Predatory Publishers, Pseudoscience, and Vaginas

[Just a forewarning! The below blog post is much longer than my usual blog posts and it’s probably about a 20-25 minute read]

On November 26, 2019 Scientific American (a well read popular science magazine) published an online opinion piece entitled ‘Doctors are not Gods – Go Forth Self Healers‘. A fascinating title for an article in a science magazine! Less than 4 days later the piece was retracted and removed from the Scientific American website. You can read the retracted article here (thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine).

The opinion piece was a critique by one leading figure in the feminist health movement –  journalist and author Jennifer Block  – of another, OB/GYN, author, and social media goddess: Jennifer Gunter. Regardless of if you run in feminist health circles or not, Jen Gunter is probably a name you have come across. Author of The Vagina Bible, she has built a well earned reputation for herself helping women identify and avoid bad science when it comes to healthcare decisions. Especially by going after constant sources of misinformation like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop.

In the Scientific American piece, Block argues that while Gunter does a great job fighting pseudoscience, she often ends up supporting the patriarchal status quo of Science and doesn’t listen to the lived experience of women. That Gunter doesn’t give room for alternative medicine and she advocates for ” […] exactly the kind of doctor-as-god attitude the feminist health movement fought to reform.”

I’m always interested in internal debates inside movements where disagreement on ‘secondary’ values creates infighting because this is often what results in these movements stalling and their divisions being exploited. Both Gunter and Block are fighting for a (important and necessary) feminist and patient-informed revolution in healthcare. Gunter argues that while Modern Science still has a lot of problems with sexism and ignoring patients that need to be dealt with, that the rigour and methods that Science requires are our best route for truth. Block argues that we need to be more skeptical of Science in general because of these problems and look for alternative options that can help us determine truth.
Continue reading “Predatory Publishers, Pseudoscience, and Vaginas”

How much are we undercounting Open Access? A plea for better and open metadata.

It’s still pretty early days for measuring open access journal articles. For a long time the only reliable way to determine if an article had an open access version available was via a Google Scholar title search. You can’t get at Google Scholar via an API or web-crawling (because of the Captchas they have in place), so any attempt to mass pull open access data from Google Scholar is a long and painful process.

There were/are a number of tools trying to mass capture open access though, ones that

  • pull and merge open access content from repositories (e.g. BASE )
  • index full open access journals and their articles (e.g. DOAJ)
  • capture journals that become free to read after an embargo (e.g. PMC)
  • collect individual copyright statements for published articles (e.g. Crossref)

The brilliance in Unpaywall  is in how it pulls these all these sources together to create one database (Green, Gold, Bronze, and Hybrid). One that allows mass gathering of open access data but also easy use for individuals looking to find an OA version of a single article.

Being able to mass obtain data about open access publications opens all sorts of doors that were previously closed. We can see what kind of information is available to those without institutional access. We can start collecting open access articles and do fancy analysis of them with text-data mining and algorithms. We can track Research Funder OA compliance. We can measure where OA research has practical benefit to researchers.

Unpaywall is only as good as the data in can find though and that’s what I want to talk about.
Continue reading “How much are we undercounting Open Access? A plea for better and open metadata.”

Are Mirror Journals Just Hybrid Open Access Journals In Disguise Or Are They A Viable Route To The Open Access Future?

Developments in the open access world seem to be moving at a lightning pace lately. Plan S has added a realism and urgency to OA discussions. Never to be behind on any ‘scholcomm’ development, Elsevier has started a pilot program of launching what they are calling ‘Mirror Journals’.  Open Access (OA) ‘copies’ of existing peer reviewed journals. Journals that are “fully gold open access but share the same editorial board, aims and scope and peer review policies as their existing “parent” journals – and the same level of visibility and discoverability.”

Angela Cochrane gave a good analysis of Mirror Journals as a route to the full OA future in October. Worth a read! She argues that Mirror Journals have the potential to solve several problems publisher face when trying to publish OA, including accusations of double-dipping and the steep challenge of starting a new OA journal from scratch.

The double-dipping debate has always been one that has fascinated me. The argument goes that with ‘Hybrid’ OA- where the journal is by default paywalled, but authors can pay a publishing charge to have their individual articles made open access – that publishers get paid twice. Once by the institution subscribing to the journal, because most of it is not open access, and again by the author who chooses to publish open access and pays, with the institutions dollars, the publishing cost. The publisher dips twice into institutional funds. Institutions pay to subscribe to the journal, but don’t see a discount from the OA articles, and so they end up paying for them again.
Continue reading “Are Mirror Journals Just Hybrid Open Access Journals In Disguise Or Are They A Viable Route To The Open Access Future?”

