Over at Occam’s Typewriter[1] Frank has written introducing an initiative by The Wellcome Trust, the Max Planck Society and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to launch a new top-tier open access journal for biomedical and life sciences research.

Frank has most of the news, so I won’t repeat it, but to add that there is a lot to like about this initiative. Here’s a quick bullet-point list of points and thought gathered from Frank’s article and the Wellcome News press release and some of the commentary Frank’s article links to:

  • To open in northern hemisphere summer, 2012.
  • Edited by leading actively-working research scientists
  • Only one round of revisions – reduce need for modifications or additional experiments.
  • On-line only – opportunity to explore/exploit new formats and tools to present content.
  • No author charges.
  • No page limits. (But limited supplementary figures.)
  • Frank notes that the reviewers’ comments will be published anonymously and they are considering paying reviewers.
  • Open access: ’the entire content will be freely available for all to read, to reproduce and for unrestricted use.’
  • [own thought] Directly funded by research funders. In a sense research funding already funds journals, just via a chain of hands: research grant, levy to library, then library to publisher; also direct publication costs are taken from research grants. Here three of the bigger funders are directly putting funds into the publication for wider benefit. Intuitively feels good – at first glance, anyway.

Frank’s article has a links and quote to number of responses to this announcement, e.g. how this model is to be made sustainable. In particular, Declan Butler, from Nature, has a lot to say (see also the comments that follow his opinion piece).

On the mix of no author charges and open access: what not to like? I imagine this alone would attract submissions, and with it competition amongst submitters. It will particularly appeal to those outside academic institutions or institutions with limited budgets.

The issue of academic editors v. full-time editors always leaves me umming and erming, a-weighing conflicting thoughts.

Are ‘bit time’ editors are the best choice?

There seems to me to be a tricky balance of skills, interests and time here. On one hand it seems to me that if you are not actively following a field/niche closely you will eventually become ‘soft’ (a problem for full-time science communicators, too). There is also the temptation for editors of journals seeking wider attention to weigh in the ‘news’ value of an article; while true of both camps, I would think it is more easily taken up by those without ties to academia, which in general discourages this.

On the other hand, full-time editors should, or could, be more independent and have more time to hone editorial skills. There is also a need for well-formed links to media, provided they don’t inflate or otherwise misrepresent the story.

My ideas are barely more than off-the-cuff ruminations, so I feel tentative about sharing them here. It’s not as if I have first-hand experience in academic journal editing, either.

With that in mind I doubt others would agree, or even think it’s practical,[2] but I often wonder if a (or the) solution for jobs involving a mixture of detailed understanding of an area of science and some work or skills outside of research science (editors, advisors, science communicators/writers, etc.) is for permanent part-time positions with a decent chunk of time in both camps so that the science component is not lost over time. This, of course, conflicts with university and research[3] career structures, with their ties to citation success, etc. (This suggests to me that these career structures are an issue, but that’s another topic!)

The choice to not impose a page limit is welcome. (Mind you, if I were an editor I would impose some excessively wordy ‘ultimate limit’ to prevent ‘thesis dumps’!) To tight limits encourages overly terse writing that makes for explanations through trying to cram it all into a tight space. Better for explanations to take what space they naturally need.[4]

In other open-access publication news, Nature’s Scientific Reports has released it’s first issue.


1. Still one of my favourite science blog collectives ;-)

2. Ruminations are starting points for thinking, not resolved conclusions!

3. As opposed to technician, administrator, etc.

4. This reminds me of Bora advising that blog post should be as long as they need to be.

Other publication-related articles at Code for life:

Retrospective: Credits, Dis-credits and mis-credits.

Post-embargo publication delays: be gone

Scientific article download costs

Find a home for your research paper, authors, related papers — ask Jane

Keeping the serendipity

Linking text and visual content