Unquestionably, the currency of academic scholarship is refereed publications. Although many scholars enjoy juxtaposing and debating a “quantity of pages” versus “quality of impact on the field” ad infinitum, the question most researcher want to know is simply, “how can I have my best work meaningfully refereed and made accessible to the academic community?” What was one a rather straightforward question just a decade ago has become increasingly complex as the world of academic publishing is rapidly evolving.
It was in response to the question of “how best to publish” that motivated us to create the new Journal of Astronomy & Earth Sciences Education – JAESE. We’ve spent quite a bit of time creating this publishing vehicle for the science education research community, and it is something that we’re quite proud of. Unfortunately, it has been off-handedly suggested that JAESE might be a predatory journal or perhaps a place too new for faculty seeking promotion and tenure. I, JAESE’s Editor-in-Chief, along with JAESE’s guiding Editorial Advisory Board can assure you that JAESE is not a predatory journal. Moreover, a quick glance at our list of well-known editorial board members or a read of the high quality of papers JAESE has already published should be enough to put any such fears to rest.
If you haven’t heard of predatory journals before, predatory journals are those publishing entities that charge authors exorbitant fees to publish their research articles, regardless of the scholarly quality and without any meaningful peer-review. Predatory journals have shown up in the news quite a bit lately because of an instance where an India-based journal publisher quickly accepted and published a submitted but nonsensical, computer-generated article and invoiced the imaginary author several thousand dollars with a single-word editorial review of, “excellent.” JAESE isn’t one of these publication-mills.
JAESE is an open-access journal. This means that its peer-reviewed articles are freely available to readers and libraries without a subscription. Whereas traditional publishers cover their costs by surprisingly large subscription fees to libraries, open-access journals charge authors or their institutions a page-charge fee to cover their costs, including copyediting, layout, indexing, permanent storage, stable access, and curation. In other words, one can’t simply put up a website and call it a journal, as permanent storage, indexing, and stable URLs are important and not as easy as it might seem.
Simply charging authors or their institutions a fee is not in and of itself any evidence of predation, as many scientific journals have such per-page fees, including Journal of Geoscience Education (JGE charges $100/page, but fees are optional for those without institutional support) and the Astrophysical Journal ($275/page fees). Moreover, journals such as Journal of Research in Science Teaching are seemingly free to publish in, but charge a $3,000 fee if authors wish to make their articles available open-access to those without a subscription. GSA’s Geology is $2500 per article fee. Because JAESE isn’t connected to a big publishing company, JAESE charges a nominal open-access fee, averaging about $500 per article—and authors’ retain their own copyright. In other words, the cost is about the same as JGE, but JAESE readers do not require a subscription, making the overall cost lower. The JAESE Editorial Board judged this to be a much better model than other available options. If you’re really interested in how much it actually costs to publish an article, I recommend starting by reading the NATURE article on the subject at http://www.nature.com/news/open-access-the-true-cost-of-science-publishing-1.12676
JAESE wasn’t created overnight. Instead, the current form of JAESE is a result of two years of collaborative planning, including the competitive selection of an experienced, US-based academic publisher. Part of that planning includes the creation and engagement of both an Editorial Advisory Board and a Board of Reviewers who are highly respected and well-known scholars (viz., http://JAESE.org), including former journal editors, who oversee the JAESE Editor, who is also himself an experienced senior scholar. Part of the motivation to create JAESE is based upon (i) the void created with the cessation of the Astronomy Education Review, (ii) the large number of manuscripts received by Journal of Geoscience Education, and the non-library subscription nature of the Journal of Research in Astronomy Education & Outreach. Its not like there are an overabundance of places for discipline-based education researchers to publish, and most scholars seem to welcome new avenues that use new business models.
Recent discussion about predatory journals has been further fueled by an exuberant, list-making librarian at the University of Colorado-Denver who has been trying to keep track of the ever-growing, fly-by-night journal publishers, mostly in India and surrounding countries. These groups have created fictitious journals such as the London Journal of Indian Medicine and the Spanish Journal of African Culture. Because it is nearly impossible to fully investigate all of these quickly waxing and waning publishers, including our own, Jeffrey Beall’s list (which has been widely cited elsewhere, although not often critically so) is specifically titled the POTENTIAL, POSSIBLE, OR PROBABLE list of open-access publishers. Unfortunately, JAESE was placed on this warning list of potentially, possible, or probable predatory journals simply because it is funded by open-access publication fees instead of subscriptions: JAESE was placed on this list even before its first issue was released and without any regard to the credentials of the Board or to the quality of the articles included. Suspiciously, all our attempts to contact Mr. Beall so far to correct this or appeal this have been dismissed. In other words, once a journal gets on his list, it seems to be impossible to get off of it. Personally, I judge this to be dubious and Beall’s once deeply appreciated work is now being justifiably criticized by a wide range of scholars.
