What is your opinion on "open source" online journals?

I received an e-mail from a Journal the other day:

I look up the Journal and see nothing about Indexing (ie., on PubMed) but there is a very clear cost to the author of $1200+ for publishing costs.

Am I missing something? How can anyone take this seriously? Why publish in an online journal that charges you? Is this a “faux” peer-review process for folks who would otherwise not get published? Would you rely on the results of articles published in these journals as “valid” scientific findings?

FWIW, I e-mailed the Editors:

I will post any replies I get from them but was curious what other Dopers thought.


Step 1. Pay diploma mill for fake degree
Step 2. Pay fake journal to fake publish fake research paper
Step 3. Sell homeopathic cure for fibromyalgia on late-night cable
Step 4. Profit
Step 5. Get fined by the FTC for false advertising claims
Step 6. Write a bestselling book about how “they” are oppressing you with their evil oppression.
Step 7. Profit!

I don’t know about the journal in the OP, but the Public Library of Science (PLoS) publishes several peer-reviewed journals under the Open Access model: authors pay, readers see it for free. I’ll emphasize again that these are truly peer-reviewed journals. They will not simply publish any paper by anyone who has the money. The papers published are high-quality and the journals are quite well-regarded. And, yes, they’re indexed in PubMed.

Yes, open access journals are respectable. That doesn’t mean that the one soliciting you is, but it’s just another publishing model. Open access has nothing to do with the presence or absence of peer review, indexing, impact, etc.

You’d want to check out the specific journal you’re considering, but open access publishing is generally as scientifically reliable and respectable as traditionally published articles. The cost you’re seeing is not because it’s a vanity press, but because there’s absolutely no cost to any readers. However, the money for reviewing etc. still has to come from somewhere, and this business model has it coming from authors. The general idea is that the request for publishing money would be written into your grant proposals.

And it’s true that you’re paying $1200 to get your paper published, but it’s not true that publishing in a traditional journal does not cost you anything. The system currently in place for most academic publishing relies on an outdated model in which for-profit publishers skim public money off research and then turn around and restrict public access to it based solely on what the market will bear. The cost to all of us is money, lack of information, and stalled progress in research. Furthermore, copyright for OA articles is retained by the author, unlike traditionally published articles.

Open access is an attempt to democratize the flow of information. Currently individuals, small organizations, and poorer countries have restricted or no access to current research, especially in fields such as medicine, because the costs of journals are just so damn high.

Full disclosure: I did my master’s work on open access publishing and how it can help ease the chokehold that a small group of for-profit publishers currently have on the academic publishing market. I also work in academic publishing, so this is a particularly hot issue for us right now.

This is an interesting letter from a journal editor who quit traditional publishing to start an OA journal, which is doing well several years out. It’s a bit emotional, but then so is the whole issue of publication.

I can provide further cites and references if you like, but I fear I’ve gone on at too much length already.

Not at all… I find this informative, interesting, and quite educating.

If you knew what your university library was paying for journals from companies like Elsevier, you’d crap your pants. Unfortunately, you don’t know, and won’t, because part of the Big Deal is that those numbers are secret. It’s killing libraries, serials collections, and research, though, and there’s not much way out - what, don’t pay? Lose accreditation? The fact is, Harvard is always going to find the cash to pay. So who gets screwed is the little guys and the states trying to maintain a viable research collection, which is getting harder and harder. Of course, cost is just a part of it - when you take the Big Deal and just get whatever they want to sell you, you lose collection development, you lose the ability to decide if you want to choose online access over text, etc. When they tell you or strongarm you into taking online access over text you also lose archival control, you could buy a journal for fifty years and then they drop it from their product and you lose your backfile, etc. It’s a huge issue.

Luckily, I’m a serials librarian in a public library, so I get to go to conferences and tell people, “Oh, yeah, we just picked up four new titles.” Mean? Yes, but it’s kinda fun.

Exactly. Even in some Nature journals and Cell it’s pay-to-publish at around $1,000 an article. That’s why you’ll often see that little note about, “for this reason, and this reason alone, this article is marked, ‘Advertisement’.”

They charge by the number of pages and even charge extra for color. That’s why sometimes you have those crappy print versions where half the charts (the complex) ones are in color and the rest are in black and white, because the author just didn’t want to pay for it.

In fact I believe that Elsevier has recently been facing anti-trust scrutiny from EU regulators.

If you think about it, they did have a hell of a business model, charging us exorbinate amounts of money for the work-product of academics that have to take the money out of their own fund to publish. I’ll be happy to see it dismantled by a more effecient open-source model as some of those journals like the PLoS ones gain momentum and impact factor.

The open access debate is a big one now at the minute in scientific publishing, albeit one I’ve not been following closely. I’d be interested to hear the open access argument articulated as I don’t understand how it can work. Scientific journals are starkly demarcated in terms of their prestige and quality, with the number of papers published in top journals being the prime determinant for an academic’s career success. I don’t see how this entire edifice can be under any threat from ‘open source’ repositories of papers - which academic in their right mind is going to say -

‘we’ve got this exciting, genuinely new piece of work that’s taken us years to perfect. I don’t think I’ll submit it to the Journal of the American Chemical Society - a 120 year old publication read by every chemistry PI on planet earth, featuring an armour-plated peer-review system that maintains very, very high standards of science, published by a national chemical society that pulls its weight in the chemistry community. No, what I’ll do is send it to the open source chemistry ejournal I read about in an email the other day’.

If a PI did that they would deserve to get sued for malpractice from their co-investigators.

There’s clearly an argument to be made for research funded through tax payers money at the NIH and similar institutions being made freely available to the public. I think it’s true (I should check) that all American Chemical Society (ACS) journals make their papers freely available one year after publication as a nod to open access. This sounds like a reasonable compromise, the scientists don’t have to deal with dodgy journals and the research gets (eventually) disseminated along open access lines.

Is there an argument for the general public needing to see scientific research in a timely fashion, ie before the one year period is up?

What’s a PI? (Don’t say “the ratio of a circle’s diameter to its circumference.”)

Primary Investigator (head honcho of the lab)

The open source ones will get big the same way the old ones got big, little by little. No, I wouldn’t peg my entire career on an article published in an upstart journal, but most papers are not career-defining groundbreaking pieces of work. They’re papers that got bounced around for 6 months at a bigger journal who said, “maybe, try a rewrite,” then, “thanks, but no thanks.” So, like anything else, you shop it around until it does get published, and there’s no reason not to go for an open-source journal.

These open-source journals will still live or die by their ability to effectively peer review articles, but PLoS Medicine is no joke, and it’s certainly higher in impact factor and prestige than many long-standing mid-tier journals out there.

Also, the general public needing to access the literature? Hell, I need to access the literature. I have journal access via a fairly large academic medical center, and still probably 20-30% of the articles that I want I have trouble accessing. Again, the cost structure for the traditional journals have gotten absurd, and if publishing in an open-source journal gets you an extra 30% more readers an an extra 10% more citations, you’d be a fool not to publish in an open-source journal. So, they won’t vault to take over Nature, Science, or PNAS overnight, but there is no reason they couldn’t become very important players in the science scene in short order.