Tuesday, March 3, 2015

High Impact Open Access Journals: A Dilemma

If you follow many scientists on Twitter, you probably know that open access publishing is a hot button topic.  Some sit in their ivory towers with their reputations fully established and claim that publishing in traditional journals is immoral.  Similarly, some "indie" scientists claim martyr status for publishing in PLOS One because it (supposedly) cost them an academic faculty career.  At the core of it, I agree with these people.  Our research, which is mostly funded by taxpayer money, should be made freely available to everyone.  But on the the practical side, I know that the only way for me to be able to keep going, i.e., get tenure and get funding, is to publish in high impact journals.  Right now my lab has a draft of what I consider to be a pretty important paper.  I would love to submit it to an open access journal, one,  because of the whole morality thing, and two, because open access journals usually get more readership and citations.

I've tried to compile a list of high impact open access journals.  There are some good options.  But I am SHOCKED that it costs so freaking much to publish in these journals!  It's really double or triple or maybe quadruple the amount of a traditional journal.  Where is this money supposed to come from?  This means ten less antibodies for my lab.  Or maybe my tech should be laid off for a month.  It's really nuts.  Anyway, below is the list that I compiled.  This is in no way complete and it's only the open access biology journals for which my work would be suitable.

PLOS Biology, Impact factor 11.8 -- $2,900
BMC Biology, Impact factor 7.4 -- $2,605
Nature Communications, Impact factor 10.7 -- $5,200
Cell Reports, Impact factor 7.2 -- $5,000
Genome Biology, Impact factor 10.5 -- $2,770
eLife, Impact factor 8.5 -- free for first few years

It seems that eLife is the clear winner here.  But, the experience of my friends who have submitted here is that if you're not a nobel prize winner or an HHMI investigator, don't even try.  Browsing their recently published papers in my field is like browsing the list of the keynote speakers for all the meetings I've attended in the past ten years.  This would lead me to believe that despite this journal's claim that they promote young scientists, what they're really promoting is the old boys' club (and maybe some of the postdocs who happen to be in these famous labs).  In terms of cost, the runner up would be BMC Biology.  This is a real possibility.  I've read a few great papers in this journal, and it's maybe only double the cost of a standard journal.  However, at least in my field, this just doesn't have the same status as having a paper with the words Cell or Nature in the journal title.  But wow, paying $5,000+ in publication charges just doesn't work for me when I think about all the other things I could do with that money.  It's really a dilemma, and I gladly welcome any thoughts, but I really think I'm going to have to go with a traditional journal.   

Update:  I didn't actually do what I said I would do at the end of this post.  I submitted to Nature Communications.  It was editorially rejected within two days (which I can easily move on from because they didn't waste too much of our time).  I'm quick with reformatting, so we resubmitted to PLOS Biology within a couple hours.  It took several days to make it through the technical checks due to mistakes of the journal staff in saying that we needed IACUC approval when we do not.  But, the status is now "with editor" and has been that way for about a week.  Hopefully it will at least get sent out for review.  

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