Reviewer criticises ‘no publication after preprint’ rule

Paper was rejected by journal because it had appeared on website of education centre

August 30, 2017
Bad peer review
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An academic is boycotting peer review for a scholarly journal after it turned down a manuscript that had previously been published on the website of an education centre.

The journal in question said that if the author had posted the article behind a paywall on a conference website, it would have still accepted it for publication.

The reviewer, Chris Anderson, assistant professor of media culture at the College of Staten Island, part of the City University of New York, said that the rule was a “very large scholarly disincentive” to sharing research findings.

Dr Anderson was one of several peer reviewers who looked at a study of business models in US journalism that an author had submitted for publication in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, a journal of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

But after submitting his comments, he was emailed by the journal’s associate editor, Randal Beam, and told that it had emerged that an “identical version” of the article had been published on the website of an education centre.

Appended to the email was a copy of the letter that Professor Beam, who works at the University of Washington, had sent to the paper’s author, telling them that the manuscript was not eligible for publication.

The letter says that the journal’s editor, Louise Ha, in consultation with the publisher, Sage, and the AEJMC, had determined that the open-access nature of the website on which the paper had been posted “constitutes prior publication”.

“This differs from conference papers posted on restricted-access databases of academic associations, as they are considered works in progress and not publications,” the letter adds.

Dr Anderson told Times Higher Education that the letter was indicative of “the way that the 21st century can be a little ridiculous sometimes”.

“I can understand why journals only want to publish things that have not previously been published in other journals, but I do think that, in the digital era, journals need to rethink what their value-added is,” he said.

“In my mind, a journal’s primary function is to take [research] to the next level. This was something that was good enough to be a foundation report, and through the peer review process it will substantially change, then it will be certified with the imprimatur of that journal.”

The rejection is a “terrible message to send to scholars”, Dr Anderson added. “This just seems like a very large scholarly disincentive to sharing work in any form.” 

Dr Anderson said that he would no longer review manuscripts for Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly unless it changed its policy.

Professor Ha, professor in the department of media production and studies at Bowling Green State University, said that prior online publication damaged the integrity of the peer review process because reviewers could identify the author through online search. Authors who submit to the journal are required to confirm that the manuscript has not been published elsewhere, she said.

“Posting research articles online while submitting to refereed journals is a threat to the double-blind review process and journal publishing,” Professor Ha said. “We respect authors’ choices to post their own works online for free public access without going through the referee process, publish in free non-profit open-access journals or pay for the publishing fees of open-access journals.

“It becomes an issue when an author wants both open-access first [as well as] the publisher to pay for the cost of publishing and go through a complex refereed process in subscription-based journals.”

holly.else@timeshighereducation.com

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