Journalology #76: Golden handcuffs

Published about 1 month ago • 15 min read

Hello fellow journalologists,

This week’s newsletter delves into a new transfer pathway — between two competitor journals — that’s been two decades in the making. I also touch on the steep learning curve for Taylor & Francis’ new CEO.

As usual, there’s a lot to cover, but first here’s a message from the newsletter’s primary sponsor.

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JACC and The Lancet Align to Advance Cardiovascular Health

JACC, the flagship journal of the American College of Cardiology, and The Lancet are bringing together their resources, expertise, and networks to disseminate high-quality research, foster interdisciplinary collaborations, and advance cardiovascular health worldwide. Through close collaboration, bringing together JACC's stature in cardiology and The Lancet's influence in general medicine, they are uniting to enhance their joint impact on global health by publishing, disseminating, and amplifying the highest quality research.
Together, JACC and The Lancet will aim to enhance the strength, diversity, and quality of research published in each journal to better serve authors and readers. The journals, both published by Elsevier, will support authors who seek publication in JACC and The Lancet with the option of a seamless manuscript transfer system. In partnership with the research and clinical community, the journals will also spearhead Commissions on urgent health topics to advance clinical care and public policy and collaborate on expert commentary to explore further the issues impacting the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease worldwide and identify avenues for rapid progress.

JACC journals (announcement)

JB: There’s a long history behind this story that’s worth telling because it’s a useful learning point for editors and publishers alike.

For medical publishers, like the Lancet group, the three clinical specialties that are most important, in terms of revenue and clinical impact, are cardiology, oncology and infectious diseases.

In 2001 the Lancet group launched The Lancet Oncology and The Lancet Infectious Diseases (the latter edited by the late John McConnell, a fantastic editor who was an important mentor in my early career). At the end of that year, the Lancet group advertised for Editors-in-Chief (EiC) for two new journals—The Lancet Neurology and The Lancet Cardiology.

The Lancet Neurology was launched in 2002, with a staff of three editors; I was the EiC. The Lancet Cardiology was put on hold. Fast forward a few years and recruitment for The Lancet Cardiology started again. Then, suddenly, the plans changed (after someone had been offered and accepted the EiC job). There are now 22 Lancet-branded journals, but the portfolio does not include a cardiology journal.

Why would one of the leading clinical publishing houses not launch a journal in a lucrative and clinically important subject area? Simple: The Lancet is owned by Elsevier, which has been the publishing partner for the JACC journals for decades.

The logical explanation is that there’s a non-compete clause in the contract between American College of Cardiology (ACC) and Elsevier that means that Elsevier can’t launch a direct competitor to JACC. The Lancet Cardiology, if it was ever launched, would surely fit into that category. (I’ve never seen the contract, so I don't know for sure, but I can’t think of any other rational explanation.)

Elsevier has presumably done the maths and has decided that it can make more revenue from repeatedly renewing the contract with ACC, which owns a portfolio of 10 journals, than it can by launching The Lancet Cardiology. However, it could make even more revenue if the two groups — the Lancet and the JACC journals — collaborate more closely.

That’s why Thursday’s announcement is so significant. The key sentence in the announcement is this one:

The journals, both published by Elsevier, will support authors who seek publication in JACC and The Lancet with the option of a seamless manuscript transfer system. In partnership with the research and clinical community.

The Lancet receives many of the best research papers in cardiology, but it has no home to transfer rejected papers to. Now those papers will be offered transfer to JACC, or, presumably, to other journals in the JACC family.

This is great news for JACC, because it will receive more high quality submissions, which should boost its impact and make it a more valuable resource for readers and ACC members.

This video, posted 2 weeks ago by the incoming editor of JACC, Harlan Krumholz, hits all the right notes. Impact is about more than impact factors; “amplification” is a prerequisite for having impact.

video preview

However, the announcement is bad news for the AHA (American Heart Association) and the ESC (European Society of Cardiology), because their biggest competitor now has a significant advantage. JAMA Cardiology could be negatively impacted too.

Importantly, it’s good news for authors, who will (hopefully) receive a better service from Elsevier. But is it good news for The Lancet, which, for the next few months at least, can lay claim to being the highest impact (factor) general medical journal?

The press release includes this boilerplate:

The Lancet is an independent, international weekly general medical journal publishing the best science from the best scientists worldwide, providing an unparalleled global reach and impact on health.

