Oct 122013

Very few people post comments on this blog, but I have been getting about 40 spams, pings, and other nonsense daily. I just came back from a 2-day trip and found 616 posts awaiting moderation.

Until I figure out how to control the spam, I am shutting down comments. Many apologies for the inconvenience.

Oct 042013

I’m afraid that because of a lot of recent business I have to attend to, I haven’t kept up with the Mapping the Community project. I will return to it asap. Meanwhile …

The latest kerfluffle in the journal biz is an expose by John Bohannon in Science magazine of open access journals. Bohannon composed a spurious manuscript with obvious flaws, sent it to 304 open access journals, and by the time Science had gone to press, 157 had accepted it, 98 had rejected, 20 were still working on it, and … 29 of the journals seemed not to exist, consisting only of zombie websites receiving papers. Among those 255 journals that had acted, acceptance came on average in 40 days, while rejection took 24.

The “open access” model means that anyone can go online and get a posted article; the awkward question is how an open access journal gets funded. Some are supported by foundations or universities, but many are vanity presses, charging authors for printing charges. Since the rather extravagant subscription costs of many journals is a hot topic these days, open access has many defenders. And some of them rose to defend open access against Bohannon.

Inside Higher Ed (the big open access higher education newspaper) reported that many open access journals haven’t established their editorial processes and that is how they got stung. Meanwhile, The Chronicle of Higher Education (full access to subscribers only), reported that defenders of open access noted that Science is a subscription journal and therefore presumably suspect, and besides the same problem occurs in print journals.

There have been complaints like this about journals for eons. I remember in the 1980s, a mathematician complaining about what he called “write-only journals.” But if the problem is getting worse, there are two things to consider.

  • If an open access journal is supported by an institution that pays the bills, then that institution has an interest in quality control for its own reputation. But if it relies on page charges, submission fees, or publication charges, then its paying customers are its authors. If it is to survive, it has to have a sufficient number of happy authors. On the other hand, a subscription journal survives by keeping subscribers (readers and libraries) happy, and they are happy only if the journal seems to be worth the money. So we would expect that an open access journal that acted as a vanity press would have the same kind of quality problems that the old vanity press had. Meanwhile, journals that lived off subscriptions would be more careful.
  • Notice that acceptance took an average six weeks while rejection took less than four. Shortening the reviewing time is all the rage these days, and complaints about the difficulty of finding reviewers are more common. It would be interesting to know what the correlation between reviewing time and quality control are.

At any rate, it looks as if any journal that promises to rush your article into print in return for a fee should be regarded with suspicion.