Thursday, March 27, 2014

The landscape for peer reviewed academic journals is certainly changing

I just read a helpful synopsis of the changes in the publishing industry as they relate to academic journals on the web site of the Association of American Publishers. And, by the way, the use of "loose" instead of "lose" in the above .pdf image did not go unnoticed, but it is an example of one of the many challenges that need to be addressed in the publication of research articles.

With the impending announcement concerning the launching of a new Journal of Chess Research, with which some of my readers are quite familiar, I am reprinting the pertinent text and links here. Thank you to AAP for the hard work of pulling this information together in a cohesive and meaningful manner, and for your willingness to share the perspective of the publishing industry as the world changes from print to predominantly digital formats. I will provide links to the locations of the announcement referred to above as soon as it is available.

The scholarly publishing community plays an indispensable role in the scientific research enterprise by facilitating scholarly communication, disseminating scientific information, managing the scientific record and coordinating the peer review process. Publishers’ continuing investments in digital platforms with the latest internet capabilities have helped to deepen their contributions to the science community and the public--expanding accessibility, improving interoperability and fueling innovation.

There is an ongoing public debate about how to expand access to published research literature to the research community and the public, while ensuring continued quality, integrity, preservation and sustainability of scholarly communications. Publishers share the goal of widening access and have been at the forefront of the effort that has made more scholarly information available to more users than at any time in history.

The following is intended to help answer questions about scholarly publishing and access to scholarly literature. Read more about Open Access and NIH Public Policy on their separate AAP pages. (material here is provided courtesy of the Association of American Publishers, a 425-member association of the premier publishers of high-quality entertainment, education, scientific and professional content.)

What is involved in publishing research?

The publishing process is large, complex and costly. In recent years, publishers collectively have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the transition from print to electronic delivery, and in the process have built and continue to refine a robust digital electronic environment for delivery of information to their readers. Publishers supply editorial services and incur expenses. Even though some editors volunteer their time, many larger journals employ salaried high-level professional editors or staff editorial offices. High-quality page composition, copyediting, layout and design, scanning, and tagging bibliographic and reference data must be managed whether an article is prepared to be read online or in print. Peer review is a tightly managed process. Maintaining and periodically updating a digital archive requires substantial resources, as do launching new journals and maintaining and enhancing online platforms to improve speed, access and functionality.

Information technology has replaced or reduced some production costs but not entirely, and digital technologies have brought new and different costs into the picture. Most costs will not significantly decrease under open access. At a high quality publication, staffing and editorial costs largely remain the same under either open access or subscription-based editorial models. Archiving costs are even higher in the electronic era because electronic archiving requires building the service, regularly updating the platform and software, and continuously maintaining comprehensive searchable sites with millions of linked articles, costs that will continue under any access model. Publishers have invested heavily in systems to take in manuscripts and shepherd them throughout the review process. These systems have helped to reduce the time between submission of an article and its first appearance on the web, accelerating the availability of cutting edge research to the community.

Professional publishing has its costs. The scientific publishing industry must continue to deliver high-quality, peer-reviewed content. The existing business models of publishing are based on the principle that copyright enables publishers to invest resources to create, improve, innovate, and exclusively enter its products (i.e., content) into the stream of commerce to the public. Publishers can and do experiment with alternative models, but a publisher cannot provide these services for free.

Do publishers support expanding access to information?

Absolutely, this is a publisher’s mission. Publishers are in business to provide access to research, not limit it. The very nature of publishing is to make all information widely available to the public as well as to researchers.

Every year publishers invest extensively to support and enhance access to new scientific information. In the last two decades, publishers have developed new technological advancements that have dramatically improved the efficiency and quality of scientific communication. Publishers have explored and implemented a variety of business models to make content as widely available as possible, including a range of distribution and access models.

A direct result is the public has more access to more information in more formats through more media than ever before. These capabilities support more researchers submitting more articles, and more journals distributing more information to users, educators, practitioners, students, and the public than at any time in history.

Isn’t there a need to make published research more accessible to researchers?

There are very few gaps in researchers’ ability to access published research. Journals are openly available through libraries and at institutions to most people involved in scientific research. Access is available to the full text of articles online going back hundreds of years.
Researchers in developing countries now access published research through Research4Life, a public-private partnership of publishers, UN agencies, and universities. This program provides free or low cost access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content online in over 7,500 peer-reviewed international scientific journals, books and databases.
Authors themselves also make their work accessible to the research community. Journals generally allow the authors to place their manuscripts on personal or institutional websites or repositories, distribute the copies of the final published copies of their articles to colleagues, to incorporate them in subsequent work, or to use them in classroom teaching.

