‘It Feels Like Things Are Breaking Open’: High Publishing Charges Spur Neuroscientists to Start Own Journal
The editors of a prominent neuroscience journal are sending a clear message to their publisher — and, they hope, to the broader academic-publishing community — by resigning en masse to begin a new journal in protest of what they say are “unethical and unsustainable” publishing fees.
More than 40 handling editors, associate editors, senior editors, and editors in chief for NeuroImage and its companion journal NeuroImage: Reports, which are published by Elsevier, on Monday announced they were leaving their positions to assume similar roles at the newly formed Imaging Neuroscience, which will be published by the nonprofit MIT Press. They plan for the new journal to eclipse NeuroImage in standing, saying the fact that the entire editorial staff is making the shift will ensure the new journal’s quality.
The high-profile move is the latest chapter in the long-unfolding battle over who pays and who benefits in the academic-publishing world. The departure from a well-regarded journal, and the plan to mount direct competition to it, also highlight the complex ecosystem that surrounds journals’ prestige and impact — and the interplay of a publisher’s reach and scale with the academic bona fides of the scholars who run a title.
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As the scholars behind the new journal get started, they have several advantages, beginning with prominence. NeuroImage, they say, has a longstanding reputation as the field’s leading journal, with both the highest impact factor and the most papers published each year in the discipline. If early online reception is any indication, they’ll have support for their departure: Many academics responded to the announcement by promising to send their work to Imaging Neuroscience, and more than 850 scholars have volunteered as peer reviewers for the new journal. Some have told the editors that they plan to retract their in-progress submissions at NeuroImage or will wait to submit their work until Imaging Neuroscience is ready to receive it. That, the editors said, includes early-career researchers who’ve promised to ask their principal investigators to submit work to the new journal.
A lower article-processing charge is another possible advantage. The final price is yet to be announced, but the editors hope it will be less than half of the current price at NeuroImage, and they’ve said the processing charge will be waived entirely for scholars at institutions in low- and middle-income countries. Cindy Lustig, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a former senior editor at NeuroImage, said that she and her colleagues frequently heard complaints about the journal’s high processing charge. That’s why, she said, they were both “obligated and empowered” to make the shift. “We were,” she said, “big enough and respected enough to do it right.” For a smaller or less well-known journal, an exodus from the publisher would be a more difficult — if not disastrous — endeavor.