‘Branding Spin-Off Scholarly Journals’

Mahdi Khelfaoui and Yves Gingras, in a recent Journal of Scholarly Publishing article [paywalled, sadly]:

In this article, we analyse a relatively recent commercial strategy used by large academic publishers to capitalize on the brand names of their most prestigious scientific journals. Using Pierre Bourdieu’s model of capital conversion, we explain how publishers transfer the symbolic capital of an already prestigious journal to derivative journals that share in the prestige of the original brand and transform it into new economic capital. As shown by their high impact factors, these newly created journals benefit from the name recognition and reputation of the originals after which they are named. Plus, through a manuscript routing mechanism, the publishers recycle some of the submissions rejected by their highly selective flagship journal by redirecting those manuscripts, along with their reviews, to derivative journals or to one of the lower-impact journals on their list, which may require an article processing charge for publication.

I picture the SpringerNature people consulting a thesaurus for Nature modifiers.

Update: A substantially similar version of the paper is available OA here [pdf].

‘Creative Destruction: The Structural Consequences of Scientific Curation ‘

Peter McMahan and Daniel McFarland, in a just-published American Sociological Review article:

By curating the published research in an area, [literature] reviews highlight certain connections between publications while obscuring others, dramatically simplifying a domain of knowledge. They focus scholarly attention around a few key publications and the relations between them at the expense of the broad majority of the research in a domain. Upon inclusion in a review article, the seminal research in a domain is apt to become forgotten, replaced by work that drew connections between existing ideas rather than generating new ones. This suggests the substance of scientific progression may be located somewhere between revolutionary shifts in paradigms of thought at one extreme and the ordinary science of cumulative advancement at the other. The synthetic work that is foundational to scientific discovery is an ongoing process of redefined frames imposed through micro-erasure. This continual, destructive restructuring of discourse constitutes the churning substrate on which significant swaths of knowledge are created.

Fascinating: The pedestrian, even thankless work of the literature review is—in its quiet way—setting the scholarly agenda.

‘scite Launches Smart Citations on 121 Wiley Journals’

From the Medium post announcing that scite has struck a deal with Wiley to embed its contextual citation snippets (dubbed, inevitably, Smart Citations) into over a hundred Wiley journals:

Smart Citations display the context of each citation to a publication, allowing readers to see not only how many times a publication has been cited but also how it was cited. Additionally, scite has deployed a state-of-the-art deep learning model to classify the citation statement as providing supporting or disputing evidence for the cited claim.

I’ve been following scite since its 2019 launch: It’s a small, for-profit Brooklyn-based startup that launched with a $350k investment from NY-based ff Venture Capital. The firm, curiously, has won most of its subsequent funding from federal grants, including a $1.5 million award in May 2020 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The company, in effect, is trying to monetize Henry Small’s 30-year-old notion of citation context analysis (elaborated in a 1982 out-of-print book chapter).1 Scite extracts the text around a citation and then—using a machine-learning model—makes a guess on valence: Is the cite “supporting,” “disputing,” or a mere “mention”?

Interesting. Too bad it’s a for-profit, and landing deals that, possibly, will rationalize (in both senses) strategic submission behavior and prop up the journal prestige economy.


  1. Small, H. G. (1982). Citation context analysis. In B. Dervin & M. J. Voigt (Eds.), Progress in communication sciences (pp. 287–310). Norwood, NJ: Ablex. 

MDPI Annual Report

From the annual report of MDPI, the Swiss-based for-profit OA bohemoth:

  • 165.2K peer-reviewed manuscripts published online, an increase of 55.6% in comparison to the previous year;
  • 50 new journals launched, and 13 journals transferred to MDPI;
  • 35 days used from submission to publication (median values for papers published in 2020);
  • 15 journals newly covered by Web of Sciences, 10 journals indexed in Science Citation Index Expanded, and 29 journals indexed by Scopus;
  • 33 newly affiliated societies;
  • 32 conferences held and 51 stand-alone webinars.

MDPI is now the largest OA publisher in the world—a dubious marker of its quantity-over-quality hustle.

‘I don’t think MIT is interested’

MIT Libraries’ Chris Bourg, quoted in an Inside Higher Ed story on the UC-Elsevier deal:

“If pay-to-publish models (whether multi- or single-payer) become the new norm, they will inevitably lead to a system where the work of scholars from less-privileged institutions and less-well-funded disciplines will be left out, and where academic voices that have too long been silenced will remain marginalized and under-represented in the scholarly conversation,” Bourg said in an email. It’s great that UC authors will be able to publish their work openly, Bourg said. But she believes there is a risk that diversity and inclusion in scholarship will suffer if this type of deal becomes standard. “From what we’ve seen in the public statements from both UC and Elsevier, I don’t think MIT is interested in pursuing a similar deal with Elsevier,” Bourg said.

