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Journalology

Journalology #77: House of cards

Published about 1 month ago • 20 min read


Hello fellow journalologists,

When I write these newsletters I try to add value by giving my opinion on the story behind the story. Getting the balance between insight and speculation is hard; I have no desire to create a gossip magazine.

Last week I wrote about the new collaboration between JACC (Journal of the American College of Cardiology) and The Lancet and I read the tea leaves wrong. The downside of working for corporates for 20+ years, as I have, is that it can make you rather cynical. Unfortunately, money is often the primary driver behind publishing decisions, rather than what’s best for the academic community.

Harlan Krumholz, the incoming editor of JACC, wrote to me to point out some errors that I made. Here’s an extract from the email he sent to me, reproduced here with his permission.

Your speculations about what transpired are incorrect. I initially approached Richard with the proposal; he was exceptionally open and supportive. I greatly respect Richard and the Lancet, and reaching out to him was one of the first things I did after my appointment at JACC EiC. Our conversations were guided by a shared commitment to benefitting patients, our readers, and the broader public.
Our wonderful teams were also enthusiastic and immediately recognized the possibilities. We saw our collaboration as a way to maximize our impact on global health. We will work to find as many ways as possible to promote this goal. This partnership is much more than a transfer cascade. This effort will be propelled by our mutual respect, aligned visions, and distinctive strengths.
Also, I would like to clarify that Elsevier was not involved in our discussions. They were very supportive when we notified them, but they did not initiate this action nor ever apply any pressure related to it. The editors and our teams brokered this collaboration entirely. We do recognize, nevertheless, the value of sharing a publisher.
You noted that this is unwelcome news for other cardiology journals. You should also know that while there is healthy competition among us, there is an even stronger sense of cooperation. We cheer for each other and challenge each other, and our goals of serving the public and the profession are very aligned. You were expressing your opinion about the implications for them, so I am not trying to correct you -- but I want to note that there is a way to see the cardiology journals as more than just businesses competing with each other.

This newsletter is generally written to tight timelines and on this occasion I put expediency ahead of accuracy. A lesson learned, hopefully. I'm sorry for getting it wrong.

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News

List of Hindawi journals closing in May 2024

In December 2023, we announced that the Hindawi journals will be integrated with Wiley’s open access portfolio during the middle of the calendar year 2024. Ahead of this integration we have reviewed the combined portfolio to identify gaps and overlaps between the two, and to ensure that we focus on journals that continue to provide value to the communities they serve. As a result of this review, we have decided to close the journals listed below. We would like to thank all of the editors, peer reviewers, and authors who have contributed to these journals.
Submissions to these journals have now closed and the journals will cease publication soon. All published content in these journals will remain on the archived journal website and in abstracting and indexing databases where relevant.

Hindawi​ (announcement)

Post-publication update

A reader contacted me after the newsletter was sent to subscribers because they were unable to replicate the data in the tables in this news item. Sure enough, the numbers were wrong because of a sorting error in Excel. I’ve updated the tables on this webpage and modified one sentence to better reflect the dataset.

JB: It’s noteworthy that this announcement was released under the Hindawi brand (which has been shuttered) rather than the Wiley brand; there’s no mention of this story on the Wiley newsroom.

That didn't stop
The Wall Street Journal from covering the closure of the 19 journals (Flood of Fake Science Forces Multiple Journal Closures), which includes 11 that were delisted from Web of Science last year. You may remember that this time last year, Hindawi announced the closure of 4 journals that had been “heavily compromised by paper mills”.

Here’s a graph showing the number of Articles plotted over time for Hindawi as a whole (source: Digital Science’s Dimensions).

And here’s a table, again using Dimensions data, showing the Hindawi journals that were delisted from Web of Science in March 2023 and the overlap with the journals that are closing. The data for 2022 and 2023 are number of Articles.

The majority of the journals that were delisted from Web of Science last year either have closed or will close soon. It looks as though Wiley has decided to also shut some low volume journals that overlap with existing journals in their portfolio.

