Journalology #75: Editor diversity

Published about 2 months ago • 16 min read

Hello fellow journalologists,

There’s a strong DEI theme to this week’s issue, with reports from Springer Nature (on editorial board diversity) and C4DISC (on workplace equity) released this week.

The newsletter also includes a fascinating map of the biomedical publishing landscape, a primer on COUNTER, and a discussion of F1000’s recently revised editorial model.

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Editor Diversity: Facilitating change to ensure a truly inclusive publishing landscape

As a leading research publisher, we are committed to eliminating barriers to creating, discovering and using knowledge. By better understanding the demographics across our publishing portfolio, we aim to contribute to more equitable outcomes in learning and scholarship. As part of this commitment, earlier this week we published our first benchmarking report looking at Editor diversity at Springer Nature. Using internal data from our community of over 100,000 academic editors across approximately 3,000 Springer Nature journals, the report provides a snapshot of editorial diversity in 2023. This benchmarking report provides key data for us, alongside the Annual Progress Report and Sustainability Report, to take an informed, evidence-based approach to improving and supporting representation within publishing and our editorial teams.

Springboard blog (Rucha Kapare, Biz Turnell and Sowmya Swaminathan)

JB: If you only click one link this week read the report here. In fact don’t just read it, digest it. It’s incredibly important. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction, written by my former colleague, Ritu Dhand.

This initial data reaffirms what we know to be true across the industry. Editorial decision-makers are not fully representative of the diverse research community they serve, and there is much more we need to do to address this. The scale of the challenge is significant for a publisher of our size, but we are actively supporting our editors in diversifying their journals. Our most recent cohort of newly recruited editors is more representative of regional diversity, and our Scientific Reports case study shows the positive impact of inviting increasing numbers of women to become editors.

The report is very well done and should be read by all publishers, as there are useful learnings both in terms of the statistics themselves, but also the questions that the Springer Nature team asked of the data.

For me, the most important DEI issue is gender disparity. This graph tells the story well.

This is only part of the story, as there’s wide variation between subject areas. For example, compare this graph:

... with this one:

To some degree the difference in gender representation reflects the subject areas themselves, but that doesn’t get away from the fact that journals provide leadership in their fields. A journal with an editorial board that contains 80% men sends completely the wrong signal.

The report includes a deep dive into Scientific Reports, which I was particularly interested to see not least because it answers many of the questions that I was asking the team 3 or 4 years ago.

As of November 2023, Scientific Reports had 11,249 active editors. This graph tells an interesting, if unsurprising, story.

The report’s authors also assessed the 49,000 invitations that have been sent over the past decade to join Scientific Reports’ editorial board.

There has been a continued shift during this period in the make-up of invitations sent to editors. For example, these shifts reflect changes in author disciplines, and geographic trends. From 2021 to 2023, the average invitation rate for women was 45%, compared with 35% looking at all invitations from 2013 to 2023.

In other words, in more recent years 45% of invitations to join the editorial board were sent to women. However, women are less likely than men to accept the invitation; the acceptance rate varies by region:

Before we move on to other topics it’s worth comparing the top line numbers for editorial board members working on Springer Nature journals with those from MDPI’s annual report, which I covered in Journalology a few weeks ago.

The Springer Nature sample is skewed by Scientific Reports, remember, which has over 11,000 editors. The number of editors per journal between the two publishers is especially noteworthy. Fully open access publishers have often created journals with very large editorial boards, partly because of the special issue editorial model but also because it’s a good way of creating a community of academics who have some sense of affiliation with the journal.

Workplace Equity in Scholarly Communications 2023

Four key themes are explored in the Executive Summary. Readers will find recommendations for individuals and organizations to continue building positive workplace cultures that recognize differences of colleagues’ lived experience.
1. Employee satisfaction and recognition of employer commitments to diversity have increased since 2018.
2. Not everyone experiences tangible improvements in workplace culture and workplace equity efforts.
3. Key focus areas for improving equity include mentorship and networking opportunities, promotion structures and processes, and supporting employees who return from career breaks.
4. Words into action: the future of workplace equity requires organizational and personal accountability.

Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications​ (C4DISC; announcement)

JB: This topic is so important and the volunteers working as part of C4DISC deserve our appreciation. However, the data set needs to be interpreted carefully as it’s not representative of the total population of people who work in scholarly publishing. For example, there are thousands of people based in countries like India and the Philippines who work on post-acceptance workflows. However, only 6% of the 1508 respondents were based in Asia.

This is because the survey was sent to employees of C4DISC members (listed on page 27 of the report), which include a relatively small number of commercial and society publishers. I couldn’t see in the report how many people received the survey, so it’s impossible to calculate the response rate.

