05 January 2022

The predictability of “accelerated publication”

Academic publisher Taylor & Francis are offering a new service: “accelerated publication.” expedited review.

Choose your publication route

An example:

Publish in 3 – 5 weeks from submission

  • Submission to acceptance: 2-3 weeks
    • 1-2 weeks for peer review
    • week for author revision
  • Acceptance to online publication: 1-2 weeks, with proofs within 5 working days and 48 hours for author review
  • Cost per article: $7000 / €6200 / £5500

Of that $7,000 (US dollars, presumably – hey everyone, currencies of many nations are called “dollars”), a small sliver of that goes to reviewers: “In recognition of the time constraints required of them, reviewers of Papers taking the 3-5 weeks option are paid an honorarium of $150.”

Of course, there are some people who will complain that 5 weeks to publication is still too long because there are a lot of academics with unreasonable expectations of how long peer review should take

So now we enter the cycle. 

Step 1: Academic publisher says something about journal operation that involves money.

Step 2: Academics complain. 

In this case, there’s good reason to complain. This scheme has issues. But I’m not  going to do a detailed analysis of problems with paying for “accelerated publication,” because other people are going to do it better.

Instead, I want to point out that this is a 💯 percent predictable outcome of the pressures on academics.

There are a lot of academics whose publishing strategy is, “Send it to someplace with high probability of acceptance and get it out anywhere as fast as possible.” Heck, I see questions on Quora almost daily: “What is a journal in [field] with high acceptance rates, fast publication, and no article processing charges?”

(I’m surprised they don’t ask for a pony, too.)

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Taylor & Francis “accelerated publication” scheme looks like MDPI’s publishing model. I think both are being driven by the same forces.

I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect that many of these academics prioritizing high acceptance and fast turnaround are not in G20 countries. This might explain why discussions of things like “accelerated publication” and MDPI on the Twitter community I’m in (G20, English speaking) are so negative, but publishers keep acting like there is high demand for this kind of publication.

If publishers are responding to demands from academics, we should be asking why customers want the things they want. Who are the authors who are freaking out so much over a few extra weeks in review and why?

Hat tip to Alejandro Montenegro on Twitter.

09 December 2021

University tells scholars what journals to publish in

University of SOuth Bohemia logo and MDPI logo

The latest news around the controversial publisher MDPI, from Katarina Sam on Twitter:

Our uni made official statement about publications in MDPI journals: Such papers will not be funded, supported, and considered as a valid scientific result. We were also recommended not to do any services for them.

From her Google Scholar page,  Katarina appears to be at the University of South Bohemia (which is an awesome name, incidentally). When I search for “University of South Bohemia MDPI,” I can’t find any official statement. The first page of hits is a list of MDPI articles where one or more authors have an affiliation with the University of South Bohemia. Searching the university website also returns no policy statement, but a few articles publihsed in MDPI journals.

I am interested in the policy statement because this seems to me to be very weird and very bad.

I was under the impression that the ability to choose which journals to publish in was part and parcel of academic freedom. Indeed, one of the arguments against open access mandates from funding agencies and others was that it compromised academic freedom. But I think people made a fuss there because such mandates meant they wouldn’t be able to publish in glamour mags like Nature and Science

Here, I am less sure people are going to make a fuss because a lot of people... dislike MDPI. 

I am very, very nervous about an institution trying to ban its faculty from using, not a single journal, but an entire publishing company.

I think MDPI will be outraged because the people in charge seem to have thin skins, but I don’t think they will be harmed much. MDPI clearly has authors who value their services.

I’m more concerned by the harm this precedent sets.

Update: Charles University has a vice-dean writing blog posts about MDPI. Not so much policy, but an expression of concern, I suppose.

But what’s the point of noting that MDPI is a “Chinese company (with a postal address in Basel, of course).” How is national origin relevant to the quality of an academic publisher? What is being implied here?

