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International Society for Computational Biology
Publishing Survey Results


August 13, 2004
Scholarly publishing is one of the major roles of a scientific society, to allow dissemination of research in the society's field. On August 3, 2004 the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) sent a survey via email to all of its members in an effort to include their input in the current evaluation of its journal affiliation. Below are the questions asked, corresponding results from the 197 member responses (approximately 10% of the current membership), and verbatim comments from all who responded by the August 13, 2004 deadline.

Current affiliation and approaches (197 responses)
ISCB has as its current official journal Bioinformatics, published by Oxford University Press under a traditional subscription publishing model with all articles freely available to the public via the OUP website 12 months after publication. A variety of additional journals are also available to ISCB members at a discounted rate, each with its own publishing model and levels of open access (see www.bdbulles.com/iscb-publications-journals for more details). Are you satisfied with the Society’s current scientific publishing mechanism and affiliation, or do you think it should be changed?
  1. Strongly prefer current affiliation and approach—46 (23%)
  2. Weakly prefer current affiliation and approach—49 (25%)
  3. Don’t care—18 (9%)
  4. Weakly prefer new affiliation and approach—39 (20%)
  5. Strongly prefer new affiliation and approach—35 (18%)
  6. Don’t know anything about current affiliation and approach—10 (5%)
48% strongly/weakly prefer current affiliation & approach
38% strongly/weakly prefer new affiliation & approach

Traditional subscription model versus open access (197 responses)

The subscription model of publishing involves publishers charging a fee for printed versions a journal (around $1000 for institutions, about $150 to individuals; free or discounted access to developing nations). These subscription fees pay the publisher’s costs in having the article reviewed, edited, typeset, and published. In this model, authors of papers pay modest or no page fees, as well as often charges for color figures (typically $500/page). The journal is exclusively available to subscribers for a period of at least six months after publication. This model minimizes costs to authors and has the “consumer” pay.

In the open access model, authors must pay a fee of $500-$1500 to cover reviewing, editing, typesetting. (Fee waivers are available to those without publication funds.) The article is freely available for all immediately upon publication. Paper versions may also be bought for the cost of printing. This model ensures everyone can access the articles and the research is immediately available for readers as well as text-mining, indexing, and redistribution (see http://www.nature.com/nature/debates/e-access/ for more information on open access). What is your preference?
  1. Strongly prefer traditional subscription model—29 (15%)
  2. Weakly prefer traditional subscription model—21 (11%)
  3. Don’t care—10 (5%)
  4. Weakly prefer open access—32 (16%)
  5. . Strongly prefer open access—105 (53%)
26% strongly/weakly prefer traditional subscription model
69% strongly/weakly prefer open access

Role of the Society in selecting editors (193 responses)

