Effects of Open Access on Scientific Publishing

In May 2017, we sat down with ECS Senior Vice President Yue Kuo and ECS’s newly elected 3rd Vice President Stefan DeGendt at the 231st ECS Meeting in New Orleans. The conversation was led by Roque Calvo, ECS’s executive director and chief executive officer.

Kuo joined ECS in 1995. Since then, he has been named ECS fellow and served as an editor for both the Journal of The Electrochemical Society and the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology. His research efforts have made a tremendous mark on the scientific community, earning him the ECS Gordon E. Moore Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Solid State Science in 2015.

DeGendt is also an ECS fellow and was recently elected to the Society’s board of directors. Since joining ECS in 2000, DeGendt has participated in the organization of several meeting symposia and currently serves as a technical editor of the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology.

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Roque Calvo: What makes ECS’s Free the Science initiative important and innovative?

Yue Kuo: My way of thinking about Free the Science is consistent with another trend for the world: democracy. Democracy, in principal, is the idea that everyone has the right to be involved. Free the Science has a similar purpose. Free the Science basically says that human beings should have the freedom to access knowledge.

There are two parts to Free the Science. One is from the perspective of the people who create the science. How do they distribute it to the public? The other part is access. For the general public, how do they get access to knowledge available to them?

What we are doing is different than many others in the field. Free the Science provides the chance for the free flow of science from the creator of the knowledge to the one how needs to use it.

RQ: How does the Society’s Free the Science initiative integrate with changes in technology?

Stephen DeGendt: We really want to go for the platinum level open access, where the information would be freely available for all of the possible customers but also free for authors to submit to that publication.

Of course this is a challenging task because there’s a cost incurred with the whole review, publishing, and editing process. Free the Science, to me, does not mean science for free. Democratizing the information is a noble initiative, but that doesn’t make the cost disappear. In the past, the cost was mainly associated with the printing, printing, editing, and review process. Right now, with the massive amount of information that becomes available, the cost is basically hidden in that fact that you need a massive amount of data storage, which also has a cost to make that information available and accessible. In freeing the science, I think societies like ECS will play a very important role because we’re an independent, non-commercial organization that has no commercial needs from the publishing side.

RQ: Explain why the peer review process is such an important piece of scholarly publications.

SD: Peer review is a crucial aspect in science. The value of science is that you generate data and data never lies, but the interpretation of the data is the aspect of discussion. Peer review helps in making sure that discussion part is a reflection the state of technology and a verification of the information; that the interpretation is done correctly according to scientific standards. Scientific standards include not only the technical correctness and the scientific correctness, but also the ethical aspects of not duplicating information and citing the correct sources.

YK: Because the internet allows for the spread of knowledge, there’s a lack of control. For publications, it’s important to give a guide on how to publish a reliable paper. The review process for journals works to provide reliable data. There are many publications and ideas, but through the review process, we can control the quality of the publication. If the quality is good, in this field it would generally mean that others can repeat a result. All papers in our journals go through rigorous review, so they warrant the quality.

SD: If Free the Science is a democratic process to bring the information to society, then I think that process also involves verifying the validity and correctness of the data; that there is no wrong information being distributed. We have to be extremely careful in that process that we maintain those quality standards.

RQ: Explain the journal impact factor and the merit of the somewhat controversial metric.

SD: The question is: is the impact factor important for the author or important for the organization? I think we are living in a society where we want to measure everything and we want to measure performance. But can you measure science performance?

I think the best value to measure science performance is the appreciation from your colleagues, for which conferences are the ideal platform. Of course then you need a metric, and that metric is typically defined by the impact factor and the number of citations. I tend to believe that this has been introduced by the bureaucracy to some extent to measure and to evaluate people worldwide. Still, it is important because it gives a guidance to young and established authors on where they can find relevant information.

But the impact factor isn’t everything. You have to see the impact factor in a domain. If you’re working in a small domain, you may never be able to publish in journals with the highest impact factors, but you may find your work in a valuable journal with a low impact factor that is read by your peers. Then you’re making impact to your domain. So I have some mixed feelings on the value of impact factors.

YK: Impact factor is a convenient way to evaluate a big field. Impact factor is usually determined similar to the ranking of a university. There are different ways to rank universities and there are different rules that take into consideration which factors are most important. It’s not the best idea, but it might be useful. When people see impact factor, their minds immediately think of the quality of the journal. That can be misleading.

For example, our journal has something that is never shown in the impact factor: we have Nobel winners publishing papers. These people are publishing 10 or more papers in our journal. Those papers are a critical factor, I believe, for people in the Nobel Prize committee that determines winners. But those important factors will never show up in the impact factor. Impact factor can be a reference, but we should make clear the things that exist in our journal that do not show up in the impact factor.

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