Listening to librarians

posted Jun 18, 2012, 10:59 PM by Admin PEMRF
The blogosphere of those wonderfully hard line moderates, the academic librarians has lit up lately with the arrival of the latest open access (OA) kid on the block: PeerJ.  Librarians tend to have better insights than most clinical researchers into knowledge dissemination so its worth paying attention. PeerJ ‘s new publication model has received a mixture of cautious optimism, (see the Library Loon) adulation mostly from PeerJ press releases, and outright hostility, (see the Scholarly Kitchen)  from Elsevier apologists.

Briefly the model calls for lifetime membership of an online open access journal. This costs $99 to $259 per author (up to 12). For this one gets to publish one ($99)  to unlimited($259)  manuscripts per year.  PeerJ promises proper peer review and a quality assurance to avoid becoming a mere pay to play journal. For a typical  multi author effort PeerJ’s cost approaches that of the bad old OA journals who slap authors with $1500-$3000 per paper. Even without the usual Noah’s ark of middle authors most articles will still cost the same as regular OA journals and quite a bit more than  the either say WestJEM (departmental annual sub model) or JCM  (subscription, six month paywall and modest page ) charges.  

So for those papers that  are the result of  one or two faculty and a small army of students PeerJ's model is not going to be more attractive than current options which is a pity. The irony is that authors from smaller clinically oriented departments whose research effort is truly a labor of love simply must try publish with traditional journals; the charges of most OA journals are simply too high. These are, ironically the same departments whose investigator(s) have to rely on slow inter-library loans (or their students with the luxury of UC online access) to access many of these same traditional journals.Talk about feeding the hand that slaps you!  So PeerJ, although an improvement, especially for active researchers, is not the entire solution.

The Journal of Machine Learning Research is therefore particularly instructive. It charges neither authors nor readers. It is a beacon of hope for struggling journals seeking acceptance from those who will likely never give it. (Yes that includes you WestJEM). JMLR is ranked eighth in its large field, much better than the traditional journal that it came from (along with a third of the editorial board). The Occasional Pamphlet describes well how to run such an enterprise for almost nothing. More importantly however the related discussion gives glimpses of how such a journal can become a top tier player.

PS. If anyone in PeerJ is listening: Tweaking membership rules a bit to allow one free article for students and young volunteer research assistants would be incredibly helpful. These are often still teenagers whose hard work  truly does deserve authorship.)