The scientific leadership of a journal comes from the Executive Editor (also called the Editor-in-Chief). What do you feel about the importance of the Society’s role in selecting an executive editor as well as other members of the editorial board?
  1. Prefer publisher solely select editors—9 (4%)
  2. Appropriate for publisher to select editors with Society input—44 (23%)
  3. Appropriate for both publisher and Society to jointly appoint editors—98 (51%)
  4. Feel it is necessary for Society to have ultimate control over editors—42 (22%)
Scientific Scope (188 responses)
In the Society’s current official journal, do you feel that the scientific scope is appropriate?
  1. The scope is too broad—7 (4%)
  2. The scope is appropriate—128 (68%)
  3. The scope is too narrow—36 (19%)
  4. Don’t know—17 (9%)
Comments (14 subject specific and 18 general comments received out of 197 total survey respondents)Specific Comments:
Added specifically after the question regarding current affiliation and approaches:
  • Hard to answer without information on possible new affiliation (selected option 2 to weakly prefer current affiliation and approach)
  • I guess 2 is my choice (Weakly prefer current affiliation and approach). I would like to see the ISCB to use its influence to have all the journals we associate with move to the open access model. I know that such costs will be prohibitory for some authors but I think the open access model is a better business model in the long run.
  • prefer current journals, but would like open access
  • Strongly prefer non-OUP
Added specifically after the question regarding traditional model vs open access preference:
  • with downloadable pdf's (selected option 5)
  • I guess 4 is my choice (Weakly prefer open access). I would like to see the ISCB to use its influence to have all the journals we associate with move to the open access model. I know that such costs will be prohibitory for some authors but I think the open access model is a better business model in the long run.
  • with strong focus on minimizing cost structure & maintaining availability for independent / under funded researchers (selected option 5 - Strongly prefer open access)
  • In principle would be 5 (Strongly prefer open access), but the current request for the authors are too high
Added specifically after the question regarding role of the society in selecting editors:
  • No preference, as long as the journal is doing a good job
Added specifically after the question regarding scientific scope:
  • It varies from issue to issue, I have not seen the latest yet
  • but not strongly, actually- the scope is not bad, currently (selected option 3 - The scope is too narrow)
  • Broad terms are used in the description of the scope but I'm not sure what subcategories fall within these terms. I would like to see phylogenetic analysis of genomic data through computational approaches added/included within the scope of the journal.
  • I would like to see more structure-related papers. Also more papers that describe joint experimental and computational work.
  • Too narrow. I would like to see more genomics of the type published in Genome Research (esp. the methods articles) in addition to the current algorithmic/software focus.
General Comments:
  • Thank you very much for seeking input from members, I hope the results will be available too.
  • I think that we (ISCB) should do everything that we can to encourage any of the publishers that were are affiliated with to release articles within 6 months of publication. And to strongly encourage completely open access.
  • The Society may which to have 2 official journals: one traditional and one open-access. It is vitally important that
    1. we do not support one of the "rip-off" publishers that sets astronomically high fees for libraries and never provides free access
    2. the quality of the scientific content of the journal is kept as high as possible, even at the expense of smaller publications. We do not our name associated with "bottom-feeder" journals.
    3. cost be kept reasonable
    4. archives that can be kept for at least 50 years are guaranteed (a potential problem with open-access, electronic-only journals---what happens to the content if the publisher fails?)
  • Please strongly consider going to the open access model. As a person who often works with small biotechnology firms, and no current academic affiliation, it is very difficult and expensive to get access to quality journal articles.
  • I would like to see additional sections in the "official" journal dealing with non-scientific interests: academic articles, running bioinformatics core centers, etc.
  • The open access model is very attractive at first sight. But, on the long run it will have to demonstrate its effectiveness (e.g.: Is the economic model really sustainable for the huge number of scientific publication existing to date? ...). So we should not a priori highly rate this model. We need to see how it stands with our expectations when it really faces the real world constraints.
  • On open access journals: The fees charged for current open access journals seem prohibitively high for any but very well-funded researchers to be able to seek publication. I would favor moving to an open access model for Society journals if and only if a way can be found to reduce the price per article to a level that brings it within the reach of grad students and less-well-funded researchers. As a rule of thumb, the price per article for an open access journal should be no greater than the price of a year's individual subscription to a traditional journal.
  • On journal subscriptions: The message "At the moment you are not able to upgrade your subscriptions. We hope to have this option available soon." has been on the subscriptions management page (http://www.bdbulles.com/mem_new_journal.php) for some time ... Members should be able to change subscription status at any time.
  • I think there should be
