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What people were talking about at spring OA conferences

open Access

by Shaun Evans and Gearoid Faolean

We recently attended major conferences in the Physics and Geosciences fields (APS and EGU, respectively) as press delegates. This blog is simply intended as a short point-by-point discussion of the major issues and discussion points which arose at these conferences and which would seem to represent key concerns regarding open-access publishing in the first half of 2015.


Lax review process

This is a huge concern for many authors, and is linked to the reality of “predatory” open-access publishing. The key issue is that, in order to maximize rapid profit, some Gold Open Access journals are accepting and subsequently publishing any manuscripts that are submitted to them. There is no real oversight in the review process and the quality of the research or findings presented in the papers is suspect as authors are only charged article processing fees (APCs) when their paper is accepted for publication.

Big Deal status

The emergence of quality open-access journals has threatened the dominance of the traditional “Big Four” academic publishing houses: Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, Taylor & Francis. The negotiating power of libraries and institutions with regards to subscriptions and “bundles” was virtually zero during the heyday of this dominance. In recent years, each of the four publishers have sought to adapt to one extent or other to the challenge posed by open-access publishers; hybrid journals seem to be the principal solution, albeit likely unsustainable in the long-term (see below). The long-running and very public clash between the unified Dutch institutions and Elsevier – tied as it is to Dutch open-access aspirations – will indicate just how weakened the Big Four have become due to the rise of open-access.


Many of the more enthusiastic proponents of open-access are suspicious of, if not outright hostile to, Impact Factors (IF) and the “impact game“. A number of newer, dynamic publishers have sought alternative ways of measuring the worth and impact of papers through alt-metrics – for example, by measuring downloads, views and presence on social media. Alt-metrics can also include further information on article readership such as gender, age, region and field of interest; this is the case with all Frontiers papers. Of course, alt-metrics alone are not indicative of the worth of a paper and are open to “gaming” themselves. However, as many disciplines feel they can move further away from IF demands, alt-metrics will likely improve and adapt to meet the growing demand for an alternative.

Hybrid justification

At a recent debate at EGU15 (European Geosciences Union), an audience member asked the Wiley and Springer representatives about the justification behind hybrid open-access journals. These publications offer authors the option of having their paper published the traditional way (behind a paywall, accessible through subscription only) or open-access, for a fee. Some of these journals enforce page and colour charges as standard, thus the open-access option entails a supplementary fee (averaging $1,500-3,000). The discussion did not seem to end to anybody’s satisfaction, with no tangible justification being provided.

APS March Meeting 2015

Open Access publication was discussed within the larger context of the peer review process, at an invited session entitled “Why Peer Review”, 4 speakers covering topics largely from the perspective of the traditional publication models presented talks titled:

“There is no I in referee: Why referees should be anonymous”

“Validity, not dissemination”

“Peer-review: An IOP Publishing Perspective”

“Inside Nature”

Specifics of the talks themselves will not be discussed here, instead the points and perceptions of the speakers and audience relating to Open Access publication are presented.

Lax Reviews:

Legitimate journals ensure that each received manuscript is peer reviewed according to the expected levels of rigor by the community, with (for Gold Open Access publishers) Article Processing charges being imposed upon successful completion of the peer review (acceptance of manuscript for publication). “Predatory Open Access” journals typically accept, without evidence of a through peer-review, articles submitted whilst demanding article processing charges.

Focus on Alt-Metrics

An appreciation for the problems surrounding the Impact Factor, and by association, the metrics by which scientists are assessed (h-index) seemed prevalent at the session. The requirement for a scientist to publish in a Journal with an Impact Factor (with higher impact factor journals classed as more prestigious; specific problems relating to these journals were raised concerning their Open Access Publication charges) to further their careers was noted as not being inline with societal and Funding Body requirements for public access to publically funded research.

Noted in particular was the push of wholly Open Access journals towards using alternative metrics to assess a paper’s influence within the community (typically aggregated “page view”, “pdf download” and “social media shares”). From the comments raised, these seemed to be viewed as vanity statistics, as opposed to being directly useful for scientists. Specific mention of these not being considered by employers as a useful metric. Article citation data, not always presented in open access journals, is instead viewed as a more reliable resource. Frontiers has recently implemented citation data for each of our manuscript, visible on the “Impact” page of each manuscript.


Profiteering was raised as a concern on two fronts, from the wholly open access journals (Gold OA), with whom there is a large, and often unexplained variation in fees between different publishers; and from the hybrid-OA journals (Open Access option, in the largely traditional, subscription based journals).

Specific mention of the Open Access fees being exorbitant for the hybrid-OA, traditional journals (specific mention of high impact journals was made, with “supplementary fees” noted in the 5000USD range). Audience members raised specific objections to these fees, accusing such companies of profiteering, and deliberately attempting to hold back Open Access in the process. Panellists noted researchers have a choice in publication outlet, although, with external pressures pushing towards Open Access and requiring in cases IF journals, their response was not met well.

The variation in price of the fully open-access journals available was met with suspicion on many fronts, does higher price imply higher quality? What is the justification for fees in the first place? Each Open Access journal should justify the rationale for their fees, and provide this in a public forum (such as on their website). Correlation between price and quality was not discussed, inferring from the traditional publishers comments would suggest a direct correlation between price and quality, the reality is much more nuanced.

Odd “supplementary charges” which bear little relevance to the current digital publication paradigm were raised by audience members as examples of profiteering: colour figure charges being the most contentious.

Quality of Service

Concerns were expressed regarding the business model of Open Access journals, with the perception Open Access journals operate on tight margins (or do not re-invest APCs), which in turn means highly automated systems with few staff-members to assist authors and reviewers.

Frontiers operates with a large Editorial Staff to assist our users; combined with a large development team to ensure we continue to innovate and respond to the needs of our user-base.

Volume of new open access journals/legitimacy

Specific comments regarding the volume of Open Access journals being launched globally were made, some of which prey upon scientists in a predatory fashion. Reference to a pertinent question (paraphrased): “how can researchers determine if an Open Access journal is legitimate?” (and associated “I’ve submitted to an Open Access journal before, had a bad experience with little/no evidence of peer review, just demands for payment. I will think seriously hard about submitting to a new journal”.

Assessing the legitimacy of an open access journal can be a difficult task, more-so when the journal has recently been launched and does not have many manuscripts published or developed a reputation among the community.  An important resource to note for determining if an open access journal is legitimate is:

Directory of Open Access Journals (

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