University of California Museum of Paleontology — which is not particularly high-profile — for one main reason: they turn papers round really quickly.  That was particularly important to me when I was starting out, and really needed to get something on my CV quickly.  Now that my publication list is a little less feeble, I can afford to let my manuscripts marinate for longer in order to get them into more recognised journals.  But sometimes that goes to ridiculous extremes: a while back, Matt and I sent a paper to Paleobiology.  The editors sat on the manuscript for more than a month before even sending it out to reviewers.  When I asked two months later, then again a month after than, then again a month after that, reviews were still not in.  In the end, we didn’t hear back until more than six months after submission — and when we finally saw the reviews, one of them consisted only of filling in a one-page form.  We weren’t impressed, and won’t be submitting there again, despite the journal’s high prestige.  (We know others who have had even longer waits.  Sadly, we didn’t know this at the time we submitted; if we did, we’d have made other plans).

At the other end of the scale, Acta Pal. Pol. did a very fast job: just under one month elapsed after our initial submission of the neck-posture paper before we got back two detailed and helpful reviews accompanying a provisional acceptance.  It took us a fortnight to make the revisions, and only one further week for the revised manuscript to be accepted and in press — seven weeks from start to end, and then a wait of only two and a half months before publication.

Figure reproduction. This varies in importance depending on what kind of paper you’re submitting: for a description, I think it’s really important (which is why Darren and I argued, successfully, with the Palaeontology editor to get full-page reproduction for the Xenoposeidon photographs and interpretive drawings); for a biomechanics paper or similar, it’s maybe not so important, provided the figures are legible.  In terms of electronic figure reproduction, the hands-down winner is the PLoS series of journals: for example, the individual elements surrounding the skeletal reconstruction in the full-sized figure 3 of Sereno et al.’s (2007) description of the skull of Nigersaurus are exquisite.  At the other end of the scale, one of the big disappointments with Palaeontologia Electronica is the figure quality: for example, Rose’s (2007) description of Paluxysaurus has really tiny online images of the figures — something there’s no real excuse for in an online-only journal.

Length restrictions/page charges. Some journals charge the author per printed page; some charge per page after a certain number of free pages.  The charges, and the number of free pages, vary wildly between journals.  Some, maybe most, journals will waive these fees for authors with no institutional support.  Need I say that you want to find a journal that won’t charge, or will charge only a little?

(For journals that take away your copyright and restrict your use of your own work, I think that charging as well adds insult to injury.)

Reprint costs. Before the advent of ubiquitous PDFs, the main way to disseminate your work apart the journal issue itself was by buying reprints from the journal and handing them out to colleagues at conferences.  Reprint costs also very wildly between journals.  This used to be more important than it is now, as we have other ways of letting people see our work.

Wide distribution of physical issues. If your article is in Science or Nature, then a zillion copies will be printed and sent all over the world.  If you publish in The Biennial Newsletter of the South Yorkshire Lepidopterists’ Society, eight copies will be photostatted and sent as far afield as North Yorkshire.  So you might think that wide distribution correlates strongly with prestige, but that’s not always true.  A nice outlier here is PaleoBios: copies are sent to libraries all over the world, in exchange for copies of other institutional journals, which means that anything published in PaleoBios can be found in hardcopy in a surprising number of places.  This is nice; but as with reprints, less important than it was even a few years ago.  And the reason is …

Existence of PDFs. Finally we get to the bit that we’ve all known was coming.  In this enlightened day and age, most of us have several metric shedloads of papers in PDF form on our hard drives, meaning that whenever we go to a musuem with our laptops and want to compare an alleged basal titanosauriform median caudal with those of Brachiosaurus brancai, we have only to pull up the PDF of Janensch (1950) and we’re done.  Lugging around great stacks of actual paper seems not merely unnecessary but passé, like wearing flared trousers or listening to the Spice Girls.  Everyone needs PDFs, and everyone knows that this is the case.  So every publication venue provides authors with them … right?

