In this post freelance journalist Diane Kwon takes note of a number of developments including how “the global push to make the scholarly literature open access continued in 2019. Some publishers and libraries forged new licensing deals, while in other cases contract negotiations came to halt, and a radical open access plan made some adjustments. Here are some of the most notable developments in the publishing world in 2019:
Perils of existing tools and practices
This year, The Scientist heard scientists’ complaints about the supplementary files that accompany journal articles and concerns about predatory journals on PubMed, the massive repository of abstracts and citations belonging to the US National Library of Medicine (NLM).
The NLM has quality control procedures for PubMed in place, but some articles have slipped through the cracks. Academics began raising concerns about the presence of predatory journals on PubMed for several years—and those worries remain today.
Supplementary files, on the other hand, have been criticized by scientists for containing broken hyperlinks and being published in clunky and outdated formats. As a result, more scientists are opting to deposit their files into online repositories hosted by universities, research institutions, and companies. Publishers, too, have begun to encourage this practice.
New tools can have their own flaws. This summer, several scientists noted that their papers were erroneously flagged by journals’ automatic plagiarism detectors. Instead of identifying actual cases of plagiarism, they were picking out author lists, methods, or references. Despite some of the current limitations of this technology, some publishers are working on extending the reach of artificial intelligence into other parts of the peer-review process, such as identifying statistical issues. “These will turn out to be useful editorial tools,” Bernd Pulverer, chief editor of The EMBO Journal, told The Scientist in June. “But [they] most certainly should not replace an informed expert editorial assessment, let alone expert peer review.”
UC breaks with Elsevier
At the end of February, contract negotiations between Elsevier and the University of California (UC) came to a halt. The two sides had failed to agree on terms after more than half a year of discussions. The previous contract ended in December 2018, but Elsevier continued to provide free access until July. Since then, UC has been unable to read new content published in Elsevier’s journals.
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