Monday, 10 June 2013

Beware the "predatory" open access journals

Governments are rightly asking those who receive public funding for research to publish their work in open-access journals. Many of Elsevier’s high quality journals, such as Minerals Engineering, now offer an open access option, which helps authors to publish in respected journals while also complying with the new open access policies and mandates. An open access publication fee is payable by the authors or their research funder, while if an author opts for subscription publication no fee is paid. The publication choice has no effect on the peer-review process or acceptance of the submitted article.

An unfortunate offshoot of the open access policy has been the growth of some very dubious publishers providing online journals requiring no subscription, and I hear an increasing number of reports of researchers being inundated with invitations to submit papers to these new journals.

One of my journal reviewers tells me that “in academia the problem is that everything has become about numbers of papers. Graduate student scholarships can be based on number of papers. Promotion and hiring is based on number of papers. Grants/research funds are based on number of papers. We are actually told by the administration how many papers we should have per year”. The temptation for young and inexperienced researchers may be to opt for ‘easy’ publication in one of these new journals, and then find that they are invoiced for a hefty fee in a very low-ranking publication.

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, has made it his mission to warn scholars about what he calls “predatory journals.” In 2010 he launched a list of questionable publishers and journals on his website with about 20 names. Today the website, Scholarly Open Access, lists more than 300 journal publishers. He maintains a separate list of stand-alone journals, numbering almost 200. Mr. Beall is quick to point out that the journals on his lists aren’t necessarily breaking any laws but that in his opinion, they are “low-quality publishers” with questionable practices that scholars should avoid.

Don’t be tempted by these dubious open-access journals. If your paper must be open access, then opt for a high quality option. In our field, Minerals Engineering, International Journal of Mineral Processing and Hydrometallurgy all provide open access options. Peer-review is very rigorous in these journals, but the rewards are high so don’t be tempted to go for the easy option.


  1. It is my view that the modern system of peer review is often broken anyway and this has indeed exposed an entry point for "dubious" practices.

    It does not follow though that such practices are always worse than the current system - it is a social experiment in progress where both the readers and authors now have the unenviable task of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

    It has always struck me as strange that 'wrong' or 'poor' papers are not published. As a reviewer I was often faced by the time-poor dilemma of finding a small nugget of truth in an otherwise generally poor paper.

    In the modern internet data cloud, search and review of 'discarded' peer review works with the benefit of additional hindsight is simply not possible. I am sure most Bayesian statisticians would conclude the loss of such 'bad' papers by a selective peer process actually skews the historical knowledge base in completely unknowable ways; in fact I would take a bet they have probably published this result in their very own peer reviewed paper!

    It is my opinion that peer review should occur after publishing, and not before, and that any such peer reviews also be part of the public record. In the current system why are the reviewers reports and fact checking not published alongside the article? Should authors have the choice to go ahead anyway and publish alongside a completely negative review of it? Are editors really hands-off in the peer review process? Where is the public accountability of the peer reviewers to papers that the public ultimately never see? These objections are all bypassed by the 'warts and all' approach.

    The individual internet pay per view model is something new in academic publishing that actively excludes more general dissemination, analysis and peer review of works. In my days in academia, 'even' a member of the public could walk into any university library in Australia and look at the detail of any academic paper. Now they cannot - same journal, same papers, same authors, same reviewers. Is this really progress and openness in the shared search for knowledge?

    Some would say the peer review process is broken because there is a fundamental conflict between those having the knowledge to properly and critically comment on a paper and the degree of independence you can realistically practice in judging what has become in modern essence a competitor's work. Editorial bias is also sometimes raised as an objection.

    I do not actually hold those views - they only apply to the usual 10 to 15% minority tempted to do the wrong thing (as in most human social endeavors); it is not enough of itself to break the peer review system.

    I instead suspect a much more mundane factor has broken peer review. Quite simply it is now often impossible to find quality reviewers who actually have the time in modern academic employment conditions to do proper, correct and detailed review of a paper.

    Ultimately in my view the responsibility for the quality of papers will fall back to the authors themselves where it rightly belongs, and not to the modern veneer of peer review that insulates a publishers respectability from the authors foibles; or indeed, the other way around.

    Andrew Jonkers

    1. Thanks for this Andrew. You have made some interesting points, which I will not comment on as yet. I would like to hear what others have to say about your views.