Amazingly, no.  Things may have changed since 2007, but back then authors had to PAY $100 to the Journal of Paleontology to get a PDF of THEIR OWN PAPER.  Oh, and money orders were only accepted from the USA and Canada, so good luck if you’re a European author.  These facts hurt so much I am going to have to go and lie down before continuing.

… later … Here’s one that hurts even more: Brusatte et al.’s (2008) osteology of the stinkin’ theropod Neovenator DOES NOT EXIST as a PDF, except for a crappy scan.  Apparently the Palaeontographical Society doesn’t give the authors PDFs at all, at any price.  For me, that is a simple, non-negotiable Submission Killer: I will never, ever send my stuff to a venue that doesn’t give me a PDF.  In 2009, the idea is untenable.

Open access. Assuming that a PDF exists, who can get it and under what terms?  Under the classical model, publishers own your work, and can — and do — restrict access to it.  To see what you wrote, other scientists, and interested amateurs, have to either have an institutional subscription or pay some ludicrously inflated fee like $30.  (I wonder whether anyone in world history has ever done this?)  See Scott Aaronson’s rather brilliant article for more on this extraordinary state of affairs.

In contrast, an increasing number of journals are now open access, which means that anyone, anywhere can download the PDF with minimum fuss and at no cost.  Acta Palaeontologia Polonica is one of these, and was among the first in palaeo.  Other notable journals in this category include PLoS Biology and PLoS ONE, and Zootaxa.  If you’re prepared to wait a year before your paper becomes open access (i.e. wait until everyone who’s interested has long had a copy and all the buzz has died down so that no-one cares any more), then the list of open access journals grows to include venues like Science and Proc. B, but personally I am inclined to feel that this is stretching the definition well past breaking point.  There are good and valid reasons for wanting to publish in these venues, but their open-access-but-not-in-any-way-that-matters policy is not one of them.

There are (at least) two reasons to favour open-access journals: the pragmatic one is that it’s the best way to make sure that anyone, anywhere in the world who’s interested in your work can get it — whether professor, curator, student, interested amateur or vaguely interested high-school kid.  The other reason is that it’s just right.  We’re talking here about the world’s accumulated knowledge, in many cases acquired by publicly funded research programs.  It is simply and plainly wrong that this work should be shut up behind paywalls where the people who paid for it can’t see it.

Copyright retention. Most publishers, including some open access publishers, require the author to sign over copyright as a condition of publication.  Even if it doesn’t make much difference in practice, I have to say it rankles that, for example, that the Palaeontological Society has ended up owning my and Darren’s work on Xenoposeidon (Taylor and Naish 2007).  This is particularly iniquitous in unashamedly commercial publishers such as Elsevier — guess who owns Darren’s paper on “Angloposeidon” (Naish et al. 2004)?  And it’s even more baffling in open-access journals since they let anyone have the work anyway.  I assume the real reason for this is that publishers want to be able to exploit any spin-offs such as popular books, but copyright transfer forms usually contain a lot of blurfl about it being for the author’s benefit, as it allows the publisher to pursue infringement claims on the author’s behalf.  To which I offer the following rebuttal: “yeah, right”.

Not all publishers do this.  Notably, we retain the copyright on our recent paper in Acta Pal. Pol., Zoologica Scripta leaves copyright with the authors, and there are others.  Good for them.

… and finally, you do need to be realistic. Despite my whining about Science and Nature above, I don’t deny that we’d have loved to place the neck-posture paper at one of those journals: apart from anything else, it would be useful for Matt as he works towards tenure, and helpful for Darren who — astoundingly — is still without a job in academia.  S‘n’N papers help with that stuff.  But we know (these journals make no secret of it) that they reject 90% of submissions without even reviewing them, and it would likely just have been a waste of our time and effort to lobotomise our eight-pager down to three and reformat with the ultra-dumb numbered-references format in exchange for a tiny, tiny chance of hitting that jackpot.  So we didn’t bother.  (Also, while scientists strive to evaluate work on its merits, I can’t help suspecting that a submission to the tabloids with University of Portsmouth and Western University of Health Sciences in the byline would have started with something of a handicap in the selection process.)

