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I got invited to review a manuscript by a British Ecological Society journal (MEE) that is published with Wiley recently.

I rejected the request and will from now on decline to review for all Wiley journals. In this post I duplicate my email to the Assistant Editor (Chris Greaves) explaining why. FWIW Chris has handled my letter extremely well and will forward it on for me to where it needs to be seen/read within the British Ecological Society.

Below is the email I sent earlier today in full:

from: Ross Mounce <ross.mounce@gmail.com>
to: coordinator@methodsinecologyandevolution.org
date: 18 August 2015 at 11:57
subject: Re: Follow-up: Invitation to Review for Methods in Ecology and Evolution

Dear Chris,

Thank you (and Rich FitzJohn) for inviting me to review this manuscript.

It looks interesting from the abstract and in other circumstances I would certainly agree to review it.

However, I refused to review this manuscript and will refuse to review any subsequent manuscript for this publisher (Wiley) because I believe they are actively impeding progress in science by choosing to operate a predominately subscription-based business model – artificially restricting access to knowledge that taxpayers (through government funding) and charities predominantly fund. Furthermore they do an extremely poor job of it.

  • They produce but actively withhold full text XML (even from subscribers). Reputable open access publishers have no qualms in making their full text XML available to all. This is deeply frustrating for those interested in synthesis, reproducibility and getting the most from published science in a time-efficient manner. As the manuscript I was just asked to review was principally about ‘automated content analysis’ I find this particularly galling and I am wondering why the authors thought it was appropriate to submit this to such a journal.
  • They use an outdated back-end system: ‘ManuscriptCentral’ which is by all accounts an extremely poor system. Wiley have made huge profits each and every year in the past decade and yet seem completely unwilling to re-invest that in improving their systems. There wasn’t even a free text box to explain my reasons for declining to review this manuscript. Utterly poor, neglected design. Try PeerJ or Pensoft’s submission system. They have clearly worked hard and invested time and effort into making publishing research better for everyone, not just their own profit-margin.
  • Wiley’s hybrid open access charge ($3000) is outrageously expensive and bears no resemblance or link to the actual cost of production or services provided. I am aware of the ‘discount’ levied for British Ecological Society members (down to $2,250). The ‘discount’ is only gained if one of the authors pays ~ $80 to join BES (full, ordinary member rate). That is still far too high. For context, some other open access fees: PLOS ONE charges $1350, PeerJ just $99 per author (the manuscript I was just asked to review has only 4 authors), Ubiquity Press journals $500, and Biodiversity Data Journal is still FREE ($0) whilst in launch phase. This to me is strong evidence of either deep inefficiency or profit-gouging or a mixture of both on Wiley’s part, none of which are excusable. I am certainly not alone in thinking this. See recent tweets from Rob Lanfear (an excellent scientist): https://twitter.com/RobLanfear/status/630523174061342720

    https://twitter.com/RobLanfear/status/630526920086568960

  • Wiley are a significant player in the modern oligopoly of academic publisher knowledge racketeering. Data from FOI requests in the UK show that in the last five years (2010-2014), 125 UK Higher Education Institutes have collectively spent nearly £77,000,000 renting access to knowledge that Wiley has captured. That’s just the UK. Wiley doesn’t pay authors for their content, nor do they pay reviewers. I don’t know why the British Ecological Society (BES) partners with these racketeers – I find this arrangement severely detrimental to the goals of BES and academic research.
  • Like the other big knowledge racketeers Wiley operate a ‘big bundle’ subscription system. By adding BES journals to this big bundle of subscriber-only knowledge, it makes it harder for libraries around the world to cancel their subscriptions to this big bundle. Wiley know this and hence are actively trying to acquire as many good journals as possible (e.g. ESA journals) to make themselves ‘too big to cancel’.
  • On a personal note, I am particularly aggrieved with Wiley because they are currently, without my consent, charging $45.60 including tax, to ‘non-subscribers’ for access to one of my open access articles that they have copied over from where it is freely available at the original publisher. Charging $45.60 to access something that is freely available at the original publisher is simply astonishing and is just another facet to the lunacy of the many and multiple ways in which Wiley and companies like it seek to profiteer from and restrict access to research.

