Posted by: cjlortie | March 16, 2012

The importance of society journals, affordable open access, and fast turnaround times.

The Research Works Act and the discussion of the profit margins by academic publishers have stimulated both a wealth of discussion and some clear indications of future directions.  I wanted to take a moment here to reflect on how this might relate to Oikos.  Several petitions have been set up online to stop the act in particular and others have discussed careful consideration of where we should submit our work.  At least two immediate solutions are evident.  If this issue is important to you, submit to society journals and use journals that provide affordable open access.  In the former instance, societies partner with journals and have come to some arrangement that shares profits and I assume this also limits the total margin as well.  It would be nice to know what proportion of journal sales are returned to benefits to the society, but in general, it is nonetheless reasonable to assume that whatever profits are generated in turn benefit ecology in general and its respresentatives/members to some extent (relative to profits entirely moved to a publisher).  Oikos is a society journal.

I chose to participate in the review process for Oikos for several reasons including this fact.  I viewed it not only as a journal but as a tool to advance novel, risky, and quirky science.  Oikos thus has the capacity to provide a niche for certain sets of publications and consequently promote riskier, novel science.  It should also serve the needs of the community both through what it publishes and how it communicates with its members including referees and authors.  I think we could envisage numerous strategies to improve this aspect including referee-training workshops at ecology meetings and more opportunity for individuals in general to interact outside and in addition to the peer-review process. Loyalty is important. We could also consider publishing papers within the journal, even just a few here and there, that speak more directly to trends, developments, and the cultural attributes associated with how we practice ecology.

Out of curiosity, I examined the relative scientometrics associated with all ecology journals published by societies.  The list was surprisingly exhaustively with many societies publishing only one journal.   I wanted to examine how Oikos performs relative to the other major societies (I defined major loosely as those publishing a few journals).  Oikos published the second highest volume of papers in 2010 and unfortunately ranked in last place in all metrics of use (including the 5-year IF).   This is quite disappointing in many respects because I see Oikos as positioned both historically and currently to be a leader in moving the importance of society-based ecology forward.

Interestingly, the total number of papers published strongly predicts the total citations as one would expect. Given that Oikos publishes so much content, it is surprising that it diverges so significantly from the fit line (r2 = 0.82, p = 0.0001 for the regression) with the largest negative residual from the line.  The largest divergence, but positive, was Ecological Monographs.

I like the fact that we disseminate a lot of research per year, but my guess is that we should focus on doing a better job at promoting our own specific niche of ecology and forwarding synthesis through the papers that are valuable because they advance highly novel ideas.  I assume that Monographs hits a home run with their divergence by publishing far fewer papers but very deep ones.  In essence, I suspect some soul searching on what Oikos can realistically do best might be a productive agenda, and then clearly communicating this as transparently as possible to the greater community.  I am biased on what I would like to see us to do.  Given that the job of a society journal is to represent the needs and values its members hold, we could work harder on ensuring that Oikos does this well.

Open access is important.  It is nice to be able to share an html link to your work and have anyone access it from anywhere – even those without library-derived support. I propose that affordable open access is a viable pathway for Oikos to meet this need within the greater debate of the Research Works Act issues.  Plos allows one to pay less than the full amount per paper, and I always take this option because my NSERC Discovery grant is so small and is also fully committed to student salaries. I like that fact that with Plos I am free to enter the actual amount that I am able to pay which is between $500 and $1000 depending on the year.  Oikos should consider offering more open access options to its authors.  This is good for the society and the journal given the higher performance of these papers. Importantly, some of us can’t afford to pay $1800-$3000 per paper.

Finally, handling time or turnaround time on papers in the last year was very good.  However, we do not communicate this well.   Similar to the above analyses, I examined the performance of society journals by their handling system since Oikos currently uses email with a limited online tracking system.

It appears that society journals using more advanced handling systems perform better.  I know there are many other reasons for this (and rate of change in general would be better to examine) but my guess is that handling time or awareness of it makes authors feel better.  I like personal emails from handling editors, but it is also nice to log in and see how long (hopefully short) it has been sitting in review and what stage it is at.  I wonder if ecotrack offers different functions or information relative to manuscript central (mc).  Nonetheless, the adoption of a system by Oikos (forthcoming) that provides statistics and feedback to users will facilitate reduced handling times.

Many other contrasts are possible including to sole-journal society publications, number of members within a society, cost, contrasts to non-society journals publishing similar volumes of papers per year, etc., but I found it useful to reflect on these differences as an exercise to brainstorm on improvements for Oikos.  In summary, Oikos is a society journal and has the capacity to do much, much more with this opportunity to make ecology better and benefit its members.  Open access is limited at this point in time, and we should consider mechanisms to provide alternatives (reduced rate options, freebies for reviewing, member discounts, special issues, etc).  Handling time and awareness of the progress of a manuscript is important, and Oikos is doing much better in this respect but we could also consider more transparency in the process including how referees are selected and compensation for their time.  I recognize and do support bolder initiatives in the dissemination of ecology, but I like what Oikos offers and would love to see it become a leader in other respects besides metrics.


  1. Open Access is the practice of providing unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles.

    Open Access is also increasingly being provided to theses, scholarly monographs and book chapters.

    Open Access comes in two degrees: Gratis Open Access is no-cost online access, while Libre Open Access is Gratis Open Access

    plus some additional usage rights.

    Open content is similar to Open Acces, but usually includes the right to modify the work, where as in scholarly publishing it is

    usual to keep an article’s content intact and to associate it with a fixed author or fixed group of authors. Creative Commons

    licenses can be used to specify usage rights. The Open Access idea can also be extended to the learning objects and resources

    provided in e-learning.

    OMICS Group Inc. is one of the Open aceess publisher which provides journals in the form of Open Access.

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