What it all means

So apart from having suggested you ignore Impact Factor, I’ve said to consider prestige, reprint costs, distribution of physical issues, existence of PDFs, open access, copyright retention, turnaround speed, figure reproduction and length restrictions/page charges.  And the interesting thing is that the first half dozen of these are all about the same thing, which I’d argue is the underlying issue:

Getting the paper read by as many people as possible.

That’s what it’s really about, isn’t it?  The reason you want cheap reprints is so you can give them to people who’ll read them; the reason you want wide distribution of physical issues is so they’ll get into libraries where people will read them; and so on.

But both reprints and physical issues are much less important than they used to be, because now we can email our stuff to anyone in the world.  So let’s ignore them for now.  Prestige is less important than it used to be, because one of its big wins was that it got your article into the hands of potential readers; but it’s still important in other ways. And let’s ignore journals that don’t give you PDFs because they are off the Submission Radar.

Now here’s another thing:

Everything is open.

It just is, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.  Everything that becomes available as a PDF is quickly passed around the community, and in most cases posted on the author’s web-site (whatever the journal’s Arbitrary And Exploitative Copyright Transfer Form said).  So from a purely pragmatic perspective, you could say that in choosing a journal we can also ignore the criterion of whether or not the journal considers itself open access (because it really is anyway) and also copyright retention (since it doesn’t really matter if everyone can read it anyway).

So what criteria are we left with?  Of the ten we started with, those left standing in the era of ubiquitous PDFs number just four: prestige, turnaround speed, figure reproduction quality and length restrictions/page charges.  And this is excellent, because these are the actual services that journals provide to authors.  A journal best serves authors by handling their manuscripts quickly and without charge, by imparting prestige due to the reputation of the editorial board and quality of previous issues, and by reproducing the figures well.  I think it’s great that we’re moving inexorably towards an economy where the journals that get the best submissions will be the ones that provide the best services.

And among journals that do these things well, it’s fairer to reward the good guys by bestowing our submissions on those that are deliberately publishing open access rather than those that try to stop people reading what they “publish” (which, of course, is ironically the very opposite of what the word is supposed to mean, i.e. making something available).  There are some non-open journals that you sort of have to publish in — I don’t feel my CV would be complete without papers at JVP and Palaeontology — but aside from those society-owned journals (and, OK, museum journals), I am planning to pretty much stick to open access venues from here on.

In Praise of Acta Pal. Pol.

I’ll finish by mentioning that Acta Palaeontologia Polonica does offer a very good blend of the qualities we’re looking for in a publication venue: it’s open access by design (and has been for years), turnaround is very fast, the figure reproduction is good (though perhaps not stellar), and the page charges of 27 Euros per page over the first eight are not unreasonable.  (It also has cheap reprints and is widely distributed, but we’re ignoring those factors, remember?)  Finally, the journal has a well-earned reputation for publishing good papers and for reviewing them well.  So all in all, we’re really pleased with APP and would definitely use it again.