    1. a New Programs, Website, and Databases section, to be published online only. Currently, much too many announcements of new tools end up in print, with many of them being obsolete by the time they are published
    2. a Methods section that can have a broad scope of both in-silico only methods and also approaches that are closer to the wet-lab. This could either be in print or also online only (like the NAR methods section)
    3. if the journal is not Open Access, then the very least ISCB should negotiate is free online access for its membership (the way it used to be with Bioinformatics).
  • I would like to see Bioinformatics focus more on biological information rather than the bioinformatics of biology. By this I mean that papers dealing with the passage of genetic information from the genome to the proteome and to the structure and function of macromolecules and eventually to the phenotype of the organism are more fundamental than papers dealing with LIMS systems or instrumentation. I would like the biology to be more central to papers in the future.
  • A serious problem with the journal Bioinformatics is the time the journal takes from review to publication. From my experience, and the one of colleagues, it appears that a one year delay from submission to the time the article appears in press is not unusual, and this is just plainly unacceptable in a field that moves at a fast pace.
  • While I support an alternative, free access model, I strongly object to the proposed open-access model in which authors paying for publishing. It is both unfair to the authors who already pay for the research from grant money and put a lot of work and time into the writing and editing process. I also believe it can promote a "rich"-group-dominated science, publishing many small papers, while leaving little choice for "outsiders" and/or "poor" authors. Moreover, currently an author can buy the pdf from "conventional" journals and put it online individually, for a fraction of the open-access costs. I believe text should be freely available, but also believe that the financing model should be based on commercial sponsors and possibly advertisements, or special services provided for additional cost (e.g. a particularly effective search engine, hard copies, special copy editing services for authors etc.)
  • I think that the subscription to Bioinformatics should be available to ISCB members at a discounted rate.
  • In my view the open access model is the right one for 21'st century scientific publishing. The major public scientific societies should move as soon as possible to this model, since it truly disseminates scientific knowledge in real time. Having said that, it is important to keep the publishing fee low, since the costs of web publishing are minimal and the refereeing is done by volunteers. It is unthinkable, that a young scientist would be unable to publish his/her work due to high publication fees. To avoid this two major steps should be undertaken:
    1. There should be an Institutional publishing fee, so, that all the researchers in a University/Institute paying such a fee would be exempt from a personal publishing fee. This fee should be relatively low, comparable to an institutional journal subscription fee.
    2. Granting agencies, such as NSF, EU program, and national science foundations should be encouraged to appropriate grants in support of open access publications, based on the quality and scientific relevance of the journals. This could be an excellent opportunity both to encourage free dissemination of scientific ideas and both to preserve the high scientific quality of the web-based publications.
  • I think it would be unfortunate if ISCB terminated its association with Bioinformatics. I think the journal has done a lot for the field and for the society and I am pleased with the move toward open access. While I am a strong supporter of open access, I understand the financial constraints that Bioinformatics faces as OUP does not have the same sort of grant funded cushion that PLOS has. On the other hand, I do not think it would be inappropriate for the society to be affiliated with more than one journal. Bioinformatics could retain its focus but a new, more biologically focused journal that also emphasized computational approaches might allow us to reach a larger audience.
  • The current content-owned-by-publisher model makes it impossible to do full text open searches for content, needed for all sorts of plain text informatics searching. We must switch to a full open access model and stop giving our copyright to publishers who restrict access.
  • I am skeptical that open access will be a good way to change publishing in all the different sciences -- the cost of publishing is often shifted from the university/library as a whole to the individual research groups, which may often be problematic. However, I would strongly encourage journals to make their articles free of charge after a period of 6-12 months, the shorter the better, as it has already happened with some journals.
  • I feel that the Bioinformatics journal has a broad scope. This makes sense, since the field of Bioinformatics is broad as well. I should also wish to bring to your attention the fact that several colleagues frequently publish their research achievements and results in other journals. This is due to the fact that some specialized papers fit well into other journal's scope (or are probably of a wider interest) or that the Bioinformatics journal cannot hold all this huge nubmer of submitted papers, even though the last couple of years the number of issues per volume have substantially been increased. Well established journals specialized in other (marginally) related fields often publish special issues related to Bioinformatics (e.g. the NAR Database and Web-Server Issues). Perhaps, the ISCB could establish contacts with more publishers and Journals on Computational Biology/Bioinformatics. This could raise the impact/prestige of these journals, providing high quality alternatives for publishing or gaining access to specialized research in our field.

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