Thursday, September 15, 2011

Paleontology Journals - Cheers and Jeers

In my previous post, I introduced a compilation of data concerning various journals relevant to paleontologists. The data, which are freely available in Google Spreadsheet, Excel and HTML form, detail costs to readers, costs to authors, and more. In this post, I want to outline my personal opinions on the journals that I surveyed. Which have good policies for authors and readers, and which need some work? The answers may surprise you; they certainly surprised me. Some of the best-known journals in the field are not necessarily the best for those who need to use them.

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.

Cheers to:
  • 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.
Jeers to:
  • 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.
Top contenders in various categories:
  • 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 note that PaleoBios may be making some additional changes to propel themselves into the "best all-around journal" category; details will be added when available.
**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!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Paleontology Journals - Policies, Costs, and Accessibility

When preparing to submit a paper for publication, journal choice is critical. Numerous factors play into the decision (distribution, audience, accessibility, and cost, just to name a few), as has been outlined in wonderful detail elsewhere. As I advance in my own research career, publisher behavior has become more important to me. Does the publisher of the journal to which I am submitting my manuscript conduct its business in a manner consistent with my own personal ethics? Who will have access to my research, and how much will it cost them? This is a tough question to sort out, and in reality there are no perfect players. However, in order to make this decision just a little easier, I assembled data about a number of journals relevant to my own research program.

The full data are posted on a freely-accessible Google spreadsheet, and this post explains each of the categories I recorded. Although I have a personal bias towards open access, I have attempted to present the data in the spreadsheet without commentary. Every person will have his or her own opinion about which factors matter most to him or her. In a follow-up post, I will provide my own opinions on which journals are "best". For now, please make up your own mind.

  • Title: self explanatory
  • Publisher / Distributor: This category indicates which organization distributes the journal; this may be the same as the sponsor of the journal, or the work may be contracted to an outside organization.
  • Publisher Status: Is the publisher a non-profit or for-profit entity? Some non-profit organizations publish their journals with a for-profit publisher, and some journals are purely non-profit or for-profit.
  • Sponsor: As alluded to above, some journals are ultimately coordinated by a scientific society. I understand that some scientific societies receive a portion of the profits from the for-profit publishers, so a journal published by a for-profit entity may not always be a net loss for scientific funding. However, I would caution that no data are available on what percentage of revenue actually reverts to societies.
  • OA (Open Access) Default: Some journals automatically post all articles as open access (either immediately or with a delay; indicated as "Yes" on the spreadsheet). Others have open access options only if the authors pay an extra fee (indicated as "No" on the spreadsheet).
  • Time to OA: Some OA journals (e.g., PNAS) have closed access for a set period of time (usually one year), and then automatically open the archives.
  • OA Fee & OA Fee Waiver: Most journals, even those that are not entirely OA, require a fee for open access. The fee varies from free (e.g., Acta Palaeontologica Polonica) to $3,250 (Historical Biology). In some cases (e.g., PLoS ONE) a fee waiver is available. For delayed OA journals (e.g., PNAS), the fee allows immediate OA posting of the article, rather than free OA after a set amount of time.
  • Download Fee: Delayed OA or non-OA journals require that non-subscribers (or those who do not have institutional access) pay a per-article charge. Within paleontology-focused journals, the cheapest is Journal of Paleontology ($12), and the most expensive are Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and Historical Biology ($41).
  • Free Supplementary Data: Increasingly, authors rely on supplementary data to publish and disseminate the measurements, cladistic tables, etc., supporting their papers. Most journals allow non-subscribers to access supplementary data; others (e.g., JVP and Cretaceous Research) require purchase of the entire article (even if the user already has obtained a legal copy as a physical reprint or PDF from the author).
  • IF: The "Impact Factor", the most "standard" (if opaque) form of which is calculated by Thomson Reuters, is a measure of the extent to which the articles within a journal are cited. Although this metric is often criticized, it is still an important consideration for many authors, and is thus included here.
  • Primarily Paleo?: In assembling this list, not all of the included journals are strictly paleontology-focused (e.g., Proceedings B, Nature). However, because they frequently include paleontology content, I felt it useful to include them.
  • Author Rights: Publishers vary greatly in the rights that are left in the hands of the authors. Although copyright issues are certainly important (i.e., whether the copyright remains with the author, or is transferred to a commercial publisher or professional society), here I focused on what the authors are allowed to do with their own work in the context of a personal (or institutional) web page. In some cases, the authors may post the final published PDF; in others, the authors may only post the unformatted text. In the most restrictive case (as mandated by the journal Geology), authors are not allowed to post any version of the article.
All information was drawn from the official web pages for the various journals; any errors are unintentional but possible, due either to my own misinterpretation or updated journal policies. If you find any mistakes, please let me know, and I will do my best to correct them. This list is not intended to be exhaustive by any means; instead, it focuses on the journals of most personal interest.

