Thursday, September 8, 2016

Predatory versus low cost?

September 8, 2016

Predatory versus low cost?
 By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: Low cost journals listed as predatory have taken off and are publishing a huge number of papers. The concept of "predatory journal" may incorrectly include a lot of legitimate low cost journals, masking a major change in scientific communication.

Last week we raised the issue of whether the the US Public Access agencies should screen the journals whose articles they post, as PubMed Central does. In discussing this issue with industry experts we discovered a recent report which presents some amazing, even revolutionary, numbers.

The report is Shen and Bjork, "‘Predatory’ open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics," BMC, 2015. What they did was study a sample of the roughly 11,000 journals on Beall's list of so-called predatory journals, and then they project the results to the entire list. This is crude, so the results are admittedly rough estimates and we will treat them that way by rounding them off a lot.

Here are the stunning numbers. First, the number of articles published in 2014 is over 400,000. This is an enormous number of articles. Second, the number published in 2010 was just over 50,000, so the growth has been explosive. So has the growth in the number of active journals over this short period, going from 2000 to 8000. And if the reported growth has continued there should be well over half a million articles published this year alone.

I think this is actually good news, masked by a colossal conceptual confusion.

Specifically, the so-called "predatory" net is actually capturing a lot of simple low cost journals. Note that they classify about 11,000 journals as predatory. Last I knew there were an estimated 30,000 indexed journals. So they are classifying roughly one third to one quarter that number of journals as predatory. Not likely. The total number of published articles may be as high as two million so the rough fraction is the same, one third to one quarter. Are we to believe that this many articles are somehow being published fraudulently? Surely not.

The key datum is the average APC of less than $200. Here is what I think is happening. The developing countries, especially China and India, are pouring a lot into research, hence generating a lot of articles. (Last I knew China was overtaking the US as the leading generator of scientific articles.) In pace with this we are seeing the rapid growth of the low budget APC journal, to serve the low budget researcher market. This makes economic sense and there is nothing predatory about it.

On the contrary, many OA advocates see the end state as one of very low APCs. Well here it is, in part anyway. The thing is that a $150 APC journal cannot look like a $1500 journal, which is very fancy. Back when Beall's list first gained prominence I studied it closely. My conclusion was that it was picking up low budget journals per se, the predatory ones being just a small fraction. My favorite example is a journal that seems to have been classified as predatory just because the mailing address was an apartment, not an office (in Montreal).

These numbers suggest that I was right. If so then what we are seeing is actually part of the globalization of science, which I consider a good thing. Poor researchers publishing in low cost journals.

My point is that if these journals are publishing on the order of half a million articles a year then they are not predatory. They are an extensive and fast growing new literature. And if they are not being indexed then that in itself is a major access problem.

To be clear, I am not claiming that there are no fraudulent journals. If fact I am sure there are. I just do not think that fraudulent journals can publish such a huge amount. My conjecture is that low cost journals have been wrongly classified as fraudulent.

As for peer review, it may be too expensive for this low cost business model. For that matter I have never been impressed by peer review. It is not a necessary condition for a scholarly literature. Perhaps it is a luxury.

What we seem to have here is a rapidly emerging new world of scholarship, which we know little about. I assume it is mostly science and thus it should be properly indexed and made accessible. This includes posting the relevant articles via the Public Access Program. These journals should not be screened out.


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Monday, August 22, 2016

CHORUS meets Japan

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: CHOR, Inc., which operates CHORUS, has signed a Letter of Agreement with the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), for a six-month Pilot project to explore developing a CHORUS-like system for JST funded articles. This is a major step toward making CHORUS functionality global.

 The CHOR, Inc press release describes the project this way:

"CHOR and JST will work together to explore ways to improve the monitoring of public accessibility of content reporting on JST-funded research. Our collaboration will improve Japanese funder information in the Crossref Open Funder Registry, enable linking via metadata (based on Crossref funding data) from the Chiba University institutional repository to published articles reporting on JST-funded research on CHOR publisher members' sites, and develop a customized Dashboard and Search Portal (including ORCID IDs, links to datasets, and more)." 

