Category Archives: publishing

The Delicate Dance of Peer Review

This is a guest post from Greg Crowther. Like a lot of us, Greg has thought about peer review from both sides of the table. It’s easy to get frustrated and proclaim that peer review is broken. It’s much more useful to come to a thoughtful take about what can be improved, and how. Read on!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about peer review. This is one of those academic topics that lend themselves to perennial hot takes like “peer review is broken.” My own not-so-hot take — broadly consistent with Steve’s perspective — is that the process is generally useful, often satisfying, and sometimes quite pleasant!

In a world where it’s hard to change anyone’s mind about anything, even (especially?) at faculty meetings, peer review can feel like a nice little oasis of rationality. Continue reading


Why journal papers are like cemetery plots

A few weeks ago I annoyed a lot of people by explaining how I think for-profit journals are like salmon. That post had a line suggesting that there are ways to make publishing cheaper – but not free (or close to it) because “publishing well costs money”. Today I’m going to pick up on that thought a little bit, and annoy a bunch more people by suggesting that journal papers are like cemetery plots.* Continue reading

Peer review bias and double-blind reviewing: a new study

For all the strengths of our peer review system, there are reasons to worry that it has flaws too. One important worry is that peer reviewers (or editors) might be biased in their assessment of manuscripts based on their knowledge, or guesses, about the identities of the authors. Might manuscripts by female authors be treated more harshly? What about manuscripts by authors from the Global South? How might things change (and would it be for the better) if reviewers didn’t know who the authors were? Continue reading

What makes a journal “for-profit”?

Last week, I drew a slightly strained, but I think useful, analogy between publication in for-profit journals and salmon: they’re both expensive, capitalist, products that some people purchase because (one presumes) they find them worth the price. I expected to make somebody angry with that analogy, and I was right – but it came with a twist I didn’t expect. I’d given the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology as an example of a non-profit society journal in which one could publish, if one wanted to avoid the for-profits. And someone, with great indignation, protested that Ecology is published by Wiley, and therefore it’s a for-profit journal.

Is this true?

No, it isn’t – but it’s a bit complicated (as is the publishing ecosystem in general). Continue reading

On salmon and for-profit journal publishing

It’s hard to go a day without running into an outraged protest at the cost of publishing in for-profit journals – or, more or less equivalently, an outraged protest at the profit margins of for-profit publishers. And it’s true that publishing in some journals is shockingly expensive (I’m looking at you, €9,750 Nature open-access)  and it’s true that profit margins for some publishers are shockingly high (I’m looking at you, Elsevier, with £1.1 billion on £2.9 billion revenue in 2022, or 38% profit). Who, one might wonder, could intervene to make this stop?

Why, us, of course. We could. But we don’t. Continue reading

The case of the disappearing author

As collaborations get larger, more international, and more likely to involve coauthors who don’t actually know each other well, a problem that’s always existed is getting more troublesome. I’ve just seen the next step, and it isn’t pretty. It arises from the case – and the consequences – of the disappearing author.

I think (I hope) that we all know that coauthorship involves both rights and responsibilities. Continue reading

Why my newest paper is paywalled

I’ve just returned the proofs for my latest paper. You can read about it, and access the preprint, here; or you can wait a little while and read the journal version in Proceedings B. Or, maybe you can. You see, it will be paywalled.*

Now, some folks find that scandalous: information should be free (or at least, that’s a common refrain. I have some sympathy, and I had the choice: I could have paid to make this paper open access. And all else being equal, yes: I’d rather my papers be open access than paywalled.

But that sentiment, noble though it may be, is uselessly naïve. Continue reading

Preprints, peer review, and the eLife experiment

The “journal” eLife (more about the quotation marks shortly) made a splash last week, announcing a major change in their publication process. In a nutshell, eLife will no longer let peer review influence whether they accept or reject a manuscript. Instead, if they send it out for review at all, they’ll publish the manuscript along with its peer reviews. Authors can respond to peer review either by revising their manuscript or by writing a rejoinder – but they needn’t. You should read eLife’s rather breathless editorial (Eisen et al. 2022) to get the full picture.

It’s a major change for eLife, but I think it’s less revolutionary than it’s painted. Continue reading

Let’s stop (usually) with the second round of review

I’m grumpy today about something that hasn’t even happened yet. Yes, that’s probably unreasonable; but I’m grumpy about something that happens too often, and I’m going to make myself feel better by venting just a little. I claim (at least partly because it’s true) that I have a real point to make.

Here’s what I’m grumpy about: second rounds of peer review. Continue reading

Those journals may be “fake”, but I don’t think they’re “predatory”

If your email inbox is like mine, you’ve seen more than a few invitations like the one above. There are thousands of “journals” offering to publish pretty much anything, without peer review or with only the pretence of it. They tend not to bother with such things as copy-editing or secured long-term web hosting either – and why should they? They’re not in business to help drive scientific progress; they’re in business strictly to collect authors’ money (normally in the form of article processing charges, but notice the slick little grift in the teaser email illustrated above).

Journals like this get labelled “predatory”, but I don’t think that’s the right label. Continue reading