But perhaps a more interesting dataset is the one below, which shows the 20 Hindawi journals that shrank the most between 2022 and 2023. There are 7 journals, which were not delisted, that had significantly reduced output between 2022 and 2023. The entire Hindawi portfolio has been negatively affected by the bad publicity and by Wiley pausing special issues when irregularities were spotted.

For completeness, here are the 10 Hindawi journals that grew the most between 2022 and 2023:

Let this be a lesson for all publishers. Quality control is mission critical because it’s not just individual journals that are affected when brands get a bad reputation; the entire (publishing) house of cards can come crashing down.

The Register also covered the story: Wiley shuts 19 scholarly journals amid AI paper mill problem


New chemistry journal folds after outcry over editor appointments

A new chemistry journal has ceased publication after online critics pointed out that its editor in chief and most of its editorial board members authored several papers flagged on PubPeer, a site where researchers discuss scientific publications.
Studies flagged on PubPeer are often, but not always, under scrutiny due to integrity issues. On April 30, C&EN reported that Taylor & Francis, the publisher of the shuttered journal, Green Biomaterials, said it had been investigating “allegations of misconduct” concerning the editor in chief and editorial board members.

C&EN (Dalmeet Singh Chawla)


Nature staff hold unprecedented vote on industrial action

In an unprecedented move, UK staff working on the renowned Nature portfolio of science journals are balloting for industrial action in a dispute over pay.
The portfolio, which includes the world’s leading science magazine Nature, is owned by international publisher Springer Nature.
Talks between the union and publisher broke down in April following negotiations via ACAS. The UK staff - which includes nearly 400 academic editors, journalists, art editors and production staff - have rejected an offer of 5.8% from the company.
In its most recent annual report (for 2022), Springer Nature posted an operating profit of €487 million (around £410 million) on revenues of more than €1.8 billion (around £1.6 billion).

National Union of Journalists (NUJ; announcement)

JB: Successful organisations have to balance the needs of three main stakeholders: the owners, the customers, and the staff. When one of the three gets out of kilter, problems arise.

Everyone who works on the Nature portfolio creates immense value, for the shareholders and also for the wider scientific community. It’s entirely reasonable for the editors and support staff to expect to be compensated appropriately for their efforts. The Nature journals have been successful over the years because of the editors’ dedication to their craft.

Having said that, a core tenet of capitalism is that company owners are looking for a return on their capital investment; executives are tasked with keeping costs under control, while maximising revenues, in order to provide the best possible return for shareholders.

Earlier this month Reuters ran a story about Springer Nature’s potential IPO (initial public offering. i.e. listing a company for the first time on a stock market), which is reportedly due to happen “as early as this year”.

From the current shareholders’ perspective, it’s imperative to make the company look as financially appealing as possible for future investors. The executive team will be expected to deliver on the IPO and will likely be well compensated if it successfully goes through.

When Springer Science+Business Media merged with Macmillan Science and Education the new company was named Springer Nature, not Springer Macmillan. The shareholders presumably felt that including “Nature” in the name increased its prestige and value.

However, this could be problematic now that a core group of staff, who produce the flagship journals that bear the Nature name, are in direct conflict with the management team at a time when an IPO is being mooted.

The NUJ ballot is ongoing and we don’t know what the outcome is yet. I understand that the result of the vote is expected early in June. The NUJ press release is a way of exerting pressure on the company to make an improved offer.

I approached Springer Nature for comment and received this statement in response:

We have a good relationship with the NUJ which has lasted for many years and fully respect and engage with them in accordance with the terms of our recognition agreement. We are confident that the above inflation salary increase on offer [5.8% v inflation of 3.2%] is a fair one. Additionally, we have introduced a range of measures to assist with increased commuting and living costs for all UK employees. We hope the situation with the NUJ will be resolved soon.

This isn’t the first time a ballot has been held, apparently.

