Journalology #33: Value

Published 11 months ago • 21 min read

Hello fellow journalologists,

This week cOAlition S announced that ​68% of transformative journals would be removed from Plan S​. The news was unsurprising to many in scholarly publishing as the targets were ambitious. I’ve written a story for The Brief on the announcement, which will be sent to subscribers this week (you can sign up to The Brief ​here​).

Those of you who follow me on LinkedIn may have seen two posts about the Nature journals’ transition to open access. I wrote them mainly because Robert Kiley’s cOAlition S announcement entirely failed to mention one of the positive news stories from the transformative journals programme, which was that 35 of the 36 Nature journals met their targets. I felt the need fill in the gaps.

The Nature journals started to offer an open access (OA) option from January 2021. I was VP of the Nature journals at the time. I can’t claim that the decision to move to an OA model was mine — that decision was made higher up the management chain — but modelling the likely effects and then implementing the transition formed a large part of my responsibilities back then.

Leaving an organisation is hard on a number of levels. I miss working with friends and former colleagues (you know who you are), but I also miss being privy to observing, first hand, how the OA transition has gone. I haven’t seen the Nature journals' management reports for about 18 months now and so I’ve lost track of how the journals are doing.

As a result, I was excited to see the cOAlition S data this week because it provided me with a window on OA uptake across a wide range of different journals, including the Nature journals and their main competitors at Cell Press.

Despite the high APC, authors are increasingly choosing to publish OA in the Nature journals. For example, here’s the proportion of research papers that were published OA on some of the fastest transitioning journals:

  • Nature Medicine 59% OA (up from 23% in 2021)
  • Nature Microbiology 44% OA (up from 27% in 2021)
  • Nature Cardiovascular Research 39% OA (new journal)
  • Nature Biotechnology 39% OA (up from 19% in 2021)
  • Nature Cancer 39% OA (up from 13% in 2021)
  • Nature 36% OA (up from 15% in 2021)

The Cell Press journals had mixed results. Half of their portfolio has been delisted, despite all of those journals increasing the proportion of OA content. The following Cell Press journals keep their TJ status for another year:

  • Cell 31% OA (up from 18%)
  • Cell Host and Microbe 30% OA (up from 11%)
  • Developmental Cell 25% OA (up from 10%)
  • Neuron 22% OA (up from 16%)
  • Immunity 22% (up from 12%)
  • Cancer Cell (20% up from 4%)

The following Cell Press journals have had their TJ status removed because they missed their targets (N.B. all of them increased their proportion of OA content year-on-year, just not enough to keep Plan S happy):

  • Cell Systems 24% (up from 20%)
  • Molecular Cell 22% (up from 15%)
  • Cell Stem Cell 19% (up from 14%)
  • Structure 18% (up from 12%)
  • Cell Chemical Biology 12% (up from 11%)
  • Cell Metabolism 12% (up from 7%)

If a journal charges a high APC then its authors need to receive a superior service, both before and after publication. In that regard, the most interesting part of the cOAlition S dataset are the metrics on usage. Based on these new data a case can be made that the Nature journals’ APC of $11,690 represents excellent value for money.

The average OA usage for a Nature article in 2022 was 39,186 article views. The median OA usage across the 2,326 cOAlition S transformative journals was 1287 article views. So each Nature article generated, on average, 30 times more OA usage than the median journal in the data set.

Is it better to pay $11,690 and receive 39k article views or pay $3000 (say) and receive 1300 article views? Is 30 times the usage worth paying 4 times the median price?

The cost per ‘article view’ for a Nature OA research paper was $0.3 (the cost for an ‘average’ journal is probably around $2).

(Yes, this is an over-simplification because some APCs will have been waived and the revenue per article is probably different from the list APC because of currency exchange rate effects)

The usage distribution is highly skewed, with the vast majority (86%) of journals generating less than 2000 views per OA article. Only 69 of the journals generated more than 5000 article views, on average, for their OA content.

The cOAlition S data also include the usage of the articles published under the subscription model. As you would expect, open access papers got more article views. The median ratio of OA to subscription views was 3.7. In other words, OA articles got viewed nearly 4 times as much as subscription articles.

However, there was a great deal of variability between journals. For example, the ratio for Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) was 1.6. This is entirely to be expected. Established journals have deep site license penetration. Most universities with chemistry departments will subscribe to JACS, so the “OA advantage” of publishing there is less than on a journal that has very low institutional site license penetration. For example, the ratio on Aerotecnica Missili & Spazio, a Springer Nature journal, was 15.4, presumably because relatively few institutions subscribe to that journal so publishing OA is a significant advantage in terms of garnering additional article views.

