ESA journals do not allow papers with preprints

Over the weekend I saw this great tweet:

by Philippe Desjardins-Proulx and was pleased to see yet another actively open young scientist. Then I saw his follow up tweet:

At first I was confused. I thought ESA’s policy was that preprints were allowed based on the following text on their website (emphasis mine: still available in Google’s Cache):

A posting of a manuscript or thesis on a personal or institutional homepage or ftp site will generally be considered as a preprint; this will not be grounds for viewing the manuscript as published. Similarly, posting of manuscripts in public preprint archives or in an institution’s public archive of unpublished theses will not be considered grounds for declaring a manuscript published. If a manuscript is available as part of a digital publication such as a journal, technical series or some other entity to which a library can subscribe (especially if that publication has an ISSN or ISBN), we will consider that the manuscript has been published and is thus not eligible for consideration by our journals. A partial test for prior publication is whether the manuscript has appeared in some entity with archival value so that it is permanently available to reasonably diligent scholars. A necessary test for prior publication is whether the author can legally transfer copyright to ESA.

So I asked Philippe to explain his tweet:

This got me a little riled up so I broadcast my displeasure:

And then Jarrett Byrnes questioned where this was coming from given the stated policy:

So I emailed ESA to check and, sure enough, preprints on arXiv and similar preprint servers are considered prior publication and therefore cannot be submitted to ESA journals, despite the fact that this isn’t a problem for a few journals you may have heard of including Science, Nature, PNAS, and PLoS Biology. ESA (to their credit) has now clarified this point on their website (emphasis mine; thanks to Jaime Ashander for the heads up):

A posting of a manuscript or thesis on an author’s personal or home institution’s website or ftp site generally will not be considered previous publication. Similarly posting of a “working paper” in an institutional repository is allowed so long as at least one of the authors is affiliated with that institution. However, if a manuscript is available as part of a digital publication such as a journal, technical series, or some other entity to which a library can subscribe (especially if that publication has an ISSN or ISBN), we will consider that the manuscript has been published and is thus not eligible for consideration by our journals. Likewise, if a manuscript is posted in a citable public archive outside the author’s home institution, then we consider the paper to be self-published and ineligible for submission to ESA journals. Finally, a necessary test for prior publication is whether the author can legally transfer copyright to ESA.

In my opinion the idea that a preprint is “self-published” and therefore represents prior publication is poorly justified* and not in the best interests of science, and I’m not the only one:

So now I’m hoping that Jarrett is right:

and that things might change (and hopefully soon). If you know someone on the ESA board, please point them in the direction of this post.

UPDATE: Just as I was finishing working on this post ESA responded to the tweet stream from the last few days:

I’m very excited that ESA is reviewing their policies in this area. As I should have said in the original post, I have, up until this year, been quite impressed with ESA’s generally open, and certainly pro-science policies. This last year or so has been a bad one, but I’m hoping that’s just a lag in adjusting to the new era in scientific publishing.

UPDATE 2: ESA has announced that they have changed their policy and will now consider articles with preprints.


*I asked ESA if they wanted to clarify their justification for this policy and haven’t heard back (though it has been less than 2 days). If they get back to me I’ll update or add a new post.

17 Comments on “ESA journals do not allow papers with preprints

  1. A large problem with acceptance of arXiv are two misconceptions people have. The first is that there’s no biology there: a mutual acquaintance of ours recently made this comment to me when I was telling the department about Open Access options: she really thought arXiv only has physics papers.

    The other misconception that ESA is probably operating under is not understanding the logic behind arXiv. There is a huge diversity of publication there, but most of it is still destined for publication and most importantly EVERYBODY knows that. In other words, you can cite the arXiv version of a paper, but everybody knows that it’s far superior to cite and read the version in a journal. If there’s not a version in a journal, then you need to go read the paper yourself to judge its quality. But again, anybody who reads or uses arXiv knows what it is.

    Basically I’m saying that putting something on arXiv does not amount to publication, and an organization that does think so is misunderstanding the purpose of arXiv.

  2. I definitely agree that a lot of this is misconception and lack of understanding. In writing this post I spent a fair bit of time looking for good introductions to the value of preprints and how they differ from reviewed publications, and I couldn’t find any. So, I think some general outreach in this area would be really beneficial and I’m hoping that INNGE and some of the folks that were talking about a survey and an opinion piece will follow up either on the blogs or in print to help folks understand why arXiv and similar preprint servers are a bonus and not a threat.

  3. Pingback: ESA Changes Pre-print policy to Exclude arXiv and Other Repositories | OpenPub

  4. Awesome, so now I don’t need to bother with the whole submitting-to-journals thing any more. I can just upload everything on the arXiv and put it on my CV as “Published”. If I want to be less vague (and more ambiguous) about it I can put something like “Accepted as a published paper by ESA”

    Seriously though, it seems like this particular 20th century publisher wants to have their cake and eat it too. It is definitely in the big publishers’ best interest to perpetuate the tradition that self-publication “doesn’t count” (divorcing the word “publish” from its etymology– presence behind a paywall constitutes “published” status while presence on a public repository does not?!). If they’re going to continue to push that line of thinking, they can’t then turn around and declare papers published because they’re in the arXiv!

