Why would you pay to get published?


An enormous number of ‘Open Access’ (OA) journals have emerged in recent years, and these compete for your publications in neurosciences. OA journals in the neuroscience field are often part of large OA series, such as the BioMed Central (BMC) OA journals (now owned by Springer), which include BMC Neuroscience and close to 20 additional journals covering aspects of neuroscience. Other impressively large series of neuroscience OA journals are the Frontiers journals and the journals by the Hindawi Publishing Corporation, each with over 20 different journals covering experimental and clinical neurosciences. Nature Publishing announced in January the forthcoming OA journal ‘Scientific Reports’ as a further addition to their program after the launch of the hybrid Nature Communications.

OA comes at a cost to the Author, with publishing fees ranging generally from about $1000 to over $2500 per article. ‘OA’, of course, is a bit of a misnomer, suggesting a free ride, and thus may be more accurately termed ‘Pay to Publish’ (see also the inspiring editorial by Moore, 2010). As some OA journals publish several thousand papers a year, and taking into account the relatively low production costs for such journals, these journals must be immensely profitable, generating millions of dollars of revenue.

It is difficult to gauge the motivation for authors to publish in OA journals. In most countries, the publication of research that was supported by public institutions (such as the NIH) requires deposition of manuscripts and articles into OA systems. Furthermore, the great majority of institutional researchers have access to most scientific journals via their institutional subscription systems. Most journals that are not OA journals will release an article without restrictions for a fee that is often comparable with the publishing fees for OA journals. It seems doubtful that lack of access to their articles represents a sufficiently widespread concern to motivate authors publishing in OA journals.

On their websites and advertising campaigns, many OA journals boast fast publication upon acceptance. Some forget to mention that articles typically are posted on-line ‘as they are’ rather than being copy-edited, proof-read and typeset by production editors. In contrast, many traditional journals, including EJN, have high-quality as well as rapid on-line publication schedules of typeset articles that appear satisfactory to the majority of authors.

OA journals emphasize their bias-free reviewing process (e.g. ‘...a fair and unbiased process...certifying the accuracy and validity of articles, not on evaluating their significance...’; http://www.frontiersin.org/about/reviewsystem; ‘...publish all papers that are judged to be technically sound. Judgments about the importance of any particular paper are then made after publication by the readership...’; http://www.plosone.org/static/information.action). We did not, however, find statements addressing the conflict of interest that is inherent to a scheme that links acceptance of a manuscript directly to income.

While there are no data to substantiate this view, there seems a widespread notion that the reviewing process of many OA journals is relatively benign. The famous ‘fake paper’ affair (http://chronicle.com/article/Open-Access-Publisher-Appears/47717) may have fueled such views. However, some researchers take the view that because the scientific ‘market place’ attributes significance to a publication in the long term, neither the particular journal nor its impact factor matter. Accordingly, the less intrusive reviewing often attributed to some OA journals is considered a plus.

These issues will continue to be discussed and the opinions of scientists will continue to vary greatly. However, associated monetary issues should be taken seriously. Most researchers conduct their research using public funds. If this research is published in journals that are owned or co-owned by scientific organizations, the considerable proceeds from scientific publishing are returned to nourish and maintain the scientific community.

There is no submission fee and no page charge for publishing in EJN. In other words, expenses for the authors are nil. The proceeds from EJN fund the activities of FENS, including the popular FENS-IBRO schools and the NENS Schools, the FENS job market and travel fellowships and, sponsored also directly by Wiley-Blackwell, the FENS-EJN Awards (http://fens.mdc-berlin.de/awards/). Therefore, publishing in EJN, besides being free, funds FENS.

Yes, our reviewers and editors evaluate the significance of papers and, yes, we have biases – biases toward quality papers and continuously increasing the quality of EJN, and helping authors to improve the scientific content of their manuscripts. And we will not hide our opinions behind four, six or even eight reviewers, as is the case now with some journals (see also Pleogh, 2011). Our expert editors and reviewers – all practicing scientists as opposed to professional editors – will get back to you, based on usually just two reviews, typically within 2–3 weeks. Our practicing editors understand that your research rarely results in perfect data and clear-cut, headline-grabbing stories; they have a realistic view of what constitutes a meaningful set of data (Pleogh, 2011) and they appreciate the often ‘messy’ nature of biological data. They also experience rejections for their own papers, and thus such decisions are never taken lightly.

Furthermore, we all serve, way too frequently, as reviewers. Although we share a collective responsibility for maintaining the integrity and quality of our field, as a reviewer for EJN your work eventually benefits the neuroscience community, and that is you and your students.

Our focus on quality does not stop with the acceptance of your paper. The production editors ensure flawless usage of English, correction of typographic errors, and consistency in the presentation of text and figures. Furthermore, together with Wiley-Blackwell we are taking steps to ensure the long-term, stable archiving of the electronic version of your paper. This is an increasingly important (and costly) issue that many OA journals are surprisingly silent about.

In short, publishing in EJN does not draw monies from authors’ tax-payer-funded research, and yet it generates considerable support for your neuroscience community.

The Editors of EJN

Fritschy-ejn@pharma.uzh.ch; msarter@umich.edu