  2. Andrew's views are shared in many ways by the Open Access journal F1000 Research, which uses a post-publication peer-review model.

    It also addresses concerns over the pay-to-publish model by charging before publication, meaning the payment has no impact on the (ultimate) publication decision. Ultimate publication (when the article is indexed) only occurs once it receives a sufficient number of positive recommendations.

    Also worth noting, multiple rounds of revision are possible with this model, and all versions, and reviewers assessments, are kept on record. There are some challenges to this model, particularly with encouraging authors to meet all reviewer comments (since full compliance is not necessary to acquire approval status). But generally this appears to be a very good publication model for the internet age.

    Finally, immediate publication also shorts the time to discovery significantly, as traditional journals normally take several months up to a year between submission and publication. This time buffer effectively slows down scientific progress, maybe not so much in the "slow" sciences such as mineral processing, but it would always be nice to know faster what the latest developments are.

    They recently announced a special deal to waive the submission fee for article reporting negative results, that rarely are published in traditional journals. Sadly, this journal is only accepting article from the life sciences, because I have a pertinent negative result I need to share.

    Will the F1000 model become the norm in the future? Time will tell, in the mean time I am interested in hearing thoughts from Barry and others.

    Rafael Santos

  3. I also commented in LinkedIn.

    Yet in response to Andrew, who raised 'Bayesian statistics' it would be an incredibly interesting exercise to rereview rejected papers of the late 1800s.

    For example it is well-known that Boltzman's work on atoms was rejected from Physics and succeeded in applied maths (and there is a direct relationship between Botzman's theories and Bayesian statistics).

    The basic concept is that even if 'truth' is 'rejected' it will still 'prevail'. This of course is delusional nonsense.

    Many good ideas are rejected on a daily basis. The journals are gatekeepers to the dissemination of knowledge.

    So in the hindsight of 21st century knowledge one could perform a statistical analysis of submitted paper of the late 19th century.

    How many
    false-positives: papers that are garbage were actually considered good.
    false-negatives: papers that are good were considered garbage.
    true-positives: papers that were good and considered good
    true-negatives: papers that were garbage and considered garbage.

    When I was young, a wise scientist said to me that 90% of papers are garbage. I still think this is correct; and it is a ratio I am comfortable with.

    The theory is that this is acceptable loss for the sake of 10% of papers that are good.

    The open journals may have a higher garbage rate, but if it provides opportunity for papers to be published that would otherwise have been rejected from mainstream then it serves a purpose.

    This is where an author has to think strategically with the ultimate objective of being able to publish the best papers in the best journals but using the low-level journals as points of entry.

    (and incidentally I have about 50-60 papers in mainstream journals, and none in open)

    1. Thanks Stephen. You mentioned that you had also commented on LinkedIn, and I have taken the liberty of cutting and pasting that comment here:

      Once Universities became 'commercial' they were no longer focused on the creation and dissemination of information.

      It is my understanding the 1800s/early 1900s model for journals is still being used whereby 'experts' are regarded as University Professors.

      Yet I can show you many cases where there are many professors today who may have only published about 5 papers. This is because they are appointed based on their supposed business, people and administration skills rather than academic ability. (Personally I strongly reject the modern approach that a Head of Dept. if appointed for these reasons should be given a Professorial Title)

      I remain of the strong opinion that the whole journal system needs to be modified given the change in emphasis of Universities and the internet.

      I also would like to add I get far more interest to my work by posting YouTube videos that I do by publishing in papers.

      I agree that peer review is not used in YouTube, but I also dispute the concept that the journal nominated peers are actually my peers anyway. (This was the subject of a previous discussion which I do not wish to repeat)

      Plenty of people will defend the current journal process, yet many of these are people whose 'success' in their careers is measured by how many papers they publish.

      Hence my rather cynical view is that the classic journal style now focuses on: providing the basis for providing measurable academic success to academics.

      The question therefore comes whether the 'predatory' open journals are now filling a niche that the established journals effectively lost in the 1980s when Universities (particularly in Australia) became commercial.

      And what is this niche: the creation and dissemination of knowledge.

      I agree that open journals may indeed be predatory, yet here I explain why they exist.

      Personally, if I had a month to create media to disseminate information - I would use YouTube.

