On December 31 2013 I posted my New Year’s resolution: to only review manuscripts from open access or learned society journals.
My reasoning was that open access will only be the norm if we stop giving that which is most precious, our time, to closed access journals. I really think the wider community needs to start to be selective in reviewing. It is far easier to implement than the radical re-alignment of library journal subscriptions.
A few events have strengthened my resolve. The most recent is the ongoing saga of stripy nanoparticles. The second paper to demonstrate that the claim for stripes on nanoparticles is a case of what Langmuir termed Pathological Science
was posted on ArXiv as a preprint and submitted to PLOSone. A few hundred days later (!) the paper is accepted for publication and then the bombshell, which Philip Moriarty describes in detail in a comment at PubPeer. In essence, the necessity of attributing the source of data published in a closed access journal, when undertaking a re-analysis that is being published in an open access journal means that you cannot.
A perfect Catch-22.
You cannot show previously published data, properly attributed in an open access journal if those data were published in a closed access journal. This at least is the stance of Wiley. Tellingly, the Royal Society of Chemistry, a Learned Society, have waived their rights and given the OK.
This highlights a major difference between the traditional publishers. The Learned Societies are there to promote science. Their profits go back into science, from funding outreach, activities in schools, to conferences and subsidising the attendance of those with shallow pockets, such as graduate students. Their interest in science is also demonstrated by the fact that many Learned Societies have gone to the trouble and expense of putting their entire back catalogue online (and open access too). We must support them, they are us. The private corporations that control much of the science publishing market are only interested in profit and market. Science is a commodity. You are a commodity. You give your time for free. Wow!
This does raise an interesting question regarding open access publishers such as PLOS. As they become established, I would like them to evolve into full members of the community, rather than profit making enterprises, even if they are technically “not for profit”. However, give them time, the fight to open access is far from won.
Another interesting feature is that Philip Moriarty has placed reviews of the paper on PubPeer, with the permission of the reviewers. These really nail the fact that stripy nanoparticles, which apparently have found their way into textbooks, are Pathological Science. As Dirk Gently put it “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands”.
Indeed, though ducks seem to breed, like, well ducks, for example here.
Reviews seem to be slowly rising out of the darkness into the daylight. The reviews of the STAP cells have now been made public, though it is not clear if this was done with the agreement of the reviewers (here and here)
What these reviews make crystal clear is the degree of corruption at Nature and that you and your science are a mere commodity on the back of which sales and profits are made. Other glam journals may be better, but only by degree.
A final example is a comment made by Mikael Käll, from Chalmers University of Technology, in a PubPeer thread regarding a nanoparticle paper (nothing to do with stripes) for which he had written a NPG “News and Views“. What is most telling is that NPG have yet to publish anything regarding the thrust of the critique in Mikael Käll’s News and Views piece. It is of course not in their interests and never will be. After all, as the STAP cell claims unravelled, we were assured from the bridge of NPG that all was well with the review and editorial process. We now know that this is not the case.
You are free to publish where you wish and to accept requests to review manuscripts from any publisher. But, before you press “accept” in the e-mail from the publisher, consider: it is your future that you are defining every time you accept to give your time away for free to an organisation that considers you to be a commodity, regardless of the glamour of the occasion.
I suggest that it is in your interests to give your time to those who are likely to reciprocate to others in the community, open access and learned society journals.
Update 25 September 2014
Paul Jump has written a good articleon this matter in the THE