Content of review 1, reviewed on June 27, 2016
This commentary, in its one-sided attempt to defend society journals (in particular, the one in which it is published), contains a number of serious errors in its description of open access publishing. The first occurs in the opening paragraph, when the author defines open access journals "in which authors whose articles are accepted for publication pay a fee to have them made freely available on the Internet." This is an oft-repeated misrepresentation that can be easily corrected by checking the Directory of Open Access Journals (http://doaj.org), which has a filter allowing searches for journals with or without article processing charges (APCs). In short, a minority of OA journals use this business model, though a majority of OA articles are published through APCs. It is ironic that the author later warns against bad information spreading through the literature, because this assertion is frequently corrected, yet continues to be made.
The author says that OA journals "threaten to pollute science with false findings, making knowledge unreliable" yet offers no examples. The website Retraction Watch (http://retractionwatch.com) might be one way to measure this. While data about retractions in open access journals does not seem to be available, many of the articles featured on Retraction Watch come from toll access (paywalled) journals. Indeed, Science, which the author identifies as a "top" society journal, has one of the highest retraction rates (http://doi.org/10.1128/IAI.05661-11). Paywall journals were responsible for publishing now-infamous articles on arsenic life as well as on autism and vaccination. In addition, the author's comparison of Science to PLOS ONE is a strange one, since the journals share few characteristics. A better choice of "top" open access journal might have been PLOS Biology.
The author makes a second serious error by conflating the peer review model at PLOS ONE with that of all open access journals. Though some OA journals use a similar model of peer review, most use traditional types of peer review. The author does not seem to understand or acknowledge the rationale behind this peer review model, or the problems in scholarly publishing it attempts to address. The author's lengthy explanation of why review within a society is preferable is unconvincing in the current environment. Paywalls limit the number of people who can view an article, and therefore limits the debate on an article's merits. And sites like PubPeer (http://pubpeer.com) have identified serious problems with articles that have "passed" peer review.
The author's third serious error is the idea that society journals and OA journals are mutually exclusive. In 2011, there were 530 societies publishing 616 fully open access journals (http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/12-02-11.htm#societies); that number is likely higher today. The author's concern about declining society memberships (p. 4) seems to have resulted in the identification of OA journals as the problem.
The author touts "inexpensive access" without mentioning that journal operations have been outsourced to the international publishing conglomerate Wiley, whose focus on profits result in ever-higher serials costs for libraries. Though he "chose not to" provide open access to this commentary, one factor may have been Wiley's absurdly high hybrid APC charge of $3,000. In mentioning the OA citation advantage, the author cites a single 15-year old study. Yet there is a bibliography of 70 studies available (http://sparceurope.org/oaca/), the majority of which show a citation advantage. Finally, the author claims that grantors look favorably on society journal publication, without mentioning that many grantors are increasingly focused on open access to the research they fund.
The Journal of Wildlife Management experienced a failure in its review processes for this publication. Though it is a commentary, as the saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Even commentaries should be fact-based. By propagating false information, this commentary ironically undermines the journal it intends to support.
© 2016 the Reviewer (CC BY 4.0).
Romesburg, H. C. 2016. How publishing in open access journals threatens science and what we can do about it. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 80: 1145.