Beware the Dark Side (of scientific publishing)

There are many reputable publishers and journals for peer-reviewed manuscripts, many of which offer open access publishing options (what is open access?). There are also many questionable journals out there (so-called “predatory journals”), which often promote their open access publication. How do you tell the difference?
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New scientific publication resources

In the last few months, a variety of new and updated resources on scientific publication were released. Some of the resources are geared more toward authors and researchers, while others will be most useful for medical writers and publication planners. Here they are, in no particular order:
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How academia can increase the value of research articles

With all the money invested in obtaining research funding, universities should invest more in the end product of that research, namely the publications. That is the argument made by the authors of a recent paper on improving the medical research literature.

The authors identified 3 targets that could help universities improve the publications from their researchers: introducing publications officers into the academic environment, training researchers how to be authors, and training researchers how to be peer reviewers.
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Is that open access publishing fee worth it?

Shelves in a library showing journals where researchers publish a scientific paper.

Open access publishing offers readers free access to articles published online, in contrast to a model where articles are available through an individual or institutional subscription to the journal. Most often, authors (or their institutions) pay an open access publishing fee when the manuscript is accepted. The fees can range from $75 to over $3,000 per article, depending on the journal.
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Are ICMJE authorship guidelines leaving people out?

The most widely referenced and followed guideline for authorship of scientific publications is that issued by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). In it, the ICMJE recommends that authorship be determined by:

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

The ICMJE states that

All those designated as authors should meet all four criteria for authorship, and all who meet the four criteria should be identified as authors. Those who do not meet all four criteria should be acknowledged.

A recent study looked at challenging authorship scenarios and asked clinical investigators, medical journal editors, publication professionals, and medical writers to decide who should be granted authorship status in these situations and how confident they were in their decision.

Results of the survey study showed several cases where there were higher levels of disagreement between the groups surveyed than other cases. Continue reading Are ICMJE authorship guidelines leaving people out?

Tips to prepare a scientific manuscript that gets published

Recently, I gave a webinar on publishing a scientific manuscript for the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). [An archived version of the webinar is located AMWA On Demand Webinars.] In the webinar, I reviewed topics including selecting a compatible journal, online resources for literature searches, and writing strategy.

Following the webinar, there was a Q&A session in which I was asked some great questions by the audience. Here is a condensed version of the questions and my answers from the webinar on publishing a scientific manuscript:
 
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Peer review: who, why, and how

Cartoon depicting peer review as a series of physical beatings.

Whether you are a veteran researcher or just beginning your academic career, you are probably familiar with the concept of peer review. In an ideal world, peer reviewers would politely request changes and suggest changes that would significantly improve your publications. In reality, peer review can be rude and unproductive. Here are some suggestions to improve both sides of the peer review conversation.
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“Publish that Paper” just released: Free e-course to improve your scientific publication record

Researcher performing work at a laptop computer.

Are you having a difficult time writing a scientific paper? Do you want to publish your manuscripts in more prestigious journals? You are not alone.

It is becoming harder to receive recognition for your manuscript (in the form of citations) when competing against the approximate 1.8 million articles published each year and growing at 3% per year. At some established journals, rejection rates are on the rise because of an increased number of submissions.

I’ve just released a free e-course, “Publish that Paper,” to help you polish your scientific manuscripts and boost your publication record.  You’ll learn tips and techniques that will help your papers get accepted quickly.  Editors will appreciate the improved results and colleagues will praise your clear data.

To become a world-class scientist today one must…be able to navigate the publishing process with skill and speed, as well as write with clarity, accuracy, and grace. Monica Bradford, Executive Editor, Science

Cartoon depicting peer review as a series of physical beatings.
Cartoon by Nick D Kim, scienceandink.com. Used by permission.

The content in these lessons is meant to be general enough to apply to manuscripts across all STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine) fields.

Publish that Paper” is a 14-part e-course that I developed to help scientists clearly communicate their research. At the end of the lessons, you will have amassed a list of resources and guidelines that you can refer back to as often as needed.

Tell me what you need to learn about scientific publication. What is the biggest thing you’re struggling with today? I’d love to hear from you.

Do you have questions about the e-course? Please email me and I will be happy to help out.

Is your journal publisher up to par?

 

Recent developments in scientific publishing have many folks scrutinizing open-access journals a bit more closely.  A journalist with Science concocted a fake manuscript that, in his words, was a “credible but mundane scientific paper, one with such grave errors that a competent peer reviewer should easily identify it as flawed and unpublishable.”

[Update 11/12/13 (wow, what a great date!):  Here’s a post-sting interview with the journalist, John Bohannon.]

In total, he submitted minor variations on the same manuscript to 304 open-access journals, of which 154 accepted the paper for publication.  (None of the manuscripts was published.  After acceptance, Bohannon would admit to uncovering a “serious flaw that invalidates the conclusions” and withdraw the paper.)  Of the 154 journals that accepted the flawed manuscript, it appeared that 82 performed no peer-review before accepting.

While these results may seem disheartening for open-access publishing, it’s worth noting that no comparable investigation was performed on “traditional” journals that operate by subscription (see rebuttals on the Scholarly Kitchen, and the Guardian websites).  So, there’s no way to say that open-access journals are different or worse than traditional journals in terms of their peer-review process. (Would be interesting to see the results of that study.)

Professional organizations exist, such as Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), that provide guidelines for peer-reviewers and publishers to follow.  COPE admits to having some of the journals uncovered by the sting on its list of vetted publications and vows to reexamine its approval process.  A list of possible predatory publishers and journals is maintained by a librarian at the University of Colorado – Denver.  From the results of this open-access sting, it appears that this “predatory” list is fairly good at spotting questionable practices, though some journals listed as predatory correctly rejected the flawed paper.

Next time you’re sending off a manuscript for review, pay close attention to the journal you or your colleague has selected.  It may be worth gathering a little  more background information about the practices and people behind the journal.  Do you recognize folks on the editorial board? Have your colleagues published in this journal before?  For the long-term health of your career and reputation, its better to get 1 or 2 high-quality publications on your CV instead of 3 times that amount at journals that may operate with questionable practices and intentions.