It’s also possible to compare average OA usage for competitor journals. For example:

Another way to consider the cOAlition S data set is by looking at total OA usage for each journal. Nature (the flagship) published 386 articles OA in 2022, so the total OA usage for Nature was 15.1 million article views. Between them, the 2,326 transformative journals in the cOAlition S data set generated 121 million article views for their OA content. So Nature, one journal, contributed 12.5% of the total OA downloads. The other 2,325 journals contributed the remaining 87.5%.

The 36 journals from the Nature Portfolio produced 31.8 million OA article views, 26% of the total OA usage for the 2,326 transformative journals. But it’s not just the Nature journals that are providing value. The top 116 journals (top 5%) in the cohort (sorted by total OA usage) generated 52% of the OA article views (and published 28% of the OA articles in the cohort).

High APCs are understandably criticised — they are deeply problematic from an equity point of view. However, the costs of producing selective journals with in-house editors are considerable. I obviously can’t divulge the specifics, suffice to say that there were 500 editors, journalists and publishers in my old team, all of whom were salaried members of staff. Those people are the main reason why the Nature journals have been so successful over the years. They may not be the top professors in their field, but they work tirelessly on their journals and care deeply about their communities. They also represent a significant financial overhead, especially when you consider that staff working in Production, Finance, Legal, HR, IT, etc. are also needed to support them.

Value for money is an important consideration and needs to be discussed more openly. Authors and funders should have better visibility of cost per ‘article view’ for OA articles using Project COUNTER metrics. The new cOAlition S data set is the first time we’ve been able to compare usage between journals from multiple publishers (although it’s not entirely clear whether all publishers used the same reporting format, so we could be comparing apples with pears).

Unfortunately, the data set does not include the APC price for each of the journals. In an ideal world there would be a central (open!) database that listed the price and usage of every scholarly journal. That way authors and funders would have complete transparency and would be able to weigh up whether an APC represents good value for money or not.

In previous newsletters I’ve argued that journals FILTER, ENHANCE, and AMPLIFY. The term ‘article processing charge’ suggests that the value they provide is in the processing, but good journals do far more than simply process the papers. They also convene communities and showcase the best research to them. The likes of Nature, Science, Cell, NEJM, The Lancet and JAMA are superb at AMPLIFY and that’s where much of their value lies. Academics want to publish in those journals because it helps their career, but they also want their work to be read. Specialty journals, like JACS, are important for the same reason; academics want to publish in them because they know their work will be noticed and read by their peers.

The cOAlition S data can be downloaded here. I’ve uploaded my analysis of that data set here. I haven’t spent time making the Excel file look pretty, so it may be difficult to follow; however, I thought I’d share it in case it’s helpful to someone.


Taylor & Francis Reports 'Accelerating Open Access in the UK

The Plan S program based in Strasbourg has issued a report with a topline outcome reading, “It is clearly disappointing that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the journals in the ‘transformative journals’ program [from 16 transformative agreement publishers] failed to meet their open-access growth targets” in calendar year 2022… Also this week, however, Taylor & Francis has a more upbeat report—albeit looking at a different sample and contextual framework within its own purview of operation. The Taylor & Francis report cites “significant acceleration of humanities and social-sciences open-access” in the United Kingdom.

Publishing Perspectives (Porter Anderson)

IOP Publishing extends co-review policy to entire owned journal portfolio, delivering a collaborative and supportive experience for all reviewers

IOP Publishing (IOPP) is rolling-out a new co-review policy across its entire owned journal portfolio as part of its commitment to ensuring an inclusive and supportive review process. Early career researchers (ECRs) often support more experienced academics by contributing ideas or comments to peer review reports. Yet, according to a survey, 70% of ECRs say that their name was withheld from the editorial staff after they served as a reviewer or co-reviewer on a report, and they received no official recognition for their work. IOPP’s co-review policy, which follows an initial trial across three journals, means that reviewers can formally invite a colleague to collaborate with them. By legitimising the co-review practice, ECRs gain hands-on peer review experience, guidance from a mentor and credit for their contributions. It also helps to expand the reviewer pool and provides experienced reviewers with the opportunity to support aspiring researchers while helping to alleviate their reviewing pressures.