For all these reasons and many more I simply cannot agree to review manuscripts for any Wiley journal. I am already boycotting Elsevier, and am considering applying the same to subscription-access Nature Springer and Taylor & Francis journals for similar reasons.

I urge the British Ecological Society to reconsider their ‘partnership’ with this profiteering entity and to pursue publishing with organisations that are actually competent at modern 21st century academic publishing, particularly those that support and actively facilitate content mining e.g. Pensoft, PLOS, PeerJ, eLife, Ubiquity Press, MDPI and F1000Research, to name but a few.

Sincerely,

Ross Mounce

 

———————————–

I feel relieved to have done this. Having reviewed for Wiley only last month it didn’t feel right. Why would I help them whilst boycotting Elsevier? They are essentially as bad as each other. My position is more logically consistent now.

Many thanks to others who have also publicly written about refusing to review for legacy publishers, these posts certainly helped me in my decision-making:

Mike Taylor: Researchers! Stop doing free work for non-open journals!

Heather Piwowar: Sending A Message

Ethan White: Why I will no longer review for your journal

Casey Bergman: Just Say No – The Roberts/Ashburner Response

PS Having read Tom Pollard’s post on this matter, I might also write to one of the authors to explain why I declined to review their article. I wish them them well and I look forward to reading their article when it comes out.

 

I read some sad news on Twitter recently. The Ecological Society of America has decided to publish its journals with Wiley:

Whilst I think the decision to move away from their old, unloved publishing platform is a good one. The move to publish their journals with Wiley is a strategically poor one. In this post I shall explain my reasoning and some of the widespread dissatisfaction with the direction of this change.

Society journals should not be a profit-driven business

The stated goals of The Ecological Society of America (ESA) are noble and I reproduce them here below to help you understand what the society in theory aims to do:

  • * promote ecological science by improving communication among ecologists;
  • * raise the public’s level of awareness of the importance of ecological science;
  • * increase the resources available for the conduct of ecological science;
  • * ensure the appropriate use of ecological science in environmental decision making by enhancing communication between the ecological community and policy-makers

Source: http://www.esa.org/esa/about/

Reading those four bullet points, it strikes me that a society with this stated mission should be a vanguard of the open access movement. An efficient, well-implemented open access publishing system, supported (and thus empowered) by the ESA would positively address all four of those goals.

Do I need to explain how open access would improve communication among ecologists? It should be obvious to most. Some facts:

Universities around the world do not have access to all subscription journals, not even Harvard. Wiley’s big journal bundle of subscriptions is no exception to this rule. Brock University in Canada is one such notable example. ‘Ecology and Evolution’ is one of two “main themes” of Brock’s Biology Department yet it does not have access to the Wiley bundle of subscription journals.

Furthermore, as the above tweet demonstrates many ecologists are not based at universities. Not all uses or readership of ecology journals is by ecologists, it’s absolutely not sufficient to just provide access to ecologists (alone). It’s vital that policymakers and the public have access to the latest research, no embargoes. Want evidence that policymakers lack access to research? Look no further than this blog post from a recent intern at the UK Parliamentary Office for Science & Technology (POST):

The level of access to journals was far lower than I had expected (it was actually shocking) – I ended up using my academic access throughout my placement.

Source: https://therostrumblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/why-all-phd-students-should-do-a-policy-placement/ (2015-01-12)

If the ESA seriously wants to “ensure the appropriate use of ecological science in environmental decision making by enhancing communication between the ecological community and policy-makers” then making it easier for policymakers like those at POST to access research published in ESA journals would surely be a great way of doing that. How does the ESA expect to “raise the public’s level of awareness of the importance of ecological science” if most of the science that they themselves publish in their own journals is behind an expensive paywall? $20 for 30 day access to one article? Admittedly that’s cheaper than many but it’s simply not supportive of ESA’s mission.

Does this help raise the awareness of ecological science?