      However if I had collaborative work with academics I would certainly use journals. Indeed Minerals Engineering would be one of my key journals. I don't think I would necessarily use an Open Journal; but I also wouldn't be immediately hostile to this idea (I would just prefer YouTube).

      Indeed one thing to also keep in mind is that I still write reports. So if anyone wants info. on my work I just send them a report. I do not need to 'publish' to disseminate information.
      Stephen Gay, Australia

  4. Ultimately in Science and Engineering, something (an idea, equation, hypothesis etc.) either works or it does not work. Peer review prior to publishing is unimportant in this regard because if it works, it will be further cited, and if it does not work it won't - and the post publication review will be complete. Eventually the data cloud of human knowledge is going to be mined more or less automatically for new scientific insights built from collective wisdom. Without these "wrong" papers, these new insights may well be skewed, incorrect or otherwise unobtainable by this process (already an acknowledged in current data mining techniques). The views of both winners and losers are required to form an accurate history.

    In this regard, peer review may be seen in a few hundred years as both a dismal failure and an unscientific process in its own right in the sense that it only bothered to collect a very selective part of the complete human knowledge base. Just to be entirely clear, I repeat this statement: Pre-publishing peer review is demonstrably unscientific.

    I agree with Stephen's views, and as an independent observer third hand of a portion of Stephen's career - (ships passing in the night), I having seen what were considered by editors to be Stephen's 'peers', and quite frankly they often were not.

    Slightly off topic, I briefly mention what I consider to be two other failings of Journal publishers:

    First, it is reprehensible that reputable journals focus on stylistic guides to make things look pretty, while largely failing to establish guides for categorizing all data and formulas quoted in a paper in machine readable numerical/symbolic form - to facilitate checking of data analysis and subsequent and timely use of the results by others in further research.

    Second, We lack the categorization of all these papers into a modern "knowledge tree" - discipline/keywords are a very poor attempt at this. We have excellent horizontal (search engine) structure but lack the vertical structure to map the increasing number of papers that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. The discovery and development of Chaos theory is a classic case where the lack of such a knowledge tree dramatically slowed the progress of a new field of study. Engineers, Physicists and Mathematicians all use different languages to describe happenings and progress in physics. They have important things to say to each other on the subject that will advance both theoretical and empirical physics - but the bridges and translators simply do not exist. Peer reviewed Journals have failed to provide them, and one might well argue that in fact peer review actively builds walls between disciplines.

    Do not gain the impression from all of this that I am implacably against peer review. Nothing is further from the truth; it is a vital and worthwhile activity to seek out and discuss the merits of your ideas with other knowledgeable people. What I am objecting to is the modern context in which peer review is used and abused.

    Andrew Jonkers

  5. I have never worked or taught in the academic world but I have published and been a contributing author to engineering handbooks here in the United States. I have also had the opportunity to present papers at various international conferences. I have also presented seminars at various educational institutions.

    The problem here is that the Internet has changed the world. It used to be back in the eighties and ealry ninties that an articles content was sufficient to get it published in commercial publications and trade journals. In those days they relied on content to sell subscriptions and subscriptions to generate revenues. Today with the Internet as competition most publishers rely on advertising for the bulk of their revenues. If you do not advertise with them they will not even consider your articles for publication.

    Likewise, open information sharing on the Internet is prevelant and robust in almost every subject matter. Likewise publishing on the Internet without peer review is common place.

    Personally I do not care if peer review exists. As a professional surfing the Internet it is up to me to review the published content. Filter it though my own engineering knowledge and accept or reject the published materials. A true professional must trust in his own knowledge the content of what he reads. Even misleading or erroneous articles can often trigger new thoughts or concepts in my own mind.

    I sort of agree with Stephen that commercial academic institutions have also had and impact on available information. They rely on holding information tight to obtain research grants and on their ability to profit from later commercializing the results of their efforts.


    1. ....continued
      Another problem is that technology in the last decade is evolving at an expontial rate. Few professors (especially when tenured) tend to keep up with this evolution. They prefer instead to teach from their current level of knowledge. Many of there papers are simply the reformulation and publication of information that is already in the public domain.

      I have recently started my third start up venture. Years ago the way to get market exposure was trade shows and conferences or publishing and advertsing in the printed press. Today it is having a good website and optimizing its exposure on the numerous search engines out there. Then advertising the site on the Internet.