This probably sounds churlish. There’s no doubt that C4DISC is doing important work. But, as we all know, a survey can only provide data about the people who fill out the survey. The people who didn't receive the survey, or who chose not to complete it, are an important part of the picture too.

‘Bad actors’ dominate new chemistry journal’s editorial board, critics allege

When François-Xavier Coudert came across a brand-new chemistry journal launched by the reputable publisher Taylor & Francis, he decided to check out the people who are running it.
He recognized two names in the journal’s editorial leadership because he had used PubPeer, a website where scientists discuss papers, to note concerns about some of their publications. Often, but not always, being flagged on PubPeer means the research’s integrity is in question.
Coudert, a theoretical chemist at the French National Center for Scientific Research and a member of C&EN’s advisory board, soon realized that almost all the editorial members of the journal, Green Biomaterials, which has yet to publish a research paper, had several papers discussed on PubPeer.

C&EN (Dalmeet Singh Chawla)

JB: Should publishers start vetting their journals’ editorial boards against sites like PubPeer? This is a significant undertaking for publishers that have hundreds of thousands of editors on their books. The risk is much higher for publishers that are trying to scale fast, using special issues for example, and that don’t have an existing relationship with the editors that they’ve appointed.

How reliable is this research? Tool flags papers discussed on PubPeer

Studies are usually flagged on PubPeer when readers have suspicions, for example about image manipulation, plagiarism, data fabrication or artificial intelligence (AI)-generated text. PubPeer already offers its own browser plug-in that alerts users when a study that they are reading has been posted on the site. The new tool, a plug-in released on 13 April by RedacTek, based in Oakland, California, goes further — it searches through reference lists for papers that have been flagged. The software pulls information from many sources, including PubPeer’s database; data from the digital-infrastructure organization Crossref, which assigns digital object identifiers to articles; and OpenAlex, a free index of hundreds of millions of scientific documents.

Nature (Dalmeet Singh Chawla)

JB: This tool appears to be aimed at authors, but publishers should also be using approaches like this to flag potentially problematic papers. After all, only a small proportion of authors will ever use this plug in. Humans will be needed to validate the results, which will add costs to the publishing process.

Introducing COUNTER Metrics

COUNTER has been around since 2003, and we’ve always been known as Project COUNTER. That’s been creating some confusion, with some people thinking that ‘Project’ must signify that we are really new and others being surprised to find that we’re still going strong. As part of a strategy review during 2023, the Board decided that it was time for us to start using our real name: COUNTER Metrics.
The not-so-new name has given us an opportunity to rebrand, but more importantly a chance to build a new website, designed for optimal accessibility and ease of use, so welcome to the all-new

COUNTER Metrics (announcement)

JB: If you’re new to scholarly publishing, particularly if you work on open access journals, you may not have heard of COUNTER before. It was set up two decades ago to allow librarians to compare usage of subscription content across multiple publishers, by creating a common reporting standard that all publishers need to adhere to.

Watch this helpful 5 minute video to get an overview of what COUNTER Metrics does. Here’s an excerpt from the video’s transcript to whet your appetite. I love the analogy in the second paragraph.

Finally, if you work on OA journals and think this isn’t relevant to you, read this page on open access usage metrics. Usage data will become increasingly important for funders as they assess the return on investment (ROI) for the APCs they are paying for. As I've asked before:

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?

Good publishers do more than handle the peer review process. They also amplify the authors’ message by building a strong brand and creating a website that attracts traffic.

This is why publishers are increasingly partnering with the likes of ResearchGate. It doesn’t necessarily matter where users are accessing the content (i.e. off-platform usage is not inherently bad, although it could affect display advertising revenue) as long as the publisher can include that usage in reports sent to institutional subscribers or funders.

Refreshing the F1000 model: transitioning to editorial-led peer reviewer selection

One of the first major areas we have focused on is the process by which reviewers are identified and selected, which will shift from being author-led to editorial-led, i.e. using internal editorial teams. We have always felt that authors are often best placed out of anyone to know the experts in their specific field. Any risk of potential conflicts is negated by the full transparency of the ensuing peer review process (including the naming of the reviewers), combined with our detailed independent checks of any author-suggested reviewers. Whilst in many cases this still holds true, we have found that for many authors, this process is a pain point.

F1000 (Rebecca Lawrence)

JB: Some authors are good at proposing suitable referees, but many are not. This is a sensible change to make.

F1000Research is a publishing platform that made big promises when it launched a decade ago (Faculty of 1000 was launched in 2002). It’s made steady progress since then. Here’s the article growth, according to Digital Science’s Dimensions.