  • Brusatte, Stephen L., Roger B. J. Benson, and Stephen Hutt.  2008. The osteology of Neovenator salerii (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Wealden Group (Barremian) of the Isle of Wight.  Monograph of the Palaeontographical Society 162 (631): 1-166.
  • Curry Rogers, Kristina and Catherine A. Forster.  2001.  The last of the dinosaur titans: a new sauropod from Madagascar. Nature 412: 30-534.
  • Hutchinson, John R. and Garcia, Mariano.  2002. Tyrannosaurus was not a fast runner.  Nature 415: 1018-1021
  • Hutchinson, John R., Frank C. Anderson, Silvia S. Blemker, and Scott L. Delp.  2005.  Analysis of hindlimb muscle moment arms in Tyrannosaurus rex using a three-dimensional musculoskeletal computer model: implications for stance, gait, and speed. Paleobiology, 31(4): 676-701.
  • Janensch, W. (1950). Die Wirbelsaule von Brachiosaurus brancai. Palaeontographica (Suppl. 7) 3: 27-93.
  • Naish, Darren, David M. Martill, David Cooper and Kent A. Stevens.  2004.  Europe’s largest dinosaur?  A giant brachiosaurid cervical vertebra from the Wessex Formation (Early Cretaceous) of southern England.  Cretaceous Research 25: 787-795.
  • Rauhut, O. W. M., K. Remes, R. Fechner, G. Cladera, and P. Puerta. 2005.  Discovery of a short-necked sauropod dinosaur from the Late Jurassic period of Patagonia. Nature 435:670-672.
  • Rose, Peter J.  2007.  A new titanosauriform sauropod (Dinosauria: Saurischia) from the Early Cretaceous of central Texas and its phylogenetic relationships.  Palaeontologia Electronica 10 (2): 8A.
  • Schwarz, Daniela, Eberhard Frey and Christian A. Meyer.  2007. Pneumaticity and soft-tissue reconstructions in the neck of diplodocid and dicraeosaurid sauropods.  Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 52 (1): 167-188.
  • Sereno, Paul C., Allison L. Beck, Didier. B. Dutheil, Hans C. E. Larsson, Gabrielle. H. Lyon, Bourahima Moussa, Rudyard W. Sadleir, Christian A. Sidor, David J. Varricchio, Gregory P. Wilson and Jeffrey A. Wilson.  1999.  Cretaceous Sauropods from the Sahara and the Uneven Rate of Skeletal Evolution Among Dinosaurs.  Science, vol. 282, pp. 1342-1347;
  • Sereno, Paul C., Jeffrey A. Wilson, Lawrence M. Witmer, John A. Whitlock, Abdoulaye Maga, Oumarou Ide and Timothy A. Rowe.  2007. Structural Extremes in a Cretaceous Dinosaur. PLoS ONE 2 (11): e1230 (9 pages).  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001230
  • Stevens, K. A., and Parrish J. M., 1999, Neck Posture and Feeding Habits of Two Jurassic Sauropod Dinosaurs: Science, 284: 798-800.
  • Taylor, Michael P. and Darren Naish.  2007.  An unusual new neosauropod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous Hastings Beds Group of East Sussex, England.  Palaeontology 50 (6): 1547-1564.  doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2007.00728.x
  • Taylor, Michael P., Mathew J. Wedel and Darren Naish.  2009.  Head and neck posture in sauropod dinosaurs inferred from extant animals. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 54(2): 213-220.

45 Responses to “Choosing a journal for the neck-posture paper: why open access is important”

  1. Richard Butler Says:

    Mike – a quick note: Zootaxa is not completely open access. Some papers are available freely, but many are only made available freely if the author pays a fee of $20 per printed page. There are plenty of other advantages to Zootaxa though, such as no page charges and very rapid turnaround/publication times.

  2. Mel. White Says:

    I have actually (sigh) considered paying for a research paper that was available via no other means. What held me back was that since I didn’t have access to the full article, I didn’t know if I was buying a $30 paper with five words that related to an article I was currently writing… or if it would be a gem that I wanted to cite again and again.

    I’m a grad student. Cheapness prevailed.

    (this was an article on Information Science, the Panopticon, and China and was in a Chinese journal.)

    I have greatly appreciated those who place PDFs of their papers on their personal sites. This practice certainly encourages me to cite their works more often…

  3. Bill Parker Says:


    Excellent post! Now that I’ve broken my JVP curse and gotten my name on a few things in there, I’m leaning much more towards the aspects you discuss, especially turn around time(which burned me badly in an “obscure” case)and open access. I’ll probably never have anything “important” enough for S + N, but I do have a Procedings of the Royal Soc. paper under my belt, so the cv is good there.

