Richard Poynder, Gunther Eysenbach and others have been investigating the practices of some of the new Open Access publishers, such as Bentham Open, Libertas Academica and Scientific Journals International (SJI). The fear is that an unscrupulous publisher might look on Open Access as a way to make a fast buck (in a "Gold Rush"), hoping to take advantage of the goodwill that many researchers have towards Open Access journals. There's a fine line between being a respectable Open Access publisher and a vanity publisher, and that line is held by rigorous peer review and good editorial processes. Quite rightly, a spotlight is being shone on the way that publishers are marketing themselves, recruiting editorial board members and conducting peer review. BioMed Central has faced similar scrutiny, and has weathered it.
Richard Poynder is a well-respected freelance journalist with an interest in the Open Access movement. He is known for his incisive interviews, and he has recently been asking whether anyone knows about SJI. His questions were prompted by researchers wondering about SJI:
"What kind of quality can I expect from a journal titled “Journal of Electronic Book”? Not to be too harsh, but it might be grouped with another journal such as “Journal of Gooder Grammar”."In response, Zinath Rehana, co-founder of SJI, sent a lengthy post to the SPARC Open Access Forum, threatening to sue Richard Poynder and others for libel. This response is not very measured.
"Nowhere on the website could I find any indication of who is actually behind these journals"
"SJI sometimes speaks of itself as a publisher of journals (plural) and sometimes of one multi-disciplinary journal (singular)."
"The fact that some of the lead authors of articles are using lycos and aol as email addresses really raises alarms"
"Dr. Niaz [the founder of SJI] is also well aware of the realities of prejudice and racism, and knows how to deal with them with legal actions"To bring the issue of race into this as Zinath Rehana has done is uncalled for. Dr Niaz's institution, St. Cloud State University, may have problems with racism but that does not mean that it is lurking around every corner. I see no reason to believe that Richard Poynder is motivated by racism. The further implication that Richard Poynder is in some way anti-Open Access is simply incorrect. I believe that Zinath Rehana was mistaken if she was hoping to garner support in the Open Access movement with her post to SOAF. Dorothea Salo isn't impressed, for starters. I think that it is best to answer legitimate concerns with openness rather than threats of legal action.
"Why is there such hostility toward an Asian American immigrant of 25 years?".
Zinath Rehana calls on other Open Access publishers for help against unfair criticism, but then goes on to criticise BioMed Central and PLoS for being unsustainable and profligate. The picture she paints of BioMed Central is not one I recognise - we're getting more submissions than ever, and rumour has it that we're 'in the black'. SJI claims that article processing charges are not scalable, when that's exactly what they are. Zinath Rehana also neglects to mention the waiver schemes operated by PLoS and BioMed Central for authors who have difficulty paying. I don't think that criticising PLoS and BioMed Central is the best way to make friends in the Open Access movement.
While biomedical publishing is edging towards being open, SJI may be going the other way.
"We employ an innovative quadruple-blind review system, where the referees, authors and editors remain anonymous throughout the peer-review process. Names of the chief editor or associate editors are not published on SJI Web site. Authors or reviewers cannot contact the editors to influence the review process deliberately or unintentionally"Quadruple blind? Does this mean that there is no editorial accountability? I believe that it is essential that people know who runs a journal, but authors and readers seem to have to take the editorial processes at SJI on trust.
The payment model of SJI is unusual. They charge article processing charges, but ask for more money the more authors there are. Articles do not cost more to process if they have more authors. This payment model might lead to authors being unfairly left off papers to save a group money. If authors do pay the fee it may be a canny move by SJI because the number of authors on scientific articles increases year by year.
There is an impressively long list of journals, but many are "Coming soon..." when you follow the links. How many active journals are there? There is an Editorial Board, but this spans across all the journals. The journals have no scopes to my knowledge, no information on indexing, and I can find no information on the license under which the articles are published.
Importantly, there is no official information available on how peer review is conducted: who selects reviewers, who makes editorial decisions, how many reviewers are used, what are the editorial policies and standards? The only information we have about the peer review at SJI is from an anonymous comment on the Open Access blog. I hope that this is not an accurate or representative depiction. If it is, I would advise those running SJI to read and adopt the policies of the World Association of Medical Editors.
We need answers, not legal action.
This post is my opinion, and not that of BioMed Central
[Post edited 22/8/08 - I had not realised that Zinath Rehana is female]