Sunday, February 5, 2012

Where am I sending my next paper and why?

Mathematician Timothy Gowers' recent public boycott of Elsevier has been joined by thousands of other people and I am one of them.

My boycott, mainly because of their support for the Research Work Act (RWA), was not a very courageous move.  I have published exactly two papers in Elsevier journals (both Chemical Physics Letters) and none of their chemistry journals are of the "if only I could publish there" variety in my opinion.

But what about other publishers?  The RWA was supported by the American Association of Publishers of which Wiley and the American Chemical Society are members. If I boycott them where would I send my manuscripts?

Gowers boycott has re-ignited the Open Access (OA) discussion on the net (examples here and here, and this list), where people are grabbling with much the same question.  One journal that is frequently mentioned as an alternative is PLoS ONE, which is an OA journal.  This is where I will send my next paper.  This has not been an easy decision, mainly because of certain "mental blocks" that I struggled with.  Many of these where echoed in the OA discussions and seeing them in print really helped thinking about them rationally. Here I paraphrase some of the arguments as I read them.  My answers to these serve to convince myself to submit the paper to PLoS ONE and are not based on actual experiences yet.

My Usual Journal is more "appropriate" than PLoS ONE for my next paper
"Appropriate" usually means there are many papers like mine there, so therefore it's more likely to be (A) accepted for publication and (B) found by researchers interested in that particular topic.

     (A) I have had papers rejected for two main reasons: the impact was not judged sufficiently high or the subject of the paper was not appropriate for the journal.  Impact is not a review criterion for PLoS ONE and PLoS ONE accepts papers in all disciplines of science.  I admit it is a little unnerving not to see a single "friend" on the editorial board or little more than one or two among the authors, but I think I subconsciously connect this with the "focus" of the journal.  For PLoS ONE there is no "focus" in the usual sense.

     (B) I don't think that's true anymore.  I think most people find papers through search engines.  PLoS ONE is indexed on Web of Science, PubMed and Google Scholar.  I certainly don't peruse the table of content of a single journal anymore.

PLoS ONE is not prestigious enough and publishing there will hurt my career
My next paper would have gone to Journal of Physical Chemistry A or Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation.  I just don't think these journals are more prestigious than PLoS ONE.  This is a judgement call and I'd be happy to hear opposing views.  All three have similar impact factors.

If I thought my next paper had a shot a Journal of the American Chemical Society, I am not sure what I'd do, but it isn't (it's a method development paper).  This post is not to announce an ACS boycott.  It is about where I am sending my next paper and why.  One paper at a time.

A publication list with most papers published in one journal (PLoS ONE) will hurt my career
This argument is usually rephrased as "there aren't enough OA journals in my field yet".  Since PLoS ONE accepts papers in any scientific field I can only assume they feel uncomfortable sending most of their papers to PLoS ONE.  My specific response is: if my paper gets accepted I'd have exactly one paper published in PLoS ONE, so this is not an issue now.  One paper at a time.

My more general response is: If all your papers are in Nature your career is not in jeopardy.  However, if all your papers are in Journal of Very Specific Research it could look like your work is not of general interest and that you don't collaborate with anyone.  However, since PLoS ONE publishes in any area of science these are not valid arguments here.

I can't afford the $1350 publication fee for PLoS ONE
There is an automatic fee-waiver.  The request for the fee-waiver is separated from the review process and will not impact acceptance.  Anyway, I have the money this time, so it's not an issue.  One paper at a time.

PLoS ONE is not peer reviewed
Yes it is.

PLoS ONE does not publish reviews
I have actually seen this argument brought up in these kinds of discussions!  Anyway, my next paper is not a review so that's irrelevant. One paper at a time.

Right, that's me convinced!  Now I just have to tell my co-authors ...


Comrade PhysioProf said...

PLoS ONE is not peer reviewed
Yes it is.

I have been an academic editor at PLoS ONE for almost four years, and I can assure you that the peer review standards at PLoS ONE are as rigorous in terms of scientific validity and sufficient experimental support for stated conclusions as at any journal I have ever dealt with as an author or reviewer.

Stephan said...

There also other open access peer-reviewed journals, which would welcome your next paper, like the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (, current Impact Factor 2.279) or the new Open Journal of Physical Chemistry (

And by the way, there have been other good reasons for boycotting Elsevier journals for a long time. The library committee at the Department of Chemistry at University of Copenhagen has a long time ago recommend all colleagues to do so, because Elsevier regularly increased the anyway very high prices for their printed journals, so that many institutes/libraries could no longer afford to buy them. This was probably forgotten in the following years due to the change to online versions, which were bought centrally.

Jan Jensen said...

CPP: Good to know. I guess I am about to experience this myself.

Stephan: Thanks, Stephan. Good to know there are other choices as well. I had no idea I worked at such a hotbed of scholarly revolution ;)

I urge the library committee to make their boycott public at

Anonymous said...

Comradio PhysioProf wrote 'I have been an academic editor at PLoS ONE for almost four years, and I can assure you that the peer review standards at PLoS ONE are as rigorous in terms of scientific validity and sufficient experimental support for stated conclusions as at any journal I have ever dealt with as an author or reviewer.'

Then you haven't been one of the editors for which I reviewed. Even though I noted that papers were technically flawed were accepted with minor modifications. I consider PLoS ONE a dumping ground for mostly very poor papers (with a few gems hidden among the crap).

Jan Jensen said...

OK, also good to know. Which papers are these and what are their technical flaws?

Jan Jensen said...

Thanks to everyone who twittered the post. I appreciate it.!/search/proteinsandwavefunctions

Felix said...

I think it definitely makes sense to try to avoid the big monopoly players sometimes: like Elsevier, American Chemical Society, ...
it is probably always good to have a mix.

luca said...

I guess as with anything, there are good OA journals and bad ones. Take a look at this for a list of bad ones:

Jan Jensen said...

Very true. I was actually on the editorial advisory board of Benthams Open Magnetic Resonance Journal for a while. I never received a single paper from them and finally figured out what they were all about. So now I'm off.

Jan Jensen said...

Well there are certainly plenty of options now, and the big players will be around for a long time. The question is whether they will change.

Johan A. Schmidt said...

If your research has atmospheric relevance, I can highly recommend Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (see ). In my opinion, this OA journal has become one of the main journals in the atmospheric chemistry community and beyond. It has a great impact factor (5.3) and in my experience the publication and review process is also quite fast. The company "Copernicus" handles the actual publication and type setting on behalf of the European Geophysical Union (EGU).

It has a quite different publication process to most other journals I know. Initially a manuscript undergoes a quick review and may then be published as a "discussion paper" (in Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss.). The peers then review the discussion paper and publish their report online, i.e. open to the public. The editor then decides if the paper can be accepted into Atmos. Chem. Phys.

Both Atmos. Chem. Phys. and Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss. articles can be cited and have doi's.

The publication fee depends on number of pages and format (TeX, Word etc.). In my experience it is usual around 1000 EUR.