Online Platforms for Recruiting and Motivating Reviewers

Authors and publishers have easily understandable motivations for participating in scholarly publishing, but there is less clear motivation for reviewers. This post highlights the need of recognizing and rewarding reviewers and describes how online platforms can ease achieving this objective at the time of being a source for recruiting reviewers and recording review activity. A description and a comparison of the main online platforms available today are also provided.

The academic publishing process is driven by four main actors: authors, editors, publishers and reviewers, each of whom play a vital role in ensuring that high standards are maintained throughout the process of preparing the article, reviewing it and finally publishing it. Each main actor needs to have some motivation that drives participation and the quality of their contribution to the publishing process. I would like to summarize what I think are the main motivations of each party in the review process. Authors are driven by their wish to make public the results of their investigations. Besides that, the production of high quality scientific content is a highly valued merit in academia and research. Researchers whose curricular vitae boast of a large list of high-quality publications are well respected and have easier access to funding.
When it comes to editors, becoming a member of editorial board of scientific journals is in itself considered to be a merit. Editors normally serve in an “altruistic” mode, without expecting financial reward. They view being an editor as a means by which they can give back to the scientific and academic community. However, some editors are perhaps not as altruistic as one may think since they also gain recognition from the role which enhances their reputations and therefore access to funding. In addition, it is noteworthy that some publishers do provide some sort of compensation to editors for their work, which can be an additional motivation.
Scientific publishers are mainly based on two models of publication: 1. The traditional model, in which access to the full text of the articles is only accessible to subscribers (individual or institutional) 2. Open access model, in which publishers charge authors a fee for publishing articles with the full text available to all readers. In one way or other, major publishers manage to generate large chunks of revenue from the publishing process. The scientific publishing industry alone generates billions of dollars every year (1-4). Besides this, there is also a large group of non-profit and association/institutional publishers who make very little (if any) financial gain from their journals, but publish them as part of their mission to serve members and academia. Thus, the motivation of this last type of non-profit journal is radically different of that of publishers working as traditional for-profit companies.
While the motivation for three of the four actors in the publishing process can be clearly identified, the reason why reviewers participate in the publishing process is not so clear. There is no “material” reward for reviewers. Rather, it is the scientific altruism or commitment to the scientific model that motivates them to work. Reviewers are encouraged by the belief that they play an important role in ensuring that good quality research work reaches the community. The fact that reviewers themselves are also authors makes them more aware of the importance of good reviewers. In recent decades the number of scientific journals and the number of published articles has multiplied with a growth rate of approximately 3%-10% per year depending on the research area  (5-8), resulting in a true “explosion” of manuscripts that are submitted to publishers. As journals receive more and more manuscripts and the number of journals continues to grow, reviewers get saturated with multiple requests and invitations.  Thus, it is easy to understand “reviewer fatigue”, although many other factors may influence the reviewer’s decision to decline invitations to review manuscripts   (9). As a consequence editors often cannot find appropriate reviewers for manuscripts and this may result in delayed times for the various phases of the review process, and authors often have to wait months until their manuscripts get reviewed.
Getting more reviewers and making them more committed with providing good review reports on time is the main reason why it is necessary to increase the motivation of the reviewers. And indeed it seems fair to reward authors for their work in a sector that generates significant benefits. Several voices insist on this need again and again worldwide (10-15). Some journals/publishers are experimenting with direct payment of reviewers, although this is an exception. Anyway several arguments can be made against direct monetary compensation, in particular because paying reviewers would break the independence between editors/publishers and reviewers, which is one of the pillars of the academic publishing process. Most publishers acknowledge reviewers in front-matter summary pages or lists of reviewers or in letters upon request. Some others, such as Frontiers, make public the names of reviewers (and the name of the editor in charge) of all published articles including the names of the reviewers in a footnote in every published article. Others, such as Elsevier, are launching their own recognition platforms providing their reviewers with a personalized profile page where their reviewing history is documented and where they can download certificates. Authors and editors can also evaluate the quality of reviews done, providing feedback that may result in better quality of the review process. Nature, for example, recognizes reviewers with payment in kind, where reviewers receive free journal access, tools and services or vouchers for research supplies (16).  
In recent years, independent communities have developed online platforms offering review services for the scientific community. These platforms establish that it is possible to create an independent system where reviewers get recognition and reward for the efforts they put into ensuring that quality research reaches the scientific community. One of the main features of these platforms is that they are “third party companies” independent of publishers. This way, biases are completely prevented since editors and publishers are unable to influence reviewers, even when they may have a role in the workflow, since these platforms are designed to prevent direct communication among the different actors.
Basically, what these platforms do is provide authors and publishers with appropriate reviews and also provide reviewers with an extra motivation making them more willing to review manuscripts and complete the task in shorter periods (10, 11). They provide rewards to reviewers using two major strategies: 1. Credit through certificates or other elements that the reviewer can add to his curriculum vitae and 2. Other benefits such as monetary reward or rights to have their own manuscripts reviewed.
In this update, we report the global features of five of these platforms at the time of comparing them: Rubriq, Peereviewers, Publons.Peerage of Science and Academic Karma (Table 1). 

