Sunday, March 06, 2011

Assessing new open access journals

One question that often comes up as we transition to open access publishing is how to assess new open access journals. How do we know that these are legitimate? Here is my answer, informed and inspired by conversation on the SCHOLCOMM listserv, and reflecting my own perspective.

THE KEY QUESTION for assessing the quality of any academic journal, is whether the journal is the communication vehicle for a group of serious scholars committed to appropriate quality control such as peer review.

  • If you have received a solicitation to participate in an academic journal, who did this come from? A colleague that you know and trust? A leader in your field? Or someone you have never heard of?
  • Who edits the journal? Again, people you know, leaders in your field? In the case of a new publisher that you heard about from someone who don't know, it is a good practice to double check with people whose names are listed as being on the editorial advisory board, as there have been instances of new publishers listing people without their knowledge or permission. Note that if the journal is legitimate, the editorial board member will appreciate your interest in the journal.
  • Are the peer review guidelines posted on the website? If so, are they appropriate for this discipline?
  • If the journal has already published some issues, what is the quality of the work included?
  • Who publishes this journal? What is their mandate and reputation? There are many not-for-profits involved in publishing, including university presses, university libraries, and scholarly societies. The not-for-profit mandate is not a guarantor of quality, but it is a strong indication that the primary motive is scholarship rather than profit. Reputation is another important indicator. A number of open access publishers, both not-for-profit and for-profit, have earned a reputation for quality publishing, including Public Library of Science, BioMedCentral, and Hindawi, among others. A new commercial outfit may well be aiming for top quality, but it will (and should) have its work cut out for it to establish a reputation for quality.
  • An indirect measure of reputation is membership in the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), as OASPA vets members on these quality questions. Note that there is a waiting list of prospective members.
  • Another indirect measure is inclusion of the journal in the Directory of Open Access Journals as DOAJ has a quality control vetting process.
  • Does the journal use CC licensing? Preferably one of the strong CC licenses for open access, including CC-BY, CC-BY-NC, or CC-BY-SA.
  • Is the journal fully open access?
  • Is the journal firmly committed to open access?
  • Asking about participation in OASPA and/or DOAJ may help nudge journals to consider these options. For some, the vetting process may help them to develop best practices in quality control.

NEW JOURNALS will not be included in DOAJ, and new publishers will not be listed in OASPA. In these situations, it is best to rely on the academic community involved in the journal as the best indicator of quality.

Caroline Sutton, President of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers' Association (OASPA) notes that she frequently gets questions about whether new publishers should be considered trustworthy, and her answer is whether the publisher supports what she articulates as the core values of open access publishers - for details, see her presentation at ALA Midwinter 2011 - towards the end of the presentation.

Thanks to Jean Amaral, Sandy Thatcher, Hope Leman, and Peter Suber for contributions to the SCHOLCOMM discussion that inspired this post.

References (added November 15, 2011 - thanks to Nicole Gjertsen).

Beall, J. Predatory Open Access Scholarly Publishers. The Charleston Advisor 11: 4, April 2010 10-17.

Beall, J. Update: Predatory Open Access Scholarly Publishers. The Charleston Advisor 12:1, July 2010 , pp. 50-50.

Updated March 29, 2011 (included link to Caroline Sutton's presentation).