Can a journal make a difference? Let’s find out.

Academic journals. Frankly, I’m not a big fan of any of them. There are too many. They cost too much. Much of what they publish is inconsequential, read by practically no-one or just downright incorrect. Much of the rest is badly-written and boring. The people who publish them have an over-inflated sense of their own importance. They’re hidden behind paywalls. And governed by ludicrous metrics. The system by which articles are accepted or rejected is arcane and ridiculous. I mean, I could go on…

No, what really troubles me about journals is that they only tell a very small part of the story – the flashy, attention-grabbing part called “results”. We learn from high school onwards that a methods section should be sufficient for anyone to reproduce the results. This is one of the great lies of science. Go read any journal in your field and give it a try. It’s even the case in computation, an area which you might think less prone to the problems in reproducing wet-lab science (“the Milli-Q must have been off”).

We have this wonderful thing called the Web now. The Web doesn’t have a page limit, so you can describe things in as much detail as you wish. Better still, you can just post your methods and data there in full, for all to see, download and reproduce to their hearts content. You’d like some credit for doing that though, right?

So if you do research – any kind of research – that involves computation, your code is open-source, reusable, well-documented and robust (think: tests) and you want to share it with the world, head over to a new journal called BMC Open Research Computation, which is now open for submissions. Your friendly team of enlightened editors awaits.

More information at Science in the Open and Saaien Tist. Full disclosure: I’m on the editorial board of this journal and was invited to write a launch post.

7 thoughts on “Can a journal make a difference? Let’s find out.

  1. Congrats Neil.
    Happy to hear that you and Bosco Ho (another blog I frequently follow) are in the editorial board. Hopefully, this journal would make a difference.


  2. Neat idea.

    I hope that the guiding principles of basic software development (publishing via an established source code management system, testing, issue tracking etc) will also be emphasized.

    I also love the fact that I know of more than 20% of the editorial board.

  3. Pingback: Open Research Computation

  4. Pingback: Now accepting submissions: Open Research Computation

  5. Open research is great — the public (generally) pays for science, so it is good that there is no paywall between the public and the articles. I’m a bit mystified by the article charges in this journal, though. It costs arXiv $7 per article deposited (see ) (but it doesn’t charge authors). The cost for BMC Open Research Computation is 225 times that — over two orders of magnitude higher [and, yes, there are lower rates for people with fewer funds, etc.]. There are differences between the two, of course — arXiv doesn’t have peer-review, whereas BMC journals have peer review, but done by unpaid scientists. arXiv also has a much greater volume of articles, so there will be some advantages to scale. But where does all the money go when publishing in a BMC journal or similar open access journal (PLoS has similar charges)? I doubt BMC is buying a new server to host the PDF of each article, and other publication costs like getting a DOI from CrossRef only costs $1.

  6. Brian, I can answer some of that question but just to put it in a context I am very much in agreement that in general terms that we need to bring journal publishing costs down. I’ve involved in other projects to do that but here we are working within a given framework.

    So why are the costs of OA in conventional journals with the main OA publishers so relatively high. Well point one is that they’re actually comparable on a per-paper basis with subscription publishers, particularly those that are charging subscriptions as well as page charges. Broadly costs of around $1000-$3000 per paper are consistent across the publication world. Obviously your main point is that these are much higher than e.g. ArXiv or where it is, as far as the user is concerned near enough to free as to make no difference.

    Now ArXiv is an interesting point. The hosting costs are significant but the biggest real costs for ArXiv are the human checks that they’re not posting potty nonsense. If you have ever tried to get something into ArXiv as an outsider you will find that its actually quite hard, you need a sponsor. ArXiv actually outsources a lot of the upfront filtering to the community. The other big cost is being confident about preservation. This costs money in an ongoing way and its not really costed in in a clear way.

    In the BMC case the primary costs are the people in the office who are running the systems, keeping everything up, and ensuring the long term preservation. The academic ed board are not paid (Full disclosure: I get an honorarium but I intend to use that to seed a fund to support APCs for people who can’t pay them) but there are professional staff within BMC supporting the journal at an editorial logistics level. The systems for running the journal are much more complicated than that for ArXiv and offer a lot more functionality, plus there is the whole review management process. There is an amount of copy editing and re-formatting that goes on. And then there are long term preservation costs and yes some distribution and promotion costs as well.

    BMC does make a small profit (I think margins are about 10-15%) which is about right from my perspective. I do believe, with a radical reconfiguring of the process that costs could be brought down by about an order of magnitude, but that kind of radical change is going to take us some time and probably going to require a major shift in thinking about what is important. With this journal we’re seeking to do something faster so we are working within a largely traditional environment. That has advantages and disadvantages. I am keenly aware that different disciplinary views of charges could bias the research domains that we get papers from and I want to work to avoid that if possible. There are mechanisms for waivers and I will be trying to raise some money to support special cases as well.

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