IOP Publishing press release

See also: IOPP extends co-review policy to all owned journals and IOPP's explainer video.

New ScioWire Widget: the short-cut to research teasers

ScioWire offers newsfeeds, made up of structured summaries, that are designed to augment the discovery capabilities of knowledge economy professionals. They draw an audience’s attention to key aspects of the original research, yielding much faster access to its core discoveries than the full-text article and a more complete view than the abstract alone.

SciencePod announcement

MDPI appoints Stefan Tochev as new CEO

In this new role as MDPI’s Chief Executive Officer, Stefan's primary focus will be on supporting the company’s growth and continuing to build the globally recognized MDPI brand. He will employ his transparent and effective leadership communication style to foster engagement with the company and its philosophy. Stefan will report to Dr. Lin and will collaborate closely with MDPI’s senior management in making major decisions. With his proactive approach and dedication, he will play a pivotal role in promoting MDPI's work and enhancing the company’s visibility as a globally trusted publisher and leader in Open Access publishing. While stepping aside from the CEO position and focusing on his role as Chairman of the Board of MDPI, Dr. Lin will continue to provide mentorship to the senior management team.

MDPI announcement

Oxford University Press and Geological Society of London go live with GetFTR

Get Full Text Research (GetFTR) is delighted to welcome two prestigious publishing organizations as new partners… OUP will include its books as well as journals in the GetFTR service and would like to ask all discovery services using GetFTR to send entitlement checks for both content types so they can quickly direct readers to content they are entitled to read… The Geological Society of London benefitted from GetFTR’s Free Tier service which waives the subscription fees for publishers with less than 40,000 DOIs registered with Crossref and working with Atypon, Silverchair or PubFactory as their platform provider.

GetFTR press release

Atlas of biomedical literature could help track down fabricated studies

A new, publicly available atlas of biomedical papers, reported on the preprint server bioRxiv, maps the relationships between nearly 21 million articles, providing a “bird’s-eye view” of the literature. If kept up to date, it could help scientific sleuths identify patterns and trends that are otherwise difficult for humans to trace... To create the atlas, Kobak’s team downloaded the abstracts of nearly 21 million English-language articles from the PubMed search engine. The team then used an AI large language model known as PubMedBERT to sort the abstracts by similarity. The model looked for scientific terms within each abstract and interpreted their meaning according to the surrounding text.

Science (Kamal Nahas)

The preprint can be read here: The landscape of biomedical research

ORCID support for RINGGOLD organization IDs ending

RINGGOLD have opted to not renew their partnership agreement with ORCID that was first signed in 2013. As RINGGOLD is a proprietary identifier, this effectively discontinues the availability of updated RINGGOLD data in the ORCID registry, and as a result, the RINGGOLD data we hold will slowly become increasingly stale.It is of the utmost importance to ORCID that we uphold the trustworthiness, integrity, and persistence of our Registry data. So with this change, we will continue the work we started in 2021 to adopt ROR as our core organization identifier. By partnering with community-led PID providers like ROR, we can ensur e that the data in the ORCID Registry remains FAIR and open, able to be freely exchanged with other systems throughout the research ecosystem without restriction. This way, we can maximize the value of ORCID to the broad research community, honor our values of inclusivity, trust, and openness, and get closer to our vision of connecting researchers with their research, across disciplines, borders, and time.

ORCID announcement

From simple metrics to transformative intelligence: Unleashing the power of visual research profiles

There are an increasingly wide range of descriptive profiles now available for the more than 21,000 journals indexed in the Web of Science, expanding the information in the annual Journal Citation Reports™ beyond the well-established Journal Impact Factor™. In this report we explore the indicator of national orientation (INO) which can be calculated using the addresses of researchers publishing in and those citing a journal. This indicator offers new perspectives on the role, content and significance of journals, and better informs researchers about the optimal venues for their papers.

Clarivate (Jonathan Adams)

This blog post relates to a report that Clarivate released: Clarivate Report Urges Shift from Single Metrics to Visual Research Profiles

Journal of Electronic Imaging to retract nearly 80 papers following investigation into peer review fraud

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and IS&T, the Society for Imaging Science and Technology, which co-publish the Journal of Electronic Imaging (JEI), jointly announce the retraction of nearly 80 papers published in the journal due to compromised peer review. These papers were all originally published in special sections overseen by guest editors between 2021 and 2023. Twenty retractions will take place this week, and dozens are expected to follow in the coming months.