More edits: The National Publications Committee of Norway (they have one of those?) announced a new listing for dubious journals: “level X.” The article begins by singling out an MDPI journal that got added to the list.

I was about to tweet earlier today that “I wonder if the push against MDPI was because an institution was unhappy about paying open access fees.” And sure enough:

The phenomenon Røeggen refers to is open publishing with author payment. - Many are worried about the phenomenon. Not for open publishing, which I experience that there is great support for in Norwegian research, but the solution we have received in open publishing where the institutions have to pay when the authors publish, says Røeggen. ...

In recent years, the requirement for open publication, through national guidelines and the so-called Plan S, has created a significant shift. Now more and more money is being paid for publishing, instead of paying to be able to read the magazines.

Emphasis added. 

And I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: It is weird to me that academics will bitch and moan about how long journal reviews take (“Careers are on the line here! People’s lives are put on hold because reviews take so long!”), but then consistent and prompt review is used as a reason to suspect a journal.

Questions have been asked about the rapid pace from submission of manuscripts to publication and that this is in line with research quality.

MDPI is not alone here, though. Frontiers publishing and more traditional publisher Taylor & Francis also have journals making the “level X” status. Norway is also avoiding the “carpet bombing” approach taken by the University of South Bohemia.

Still. This is not a great week for MDPI specifically and perhaps for open access more generally.

Related posts

The paradox of MDPI

My resolve not to shoot the hostage is tested

External links

The same week that the researchers' article was published, the journal ended up on the gray zone list (Automatic translation of Norwegian title; article in Norwegian, naturally)

30 November 2021

PolicyViz interview

The real reason to write a book is to do interviews.

I’ve long noticed that I know the basic arguments of many books I’ve never read, because of the interviews authors gave arising from the book.

So I was very excited to talk about the Better Posters book with to Jon Schwabish (author of the excellent Better Data Visualizations, which I reviewed here) on the PolicyViz podcast. The episode is now available wherever you listen to podcasts!

Jon is a great person to talk to, and his questions got me thinking about some new topics that I hadn’t considered before.

This season, Jon has been experimenting with a video version of the podcast. I already knew of my bad speaking habits as an interviewer on audio (I go on tangents way to easily, I start sentences without knowing where they’ll land), but now I get to see entirely new bad habits (looking away from the camera, shifting my weight).

I mean seriously, why am I looking to my right so much? There’s nothing there...

If you are not interested in my voice or my face (and I can’t say I’d blame you), the show notes boast a complete transcript.

External links

PolicyViz podcast Episode #206: Zen Faulkes show notes 

22 November 2021

UK eyes new crustacean legislation

The Guardian is reporting that there is the potential new animal welfare regulations that would affect decapod crustaceans and cephalopods. The London School of Economics, whose report is being used to justify the move, seems rather more confident than The Guardian and is basically saying this is a done deal and that it will happen.

I am a little concerned by the backstory here, particularly cased on this:

The study, conducted by experts from the London School of Economics (LSE) concluded there was “strong scientific evidence decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs are sentient”. ...

Zac Goldsmith, the animal welfare minister, said: “The UK has always led the way on animal welfare and our action plan for animal welfare goes even further by setting out our plans to bring in some of the strongest protections in the world for pets, livestock and wild animals.

“The animal welfare sentience bill provides a crucial assurance that animal wellbeing is rightly considered when developing new laws. The science is now clear that crustaceans and molluscs can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation.”

See, I want to know what Minister Goldsmith knows that I don’t. Because I follow scientific literature on this topic and the science on whether crustaceans “feel pain” is nowhere near as clear as Goldsmith claims. We are only barely getting a handle on whether crustaceans have nociceptors,

And “sentience”? Yeah, I don’t think there is a generally agree upon set of criteria for that, either.

A cursory glance at the London School of Economics report shows that none of the authors have stated experience in crustacean biology. (One studies cephalopod cognition.) A major review on this topic by Diggles (2018) is not included. Some of the references in the report are dated 2021, so leaving out a 2018 paper is a puzzling omission. 