The union may see this as a unique opportunity to get a better deal for its members. The NUJ probably has more leverage now, before an IPO, than it will have further down the line.

During an IPO the investment banks are on the hook for unsold shares; setting the initial share price becomes risky when the future overhead costs are unknown. It seems likely that the situation with the NUJ will need to be resolved before an IPO could go ahead.

It’s worth remembering that it would be hard for Springer Nature to offer an improved deal to 4% of the workforce and not the other 96%. Salary increases are not the same as bonuses: the increased costs continue year after year. A big increase in staff costs across the board could mean the company would be worth less at the point of sale.

Research Professional News covered the story last week: Nature’s London editorial staff vote on industrial action. It includes some quotes from the union representatives.

I’ll leave you to decide whether the financial interests of the current shareholders — who invested capital into the business, with help from the banks — should take priority over the workers, who collectively create much of the value. Needless to say, I’m very pleased that I’m no longer sandwiched between the two groups. It’s not a particularly pleasant place to be.

Having said that, if you fancy a challenge and are feeling resilient, two new roles were advertised this week: Vice President, Nature Communications Portfolio and Vice President, Nature Research Journals Portfolio. In either case you would be leading one of the best teams in scholarly publishing. They’re a fantastic group of people; they’re not revolting all the time.


IOP Publishing report reveals peer review capacity not used to its full potential

A strong theme in the comments was perceived geographical bias of reviewers against authors from specific global regions or countries. Many respondents noted that they felt they had been discriminated against, or had witnessed discrimination against, authors from certain regions. Other respondents gave credibility to these concerns by noting that they themselves were biased against certain regions. For example, one respondent commented, “I have to admit that I already assume a paper to be of low-quality if the author is based in [COUNTRIES REDACTED]”.

Another recurrent theme in the free text responses was bias on the part of editorial staff for or against reviewers from specific countries. Many respondents felt that their reviewer reports and recommendations had been disregarded or given less weight by editors because of their nationality. There was a feeling that editors listened less to the voices of reviewers from low- and middle-income countries compared with higher-income countries. There was also a feeling that editorial teams predominantly based in high-income countries were biased towards authors from the same countries: “Authors close to editors have privileged conversation vs. isolated authors in developing countries”.

IOP Publishing​

JB: You can read the report in full here. IOPP previously published the results of a similar survey in 2020.

Many of the results of the survey are unsurprising; the same themes have come up before (although “AI is evil, burn it with fire!” is a new observation). Having said that, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of how the burden of peer review is shouldered in different regions of the world.

The one statistic that made me stop and take note was this one, which was higher than I might have expected.

Just over half of reviewers (52%) prefer to review double-anonymous manuscripts where the identity of both authors and reviewers are concealed.

The big caveat with this survey is the response rate. IOPP approached 94,884 researchers and received responses from 3046 of them (3.2% response rate). Only 5.4% of those 3046 respondents came from the USA, which is equivalent to around 160 responses.

I asked Laura Feetham-Walker, one of the authors of the report, for her view on this. Laura pointed me in the direction of this page (DE&I data and reporting), which was updated last week. In 2023, US reviewers made up 16.4% of invitations, and 13.4% of completed reviews. In an email to me Laura said:

So the geographical distribution of respondents is not representative of the people who recently submitted reviews for us; however, because we sent the survey to our whole database and not just our reviewers, it IS a much closer representation of the geographical distribution of our submitting authors. This in turn is a closer approximation of the make-up of the global physical sciences community. We’re not there yet, but we’re working towards diversifying our reviewer pool and trying to make it more representative of the distribution you see in the survey response.

Surveys like this are helpful because they give real insight into the challenges that peer reviewers, editors and publishers are facing. The discussion section is nicely done and is well worth reading if you want to get a quick summary of the main results.