SPIE (press release)

Welcoming two new journals to the PLOS portfolio: PLOS Mental Health and PLOS Complex Systems

We see new journals as an opportunity to give evolving research communities opportunities to forge a new path for research in the field. Whether that means welcoming new ways of sharing research transparently, or cementing new policies that enable research to be evaluated and rewarded more fairly, or simply finding a broader audience where research can make a greater real-world impact.

The Official PLOS Blog (press release)

JB: I don’t normally include press releases announcing new journals (this newsletter would be even longer if I did). This is noteworthy because it’s a good example of how medium sized publishers, like PLOS, are expanding their portfolio to improve their financial position. See issue 27 for a deeper analysis.

Wiley Reports Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2023 Results

Fourth Quarter Revenue of $280 million was down 6%, or 5% at constant currency mainly due to the Hindawi publishing disruption and macroeconomic headwinds impacting our corporate offerings. As discussed in the third quarter, Hindawi’s special issues program was suspended due to the presence in certain special issues of compromised articles. To date, Wiley has closed four Hindawi journals and retracted over 1,700 articles. Full Year Revenue of $1,080 million was down 3% as reported, or flat at constant currency. Fourth Quarter Adjusted EBITDA of $106 million was up 4% at constant currency on cost savings initiatives and lower employee costs. Full Year Adjusted EBITDA of $377 million was down 2% at constant currency mainly driven by investments to scale publishing and solutions partially offset by lower royalty costs largely due to the product mix. Full Year Adjusted EBITDA margin of 34.9% was in line with prior year.

John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (press release)


Moving beyond the APC to make scholarly publishing more equitable

Back when PLOS was launched and focused in the biomedical sciences, charging authors a fee to publish seemed fair and reasonable. Those authors were awarded huge grants and if a nominal fee meant that anyone could read and reuse the paper, it was a price worth paying. But we failed to anticipate how successful APCs would become, how commercial publishers would exploit this space, and how inequitable they would become. Waivers would not solve the problem. Continuing down an APC path will further disenfranchise researchers in less generously funded fields, as well as those in low- and middle- income countries and risks deepening existing inequality.

The Official PLOS Blog (Alison Mudditt)

News & Views: Diamonds in the Rough: Societies Shine under Pressure

Overall, 18% of fully open journals appear to be sponsored, but their proportion and number have been decreasing. It seems that over the last 3-4 years the market has been slowly moving away from a sponsored model. It will be interesting to see if this trend holds since discussions about “diamond” journals are now heating up. However, these current averages vary greatly depending on whether titles are owned by societies. Among society-run journals, sponsored titles account for more than double the market average, for non-society (commercial) journals they account for just under half. Societies’ greater proportion of sponsored titles and their not-for-profit status could therefore place them in a stronger position than their commercial competitors if we see a large scale move by funders to require publication in journals without publisher fees and – as some noises from European funders suggest – which are not for profit.

Delta Think blog (Dan Pollock and Ann Michael)

Diamond is for everyone

Commercial providers can be contracted to deliver services such as submission systems, copyediting and typesetting. Contracts with service providers should provide cost transparency, be competitive, time-limited, and free of lock-in mechanisms or non-disclosure agreements. By separating the content and service-related aspects of publishing, diamond open access opens the possibility for a renewed compact, in which private service providers compete to serve both publicly and community-owned platforms. This model is a radical departure from the current situation, where private publishers have complete control over the exclusive goods that journals and articles represent for their business. Instead, it gives service providers a commercially viable role; the publishing industry has no need for alarmist statements.

Research Professional News (Johan Rooryck, Margo Bargheer and Pierre Mounier)

The world’s plan to make humanity sustainable is failing. Science can do more to save it

Many people would be unable to name even one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are at the heart of an international project that aims to end poverty and achieve equality while protecting the environment. From this week, to help raise awareness, we at the Nature Portfolio journals will intensify our ongoing efforts to publish research and commentary on the SDGs. The SDGs and their 169 associated targets are among humanity’s best chance of dealing with global crises, from climate change to economic hardship. World leaders agreed the goals in 2015 and set a 2030 deadline to achieve them. This year, at the half-way point, it looks likely that none of the goals and just 12% of the targets will be met. In September, world leaders will gather in New York City to come up with a rescue plan. And between now and then, Nature will be publishing a series of editorials focusing on the different SDGs, covering what has and hasn’t been achieved, what can be done to improve matters, and the part the global scientific community has to play.

