by Arend Kuester (Edited by Matthew Ismail)
(This is Part 2 of a 4 part series. Here is a link to Part 1.)
Publishers, Editors, Authors, and Readers
Publishers play an important role in the dissemination of research findings as they add value to the publication process by acquiring, selecting, editing, publishing (both in print and electronic format), marketing, and disseminating the scientific content. The organization and support of such complex processes as peer review, copyediting, fact-checking, proof-reading, marketing and sales requires both capital and expertise, and the publisher establishes the institution within which these complex tasks can be performed.
Within a journal, the editorial board plays an active role in setting the standards of a journal, assuring the quality, establishing the policies, the writing style, and in some case even adding some scientific gravitas. Many researchers will decide whether they want to read or submit to a journal based on the quality of its board. The editorial board may also act as ambassadors for the journals.
Editorial boards bring their network of scientific contacts to a journal and can encourage colleagues and peers to publish there. An active editorial board can help any new journal reach a large readership more quickly. Editorial boards benefit mostly from gaining influence and access to new developments and scientific discoveries before the rest of the world, which might in return give the journal a competitive research advantage.
The number of members on the editorial board of a journal can vary, but there are typically five or six editors. The best editorial board is truly international and consists of researchers from different nations and continents. You should develop editorial boards strategically to make sure you include members from the best research institutions in the world in specific scientific areas. Through this process, your journals are more likely to gain international visibility and reputation.
Authors look to journals primarily as a means of facilitating the dissemination of their work to the widest possible audience.
Readers turn to journals to gain an aggregated collection of the current research in their field and trust that system of peer review ensures the quality of that research. The speed of publication can also be an important factor for readers and this has increased rapidly thanks to electronic delivery of articles as well as sophisticated electronic manuscript submission and tracking systems.
Peer Review and Editing
The system of peer review and editing is the mainstay of the publication process. Once an author has submitted anarticle to a journal and it has been deemed worthy of consideration, the article will be sent to an expert peer to be checked for originality of research, reputability of citations, and validation on whether the evidence is robust and supports the conclusions of the paper. A journal will then accept or reject an article. Usually, an article is read by at least two reviewers.
Scientific peer-reviewers play an important role in the information value chain. They read submitted papers, check findings and experiments, evaluate scientific detail, and request further information from the author as needed. Peer review is best described as an ongoing scientific dialogue rather than a simple and linear process. Today, while there is some interesting experimentation in peer review, from outsourced peer review to machine readable peer review, the essence of the process is still similar: in the end, a human needs to check whether the research is valid, correct, and ethical.
The key criterion for acceptance of a paper will be its quality as confirmed by the editorial and peer review process. Nonetheless, every journal has to reject papers. Indeed journals with a high impact factor may have a rejection rate of 95%, while many other journals reject around 70% to 75% of submitted papers. Leading STM journals, such as Nature, Science, the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet, work tirelessly to maintain the quality of their published articles. The reputation of their journal depends on this.
Whilst your funder or community often thinks peer review will be done at no cost by the scientific community, a new publisher will have to invest into managing this process. Systems need to be set up, with significant time and investment in attracting and managing peer reviewers. This requires even more effort when you are establishing a new venture – nobody has heard of you and you have not yet built up a reputation for running a robust and ethical process. This will entail a significant amount of hands-on management time, which is oftenoverseen and it will take time to establish a smooth workflow.
Once an article has been accepted, it will be edited for language, quality of insights, and the thoroughness of research. Articles will be returned to the author frequently during this process to validate some of the research or the references. Each article will go through several versions and editorial stages, and this data is usually published with the article as well.
Publishing Ethics and Copyright
Publishing ethics is a mainstay of scholarly publishing. Publishers have formed the Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE) and the COPE Code of Conduct to assure that there are broadly-accepted standards for all publishing ventures. These ethical standards outline the main duties and responsibilities of editors. According to COPE, editors should be responsible for everything published in their journals. They should:
- Strive to meet the needs of readers and authors
- Constantly improve the journal
- Ensure the quality of the material they publish
- Champion freedom of expression
- Maintain the integrity of the academic record
- Preclude business needs from compromising intellectual standards
- Always be willing to publish corrections, clarifications, retractions and apologies when needed.
COPE also demands that editors clearly state the editorial policy and the nature of the peer-review process as well as publish guidance to reviewers on everything that is expected of them. Major journals have signed up to the code and you must always make sure to strictly adhere to that code in order to conform to international standards of best practice.
Copyright and licensing are also important matters for OA publishers to understand, since an article that is available online free to the user must be licensed differently than a journal that is available to select users behind a subscription paywall. In order to support OA publishing, a number of individual bespoke licenses have been created that allow a ‘some rights reserved’ position to be held by the copyright holder. These licenses have attempted to find some ground between, on the one hand, the default ‘all rights reserved’ position of traditional copyright in the print world (requiring permission to be asked for any use beyond fair use/fair dealing) and, on the other, simply placing content into the public domain (giving up all copyright).
Out of various attempts to address this copyright issue, a suite of licenses from the US non-profit organization Creative Commons has emerged. These Creative Commons licenses have now been used to license over 200 million digital objects ranging from text to music and film. These licenses provide various levels of copyright restrictions and have quickly become so popular that the Australian government has passed a law mandating that all public documents should carry Creative Commons licenses. There are similar initiatives being discussed at the EU level as well as in the UK.