Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nature goes open access

Not really, of course. But in what seems like an abrupt u-turn, they have started up a new open-access cash cow dumping ground for all those papers that can't get published in a "proper" journal. OK, of course I'm being a bit cynical here. Their paper charges seem comparable to PLoS One, which is the obvious (existing) competitor for their new venture. My cynicism is mostly based on Nature's previous well-documented hostility to such publishing models. It remains to be seen how many people are prepared to pay for the Nature name, and/or how this may affect the reputation of their existing journals.

The editorial policy of the new journal seems a bit confused. Up front, they say that the only criterion is that the paper should be "technically sound". However, in the more detailed guide for referees they also seem to use this phrase to refer to a pre-review check that the editor performs before sending out the paper to review (to a single reviewer). Anyway, the critical point is that they aren't making any judgment about the value of the paper, hoping instead that "Judgments about the importance of a paper will be made by the scientific community after publication."

It is interesting to compare and contrast with the EGU journals. These days, these are generally open access with the peer-review process also open (at least, the new journals seem to follow this system - there are some older journals which have not switched). The paper charges are rather lower, with a charge of only €24 per (small) page compared to $1350 per paper for PLoS and the same for the new Nature journal. Few papers are long enough for the former to exceed the latter. One slightly controversial (IMO) point with the EGU system is that this fee is charged at submission, not publication. This is logical enough from some respects but I would guess may cause some ill-feeling for those who feel their papers have been unfairly rejected. It certainly causes awkwardness with the admin in our institute justifying why we should pay a fee for the publication of what is a non-peer-reviewed document. Anyway, these EGU journals are designed as proper journals where papers are supposed to be interesting and significant, not merely technically sound. Several of them are relatively high impact within their fields.

The fat fee for the Nature papers is explicitly described as including "all expenses, including peer review". I wonder how they will respond to bills received from scientific peer-reviewers who may be increasingly tempted to claim their fair share of the fat profits that Nature expects to make on the back of their (currently) free labour. Of course that applies to all commercial publishing houses.

1 comment:

toto said...

I couldn't quite believe the news that PLoS ONE got a 4+ impact factor. When peer-review "Lite" gives you almost the same visibility as the real thing, why bother with clueless editors and acrimonious reviewers?

I guess low-cost publishing is solidly upon us, for better or for worse.