Peer review, journal reputation, and fast publication were selected by Canadian researchers as the top three factors in deciding where to submit their manuscripts, trumping open access, article-level metrics, and mobile access, a recent study reports.
The report, “Canadian Researchers’ Publishing Attitudes and Behaviours“ was conducted by the Phase 5 Consulting Group for Canadian Science Publishing, a non-profit organization that oversees the NRC Research Press.
The survey, conducted in February, 2014 was sent to more than 6,000 Canadian authors publishing in a broad spectrum of scientific and technical fields, and resulted in 540 completed responses–a 9% response rate typical of similar surveys.
The report provided confirmation of what larger, international surveys of researchers have reported previously–that peer review is an essential step prior to publication, and that many strongly-held beliefs of researchers regarding free access to the scientific literature do not coincide with their own behaviors.
The survey suggests however, that there is a disconnect between researchers’ apparent agreement with the principle of open access (i.e., that research should be freely available to everyone) and their publishing decision criteria. Although the vast majority of researchers (83%) agree with the principle of open access, the availability of open access as a publishing option was not an important decision criterion when selecting a journal in which to publish. In this regard, availability of open access ranked 6th out of 18 possibility criteria. It was eight times less important than impact factor and thirteen times less important than journal reputation when selecting a journal.
To me, this disconnect does not underscore widespread hypocrisy in the scientific community, as even scientists who have familiarity with open access rate it much lower than other factors (viz. SOAP survey). Scientists have many identities, and tapping into the fundamental desire of the scientist-as-reader (access to everyone else’s work), does not always coincide with the fundamental desire of the scientist-as-author (recognition by one’s peers).
Moreover, openness is a central ethos of science (see Merton’s Normative Structure of Science), so it is not surprising that the phrase “open access” receives so much popular support. The structure of science (unlike, say, the financial industry) requires that findings be public in order to claim credit. And the more public, the better, which is why scientists do such a good job using peer-to-peer and informal networks for disseminating their work.
Consider page 11 of the Canadian study. While 97% of respondents relied on their institution’s subscription to access journal articles, the next most frequent response was contacting the author(s) directly for a copy (91%), followed by institutional repositories (76%), ignoring the article (75%), and social networking sites (50%). Pay per view took last spot at 27%.
Discovering that scientists support openness and then using that finding to advocate for overhauling national funding policies is like discovering that undergraduates love beer in order to advocate for underage drinking. To me, it is much more constructive to ask which features of the publication system scientists value most and work toward improving them. On this point, the Canadian survey does an excellent job.
Not surprisingly, the peer review process was overwhelmingly supported (97% of respondents agreed), following by a journal’s ability to reach the intended audience (93%), and discoverability through major indexes and search engines (92%). Copy editing (77%), layout and formatting (71%) still received a majority of support as did advocating on the behalf of authors when their work was being misused or when their rights were violated (71%).
As for the factors scientific authors considered when selecting a journal for manuscript submission, journal reputation scored highest (42.9 out of 100 possible points) followed by Journal Impact Factor (26.8), although in my mind journal reputation is a construct that incorporates its citation standing, among other attributes. Third place went to speed of publication (9.6), which, given the value scientists put on priority claims, is not surprising. “No page charges or submission fees” received 4.4 importance points–an issue very familiar to American society publishers.
Immediate Open Access (OA) publishing via the publisher’s website received just 3.3 out of 100 possible importance points, and OA publishing after an embargo period received just 2.2 points. As mentioned above, these results confirm prior author surveys, even those focused on authors with a history of publishing in OA journals.
The rest of the list includes a long tail of issues advocated by authors, librarians and advocacy groups, such as author-held copyright (1.9), article reuse policy (1.2), and third-party archiving (e.g. Portico and CLOCKSS, 0.39). I’m a little puzzled how authors can express the need for retaining their copyright while simultaneously wanting publishers to defend their work against misuse, but if a researcher doesn’t really understand what copyright entails, keeping it may sound like a better option than giving it away; and having an organization defend your rights sounds a lot better than defending them yourself.
What was surprising, given all of the attention received at conferences and press-reports, is that article-level metrics received just 0.73 points, putting it in 11th place (out of 18). It could be that few authors have prior experience with journals that offer such tools that detail the dissemination of one’s article to the broader community.
Equally surprising was that “Accessibility on mobile devices” ranked dead last, receiving just 0.04 importance points, even below the option to include video abstracts and multimedia files (0.14 points). I don’t know of any other author survey that includes a mobile device question, so I have no basis for comparison. Journal editors and publishers would be right to remain skeptical against the claims of marketers for mobile and apps-based products until they see better data.
When I travel to publishing conferences, I spend a lot of time checking out nearby hotels, selecting one in my price range with a gym and pool. When I arrive, I’m often disappointed that the “gym” is no more than a small room with a few machines, poor lighting and bad ventilation. The pool is often even more of a disappointment–too small and too warm to do laps. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because I hardly ever use these facilities, especially after a late night out drinking with colleagues. If I even make it to these amenities, I’m often alone. I think the hotels know that the desires of their customers frequently contradict their actual behaviors and plan accordingly. This doesn’t mean that hotel customers are hypocrites; it does mean that hotels (like publishers) may be in the unfortunate position of supporting costly services that serve more of a marketing function than addressing real needs.
“Build it and they will come,” may still be relevant. Just don’t expect many to use it.