Peerage of Science
Academic Karma
Clients choose: review of contents + statistics, or review of contents + suggestion of suitable journals
Database of reviewers
Record of reviewers, journals and reviews
Reviews and publishing offers
Exchange of services
Review protocol
Closed. All manuscript go under the same protocol (Scorecard)
Open. Clients can customize the protocol of review
Open (Peerage Essay)
Open. Clients can customize the protocol of review
Fee (valid in  2015)
Several options depending on the services, from $500 to $650 (3 reviewers included)
$100 per reviewer
Type of acknowledgment to reviewers
Monetary (100$)
Monetary (50$), Certificate
Online record
Online record, ability to submit own articles for review
Online record, ability to submit own articles for review
Table 1. Comparison between third-party platforms offering reviewer services

To start with we would like to compare Rubriq (17) and Peereviewers (18). Both perform similarly but there are also some points distinguishing them (Table 1). In both cases, the reviewer must register on the platforms (restricted to academics and researchers with a given expertise) and declare their expert profile, so that they can be invited as reviewers for manuscripts that match their profile. Reviewers who are selected to review receive an email which contains a summary of the manuscript and instructions on how to complete the process. If the reviewer agrees, he/she will get access to the full text and the review form. When the review is finished a report is sent to the client and the reviewer is rewarded. The identity of the reviewer is also “anonymised” to the clients.
Another platform offering rewards to reviewers is Publons (19). Publons has a different objective: they do not offer any service to authors or publishers, but keep a record of reviewers, journals and reviews. They have a list of journals and create an account for each reviewer. A list containing all reviews conducted by a reviewer is listed in the reviewer’s account after being verified, next to the title of the journal to which each review belongs. Reviewers can claim the reviews they made in several ways, including online forms or by email. These data generate some statistics that place each reviewer in the corresponding percentile activity compared with that of all registered reviewers. The profile of each reviewer is public, so that reviewers can use this website to provide evidence of their activity.
Peerage of Science offers a tripartite where authors, reviewers and editors have a role (20) (Table 1). Authors submit manuscripts to Peerage of Science before submitting to any journal. Once submitted, any qualified peer-reviewer can choose to review the manuscript. The peer review process is available concurrently to all editors, with automated event tracking. If authors have received publishing offers from editors they may choose to accept one of these offers, or accept none and use their review in non-participating journals. A positive aspect of Peerage of Science is that peer reviewers are themselves peer reviewed. Reviewers are notified that they can evaluate the reviews sent by other reviewers. This extra twist contributes to increasing the quality of peer review. From the reviewer’s point of view, Peerage of Science offers credit for curricular purposes only as an externally verifiable measure of the reviewers’ expertise in their scientific fields.
An innovative approach comes from Academic Karma (21). Academic Karma is both the name of a currency and a platform for peer review. Instead of exchanging money, authors and reviewers exchange karma: reviewers earn 50 karma per reviewed manuscript and authors of the manuscript collectively spend 50 karma per reviewer (Table 1). Then reviewers may use their Karma for paying reviewers when authoring manuscripts. Editors are also involved since they receive the reviewer’s report simultaneously to authors.
An important point is how reviewers’ identities and their expertise are verified and how attribution of merits can be recorded and tracked. The Working Group on Peer Review Service (created to develop a data model and citation standard for peer review activity that can be used to support both existing and new review models) stresses the need for standardized citation structures for reviews which can enable the inclusion of peer review activity in personal recognition and evaluation, as well the ability to refer to reviews as part of the scholarly literature (6). In this regard, all platforms described here are using or are starting to use ORCID identifiers for both authors and reviewers, and DOIs as identification for published reviews (22). ORCID itself is also offering the option of adding reviews to ORCID profiles. Researchers with a profile in these networks can link this to their ORCID iD so that the reviews they have recorded on the platform are added to their ORCID page (23). In turn, these identificators will ease future reaearch on peer review and will probaly allow us to measure the impact of these platforms in the academic publishing process.
In conclusion, motivating and rewarding reviewers is a need that can be addressed both by publishers and third party organizations. Online platforms are good tools for giving credit to reviewers and to convey monetary reward, at the same time offering a way of recording review activity.

