A disclaimer: The opinions presented here are my own and do not represent any organization with which I am associated. Any critical comments are directed at the publishing practices of the journals, not the quality of the science or the efforts of the volunteer editors, authors, and reviewers. If I have made an error in compiling a journal information, I will happily correct it upon notification and verification. I have published in, and in some cases will continue to publish in, some of the journals of which I am critical. Although I personally would like to publish only in open access, non-profit journals, the realities of a career in science make that difficult at times.
- Journals that promote open access. Even with a delay, open access allows an increased readership (and hopefully increased citation) of articles. Although critics of OA often imply that scientific papers are just too complex for the lay public to understand, in a field like paleontology the lay public is a major consumer of our primary literature. So, cheers to journals like PLoS ONE, Palaeontologia Electronica, and Proceedings B, who practice and promote open access. Even some commercially-published journals (e.g., The Anatomical Record) deserve special mention for their OA efforts.
- Journals with reasonable download fees. Although every journal would be free and open access in an ideal world, it does cost money to run a publication. I salute those journals of various sizes and business models that keep their per-article download charges at $15 or less; this includes Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, Journal of Paleontology, Paleobiology, PNAS, and Science. Here's your next challenge, journals: lower the price to $5. I would predict that this is the tipping point in the balance between price and convenience for many readers of the paleontology literature.
- Journals that charge ridiculous fees for per-article downloads. I'm especially looking at you, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. $41 for a PDF of a one page taxonomic note?! Not even Cretaceous Research, owned and published by the oft-maligned Elsevier, charges that much ($37.95). Somehow or another, Journal of Paleontology only charges $12 per article. I realize that different journals have different goals and revenue streams, but it is absolutely unseemly that a society journal like JVP charges that much for its articles. One wonders how many potential purchases (and thus society revenue) are lost in the face of the fee.
- Journals that only allow authors to publish the pre-peer reviewed version of a manuscript. Journal of Morphology and The Anatomical Record get this dubious honor. I can understand asking authors to delay posting the unformatted manuscript or to refrain from posting the published PDF (to allow the journal to recoup some revenue), but it makes no sense to prevent entirely the authors from posting the peer-reviewed, unformatted version. Given the sometimes substantial changes introduced during peer review (which is done by volunteers, and nearly always coordinated by volunteer editors), posting of an unreviewed manuscript has too much potential for making the author as well as the journal look bad. The Journal of Morphology is a particularly egregious offender. I feel a little bad listing The Anatomical Record in this category, because they do have default OA after one year.
- Journals that lock supplementary information behind paywalls. Erecting paywalls for supplementary information may, in some cases, keep the data out of sight of legal readers. Someone who has only a paper reprint or PDF of the printed work legally obtained from the author, or a hard copy in the journal library, cannot access supplementary data. Keep in mind that most journals only minimally format the data, if at all, for publication, so there is no real value added by the publisher beyond posting it on the server. Prime offenders in this category include Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, Historical Biology, and Cretaceous Research.
- Most reader friendly. Criteria: Cost of download, time to OA. Top picks: Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, Palaeontologia Electronica, PLoS ONE, PalArch's JVP. Runners up: PNAS, Science.
- Least reader friendly. Criteria: cost of download, availability of supplementary information, availability of open access and/or author versions. Bottom picks: Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Historical Biology, Cretaceous Research.
- Most author friendly. Criteria: OA fee and/or fee waiver, maintenance of author rights, impact factor. Top picks: Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, Palaeontologia Electronica. Good bets: PLoS ONE, PalArch's JVP.
- Best all-around journals: These journals balance needs of the author and reader, using the criteria above. In this case, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica and Palaeontologia Electronica are at the top of the list.
- Best Glamour Magazine: Science, by a long-shot. With the high impact factor that authors crave, and the low download fee and eventual open access that readers love, this journal has the entire package. PNAS is a very close runner-up.
**I would also note that by "readers", I am referring to all possible readers, not just those with society memberships or at institutions with well-stocked electronic libraries.
So Now What?
Vote with your manuscript submissions. Submit only to journals whose policies benefit you. Encourage journals with non-friendly policies to change them. Although it may be tough to change strictly for-profit journals, we may be able to make a difference with society publications. Speak up. Blog about it. Talk to your colleagues. Ask the hard questions of the people who make the decisions. Make a noise at the annual meetings. Let's even the publishing playing field!
Update: Heinrich Mallison posted a nice response to the selection of Palaeontologia Electronica as one of the "best all-around journals" for paleontology, over at their official blog.
What are your thoughts? Weigh in with your own nominations for best/worst, or any additional opinions, in the comment section!