Does this unnecessary paywall help raise the awareness of ecological science?

 

Lastly, with respect to increasing “resources available for the conduct of ecological science” the ESA urgently needs to consider the big picture here. Wiley, Springer Nature, Elsevier and other legacy publishers are a major drain on the financial resources available for research. With their big bundle deals they ransom/rent access to libraries for sums that can be up to many millions of dollars, every year, per institution. Money should instead be diverted into efficient, high-quality publishing systems like JMLR, Open Library of Humanities, PeerJ, Pensoft and Ubiquity Press to name but a few. All of these not only provide open access, but also high-quality publishing services at a significantly lower cost. Many provide added extras such as semantically-enhanced full-text XML which would make synthesis of ecological science easier. Wiley does not provide direct access to per article full-text XML even to its paying subscribers! They do half the job for thrice the price. Why would ESA want to help to sustain and enhance Wiley’s famous 42% profit margin? These legacy publishers are strategically merging, and acquiring journals in order to make it harder for libraries to cancel their dross-laden ‘big bundle’ subscription packages. It doesn’t seem like a logical decision to me or others.

Comparing this to other recent journal publishing changes

To put into context the ESA move to Wiley, let’s look at three other recent examples of academic societies changing publisher:

1.) Museum für Naturkunde Berlin journals (flipping to open access)

In 2014 all of their journals moved away from being published with Wiley. Their two zoological journals which have been around since before the ESA was even formed(!) transferred to open access publishing with Pensoft. Their Earth Science journal Fossil Record also moved away from Wiley, to open access publishing with Copernicus Publications. Guess what? The sky didn’t fall. I predict the articles in these journals will start being read, downloaded and cited more now that they are open access to everyone.

2.) Paleontology Society journals (switching to arguably a more benign, less profit-driven legacy publisher)

In 2015 PalSoc journals switched to be published with Cambridge University Press (CUP). I’m not super enthusiastic about CUP but if a society really wants to do legacy publishing, without worsening the stranglehold of the big publishing companies over libraries then CUP, or other university presses (Oxford, John Hopkins, Chicago) seem like safer custodians of academic intellectual property to me.

3.) American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (moving to Wiley)

To provide a fair comparison it’s important to look at what happens when a society journal joins Wiley. I know of one such case recently: ASLO journals. The transfer to Wiley was far from smooth or professional. In the few months that Wiley had the ASLO journals, they managed to ‘accidentally’ paywall thousands of articles that should have been available for free (as per ASLO’s wishes) and charged actual readers for reading these older should-be-free articles.  I paid $45.60 for access to one such ASLO article at Wiley – it should have been made available to all for free. Both Springer and Elsevier have also been caught doing this. The ESA currently makes some articles in its subscription journals ‘free to read’ to all, so I shall be closely monitoring the new Wiley-ESA journal websites when they launch, to see if they make the same conveniently profit-generating ‘mistakes’ again.

How did this happen? Who was consulted? Why was this choice made?

I for one was completely unaware that ESA were looking for a new publisher. I would have tried to help if I had known. I have many unanswered questions over the consultation process. For example, the ESA has an Open Science section and mailing list, its members are extremely knowledgeable about the academic publishing landscape and publishing technology.

Was the ESA membership in it’s entirety specifically and clearly asked which publisher they would like the ESA to publish with? Did they ask their membership what features they wanted from their new publishing platform? I would have requested a platform that provides access to semantically-enriched full text XML – Wiley does not provide this. Given a choice, and the vital context and information given above I think few ESA members, policymakers, or members of the public would choose Wiley as ESA’s new publisher.

I gather from Twitter that “any and all” were invited to submit a proposal to publish ESA journals and that Elsevier submitted a proposal. But having a lazy tendering process only biases decisions towards major conglomerates who have the time, energy and resources to make slick proposals – I wonder if smaller but high-quality publishing companies were pro-actively approached by ESA to submit a proposal? In the public interest, I think the ESA should publish the names of all organisations who submitted proposals to publish ESA journals – I think just that data alone might potentially reveal flaws in the tendering process. I’m finding it really hard to reconcile the goals of ESA and shareholder-profits motivation of Wiley. I genuinely think the leadership of ESA is out of touch with its membership and that they may not have been properly consulted about this major change to the society.