To get down into the weeds of it, Beall’s criteria for being on the list of potentially predatory journals includes: if the publisher is the editor (for JAESE, the publisher is Ron Clute and the editor is Tim Slater – one is tall with lots of hair and the other, well, is not); if there is no substantive or knowledgably editorial/review board (for JAESE, there is a 20-member editorial review board of well-known and highly respected scholars); and if there is little geographic or gender diversity of the editorial board (for JAESE, there is an international representation with a balance of gender). In addition, Beall suggests that potentially, possible, or probable predatory publishers: have weak controls for plagiarism (in addition to having knowledgeable reviewers, JAESE uses software to guard against this); lack stable and permanent article identifiers such as paid DOIs (JAESE uses an internal system with permanent URLs and pays to be deposited in a permanent repository system); are not members of large publishing collaboratives (JAESE’s publisher Clute Institute is an endorsing publisher for the UKSG.org Transfer Code of Practice); and do not have any long-standing history (JAESE’s publisher is based in Denver and has been publishing journals for several decades, with more than 7,500 refereed articles permanently curated in total).
One specific criticism of JAESE is that we currently do not use DOI numbers to specify permanent URLs for archived articles. The DOI system was created in the 1990s to solve the problem of unstable URLs when using Netscape and Mosaic to find online resources. Many publishers think that the DOI system has outlived the problem it was trying to solve, especially as membership in the DOI system is expensive for small publishers and, it seems to me, largely unnecessary these days. The JAESE Editorial Board is currently reconsidering DOIs, but members are understandably reluctant to pass more costs on to authors, if it is unnecessary.
In the end, the quality of any journal is mostly independent of its business model. Instead, I believe that the quality of any scientific journal should be judged on its usefulness to scholarly authors and accessibility to scholarly readers. Over the decades, there have been many efforts to quantify a journal’s value, like impact factors and citation indexes. I’m not going to bore you with all the ways to manipulate those numbers, but if I haven’t overstayed my welcome yet, I’m happy to tell you some of my opinions.
People often ask me about acceptance rates. I will tell you that JAESE anticipates having about a 30% acceptance rate—it might be higher or lower over the long term—but I’ll also confess that acceptance rates as a valid measure of journal quality is completely meaningless. On one hand, the Astrophysical Journal, the inarguable top-tier astronomy journal has a 91% acceptance rate. On the other hand, the Journal of Teacher Education, the best candidate for the top-tier education journal, has a 6% acceptance rate. That’s a magnificent difference between acceptance rates. Which is the higher quality journal? I don’t know in these two cases, but I can tell you that the value for acceptance rate doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it.
People sometimes ask me about JAESE’s affiliation with a professional society. To many people’s surprise, most professional societies publish journals specifically as a revenue raising activity in order to fund its office and programs. Both the American Geophysical Union and the American Astronomical Society earn millions of dollars each year through their publications. Across library sciences, a professional society affiliation is rarely considered evidence of quality. JAESE is not affiliated with a professional society, because we want to keep costs as low as possible.
Finally, I believe that a solid peer-review system is the best guarantee for having valuable articles in one’s journal. Whereas some journals use only a single, peer-reviewer, JAESE uses a multiple-peer review system. Each submitted manuscript has the authors’ names and their affiliations removed before review, as this has been shown in a variety of fields to influence acceptance. Manuscripts are reviewed by two Review Board members, as well as by the Editor. In cases where there is specialized knowledge being advanced, either scientific or educational, more reviewers are used. The philosophical inclination of our review system is formative, rather than punitive, in an attempt to help authors get their work out when appropriately mature. It is our hope that this review system will enhance the usefulness of the articles and provide valuable feedback to authors.
This “blog post” has gone on for much longer than I anticipated, but I felt compelled to explain to our community some of our thinking. It is my deepest hope that JAESE can contribute to the advancement of science education research and I’m always open to hearing your suggestions on how to improve it.
Timothy F. Slater, Ph.D., University of Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education Endowed Chair of Science Education, and Senior Scientist at the CAPER Center for Astronomy & Physics Education Research (caperteam.com)