    As a federal employee I have no copyright to transfer so that is not a problem. In fact, such work should all be open access regardless of the journal. How can they restrict is there is no copyright?

  4. iljajj Says:

    Hi Mike,

    Allow me to push our own journal PalArch’s Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology ( here. We’ve been around for about (a rocky) five years, but everything is open access and we place great value at providing high-quality figures. So much even that if an author requests it (and/or it seems viable to the editors), we include 300 dpi figures or line drawings on an accompanying A2-format (420x394mm) PDF page. We’ve just migrated to a new web site to serve our three journals (paleo plus two devoted to archaeology), so it’s going to be another few days (probably tomorrow) before our entire archive is available online. Still, there already are some interesting papers available.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Richard, thanks for the clarification on Zootaxa: “many are only made available freely if the author pays a fee of $20 per printed page.” But that’s still open access isn’t it? Author-pays is a well established model, and the amount is also not extortionate. (IIRC, Proc. B wants £2000 to make one of their six-page articles available straight away rather than after one year, which comes out to £333 or $547 per page — 27 times as much as Zootaxa!)

    Mel, could you not just email the author and ask for a copy of the PDF?

    Bill, that’s an interesting position you’re in as a federal employee. I’d be interested to know more about the implications and how it works in practice — do you just send back the Arbitrary And Exploitative Copyright Transfer form unfilled with a note saying “no thanks”?

    iljajj, thanks for the reminder about PalArch. You’ll understand that the journals on my personal radar are those that have published on sauropod vertebrae, but it’s always good to hear about more open-access palaeo.

  6. Richard Butler Says:

    It is open access, and at a relatively modest price, but I just wanted to make clear that open access publishing in Zootaxa is not free to the author, unlike APP or PLoS (where waivers for charges are available to authors who lack funds). The authors of all of the fossil reptile papers that I have edited have chosen not to pay the $20/page charge, and so these papers remain behind a subscription firewall. To my knowledge, waivers are not generally available; however, papers that are deemed to be of particular general interest to the taxonomic community are often made freely available.

  7. Nathan Myers Says:

    Mike: If you release your paper to the public domain before signing it over, there’s no taking it back. It’s then a question whether the journal will publish a paper that’s been so released. In a normal publication, they might then publish it without paying you, and with the authorship filed off, but that’s no problem here; you won’t pay them if they do it not to your satisfaction. The case of government authorship is similar, except there it’s in the public domain at the outset.

    The legal press has a practice of publishing public domain material and copyrighting the page numbering. Since legal citations are conventionally by page number, they get to maintain a natural monopoly, with rents. If lawyers would cite by some other method, their monopoly would evaporate.

  8. In all seven PLoS journals, author retains copyright (as the link you provided states). It was always that way – makes no sense any other way.

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hi, Bora, sorry for my misunderstanding here. Thing is, I still misunderstand: the linked page says “The copyright in the material contained on the PLoS Sites belongs to PLoS or its licensors.” That sounds to me like PLoS takes the copyright (and may sell it on further under licence). What am I missing?

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    … though now that I check, I do see that Mark and Darren’s azhdarchid palaeoecology paper does clearly state “Copyright: (C) 2008 Witton, Naish.”

    Tell you what — I’ll fix this SV-POW! article, and it’d be great if you could get the wording on the linked PLoS page changed to explain more clearly what happens with copyright.

  11. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    Mike: In “The copyright in the material contained on the PLoS Sites belongs to PLoS or its licensors.” the term “licensors” refers to Mark and Darren in the case of their azhdarchid paper, as they own the copyright and have licensed it to PLOS for PLOS to use (like putting it up on their website). PLOS is the “licensee”. So they’re simply saying copyright to everything is owned by either PLOS or those who have granted a license to PLOS to use it. It’s dead clear. To lawyers.