MIT is the de facto leader of the fight against closed-author agreements like this one.

MIT Press’s Direct to Open: Ability to Pay

The most exciting aspect of MIT Press’s Direct to Open OA book initiative is that library-participant fees are set, in part, according to ability to pay:

To determine fees that allow the offer to reach the revenue target, the Press:

  • Assessed the total universe of academic institutions—by type, size, and region—that could participate in a collective open offer;
  • Estimated (based on past demand) the percentage of institutions in each segment expected to commit to one or both subject collections;
  • Estimated the relative value of each collection based on number of titles;
  • Indexed the fee tiers based on the median acquisitions budget for each tier; and
  • Set provisional fee levels sufficient to achieve the revenue target.

The MIT model was designed in collaboration with Raym Crow—arguably the leading figure in the non-APC OA funding world, going back to a classic 2006 paper on publishing cooperatives. He helped Annual Reviews with its subscribe-to-open model, and, since then, has been working with MIT Press on this Arcadia-funded project.

The best feature of the MIT model is its reliance on ability-to-pay (as proxied by acquisition budget) in setting membership fees. Not institution size, not authorship counts, nor other wealth-agnostic factors.

The APC in the HUA Kerkuffle

I finally got around to reading the forensic Chronicle account of turmoil at the anthropology journal HUA. The story, by Jesse Singal, is worth a read—it is an impressively thorough and fair-minded act of journalism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the APC shows up in one of the piece’s many subplots:

Starting in the spring of 2015, HAU began asking authors for so-called article-processing charges, or APCs, to help support its open-access model in lieu of subscription fees. The way it usually worked was this: University departments or libraries often have some funds set aside for these sorts of expenses, so when an author’s piece was accepted, the author would sign an agreement stating that he or she would attempt to obtain funding, if possible. But it was generally understood that this would not be a prerequisite to publication — HAU was open access, after all, and its financial ethos centered on making academic publishing more accessible to all, readers and writers alike.

Singal describes how an author the journal had published was threatened with retraction for not—or so the editor judged—making the required “good faith” effort to track down APC dollars:

“At this stage, after 7 months of waiting, the burden is on you and your institution,” [the editor] wrote. “Should your institution be unable to cover the APC, the best I can do is to offer a 50% discount.” “I was obviously really surprised — I kind of scrambled to do it,” recalled [the anthropologist author]. Having a paper disappeared from a publication “would be really bad,” since under normal circumstances that signals fraud, plagiarism, or some sort of major error. [The author] was able to successfully apply for 2017 APC funding from Tufts, resolving the situation. She said she had never heard of an article’s being pulled from a journal for nonpayment of a fee.

The Open Authorship Movement

Here’s an idea, premised on a pair of observations: (1) open access is now inevitable, at least for the journal literature; but in (2) an APC/read-and-publish package. There are lots of exceptions and byways, but the momentum—thanks in part to Plan S—is with an OA system financed by author charges. Let’s stipulate that as a fact-in-motion, for the sake of argument.

If that’s true, or largely true, OA advocates should consider a shift in focus. Our attention has been on access, for all the obvious and laudable reasons. Now the regime that we helped usher in is toppling that barrier, for readers, by erecting another, for authors. We should be fighting that tradeoff as unnecessary and unjust.

We could, I think, deploy some of the same language and logic to the fights against APCs and read-and-publish deals. I propose the Open Authorship label, together with its evil, Closed Authorship twin—to map onto platinum/diamond and gold, respectively. Lots of OA and scholarly publishing vocabulary is poised for retrofit: Tolled Authorship Journals, Author Embargoes, Author Exclusion Charges and the like. As in: Sorry, I don’t review for closed authorship (CA) journals.

The point would be to resist what increasingly looks like a capital “P” Pyrrhic victory.

‘Colleges Speeding Up Digital Transformation’

A Salesforce exec, in an October post hawking the company’s software tools :

In a matter of months, higher education institutions have had to reinvent themselves from physical hubs of learning to digital enablers of the student journey. And while no one knows exactly how the education experience will change in the future, it’s safe to say that colleges and universities need to be agile, adaptable, and flexible enough to embrace the ‘next normal’ and future disruption.

Impressive: agile, next normal, and disruption all in one sentence.

Some forward-thinking higher education leaders have already taken steps to form wider and deeper ties with students. Although years behind most consumer product companies, they’re following the retail and service sectors in implementing technology to make the student and alumni experience seamless. Picture using the underlying technologies in Amazon one-click, Spotify recommendations, or the Apple Watch’s health tracking for higher education.

I can picture it. Holy hell is that a grim image.