References and Notes
1.The Wellcome Trust (2003) Economic analysis of scientific research publishing: A report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, revised ed. Available: Accessed 10th July 2015.
2. Costs and business models in scientific research publishing A report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust.
3. The National Academies (US) Committee on Electronic Scientific, Technical, and Medical Journal Publishing. Electronic Scientific, Technical, and Medical Journal Publishing and Its Implications: Report of a Symposium.
4. Ware, Mark and Mabe, Michael (2015)  An overview of scientific and scholarly journal publishing. International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, 2015. Accessed 20th October 2015.
5. Walker R, Rocha da Silva P. (2015) Emerging trends in peer review—a survey. Frontiers in Neuroscience 9:169
6. Paglione LD, Lawrence RN. (2015) Data exchange standards to support and acknowledge peer-review activity. Learned Publishing, 28 (4):309-316(8)
7.Van Noorden, R. (2014) Global scientific output doubles every nine years. [Internet], NewsBlog, 7 May 2014. Available from: http://
8. The Wellcome Trust (2015) Scholarly Communication and Peer Review: The Current Landscape and Future Trends. Accessed 12 November 2015.
9. Marijke Breuning, Jeremy Backstrom, Jeremy Brannon, Benjamin Isaak Gross, Michael Widmeie  Reviewer Fatigue? (2015) Why Scholars Decline to Review their Peers’ Work PS: Political Science & Politics 48(4):595-600.
10.Björk B; Hedlund T.(2015)  Emerging new methods of peer review in scholarly journals. Learned Publishing 28(2): 85-91
11. Thomson Reuters (2010) Increasing the Quality and Timeliness of Scholarly Peer Review. A report for Scholarly Publishers..
12. Taylor & Francis (2015) Peer review in 2015: A global view. 20th October 2015
13. Alice Meadows (2015, January 7th) Recognition for peer review and editing in Australia – and beyond? Blog post in Exchanges 20th October 2015.
14. Andrew Trounson. Journals should credit editors, says ARC. Post in The Australian 20th October 2015.
15. Alberts, P., Hanson, B., and Kelner, K.L. 2008. Reviewing peer review. Science, 321 (5885): 15.
16. Review rewards. Nature [Internet], 514(7522): 274–274. http://
22.Gasparyan AY, Akazhanov NA, Voronov AA, Kitas GD. Systematic and open identification of researchers and authors: focus on open researcher and contributor ID. J Korean Med Sci. 2014 Nov;29(11):1453-6. doi: 10.3346/jkms.2014.29.11.1453

Update on Open Access Policies

Latest changes on Open Access Policies per country/funding agencies:

Following a consultation in July 2014, to which ALPSP responded, two Departments under the
Ministry of Science & Technology of the Government of India, have produced a policy on open
access. Researchers in receipt of grants from the Departments of Biotechnology (DBT) and Science
and Technology (DST) will be required to adhere to the new policy, which has changed since the draft
proposal. The policy is based solely on accepted manuscripts1 and repository deposit.
The Ministry is encouraging or requiring institutions to develop their own repositories, dependent on
the level of funding they receive. It has created a centralised system to harvest not just the metadata,
but the full text of deposited manuscripts. Where an institution does not have its own repository,
direct deposition to the centralised repositories is required.
The key points of the policy are:
  1. 1. Accepted Manuscripts (AM) reporting on research which has been fully or partially funded by DBT or DST are in scope, as are Accepted Manuscripts which utilize infrastructure built with the support of these two Departments. This is likely to encompass equipment though this has not yet been confirmed. Review articles are also included (regardless of whether they were invited or author-initiated), as long as the authors were in receipt of funding from DBT or DST during the period when the article was produced.
  2. The AM should be deposited (as above) within two weeks of acceptance by a journal.
  3. The AM should be made publicly available after a “recommended” (but not required) embargo period of 6 months for Science, Technical and Medical disciplines and 12 months for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. This is much more specific than the language in the draft proposal, which was “not greater than 1 year”.
  4. The policy applies to manuscripts arising from funding from the fiscal year 2012-2013 onwards.
  5. Papers in a repository which are still under an embargo period may be requested and forwarded to the authors via the “Request Button” available within repository software.
Authors are expected to bring their obligations under this policy to the notice of publishers.
The Austrian national funder, FWF, has updated its OA policy. FWF supports Gold OA where an
Article Publication Charge (APC) is paid and the article is made available under the Creative
Commons Attribution (CC-BY) licence. Articles resulting from research funded by FWF may be
published in either fully OA or hybrid journals, and FWF will cover the costs of Gold OA in addition to the project costs. There is a notable difference in the maximum APC it will cover:
  • Fully OA journals, maximum APC is €2,500 per publication
  • Hybrid OA journals, maximum APC is €1,500 per publication
Other publication costs, such as page charges, colour figure charges or submission fees are no longer eligible for funding. 
Where the authors choose to deposit the accepted manuscript in a repository, the embargo period should be no longer than 12 months.
Whichever option is chosen, a sustainable-access repository deposit is required (list provided at OpenDOAR), and further, if the publications are in the life sciences, deposit is required in Europe PubMed Central.
The policy also encourages researchers to make their research data openly accessible either immediately, or if not used in publications, 2 years after the project is completed.
The Portuguese National Funding Agency has announced a green Open Access policy. The accepted manuscript is required to be deposited into one of the open access repositories hosted within the Repositório Científico de Acesso Aberto de Portugal (RCAAP) as soon as possible, preferably immediately on acceptance for publication. Embargo periods are only 6 months for Science, Technical and Medical disciplines and 12 months Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. 
The policy is applicable to publications from research funded by the Agency including research papers, conference proceedings, posters, books and book chapters, monographs, Masters and PhD
The policy also covers data, with researchers being encouraged to share the data from research they have funded, by placing them in the appropriate repository (Genbank is given as an example), as soon as possible. 
South Africa
The National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa has also announced a green Open Access  policy. Authors of papers reporting research funded by NRF are required to deposit the Accepted Manuscript to their institutional repository, with an embargo period no greater than 12 months. Where
the Version of Record is published in an open access journal, there should be little or no embargo on the Accepted Manuscript in the repository. There is no indication that gold Open Access APCs will be funded.
Again, this policy covers the research data which supports the publication. This should be deposited in an “Accredited Open Access repository”, with a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) for citation. 
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have announced an Open Access Policy. The key points of the policy are that publications arising from research supported by their funding should be deposited in specified repositories with appropriate tagging of metadata (the repositories do not appear to have been defined at this stage). The publications should be published under the CC-BY (4.0) licence and the Foundation will cover the cost of the (reasonable) Article Publication Charges. The Foundation are providing a period of 2 years of transition when the policy will take effect (1 January 2017), during which time relevant publications may have a 12 month embargo period.
They go further and note that the data underlying the published research results also have to be made immediately accessible and open, subject also to the above transition period.
It seems that the Foundation expects publishers to manage these requirements on behalf of the researcher. 
Charity Open Access Fund
The Charity Open Access Fund (COAF) is a partnership between six medical research funders:
  • Arthritis Research UK
  • Breast Cancer Campaign
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research
  • British Heart Foundation
  • Wellcome Trust
Together, the group will provide block grants to 36 UK research institutions, to support Article Publication Charges (APC) for gold OA of the papers arising from the research they fund. The articles (peer-reviews research articles, non-commissioned review articles and study protocols) have
to be published under a CC-BY licence. In return for payment of the APC and in addition to publishing the article, the journal is expected to deposit the Version of Record2 in PubMed Central
(and copied to Europe PubMed Central).
Researchers can also comply by depositing the Accepted Manuscript in Europe PubMed Central with
a 6 month embargo period. 

Open Journal of Medicine: The really free and open biomedical journal


Open Journal of Medicine  (ISSN: 2174-680X) is a journal published by iMedPub for Internet Medical Society. It has been created as a challenge to provide authors with a system for publishing articles open access for free with high quality of publishing standards.
We offer an innovative publishing system where all manuscripts received meeting the standards are accepted directly in the version provided by authors. This system is called self-publishing.

Open access
OJM provides unrestricted access to all its articles. OJM applies the Creative Commons Attribution License (CCAL) to all works we publish (read the human-readable summary or the full license legal code). Under the CCAL, authors retain ownership of the copyright for their article, but authors allow anyone to download, reuse, reprint, modify, distribute, and/or copy article, so long as the original authors and source are cited. Learn more on the benefits of publishing open access in our blog.

Articles published in OJM receive a DOI and are indexed in GoogleScholar, SHERPA/ROMEO, SWETS, DeepDive, ProQuest, EBSCO, HINARI and Scientific Commons.

This journal utilizes the LOCKSS system to create a distributed archiving system among participating libraries and permits those libraries to create permanent archives of the journal for purposes of preservation and restoration. We also archive all articles in Medbrary, the online medical library, and Scribd. In addition we support self archiving: make your research visible and accessible to your peers by uploading a full-text version of this publication to your institution’s archive or anywhere else.

iMedPub launches Open Journal of Medicine: the really open and free medical journal

Open Journal of Medicine (ISSN: 2174-680X) is a journal published byiMedPub for Internet Medical Society. It has been created as a challenge to provide authors with a system for publishing articles open access for free with high quality of publishing standards. We offer an innovative publishing system where all manuscripts received meeting the standards are accepted directly in the version provided by authors. This system is called self-publishing.
Traditionally, authors submit their manuscripts to scientific journals where manuscripts were subjected to rounds of peer-review until the manuscript was finally accepted or rejected. This process well may take months or even years with authors always at the expenses of editors’ decisions. Self-publishing allows authors to publish their works directly. As articles are published in the submitted version, authors do not incur in article processing charges or submission charges so publishing is completely free. 

More at

Open-access scientific publishing is gaining ground

At the beginning of April, Research Councils UK, a conduit through which the government transmits taxpayers’ money to academic researchers, changed the rules on how the results of studies it pays for are made public. From now on they will have to be published in journals that make them available free—preferably immediately, but certainly within a year.
In February the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told federal agencies to make similar plans. A week before that, a bill which would require free access to government-financed research after six months had begun to wend its way through Congress. The European Union is moving in the same direction. So are charities. And SCOAP3, a consortium of particle-physics laboratories, libraries and funding agencies, is pressing all 12 of the field’s leading journals to make the 7,000 articles they publish each year free to read. For scientific publishers, it seems, the party may soon be over.

It has, they would have to admit, been a good bash. The current enterprise—selling the results of other people’s work, submitted free of charge and vetted for nothing by third parties in a process called peer review, has been immensely profitable. Elsevier, a Dutch firm that is the world’s biggest journal publisher, had a margin last year of 38% on revenues of £2.1 billion ($3.2 billion). Springer, a German firm that is the second-biggest journal publisher, made 36% on sales of €875m ($1.1 billion) in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available). Such firms are now, though, faced with competitors set up explicitly to cover only their costs. Some rely on charity, but many have a proper business model: academics pay a fee to be published. So, on the principle of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, commercial publishers, too, are setting up open-access subsidiaries.
Open for business
The biggest is BioMed Central, part of Springer. It was founded in 2000 and in February it published its 150,000th paper and also launched its 250th periodical, catchily entitled theJournal of Venomous Animals and Toxins Including Tropical Diseases. Days later Nature Publishing Group (NPG), which owns Nature and 81 other journals, and which itself belongs to the Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, another German firm, bought a majority stake in Frontiers, a Swiss open-access platform with 30 titles in 14 scientific fields. In combination, NPG and Frontiers publish 46 open-access journals, and 7,300 free papers a year.
In the past year Elsevier has more than doubled the number of open-access journals it publishes, to 39. And even in those that usually charge readers (such as Cell and theLancet), paying a publication fee makes a paper available free immediately.
Outsell, a Californian consultancy, estimates that open-access journals generated $172m in 2012. That was just 2.8% of the total revenue journals brought their publishers (some $6 billion a year), but it was up by 34% from 2011 and is expected to reach $336m in 2015. The number of open-access papers is forecast to grow from 194,000 (out of a total of 1.7m publications) to 352,000 in the same period.
Open-access publishers are also looking at new ways of doing business. Frontiers, for example, does not try to judge a paper’s significance during peer review, only its accuracy—an approach also adopted by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a non-commercial organisation based in San Francisco that was one of the pioneers of open-access publishing. It thus accepts 80-90% of submissions.
Instead, a Frontiers paper’s merit is gauged after publication, using measures like the number of downloads. Frontiers also doubles as a social network for researchers to share news, job offers and information about conferences and events. This network currently has around 70,000 members.
PeerJ, founded last year, makes an even more dramatic departure from tradition. Rather than being charged publication fees, authors pay a one-off membership fee, which ranges from $99 to $298, depending on how many papers they want to publish each year. All co-authors must be members. The firm also deals neatly with the question of peer review. Members must review at least one paper a year.
Non-commercial open-access publishers, though, are fighting back. The Wellcome Trust (a British medical charity), the Max Planck Society (which runs a lot of German research institutes) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (an American charity) have set upeLife, a peer-reviewed journal that does not charge publication fees. And in January Jean-Pierre Demailly, of the University of Grenoble, in France, and a handful of fellow mathematicians launched the Episciences Project. This aims to show that researchers themselves can turn out refereed papers cheaply, bypassing traditional purveyors.
Episciences will piggyback on ArXiv, an online repository beloved of physicists and mathematicians—who often post work there as “preprints” before submitting it to journals. ArXiv is hosted by Cornell University at a cost of $830,000 a year. Tacking on an “epijournal”, so that refereed papers would sit alongside the preprints, should not add much to that.
Matthew Cockerill, BioMed Central’s boss, though, points out that Episciences’s publishing model may have its drawbacks. Academics who bypass publishers become publishers themselves. And that will be harder to do as the operation grows.
Who pays for lunch?
Other aspects of open-access publishing also draw polite scepticism from incumbents. The promiscuous approach of Frontiers and PLoS, for example, is at odds with the rejection by publications like Nature and its American counterpart, Science, of over 90% of submitted manuscripts. It is this selectivity that gives these journals their prestige. At the moment, publication in Nature, Science and a handful of similar journals is like a sprinkling of fairy dust. Everyone knows how tough it is to get in, so papers that do so are assumed to be special. This will be hard for open-access publications to emulate.
The rejected papers all have to be scrutinised, though—and even though peer review is free, this involves staff time and other costs. According to Nature, the cost per published paper is $40,000. If Nature is to stay in business in anything like its current form, someone will have to pay that.
Whether anyone will want to, remains to be seen. Budgets are tight, and pressure for access to be open is growing. Intangible blessings of the sort bestowed by prestigious journals can vanish rapidly. Where the game will end is anybody’s guess.

The Downside of Open-Access Publishing

Over the past couple of years, many people involved in scientific research and publishing have received increasing numbers of emails with invitations to submit papers to newly established journals, join their editorial boards, or even apply to serve as their editors-in-chief. Personally, I have been alternately amused and annoyed by these messages. A glance at the journal’s name or the associated website has told me that these simply are not serious publications. But the establishment of new journals and publishers at a rapidly increasing pace should be taken seriously, since it affects the scientific record as a whole.

The Internet has profoundly and permanently changed the ways in which information can be disseminated and discussed. And since scientific publishing is precisely about getting new findings out to researchers and readers for discussion, the Internet has changed scientific publishing considerably, mostly for the better — and will continue to do so. Distribution costs can be very low if a journal chooses to publish only online, for instance, but there are still high costs involved for proper peer review and editorial quality control. The introduction, a decade ago, of an open-access model in which authors pay to have their work published offered an alternative way of financing this quality control. But it also opened up opportunities to charge authors a fee to publish their papers with little or no quality control.
Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver, who is interested in scholarly open-access publishing, calls its more questionable incarnations “predatory.”1 “Predatory, open-access publishers,” he writes on his blog, Scholarly Open Access (, “are those that unprofessionally exploit the author-pays model of open-access publishing (Gold OA) for their own profit. Typically, these publishers spam professional email lists, broadly soliciting article submissions for the clear purpose of gaining additional income. Operating essentially as vanity presses, these publishers typically have a low article acceptance threshold, with a false-front or non-existent peer review process. Unlike professional publishing operations, whether subscription-based or ethically-sound open access, these predatory publishers add little value to scholarship, pay little attention to digital preservation, and operate using fly-by-night, unsustainable business models.”
Beall is not the first person to ask whether the author-pays model can be exploited. Ever since it was introduced, questions have been raised about the possibility that publishers would be tempted to lower their editorial standards to attract authors who would be happy to see their work published quickly and without too much scrutiny. But Beall has now compiled a list of publishers and journals that he finds questionable and is encouraging discussion in the scientific community about these entities and the criteria that one might use to identify them.2
Whether it’s fair to classify all these journals and publishers as “predatory” is an open question — several shades of gray may be distinguishable. Some of the publishers are intentionally misleading, naming nonexistent people as their editors and editorial board members and claiming ownership of articles that they have plagiarized from other publications. Other journals and publishers on Beall’s list may be real, though it’s obvious that the people running them are not very professional, and some of the publications may have been created simply because it seemed like a clever business scheme to collect author fees of several hundred dollars apiece to post papers in a journal-like layout at a fraction of the traditional price. Viewed in some lights, such enterprises may not be unethical: thousands of researchers worldwide need to publish, and not all of them can do so in the highest-ranked journals. But it is surely problematic for journals and publishers to pretend to be something they aren’t, misleading authors, readers, and the scientific community at large.
Most of the new open-access journals state that they are international, scientific, or scholarly peer-reviewed journals and offer quick turnaround times. Some of them also cover very broad subject areas — for example, the Academic Research Publishing Agency publishes the International Journal of Research and Reviews in Applied Sciences ( and encourages submissions from a wide range of scientific fields. It is difficult to imagine how a single journal could manage to properly validate papers that are so varied.
Until recently, “international, scientific, peer-reviewed journal” has had a fairly specific meaning to the scientific community and society at large: it has meant a journal that checks submitted papers for scientific quality, but also for relevance and interest to its readers, and also ensures that it contains new findings that may advance science. These features render a journal trustworthy and worthy of readers’ time and money. Many observers were therefore understandably disturbed when the journal publisher Elsevier admitted in 2009 that it had published six “fake journals” funded by pharmaceutical companies — in Elsevier’s own words, “sponsored article compilation publications . . . that were made to look like journals and lacked the proper disclosures.” The company had intentionally exploited the word “journal” to give the impression that these publications were honest and reliable.
Of course, the terms “international,” “scientific,” “peer-reviewed,” “journal,” “article,” “editor,” and “publisher” do not have copyrighted or patented definitions and can have varied meanings, especially in the Internet age. Must an article be different from a submitted paper? Isn’t everything published online automatically international? Is there anything wrong with a situation in which the editor and publisher are just one person who has set up a website where researchers can submit their papers and pay a fee to have them laid out in a professional way and made available to all interested parties? Isn’t it a good thing that this vast number of new publishers and journals will make it possible to get all research — whatever its quality level — into the public domain? Perhaps. But describing a simple online-posting service as “an international, scientific, peer-reviewed journal” leads authors and readers to believe that they are submitting to or reading something they aren’t.
We must recognize that no publication or financing model is, in itself, morally superior to others or can guarantee high quality. Various models can produce high-quality content, and all are vulnerable to exploitation. It might make the most sense to concern ourselves less with the publication or financing model used and more with ensuring transparency about a publication’s content and editorial processes. And perhaps we should insist that not all these enterprises can be called “scientific journals.” As a reader, I do not want to spend my time reading vast quantities of low-quality research and would be willing to pay for someone to do the sort of filtering for quality, relevance, and novelty that journal editors have traditionally done. As a researcher, by contrast, I might see it as a waste of time to seek a journal that would publish my research and might be willing to spend money to make it available to other researchers and the public. It would be fair to everyone, though, to be explicit about the fact that these are very different types of publications. With greater transparency, the questionable or predatory publishers who are using either author-pays or subscription models would also be easier to spot — and avoid.

Creative Commons and the Openness of Open Access

The Internet has inspired multiple movements toward greater openness — most prominently, open access, open data, open science, and open educational resources. None of these is based on the belief that there should be such a thing as a free lunch, but each recognizes that the Internet changes the economics of publication and digital-resource sharing so that changes can feasibly be made to traditional practices that are in some ways “closed,” requiring payment for access to information or prohibiting myriad reuses of accessible information. The quality of “openness” applies to both the terms of access and the terms of use. Advocates in each movement — and I am one, serving on the boards of directors of two organizations promoting open access, Creative Commons and the Public Library of Science (PLOS) — share an understanding that an open resource is freely accessible over the Internet. Opinions vary about the terms of use necessary for a resource to be open.

Copyright law supplies the baseline terms of use for almost all information on the Internet. These terms can be altered if the copyright owner grants a license or permission to do something that would otherwise infringe copyright. Traditionally, copyright owners granted licenses to specific persons or entities. More recently, copyright owners seeking to grant permission to everyone have issued public licenses broadening the range of permitted uses, subject to certain conditions. Creative Commons licenses are the most widely used of these public licenses for all kinds of copyrighted works except software, for which free and open-source licenses are most common.
Within the open-access context, debate focuses on whether an article is “open” when it, like this one, is freely accessible over the Internet but still subject to the standard restrictions imposed by copyright law. The question also applies to most articles posted in PubMed Central under the Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health or in institutional repositories under most university policies, such as that recently adopted by the University of California, San Francisco.1 The three major declarations of purpose for the open-access movement (the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, and the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities) say no: openness requires making the literature freely accessible under liberal terms that permit nearly all reuses so long as the author receives credit for the work when it’s republished or adapted.2
The rationale for seeking open terms of both access and use is as follows. Free access provides the literature to at least five overlapping audiences: researchers who happen upon open-access research articles while browsing the Web rather than a password-protected database; researchers at institutions that cannot afford the subscription prices for the growing literature; researchers in disciplines other than that of a journal’s intended audience, who would not otherwise subscribe; patients, their families, students, and other members of the public with an interest in the information but without the means to subscribe; and researchers’ computers running text-mining software to analyze the literature. In addition, granting readers full reuse rights unleashes the full range of human creativity for translating, combining, analyzing, adapting, and preserving the scientific record, whereas traditional copyright arrangements in scientific publishing increasingly inhibit scholarly communication.
The argument for open licensing must be understood in the context of the baseline terms of use provided by copyright law. Copyright applies to works of authorship. One does not have to do anything to “get” a copyright. It attaches automatically when a work is created and stays intact even if a work is published without the copyright symbol (©). Copyright does not apply to the ideas or facts in the covered work, however, but only to the author’s expression of these.
Copyright law gives the copyright owner the exclusive rights to make and publicly distribute copies of the work, to publicly perform or display the work, and to prepare adaptations of it. Granted initially to the author or authors of a work, these rights can be assigned or exclusively licensed to a publisher or other content distributor if that is done in writing. After authors sign away these rights, they, too, must seek permission or a license from the publisher if they wish to make or distribute copies of their article, unless doing so would be considered fair use. Fair use permits certain uses that have positive social benefit, such as use in research or education, and that do not unduly interfere with the copyright owner’s ability to receive economic benefits from publishing or licensing the work.
Copyright’s terms do not restrict all uses of an article. In addition to fair use, uses of facts such as scientific data are not covered by copyright except to the extent that an author has exercised minimal creativity in their selection or arrangement. This minimal-creativity standard might prevent republication of some tables or figures, but copyright doesn’t restrict the reuse of the underlying data if they’re arranged in a different format or a conceptually new figure.
For a wide range of creators, educators, and researchers who care primarily about broad distribution of their work, copyright’s standard terms are inappropriate because they prevent reuses that these authors wish not simply to permit but to encourage, such as translation into other languages. Creative Commons is an organization that has responded by producing a suite of six copyright licenses that offer standardized terms of sharing to permit a range of uses beyond fair use, subject to certain conditions.3 The four conditions are combined into six permutations reflecting the types of copyright restrictions that people who otherwise choose to share their works for free might like to retain (see tableTable 1Creative Commons Licenses.). The licenses, designed to allow all uses except those prohibited by a specified condition, have been adopted by a variety of institutional and individual copyright owners.
All Creative Commons licenses require that users who republish or reuse a work in a way that would otherwise infringe copyright give attribution as directed by the copyright owner. That’s the only condition included in the Creative Commons Attribution license — the only Creative Commons license meeting the definition of “open access” endorsed by the Budapest, Bethesda, and Berlin declarations. This license is used by leading open-access publishers such as PLOS and BioMed Central, recommended by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, and adopted by the World Bank for its internally published research. Commercial science publishers that have launched publications funded by article-processing charges also use Creative Commons licenses, but they either use a more restrictive license or offer authors choices. The Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports, for example, allows authors to choose from three Creative Commons licenses, including the Attribution license.
Other adopters of Creative Commons licenses impose additional conditions on users. Two of these conditions, called ShareAlike and NoDerivatives, concern adaptations of the licensed work. The Wikipedia community, for example, has adopted the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license, which requires both attribution and that any adaptations be licensed under the same license. MIT OpenCourseWare, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, adopted the license with the Attribution and ShareAlike conditions but added a NonCommercial condition, prohibiting commercial uses. The various creators of the online educational materials in the University of Michigan Medical School’s Open Michigan database have adopted nearly the full suite of Creative Commons licenses.4 The broad adoption of these licenses reflects a belief that a work is not “open” until it’s freely accessible on the Internet and under a public license offering more liberal terms of use than copyright law provides. Though options offered by Creative Commons licenses address the needs of copyright owners in various contexts, in the open-access context, the Attribution license in my opinion remains the gold standard.