    Former legal person who for once at SV-POW! gets to not feel like the village idiot, Mike

  12. Matt Wedel Says:

    Former legal person who for once at SV-POW! gets to not feel like the village idiot, Mike

    Ha! Thanks for the legal clarification, but in case it’s not clear, it is usually the three SV-POW!sketeers who usually feel like the village idiots; we spend most of our time lost in the Thicket of Sauropod Inscrutability but keep broadcasting updates anyway. If anything, we are continually and pleasantly surprised that others find this stuff interesting.

  13. bill Says:

    from a purely pragmatic perspective, you could say that in choosing a journal we can also ignore the criterion of whether or not the journal considers itself open access (because it really is anyway)

    Is this really true, though? Commenter Mel White, upthread, notes an instance of failed access, and I could certainly quote you plenty from my own experience (even though I have quite good access via an academic institution, there are still lots of papers I cannot get without paying).

    And if it is true, how will OA journals fare on the basis of your remaining criteria (prestige, turnaround speed, figure reproduction quality and length restrictions/page charges)? On speed and quality I’d say it’s a wash, though in my experience OA journals are a bit faster; I don’t know how length restrictions compare. Prestige is a big factor here, since Toll Access journals have been around much longer and so have better established reputations (deserved or no).

    But perhaps the crucial question is page charges: if we really can ignore the question of whether a journal is subscription or OA, then cost is a question of OA fees (see, e.g., vs page and color charges. The latter can be difficult to figure out in advance and are not well publicized, but in those instances where OA fees are (or are perceived to be) higher than page/color charges, I can’t see OA journals faring well. Unhappy experience indicates that the ethical argument for OA will not carry the day against financial considerations. The only way to get authors to pay more for OA is to argue that they get more for their money in return.

    Which is why I wonder, is it really true that even subscription journals are effectively (de facto OA because of filesharing, author archiving etc? That hasn’t been my own experience, but of course for the plural of ‘anecdote’ to be useful as ‘data’ one needs a LOT of anecdotes…

  14. bill Says:

    Note: the majority of OA journals do not charge any author-side fees (, but that is not widely appreciated — hence my hedge about “perceived costs”.

  15. I actually posted the links to the relevant PLoS pages about copyright, but your spam-catcher caught my comment and ate it. E.g.,

    “The Public Library of Science (PLoS) applies the Creative Commons Attribution License (CCAL) to all works we publish (read the human-readable summary or the full license legal code). Under the CCAL, authors retain ownership of the copyright for their article, but authors allow anyone to download, reuse, reprint, modify, distribute, and/or copy articles in PLoS journals, so long as the original authors and source are cited. No permission is required from the authors or the publishers.”

  16. […] 3, 2009 · No Comments Gavin Baker at Open Access News points to a recent post on the blog Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week. The blog post discusses factors in deciding where to submit journal articles, including open […]

  17. Bill Parker Says:

    Bill, that’s an interesting position you’re in as a federal employee. I’d be interested to know more about the implications and how it works in practice — do you just send back the Arbitrary And Exploitative Copyright Transfer form unfilled with a note saying “no thanks”?

    Actually many journals have a choice (check box) for this option on their forms. I cannot rememeber exactly what it states but it recognizes that U.S. Federal employees have no copyright to sign over.

  18. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hi, Bill (not Bill Parker, the other one). Yes, it’s certainly true that there are still instances of failed access. But I suspect that they are very much in the minority: ninety times out of a hundred, emailing the author will get a PDF within a day or so; and nine times out of the remaining ten, you know someone who has a copy or the appropriate institutional access. So, except in 1% of cases, all a paywall achieves is to slow people down and irritate them.

    I suspect that within ten years, all but the very top rank of non-open journals will either have shut down or converted to open access. There is probably always going to be a small niche for non-open journals, and it’ll probably be Science’n’Nature that occupy that niche, but it’s already getting hard to see why anyone would submit to, say, the Elsevier-owned copyright-snaffling Cretaceous Research any more, and I don’t see any reason why that trend won’t continue.