And here's a graph showing the growth of the five largest journals (if that’s the right term) included on the platform.

The announcement goes on to say:

Researchers often choose to publish with F1000 because they want to make their work available as quickly as possible, and our rapid-publication model is designed to support that. Yet for some authors, the requirement to supply the names of potential reviewers can slow everything down quite significantly.

Many researchers want to be able to publish quickly, but MDPI has done a better job of realising that ambition than F1000 Research, publishing nearly 100 times as many articles as F1000 last year. Here’s another graph from Dimensions to drive home the point. F1000 and MDPI published similar numbers of papers a decade ago, but their subsequent trajectories were very different.

MDPI hired a large team of in-house staff who push papers through the peer-review process. F1000 did not. Correlation equals causation in this case, I’d argue.

Better late than never?

Signature of a global reading and publishing agreement with the publisher Elsevier

The French bibliographic agency for higher education (Abes) has signed a nationwide contract with the publisher Elsevier, as part of the negotiations conducted by the Couperin consortium of higher education and research establishments (contract awarded on April 29, 2024). This agreement, worth €33 million per year, provides all higher education and research establishments in France with an open access publication service at no extra cost to authors in the majority of Elsevier's hybrid or fully open access journals. The contract signed by Abes covers 241 subscribing institutions, 44 of which subscribe free of charge, a figure that has risen since the national license was first introduced. This agreement is supported by the Ministry of higher education and research. The agreement has been signed for a period of 4 years (2024-2027), with no increase in the subscription price in 2024 and an increase limited to 1% in subsequent years.

Couperin (press release)

JB: I don’t generally link through to announcements about transformative agreements because there are so many of them. But when researchers from an entire country are able to publish OA with Elsevier, at no charge to the researcher, it’s worth breaking an unwritten rule.

It seems likely that more research originating from France will be published in Elsevier journals in the future, because researchers will be able to publish on Science Direct for no charge (to them personally). Transformative agreements are not just about a financial arrangement, they are also about attracting content away from competitors.

OLH launches 7 new journals

This increases the OLH’s portfolio to 30 journals currently publishing, with a further 3 high-profile journals who will be leaving their commercial publishers in Spring-Summer 2024 to relaunch at the OLH. Thanks to the support of the OLH’s international network of library members, the OLH has been able to undertake the complex, skilled technical work of migrating these journals and committing to fund the cost of their publication in perpetuity.

Open Library of Humanities​ (announcement)

JB: Commercial publishers aren’t the only ones who launch new journals.

Questionable firms tempt young doctors with ‘easy’ publications

The Express Research Workshop belongs to a growing cottage industry of businesses, consultants, and nonprofits dangling seemingly easy publications for the more than 12,000 international medical graduates who apply for U.S. residency positions every year. A joint investigation by Retraction Watch and Science identified 24 such organizations across the U.S. and abroad. The programs likely have spawned thousands of publications—most of them full-length, peer-reviewed papers. These include database studies, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses—all through work that can be done entirely online.

Science (Frederik Joelving)

JB: This is truly shocking. Publishers are complicit too.

Other news stories

Seeking consultancy: understanding joining obstacles for non-member journals

Get Involved with SSP!

Enhancements to Citation Overview on Scopus

Beyond discovery: AI and the future of the Web of Science

Publisher retracts more than a dozen papers at once for likely paper mill activity

Cureus retracts paper for plagiarism following Retraction Watch inquiries

Plagiarism in peer-review reports could be the ‘tip of the iceberg’

ResearchGate and The Royal Society expand Journal Home partnership to cover full journal portfolio

Astronomy & Astrophysics to remain in open access under Subscribe to Open in 2024

CHORUS Board of Directors Election Results

Elisabeth Bik, expert in scientific integrity: ‘We need to slow down scientific publishing’

MDPI Insights: The CEO's Letter #11 – 2023 Annual Report, MDPI Awards, STM

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Want for nothing, need for null, useful output from negative results

Even if negative results become ubiquitous, the nature of science will still prefer positive results and value them more highly. A researcher will thus have to carefully balance their ratio of “positive” to “negative” works. What is a reasonable ratio? One null study for every positive? Two? Ten? It depends how much risk the researcher is taking. Currently this is all behind closed doors. If your negative results are public, would it be beneficial to demonstrate a willingness to try new things? If you only produced negative results, could you be considered a productive scientist? How would funding agencies weigh negative output? Fear of reputational costs may still deter researchers from disclosing their negative results.

Matter (Steve Cranford)

JB: This editorial is a great example of how the best journals provide analysis and insight. The topic of negative results comes up regularly and I thought I’d heard it all before. However, I learnt a lot from this editorial, which is thoughtful and pragmatic in equal measure. It deserves to be read widely.

