Tuesday, December 15, 2009

WWDD (What Would Darwin Do?)

Hello Everyone! On this blog we've discussed the value of publishing in Open Access journals at least a couple times, and it general the idea has received strong support (including from me, if I remember correctly). Alan Moore (who was Tom's Ph.D. opponent) just published an article in support society-based journals. As a long-term member of many societies, I found Moore's article spoke to many things that are important to me, and he makes excellent points. For example, someone always pays, even if the article is freely available. More importantly, supporting societies has a lot of academic and cultural value. We all enjoy and benefit from the ESEB meetings, and from the promotion of science (in the USA, we need all the help we can get getting facts about Evolution out!!!!!!). Another interesting point: we provide free reviews to support academic societies (a reasonable volunteer contribution), but we also provide free reviews to open access, society-less journals, and are thereby padding the bottom line of the publishing industry (people who almost certainly make more money than I do). Why do this expert service for free for industry? I may not review for society-less journals any longer, unless they pay me.

I remember a couple years ago there was a talk at Lund about Open Access and its virtues from the perspective of a librarian. It was an excellent, convincing talk, and I enjoyed it. Afterwards, someone asked about the societies and how they fit into this. The answer, which did not satisfy me, was that they'd have to "do something else" (I'm quoting from long memory here -- at any rate, the response was terse and unsympathetic to the concerns of society-based journals). I agree with Moore that the academic societies are of extraordinary value to us as researchers and academics (more than most realize, I would venture), and deserving of our support in terms of finances and as a first choice when be publish.

Now, let me cover my head and run....


  1. Interesting piece Shawn!

    I started to write a response, although my f-cking computer got blue screen just after it was finished, so this will be a brief one:

    I agree with almost everything Allen Moore says, and read his article more as an argument for scientific societies, rather than as a criticism for the Open Acess-model of publishing per se. I certainly agree with him that scientific societies are extremely valuable, and that Darwin would have thought the same.

    I also agree with him 100 % that "Societies are more than publishers", which is important to keep in mind. For me, one of the strongest argument to join a society is to take part of the excellent meetings, like the one in Turin this year. Societies are more than journals, even though the journals are very important too.

    Right now I am involved in planning the Behavioural Ecology meeting in Lund 2012 (you are most welcome to attend!), organised by the society ISBE. This has given me some insight in to the budget, which is quite interesting. It turns out that the conference is covered almost entirely by the fees of the participants, which was somewhat surprising and shocking to me. Clearly, the journal Behavioural Ecology is not a "cash cow" that generates a lot of money to organize meetings. I suspect this is case also for SSE, ASN and ESEB, the societies to which I belong. Now, as well as in the future, scientific meetings will largely be paid by the participants, not by the revenues from the journals (whether Open Acess or not). This is perhaps my only criticism of Moores article, as it was somewhat misleading here.

    Apart from this, I agree very much with him that we should choose society-based journals whenever we can, and this decision is largely independent of the choice of to publish OA or "traditionally". As Moore says, there are OA-options for JEB, as there is for Am. Nat. and Evolution, alongside with the traditional way of publishing. I certainly think that societies are better than commercial publishers (in general), and this division of line is as important as that between OA vs. traditional publishing.

    However, to understand the complications of the debate, it is important to realize that there are commercial and non-commercial OA-journals (BMC vs. PLoS, for instance) as well as commercial vs. non-commercial non OA-journals (Springer vs. Evolution, for instance). In general, I would prefer non-commercial, OA-journals published by societies, although it might not be possible to fullfil all these goals at the same time!

  2. Finally, I think that we as reviewers should also carefull think of whom we review for. In general, I would like to boycott Springer (both their tradiotional journals and their new OA-journals), while acting favourably when e. g. PLoS, ASN, SSE and ESEB asks me to review for one of their journals. There are more lines of division than just OA/non-OA, which I hope should be evident here, as well as from Moore's excellent and nuanced critical opinion piece. Life is more complicated than we tend to think, luckily!

    It is precisely for this reasons I have accepted to join the editorial boards of four society-based journals (Am. Nat., Evolution, JEB and Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B.) and one OA-publisher (PLoS ONE), while declining an offer to take up the position as Editor-in-chief for "Evolutionary Ecology" (a non-OA journal published by the EVIL Springer!!!!). We have a choice, and we need to use it in the future. "Evolutionary Ecology" is a non-OA journal published by a commercial publisher, so there are actually few reasons to choose this journal.

    Finally, we also have to remember that we, due to career reasons, have to be pragmatic. I am sure most of us would like to publish in "Nature" as often as possible, even though it is neither a society-based journal nor an OA-journal. I am sure that you, Shawn, would reason exactly the same way, and it is for this reason I think it is important with some pluralism and balanced discussion in this area, as there are still quite many mis-conceptions about OA-publishing.

    My main point is that this is a new FORM of publishing, which is well compatible with both non-commercial and commercial publishing, and society-based journals as well as journals not published by societies.

  3. Excellent points, Erik! It is good to be reminded that OA does not need to be society-free (even if it currently trends that way). I have published a little bit in journals that don't have a society behind them (Molecular Ecology and MPE), and, yes, I wouldn't turn down a Nature paper, at least until I am gainfully employed. But I appreciate Moore's call for the support of societies. Now with online pdf's freely available, the societies probably suffer. It was only a few years ago that to get an article you had to go photocopy it!!! That helped the societies a lot, because people would join to get the journal and avoid the pain of bad photocopies. (I sound like an old man here!!! But it was only a few years ago that pdf's weren't readily available!)

    I will definitely come to the Behavioral Ecology meetings in Lund if I can swing it!!! =-)

  4. I hope others can join in this interesting discussion, because I think it is very important and there is much more things to say.

    You and I Shawn are probably a bit old-fahsioned, in the sense that we belong to several societies, but how do we convince young people that they should join? It is obviously not enough to say that they will get paper copies of the journals, as they have access to them electronically anyway (as long as they are in a rich university like Lund!). And this is has, N. B., very little to do with the OA-movement per se, as scientific journals went electronic long before the OA-journals appeared on the scene.

    Scientific societies need members. Period. But how do we convince the young scientists that they should be members? The only answer, to me at least, is that the societies has to offer something more than "just" the journal, i. e. some added value. Those things could be, e. g. applications for scholarships and travel grants, prizes, contact networks, and meetings. Also, we should emphasize that being a member of a scientific society looks good at your CV.

    I also think that the societies could - in the long run - benefit from OA, provided that they carefully think over their strategies and adapt wisely. That is what JEB appears to do, and which Am. Nat. also does. Evolution appears (as usual!) be the more conservative journal. I do not know very much about the systematic journals? Publishing ALL reviews in OA-format will, I think, push up the visibility of the journals and hopefully also the impact factors (though IF:s are somewhat stupid and misleading, as we have talked about earlier on this blogg).

  5. I think you are right Erik. I would guess that many societies are beating their heads against the wall looking for other things that they can offer (e.g., reduced publication costs and meeting registration fees) that will draw in the average poverty-ridden graduate student. I'm not sure the best solution has been found yet.

  6. Sheeeet! We'ins all know what Darwin DID!
    He t'were quite wise and said nothin' to upset the status quo's mythology...till he felt he had to. Smart fellow, that Darwin.

    Stay on groovin' safari,