  19. Darren Naish Says:

    One minor point in defence of journals like Cretaceous Research (and I’m not saying this because I work for said journal): specialist publications like this still have a function because they’ve accrued a specialist community of subscribers and readers. People publishing on, say, the Cretaceous stratigraphy of Woking will want it to go to Cretaceous Research because it will immediately come to the attention of everyone else who works on the same subject. If that same paper goes into Journal of International Stratigraphy or whatever, it may be missed by many relevant people, and I think that explains why some venues are favoured by some workers (few of which have yet to embrace the OA movement we here are all keen on). Remember that we are lucky in vertebrate palaeontology in that we actually have very few journals (comparatively speaking) to keep tabs on.

    I am not by any means detracting from the main point, however.

  20. […] Tags: academia, research Mike Taylor has a great write-up over at SV-pow! on chosing where to publish your academic research papers. It’s worth a good read through when you have time and covers a lot of ground that I never […]

  21. David Marjanović Says:

    or pay some ludicrously inflated fee like $30. [Or 40. Or occasionally even more.] (I wonder whether anyone in world history has ever done this?)

    Companies allegedly do, but I still have trouble imagining that that’s enough to make it profitable. I mean, most journals don’t publish anything marketable in the first place!

  22. […] Choosing a journal for the neck-posture paper: why open access is important – Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week […]

  23. […] journals, some of which are run by societies I admire and want to participate in (after all, everything is open anyway). At the same time I will keep blogging, and while I will frequently bring up technical […]

  24. […] Digression ends.  Its relevance is this: in the same way, we are used to thinking that our ability to get papers published is limited by the number of publication-worthy ideas we have — so that every paper idea we “waste” on a blog entry is a net loss.  In truth, ideas are cheap, and our ability to get papers published is actually limited by our throughput — our ability to find time to actually write those ideas up with sufficient rigour, prepare high-resolution figures, format the manuscripts for journals, wait through the review period, deal with the reviews, revise, resubmit, handle editorial requests, and so on and on.  (That is especially true when the journal takes six months to come up with a rejection.) […]

  25. Regarding copyright–have you tried the author addendum, to keep copyright? Many journals will allow you to retain rights, if pressed. Here’s an easy way to press:

  26. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hi, Jodi. No, I’d not heard of the SPARC Addendum — many thanks for the link. This looks like exactly what’s needed.

  27. […] Taylor provides a good overview of the tradeoffs between publishing in traditional journals versus open-access journals, albeit in […]

  28. ech Says:

    Layman here – help me understand why you need a publisher at all? “A journal best serves authors by handling their manuscripts quickly and without charge, by imparting prestige due to the reputation of the editorial board and quality of previous issues, and by reproducing the figures well.” Now, I’m sure you can manage to put pretty pictures in a .pdf, so it’s basically an endorsement of quality? Except for the “specialist publications” that Darren wrote about, is publishing important for distribution? I get the impression that it is not – one hears about a paper and goes to find it rather than reads through a publication and finds things in the publication?

  29. Mike Taylor Says:


    I truly am not sure what publishers actually do these days. Editorial boards, composed of scientists, do the editorial work, and printers do the actual printing. So, yes, I think the main thing a publisher brings to the party is a Stamp Of Approval — but since that stamp only carries weight because of the unpaid efforts of other scientists (peer reviewers), the actual contribution of publishers is still not clear to me.

    I’ve asked about this several times on several forums, including the VRTPALEO mailing list, and never got a very compelling answer. I am still very, very open to learning, so if anyone has anything to throw in, please do. Maybe the best way for me to find out would be to try self-publishing something and seeing what jobs I find myself having to do.

    For more on this, see Scott Aaronson’s brilliant essay (disguised as a review).

  30. @ech

    Preservation: so that your paper survives for future generations of scientists (even after your own website may be gone).

    Endorsement of quality: because scientists have little time for reading.

    Reputation: used for tenure and promotion in academia.