This case study shows that The Lancet isn’t truly independent of its owner, Elsevier, which ultimately gets to call the shots (as do all journal owners when it comes to commercial decisions, although you could argue that transfer cascades are classified as editorial initiatives). Furthermore, it’s hard to “publish the best science” when the portfolio doesn’t include a journal in one of the most important clinical specialties. The omission of The Lancet Cardiology is like the Nature Portfolio not having Nature Genetics. The omission hurts the brand, especially in the field of cardiology, which must be frustrating for the Lancet’s editors and publishers.

Indeed, the fact that it’s taken close to two decades to set up this transfer cascade tells its own story. So why now? My best guess is that the Lancet group is under pressure from its owner to publish more papers, because of the open access transition, and that it will receive some credit (perhaps financial, perhaps goodwill) from Elsevier for transferring papers to JACC.

The Lancet Cardiology won’t be launched any time soon. It also seems likely that the ACC will be partnering with Elsevier for the foreseeable future. If the ACC partners with another commercial publisher instead, presumably the Lancet group would be free to launch The Lancet Cardiology, which would likely attract papers away from JACC.

Both parties are joined by golden handcuffs.

Publishers of all kinds are trying to develop portfolio strategies that include well-oiled transfer pathways. This is easier said than done. The editors of journals in a transfer cascade need to collaborate collegiately, but often editors care primarily about their own journal rather than the wider portfolio. The way to bring editorial teams together is by focusing on their common goals: providing a good author experience and creating impact in the community they serve.

In the clinical sciences the revenue per article under a subscription model is very high. Partly, this is because clinical journals tend to publish fewer papers than life science journals (The Lancet and NEJM publish 250 papers a year; Nature and Science publish 1000 papers a year). They also have higher costs (MDs demand higher salaries than PhDs). Transfer cascades are one way to mitigate the risk of open access. This week’s announcement is the latest example of that in action.

Penny Ladkin-Brand Appointed Chief Executive of Taylor & Francis

Penny Ladkin-Brand joins the Informa Leadership Team as the Chief Executive of Taylor & Francis. She brings considerable growth-oriented leadership experience in specialist publishing, digital acceleration and the development of online platforms.
Penny is currently Chief Financial and Strategy Officer at Future plc, having previously been Commercial Director at Autotrader Plc. Penny joined Future in 2015 and partnered with the CEO to grow the business tenfold into a specialist media platform through a combination of organic and inorganic growth. Penny is also Chair of Next 15 Group Plc, the data-driven growth consultancy.
Penny’s approach to leadership involves understanding the big picture, balancing this against the needs of different stakeholders.

Taylor & Francis (press release)

JB: Future PLC is a UK success story. It was launched in 1985 by Chris Anderson (who now (indirectly) owns and runs TED) and includes publications such as Marie Claire, Homes and Gardens, The Week and Country Life. Hiring a CEO who has extensive experience of B2C (business to consumer) publishing is a smart play when our industry is becoming more focused on individuals (authors) rather than institutions (libraries). It’s also true that Penny has a steep learning curve ahead of her; selling copies of Autotrader is quite different from selling access to Acta Borealia (A Nordic Journal of Circumpolar Societies).

Announcing the Launch of A Focused Toolkit for Journal Editors and Publishers: Building Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Editorial Roles and Peer Review

This new toolkit aims to support all those seeking to build a more inclusive editorial and reviewer community. The toolkit recommends practical and relevant actions for editors and publishers to take to create broad representation on editorial boards and to ensure fairness and minimization of bias in the peer review process.
Five major recommendations are explored:
1) Actions to develop an inclusive culture and mission
2) Steps on collecting and reporting demographic data to guide goal setting and actions to increase diversity
3) Recruiting broadly and intentionally to increase participation from marginalized communities
4) Creating opportunities for experience and growing skills in core scholarship areas
5) Actions based on resources such as bias-free language guidelines and more equitable peer review models to increase equity in the peer review process.

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

JB: You can read the toolkit here. The recommendations are useful and sensible.

Supporting the Researcher and Open Science: Expanding Our Creative Commons License Levels

In our continued effort to support researchers in the open science landscape, AIP Publishing is proud to announce we are now offering an expanded array of open access Creative Commons licenses — providing more nuanced options through which authors can determine how their work is used.
The two new options being made available to AIP Publishing’s author base are:
[1] CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial): Allows individuals to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes only — and only so long as attribution is given to the creator.
[2] CC BY-NC-ND (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives): Allows individuals to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format only if it remains un-adapted and used for non-commercial purposes. Attribution must also be given to the creator.
These licensing options are being offered in addition to our CC BY (Creative Commons Attribution) license, which is the least restrictive CC license and allows for individuals to distribute, remix, adapt, or build upon the material in any medium or format — including commercial use — without requesting approval from the material’s creator, so long as attribution is provided.