Nature (unsigned editorial)

JB: Journals have a leadership role within their communities. This is a great example of an editorial that uses its platform to try to “win for science an opportunity to change the world” (a quote from a 1969 editorial that celebrated Nature’s 100th anniversary).

Altmetric scores in Political Science are gendered – does it matter?

Measurements that reflect male academic “superstardom” or success through “virality” can work to reinforce a research environment (whether through funding, opportunities, career progression, etc.) that continues to privilege elite male scholarship. For example, extremes and outliers may generate better recall and attention. That “academic superstars” (whether on Twitter or within university faculties) are more likely to be male may thus reinforce a latent belief that high profile academics are the best bet a department or funding agency can make, even if they not representative of the discipline as a whole.

Impact of Social Sciences blog (Gustav Meibauer et al)

Scientific fraud is rising, and automated systems won't stop it. We need research detectives

A solution – or at least a partial one – seems obvious: somebody should employ lots of people like Bik to check quality. However, “somebody should” is a dangerous phrase, because it could easily mean nobody will. Research funders wait for scientific publishers to take action. Publishers expect universities and other institutions to do something. Those institutions in turn look to government for a solution. Meanwhile, paper mills are happily making a mint, and the world’s pool of scientific evidence is becoming increasingly contaminated by rubbish.

The Conversation (Adrian Barnett)

Ask the Vendors: SSP 2023 Annual Meeting

Although open access remains prominent, this year there was a notable increase in conversations regarding research integrity. In fact, these two topics are closely intertwined. The business models supporting open access publishing have placed additional strain on publishing’s scalability and have, at times, exacerbated potential challenges concerning research integrity. Additionally, open access publishing has often faced criticism regarding the quality and integrity of its content. However, this year, there was a noticeable shift in the conversation as publishers, editors, and others began emphasizing transparency and research integrity.

The Scholarly Kitchen (Samantha Green)

Field studies: list local contributors as authors

Field studies in low- or middle-income countries (LMICs) often rely on local researchers to collect data, but these contributors are rarely listed as authors when the results are reported. This unethical practice deprives them of credit and undermines their employment prospects. We suggest ways to help make authorship more inclusive. First, authorship might be justified for participants who do not self-identify as researchers (local guides, for example) if they contribute conceptually to project development or to collecting crucial data. Second, many journals mandate that authors have an institutional e-mail account — a policy that risks excluding potential collaborators in LMICs and should be reconsidered. Third, principal investigators and project funders could help local contributors to become first authors by facilitating access to data and providing constructive advice on projects, or by employing them.

Nature (Tom Mulder et al)

Why Are UK Libraries Signing a Springer-Nature Deal They Don’t Seem to Like?

Libraries will find it difficult to take risks if they do not detect any broad appetite in their communities for these risks to be taken. Open letters and grassroots campaigns are too vague to be actionable, an acceptance of the risk needs to be articulated within the procedural framework of the university. Research committees need to proactively endorse a course of action rather than wait to be consulted upon a negotiation. Meanwhile, they can seek to transform the system of recognition and reward that pushes researchers towards legacy publishers. Behavior needs to change in where researchers choose to publish but also in how researchers act collectively within the governance of their institutions. This bridges the gap that libraries are often expected to bridge alone.

The Scholarly Kitchen (Peter Barr)

Communicating Science: Analysis of the Push for Open Access

Scientific publishing has undergone significant changes in the past three decades. Advancement in technology is the primary factor behind the shift, which brought in other transitions, such as an increased emphasis on open access and diversities in publishing models. The traditional subscription-based publishing model focusing on journal prestige has been challenged by new forms of dissemination that prioritize accessibility and transparency. In this essay, I discuss some of the key inclusions and changes in the scientific ecosystem that have taken place over the times that shaped the current conversations.

International Science Council (Moumita Koley)

JB: If you’re new to scholarly publishing this short article provides a good overview of some of the key events of the open science transition.

Final report: Defining Open Scholarly Infrastructure

In this preliminary investigation, we first examined a body of literature that includes works across the fields of anthropology, scholarly communications, international development studies, science and technology studies, and infrastructure studies. We synthesized the characteristics and dimensions defined in the literature we reviewed to produce the initial draft, which we then opened for public comments for two weeks. Our research team then synthesized the feedback from the community to create the final report that we hope gives more divergent perspectives that have enriched our understanding of open infrastructure in research and scholarship.

IOI (Jerry Sellanga & Emmy Tsang)

Full report can be downloaded here.

