It was 20 years ago when the Public Library of Science (PLOS) – motivated by Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus – launched its first open-access journal, PLOS Biology. This was a bold initiative, intended to persuade scientists to pledge they would discontinue submitting their research to journals that “did not make the full text of their articles available to all, free and unfettered.” There was a flurry of activity as for-profit publishers sought to make their journals open to all, while remaining financially viable. They accomplished this by passing the costs from institutional libraries onto individual scientists by charging an article processing fee.
Well, talk about the law of unintended consequences! Last month, all 42 editors of NeuroImage walked out, stating they could no longer ignore the unreasonably high processing fees being charged by the publisher, Elsevier. Earlier this week it was announced that all 42 editors would be joining a new journal, Imaging Neuroscience, to be published by MIT Press with the first papers due to appear in July 2023. The inaugural editor-in-chief will be Stephen Smith (seen below left), who is professor of biomedical engineering at Oxford University.
NeuroImage, which became an open-access journal just three years ago, has an impact factor of 7.4 and publishes almost 1,000 articles per annum. Elsevier set the article processing charge (APC) at $3,450 which the editors described as “unethical” and stated: “Scientists and funders increasingly feel that it is wrong for publishers to make such high profits, particularly given that the publishers do not fund the original science, or the writing of articles, or payments to reviewers, and pay minimal editorial stipends.” They petitioned the publisher to lower the fees to less than $2,000.
Elsevier refused, stating that its fees were supported by “market forces” and argued that their APC for NeuroImage was “below the market value relative to quality.” The problem for Elsevier, though, is that the quality of a journal is only as good as the academic standing of its editors, and when they abandon ship, en masse, the credibility and finances of the journal will inevitably suffer.
MIT Press confirmed that the APC for Imaging Neuroscience would initially be set at $1,600, with fee waivers for low- and middle-income countries. Editor-in-chief Smith commented enthusiastically: “The outpouring of support from our community of authors, reviewers, and readers affirms this was the right decision, and we look forward to demonstrating the way forward in non-profit publishing, while maintaining the highest standards of rigour, scholarship, and service to our discipline.” The bottom line is that Elsevier may need to reconsider its greedy business model.