Since the rather surprising apppointment of Mike Eisen as the new Editor-in-Chief of eLife, I’ve found myself thinking about this journal again. At its inception in 2012, it was explicitly intended to be the open-access alternative that would “compete with publishing powerhouses such as Nature, Science and Cell“.

A few years ago, in an article about eLife‘s £25M additional cash injection from its three original funders, Nature News reported a doubling down on its original mission, citing an interview with founding Editor-in-Chief Randy Schekman:

But it won’t, he says, establish other open-access journals that accept more papers and have lower selectivity — a strategy that some organizations, such as the Public Library of Science, or PLoS, has turned to in an attempt to shore up finances. “We have no interest in creating other lesser journals with lower standards,” he says.

This makes no sense to me.

Four years ago, I was already saying “It’s a real shame that the eLife people have fallen into the impact-chasing trap and show no interest in running an eLife megajournals.” Now that eLife’s funding is running out and it’s having to introduce APCs, it makes even less sense to refuse to run a review-for-correctness-only journal alongside its flagship.

I do see why some people think it’s desirable to have an OA alternative to Science and Nature. But I can’t understand at all why they won’t add a second, non-selective journal — an eLIFE ONE, if you will — and automatically propagate articles to it that are judged “sound but dull” at eLIFE proper (or eLIFE Gold, as they may want to rename it). Way back in I think 2012 I spoke separately to Randy Schekman and executive director Mark Patterson about this: both of them were completely uninterested then, and it seems that’s still the case.

This is why Mike Eisen’s appointment is such a surprise. In a recent interview regarding this appointment, he commented “Our addiction to high-impact factor journals poisons hiring and funding decisions, and distorts the research process” — which I agree with 100%. But then why has he taken on a role in a journal that perpetuates that addiction?

We can only hope that he plans to change it from within, and that eLife ONE is lurking just beyond the horizon.

 

Appendix

This isn’t a new drum for me to be banging. Way back when eLife launched in 2012, I left a comment on its Reviewer’s Charter. Seven years on, all the comments seem to have vanished (I hate it when that happens), but happily for posterity I saved what I wrote. Here it is:

This charter is an excellent start. But I would like to see a Guideline Zero that lays out what the purposes (plural) of peer-review are. I see three very distinct purposes, and much of the frustration with peer-review comes from reviews that blur these.

1. Assessing whether the paper is sound, i.e. does it express a coherent argument that is backed up by data?

2. Assessing “importance” or “impact”, i.e. is the paper likely to be seen as a significant advance in its field, and to gather many citations?

3. Helping the author improve the paper by constructively suggesting changes that can be made without altering the fundamental nature of the paper.

All of these are important contributions, but they are quite separate and should be kept so. In category 3, for example, if a reviewer suggests that a sentence would be easier to parse if changed around, that should certainly not affect the gatekeeping decisions in categories 1 and 2.

PLoS ONE has shown the importance of separating caterories 1 and 2. In that journal, and those that now emulate it, the “impact” criterion is explicitly ignored, and all good papers are published however important or unimportant they are considered to be. (This means, among other things, that replication studies are welcome.)

This inclusive strategy is not appropriate for all journals — I understand that eLife is actively aiming to reject most submissions on “impact” criteria, in the hope of attaining prestige similar to that of Science and Nature. But even in journals that evaluate for impact, it’s important to separate the two assessment criteria. One important practical implication of this separation is that a subsequent high-volume “eLife ONE” journal could publish all eLife submissions that passed criterion 1 but failed criterion 2 without the need for further review.

I don’t think there was ever a response to that comment back in the day (though I can’t be certain due to the comments’ having vanished.) I hope that’s set to change under the new regime.

 

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Sorry for the short notice, but I just wanted to let you all know:

Today is Academic-Led Publishing Day, which the official website describes as “a global digital event to foster discussions about how members of the scholarly community can develop and support academic-led publishing initiatives”. More informally, it’s about how we can throw off the shackles of “publishers” that have made themselves our masters rather than our servants.

Three events are scheduled today: an OASPA Webinar, showcasing examples of excellent in academic-led publishing initiatives; a Twitter chat; and a panel discussion — see the website for details. These involve some stellar people, plus me. Seriously: I have no idea what I am doing there alongside people like Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories, and Rebecca Kennison, co-founder of the Open Access Network. But it’s a privilege to be involved and I hope I can add something to the discussion.