CHOR declined to elaborate on this project, saying wait until we have some results, but research provides some useful background.

The key issue is repositories. Japan has no national OA policy but they do have a national institutional repository policy. There is a national system of repositories, mostly run by university libraries. There are 196 Japanese repositories listed in OpenDOAR.

Pilot participants include Chiba University, one of the largest national universities in Japan. Chiba's sizable repository is called CURATOR, with about 90,000 items, of which about 25,000 journal articles.

Here is Chiba's description of the repository:

"CURATOR (Chiba University's Repository for Access to Outcomes from Research) captures, preserves and makes publicly available intellectual digital materials from research activities on Chiba University campuses, including peer-reviewed articles, theses, preprints, statistical and experimental data, course materials and softwares. CURATOR is intended to function as the portal for the outcomes from Chiba University's research activities."

JST is a relatively small funding agency, with a budget around 136 billion yen or about 1.36 billion dollars. Of this about 50% is specifically for basic research, which is where most journal articles come from.

Significantly, JST does have an OA policy. In fact they issued it in April 2013, just two months after the OSTP memo establishing the US policy. Not surprisingly, it mandates repository deposit. It is pretty emphatic about honoring publisher consent, except that it also says that the embargo period should be less than 12 months.

The English version seems a bit strained. Here is the relevant OA mandate text:

"Using the institutional repositories that are promoted by the national policy as a basis, JST will implement this open accessibility only with the explicit consent of the journal the researcher has published in and within the embargo time period of the institutional repository, and will clearly state the above in the application guidelines**. Moreover, it will also be possible to implement open accessibility by publishing papers in open access journals. While respecting the freedom of publication of researchers and making use of the system of institutional repositories, JST aims to make the results of research funded by JST free to view in full on the internet as soon as possible after publication.

While coordinating with the relevant agencies, JST will implement the following measures in relation to making research results freely accessible:
- JST will take steps to reduce the workload on researchers involved in gaining the consent of the journal in which they have published and submitting to the institutional repository.
- As standardization of academic information is important to open accessibility, JST will promote
international Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number assignment as well as using the Japan Link Centre.
-  Although the repositories of institutions will be used in general, in cases of institutions without one JST will consider setting up and operating its own repository.
Since the JST-managed 'J-STAGE' has an open access function, JST will also be able to prepare a platform of open access journals to academic societies.
** The embargo period is supposed to be less than 1 year, and the paper contents to be made public should be as per Author's final document and so on."
Presumably what the pilot will try to demonstrate is that the publishers can identify articles from Chiba authors reporting on research funded by JST. The press release mentions improving Japanese funder information in the Crossref Open Funder Registry and this will be essential for success. This is all very small scale, as a pilot should be, but with great potential. To begin with it could expand to the entire repository system. What is pioneering here is the CHORUS concept, which is providing the article to the user via the publisher rather than the repository. 

Beyond that there is the prospect of a National OA Standard for Japan, which might include CHOR functionality. There are rumors to the effect that a national standard may be in the works, which may be the impetus for this project. JST actually has a mission to further scientific and technical communication.

Then there is what may be the ultimate challenge. This is to extend the CHOR-Crossref system to Japanese language content, of which there is a great deal. Most of the CURATOR content is in Japanese and there are many Japanese language journals. The Japanese are world leaders in computer technology so they may well want to take this giant step. More information on some of Japan's OA technology initiatives can be found here.

In this context I would like to point to a past project of my own that helps to solve the multi-language problem. It is the portal, which I helped the Energy Department's Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) develop. OSTI hosts this international gateway to approximately 100 national science collections from more than 70 participating nations. Multilingual translation capabilities are available for ten languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. In particular, a search query entered in one language is translated into all the available languages, for searching those language collections. The results are then translated back into the user's language. This was my idea. More information is available at

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