      If you want to publish to share your knowledge and skills and gain recognition it is on the open Internet. Few will pay for what you personally know as likely someone has already published similar material in an open environment.

      In todays world other than propriatary knowledge it is publish than perish.

      I feel sorry for those who think what they publish today is so valueable that other will pay for what they can likely find for free in a few minutes or hours of surfing the net.
      Carl Jacobson, Coal Sim, USA

    2. Carl, although you 'sort of' agree with me, I definitely agree with you.

      Al, I want to reiterate I am not against the principle of peer review. (I just question the way it is practised)

      I am arguing that whereas journals developed from the concept of dissemination of knowledge this is no longer part of the scope of academics at University (particularly in Australia).

      This is why a year ago I made comment that the whole review process needs to be changed and modernised. And as often stated, I remain totally supportive of Minerals Engineering and other journals.

      As I would definitely like to see changes, I think the open-source journals provide opportunity for new approaches to dissemination of knowledge. I am quite sure these new journals will develop some successful strategies and some unsuccessful. Those successful strategies will invariably be introduced into the mainstream in due course.
      Stephen Gay, Australia

    3. I don't want anyone to get me wrong here. There are many great research efforts in academia that result in new concepts and technologies. Many of these are funded or sponsored projects which when funded by the government become part of the public domain. Others privately funded are often held close and never shared. Theiere are also numerous doctoral thesis' which are worthy of wide publication and distribution.

      On the other hand there are numerous publications that come out of acadamia only because of explicit or infurred requirments to publish. Most of these only summarize or regurjitate information already out in the public domain. They are published by professors and others who don't keep up with the latest technologies and only serve to document what others (including their own students) have done.

      If true peer review were to be effective it should be capable of separating the wheat from the chaf and keep alot of junk from cluttering up an already saturated environment. I doubt, however, that old concepts and methods of reviewing and approving or commenting and on editing published works will ever improve or expand on what is already out there today on the Internet.
      Carl Jacobson, USA

    4. Carl, an additional comment:

      Just two weeks ago at the course I gave on Simulation and Optimisation I commented that the way 'schools' have developed historically will break away in the next 20 years.

      Now with the internet it is very simple to look at the work of people in completely different areas to ones initial subject area. For example, I can easily look up estimating traffic flow models, which I see has relationship to modelling flow of particles in mineral processing plants.

      Consequently there will be more questioning of the fundamental approaches that 'schools' have adopted.

      So it is clear that journals will either adapt or perish.

      For example I was arguing that metallugists/mineral processing engineers should consider themselves as 'business analysts' /(with the business of course being mineral processing) This discussion followed directly from giving your (Carl's) presentation on Coal Sim. And if one is to consider themselves as a Business Analyst then start thinking about Data Analytics - not just unit operations.

      (Data Analytics is the study of how data is used to make business decisions)
      Stephen Gay, Australia

    5. Carl,
      When I look back on my career, you are quite correct, my living and support of my family has indeed been made by from what I have NOT published, not what I have - a real shame and I wish it could have been different.

      But I am more interested in the effect of the modern internet on publishing: Just to show this really is a life and death topic we deal with here, the point is beautifully illustrated by the following experience:

      The anti-vaccine hysteria is a cogent case in point of academic interests and Journals hiding away important knowledge, and not having caught up with the internet. It is also a cogent case of rampant dis-regard by Authors doing open publishing without due regard to the scientific method. Blame is rightly laid at the latter, but the former have a very important case to answer.

      The correct and balanced sides of the argument (pro vaccine by the way) are comprehensively documented in important highly regarded peer reviewed articles. This is why the doctors who are privy to these journals have no trouble at all recommending vaccination of children to parents. But if you search for the result to self-educate yourself on the matter, and what the public now has access to,(and which Stephen quite rightly argues is the modern way), you instead find the slip-shod open publishing results. It becomes one experts word against the other - and the data mining results in a skewed conclusion about risk - in this case because the detail of the correct side are hidden behind pay-walls and not properly available to the search engines.

      It becomes one "Experts" word against another "Experts" word - one is wrong, one is right, but the public have no way to judge the credentials, because the peer reviewers comments of the real and false expert are not readily available, as indeed are a lot of the data on the correct side of the argument.

