President’s Blog, December 2013

Posted on December 20, 2013
John Challis

Professor John P Paul, 1927-2013

As this issue of ISB Now was in preparation one of our Past-Presidents passed away.  John Paul was president of the International Society for Biomechanics from 1987 to 1989 and was the winner of the Muybridge Medal at the Congress in Tokyo in 1997.  Although in his 80's, he attended the Cape Town Congress in 2009, and it was great to hear his Scottish brogue asking questions or making comments to delegates.  He made significant contributions as an administrator, and researcher.  There have been many personal recollections of Prof. Paul on Biomch-l, these spoke to his intellectual rigor but gentlemanly nature – this corresponds with all of all of my dealings with him.  The next ISB Congress will be hosted by his old Department, plans are already in place to acknowledge his contributions when we meet in Glasgow in 2015.  More details about Professor Paul can be found elsewhere in this issue of ISB Now.

There hardly seems to be a day that goes by without me receiving an email from a journal asking for a submission.  There are certain journals I would be delighted to receive such an invitation from, but many come from journals I do not know.  Most of these journals are open-access journals, meaning they are available freely to the reader on-line.  The Directory of Open Access Journals lists close to 10,000 journals, which is an increase of more than 1,600 from last year.  With this rate of growth these figures are probably out of date as I type.  Most of these journals rely on charges to the authors of the paper, rather than the traditional model of their income arising from library and personal subscriptions to the journal.  This is a flipping of the traditional model but perhaps has also heralded other changes.

Research Councils in the United Kingdom have mandated that all the research they fund should be published in journals where access to the paper is freely available.  Both the European Union and The US White House Office of Science and Technology Policy are exploring similar requirements.  In effect tax payers who pay for the research can now read it.  So some authors have to pay for their funded research to be published in an open-access journal, or some of the traditional journals now have the option that you can pay to have your paper freely available on-line.

The growth of these open-access journals is not only indicated by their number but in the number of articles they publish.  For example, PLoS ONE when first published in 2006 had just 138 articles in the year, but by 2012 that number had risen to over 23,000.  There have been some papers on biomechanics in PLoS ONE which I have found very interesting, but some would argue that other open-access journals do not always publish the same quality of work as their older rivals.

So the positives of open-access journals are that the work is freely available, papers are typically published quickly, and some of the journals allow readers to offer a commentary on published papers, therefore increasing scientific debate.  Some of these journals are considered more open to the publishing of negative results, as they only ask reviewers to comment on the validity of the hypotheses and the methods.  An initial drawback is that the author needs to have the funds for the publication fee, which for some may be a significant constraint (some open-access journals do offer to sometimes waive this fee).  Under the older model, journals were purchased by libraries so librarians could exert some type of quality control over the journals they subscribed to.  I have been asked on a number of occasions by my institution’s library which journals in biomechanics they should subscribe to.  This, along with the peer review process, in theory meant that only quality journals and papers were published.  This does not seem a perfect model, but what is the model for many of the open-access journals?  It is relatively easy for a publisher to start a journal if the main requirements for the business are a server and some cheap software.  The quality control then rests with the editor of the journal and the reviewers.  This quality control is circumvented if a journal is run by a so call predatory publisher.

A predatory publisher is a company which publishes journals, often with very grand sounding journal titles, charges for publishing but makes little effort to solicit or use feedback peer review.  A recent article in Science illustrates this problem very well (Bohannon, J. 2013.  Who’s afraid of peer review? Science 342:60-65).  John Bohannon created a series of fake scientific papers which he submitted versions of to 304 open-access journals.  The papers he created contained grave errors including gross misinterpretation of the results of the “study”, he also invented the names of the authors and their institutions.  The paper was accepted for publication by 157 of the journals, rejected by 98, and was still in limbo for the remaining 49 journals at the time his article in Science was published.  There was evidence of a review process in only 106 of the journals, and many of these were focused on the paper’s layout not on the scientific content.  Only 36 of the reviews identified any of the papers problems but editors accepted 16 of those anyway.  Clearly not all open-access journals operate in such a cavalier mode – but some will publish any submission as long as the authors pay.

As members of the scientific community we should all be worried about predatory publishing as it diminishes all of our scientific efforts.  What can we do?  Try and avoid these journals, although they may be hard to spot.  As always show due diligence when performing reviews.  Educate our students about the value of the peer review process and the difference between a good journal and one which is simply out to make money.

biomechanics The International Society of Biomechanics was officially formed at the 4th International Seminar on Biomechanics at Penn State.  To mark that event there is a historical marker on the Penn State University campus.  I walk passed that marker everyday on my way to my office, and it reminds me of the work of the ISB (and the ISB emails I need to respond to).  The marker was unveiled in the summer of 2009, now winter is upon us in North America and the marker is currently surrounded by snow.  This season marks the end of the year, so ISB membership renewal notices should be arriving in your inboxes soon.  Please be sure to renew your membership and encourage others in your lab to join the ISB.



John Challis

Penn State University


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