As an aside, Edward Tufte is right. There’s only one thing worse than a pie chart and that’s lots of pie charts. For an explanation as to why, click here (there are many more examples on the internet). Even better, get yourself a copy of Tufte’s classic book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.


GetFTR collaborates with Crossref to strengthen research integrity

GetFTR, the cross-industry initiative aimed at streamlining the researcher journey from discovery to access, is proud to announce a significant enhancement to their core service which will expose retraction and errata information to researchers at the point of discovery.
This collaboration with Crossref marks a significant step forward in ensuring researchers have access to the most accurate and up-to-date scholarly content.
Earlier this year, GetFTR revealed plans to leverage its existing infrastructure to incorporate retraction and errata data provided by Crossref and Retraction Watch. Today, this service has officially gone live for researchers using the GetFTR Browser Extension, with plans for wider implementation later this year across tools and platforms integrated with GetFTR.

GetFTR (press release)


Letter to the Editor: AlphaFold3

For these reasons, we were disappointed with the lack of code, or even executables accompanying the publication of AlphaFold3 in Nature. Although AlphaFold3 expands AlphaFold2’s capacities to include small molecules, nucleic acids, and chemical modifications, it was released without the means to test and use the software in a high-throughput manner. This does not align with the principles of scientific progress, which rely on the ability of the community to evaluate, use, and build upon existing work. The high-profile publication advertises capabilities that remain locked behind the doors of the parent company.

Letter to Nature (Stephanie A. Wankowicz et al)

JB: Retraction Watch covered this letter / petition here: Nature earns ire over lack of code availability for Google DeepMind protein folding paper


OA, AI, and DEI—Triple Advantage or Triple Threat? | Periodicals Price Survey 2024

One unintended consequence of OA initiatives is that five large academic publishers continue to dominate the world of publishing. Funder and author-pay models reward volume, allowing these big players to continue to grow. Not surprisingly, these publishers are also now aggressively beginning to both position themselves as leaders in AI offerings and address equity concerns regarding publishing support for authors in the global south and for non–English speaking researchers.

Library Journal (Siôn Romaine et al)

JB: This article was published a month ago, but I missed it. Publishers and their sales teams will want to read it. The “cost per citation” metric is a bizarre way to measure the value of a journal.


ResearchGate and PLOS announce new Journal Home partnership

More than 300,000 PLOS articles will now be accessible on ResearchGate, growing engagement with ResearchGate’s 25m+ active researcher members – this includes previously published articles from all their journals, as well as newly published articles being made available as they are published.
Journal Home ensures that all PLOS journal content will be visible and accessible throughout the ResearchGate platform and across all relevant touchpoints for members. Dedicated Journal Profiles will provide key information and content from journals, as well as uniquely enable ResearchGate members to explore directly how their own community is connected to a journal.

PLOS (announcement)

JB: ResearchGate is becoming a supercontinent of scholarly content. We’ve come a long way since 2018 when Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe wrote If ResearchGate is Where Authors Connect and Collaborate … and Roger C. Schonfeld wrote The Supercontinent of Scholarly Publishing?. Springer Nature took a different, more collaborative, path to Elsevier and the American Chemical Society (who, in 2018, filed a copyright infringement law suit against ResearchGate along with 13 other publishers, which was settled last year) and the rest, as they say, is history.


More awareness of open access publishing needed in Japan

The Japanese government has mandated that any nationally funded research must be published in open access journals by 2025. But, as the deadline draws closer, a new survey suggests researchers are unprepared for the shift.
In a survey of approximately 1,500 researchers, published by the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy, 60 per cent said they were unaware of or unclear about the new policy. In addition, 30 per cent of management-level officials from universities and research institutes surveyed said the same.