      The lack of public access to these studies makes it very difficult to counteract this false impression of balance because you click on a pro vaccine link and come up against a $20 or $40 or $100 fee to get any further - so of course nobody bothers - it is unaffordable for most people,(and who is going to pay for something that might turn out to be not what they are after with no refund)

      The negative side is reprehensible, but the pro side have failed to argue their case in the modern internet world of knowledge.

      I say if it was all open, bad and good alike - and then the reviews published alongside, it would be much easier to come to the "right" review and conclusion, and to one click shoot down in flames, false opinions.

      Andrew Jonkers

  6. I really appreciate your comments and discussion, Andrew, Rafael, Stephen and Carl. It would be great to have the views of the researchers, however- those of you who are very much involved with journals and peer-review.

    1. I have spent 25 years of my career doing research in Mineral Processing. I have reviewed many papers for Journals. I have even been know to submit a few. I have spent 13 years directly in University Research Academia. What more do you want? Perhaps the use of however was a touch ill-advised. If my view is not the view of a researcher, then tell me, what is?
      Regards, Andrew Jonkers

    2. Apologies for upsetting you Andrew, but I did not know your background. I was unaware of your mineral processing research. I thank you for your comments.

    3. To be clear, I have nothing to do with F1000, I just wanted to highlight their novel publication model. I am currently a university researcher and was a mineral processing professional in the past. I am aware of the journal models because I spend a lot of time looking around for the next place to publish my next paper.


    4. Thanks for clarification Rafael. In which University are you based, and what are your research interests?

    5. No worries Barry, Just clarifying my status. I get upset over such stupid things sometimes and apologize for the tone.

      It is interesting though that the topic has not drawn more wide spread discussion. I personally find it both fascinating and important to explore and resolve these vital issues that MEI raise in the original blog.

      The solutions though I suspect cross a lot of boundaries and everyone these days is so specialized in their roles, there is nobody left to look at the bigger picture.

    6. Barry, I am the same Rafael from the ACEME 2013 organizing committee, at the KU Leuven. At this time I work mostly on accelerated carbonation, obviously, but I have other mineral processing related interests, like bioleaching (I am co-author of the recently published MinEng Biohydromet'12 special issue paper on alkaline bioleaching).

      As for the Open Access topic discussion, I can report that the KU Leuven's current position is to support Green-OA (i.e. free repository posting). This means there is no institutional support for paying APCs (of course researchers are free to pay from their own budget if they wish). For this the university manages the Lirias repository, which is well organized and has very good visibility through Google searches.

      I post as much of my materials as possible to Lirias, conforming to publishers requirements of course (i.e. embargo periods, pre- or post-peer review version, adding terms, conditions and link to final published article DOI in the first page, etc.). But I can say that I am an exception; most researchers are either not aware that this can be done, or are too lazy to do it, or are afraid to do it because they feel it infringes copyright or that their work will get stolen.

      Personally, I feel Green-OA is a bit strange, because it undermines the journals. But the theory behind Green-OA is that it will eventually force subscription journals to turn to Gold-OA, since in theory subscriptions will eventually get cancelled once enough material is available for free in repositories. But I think this is still many years away.

      That is why I like F1000, because I feel it is a model that adds more value to what journals do today, so there is a point in paying the APC to get the extra value (i.e. quicker dissemination and more transparent and democratic peer-review).


    7. Thanks Rafael. I know who you are now, and I appreciate your contribution. I will take a good look at F1000 after next week's MEI Conferences.

  7. Yes, the comment from MEI was an unintentional slap (at least that is the way I took it). Similarly I have published over 50 papers which I would suspect doesn't make me a novice (as implied).

    I think it was expected that there would be more positive comment in favour of the initial viewpoint, but the lack of support to me indicates the arguments put forward by those above are irrefutable.

    This is not in anyway negative about Minerals Engineering (which I support). Minerals Engineering is distinct to other journals because of the strong emphasis on conferences and communication.

    That papers presented at conferences, and then published In Mineral Engineering is well-accepted, and a good strategy for all concerned.