This is a long post, and I’ve said enough, so I’ll leave it to a professional scholarly communications expert (Kevin Smith, Duke University), to have the last word about Wiley, and the recent trend towards cancelling Wiley subscriptions:

I don’t know if Wiley is the worst offender amongst the large commercial publishers, or whether there is a real trend toward cancelling Wiley packages.  But I know the future of scholarship lies elsewhere than with these large legacy corporations.

Source: http://blogs.library.duke.edu/scholcomm/2014/12/16/cancelling-wiley/

Postscript

But perhaps we can turn this negative into positive by creating resources and impartial educational guides for academic societies on how to negotiate better publishing deals, and how to start a tendering process with an eye towards the inevitable future of open access? If SPARC or SPARC Europe already provides these resources please do point me at them!

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) would like your input on how to expand access to their publications and what they should do if *gasp* the USA also mandates some form of public or open access …like the rest of the world seems to be doing at the moment.

The official call is here in this new free to access ESA publication (at the end):

Collins, S., Goldberg, D., Schimel, J., and McCarter, K. 2013. ESA and scientific Publishing—Past, present, and pathways to the futureBulletin of the Ecological Society of America 94:4-11.

You should probably read it all, so you understand their position and their misgivings before you email them with your ideas at: pubsfeedback@esa.org

 

Well done ESA. It’s nice to know they are aware of the inevitable changes that are happening in the world of academic publishing. They haven’t exactly been to receptive to the idea of Open Access before but now they seem to be acknowledging that it might be thrust upon them whether they like it or not and so need to prepare for it. I only wish all learned societies were doing this (I know we at the Systematics Association have plans, and that the Geological Society of London have a working group on this).

 

Here’s the email that I sent to them on Wednesday 23rd January (UK time). Proof, just in case they pretend they didn’t receive it *wink*

(N.B. I’ve recycled much of this from my House of Lords inquiry submission. Why not? Takes a lot of effort to write a detailed letter of support for Open Access! I’ll be damned sure to get some usage & re-usage out of it!)

 

 

Dear Ecological Society of America,

I read your special report ESA and Scientific Publishing—Past, Present, and Pathways to the Future with great interest. I wholeheartedly agree that the “world of scientific publishing is undergoing dramatic changes” at the moment – the internet clearly allows for extremely lowcost, efficient and open dissemination of research.

Currently there are huge inequalities in access to scholarly outputs (not just papers, but data & software too). My research library at the University of Bath can only afford to subscribe to so many subscription access journals – very far from all of them. But for myself and my colleagues to do high-quality, high-impact, definitive research we frequently need access to materials we don’t have either free/Open Access, or quick paid-subscription access to. In these cases myself and colleagues often spend hugely-wasteful lengths of time trying to get copies of these must read materials that are buried behind paywalls we can’t unlock.

The alternative options for access to paywall-restricted papers are poor and inefficient; inter-library loans can take days or weeks. Relatively few researchers currently post full-text self-archived copies of their own work in ‘green’ online repositories (although perhaps more might do so in the future). Electronic inter-library loans from the British Library can only be printed-once – if an error occurs during printing – tough luck, you’ll only ever have half a print version.

Sympathetic colleagues at different institutions with different journal access rights pass each other PDFs all the time – technically this is copyright infringement. Yet these small acts of academic copyright infringement are rampant online if you know where to look and are often the only way to sensibly and efficiently get research done. Buying additional legal access is simply not affordable nor desirable at the outrageous prices often offered – and sometimes only upon inspection of the fulltext does one find that the paper isn’t actually of use and can be discarded.

Many different peer-reviewed papers have shown that Open Access research has a higher citation rate than its paywall-protected ‘Closed Access’ counter-parts [e.g. 1-8]. Making ESA published research 100% Open Access would reasonably therefore confer some of this effect and increase the already impressive global impact of this research.

