Journal editor hopes mass walkout quickens open access progress

Board of Journal of Informetrics plans to launch a rival title

January 19, 2019
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The editor of a journal whose editorial board staged a mass walkout has said that he hopes that the decision encourages others to do the same.

After more than a year of crisis talks, the full editorial board of The Journal of Informetrics, a quarterly, peer-reviewed title published by Elsevier, resigned on 12 January, citing immovable differences over the publisher’s lack of progress towards open access.

The same team plans to launch a rival title under the name Quantitative Science Studies, which will be fully open access and published through MIT Press.

Speaking to Times Higher Education following the announcement, Ludo Waltman, professor of quantitative science studies at Leiden University and former editor-in-chief of Informetrics, explained that high article processing charges set by Elsevier, along with the publisher’s refusal to make citations openly available within article reference lists, were at the heart of the disagreement.

“After almost two years of discussion, we seemed to agree there was no alternative solution other than to end it – the differences in opinion were too big and we were not prepared to compromise,” he said.

“There are lots of advantages to staying with a big company like Elsevier, and it’s not easy starting a new journal, but equally I think lots of editors feel the same way [as us] on open access principles and we could see more stands being taken before long,” he said. “There are certainly more editorial boards like ours starting to question [their publishers’ policies]”.

Initiatives such as Plan S – the Science Europe initiative to bar researchers in receipt of public funding from publishing in closed-access journals – would probably force bigger publishers to change their policies in time, “but I hope our example will speed up the process”, Professor Waltman added.

The team is not the first to jump ship in this way. Three years ago, the editorial board of Lingua, one of the best-known linguistics journals, resigned in protest over the company’s pricing policies and refusal to convert the journal to full open access. The team set up Glossa, a rival title, at Ubiquity Press.

The Informetrics board said that they conflicted with Elsevier over three main issues. Professor Waltman wanted to make all article citation data available, a suggestion that Elsevier declined on account that it could not “make such a large corpus of data, to which it has added significant value, available for free”.

Second, the board said that they felt that Elsevier’s article processing charges were too high – about $1,800 (£1,400), according to Professor Waltman, for Informetrics. In a public statement, Elsevier responded that the fee had been “set at an appropriate rate,” however.

The third point of contention for board members came over a debate around ownership, which Elsevier said was “not negotiable”.

“In many ways Elsevier have been supportive and they have made some progress towards open access, but at the same time…their decisions about commercial models are set too broadly,” Professor Waltman explained. “There are some policies which fit other journals well but are less suitable for Informetrics, which is relatively small”.

Professor Waltman will remain as acting editor for Informetrics until a new board is hired – the process of which is currently underway, Elsevier confirmed, While the decision to quit had been “necessary but still painful”, there was no animosity between the board and publisher, Professor Waltman said.

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