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LIBLICENSE-L  March 2016

LIBLICENSE-L March 2016

Subject:

Re: What's wrong with OA megajournals

From:

LIBLICENSE <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

LibLicense-L Discussion Forum <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 8 Mar 2016 18:11:33 -0500

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From: Michael Magoulias <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tue, 8 Mar 2016 22:39:23 +0000

Since my original post sparked a number of comments, I'll do my best
to answer the most substantive points in one response without boring
everyone into an early grave.

First, careful readers will have noted that I referenced three
occasions in which scholars formerly positive, or at the very least
neutral, on PLOS One reversed themselves in the view of experience.
One was the scholar who had been asked to review his own paper, the
second was the commentary within the scientific community on the "Hand
of God" article which expanded considerably after I submitted my
comment on Thursday, and third was a former section editor who
disassociated himself from the journal on the grounds that it was a
"dumping ground."

I thought it was worth making my comments since all three of these
cases -- and if you want to call them "anecdotal," it's worth keeping
in mind that anecdotes can be just as empirically valid as anything
else -- occurred within a three-week period, which seemed to me much
more than simple coincidence. For established journals, that kind of
anti-trifecta could mean eternal disgrace, if not death, and at the
very least, would normally result in staffing changes and a
re-evaluation of editorial policies. While even the best of journals
can occasionally be fooled by cases of plagiarism or fabricated data,
the combination of triviality, horrendous writing, and misplaced
metaphysics in the "Hand of God" article just doesn't happen in the
leading subscription-based journals. This obviously doesn't mean that
every article published by standard journals is brilliant, but it does
mean that the kinds of peer-review failure seen in PLOS (and let's not
forget the author who was asked to review his own paper) almost never
happen in the best of the journals that PLOS was intended to replace
or supersede.

So if you want to defend PLOS, the only recourse you can have is to
some version of "not every single article it publishes is quite that
awful" or, to quote the Osmund Brothers: "one bad apple don't spoil
the whole bunch, girl."

This is undoubtedly true, but it is hardly a strong defense. It is
essentially the defense used by Allison of the University of
California Press which announced over a year ago that it intended to
get into the megajournal game. Since to date, its Collabra service has
published six articles, it's really more of a "minijournal" at the
moment, but the aspiration is there. It also shares with PLOS One a
crucial element of editorial philosophy: "The journal’s review process
will focus on scientific, methodological and ethical soundness and
credibility, and will not focus on more subjective notions of novelty,
topicality, or scope."

This philosophy is the heart of the problem for all megajournals (or
non-megajournals, for that matter) that share some version of it. It
represents nothing less than a repudiation of what all leading
journals explicitly aim for and quite often achieve. The contrast with
a journal like Nature couldn't be more striking. Nature highlights the
following characteristics of the papers it accepts: "novel," "of
extreme importance," and "ideally interesting to researchers in other
related disciplines." Nature sums up its philosophy by saying that "a
paper should represent an advance in understanding likely to influence
thinking in the field."

One of the graver instances of muddle-headedness in the editorial
philosophies of PLOS and Collabra is the notion that considerations of
novelty and significance are damagingly "subjective," whereas notions
of "the scientific," "credibility," and "soundness" (applied to both
methodology and ethics) are not. Nothing could be further from the
case, as the extensive literature on objectivity in the philosophy of
science demonstrates. It is impossible, and hardly even desirable, to
have value-free science, and no one has so far been able to develop a
statistical approach to data that can remove every hint of personal
bias. This does not mean that all scientific research is hopelessly
flawed or that there aren't effective methods of minimizing bias, but
it does mean that the key editorial driver of this kind of OA
publishing rests on a deeply flawed understanding of the nature of
meaningful research. The most important research is never a catalogue
of mute facts or data points, but always reflects considerable amounts
of interpretation, judgement and creativity.

It's a shame that the attempt to find another way of publishing
academic papers has meant departing not just from a particular
business model but also from shared and valid notions of quality. This
is a case of drowning the baby before you throw it out with the bath
water. I can see that for those whose worldview is based on the rosy
and unfounded fantasy that the "market" is always right, knows how to
correct itself, and is the ideal mechanism for settling all questions
of value, there is no problem here. If the World wants lots of not
very good articles, and you can charge a minimum of several hundred
dollars to slap each one on a website, then you have got yourself a
going concern. But I can't think of a single society or editorial body
I've ever worked with that would seriously entertain even for a moment
adopting the editorial philosophy of PLOS One. That would represent a
betrayal of their academic mission. The idea of publishing
non-significant articles in non-significant journals would certainly
not be enough to get me out of bed. I would have to find a way to
convince myself that I was doing something very different instead.

Michael


-----Original Message-----
From: Alison Mudditt <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Sun, 6 Mar 2016 11:05:17 -0800

I hate to point out the obvious, but I think you’re putting two and
two together here and getting at least five, Michael.  What you have
highlighted is a clear problem with the standard of at least some peer
review for PLoS One, which you then extrapolate to a problem with peer
review across megajournals in general and thus a question about the
sustainability of this form of OA publishing (if not all OA publishing
– I’m not quite clear). The conclusion you draw isn’t supported by all
megajournals at all. And peer review itself is of course an entirely
separate construct to that of the megajournal – there’s good and bad
peer review across all journals and plenty of examples of poor or lazy
“traditional” peer review.

That said, I completely agree that you’ve highlighted a very real
issue that requires our attention and response, but I suspect that the
market will sort itself out on this one. There are now many more OA
publishing options open to researchers, an increasing number of which
are run by scholarly associations who are very protective of their
quality brands. Thus if a journal such as PLoS One cannot maintain
appropriate standards, the community will simply move elsewhere.
Perhaps the declining number of PLoS One publications signals that
this is starting to happen.

Alison Mudditt
Director, University of California Press
510-883-8240
www.ucpress.edu



On Thu, Mar 3, 2016 at 3:46 PM, LIBLICENSE <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> From: Michael Magoulias <[log in to unmask]>
> Date: Thu, 3 Mar 2016 16:31:52 +0000
>
> Readers of this list will be interested in the recent case of a Chicago biology professor who was asked by PLoS One to review his own paper.
>
> This professor also highlighted the following sentence in an abstract
> to a separate, published PLoS One article entitled “Biomechanical
> Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily
> Living.”http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.
> pone.0146193
>
> “The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way.”
>
>
> Can I get an amen?
>
> This is simply the most recent example of what many researchers view as the standard m.o. of these megajournals. I was on a panel a few weeks ago with another biologist who had previously been a PLoS editor. He left on the grounds that the site was, and I quote, “a dumping ground for crappy articles.”
>
> If this is increasingly becoming the view of members of the academic community – and granted, the key word here is “if” – then there is a widening gap between researchers and those who believe that OA on an even more massive scale will be not only the solution to the problem of library budgets, but a boon to the future welfare of humanity.
>
> Looking at the timeline of this article, it is also worth noting that the period from acceptance to publication was 13 months, which is hardly speedier than what most STM publishers are doing. Clearly, whatever work was going into the article, it wasn’t peer review at its most rigorous. It wasn’t even manuscript editing.
>
> So if we add to these factors the recent dramatic increase in the APC, one has to ask whether this form of publishing really is any meaningful sense superior to the system it is meant to replace or “disrupt.” It’s also a question whether there can be long-term sustainability to a method of publication that places such a low premium on intellectual quality.
>
>
> Michael Magoulias
> University of Chicago Press
> Director, Journals

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