Editors quit leading neuroscience journal in protest over open access fees

Neuroimaging research is at the center of a dispute over open access publication fees.Credit: iStock/Getty

More than 40 editors have resigned from two leading neuroscience journals in protest at what the editors say are excessively high article processing fees (APCs) set by the publisher. They say the fees, which publishers use to cover editing services and, in some cases, make money, are unethical. The publisher, the Dutch company Elsevier, says its fee provides researchers with above-average quality publishing services for a below-average price. The publishers plan to launch a new journal hosted by nonprofit publisher MIT Press.

The decision to step down came after much discussion among the editors, says Stephen Smith, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, UK, and editor of one of the journals, NeuroImage. “Everyone agreed that APC was unethical and unsustainable,” says Smith, who will lead the new journal’s editorial team, Imaging Neurosciencewhen launched.

The 42 academics who made up the editorial teams of NeuroImage and its accompanying diary NeuroImage: Reports announcement their resignations on April 17. Journals are open access and require authors to pay fees for publishing services. APC for NeuroImage is $3,450; NeuroImage: Reports bills $900, which will double to $1,800 starting May 31. Amsterdam-based Elsevier says APCs cover the costs associated with publishing an article in an open access journal, including editorial and peer review services, editing, typesetting, archiving , indexing, marketing and administrative costs. Andrew Davis, vice president of corporate communications at Elsevier, says NeuroImageis lower than that of the closest comparable journal in its field, and that the publisher’s APCs are “set in accordance with our policy [of] offering above-average quality for below-average price”.

Item Costs

Publishers have introduced APCs – part of a pay-to-publish model – as an alternative to pay-to-read subscriptions, as journals become increasingly freely accessible and researchers typically pay for APCs out of their own funds. grant. Journal APCs vary, usually depending on factors such as publisher size, proportion of articles sent for peer review, and parameters such as impact factor, as well as whether they employ editors and in-house press officers. The Lancet Neurology, published by Elsevier, has an APC of $6,300; the costs to Natural Neurosciences, published by Springer Nature, is $11,690; And Mapping of the human brain, published by Wiley, charges $3,850. (NatureThe press team of is editorially independent Natural neuroscience and Springer Nature.)

THE NeuroImage the publishers say the fees exclude many researchers based in countries where research is not well funded. They think fees don’t reflect the direct costs of articles and say it’s wrong for publishers to profit from science they haven’t funded.

Elsevier says it is committed to advancing open access to research and has programs in place to support researchers in poorer countries. Davis says Elsevier helps researchers in 120 low- and middle-income countries gain affordable access to nearly 100,400 peer-reviewed resources, through a public-private partnership called Research4Life. He adds that Elsevier automatically applies fee waivers or discounts to publish articles in fully open access journals when all authors are in a low-income country.

NeuroImage launched in 1992, and became open access in 2020 with an APC of $3,000, which has been raised twice. NeuroImage: Reports launched in 2021 to publish results, including null results and methods. In June last year, the publishers, led by Smith, asked Elsevier to lower NeuroImageAPC under $2,000. Smith says Elsevier told them it was unlikely, but would arrange further meetings. In March this year, the editors announced to the publisher that they would resign if the APC could not be reduced. “We then had further discussions with Elsevier, but they ultimately refused to cut the APC,” Smith says.

The publisher is disappointed with the editorial team’s decision, Davis said. “We have engaged constructively with them over the past two years during the transition NeuroImage become a fully open access journal,” says Davis. The newspaper will continue as normal, he adds. “The resigning editors will continue to manage articles already submitted and the new editorial team will take care of all new articles. We haven’t announced their names yet, but they will be added to the website soon.

Merged log

The publishers decided to create an open access journal with MIT Press, based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Ted Gibson, member of the editorial board of MIT Press and editor of its cognitive science journal Open mind, looks forward to hosting the new title. “These editors did it the right way. I think it’s a slow process, but eventually more scientists will quit for-profit journals,” Gibson says.

The journal’s move echoes a 2019 case, in which the editorial board of a scientometric journal Elsevier – the Journal of Informetics — resigned in protest of the publisher’s open access policies, including the journal’s APCs. The researchers launched a free-to-read journal with MIT Press called Quantitative Scientific Studies (QSS)with the same editorial board.

The new neuroimaging journal will similarly bring together all of the editors of both journals and merge them into one, Smith says. “This is great news for Imaging Neuroscience – that means we can start with an incredible team of over 40 world-renowned scientists who already work very well together.

The APC for the newspaper has yet to be set, Smith says, but they aim to make it no more than half of NeuroImagefee of $3,450.

Lucina Uddin is a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles and one of the resigning editors. She had been editor-in-chief at NeuroImage since 2019. “I remember publishing my first article in NeuroImage as a graduate student and felt like I had really arrived as a scientist,” she says. “It was a difficult decision to decide to walk away from a journal that many of us see as the starting point for sharing our research.”

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