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A promising year ahead for scientific publishing

2023 emerged as a landmark year for scientific publishing, characterized by widespread calls for reform from researchers, journal editors, funding agencies, government and non-governmental entities alike. As we reflect on the year, there are more voices within the academic community speaking to the need of the existing publishing and research evaluation systems to change.

If you missed our monthly Open Science Round-up newsletters, this blog post encapsulates the key events and initiatives that defined 2023 as a milestone year for open science and scientific publishing, and offers insights into key trends to follow in 2024.

Criticism and Resignations

Researchers and academics globally have shared concerns about the restrictive and commercially-oriented nature of publication practices, leading to a series of resignations by journal editors in response to these challenges. In April, the 40-member editorial board of NeuroImage resigned to protest against the high Article Processing Charges. The editorial board went on to found a new open access journal, Imaging Neuroscience,  partnering with MIT Press. The new journal aims to have a lower article processing charge (APC), and will offer free publication for authors from low- or middle-income countries. 

In May, most editorial board members of the journal Critical Public Health of Taylor & Francis quit, protesting the imposition of an APC of £2700 per article (USD $3,400). Like the previous board of NeuroIlmage, this group also launched a new journal, the Journal of Critical Public Health (JCPH), published by the University of Calgary in Canada and managed by the non-profit entity, the Critical Public Health Network, based in the UK. NeuroImage and Critical Public Health are not isolated incidents – other resignations took place in journals run by commercial publishers who were charging high APCs.  

High APCs pose a significant barrier to equitable and inclusive publishing, but are not the only challenge for diverse publishing. Gender discrimination remains a persistent issue, highlighting the need for a more inclusive and fairer scholarly environment. Jillian Goldfarb, associate professor of chemical engineering at Cornell University, resigned as Co-Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s journal, Fuel, citing Elsevier’s prioritization of profits over quality, handling of ethical issues, and gender bias. She expressed her disappointment with Elsevier in a LinkedIn post, and announced her commitment to fostering an inclusive STEM community.  

These resignations served as a powerful statement against the status quo, highlighting issues such as high fees, lack of open access, equity issues, and use of journals as proxy measures of the quality of science.

The rising challenge of integrity in academic publishing

2023 was a challenging year for scholarly publishing, with significant focus on integrity issues, highlighted by instances of journal delisting, papermill scandals, and a notable increase in retractions.

Some 50 journals were delisted by the database and indexing site Web of Science for not meeting quality standards. The result will see the delisted journals lose their Impact Factor, a metric generally regarded as a hallmark of scientific research quality.

Hindawi, an open-access publisher acquired by Wiley in 2021, had 19 of their journals delisted as part of this process, including “predatory” titles with a history of The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (JERPH), a so-called mega journal from open-access publisher MDPI, was ﷟one such example of a journal  due to quality-related issues.

JERPH had an impact factor 4.6 and published 9,500 articles in 2020 and 17,000 articles in 2022. The delisting is not limited to open-access publishers but includes more established publishers as well, with a number of titles from Elsevier and Springer Nature journals. The year also witnessed a significant number of retractions, exceeding 10,000 papers, partly influenced by the Hindawi incident. This marks a notable trend in the academic community.

Advancing the ‘No Pay’ Model: The discussion around “diamond” open access journals

In May 2023, the European Union’s Council of Ministers adopted a set of recommendations highlighting their support for universal open access to scientific publishing as the default standard and the need for a “no pay” publishing model. In October 2023, cOAlition S, a consortium of funding agencies, announced their next big push for “scholar-led” and “community-based” open-access publishing under the Plan S initiative. They also called for reforms in the process by adopting open peer review, making all the versions of the record openly accessible, and ensuring that neither authors nor readers incur any costs.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) funded a project, “Diamond Thinking,” aiming to simplify scientific publishing and improve access to research. This initiative, running from September 2023 to August 2025, focuses on establishing high-quality scientific journals at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) recently, in 11 Jan 2024, launched an initiative to enhance and consolidate the Diamond Open Access landscape in Germany by inviting proposals to establish a Service Centre that can cater to the needs of these journals.

The Global Summit on Diamond Open Access took place between October 23 and 27 , 2023, in Mexico with the aim of uniting the Diamond Open Access community. This event was hosted by Redalyc, UAEMéx, AmeliCA, UNESCO, CLACSO, UÓR, ANR, cOAlition S, OPERAS, and Science Europe, and provided a platform for journal editors, organizations, experts, and other relevant stakeholders from across the globe to collaborate and engage in meaningful conversation to promote Diamond Open Access.