More than 2/3 of the researcher respondents in a 2008 study of peer review by the Publishers Research Consortium described their access to scholarly journals literature as good or excellent. Researchers rank “access to research journals” very low on their overall list of concerns.

Nevertheless, should the public have access to research that is funded by the taxpayer?

Yes, and they do. The public has access to published articles through private libraries, university libraries (which are generally accessible to the public), hospital libraries, medical society libraries, research centers, public libraries via interlibrary loan, and often directly from the publisher upon request. The agencies that fund research already have the option to make available to the public the research reports that they receive from authors.

It’s important to note, however, that while taxpayers may fund the costs of conducting research, they do not fund the costs of publishing articles written after the research is completed and professionally edited, vetted, organized and published. So while the information upon which articles are based should be a matter of public record, the articles themselves, covered by copyrights and organized in the form of journals, are the work product of the efforts of publishers. The cost of subscriptions or author fees is necessary to recoup the considerable cost of validating, certifying, and publishing the articles that discuss and document those research findings beyond the reports and data generated by the research and on file with the funding entities.

Do publishers support wide access to information?

It is the mission of publishers to make information as widely available as possible, not to limit it. The very objective of the publishing endeavor is to make scientific information widely available in an organized manner to the public as well as to researchers. Publishers invest heavily to support and enhance access to and the availability of new scientific information. In the last two decades, publishers have developed numerous technological advancements that have tremendously improved the efficiency and quality of dissemination of scientific communication. Publishers explore new technologies and apply a variety of business models best suited to making content as widely available as possible, including open and free access models.

Publishers’ efforts have provided the public more access to more information in more formats and faster than ever before. They have increased efficiencies to accommodate more researchers who are submitting more articles to more journals. The result is faster dissemination of more information to more researchers, educators, practitioners, students and members of the public than ever before.

Can the organization of peer review be done for free?

Probably not. In a recent global study commissioned by the Publishing Research Consortium, 85 percent of scientists indicated that they believe peer review greatly helps scientific communication, while 93 percent of them believe peer review is necessary. Scientific publishers have been at the forefront of innovations that have improved and continue to improve the peer review process. However, this is not free of expense.

Scientific publishers process more than a million papers every year through a rigorous vetting with help from hundreds of thousands of distinct referees. While it is true that peer reviewers themselves are usually not paid, publishers invest hundreds of millions of dollars in managing the peer review process. Managing peer review uses the latest communications technologies and requires large and sophisticated electronic resources (databases of referees, their areas of expertise and current assignments, the status of papers under review, etc.), associated support personnel, and many paid full- and part-time editors.

How important is peer review?

Extremely. Peer review identifies and validates research and innovation. It encourages authors to meet the accepted standards of their discipline. The process can help to avoid unsubstantiated scientific claims, unacceptable interpretations, and personal opinions. Peer review specifically identifies weaknesses in scientific papers and ensures that the content of a scientific paper is both novel and advances the scientific record. In fact, industry estimates suggest that approximately half of all papers submitted for publication are rejected in their initial submission because they do not sufficiently meet a journal’s criteria. Scientists tend to rely upon the editorial process and peer review as validation of quality, and it is almost universally accepted in support of the research process.

The importance of the process has been underscored in light of high profile cases of scientific fraud. The instances of a few authors successfully publishing fraudulent or fabricated data in major journals call for oversight that is more rigorous by the entire scientific publishing industry. Several cases focus on conflicts of interest in the scientific research community where authors failed to disclose financial support for research that had perceived or obvious implications for the companies that provided that support. Today, it is incumbent upon publishers to be as rigorous as possible in the peer review process to help uncover financial conflicts of interest by reviewers, editors, and authors and to thoroughly evaluate articles and associated materials for signs of scientific fraud -- both before and after publication. The costs of additional checks on the process are mostly borne by publishers.

Publishers are also supporting a shared plagiarism detection system called CrossCheck designed to detect instances of unauthorized use of articles previously published. This system is entirely financed by the publishing community.

Additional questions?

What are some of the ways people can access articles for free?
How have publishers advanced innovation in scientific publishing?
Do publishers provide access to journals in developing countries?
Do publishers add value to scholarly articles?
What is the value of the U.S. professional and scholarly publishing industry?

The answers to these questions can be found on the source web site. Please go here to dig deeper.

More on Academic Journals

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