Journal transparency rules to help scholars pick where to publish

Next step of Plan S will require publishers to release acceptance rates and review times

June 4, 2019
Source: Alamy
Level playing field looking to create a fairer, more open publishing landscape

New requirements for journals to be more transparent about their editorial processes could help researchers to make more informed decisions about where to submit their work, as the European-led Plan S initiative moves into its next phase.

Freshly revised requirements for the open access mandate – which is now due to come into force in January 2021, a year later than originally planned – outline a series of mandatory conditions that journals and other platforms must adhere to if academics financed by participating funders are to publish in them.

This states that a journal must provide on its website “a detailed description of its editorial policies and decision-making processes”, with a “solid system” in place for peer review that must adhere to guidelines produced by the Committee on Publication Ethics. “In addition, at least basic statistics must be published annually, covering in particular the number of submissions, the number of reviews requested, the number of reviews received, the approval rate, and the average time between submission and publication,” the guidance says.

David Sweeney, executive chair of Research England and co-chair of the Plan S implementation task force, described greater transparency in journals’ editorial and publishing practices as the logical “next step in the puzzle” of creating a “fairer, more open publishing landscape”.

Mr Sweeney indicated that the transparency requirement could be used to combat predatory journals, which exploit academics by claiming to conduct peer review but in reality make few checks of papers’ credibility. “Payment of publication fees…must not in any way influence the editorial decision-making process,” the guidance says.

But the transparency requirement could also provide invaluable information for researchers who are sometimes unsure of the likelihood of a submitted paper being accepted, and frequently complain about their work being left in limbo during repeated cycles of review. Such a move could incentivise publishers to speed up their review processes.

“We intend for the outcome of this requirement to be a suite of information to give users confidence in the quality and intentions of a journal or publishing platform,” Mr Sweeney said. “Their compliance should be a signal to users which journals are in alliance with Plan S and fair review practices.”

Marcus Munafo, professor of biological psychology at the University of Bristol, said that transparent editorial procedures “should remove some of the advantages that arise simply from seniority or working in a particular group, and create a more level playing field”.

The transparency requirement was added to the Plan S implementation guidance alongside a commitment from the funders backing Plan S – who number 19 so far – to support the principles of statements such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, which says that journal impact factor should not be used to judge the quality of published scholarship.

Journals will also be required to price the services they provide, such as reviewing and copy-editing, since funders will find themselves supporting the article processing charges associated with many forms of open access publishing. Funders “may decide to standardise and cap the reimbursement of services that they will cover through their grants”, the guidance says, and participating organisations may collectively “decide to implement caps in a coordinated way if unreasonable price levels are observed”.

Organisations participating in Plan S include UK Research and Innovation, the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

rachael.pells@timeshigheducation.com

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Print headline: Journal transparency rules will help scholars pick where to publish

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