Embracing Openness: Moving away from commercial bibliometric databases

The academic research ecosystem observed another significant transition in 2023, with some institutions and research organizations moving away from traditional, commercial databases like Scopus and Web of Science. This shift is being primarily fuelled by a collective aspiration to embrace openly accessible databases, coupled with a concern that commercial databases do not necessarily guarantee quality.

A notable example of this trend is Sorbonne University, France, which ended its subscription to the Web of Science database and Clarivate’s bibliometric tools. Another crucial development comes from the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University, Netherlands, known for its university rankings based on bibliometric data. CWTS aims to launch an open-source ranking system that will utilize data from the OpenAlex database.

The International Science Council advocating for reforms in scientific publishing

The International Science Council (ISC), with its global membership of more than 245 scientific unions, associations, and academies is dedicated to addressing critical issues impacting both science and society.

In response to growing concerns about the scientific publishing landscape, the ISC embarked on a project to redefine the standards of this critical aspect of the science system in 2021 and developed eight fundamental principles that scientific publishing should adhere to. Each of these principles, ratified at the ISC’s General Assembly in 2021, seeks to address the challenges of the existing publishing system and to harness the potential of the digital era. They cover various dimensions of scientific publishing including: universal open access, open licenses, data sharing, fostering equity, inclusivity, and diversity, rigorous and open peer review, innovation in publishing as well as making the record of science open for future generations where scientific community governs the system of knowledge dissemination.

With an aim to steer conversation on the need for redefining the publishing system the ISC published a discussion paper in 2023,  “The Case for Reforms in Scientific Publishing” reflecting on the priorities for reform. This paper highlights the need to address the ‘Publish or Perish’ culture which has emerged due to the pressure of ‘publishing at all cost’. As a result, the scientific community is currently addressing the challenge of managing a high volume of published papers, some of which may have limited impact. This culture can sometimes inadvertently contribute to issues such as plagiarism and falsification of results, driven by the pressures associated with publishing for career advancement.

The Case for Reform of Scientific Publishing Report

The Case for Reform of Scientific Publishing

This discussion paper has been developed by International Science Council as part of the Council’s Future of Publishing project and is a companion piece to the “Key Principles for Scientific Publishing” paper.

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There is also a pressing need to ensure the peer review process, which is the backbone of scientific publishing, is based in a culture of efficiency, transparency, innovation and fairness to contributors. The over-reliance on metrics like Journal Impact Factor (JFI) and citation counts fails to fully capture the multifaceted impact of any research, resulting in an urgent need to re-evaluate the research assessment process. The digital revolution offers opportunities to transform scientific publishing, yet much of its potential remains unrealized. In addition, the underrepresentation of Global South scholars in the scientific process needs addressing, as noted during global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ISC’s initiative to reform scientific publishing is therefore not just about changing how we share knowledge; it’s about redefining the value of science in society. It is a call to embrace open science as a means to ensuring that scientific publishing serves as a bridge, not a barrier, in our collective quest for knowledge.

2024: Four trends for scientific publishing

  1. Continuing the momentum from 2023, there is an anticipated increase in efforts towards open access to scientific literature and research data in 2024. The emphasis will possibly be on developing sustainable financial models for open access to bring more equitable participation for those researchers in the Global South.
  2. More countries and funding agencies are expected to adopt open science as the default position to promote greater transparency and reproducibility in research, fostering an environment where data sharing becomes the norm rather than the exception.
  3. A more mature discussion on assessing research impact beyond traditional citation metrics is likely to emerge. We anticipate a growing trend towards adopting open-access databases like Lens and OpenAlex, which may complement or offer alternatives to commercial ones such as Scopus and Web of Science.
  4. A key area of curiosity and potential in 2024 revolves around the role of artificial intelligence in scientific publishing. The possibilities are vast and varied, from streamlining peer review processes to enhancing the discoverability of research.

The ISC looks forward to being part of the conversation on the future of scientific publishing that responds to a system which could be more open, transparent, and equitable, ready to embrace the innovation required to meet today’s global challenges.

Join the conversation: Comments close on 1 March 2024

ISC Members and the broader community are invited to provide institutional responses to the ISC’s project on the Future of Scientific publishing. Geoffrey Boulton, Governing Board member and chair of the project recently presented a new discussion paper, The Case for Reform of Scientific Publishing, along with the ISC’s Eight Principles of Publishing that were endorsed at the ISC’s General Assembly in 2021.

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Picture by U.Lucas Dubé-Cantin on Pexels.

The information, opinions and recommendations presented in this article are those of the individual contributor/s, and do not necessarily reflect the values and beliefs of the International Science Council.

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