But at first blush, this report looks more comprehensive than the documents used to argue for legislation in Switzerland. But I’ve only glanced at it so far, and will need some more time to read in detail.


Diggles BK. 2018. Review of some scientific issues related to crustacean welfare. ICES Journal of Marine Science: fsy058. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsy058

Related posts

Switzerland’s lobster laws are not paragons of science-based policy

External links

Boiling of live lobsters could be banned in UK under proposed legislation

Review of the Evidence of Sentience in Cephalopod Molluscs and Decapod Crustaceans

Octopuses, crabs and lobsters to be recognised as sentient beings under UK law following LSE report findings

19 November 2021

Do not make professors guess a student’s childhood

I was filling in recommendation forms for students today, and was gobsmacked by this question:

English Competency: For students whose first language is not English, please rank the applicant’s ability and comment on the applicant’s English competency in the box provided below.

Wow, that’s a bad question. Wait, let me upgrade that. That’s a freaking terrible question.

Why am I only asked to assess the English competency of students “whose first language is not English”? I know a lot of students who are native speakers whose linguistic skills are not good.

More to the point, how can I possibly know what a student’s first language is?

Maybe a student will mention this to me, but probably not. It’s not in a student’s records for a class. I am quite confident it is not part of a student’s university record.

(And this was a non-optional part of a form, which is also weird, because presumably I am supposed to skip it for native English speakers?)

The only way anyone could complete this part of the form is by making assumptions. So this question is code for:

“Does this student speak with an accent?”

“Does this student’s name look European?”

“Does this person have black or brown skin?”

The question singles out some people as needing extra “assessment”, but it’s based on the recommender’s stereotypes about who a “non native English speaker” is.

If you’re going to ask a question about language proficiency, ask, “Rate this applicant’s proficiency in communication” for every single applicant. Don’t even mention the language. Because there are some people who will never speak English who should be afforded the opportunity to have an education. (I’,m thinking of people who sign, for one.)

Update, 23 November 2021: In this case, a happy ending! The program changed the question so that every recommender is simply asked to comment on language skills for every applicant.

08 November 2021

The University of Austin: Stop it, you’re just embarassing yourself.

 Spotted on Twitter this morning (hat tip to Michael Hendricks):

We got sick of complaining about how broken higher education is. So we decided to do something about it. Announcing a new university dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth::

It offers no degrees. It has no accreditation. This is its physical location:

REsidential house in Austin Texas that does not look like a university campus.

But they offer “Forbidden courses” where students can have “spirited discussions” about “provocative questions.”

Presumably for a tuition fee. Since this wouldn’t lead to any degree or course credits, not at all clear why would a student do this when they can just have an drunken argument in any bar with “provocative questions.”

Having been through the creation of a new university (in Texas, no less), I can say with confidence:

This is trash.

This is probably one of two things.

One possibility is that it’s a wild mix of huge egos and a cash grab. It will come to nothing besides  separating a few suckers from their money. It reminds me of a “university” created by a former US president that was sued and gave out a settlement of $25 million

Or maybe it’s a pure criminal operation

Everything about this stinks like the kind of stink that make you involuntarily gag and fight the urge to vomit.

Update: Sarah Jones reminds me:

I’m not convinced this experiment is going to last, but they seem to have money and as a general rule I think it’s wise to take the right as seriously as it takes itself.

This is true. Being badly wrong has not prevented many ideas from having amazing longevity.

31 October 2021

Science Twitter calaveras

Thanks Namnezia!

Skeleton wearing t-shirt with crayfish standing in front of poster
Poor ol' Zen Faulkes, 

the mob confused him for Guy Fawkes. 

Said "You got the wrong guy, I study crayfish!" 

But they thought he was being all selfish. 

From the bonfire he yelled "No, really, look at my poster!" 

That didn't work,they thought he was another imposter.