AIP Publishing (announcement)

JB: Ah, this old chestnut. Many years ago Nature Communications offered all three licenses (it now only offers CC BY). In around 2006 we did an experiment, proposed by my boss Jason Wilde. We changed the order that the licenses were presented to authors and found that they tended to choose the middle option.

We concluded two things: (1) Our explanations about the licenses weren’t very good; (2) Authors didn’t have a clue what the different licenses offered—the middle one felt like the safest option.

Offering choices is a good thing, but only if the customer understands what they’re buying. Furthermore, publishers need to ensure that the metadata includes the licence that’s been used (see NISO’s Access & License Indicators Revision).

Two things to bear in mind:

  • CC BY is not “the least restrictive CC license”. CC 0 is.
  • The licenses are spelt: CC BY, CC BY-NC and CC BY-NC-ND (note the positions of the hyphens)

Yes, I’m a pedant. And, yes, I know this newsletter contains typos and inaccuracies every week (I still have nightmares about missing the “l” out of “public” in issue 21).

Learned Publishing Journal to Transition to Gold OA in 2025

ALPSP is delighted to announce that its journal ‘Learned Publishing’ will transition to Gold OA from 2025. This was decided following the latest ALPSP Board meeting in April 2024. Furthermore, the Board has agreed to cover the APC for any author who is an ALPSP member. Our funding model enables ALPSP to transition to OA whilst remaining sustainable. This advancement would not be possible without the support of our publishing partner, Wiley.

ALPSP announcement

JB: Yay! The current logon process makes me want to cry every time I use it. This development provides an additional benefit of ALPSP membership, and will ensure that Learned Publishing gets a much wider readership.

Policy Consultation: Syndicated Usage

We know that content syndication is becoming ever-more popular, and that means COUNTER needs to find a way to allow people to share COUNTER-compliant usage reports from the syndicated platform to the original publisher. That will mean publishers have consistent, comparable usage metrics from all the syndicated usage platforms they work with, and can tell which ones are delivering return on the time and effort invested in syndication. Equally, we might be able to facilitate aggregate institutional reporting, so librarians only have to check one report for all of the content from a publisher.
The COUNTER Executive Committee discussed the situation and created a draft policy for consultation.

COUNTER Metrics​ (announcement)

JB: This may sound like a somewhat dry academic exercise, but it’s actually incredibly important for all the reasons I gave last week. COUNTER Metrics also announced this on Thursday: Consultation: Code of Practice for Research Data.

Other news stories

More than 99 percent of German universities and higher learning institutions have joined the renewed DEAL agreement with Springer Nature JB: This is very impressive, not least because some institutions are consumers and some are producers of content. Creating a deal that keeps everyone happy is easier said than done.

Researchers from over 3700 global institutions now supported by Springer Nature Transformative Agreements

Wolters Kluwer First-Quarter 2023 Trading Update JB: “Health: we expect full-year 2024 organic growth to be in line with prior year (FY 2023: 6%).”

Chile, Estonia and Lithuania Join SCOAP³ Consortium, Expanding Global Reach

eLife announces new podcast to highlight stories of researchers across the globe

Give or take a year or two: Case reveals publishers’ vastly different retraction times

Silverchair Releases New AI Playground for Safe & Transparent Experimentation

Scopus AI Release: May 2024

Elsevier Introduces SciBite Chat a transformative AI-Powered Semantic Search Tool for Life Sciences JB: I’ve read the press release a few times and I’m still confused as to what this is exactly. It’s aimed at pharmaceutical companies, presumably.

Reimagining research impact: Introducing Web of Science Research Intelligence

Chemist under scrutiny resigns from Australian university

Illuminating ‘the ugly side of science’: fresh incentives for reporting negative results

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Is group authorship a better way of recognising team-based research?

CRediT statements provide the equivalent of a team roster, but they’re often buried at the end of a manuscript. To promote a more vigorous academic culture that champions open, rigorous, and efficient research, we need to go beyond simply listing what each academic did. We need to prioritise total output over individual contributions. We need teams.
In an attempt to align research practices with our vision for a better academic ecosystem, my team at the University of Bristol ran a series of projects using a group name (e.g., here, here, and here).