As you know the UK is far from alone in strongly pursuing Open Access means of research dissemination. The NIH Public Access mandate requires that all NIH-funded research publications are accessible to the public (world-wide) via the PubMed Central repository no later than 12 months after publication. In Australia, both NHMRC & ARC have Open Access policies in place. In fact if one looks closely enough one will see a litany of national research funders that already have open access mandates in place ArgentinaDenmarkAustriaBelgium, as well as innumerable policies at the university/institution level e.g. the Howard Hughes Medical Institute , Wellcome Trust, and even my own institution – the University of Bath (important to mention, because not all UK university research is funded by RCUK).

In particular I think we should note the way in which the SciELO Network has provided sustainable free access to over a thousand South American, Latin American, and (more recently) African research journals via the internet. It is ethically awkward that ‘they’ provide access to so much of ‘their’ research to us for free whilst we often charge them for access to ‘our’ research (many institutions do NOT receive charitably given access via HINARI ). This is an asymmetrical access imbalance that sorely needs to be corrected.

 

Learned Societies and Open Access

Learned societies heavily-reliant on subscription journal income and concerned with how public/open access policies may affect them should closely examine the workings of other societies that have successfully operated open access journals for many years. West and colleagues [9] provide robust data showing hundreds of society-operated gold Open Access journals with good citation impact at either no-cost to authors, or for a usually reasonable APC (article processing charge).

Good examples include the Journal of Economic Perspectives (of the American Economic Association) – not only do they charge nothing to authors (APC=$0) and provide free access to readers, but also Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports (JCR) ranks this as the 5th best journal in Economics out of 321 listed. It is influential and extremely well cited.

The journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica is a remarkable success story of society journals (it’s the official journal of the Veterinary Associations of the Nordic Countries). From 2000 to 2005 it was subscription-access only and was dwindling in impact and citations. In 2006 they changed to Open Access publishing with BioMed Central and now enjoy significantly increased impact and citations for the research published there.A plot of the Impact Factor of the journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica over time, showing a marked increase after switching to Open Access publishing. Source. Author: BioMed Central. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

The European Geological Society (EGU) publishes 14 different gold Open Access journals with the help of Copernicus Publishing. One of these in particular – Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics has been hugely successful and through high citation rate is now ranked the 2nd best journal of 71 in the category “Meterology & Atmospheric Sciences” in Thomson Reuters JCR. It happily publishes articles using the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY) and charges a fair, variable APC that is cheaper for those who submit manuscripts in LaTeX form – reflecting the ease of which it is to convert such manuscripts into publishable forms. Microsoft Word submissions require more processing and thus they charge more (reflecting real cost). It is commendable that they expose, and make avoidable some of the labor costs of typesetting this way.

Furthermore, I’d bet there are many different societies operating subscription access journals that already allow self-archiving of published works so that they’d be compliant with the ‘Green’ OA route which the RCUK policy also allows. This would seem to me to be a fairly pain-free way of complying with the policy should ESA wish to do so via this route.

Overall, I think it would be fairer for all societies to publish associated journals in an Open Access manner – whilst clearly delivering on their core mission(s) of educating the world (not just a few subscribers) about their subject. Relying on denying access to research via paywalls to provide surplus income with which to spend on outreach and other activities that further the society mission, seem to me like a very convoluted justification and an inefficient way of achieving outreach goals. Put simply, Open Access very clearly fulfils many of the core purposes of learned societies and provides an open platform with which to build outreach around.

 

Finally, I would like to respond to some specific points that you mentioned in ESA and Scientific Publishing—Past, Present, and Pathways to the Future. 

  • “Will publishers need to invest heavily in their online platforms to meet gold requirements?”

Categorically, no. The current system of maintaining a sophisticated paywall, with login access only for paid-subscribers must be far more expensive to maintain and police than a simple, un-paywalled system whereby anyone can download articles. You already publish Ecosphere in a free to access manner which clearly shows you have the technology already in place to do this, so why suggest it would take heavy investment? Furthermore for societies that lack establish open access publishing systems there are plenty of cost-free (software-wise) robust solutions like Open Journal Systems that is already used successfully by over 11,000 journals (both Open Access & subscription journals!).

