The scientific publishing system is hindering scientific progress. This is known and I won’t repeat myself or other more detailed analysis dissecting the problem of publishers making massive profits on our behalf without (almost) any value added (e.g. Edwards and Roy 2017, Racimo et al. 2022).
In the last years, cost-effective alternatives to publish our results have emerged and I don’t think technical aspects are an issue anymore. I think the problem is that when I publish something, I want to be read. I know that if I publish in certain journals, the day before the paper is published almost all researchers interested in that topic will see my paper. I also want to be evaluated. Most funding agencies still use where you publish as a quality indicator of your contribution (consciously or unconsciously), not to mention that the same paper published in a given journal will receive much more citations than if published elsewhere, if citations are what funding agencies will look at, bypassing the infamous IF.
My approach so far has been trying to publish in Society Based Journals. Despite most of these journals still partnering with big publishers, I heard that most have a decent deal with publishers (but I also heard some got terrible deals). The advantages are obvious. Those are well read and evaluated, have no APC, and the money they make reverts to the societies. The drawback is that not all my papers are top papers that can find a home there, and that the papers are not open access (you pay to read). This is secondary for me in a world with SciHub, but still important. In addition, this model is getting slowly outdated, and some of those journals are already changing to pay to publish model. Paying high APC (anything > 200 EUR for the EU standard) is a bad replacement for the current system in my opinion.
I made a quick tally and in the last 5 years (2017-2021) I published:
- 32 papers in Society Based Journals with no APC. Wow! These include BES, ESA, Nordic SE, AAAS, Am Nat, and other conservation and Behavioural societies.
- 6 in Selective Journals that require APC (but about half of the time my co-authors paid for the APC), such as PNAS, Nature Communications, or Scientific advances, but also other less fancy. I try to minimize those because, despite their visibility, I prefer to invest money in salaries, then in publishers, but if I (or my lab group) can publish in e.g. PNAS, this is money well invested regarding career advance. Let’s be honest.
- 5 in Non-Selective Journals with APC such as Plos, Open Science B, Sci Reports, PeerJ… Not always my decision, and while I support non-selective journals, especially if non-for-profit or with sustainable policies, their APCs are increasing in an unsustainable way.
- 3 in For Profit Selective Journals without APC. Despite trying to convince my co-authors to avoid those, I do not always succeed. Yes, I had 1 paper published in Elsevier last year (sorry). The other two are high-impact journals whose visibility might compensate for the balance (TREE and Nature E&E). Everybody has a price.
- 2 Free to publish – Free to read Journals. This is the way to go! One is in a Journal I did not know until recently. The other is the newly created Peer Community Journal, which I support. Other Journals in this list are Web Ecology, Journal of Pollination Biology, Ecologia Austral, and to be honest, not much more that I know (and Ecosistemas, despite it publishes mostly in Spanish). I am also looking forward to the new EU-Horizon Journal, but it’s closed to EU-Horizon projects, and I think it still costs quite a lot to the EU per article, so indirectly, we are still paying for it.
While I am happy with the last 5 years’ record regarding where I published, I think this is not enough. I want to publish more in free-to-publish – free-to-read journals, especially if I am the first author (I got tenure already). But I also want those to be read. Our Peer Community Journal paper has almost no citations despite being quite good (IMHO). I am sure that if it was published in Ecology Letters it will have now several more citations.
So how do we fix this? I have some ideas, but nothing clear. The next posts will explore those ideas.
Resources about Ecology Journals: