Elsevier journal editors resign, start rival open-access journal


The entire editorial board of the Elsevier-owned Journal of Informetrics resigned Thursday in protest over high open-access fees, restricted access to citation data and commercial control of scholarly work.

Today, the same team is launching a new fully open-access journal called Quantitative Science Studies. The journal will be for and by the academic community and will be owned by the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics (ISSI). It will be published jointly with MIT Press.

The editorial board of the Journal of Informetrics said in a statement that they were unanimous in their decision to quit. They contend that scholarly journals should be owned by the scholarly community rather than by commercial publishers, should be open access under fair principles, and publishers should make citation data freely available.

Elsevier said in a statement that it regretted the board's decision and that it had tried to address their concerns.

“Since hearing of their concerns, we have explained our position and made a number of concrete proposals to attempt to bridge our differences,” Tom Reller, vice president of global communications at Elsevier, said in a statement. “Ultimately they decided to step down and we respect that decision and wish them the best in their future endeavors.”

Elsevier’s response to the board’s requests can be accessed in full here.

This is not the first time the editorial board of an Elsevier-owned journal has quit to start a competing journal. In 2015, the editorial board of top linguistics journal Lingua made headlines by leaving their posts and announcing plans to start a rival open-access publication called Glossa.

Like Lingua, the Journal of Informetrics is considered one of the top journals in its field. It was started in 2007 and focuses on research of measures used to assess the impact of academic research, including bibliometrics, scientometrics, webometrics and altmetrics.

There have been similar editorial revolts at journals owned by other publishers, many predating the Lingua case, but this method of so-called flipping journals from subscription-based access to completely open access is still relatively unusual.

The resignations of the Journal of Informetrics editorial team comes at a time of considerable scrutiny for Elsevier. Last month the publisher lost two large European customers -- the Max Planck Society and the Hungarian Consortium -- after rejecting their proposals to change its subscription model. Elsevier is also locked in negotiations with the University of California System, which has similarly threatened not to renew its contract unless the publisher changes how it charges customers to publish and access research.

Ludo Waltman, editor in chief of the Journal of Informetrics, intends to step down from his role and become editor in chief of the new journal when his current contract with Elsevier expires. His end date has not yet been determined. Waltman said the editorial board has agreed to review all accepted submissions to the journal but will not review any new submissions.

“The most important thing is that authors who currently have manuscripts under submission should not suffer negative consequences from the current situation,” he said. “This is something on which Elsevier and the editorial board are in agreement.”

Cassidy Sugimoto, president of ISSI and a former member of the JOI editorial board, said the decision to resign was not easy. The board has been negotiating with Elsevier for more than 18 months, she said.

Waltman said that it was, however, quickly obvious that some of the requests made by the board were "non-negotiable for Elsevier."

Sugimoto said that ISSI, a scholarly society whose members were heavily involved in the production of JOI, wanted greater control of the Elsevier-owned journal but were told by the publisher that its ownership was not up for discussion.

"The editorial board were members of ISSI, the reviewers were members of ISSI. Our society was actively participating in the labor of this journal without any remuneration," she said. 

Proposals to transition the journal from hybrid to fully open access and reduce the journal’s article-processing charges were also rejected, said Vincent Larivière, interim editor in chief of the new journal QSS. He said another sticking point was that the editorial board wanted the citation data in the journal’s articles to be freely available because this information is very important to researchers in the field. Elsevier said in its response to the board that it offers unrestricted access to some journal data, but it is not willing to make journal article reference lists available for free.

Elsevier launched the Journal of Informetrics in collaboration with the scientific community, the publisher said. Founding JOI editor Leo Egghe thanked the publisher for its role in developing and managing the journal in his final editorial in 2014. The publisher intends to keep the Journal of Informetrics running and will move to appoint a new editorial team and board, it said.

Johan Rooryck, president of the Fair Open Access Alliance, said JOI is the sixth journal that his organization has helped to flip in the past four years.

“We have developed a blueprint to help journal editors leave big publishers and launch new journals,” he said.

Rooryck, who was editor of Lingua and now leads Glossa, said the most challenging aspect of starting a new open-access journal is securing funding to ensure it survives. He said Glossa is doing well and has more submissions now than Lingua did. Lingua has been described as a “zombie” journal by some scholars, but it continues to receive hundreds of submissions.

QSS is being launched with some financial support from the MIT Libraries. In order to make all articles open access, the journal will charge an article-processing charge of $600 for ISSI members and $800 for nonmembers -- significantly less than the $1,800 Elsevier charged. For researchers without the ability to pay to have their articles be open access, their fees will be covered for three years by the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB).

Representatives of MIT Libraries and MIT Press would not disclose how much financial support they are offering the new journal.

Nick Lindsay, director of journals and open access for MIT Press, said the press has a “long-standing commitment to open access across both its books and journals” and is a natural home for the journal because of its interest in data science. Lindsay said when ISSI approached him about creating a new journal, he "jumped at the chance to work with them."

Chris Bourg, director of MIT Libraries, said financial support for QSS is “part of a deliberate strategy of using our resources to support the kinds of changes in scholarly communication and access that are consistent with our vision: a world where enduring, abundant, equitable, and meaningful access to information serves to empower and inspire humanity.”

There has been speculation recently that Elsevier may have offered extra money to journal editors who were considering resigning and launching rival journals. ScienceGuide published an article in December alleging the offer of extra payment.

Reller, Elsevier's spokesman, tweeted in response, “ScienceGuide has it wrong: Nearly all of our 20,000 handling editors are compensated for their fantastic work and conversations about the right amount occur all the time. There is nothing particular about that now in the context of ‘flipping’ journals.”

Rooryck said he believes the rumor is true, but the publisher has denied that any such activity occurred.

JOI’s editor in chief, Waltman, said he receives several thousand euros a year for his work on the journal and was not offered any more money to stay. No one else on the editorial board receives any compensation from Elsevier, said Sugimoto.

For his part, Larivière said he has no regrets or sadness about leaving JOI behind.

"A journal is a shell. It's what's inside the shell that counts," he said. "What we'll have at this new journal is exactly the same group of people, the same topics, the same science."