If you want to tune in, you can watch live on YouTube starting at 2pm Eastern time, which is 7pm GMT. I hope to see some of you there!

BTW., if the whole topic of academic-led publishing is new to you, you might find this blog-post by Scholastica helpful: they are one of the leading publishers in this area, and right behind the goal of putting academics back in charge of academic publishing. Read: Why Academic-Led Journal Publishing? Liberating Research Through Tools and Services

In a move that will surprise no-one who’s been paying attention, my and Matt’s presentation of vertebral orientation at the 1st Palaeo Virtual Congress is now up as a PeerJ preprint. Sadly, with the end of the conference period on 15th December, the page for my talk has been deleted, along with some interesting comments. But here at SV-POW!, we have no truck with ephemerality, hence this more permanent manifestation of our work.

Matt’s preprint consists of the abstract, and has the slide deck as a supplementary data file. That’s what he submitted to the conference, with attendees invited to page through it. By contrast, I recorded a video of my talk. I am trying to get that attached to my preprint, but as things stand it’s not there because it’s too big (at 65 Mb).

Meanwhile — and indeed in perpetuity — you can just watch it on YouTube, where I also uploaded it. In the end, that may be a more practical way of making video available anyway, but I do want the preservational benefit of lodging it with a preprint.

Remember, we’re working on the paper in the open. We’d love to get input from you all, and especially from anyone who’s run into this problem before with other taxa. Please, if you have fifteen minutes spare, watch the talk and leave any comments you have: here, on the preprint, on the YouTube page, or as issues in the GitHub tracker!

Reference

If you were curious about the Wedel et al. presentation on the Snowmass Haplocanthosaurus at the 1st Palaeo Virtual Congress but didn’t attend the event, it is now preserved for posterity and freely available to the world as a PeerJ Preprint (as promised). Here’s the link.

I’ll have much more to say about this going forward, but for now here are slides 20 and 21 on the intervertebral joint spaces. This is obviously just the same vert cloned three times and articulated with itself. With the digital rearticulation of the reconstructed and retrodeformed caudal series still in progress, we cloned caudal 3, the only vertebra that preserves both sets of zygapophyses, to get a rough estimate of the sizes and shapes of the soft tissues that filled the intervertebral spaces and neural canal.

The reconstructed intervertebral discs (in blue) are very crude and diagrammatic. The reason I’m putting these particular slides up is to get the cited references out in the open on the blog, to start correcting the misapprehension that all non-mammalian amniotes have exclusively synovial intervertebral joints (see the discussion in the comments on this post). In the list below I’m including Banerji (1957), which is not cited in the presentation but which I did cite in that comment thread; it’s an important source and at least for now it is a free download. These refs are just the tip of a very big iceberg. One of my goals for 2019 is to do a series of posts reviewing the extensive literature on amphiarthrodial (fibrocartilaginous) intervertebral joints in living lepidosaurs and birds. Stay tuned!

And please go have a look at the presentation if you are at all interested or curious. As we said in the next to last slide, “this research is ongoing, and we welcome your input. If there are facts or hypotheses we haven’t considered but should, please let us know!”

References

Scholastica is a publishing platform that offers support for super-low-cost open-access journals such as Discrete Analysis, led by Tim Gowers. They’re putting together the first Academic-Led Publishing Day on 7 February next year, and as part of the build-up, they kindly invited me to do an interview for them, kicking off their Academic-Led Publishing From the Experts series.

I did tell them that I wasn’t qualified — “I am about as far from an expert as I could possibly be in the field of Academic-led publishing. I’ve never even been an academic editor for a journal, far less started one or run one. All I’ve ever done, really (beyond writing and peer-reviewing articles) is have opinions and write about them.” But they wanted to push ahead anyway, so I was happy to go along with it.

Here’s the interview: enjoy!

 

The opening remarks by the hosts of conferences are usually highly forgettable, a courtesy platform offered to a high-ranking academic who has nothing to say about the conference’s subject. NOT THIS TIME!

