Richard Poynder on the need for transparency in publishing

April 28, 2015

[This is a guest-post by Richard Poynder, a long-time observer and analyst of academic publishing now perhaps best known for the very detailed posts on his Open and Shut blog. It was originally part of a much longer post on that blog, the introduction to an interview with the publisher MDPI. I’m pleased to reproduce it here with Richard’s kind permission — Mike.]

In light of the current lack of information available to enable us to adequately judge the activities of scholarly publishers, or to evaluate the rigour of the publication process that research papers undergo, should not both scholarly publishers and the research community be committing themselves to much greater transparency than we see today?

For instance, should not open peer review now be the norm? Should not the reviews and the names of reviewers be routinely published alongside papers? Should not the eligibility criteria and application procedures for obtaining APC waivers be routinely published on a journal’s web site, along with regularly updated data on how many waivers are being granted? Should not publishers be willing to declare the nature and extent of the unsolicited email campaigns they engage in in order to recruit submissions?

Should not the full details of “big deals” and hybrid OA “offsetting agreements” be made publicly available? Should not publishers be more transparent about why they charge what they charge for APCs? Should not publishers be more transparent about their revenues and profits? For instance, should not privately owned publishers make their accounts available online (even where there is no legal obligation to do so), and should not public companies provide more detailed information about the money they earn from publicly-funded research and exactly how it was earned? And should not publishers whose revenue comes primarily from the public purse be entirely open about who owns the company, and where it is based?

Should not the research community refuse to deal with publishers unwilling to do all the above? Did not US Justice Louis D. Brandeis have a point when he said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”


4 Responses to “Richard Poynder on the need for transparency in publishing”

  1. >Should not the reviews and the names of reviewers be routinely published alongside papers?

    It just struck me that in days gone by, the person responsible for accepting the paper *did* have their name printed with the paper, and there is a vestige of it now, still: ‘Communicated/received by [editor x]’. When editors did their own review and could decide whether a paper was suitable or not, we knew who it was. I’ve had a referee suggest acceptance of a paper and the editor refuse (reasons of space), but I don’t see it happening the other way, and that’s the only way we would see the hand of the editor in print, as it were, taking responsibility for accepting a paper.

  2. Marcin Says:

    This is all dandy. This is the taste of the things as gods intended them.
    I read the interview in one sitting, as the MDPI phenomenon is of great interest to me.

    Mike, as an avid OA supporter (same here), what is your personal take on this power-house-to-be? Would you consider publishing with them (provided they had a relevant journal)? Why?

    Also, what is your take on the Beall’s doings – in general, and in this particular case?

    It seems to me, spread across his blog, are elements of uninhibited support of the legacy publishers, while all OA is evil (P1 being the exception to confirm the rule). While many of his listed out publishers/journals clearly deserved to be named, his recalcitrance to rectify the checked ones (in this case, MDPI) casts an ugly shade on his motives.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    I have to admit that I was uneasy about some aspects of the MDPI interview, especially the part where its owner seems to offer Beall money to take MDPI off the predatory list. That said, all I know about them is from this interview, so I’m not really in a position to have an informed opinion.

    Would I personally consider publishing with them? No, but that’s not a reflection on them. My publishing policy now is to always start by asking myself whether there’s any reason not to use PeerJ, which is free to me (as a member) and does a stellar job of fast, detailed peer-review, superb formatting and a fine Web platform. Since I’m not looking for jobs or promotions in academia, I don’t need to play the idiot game of trying to get into specific journals: I can concentrate on doing good work and publishing it in its most useful form.

    As for Beall: without a doubt, he offered a genuinely helpful service when he first started cataloguing predatory publishers, and it’s been valuable to have the phenomenon brought to the attention of the world. But most of the librarians I know have lost all patience with him as his list has become an increasingly contemptuous and unaccountable juggernaut, and his writings have become increasingly frothing-at-the-mouth. By the time he was writing flagrant nonsense like “The open-access movement isn’t really about open access. Instead, it is about collectivizing production and denying the freedom of the press from those who prefer the subscription model of scholarly publishing”, the time for paying any attention to him had long passed. As even the Scholarly Kitchen recognised.

  4. Marcin Says:

    Thanks for your informative answer! :)

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