(h/t Ben Williamson)

‘How to start your own preprint review community on PubPub’

From PubPub, the MIT open source platform:

The community is still working on the processes, workflows, standards, and values that will support this emergent form of publishing. But that shouldn’t stop anyone who wants to explore these models from starting now. With PubPub, anyone can publish and distribute meaningful, impactful reviews with appropriate metadata that can be picked up by aggregators in about an hour — at no cost and with no technical expertise required.

The post is a detailed guide to how the platform—which we use for mediastudies.press—can be used as a review layer on top of other preprints services, a la PREReview and eLife’s Sciety.

‘AI is wrestling with a replication crisis’

MIT Technology Review, on the challenges to reproducibility in AI research:

According to the 2020 State of AI report, […] only 15% of AI studies share their code. Industry researchers are bigger offenders than those affiliated with universities. In particular, the report calls out OpenAI and DeepMind for keeping code under wraps. Then there’s the growing gulf between the haves and have-nots when it comes to the two pillars of AI, data and hardware. Data is often proprietary, such as the information Facebook collects on its users, or sensitive, as in the case of personal medical records. And tech giants carry out more and more research on enormous, expensive clusters of computers that few universities or smaller companies have the resources to access.

All that private data, though, is the symptom, not the disease. To call AI research a revolving door between industry and academia is to abuse the metaphor: Most researchers have a foot in both worlds. The result is a predictable clash between a race for winner-take-all profits and the norms of science. The evolution of OpenAIfrom nonprofit to secretive money-grubber—is a fractal version of what’s unfolding. Data transparency won’t fix that.

‘NY Times Reporter Rukmini Callimachi Moving to Higher Ed Beat After ‘Caliphate’ Collapse’

The Daily Beast:

The reporter at the center of the collapse of one of the New York Times’ biggest reporting projects is moving to a new beat. Rukmini Callimachi, formerly one of the paper’s highest-profile reporters on ISIS and extremism in the Middle East, has been re-assigned to cover higher education, multiple people familiar with the matter confirmed to The Daily Beast.

Kicked upstairs.

‘A Plan S for Academic Books’

From SPARC Europe‘s summary of a recent gathering to discuss and inform the coming Plan S for books:

With almost 75 attendees, this workshop focused on business models for OA books and brought together experts from the field before ending with a document sprint. The sprint allowed the community to engage online by reacting to cases made by the presenters and providing other additions.

From the summary, it’s clear that a number of speakers—including Martin Eve, Agata Morka, and Koen Vermeir—warned against mimicking Plan S’s de facto crowning of APCs as the main OA funding model. One facet that wasn’t much raised, it seems, is the ripple effect on the rest of the world of any Plan S for books. The existing, article-level Plan S, because of its early movement and major funder buy-in, has (perhaps already) cast the die on APCs/read-and-publish not just for Europe, but for the rest of the world too.

‘COPIM releases free code for Open Access project sign up system’

From the UK-based open monograph project COPIM:

Available on Github at https://github.com/BirkbeckCTP/otf-signup, features of the system include order tracking, billing management, notification of new sign ups, and access control for backlist packages of books.

The open source code—developed for the CEU Press initiative to use back-catalogue access membership to fund current OA publishing—should be adaptable to any consortiable funding model. Can’t wait to dive in.

‘Look to the commons for the future of R&D and science policy’

Sam Moore, in a LSE Impact post on research and the commons:

Simply put, policymakers should reorient their focus away from mere open access to the outputs of scientific research and instead nurture the commons across the research lifecycle. It would mean less of a winner-takes-all strategy to research funding – away from huge grants dictated by bogus ideas of ‘excellence’ – and more of one that encourages small, careful, collaborative research by and between diverse groups of scientists. This could be facilitated through basic research income, grant lotteries and other non-competitive methods, with the outputs from each grant owned in common by scientists across the globe.

The idea of a basic research income (presumably analogized from basic income schemes)—paired with a grant lottery, for example—is a mind-bending departure from the conventional reward systems that (in theory) link distinction with funding. Moore elevates cooperative knowledge-making over the norm of universal access—”communism” in Merton’s original, perhaps infelicitous term.

‘A World Elsewhere: PLOS’s Community Action Publishing Model’

Joseph Esposito and Michael Clarke, in a November Scholarly Kitchen post on PLOS’s new Communication Action Publishing (CAP) funding scheme:

It is our constant refrain to society publishers, among many not-for-profit organizations, that despite their IRS status, they will have to learn to operate in the marketplace directly against for-profit firms whose primary mission is to benefit their shareholders. CAP is a rebuke to this perspective. While it will operate in a business-like way (the strategic analysis and business modeling that went into its creation is impressive), it is built upon a platform of community cooperation. In this it is of the same spirit as calls for the academy to “take back” publishing from commercial firms. It is thus not only a business model or a publishing service, but a social experiment. What would the world look like outside the rigors of the marketplace? Perhaps there is a revolution brewing in the PLOS offices in San Francisco and a generation from now we will look back and say, that is where it started.

