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Where to publish cosmogenic-nuclide geochemistry

April 11, 2019

The overall goal of this posting is to highlight a new open-access/open-review journal, just introduced by EGU and Copernicus Publications, entitled “Geochronology.” But first, some context.

For context, consider two things.

One. The dispute between the University of California system and scientific publisher Elsevier. Basically, UC has canceled its subscriptions to all Elsevier journals after failing to come to a blanket agreement for open access publication of UC-hosted research. I care about this because I utilize the UC library journal subscriptions.

Two. The list of peer-reviewed scientific journals where technical articles about cosmogenic-nuclide geochemistry are commonly published. Quaternary Geochronology. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Geochimica et Cosmochmica Acta. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research. Chemical Geology. Possibly Quaternary Science Reviews. For short-lived nuclides in tracer studies, perhaps the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity.

These journals have two things in common. They publish technical research on geochemistry and geochronology that is relevant to your work, so you read them all the time. And they are published by Elsevier. Although there are many other journals where one might sensibly publish any research involving applications of cosmogenic-nuclide geochemistry to broader Earth science projects, consolidation and acquisitions by Elsevier over the past decade or so have produced a near-monopoly on journals suitable for technical articles in this field. About half the articles that I am an author of are in Elsevier journals. The only other journals I can think of where I might publish technical articles rather than applications are, maybe, Geophysical Research Letters or JGR-Earth Surface.

Now put these two things together. In future, I will not be able to legally read any articles published in Elsevier journals, which include nearly every possible outlet for basic research in cosmogenic-nuclide geochemistry. Most sensible people would conclude that in this situation, I should also stop publishing in and reviewing for these journals. While it is true that cosmogenic-nuclide geochemistry was probably not a major contributor to Elsevier’s $1.2B in profits from scientific publishing in 2017, and my decision to boycott is unlikely to significantly threaten said profits, it seems pretty dumb to continue providing free services to journals that I can’t even read.

So, OK, I can’t publish the majority of my research output, which concerns technical research in cosmogenic-nuclide geochemistry, in any of the journals that are most suitable for publishing this research. While the idea of transferring all my future research output to this blog and other non-peer-reviewed websites  is certainly appealing, it may not be a wise career move, or fair to funding agencies who expect to eventually see some results, to disengage completely from normal peer-reviewed journals.

That concludes the context. Although I thoroughly support the UC position in the Elsevier dispute because I think the Elsevier/Wiley/MacMillan business model, in which my free labor supports an enormously profitable business, is ridiculous, I am left at the moment with a lack of publication outlets. Thus, it is an extraordinary coincidence of timing that on nearly exactly the same day that UC/Elsevier negotiations failed, the European Geophysical Union and Copernicus Publications introduced a new non-profit, open-access, open-review journal called Geochronology, that aims to focus on basic research in geochronology and associated areas of geochemistry and analytical methods.

From my perspective, this is the only such journal that is not published by Elsevier, so it looks like I have to publish in it whether I like it or not — although there is a slight complication in that I am one of the editors, so it would probably look bad if I were also the most prolific author. In the rest of this post I will explain why you — a reader of this blog who presumably carries out and publishes research in cosmogenic-nuclide geochemistry — should publish in it too.

First, what is it? In the past several years, EGU has worked with Copernicus Press, which is a publisher and conference organizer organized as a non-profit corporation under German law, to develop a series of online journals that provide (i) open access without subscription fees, (ii) impose on authors or funding agencies the minimal costs needed to support publication and archiving, and (iii) utilize an open review process. More about the open review process later. Several of these journals have become extremely successful and widely read; for example, The Cryosphere, which is rapidly becoming the de facto international journal of record for research in glaciology and cold regions climate and surface processes.

Second, what is the open review process? Basically, papers submitted to these journals, if the editors deem that they meet basic standards, are immediately posted as discussion drafts. In effect this is the same as posting to a preprint server such as arXiv. Then two things can happen. The editors solicit reviews of the draft paper; these reviewers get to choose whether or not to remain anonymous. And in addition, anyone can submit an unsolicited review under their name; unsolicited reviews may not be anonymous. Finally, the authors submit a revised paper and a response to the reviews; if acceptable, the editors post this as the final version. The important difference between this and the normal review process at most journals is that all parts of this — the reviews, the responses, and successive versions of the paper — are accessible online with the paper and become part of the permanent record.

I think this last element — the fact that all the review correspondence is an accessible part of the permanent record — is an enormous improvement on standard practice. From my perspective as a reader, I learn a lot more from reading the paper with the reviews than I would from the paper alone. It is a throwback — a good throwback — to a long-past bit of the history of science in which many papers were published as conference proceedings, and a stenographer was on hand at the conference to record and later publish the discussion that took place after the presentation. Speaking as a reviewer, I put a lot of work into reviews, sometimes including extensive calculations and model exercises, and if this work disappears into anonymity and is never seen again, it is hard to see why it wasn’t a waste of my time. And then as an author, I am pretty sure that if reviewers know that their comments will be publicly accessible and permanently on the record, I am going to get a more careful, fair, and well-thought-out review. I certainly feel that pressure when reviewing in these journals. The point is, these are all good things. They make it so I, or you, learn more from published research. They are probably more work for everyone, but I think they also produce better results.

To summarize, Geochronology (or “GChron” if you don’t have time for the extra four syllables) solves my immediate problem created by the UC-Elsevier struggle for dominance. But even if you don’t have that problem, if you publish research in this field, it corrects several other problems and improves the situation in several ways. The reason I signed on as an editor long before the Elsevier incident is that it creates an outlet for basic research in geochronology and related areas that is independent of applications, which will hopefully make it possible to focus on doing the best possible job of determining the age of geologic deposits, without having to bury all the interesting technical research in the supplementary methods to make a paper suitable for a more general journal. Then, the open review system is better than the conventional system. And finally, open access publication is better than a subscription model. Publication fees in the EGU/Copernicus journals are cheap — 77 Euros per page — and many European universities and funding agencies, as well as a couple in the US, have blanket agreements. And for GChron, fees are waived for the first two years until there is an impact factor, so it’s free. That’s free, as in free. There is no downside.

The Geochronology website is here. Click on the link and submit the paper that you are writing right now.







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