Breaking the review system

We hear that it’s increasingly difficult to find reviewers for journal articles. Peer review is probably a hallmark of science, but the incentives are not exactly working out. Despite efforts to counter this (e.g., DORA, slow science), we still have plenty of incentives to publish articles other than the desire to share our findings with the research community (e.g., job applications when we are asked to count the number of publications, reputation drawn from publishing in a certain journal).

While open access is undoubtedly a good thing, I’ve always had some reservations about so-called gold-access: research teams pay publishers to have an article published. Obviously the idea is that we keep rigorous peer review in place, but the incentives are staked differently. We’ve seen the incredible growth of open-access publishers like Frontiers and MDPI, at times with questionable efforts like spamming researchers in a way that fraudulent journals do. It’s a grey area.

Even though publishers like MDPI engage in peer review, we frequently hear about questionable papers getting published. To be fair, that’s something that can happen to all publishers. MDPI are incredibly fast — but a pre-print will still be faster! — and they are actively unpleasant from the perspective of a reviewer. They put a lot of time pressure, which increases the chances of a rushed review.

But having reviewed for one of their journals once, now they keep spamming me with invitations to review. I use ‘spamming’ because of the frequency, and the fact that these invitations to reviews are all about work that has absolutely nothing to do with the work I do. This is not what a serious publisher does, irrespective of what we might think of article ‘processing’ charges and commercial profits. So definitely a dark shade of grey this.

We’ve seen great work in terms of diamond or platinum open access, but for it to catch on, we also need senior colleagues to come aboard (e.g., by clearly defining how junior colleagues are selected and evaluated, by submitting their work there) — ideally before commercial interests break the system completely… (German, paywalled)


I’ve been waiting for it for a long time, and was very happy to see that SocArXiv took shape after Elsevier acquired SSRN. Although SSRN seems to have played fair, I was always somewhat uneasy about its for-profit ownership. Perhaps nothing will change with Elsevier as the new owners, but the unease does not go away. So I was quite excited to see SocArXiv appearing. I’m eagerly awaiting their proper launch (there is currently a temporary e-mail submission system to get going).

I really hope SocArXiv will be a success because it’s not enough to make our research available (on our websites, on an institutional repository, on Zenodo, etc.): it also needs to be found by those who look for it and reach new audiences.

Now, who is ready for an OHL for the social sciences?

Post SSRN?

Ever since SSRN announced its sale to Elsevier I’ve been musing post-SSRN. While SSRN has always been a commercial enterprise, re-investing profits into the business is quite a different kettle of fish to being part of Elsevier.

I’m currently exploring Zenodo hosted at the venerable CERN, and Econstor hosted at the Leibniz Information Centre for Economics.

Maybe we are slowly learning that we need to be in control of our infrastructure if open access is really going to mean something.