    Stephen Gay

    1. Apologies Stephen, it was certainly not meant as a slap, but looking at it again, I probably did word it badly. I am well aware of your excellent publication record, in Minerals Engineering and other journals. This discussion came about via a series of emails from a Canadian academic. I quote his words again "in academia the problem is that everything has become about numbers of papers. Graduate student scholarships can be based on number of papers. Promotion and hiring is based on number of papers. Grants/research funds are based on number of papers. We are actually told by the administration how many papers we should have per year." It is people such as these who may be tempted to publish in the so-called 'predatory' open access journals, and it is these people,to whom publication in peer-reviewd journals is vital, that I would like to solicit opinions.

  8. Just a quick question. WHAT MAKES A RESEARCHER? Are you saying that if you are not involved in jounals and peer-reviews you are not a researcher.

    I guess spending the better part of 40-years in research and development doesn't count. I guess all the (classified) research reports I wrote that are in the Library of Congress without a journal or your definition of peer-reviews means they were not research.

    All the research I have done into Coal Benefication over the last few years, creating a totally new simulation application for plant design was not research either.

    Sounds like there is a bias here towards academic researh. As to peer review one of the books I helped author was reviewed and edited by McGraw Hill. Their editor felt empowered enough to edit and change the content of my authored materials without submitting them to me for review. This kind of review I can do without. He totally changed the meaning and content of the material and the mathematical materials it contained to make it erroneous. You want "Peer-Review", I got it in spades from all those who contacted me after publication to point out my (?) mistakes.

    I have had a hard time ever since having others review and edit my work without extremely close collaboration.
    Carl Jacobson, USA

    1. Sorry for my wording, Carl, which was a little clumsy. See my reply to Stephen Gay above

  9. This is a multifaceted and complex problem. Commercialization of universities has resulted in the loss of the academic mission. Undergraduates are trained for jobs and not educated. Research is about innovation and wealth generation, not about fundamental work and doing what interests oneself. "Gaming" is the name given to maximizing the publication rate. The competition for funds has increased and since quality is difficult to measure then quantity becomes more important. There is an old saying that if one tries to evaluate creative people then the creativity will be lost. Peer review was based on trust and this has been to some extent been lost. I get many papers to review in which it appears to be that I was selected because one or more of the references are to my work. Reject the paper and lose citations! As I have mentioned previously, I had a paper rejected because the editor said the paper was not appropriate for his journal and he confirmed this by noting that I had not included any references to his journal. Many of the journals now ask reviewers if the authors of the paper have referred to all relevant references in that journal. Recently I was asked to review a paper and when I opened it up I saw that it had MY unpublished data in it! I have seen papers with the same introduction twice! I have seen so-called peer-reviewed papers with figures missing. Take a look at the website The thinking becomes what is the minimum needed to get a paper published, the so-called minimum publishable unit (MPU). Most academics will say that the current system is not “sustainable”. What replaces it, remains to be seen.

    Chris Pickles

    1. Thanks Chris. I find it amazing, and iniquitous, that some peer-reviewed journals are rejecting papers due to the author not citing papers from that journal (and hence not boosting the journal's impact factor).

  10. How do you put a time limit on research and end up with truly viable results. Over the past four decades I have been involved in various extensive research efforts. Some took days or weeks while others took over a year. I have also been in a position to award reearch contracts and grants to various companies and organizations. Additionally I have also been in the position to fill out the paper work for myself and others to apply for U.S. government research grants. In every case the awards were not made based on the volume of papers published, but on the content, completeness and thoroughness of one particular research work.

    I apologize for my current rebuff but I was not aware of how this whole discussion started. My guess would be that some professor, student or someone lost out on a job, position, grant or scholarship that they thought they deserved. They are aware of who they lost to and that that individual had published numerous works in open (or what is referred to as 'predatory') journals.

    To me, if in fact the quantity of research works published versus the quality of work is a basis for rewarding positions, grants or scholarships; the only thing it guarantees is that the quality and viability of the research papers will only be degraded. It speaks to the fact that the overseers or administrators of such a program have no idea what it takes to produce viable reasearch.
    Carl Jacobson< USA

  11. No need to apologise Carl. As you know I like to initiate provocative discussions, which stir people up a little. I thank you for your valuable contribution. You may be interested in Chris Pickles' comments above.

  12. Hi Barry, Came across this website a while ago. Comments are interesting.

    Chris Pickles

    1. A paper commonly attributed as one of the first mentions of ex-situ mineral carbonation for the purpose of CO2 sequestration, my field of work, is that of Seifritz (1990) - CO2 disposal by means of silicates - published in Nature.