Journal club

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to find reviewers”—myths and facts about peer review

A frequent complaint of editors of scientific journals is that it has become increasingly difficult to find reviewers for evaluating submitted manuscripts. Such claims are, most commonly, based on anecdotal evidence. To gain more insight grounded on empirical evidence, editorial data of manuscripts submitted for publication to the Journal of Comparative Physiology A between 2014 and 2021 were analyzed. No evidence was found that more invitations were necessary over time to get manuscripts reviewed; that the reviewer’s response time after invitation increased; that the number of reviewers who completed their reports, relative to the number of reviewers who had agreed to review a manuscript, decreased; and that the recommendation behavior of reviewers changed. The only significant trend observed was among reviewers who completed their reports later than agreed. The average number of days that these reviewers submitted their evaluations roughly doubled over the period analyzed.

Journal of Comparative Physiology A (Günther K. H. Zupanc)

Peer Review: The Jury Duty of Science

What came to the forefront to us during this challenge was that cultivating a robust reviewer pool is a key aspect to an Editor’s work—and perhaps one we hadn’t attended to as much as we should have in advance. We don’t know for certain why we experienced such a significant increase in submissions during the pandemic, but we do know that our existing reviewer pool was not robust enough to handle the added work. We also know that we are not the only journal experiencing challenges with finding reviewers. Other authors have described a “crisis” around securing peer reviewers, even in journals whose submissions remained steady. In the case of our journal, it appeared that our existing review pool was willing to continue to review the same volume as the prior year, but no more. However, others have observed that academics and scientists may be starting to cut back on work that goes unrewarded, consistent with the trending phenomenon called quiet-quitting

Families, Systems, & Health (Jodi Polaha and Robyn L. Shepardson)

The role of author identities in peer review

There is widespread debate on whether to anonymize author identities in peer review. The key argument for anonymization is to mitigate bias, whereas arguments against anonymization posit various uses of author identities in the review process. The Innovations in Theoretical Computer Science (ITCS) 2023 conference adopted a middle ground by initially anonymizing the author identities from reviewers, revealing them after the reviewer had submitted their initial reviews, and allowing the reviewer to change their review subsequently. We present an analysis of the reviews pertaining to the identification and use of author identities.

PLOS ONE (Nihar B. Shah)

Poor visibility of retracted articles: a problem that should no longer be ignored [PAYWALL]

Retraction rates vary over time with changes in fraud and error as well as efforts by the scientific community to detect and report them. Pressure to “publish or perish” in order to secure research funding may contribute to an atmosphere in which some people could be tempted to selectively report results, or worse, commit outright fraud, both of which may lead to article retraction. Accelerated research publication, as in the acute phase of the covid-19 crisis, may be associated with less rigorous peer review, further increasing the risk of retraction.

The BMJ (Christophe Boudry, Katherine Howard, and Frederic Mouriaux)

And finally…

Towards the end of my PhD I knew I wanted to leave academia and needed to find a new career. I read a book by two Economist editors called The Witch Doctors, which was about management consultancy. My father was a biochemist and I’d had little exposure to the world of ‘business’ when I was growing up. The Witch Doctors was eye opening for me.

This week I read Wizards, pretenders, or unaccountable curators? How consultants shape policy in underfunded international agencies.

Consultants have been described as “wizards“, superior analytical minds who can turn around businesses, but also as “pretenders” who sell management fads and quasi-academic insights to businesses and governments. In our recent research on the World Health Organization (WHO), one of our interviewees also described them as ‘priests’ – companies that are hired to transform the organisation on the basis of the ‘bible’ (organisational strategy). Yet, this neutral, detached image as a technical servant to a public organisation, is misleading. Rather, as we describe in our study of consulting firm engagement at WHO, consultants act as discretionary curators of reform inputs. They filter the knowledge and voices that go into reform proposals, and they are often closely entangled with the interests of certain stakeholders and funders.

This newsletter is centred around the value of curation and I’m entirely unaccountable to anyone for producing it. The analysis I presented on the cOAlition S dataset almost certainly falls into the category of “quasi-academic insight”. As for the monikers ‘wizard’, ‘priest’ and ‘pretender’, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Next week I’m hoping to find time to attend the first of a series of webinars that Avi Staiman is hosting on AI tools for research. Perhaps I'll see you there.

Until next time,



James Butcher

The Journalology newsletter helps editors and publishing professionals keep up to date with scholarly publishing, and guides them on how to build influential scholarly journals.

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