The British Ecological Society has announced that will now allow the submission of papers with preprints (formal language here). This means that you can now submit preprinted papers to Journal of Ecology, Journal of Animal Ecology, Methods in Ecology and Evolution, Journal of Applied Ecology, and Functional Ecology. By allowing preprints BES joins the Ecological Society of America which instituted a pro-preprint policy last year. While BES’s formal policy is still a little more vague than I would like*, they have confirmed via Twitter that even preprints with open licenses are OK as long as they are not updated following peer review.
Preprints are important because they:
- Speed up the progress of science by allowing research to be discussed and built on as soon as it is finished
- Allow early career scientists to establish themselves more rapidly
- Improve the quality of published research by allowing a potentially large pool reviewers to comment on and improve the manuscript (see our excellent experience with this)
BES getting on board with preprints is particularly great news because the number of ecology journals that do not allow preprints is rapidly shrinking to the point that ecologists will no longer need to consider where they might want to submit their papers when deciding whether or not to post preprints. The only major blocker at this point to my mind is Ecology Letters. So, my thanks to BES for helping move science forward!
*Which is why I waited 3 weeks for clarification before posting.
Whilst it is a positive step forward that BES journals will accept papers posted as preprints, the insistance that these only be versions pre-peer review should be cause for concern. To me, this indicates that BES and/or their publisher, Wiley, claim “ownership” of the contributions, freely-given, of the reviewers that provide evaluations of papers for BES’s journals. This policy also extends to papers not originally submitted to a preprint server; in providing Wiley/BES an exclusive license to publish the final manuscript, you would be in violation of that licence if you post the same version to a repository or your website (or at least it could be argued that you are). Indeed, you are explicitly forbidden from doing this, unless you seek permission from Wiley to do so, a process which will no doubt by painless, efficient, and quick.
And what about those manuscripts that require only very minor corrections? This may not be the norm, but the increasing use of a Reject-Resubmit decision in the BES journals I review for may see many manuscripts resubmitted (which as far as BES is concerned is a new submission) to journals in forms almost identical to the version the author will be required to provide an exclusive licence to publish. What does that mean for the pre-print that you’ve posted of this version? (This is one of the ambiguities you refer to above.)
I want to view this development in BES journal policy in a good light, but restricting what authors do with essentially works that they have supplied for free and are improved upon by the volunteer efforts of reviewers leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
I suspect this policy will have to change; if RCUK, NSF, and the EU policies, or Canada’s Tri-agency’s proposed policy, on open access are to be followed, the Green OA route requires that the final, non-typeset version of a manuscript be made available after some embargo period. Compliance with this either means BES and Wiley will have to change their retarded policy or add specific exceptions for a large swath of the research community.
Quite why BES didn’t get out in front of this and do something a little more adventurous is both disappointing and infuriating. It strikes an image of a Learned Society struggling to come to terms with new publishing models and in the process holding back access to knowledge; access to knowledge that they were set up to enable in the first place.
Hey Gavin – I, perhaps not surprisingly, agree that this current policy is far from sufficient for fully opening up the BES approach to publication so that it is fully in line with the scientific good. And I agree that the idea that journals can actively take ownership of the influence of volunteer peer review is problematic. In addition, the policy definitely still needs to be clarified and I have another response to the Journal of Ecology post (still stuck in moderation) that recommends specific language changes to the policy. As it stands it still does not act as a meaningful attempt to communicate the limits of the policy. All that being said I think that this policy change is still an important and meaningful step forward and one that deserves some recognition, hence the positive nature of the post.
As with other scholarly societies I think the apparent reticence to taking leadership roles in much needed changes to scientific publishing has three major roots:
1. Big groups run by senior folks are inherently conservative.
2. These groups see the current system as benefiting their societies monetarily and since they (probably inherently) believe in the things they are doing with that money change is seen as bad.
3. Influence from the associated publishers, who needless to say have a strong (short term) interest in maintaining the status quo.
That’s a hard combination to overcome, but I think that a combination of wins like this one and the OA policies you mention move us closer and closer to the point where it will simply be cheaper and easier for journals to move towards fully open policies.
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