  • “Most publishers, including ESA, currently operate under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC license for open-access publications…”

This is simply not true. Relatively few publishers and journals use this licence e.g. Jornal de Pediatria (a Brazilian journal). In fact, the majority of Open Access journals listed in Thompson Reuters JCR use the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY). Don’t believe me? Look at the data yourselves here. It’s the licence that BMC, Springer Open, PLoS, Hindawi, MDPI, Versita, Frontiers, Copernicus, Ubiquity Press, Pensoft, American Physical Society, and some Nature Publishing Group, Wiley & Sage open access journals use. So by counting publisher, journal or article-volume it’s definitely the most common Creative Commons licence used to publish scientific research. It’s common for very good reasons, not least that the non-commercial NC-clause can obstruct textmining analyses, and prevents the content from being re-used in Wikipedia.

  • You use an argument that ‘the “shelf life” of ecology research tends to be much longer than for medically oriented sciences

Whilst I don’t wish to disagree with you on this, I think you need not compare yourself to such a niche area of STM publishing. Take for example Palaeontology. I collected data recently to show that the mean age of a cited paper in a typical palaeontology article was >18 years! Yet in palaeontology there are plenty of successful high-impact open access journals and many which allow the green route of open access after a relatively short embargo period. If short (6 or 12 month) embargo periods don’t affect the income of subscription access palaeontology journals, why would it cause harm to ESA journals to allow this? I feel you fear something that won’t actually happen.

  • I strongly doubt that if you allowed a ‘green’ friendly route to Open Access, with a 6 month embargo as allowed by the RCUK policy, that you’d lose much subscription revenue.

Statistics from the Romeo/SHERPA database that tracks green OA policies shows that 60% of journals allow immediate self-archiving of the full-text of research papers, with a further 27% permitting the submitted version (pre-print) to be archived immediately. Only 13% of journals do not allow immediate archiving. There remains little convincing evidence that short embargo periods seriously harm library subscription revenue.

So if I were ESA, I’d probably look into the green OA route as a relatively pain-free / hassle-free way of expanding public access to research.

 

Regards,

 

Ross Mounce,

PhD Student at the University of Bath  & Open Knowledge Foundation Panton Fellow

http://about.me/rossmounce

 

References

 

1. Lawrence, S. 2001. Free online availability substantially increases a paper’s impact. Nature 411:521 http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/35079151

2. Xia, J. and Nakanishi, K. 2012. Self-selection and the citation advantage of open access articles. Online Information Review 36:40-51.http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=17004555&show=html  [the OA citation advantage is more pronounced for ‘smaller’ journals]

3. Xia, J., Myers, R. L., and Wilhoite, S. K. 2011. Multiple open access availability and citation impact. Journal of Information Science 37:19-28.http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0165551510389358 [More copies available in different places, more citations…]

4. Riera, M. and Aibar, E. 2012. Does open access publishing increase the impact of scientific articles? an empirical study in the field of intensive care medicine. Medicina intensiva / Sociedad Espanola de Medicina Intensiva y Unidades Coronarias.http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.medin.2012.04.002

5. Norris, M., Oppenheim, C., and Rowland, F. 2008. The citation advantage of open-access articles. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. 59:1963-1972.http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/asi.20898

6. Eysenbach, G. 2006. Citation advantage of open access articles. PLoS Biol 4:e157+. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0040157

7. Hajjem, C., Harnad, S., and Gingras, Y. 2006. Ten-Year Cross-Disciplinary comparison of the growth of open access and how it increases research citation impact. http://arxiv.org/abs/cs.DL/0606079

8. Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Larivière, V., Gingras, Y., Carr, L., Brody, T., and Harnad, S. 2010. Self-Selected or mandated, open access increases citation impact for higher quality research. PLoS ONE 5:e13636+. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0013636

9. West, J., Bergstrom, T. and Bergstrom, C. T. 2013. Cost-effectiveness of open access publications