  5. Almost every month when I read Notices of the American Mathematical Society I read an article about open access and the practice of using preprint servers (which is endemic in mathematics). Almost every issue contains at least two discussions of these issues: in letters to the editor, in the editorials, or in Scripta Manent, a monthly feature about publishing. Notices also regularly publishes analyses of publishing in mathematics. There are also in-depth technical articles on the technology of publishing. For those of you not familiar with Notices, it’s a society magazine, with glossy paper, published on a monthly basis.

    Why the difference? Are those who call themselves mathematicians just so much more forward thinking? Less possessive of their ideas? Does math require less work, and so people are less possessive?

    Why do we not see this sort of coverage in TREE? I point this out because the AMS is also a publisher (they publish a hell of a lot of books and several rather huge print and online journals), and certainly would seem to benefit from the possessive tactics espoused by society publishers like ESA and for-profit publishers like Elsevier. And yet they do things totally differently. Why?

  6. Pingback: ESA journals and Ecology Letters will not publish papers with preprints | Dynamic Ecology

  7. It’s an interesting question. I’ve definitely noticed differences across fields in the general interest in, and discussion of, the process of scholarly communication. My impression is that most ecologists just haven’t really thought about these things and in many cases don’t want to. So, I guess I’m not sure that it’s a difference in the publishers necessarily, so much as a difference in the researchers in different fields. I suspect this may be one reason why the ESA ship is turning so slowly at a time when it needs to be pivoting rapidly, we just don’t have a good culture of thinking and talking about these things.

  8. Thank you very much for this post! I’m a huge fan of arXiv in part because it was one of the few sources I had access to at some point.

    Writing a formal opinion letter in some journal could be interesting. I proposed the idea on twitter but I’m not sure I’m the right person to do this, there are a few legal questions I’m not familiar with.

  9. “…one reason why the ESA ship is turning so slowly…”

    As I said over on Dynamic Ecology, in my admittedly-limited experience, both ESA and Ecology Letters are largely run by people who are very confident in the correctness of their policies, and who take outside input mostly as an opportunity to “educate” outsiders on why ESA and EcoLetts operate the way they do.

    ESA’s journals are also run by a large committee, and large committee are of course not noted for their nimbleness. Not sure how many folks at EcoLetts actually have a vote on their policies.

    Perhaps the ESA will change their policy on this, but I’d be surprised. And as for EcoLetts, I would guess that they would only change any aspect of their policies on anything in response to stagnation or decline of their impact factor.

  10. Yeah, my impressions are the same as yours. The reason why I’m bothering with this is that I think ESA is a really important society whose influence is going to wain substantially among the younger generation if they can’t demonstrate a reasonable commitment to openness at at least some level. Things like allowing publication of preprints and text mining are basically no-lose situations, and that’s why it’s so surprising that a society that otherwise operates with the best interests of science in mind is willing to hurt itself by not allowing them.

  11. Pingback: arXiving our papers | gcbias

  12. Philippe – I completely missed responding to your comment in the midst of running all over the place traveling.

    Thank *you* for actually bringing all of this up and for taking a brave position for a young researcher to post everything as preprints even if it has consequences for the journals you can publish in.

    I agree that a formal opinion piece, especially one explaining why this is important, could be valuable in reaching a broader audience. I’m happy to participate in such a thing, and maybe even lead it if necessary. Feel free to ping me in a couple of weeks when I’ve survived the end of the summer rush and we can chat more about the possibility.

  13. I wrote a guest blog post for the INNGE (not published yet) but an opinion piece would be even better. Of course it would be great if you were part of it! I’ll send you an email.

  14. Great discussion Ethan, and I’m eagerly waiting to hear how ESA responds to this. It does seem that they will become less relevant if they continue their current policies. Reading through the comments, I noticed that one of the cited reasons for the policy was to maintain the author’s ability to sign over copyright to ESA. Has anybody asked them about that policy as well? Shouldn’t the author be able to keep copyright and assign a non-exclusive, irrevocable right to copy to ESA, like maybe a CC-BY license? Other than their business model which assumes a relationship between subscriptions and ESA’s ability to limit access to papers, are there any reasons why they should need to be assigned copyright? And while we have the ESA board considering policy changes, maybe we should throw this one over the wall as well.

  15. Hey Matt – Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    I believe you are correct that the only justification behind assigning copyright at the moment is a business one and that guaranteed rights to publish can replace this. In fact it’s becoming increasingly common for journals not to ask for copyright assignment and to replace it with an exclusive license. In most cases it’s nothing close to CC-BY though, it’s basically the same thing as assigning copyright in terms of restricting the author’s ability to distribute the paper, but it *could* be anything the journal wants. I would obviously love to see ESA move to an open access model and publish everything under CC-BY. The entire field of academic publishing is moving that way and I think it would be to ESA’s benefit (not to mention the benefit of science) to move sooner rather than later.

    Now is definitely the time to bring these ideas to ESA’s attention since I understand they are actively discussing the future of the journals in the modern era. Morgan and I are working on a post with some of our ideas, but I’d also encourage you and anyone else to make suggestions (either publicly or privately) to folks at ESA so that they can consider them moving forward.

  16. Pingback: ESA journals will now allow papers with preprints « Jabberwocky Ecology | Weecology's Blog

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