      Interestingly, it's not really a paper, it's a three paragraph commentary in the 'scientific correspondence' section of the famous journal. Yet it's indexed in all major scientific databases and has become one of the most cited papers in the field.

      In a way it's strange that this gets the same credit as full papers. On the other hand, if it really did inspire the birth of this research field, it has had great value despite its simplicity (i.e. small publishable unit).

      For the sake of scientific progress, it would be nice to have a verifiable, peer-reviewed route to disseminating ideas in our age (better than Twitter I mean). Not everyone has the time or resources to work out all their ideas in the lab. Is it correct to be so greedy and not share? Or would it be too naive to share all our ideas? Could this be the next frontier for Open Access?

      Rafael Santos

    2. Some of the best scientific papers have been very short indeed. Here is a classic example, also in the correspondence section of Nature.
      Sorry I do not understand your final paragraph.

    3. Barry, that is another nice example of a small published unit with a huge impact.

      What I meant with my last paragraph was that I am unaware of a place nowadays for mineral/chemical engineers to publish ideas without deep studies to back them up, but that are treated and published in the same way as full research papers.

      From your example, at least two features of the article would make it not publishable in most reputable journals:

      1-) The authors state that the idea presented "must be regarded as unproved until it is checked against more exact results".
      2-) The authors state that "full details,..., will be published elsewhere".

      I imagine these statements would spark the ire of most reviewers today, who would tell the authors to go back to the lab, generate the data, and come back later with a full paper. In 1953 the access to analytical equipment was probably much more difficult them today, so back then it was ok to lack some data. Nowadays authors are expected to use, or to have within reach, all sorts of equipment (XRD, TGA, FTIR, SEM, TEM, NMR...). So automatically reviewers expected that papers contain complete sets of data, or that authors can generate any kind of extra supporting data during a couple of months of revision.

      So to go back to my point, is it possible nowadays to publish potentially revolutionary ideas like Watson and Crick (1953) and Seifritz (1990) did? Or is this form of idea dissemination something online Open Access publishers could contribute to?


    4. Yes of course, Rafael. There is always the option of a short technical note, rather than a full research paper.

      And you can also bounce ideas around, and sound people out, via the LinkedIn groups.

  13. I waited a day for the contributions of others. I noticed clarification of Barry's early remark, for which Carl's response is totally justified.

    Barry I think you need to differentiate 'professional researcher' from 'professional academic' - although I recognise such a distinction is not politically correct.

    Whereas 30 years ago there would not have been much distinction, today they are totally distinct.

    A professional researcher aims to advance knowledge. They include many of those who have contributed to this discussion and also the site.

    A 'professional academic' is one whose career is largely within the realms of Universities and psuedo-Govt. organisations. There are plenty of professional academics who contribute nothing to knowledge, and of course there are those who also contribute substantially.

    But their careers are controlled not by the value or significance of their work, but by some quantitative measure (KPI) such as publication rate. Simultaneously they may very well be restricted from providing useful knowledge to society via IP/commercialisation restrictions.

    Surprisingly independents are not limited in distributing knowledge - they can choose to publish if they wish; and they can choose not to if they wish; but they do not have some ivory-tower head of dept, or unnamed lawyer, making such decisions for them.

    But the professional researcher has little interest in publication rates. So I just think Minerals Engineering should seriously think about how to encourage contributions from professional researchers and not limit it to to professional academics as implied (albeit non-intentional) - particularly in the internet age.
    Stephen Gay, Australia

    1. Bearing in mind, Stephen, that ‘professional researcher’ and ‘professional academic’ are your definitions, it would be interesting to hear responses from the latter. Although I certainly come across many academics who fall into your definition, I disagree that the two classes you define are ‘totally distinct’. There are many papers in Minerals Engineering from academics who I would definitely define as ‘professional researchers’. And Minerals Engineering does not, as you imply, limit contributions to "professional academics".

  14. I have followed the discussions with much interest. I agree with some of the things said, but not all. I agree that in this internet age there are many outlets for information, including, as Stephen points out, YouTube. There is also Wikipedia and of course MEI Online.

