Thursday, October 13, 2011

Journals, Open Access Journals and More Journals

I recently received an email inviting me to join the editorial board of a relatively new online, open access journal. I am not aware of how I was chosen for this honor. I either am or have been a manuscript peer reviewer for five different journals and currently serve as an associate editor of one of them. But that information is not widely known. I have a decent bibliography, much of which is relevant to the journal’s subject matter. Maybe that’s it.

Manuscript peer reviewers and associate editors do not receive compensation for their work. Most of us view it as pro bono work for the benefit of advancing science and it is somewhat career-enhancing to be involved in the editorial process. One also can learn a lot about how journals deal with manuscripts that are submitted. This results in one becoming a better writer.

The email had a link to a list of the members of the editorial board. Of some 30, it contained only one name that I had heard of in the field. The website said the journal has an impact factor of 1.5. I could not verify that claim.

In case you aren’t familiar with open access journals, they generally do not charge the reader for a subscription or a fee to view some or all articles. Instead the authors pay an “article processing charge” which can be substantial.. A comparison of article processing charges lists fees up to $5000.00.

I am at the stage in my career where doing extra work for nothing to beef up my curriculum vitae is no longer a need. In reply to the email offering me a position of the editorial board of the open access journal, I asked if there was going to be any payment to the members of said board, who are the people doing the actual work of peer reviewing and re-reviewing manuscripts. I was told that no reimbursement would be possible.

Let’s say that an open access journal publishes 40 articles per month at $2500.00 per article. That’s $100,000.00 per issue times 12 issues or $1.2M per year. Not a bad gross income when one realizes that except for copy editing the papers and posting the finished product on the journal’s website, the intellectual work is being done by editorial board members and manuscript reviewers for free.

One of the largest open access publishers is BioMed Central [BMC]. I am not sure whether it pays any of its editorial board members or manuscript reviewers. However, BMC publishes 221 scientific journals, some of which charge the reader for accessing certain types of research. You can do your own math and see that this is big business. 

And here is another question. How many journals are needed? For example, the Thomson-Reuters Science Citation Index Expanded - Critical Care Medicine - Journal List shows 23 journals primarily devoted to the rather narrow field of critical care. This does not include other journals like Chest and Anesthesiology, which have sections on critical care. Two new critical care journals have appeared, TheScientificWorldJOURNAL [Critical Care] and Annals of Intensive Care.

Who has the time or interest to read 25 journals? What is the quality of the articles in all these journals? Does anyone read this stuff? Does anyone really care?


Charles J Greenberg said...

Your calculation of the tangible benefits of open access publishers is precisely why I wrote several blog posts on "predatory open access." I didn't coin the term, but I think it fits. Any junior researcher or un-tenured faculty is the prey. I made a similar income calculation of 6 million for the publisher I distain. Happy reading.

Skeptical Scalpel said...


Interesting blogs. I agree that part of this is pressure on faculty to publish. I'll have more to say about that in an upcoming blog.

Liz Ditz said...

Hi SS,

Did you know that phishing scams have come to scholarly publishing?

Two blog posts about it, one from a science librarian, Something wrong with this inherently

and one from a graduate student, David Modic,

A peer-review phishing scam

whose PhD research is on scams and deceptions.

Skeptical Scalpel said...


Thanks for the comments. The links were fascinating. John Morrison is a man of many talents indeed.

Joe said...

Concerning "Who has the time or interest to read 25 journals? What is the quality of the articles in all these journals? Does anyone read this stuff? Does anyone really care?"

Yes, people do care, but people search for article topics through Google Scholar or WoS or Medline or whatever the flavor of the month search engine they are using. The title and abstract keywords and subjects, the importance of the author and the research methodology/conclusions are some of the important criteria, not the title of the journal that contains the article. So, people need to have access to a very wide range of journals, not just 25 or whatever number you could pick. A great article can appear in Nature or Cell or PNAS, but that obscure and narrowly focused article in PLoS One could also be just as important for you.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Joe, I appreciate the comment. I agree that the modern method of reading the literature is to search the topic you are interested in. What journal the paper appears in makes little difference, except that journals with high impact factors generally have better quality papers.

Bill Cohen said...

Readers, if not familiar with "Beall's List of Pedatory Open Access Journals," should take a look:

,,,and his Facebook Page:

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Bill, thanks for commenting. The list is very informative.

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