Times Higher Education (Helen Packer)


Manuela Gerlof and Maurits van den Boogert become Chief Publishing Officers

Manuela Gerlof and Maurits van den Boogert have been appointed De Gruyter Brill’s Chief Publishing Officers in a dual leadership role, joining the Management Board. They will replace Jasmin Lange, who has decided to leave De Gruyter Brill.
Manuela and Maurits will continue the process of integrating the two editorial divisions of De Gruyter Brill. De Gruyter and Brill will continue to exist as independent publishing brands with their respective imprints and programs. The breadth and depth of the publishing programs will be maintained, to continue to offer authors the opportunity to publish with all imprints, within established series and journals, and in as many subject areas as before. The editorial departments at De Gruyter Brill will develop their portfolios in close cooperation with the academic community, to make sure excellent research continues to have a significant impact on the world.

Brill (announcement)

JB: Jasmin announced on LinkedIn that she has an exciting new role lined up.


Other news stories

Global STM Online Services, 2024-2028

Publisher slaps 60 papers in chemistry journal with expressions of concern

2024 public data file now available, featuring new experimental formats

I’m worried I’ve been contacted by a predatory publisher — how do I find out?

IGI Global and Scite Partner to Develop the Next Generation of Citations

Norway university committee recommends probe into the country’s most productive researcher

De Gruyter now connected to OA Switchboard

New ]u[ Ubiquity Press APC Breakdown

STM Publishers Unveil Next-Generation Products Across the Industry Spectrum

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Opinion

We are in the business of attention

What is it that publishers actually do? The job we do is to provide platforms to support the dissemination of verifiable claims about the world, but the business of what we do is about marshalling attention, from getting the attention of authors for them to submit their work, the attention of researchers to review that work, and the attention of readers to be aware of what is new within their halo of interest. This rolls up to the attention of libraries, funders, institutions and governments, on the questions of where impact is occurring.

Ian Mulvany Blog

JB: Yes, this is why AMPLIFY is so important for publishers. PRC (publish, review, curate) and Plan U proponents, take note.


How legitimate publishers allow paper mills to flourish

Publisher misconduct includes actively ignoring concerns about articles showing signs of paper mill activity because of the potential negative impact any action might have on the reputation or revenue of the affected journal or publisher. Not acting to address known vulnerabilities or poor practices and processes is another example. To clarify, this does not include perceived delays in taking action when concerns are raised. When a journal or publisher is targeted by a paper mill, it can take months, if not years to investigate the issue and correct the published record. Externally, this can be perceived as inaction. However, investigating and resolving an attack by a paper mill is a hugely time-consuming and challenging undertaking. That, in itself, can be exploited by paper mills.

Jigisha Patel Research Integrity (blog)


Data to paper, and some reflections on LLMs

One of the things that blew me away is one of the people at the workshop demoed data-to-paper - a system they built to get two instances of LLMs to work together in an agent based framework to write an academic paper, from coming up with the hypothesis, writing the analysis code, doing to analysis, writing the paper. I see that the code is now available and you can check out the code here -
https://github.com/Technion-Kishony-lab/data-to-paper. It really works, though the papers are not top flight science, the fact that you can even do this is frankly astonishing.

Ian Mulvany (blog)

JB: I see two ways that the scholarly publishing ecosystem could be significantly disrupted: (1) Academic institutions and funders change the incentives system so that publishing in journals becomes less important for career advancement; (2) Research articles are written by machines in a format that machines can read — humans read syntheses of research and the IMRAD format dies (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion).

Once you’ve read Ian’s blog post go and read David Warlock’s. Here’s an extract:

You know all these publishers, data, providers and so-called proprietary data owners have been bleating forever that we have been nicking their data and using it illegally? Turns out, it’s not even the right data, and for the most part, there is not enough of it. To make our models work, it is becoming clear that we are going to have to find data, originate data, record data that is out there, but is not yet being collected. And we are having to prepare data for use in different intelligent context, from the cloud to the training set.