    But when I want to find out what cutting edge research and innovation is available, I then turn to the quality peer-reviewed journals. In my field the two most outstanding journals are Hydrometallurgy and Minerals Engineering. I believe that they have high rejection rates of over 50%, but this is good as it sorts the wheat from the chaffe and I wouldn't want to have to wade through a lot of dross to find the gems- which would be the case if peer-review followed publication, which I cannot see ever happening. I know peer-review is not perfect, and that some good material might slip through the net, but the other outlets available presumably means that rejected work gets out there somewhere, much into the predatory open access journals. I have only browsed one of these and won't do it again, as there were hundreds of papers of varying mediocrity.

    Terence Hulme, Hydrometallurgist, USA

  15. “We all bear a responsibility”
    The reputation of a journal, its contributing authors, and its reviewers, amount to a joint responsibility to uphold a standard, and to deliver on the responsibility of sound technical publication.
    First and foremost, what do we want out of published papers? As readers and users of published papers, we want the assurance that the published papers to which we refer in archival journals such as Minerals Engineering contain reliable, defensible information and conclusions, and have been written to a consistently high standard. This is the key purpose of the journal – reliable reference material that may be used and cited. In this light, I agree to some extent, but not completely, with some remarks posted on the blog to the effect that, in recent years, the academic environment has been under heavy commercial pressure, leading to the temptation in some cases, not all, to publish for volume and “lists of publications” as a score sheet, instead of publishing on the grounds that good, new work has been done and deserves to be placed in the public literature. However let us all beware of the trap of stereotyping. Not all academics fit this description. The academics whom I know prefer quality over quantity – without exception - in their publications. It is what we publish, not how much we publish, that counts. The equivalent may be said for postgraduate theses upon the basis of which degrees are awarded (a very big responsibility). So the author(s) need to be aware of this responsibility.
    Second, to the matter of just how that good work undergoes peer review and ultimate publication with corrections and improvements. The work of a reviewer is not to be taken lightly – from either viewpoint. Reviewing a submitted manuscript for the journal, or examining a thesis that has been submitted for a postgraduate degree, is a heavy responsibility that requires great care and even more time. Accordingly, with the exception of justifiable rebuttal on specific points, authors who respond positively to the reviewer’s constructive comments often see good improvement in the revised paper. The converse is a less than positive experience.
    I have seen copies of some very old (1950s) conference proceedings in which there is a printed discussion section listing the questions, compliments/challenges and replies that follow at the end of the paper. Maybe there is some merit in this practice. But the questioner(s), like the abovementioned reviewers, bear a responsibility to present justifiable, defensible questions and comments, rather than grandstanding from the audience. In modern conference practice, presenting authors rather take note of the questions and comments presented from the floor and revise their manuscript accordingly before formally submitting to the journal, with an acknowledgement in the journal paper to this effect. Thereafter (some time later) usually follows a citation of the paper in a subsequent different publication with remarks made. In my view, a tidier arrangement.
    What may be said of “open access” journals in this light? I receive an unending stream of invitations from open access journals of which I have never even heard, inviting me to submit papers and to review for them. Quality or quantity? And what potential consequence to reputation – and to the reliability of the published information?
    Thank you
    Norm Lotter, Xstrata Process Support, Canada

    1. Many thanks Terence and Norm. Terence, the current rejection rate for Minerals Engineering is 63%. I must stress though that rejected papers are not all chaff. Many papers are rejected on the basis of not being suited to Minerals Engineering, in which case recommendations for alternative journals are made. Some correspondents suggest that the peer-review system be ‘modernised’ but until we have some constructive suggestions for how this should be done I am happy for the present system to remain in place. There are many bright and enthusiastic young researchers around who are more than willing to review papers, and do so conscientiously, so finding suitable reviewers is no more difficult than it was 25 years ago.

      I have to admit though that the peer-review process is not perfect, but I do believe that it is the best system that we have and many others would agree with this (see the long discussion in the posting of 21 March 2011). You are right, Terence, in that due to its flaws some good material does slip through the net but even rejection is not the end, as constructive reasons for rejection can hopefully spur the author to resubmit improved work.

  16. Interesting that the open access journals editors have nothing to say. Which I suppose speaks volumes!
    Alan McCluskey, Australia

  17. Who's Afraid of Peer Review?
    A spoof paper concocted by Science reveals little or no scrutiny at many open-access journals.

    1. Worrying isn't it? Particularly as the list included Elsevier journals


If you have difficulty posting a comment, please email the comment to and I will submit on your behalf