Editor Explains 'New Philosophy' of Open Access Scientist-Run Journal


The new open access biomedical journal announced last month by a trio of research charities now has an editor-in-chief. He is cell biologist Randy Schekman, an HHMI investigator at the University of California, Berkeley, who now edits the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In a press release today, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Wellcome Trust, and Max Planck Society released a few more details about the online, completely free journal that will be edited entirely by active scientists and aim for speedy reviews. Schekman will spend half his time on the journal, which will also have a managing editor and two deputies. A board of 10-12 senior editors will be paid to spend 20% of their time on their journal duties. Schekman told ScienceInsider that reviewers will also be paid, probably with an annual retainer. Here are more comments edited for brevity:

Q: Most academic scientific journals, including PNAS, are edited by working scientists. So how is this different?

R.S.: There's a different philosophy. One of the great strengths of PNAS is that it is a journal run by members of the academy. But as a result, since they take such an active role, they're given the privilege of contributing up to four papers of their own each year with consultation with referees that they select themselves, so it's not anonymous.

What's different about this new journal is that although the sponsoring organizations have prominent investigators, these investigators will have no such special privileges.

The other difference is that my hope is that the board of this new journal will be more broadly constituted and will consist not only of people who are more senior but will also include of young people who are very vigorous in the field and have not risen to the lofty position of a member of the national academy.

Q: You're asking the senior editors to spend a day a week on this. Have you figured out how much you will pay them?

R.S.: That's certainly under active discussion. One of the problems we have is the burgeoning literature with so many papers published in so many journals, people are overwhelmed with reviewing responsibilities. The hope is to encourage people to carve out time for this by paying them.

Q: Will reviewers be paid per paper?

R.S.: My thought is to put them on an annual retainer. Something more uniform that can be handled without excessive bookkeeping.

Q: People have complained that this new open access journal doesn't appear to be breaking much new ground. What's your response?

R.S.: The principle of being open access, online, and free to everybody is obviously not new. I give PLoS [the Public Library of Science] particular credit for doing that. But what they then did, which will not be our model, is they immediately turned to the use of professional editors to make decisions.

Our commitment is to have both an open access journal and to have one where scientists are choosing the referees and vetting their comments and not asking authors to just do endless numbers of experiments, dragging things on for more than a year. ... Professional editors are fine people, they're knowledgeable, they're engaged in converstations about the science. We just have a feeling that it's better to rely on active scientists who can appreciate the author's point of view.

Q: But aren't you going to have a flood of papers to handle?

R.S.: I hope so. One problem with very high-end journals is that they restrict the number of papers that will be published in an issue. With an online journal one could have, say, a 20% acceptance rate and still have a fine journal and not be forced to make arbitrary decisions or to drag things out by asking authors to do endless numbers of experiments.

Q: Another criticism is that you don't have a business model.

R.S.: We have very generous support from the three founding organizations, enough to sustain us for several years. The promise is that we won't have to have any author fees or license fees the first 3 years. Then at that point we'll have to develop a business model. But I believe that we will continue to have support from these organizations so that the eventual rate that we'll have to charge the authors will be subsidized.