Some thoughts on Open Access’ ‘Bad Journals’ Problem and the APC Model

I’m always a bit surprised the way some researchers use the term ‘predatory’ to refer to any and all open access journals they think are of lower quality. Since trying to rebalance the conversation around these journals is kinda my shtick, I used to push back pretty hard on this, but I’ve been rethinking it There’s been a move lately to move to using the term “questionable publishers” when broadly referring to these journals. That way you can talk about bad journals and ‘journals that are actually trying to scam you’ together without conflating the two like ‘predatory” does.

I’m not sure though. “Questionable” still puts bad journals and predatory ones in the same box. It’s not really solving the problem (telling the two apart), just avoiding it. When I talk to researchers who use the term predatory freely, they usually seem to be well aware that they are using it to include both bad journals and actual predatory ones. It doesn’t matter to them. Publishing in a bad journal is the same as publishing in a predatory one. Only one might actively be trying to scam you, but both result in sub-par research being published.

This has got me thinking about the ‘quality trap’ that new journals often have a hard time escaping from. You can’t be a quality journal without good authors submitting good papers and good peer reviewers volunteering to review them, but in order to get all these good things, you kinda need to already have them. To be a good journal you need good researchers who contribute, but in order to convince them to contribute you need to already be a good journal. Catch-22.
Continue reading “Some thoughts on Open Access’ ‘Bad Journals’ Problem and the APC Model”

Why does Elsevier require an exclusive rights transfer to publish Open Access?

There’s been an ongoing push by those in the open access movement to convince authors and publishers that a copyright transfer is not needed to publish scholarly works. The default in the system still seems to be that authors need to transfer their copyright to publishers and then publishers will grant some ‘author rights’ back to the author so that they can still make use of their works.

Typically publishers will justify this copyright transfer with the following reasons:

  • To protect the copyright of the article. (e.g. Wiley)
  • For a wide dissemination of the article (e.g. Springer)
  • To increase the financial income of the publisher as a trade-off for the services they provided freely to the author. (e.g. Canadian Veterinary Journal)

The issue with these reasons is that all the above could still be accomplished via a license agreement. The author doesn’t need to transfer ownership of their work – their copyright – in order for a publisher to protect it, widely disseminate it, or make a profit off of it. They just need to give the publisher the right to do all these things. With a license agreement authors’ retain copyright, but grant rights to the publisher to use the article in these ways.Continue reading “Why does Elsevier require an exclusive rights transfer to publish Open Access?”

Moving from Open Access ‘Centralism’ to Open Access Radicalism

An interesting thought experiment is comparing the Open Access (OA) movement to other current social movements for progressive change, e.g. Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. Like these movements, OA recognizes an injustice in the system and is fighting to make it more inclusive.

Of course, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo are the much more important fights. They are fighting for a specific end result; better lives for discriminated groups, while OA is fighting for a means to an end; OA so that research is better and better research so that people have better lives.

You can see advocacy strategies used within the OA movement have grown out of strategies used by social justice movements. Things like developing more creative ethical (and practical) arguments that can be used to convince others. Advocating for strategic policy changes. Solidarity and community building. Intersectionality.Continue reading “Moving from Open Access ‘Centralism’ to Open Access Radicalism”

Let’s all get angry about the Serials Crisis again

Something I’ve noticed lately in scholcomm and open access discussions on social media is a misunderstanding of the Serials Crisis. Typically when it gets referred to it is often interpreted that the ‘crisis’ is the high prices of scholarly publishers. The oligopoly they have and the 30% profit margins they make. This is a piece of the Serial Crisis, but what the Serial Crisis is really about is not the high costs, the dominance of a small number of publishers, or the high profit margins, it is about the rate by which scholarly publishers have increased their prices. I think this is an important distinction and I am going to try and explain why.

The price of serials usually goes up 5% – 6% per year while the rate of inflation is only around 2.5% per year (in the US). This essentially means that while the cost of everything else goes up 2.5% per year, the cost of serials goes up about double that.

This doesn’t seem like that big of deal though right? 2.5% and 5.5% are small percentages. An increase of a couple percentage like this is essentially just a rounding error, right?Continue reading “Let’s all get angry about the Serials Crisis again”

Where is the Green in Open Access Big Deals?

Open Access ‘Big Deals’ (also called ‘Read-and-Publish’ agreements) have been a big topic of discussion in the last couple years.

Richard Poynder defines the term nicely:

Here agreements are signed with legacy publishers that combine bulk journal subscription fees (as with traditional Big Deals) plus bulk OA publishing fees so that authors can publish without personally having to pay APCs.

While all the rage in Europe (e.g. Netherlands, Germany, Finland), it’s yet to fully catch on in North America. Most North American Research Libraries are still experimenting with some-sort of APC discount agreement with publishers and so far only one academic institution, MIT Libraries, has attempted the full ‘all-inclusive’ OA Big Deal where authors do not need to pay any APC at all.Continue reading “Where is the Green in Open Access Big Deals?”