See the Data:
To view the spreadsheet, you can see the freely-available Google Spreadsheet, or an Excel spreadsheet, or this web page.

Coming up: Which journals do I think deserve applause for their policies?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The OSP on Twitter

For the past few months, I have begun to switch much of my regular on-line communication to Twitter. Like this blog, my Twitter feed (@andyfarke) covers open access issues, recent paleontological discoveries, and the like. I am a bit of a late adopter, but have to say that I'm generally finding it quite useful. If you're not a Twitterhead, you can read the most recent posts in the blog sidebar.

Upcoming post: A survey of open access policies, OA fees, data availability, and the like for many major paleontological journals.

Friday, September 2, 2011

How do you read the literature? Thoughts on academic maturation

How much should you trust the scientific literature? Reflecting on my own academic maturation, as well as observing on-line discussions of dinosaur paleontology for over 15 years (yikes, I'm getting old!), I have concluded that most of us pass through three stages: 1) Credulity; 2) Cynicism; and 3) Maturity.

This is inevitably one's first stop on the journey through the scientific literature: accepting everything that's published at face value. Credulity is also paired with the assumption that the most recent publication must be the most conclusive. For instance, let's say Dr. X described a new species in 2001. Dr. Y published a new paper in 2010, saying that the new species is invalid. Dr. Y must be correct, because she had the last word, right?

Another symptom of this stage is fanboy(girl)-ism. Anything published by Dr. Glamour is the bee's knees (it's widely featured in the news media, so it must be true)! Wow, Dr. Glamour published a new theory on the dinosaur extinction - it will revolutionize the science! Any nay-sayers are just jealous, or afraid of change.

I hit this stage during high school and college.

Suddenly, everything comes crashing down. You talk to another paleontologist, who tells you that Dr. Glamour's work isn't actually that highly regarded. Maybe he has a reputation for massaging his data just a little too much, or conveniently omits contradictory evidence in his papers. Then you find out that Dr. Z has just published a paper saying that Dr. X was actually correct in the first place, and Dr. Y's synonymization was a little too hasty. Your obvious conclusion: the scientific literature is untrustworthy. Everything ever written is a steaming pile of unreliable ramblings.

Most people don't go through a full-blown case of cynicism, of course. Usually we just get an incomplete case. Everything written by Dr. Glamour (but only some of the stuff by Dr. Y) is untrustworthy, etc. A related syndrome focuses on the methodology; a paper is considered horrible because it used or didn't use a particular technique.

I hit this stage between the end of my undergrad and the early to middle parts of my graduate career.

Most of us reach this stage only after a lengthy amount of time in the field (or the end of our graduate student career). Our BS detectors are honed to an appropriate level, and we accept that many of the papers out there aren't half-bad, and a minor mistake or two isn't enough to relegate research to the dustbin.

For my part, I still occasionally waver between cynicism and maturity; I might cast an exceptionally suspicious eye on research coming from certain researchers or using certain techniques (even if it's not necessarily warranted). Maybe I even have a little credulity at first, if it's a technique or area of science I'm not yet completely familiar with. At the same time, having been around the block a few times as a scientist, I am a little more understanding when it comes to the perceived shortcomings of a paper. As long as the basic science is still good, live and let live. A paper can have a fantastic morphological description, but a pretty weak discussion. With a little practice reading the literature, it's becoming easier and easier to pick up on the high and low points of a publication.

Summing it up
We all relate to the academic literature in different ways, depending on our life experience, scientific goals, and "academic maturity." It's up to us - with the help of trusted friends and colleagues - to continually work to improve our own approaches.