The African Journal Partnership Program’s Guidance on Use of AI in Scholarly Publishing

Researchers and clinicians in low- and middle-income countries face a digital divide. Ensuring access to these technologies in scholarly publishing is crucial to prevent further disparities in knowledge creation and dissemination. Although not unique to Africa, there are several challenging issues to address via guidance on the use of AI and LLMs in scholarly publishing in African journals. Adequate data protection measures and best practices are critical to ensure data security. Guidance on how to protect sensitive data is critical particularly in Africa where data privacy regulations vary. Also, issues related to intellectual property, plagiarism, and the ownership of AI-generated content should be considered to protect the interests of researchers and institutions.

Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences (Caradee Y Wright et al)

JB: You can read more about The African Journal Partnership Program (AJPP) here.

The African Journal Partnership Program (AJPP) partners African health and medical journals with mentor journals published in the United States and the United Kingdom.
A founding premise of the program is that valuable research being carried out in African countries is often not available to a wider international audience. A central goal therefore is to strengthen participating African journals enough to be accepted into MEDLINE and other scholarly indexes, resulting in wider availability of African health and medical research to the world.

The Evolving Journal Article: Moving Beyond the Traditional Format

Journal articles have evolved based on the changing needs of the scientific community and technology. Two tenets have held: disseminating information and helping researchers receive credit for their efforts. Society continues to evolve, so there is no reason to expect the journal article not to continue also. Predicting exactly how the journal article will change is more challenging, especially when you consider researchers’ expectations and how diverse the scientific community is (the needs of researchers in sports medicine are different from the needs of physicists, for example).

ORIGINal Thoughts (Kharissia Pettus)

Glenn Landis: Helping CSE Flourish

For ASH, our challenge now is growing the portfolio. When we partnered with Elsevier (in 2020), we had a plan to start new titles and move into new spaces to make sure we fulfill the mission of serving our hematologists. Since then, we’ve launched 2 new journals last year and 3 more on the way this year. We’re very excited about these journal launches and the value they bring to our readership and our scientists.

Science Editor (Jonathan Schultz interviews Glenn Landis)

JB: Portfolio strategies help publishers of all types survive in an increasingly open access world.

Other opinion articles

The Impact of AI on Information Discovery: From Information Gathering to Knowledge Application

The state of academic publishing in 3 graphs, 6 trends, and 4 thoughts JB: There are factual inaccuracies in this opinion piece, but the author makes some good points.

What Do Campus Disability Services Staff Most Want Publishers to Know?

Decentralized Peer Review in Open Science: A Mechanism Proposal JB: The statistics in section 4.4 are wrong. The link they used as a reference does not include any of the numbers quoted. This theoretical model fails the KISS test.

A Case Study: Investing in Open Scholarly Infrastructure in Ireland Will Save Time and Money. It’ll Also Be Good for Research.

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Journal Club

An analysis of the suitability of OpenAlex for bibliometric analyses

Taken together, we draw two main conclusions: First, that for a limited set of analyses, OpenAlex can already be used as a replacement for traditional bibliographic databases. Our work offers insights into which data and which analyses can be relied upon and which require further scrutiny. Corollary to this, the second conclusion is that additional work is still needed to better understand the current limitations of OpenAlex and to improve its data quality and completeness. Doing so would lead to OpenAlex serving as a suitable and open replacement to traditional bibliographic databases and, thanks to its more inclusive indexing policies, to enable additional analyses not possible from a more constrained set of works.

arXiv (Juan Pablo Alperin et al)

JB: OpenAlex has the potential to be an important and powerful bibliometric tool, but validation studies such as this one are incredibly important.

The landscape of biomedical research

Patterns (Rita González-Márquez)

JB: This is a fascinating paper that has significant potential for publishers looking to develop a portfolio strategy. It’s possible to dive into specific regions of the map. For example, the authors assess the COVID-19 literature:

The main COVID cluster was surrounded by articles on other epidemics, public health issues, and respiratory diseases. When we zoomed in, we found rich inner structure within the COVID cluster itself, with multiple COVID-related topics separated from each other (Figure 2). Papers on mental health and societal impact, on public health and epidemiological control, on immunology and vaccines, on clinical symptoms and treatment were all largely non-overlapping, and were further divided into even narrower subfields. This suggests that our map can be useful for navigating the literature on the scale of narrow and focused scientific topics.

And finally...

If you reached the end of this newsletter hopefully you got some value from it. I would be incredibly grateful if you could write a short testimonial to encourage other editors and publishing professionals to subscribe.

Until next time,


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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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