Impact of Social Sciences​ (Robert Thibault)

Unboxing Scholarly Communication: The Rise of Researcher-Driven Publishing

Academic journals have long been the gatekeeper of research dissemination. However, a gradual shift is underway, as researchers increasingly exercise agency in this domain. In this evolving landscape, researchers are driving scholarly communications towards openness, and collaborative community-focused processes.
This post introduces the concept of "unboxing scholarly communication," a phenomenon characterized by the gradual shift of agency from traditional journals to researchers. It traces this evolution, from the emergence of preprints to the rise of researcher-driven review and curation practices, arguing that these developments signify a broader trend towards increasing researcher empowerment in a landscape currently dominated by academic journals.

Robots Cooking (Adam Hyde)

JB: This essay lays out some core arguments for a new world order. I don’t agree with the bottom line, though. A recent Correspondence in Nature, about preprint uptake in Japan, is another example of how preprint servers have failed to take off in any meaningful way:

A government-backed preprint server, Jxiv, was established in 2022, but as of 1 May had only 326 manuscripts publicly available.

The challenges are cultural as much as they are technological. You can design a robot to cook a meal, but that doesn't mean that anyone will want to eat at the restaurant (Sorry, Adam. Unfortunately, this newsletter is not afraid of teasing its former sponsors...).

Other opinion articles

Researcher to Reader Recap

Should we stop using the word 'stakeholder' in research? JB: Buffy says “no”.

SPARC’s Anvil on the Scale

An Interview with Laurie G. Arp of Lyrasis

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Journal Club

Information accessibility and knowledge creation: the impact of Google’s withdrawal from China on scientific research

In this paper, we employ Google’s withdrawal from China in 2010 as an event that allows testing the impact of increased barriers to access information on scientists’ publication output and impact. Google’s search engine was a major channel for scholars located in China to obtain foreign information so that its sudden withdrawal severely hampered the ability of scientists to access the knowledge frontier. Our results from DiD analyses that compare scholars in the field of economics located in China to a culturally, economically, and geographically close control group show that publication output dropped by 25% and by 28% if weighted by co-authors. In addition, publication impact measured through co-author weighted citations dropped by 30% and citations per publication dropped by 29%.

Industry and Innovation (Katrin Hussinger and Lorenzo Palladini)

JB: I confess that I haven’t read this paper closely, but the conclusions seem odd given the massive growth of research from China in recent years. I was alerted to this paper by Ian Mulvany’s blogpost (Measuring the impact of google on research).

Assessing the Diversity of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery Editorial Boards

Some of the demographic variables examined in the editorial board survey, such as gender, race, and ethnicity, have been commonly assessed among orthopaedic surgeons in prior studies. For these variables, representation among JBJS editorial board members was generally found to be similar to that observed among orthopaedic surgeons as a whole, albeit with some exceptions. For example, individuals of Asian descent were found to comprise 18.9% of JBJS editorial board members compared with 6.7% of practicing surgeons, as documented in the most recent orthopaedic census. Nevertheless, the representation of women (11.7%) and Black (3.6%) and Hispanic (1.8%) individuals on the JBJS editorial boards remains quite low relative to the population of patients treated by U.S. orthopaedic surgeons, which has been reported as comprising 50.4% women, 13.6% Black individuals, and 19.1% Hispanic individuals.

The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (Kanu Okikeand Marc Swiontkowski)

JB: The authors say that they plan to “administer the survey on a regular basis (every 3 years or so) to assess for changes over time”, but don’t provide the targets that they’re aiming for or committed to, which is a missed opportunity in my opinion.

And finally...

This paragraph from last week’s Offline column in The Lancet, written by its EiC, made me stop and think.

I have an acquaintance whose study is plastered with torn out newspaper obituaries. A mausoleum without the bodies. On these walls are those he has admired. What is the point of being surrounded by fading memories of disparate lives? I think these cuttings remind him daily that individuals matter and can make a difference. In a world where the forces that shape our present and future seem so vast that they render each of us irrelevant in the cosmic expanse of our finite universe, the reality that our presence can enhance the lives of others is surely comforting—and certainly hopeful.

It’s a much more positive take on our total irrelevance in the cosmic scheme of things than Douglas Adam’s Total Perspective Vortex.

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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