  31. Mike Taylor Says:


    Those were all good answers not so long ago, but none of them hold up very well in the Internet era. Preservation is at least as likely when thousands of computers worldwide have PDFs that can be copied and dispersed at zero cost; quality endorsement comes from peer review and editorial oversight, not from a publisher; and reputation is where you find it. If a publisher imputes good reputation to papers published by it, that’s only because papers it’s previously published have given it a good reputation, and that kind of circle is easily broken.

    In conclusion: sell your shares in Elsevier.

  32. ech Says:

    “Preservation: so that your paper survives for future generations of scientists (even after your own website may be gone).” – This at least is a non-issue. You can post it on usenet or something; problem solved. Google is way better at this than any publishing house. Even the solution of storing .pdfs on everyone’s desktop is probably safer than a publisher.

  33. StephanJade Says:

    Great post as for me. It would be great to read more about this theme.

  34. Recently, there has been a good deal of investigation by the
    US Federal trade comission against blogs and website owners
    for not stating their advertising revenue, or potential
    connections with ad networks.

    What are your personal thoughts about how this could potentially impact
    the blog world?

  35. Mike Taylor Says:

    Sorry, evectavibrarl, I have no idea about these issues at all. SV-POW! doesn’t carry adverts in part because we didn’t want to have to think about this stuff. We’re blogging for fun, not profit.

  36. David Says:

    I’m a economist/geographer so things are likely different in paleontology, but I think it is still important to publish in journals that are indexed by Thompson/ISI/WoK and I disagree on ignoring impact factors. There are now 5 year impact factors available from them and from These turn out to be pretty correlated with the 2 year ones even in a slow discipline like economics. There are only a couple of open access journals I’m aware of in econ. Given this it makes most sense to go ahead and publish with Elsevier as every research library in the developed world is going to subscribe to them if not to anything else (it’s hard to get published in the top not-for-profit journals in econ. as they have rejection rates like Nature and Science – and take much longer to turn around manuscripts).

    You didn’t mention interlibrary loan – generally if I can’t get an article through my university library, I next go to interlibrary loan or ask my wife to see if her institution has it if I’m in a hurry and then after that ask the author. You should be able to get everything you want by one route or another. But yes university libraries are much less useful than they used to be for people who are not members of the institution… But in econ there is a very strong system of working paper series (catalogued by RePEc and SSRN) which is total free access but not refereed. My journal articles definitely get more citations than my working papers do (which in turn do better than my book chapters). Journals in econ don’t care that the paper is already online as a working paper. Neither do any of the natural science ones I’ve dealt with…

  37. […] 21, 2010 Here at SV-POW! Towers, we have often lamented that so much dinosaur research is locked up behind the paywalls of big for-profit commercial […]

  38. […] 21, 2010 Here at SV-POW! Towers, we have often lamented that so much dinosaur research is locked up behind the paywalls of big for-profit commercial […]

  39. […] know I’ve mentioned this before [Choosing a Journal, Time for the Revolution] but there really is no justification at all for publishers to require […]

  40. […] of the paper.  You’d be surprised how often it just turns up.  Sometimes  it’s in an open-access journal, such as Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, Palaeontologia Electronica or PLoS ONE.  Sometimes the […]

  41. […] as a point of comparison, let’s consider Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. Like JVP and most other journals, they have page charges for long manuscripts, but like JVP and […]

  42. […] traditional forms of scientific communication with the realities of the newly wired world, in which everything is open, amateurs can have public, automatically archived high-level technical conversations about […]

  43. […] most frustrating experiences along these lines have been with other journals. (yes, Paleobiology, I’m looking at you.) So here’s what I wrote in response (lightly edited from the version that appeared as a […]

  44. Paul P. Says:

    Good blog, but in need of an update. And are you editing people’s comments..? The most recent ones are just snippets with […] before and after. Some have no meaningful content left. Wtf?

  45. Mike Taylor Says:

    Paul, those comments are pingbacks: they note when other posts (on this blog and others) have linked to this one. The fragments of text between the ellipses are quotes from the linking articles, showing the text around the link back here.

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