Fri 26 Jun 2015 3:58PM

Do we need to challenge the use of impact factors before we can move to open access journals?

LD Lee de-Wit Public Seen by 16

There are some really innovative open access journals out there.

PeerJ for example charges just 99 dollars for a lifetime ability ton publish with them. This is cheaper than almost all publishers, and they seem to offer a professional peer review process and publication platform (formatting/archiving etc).

So why are we not all submitting to PeerJ already?

Presumably because we feel our career's depend upon high impact publications.

This is of course frustrating because impact factors are one of the most invalid metrics of quality one could envisage (see http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00291/full).

Do we need to challenge further the use of impact factors, before we can truly innovate with better open access journals?


Alex Holcombe Fri 26 Jun 2015 8:06PM

I have yet to publish with PeerJ (but do have a project I'm planning to publish with them) but everything I've heard is that their services are truly fabulous. They built a new platform from the ground up and did it extremely well, for example it has been said their submission process is better than any other journal's.
So I agree with Lee, us not yet publishing with PeerJ underscores the point that for almost all authors, impact factor together with journal reputation trumps most other factors. (PeerJ will receive a partial '2014 Impact Factor' by the end of this month supposedly, partial because they haven't been around long).

The use of Impact Factor to evaluate researchers is already being challenged by many and at the highest levels of several funding bodies, and I don't see how we can contribute much to that. For the time being, journal reputation will remain all-important, even as the role of impact factor diminishes.

This is another reason why I'd like to link up with another initiative that already has momentum, and an increasing reputation, like PeerJ. Although, the chances of PeerJ taking us in are slim if we were only to do it on condition of special changes to their funding structure for us.


Deborah Apthorp Sat 27 Jun 2015 10:28AM

The whole IF thing is so frustrating and I have continual arguments with senior colleagues and mentors about it. Even though NHMRC (my current funding body) has explicitly banned the use of IFs in grant applications, we all know perfectly well that reviewers still look at them. I have been told off quite sternly by one senior person for publishing in PLoS One. My current mantra is "in 10 years, journals won't even exist, so publish wherever you think your work will be read" - but it's only really my students who are listening.

Having said that, can we do anything? Apart from insistently pointing out in meetings that the highest correlation with IF is retraction rate, probably not.

My 2c worth.


Jonas Kubilius Sat 27 Jun 2015 10:55AM

In 10 years, your students won't even be in business because lacking high IF publications, they won't get funding :DD

More seriously, even if big grant agencies do change their ways, it is important to realize that IFs will continue to play an important role for many years in local funding bodies. For example, in Lithuania, IFs are tightly coupled to getting funding and it will take years for the local funding authorities to catch up with the rest of the world in changing this policy. So I'd say creating an affordable OA journal with an IF is a much better short-term solution.


Deborah Apthorp Sat 27 Jun 2015 11:15AM

See, this is why WE HAVE TO STOP PLAYING THE GAME, or the big journals will keep on laughing all the way to the bank. This is exactly the story I keep hearing from my senior colleagues, and now I'm hearing it even from you guys.

Also, most of my students are Honours students, and we have to be realistic, even most of our PhD students won't end up in academia. In this context, is it really worth spending years chasing down the ever-descending staircase of high IF journals? I've played this game myself but I hate it.

In terms of practical considerations for a new journal, getting an IF for a journal is involved and takes some years, I believe. It's not just as simple as saying "give us an IF!". So your journal could collapse through lack of interest before you even get one.

In this context, I think PeerJ is a very interesting option, and everything I've heard about their system is good - though I've not submitted there myself. Definitely worth exploring further I think.


Jonas Kubilius Sat 27 Jun 2015 11:20AM

I didn't mean chasing high IFs, I only meant having any IF, no matter how small, just to meet the stupid requirement of having an IF at all. For example, in Belgium, publications are sorted according to them having an IF or not, but the size doesn't matter.

Bottomline: yay PeerJ Perception!


Marco Bertamini Sat 27 Jun 2015 4:13PM

More than half of the existing open access journals have no fees (sorry I lost the reference to where I found that info). People are surprised by that because the journals they know, and they are keen to publish in, have fees. One can say that this is because respected and prestigious journals are more expensive, and have higher IF. But it is more complex than that, there are many open access journals that started out without either a reputation or an IF and yet have attracted submissions while having high fees. JOV and PLOS were new journals not that long ago, and Frontiers is an example of a set of journals that started without even the backing of any respectable academic society and yet have had no problem attracting submissions and people ready to pay fees, certainly not because of their reputation (still not very high) nor their IF.

The question is why then don't we all publish in the existing open access free journals? The answer is that we pay publication fees for something other than the cost of publication. If I had the time I would write a fully documented paper on the fact that 'publication fees' is a misnomer. They are 'promotion fees'. We pay for the exposure, the sexy website, the type-setting, the spam email and so on. These in turn will also tend to increase the citations and therefore the IF but that comes second, if it were to come first no new fee-paying journal could establish itself which has clearly not been the case.

The Research Councils in the UK have missed this point. They still talk of the need to spend millions to allow authors to pay for the cost of 'publishing' in open access journals. If all that mattered was publication the actual cost of publication is a tiny fraction of what they are paying. They are paying for the promotional activities that these journals provide. Once that is clear we can then start to discuss whether it is good value for money, and also whether we are confortable with the idea that some findings will receive more promotion than others based on who funded that research or how rich is that institution.

Finally, about the fact that good type-setting costs money and time. I think that is true only up to a point. Take Wikipedia, its has many excellent pages with technical information and excellent layout, and yet the authors have happily done the formatting. I know there are many things to discuss about Wikipedia and that would take us off topic, I am just pointing here to a system to tag a document that is relatively easy to use and looks great.

While on that subject, I would also say that instead of a multitude of formats, scientists would benefit from a standard style. In psychology before the electronic age the APA style was hugely successful exactly because it provided a standard. It has now become obsolete but it shows the advantages of having something that is not journal specific. Authors would save time and efforts and even readers would benefit from the standard presentation. Here too Wikipedia teaches us something.


Jonas Kubilius Sun 28 Jun 2015 8:33AM

Great points, Marco! I especially liked the point about Wikipedia -- never thought of it as having in fact solved the typesetting problem. Of course, we must be aware that most people work with Word and will not change any time soon to anything new, especially web-based. But it's refreshing to know there is a reasonable solution available for those who aren't afraid to change their ways!


Nick Scott-Samuel Mon 29 Jun 2015 7:14AM

An IF takes a while to get. i-Percpetion has only just got one, and that took (I think) a couple of years. So any new journal starts off on faith, to some extent: the early publishers are relying on it getting an IF down the road.


Jonas Kubilius Mon 29 Jun 2015 9:49AM

Of course IF takes a while to get because that's how it is calculated. But PeerJ apparently has it (or a partial one) so that would be enough for starting PeerJ Perception.


Nick Scott-Samuel Mon 29 Jun 2015 2:52PM

I don't understand: what is the mechanism by which an IF is transferred from one journal (PeerJ) to another (PeerJ Perception)? I was under the impression that any new journal had to start from scratch.

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