I am less optimistic, but hope to be proven wrong.

The basic idea of the CAP scheme is to shift the cost burden from authors to institutions. Member universities pay an annual fee based on their faculty’s publishing over the previous five years. To prevent free riders, PLOS is graduating APCs for non-members at an aggressive rate, so that, in two years, the fees will jump about 50 percent.

PLOS, to its great credit, recognizes the injustice of an APC system that, ironically, the nonprofit helped to inaugurate in the early 2000s. In defense of the new plan, see the sophisticated reasoning of PLOS’s Sarah Rouhi, in a recent interview with Richard Poynder.

I am, however, wary of the scheme, which at its core is a variant on the read-and-publish deal. In 2019 the term “pure publish” was coined to designate a read-and-publish style deal that, however, featured an already-OA publisher like PLOS. In fact Lisa Hinchliffe’s overview of “pure publish” was pegged to the University of California’s early 2020 agreement with PLOS along these lines.

The problem with CAP/pure publish is the problem with read-and-publish: Most of the world’s institutions won’t be able to pay the membership charges, even with the tiered, author-count pricing. These institutions—and all unfunded scholars that work at them—certainly can’t afford the escalating APCs that, in the CAP scheme, are intended to force membership. The likely outcome, in some ways, is even worse than the read-and-publish deals with traditional tolled publishers, since at least in those scenarios tolled-access “free” submission remains an option for hybrid journals. In the PLOS model, scholars around the world are likely to be excluded from authorship altogether.

The key problem with the CAP is the membership charge calculation—based authorship counts. That metric presumes, holding authorship constant, that every institution has an equal ability to pay. But this assumption is profoundly wrong. So the CAP will have a similar (if differently patterned) effect to the APC itself: Shifting barriers to access from readers to authors.

The virtue of collective funding schemes like Open Library of Humanities‘ is that contributions are based, in large part, on ability to pay. Though there are obvious logistical challenges, it is easy to imagine a contribution scheme scaled to wealth measures like per capita national GDP and budget per student. Every institution, under an ability-to-pay formula like this, would contribute to the pot according to its means. The otherwise excluded—which is to say, most of the world’s scholars—would retain the right to authorship.

‘Our first six months using Shareyourpaper.org for Libraries’

Montana State librarian Leila Sterman, on switching to Shareyourpaper.org for repository processing:

While we haven’t perfected all of our internal processes yet, the introduction of Shareyourpaper into our workflow has decreased the time spent sending out article requests and doing copyright clearance from nearly 2 1/2 days (for about 100 articles) to close to 2 1/2 hours!

I often nudge scholars in projects I’m working on to submit to nonprofit repositories, without much success. Now I point them to Shareyourpaper.org, and they actually follow through.

‘A Big Science Publisher Is Going Open Access. But at What Cost?’

Grigori Guitchounts, writing last week for Undark on the usurious Nature APC:

Only the wealthiest universities in the wealthiest countries will be able to foot these bills. As a result, the range of researchers able to publish open-access papers in Springer Nature’s top journals will be narrow. The ivory tower, already full of inequalities, will only grow more divided. The “haves” will be able to publish openly in widely read and cited journals, which will in turn allow them to secure coveted research funding and academic posts. The “have-nots” may still choose to publish in Nature, but their work will remain hidden to much of the world, behind a paywall. The rich will get richer.

Maybe it will take a revolt of the privileged to weaken the APC scourge. It would be ironic if intra-elite inequality dented a system whose status quo—$3,000 APCs—has long gated off OA publishing for most of the world’s scholars.

To repeat the obvious, with Nature as late-arriving exclamation point: APC pricing has nothing to do with production costs. Almost two years out from the decision, Plan S’s doubling down on cost transparency as an APC-taming device seems more naive than ever.

‘The 360° Competitor’

From Joseph Esposito’s Scholarly Kitchen post on the trade book industry, back in October:

It is a remarkable fact that publishers have succeeded over the past two decades in reaping 100% of the efficiencies from digital media and workflows and shared none of that with authors. This will continue.

The observation, an apt one, is buried in an intelligent, insidery discussion of the mainstream industry. Esposito’s main move is to analogize to scholarly publishing—with Elsevier as sector counterpart to Amazon (and maybe Berelsmann, in the future) as a potential “360° company”. Esposito does not, however, extend the analogy to the “remarkable fact” above, so here it is:

It is a remarkable fact that scholarly publishers have succceded over the past two decades in repeating 100% of the efficiencies from digital media and workflows and shared none of that with university libraries. This will continue.

(Bertelsmann’s Penguin Random House, of course, did end up buying Simon & Schuster—an object of informed speculation in Esposito’s October column.)