17 February 2014

AAAS creates another Zune journal

I am heartened that Science’s publisher, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) actually is listening to critics. This article notes that AAAS “has long been a target of complaints from some advocates of open-access publishing.” I wrote that Science magazine was a prime target to become an open access journal a little over two years ago. I don’t pretend my little blog post had much impact, but maybe Michael Eisen posting of a bunch of Mars Curiosity rover papers that had been paywalled by Science did have an effect. It made news.

Unfortunately, that has not happened. Instead of doing what open access advocates have, well, advocated – making Science the world’s first glamour mag to go open access – AAAS is creating Science Advances. This is, as far as I can see, another Zune journal: a “me too” journal with no apparent innovations.

Responding to criticism by creating something that nobody asked for is maybe not the strongest public relation move.

Let’s look at the rationale for creating yet another journal rather than improving the ones we have.

Science and AAAS’s other journals have been forced to turn away many high-quality papers, without providing an alternative publication venue.

But there already are alternative publication venues. There are many other journals by other publishers, including scientific societies. What advantage is there to authors in having this new journal? Maybe this:

Papers submitted to Science or its sister journals, Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling, that are rejected can be automatically considered for Science Advances without more reviews.

You don’t need a new journal to do this; you just need cooperation between existing journals. Some neuroscience journals do this: check the Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium.

If there are positive reviews from Science, will acceptance be (almost) automatic in Science Advances? If the editorial board and review process is independent of Science, it may not be automatic, and authors may have to have to face another round of reviews, probably by different people. If that’s the case, there is no obvious advantage to authors to have this AAAS journal compared to another open access journal.

Another question is whether Science Advances will be review papers for intangibles like “impact,” “novelty,” and “importance.” If Science Advances simply goes for technical soundness, like PLOS ONE, many authors may want to pull their paper from the Science Advances submission queue to try their hand at an established disciplinary journal. An existing disciplinary journal will probably have a stronger brand than an untried Zune journal, regardless of the publisher.

Science Advances is a distraction from the real issues. I wish publishers would stop trying to give us what we don’t want. I would rather they just address the question of why it’s so difficult for their journals, like Science, to have their original technical articles to be open access.

Additional, 19 February 2014: Nature reports that Science Advances will screen articles for “import,” not just technical soundness. That seems to me that it is competing in a very most crowded niche in scientific publishing. There are a lot of journals that know that won’t reach into the realm of Science, Nature, and Cell, but strive to be the first line for papers that don’t make it there.

Related posts

Occupy Science (the journal)
How expensive is that glamour mag?
Zune journals

External links

AAAS Launches Open-Access Journal
Science follows Nature and starts a second-tier open access journal
AAAS announces open-access journal

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