This is the opening address of APE 2018, the Academic Publishing in Europe conference. The remarks are by Martin Grötschel, who as well as being president of the host institution, the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, is a 25-year veteran of open-access campaigning. and a member of the German DEAL negotiating team.

Here are some choice quotes:

1m50s: “I have always been aware of the significant imbalance and the fundamental divisions of the academic publication market. Being in the DEAL negotiation team, this became even more apparent …”

2m04s: “On the side of the scientists there is an atomistic market where, up to now and unfortunately, many of the actors play without having any clue about the economic consequences of their activities.”

2m22s: “In Germany and a few other countries where buyer alliances have been organised, they are, as expected, immediately accused of forming monopolies and they are taken to court — fortunately, without success, and with the result of strengthening the alliances.”

2m38s: “On the publishers’ side there is a very small number of huge publication enterprises with very smart marketing people. They totally dominate the market, produce grotesque profits, and amazingly manage to pretend to be the Good Samaritans of the sciences.”

2m27s: “And there are the tiny [publishers …] tentatively observed by many delegates of the big players, who are letting them play the game, ready to swallow them if an opportunity comes up.”

3m18s: “When you, the small publishers, discuss with the representatives of the big guys, these are most likely very friendly to you. But […] when it comes to discussing system changes, when the arguments get tight, the smiles disappear and the greed begins to gleam.”

3m42s: “You will hear in words, and not implicitly, that the small academic publishers are considered to be just round-off errors, tolerated for another while, irrelevant for the world-wide scientific publishing market, and having no influence at all.”

4m00s: “One big publisher stated: if your country stops subscribing to our journals, science in your country will be set back significantly. I responded […] it is interesting to hear such a threat from a producer of envelopes who does not have any idea of the contents.”

4m39s: “Will the small publishers side with the intentions of the scholars? Or will you try to copy the move towards becoming a packaging industry that exploits the volunteer work of scientists and results financed by public funding?”

5m55: “I do know, though, that the major publishers are verbally agreeing [to low-cost Gold #OpenAccess] , but not acting in this direction all, simply to maintain their huge profit margins.”

6m06s: “In a market economy, no-one can argue against profit maximisation [of barrier-based scholarly publishers]. But one is also allowed to act against it. The danger may be really disruptive, instead of smooth moves in the development of the academic publishing market.”

6:42: “You may not have enjoyed my somewhat unusual words of welcome, but I do hope that you enjoy this year’s APE conference.”

It’s just beautiful to hear someone in such a senior position, given such a platform, using it say so very clearly what we’re all thinking. (And as a side-note: I’m constantly amazed that so many advocates are so clear, emphatic and rhetorically powerful in their second, or sometimes third, language. Humbling.)

As RLUK’s David Prosser noted: “I bet this wasn’t what the conference organisers were expecting. A fabulous, hard-hitting polemic on big publishers #OA.”

 

 


Note. This post is adapted from a thread of tweets that I posted excerpting the video.

Open-access journalist Richard Poynder posted a really good interview today with the Gates Foundation’s Associate Officer of Knowledge & Research Services, Ashley Farley. I feel bad about picking on one fragment of it, but I really can’t let this bit pass:

RP: As you said, Gates-funded research publications must now have a CC BY licence attached. They must also be made OA immediately. Does this imply that the Gates foundation sees no role for green OA? If it does see a role for green OA what is that role?

AF: I wouldn’t say that the foundation doesn’t see value or a role for green open access. However, the policy requires immediate access, reuse and copyright arrangements that green open access does not necessarily provide.

Before I get into this, let me say again that I have enormous admiration for what Ashley Farley and the Gates Foundation are doing for open access, and for open scholarship more widely. But:

The (excellent) Gates policy requires immediate access, reuse and copyright arrangements that gold open access does not necessarily provide, either. It provides them only because the Gates Foundation has quite rightly twisted publishers’ arms, and said you can only have our APCs if you meet our requirements.

And if green open access doesn’t provide immediate access and reuse, then that is because funders have not twisted publishers’ arms to allow this.

It’s perfectly possible to have a Green OA repository in which all the deposited papers are available immediately and licenced using CC By. It’s perfectly possible for a funder, university or other body to have a green OA policy that mandates this.

But it’s true that no-one seems to have a green OA policy that does this.

Why not?