The Interplay Between Copyright Licensing and Exclusive Rights; AI Edition

The argument that copyright and licensing somehow stifle innovation is seemingly as old as copyright itself. I tend to find it silly. Copyright predates the measurement of longitude, the horseless carriage, radio, and a few technologies that I currently wear. Collective licensing has advanced technologies including recorded music, broadcast, cable, photocopying, and the Internet. So why are these companies so adamant that, notwithstanding history, licensing will “chill” or “impede” progress? The answer (other than “money; they don’t want to share it”) lies in part in how US courts and non-US governments view the interplay between licensing and copyright exceptions.

The Scholarly Kitchen (Roy Kaufman)


News & Views: Sponsored Journals Update

This month we update our review of sponsored (“diamond”) open access journals. As conversations about non-APC based open access models are continuing at pace, we find out if anything has changed over the last year.
Looking at trends, the data suggest that under one fifth of journals are now sponsored, down from just over 25% a few years ago. Our sample of journals has grown since our previous analysis, however the trends remain the same. The share of sponsored journals has fallen from over one quarter at the start of 2021, to under one fifth today, and the proportion is continuing to decrease. The underlying data show that the numbers of journals have grown by over 50% over this period.

DeltaThink

JB: The dataset includes 13,658 fully open journals, so this is a robust finding. I would be interested to know if the number of sponsored articles is dropping as well as the number of sponsored journals. There’s recently been a lot of noise about Diamond OA; this analysis suggests that the number of journals that are free for readers and authors is decreasing.


Chief Editor Behind the World’s Most-Cited Physics Journal Aims for Expansion

I’d like to break down barriers and expand our scope. Many researchers in the community aren’t aware that we publish more than just fundamental physics research. We liken ourselves to a large marketplace of ideas with many well-stocked stalls. We’re looking for all physics-related research — materials, biophysics, chemical physics, astrophysics, climate physics. The list goes on. In an effort to publish more climate-related studies, we recently introduced a new subsection that focuses specifically on climate physics, mitigation, and renewable technology.

APS News (Nyla Husain interviews Robert Garisto)

JB: This is yet another example of a common, recurring theme. Quantity matters now more than ever.


Other opinion articles

Ask Athena: Can a Plain Language Summary Be an Acceptable Secondary Publication?

Double-Anonymous Peer Review: Why it Reduces Bias and Increases Equity in Scholarly Publishing

The best peer review reports are at least 947 words

Metadata matching 101: what is it and why do we need it?


And finally...

We all have ambitions and goals that we hope to achieve, but never will. One of mine is to create a newsletter that’s 1% as good as Stratechery. This week Ben Thompson wrote about Apple’s recent disastrous advertisement for the new iPad. The conclusion has direct relevance to scholarly publishing.

What is increasingly clear, though, is that Jobs’ prediction that future changes would be even more profound raise questions about the “bicycle for the mind” analogy itself: specifically, will AI be a bicycle that we control, or an unstoppable train to destinations unknown? To put it in the same terms as the ad, will human will and initiative be flattened, or expanded?
The route to the former seems clear, and maybe even the default: this is a world where a small number of entities “own” AI, and we use it — or are used by it — on their terms. This is the outcome being pushed by those obsessed with “safety”, and demanding regulation and reporting; that those advocates also seem to have a stake in today’s leading models seems strangely ignored.
The alternative — MKBHDs For Everything — means openness and commoditization. Yes, those words have downsides: they mean that the powers that be are not special, and sometimes that is something we lament, as I noted at the beginning of this Article. Our alternative, though, is not the gatekept world of the 20th century — we can’t go backwards — but one where the flattening is not the elimination of vitality but the tilling of the ground so that something — many things — new can be created.

Going back to the Apple advert that hit all the wrong notes, Apple was quick to apologise for the out-of-tune advert. As the Daring Fireball blog put it:

The standard shouldn’t be never to make a mistake. It’s to make as few mistakes as possible, but quickly recognize, acknowledge, and address the ones you do make.

A common editorial-writing technique is to link back to the opening in the final paragraph to create a sense of circularity. For example, as I’ve just done in this week’s newsletter.

Until next time,

James

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Journalology

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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