On Refusing to Review for Chromosome Research

As I have been doing for the last few years, I recently declined a review invitation from the Springer-owned closed access journal Chromosome Research using The Asburner Response. In the past, I have had mainly positive responses from editor’s concerning my decision not to review for them.

However the most recent reply I received from Dr. Herbet Macgregor troubled me (below), since I think it reveals many of the misconceptions and challenges (see points 2 and 9 especially) that we are up against in terms of getting our peers and colleagues to understand the principles of the Open Access movement. Nevertheless, it is clear that my refusal to review in this case has made some small progress — with Springer’s Open Access policy being more clearly displayed on the Chromosome Research home page, and internal dialogue about the Open Access issue being raised by the journal staff.

I will continue to post similar refusual replies, so that the dialogue on this issue is made more transparent for those involved in the Open Access movement.

And remember to keep the closed access reviewer boycott alive after the SOPA/PIPA/RWA madness is behind us!


From: Herbert Macgregor <herbert.macgregor@xxx.xxx>
Date: 19 January 2012 18:34:18 GMT
To: <casey.bergman@xxx.xxx>
Cc: <conlyrieder@xxx.xxx>, Walther Traut <traut@xxx.xxx>, “Butler, Peter, Springer SBM NL” <Peter.Butler@xxx.xxx>
Subject: Fw: CR

Dear Dr. Bergman,

Professor Walther Traut, one of our Associate Editors has passed your comments on reviewing and Open Access journals to me for comment.

I have the impression that you have joined the current movement in the USA to persuade major science publishers that science should be free for all rather than for sale: a principle that I and my colleagues on Chromosome Research strongly uphold, of course.  I would, however, like to make the following points about your comments to Professor Traut.

(1) How do we manage to get up to 700 downloads of individual papers in just one month if nobody is supposed to be reading them because they’re not OA? look at our website and frequently downloaded papers.

(2)  Where do authors get the money to pay $3000 to pay for OA?  Answer – the taxpayer or the chariity!  Publication in CR is FREE.

(3)  CR does offer Open Choice at the same cost as it would charge for Open Access (too much, I agree, but we’re working on that) – so why do only about 5% of our authors opt for this?

(4) All our authors are recommended to place their papers in their Institutional Repositories and most do (many are required to do so).  They are then freely available world-wide through any of the major search engines – and nobody has to pay anything at all!

(5)  The publication programme for CR is currently incompatible with OA, mainly on account of our Special Issues – which happen to be freely downloadable, courtesy of our publisher.

(6)  The matter of OA for CR is currently under discussion between ourselves (editors) and Springer sbm, with the interests of our authors, readers and chromosome science very much at heart. We are very well aware of all the pros and cons and moral principles and I am confident that our future policy will be very much in keeping with all that is best in modern science publishing.

(7) We are constantly watching the OA debate and we are able to direct Chromosome Research within the framework of modern trends in science publishing.

(8) Although  some of the major science publishers may seem to be profiting from their publication of taxpayer funded science, they nonetheless perform an extremely  valuable and important role and are currently working hard with editors and scientists to adjust to the opportunities and demands of the internet age.

(9) I would suggest that to use the crusade for OA as an excuse for refusing to review is in denial of the responsibilties of a publicly or charitably funded academic and scientist.  OA or not, peer review is at the very epicentre of scientific progress amd we should uphold it, come what may.

(10) We, the editors of CR, would welcome further debate with you, although we would naturally prefer that you devote your valuable time and expertise to helping us with the assessment of manuscripts submitted to our journal.

(11) You may not know that BMC is now owned by Springer, so you can be confident that the incentive to “modernise” is strong!

We are grateful to you for alerting us to the fact that we nowhere declare publicly our journal’s policy with regard to OA.  This we should do without delay.  The essence of it is that we offer authors Open Choice and we encourage them to place their  papers on their institution’s repository. The only restriction on the latter is that they may not use the publisher’s final pdf, which I am sure you will agree is fair enough.  All our Special Issue papers are freely downloadable.

Lastly and from am entirely personal standpoint, you should understand that for/against OA is not a simple black/white issue. I have been publishing in science journals for 53 years and editing them for 40 years and I would ask you to give persons like myself credit for understanding and acting in the best interests of our profession.

With best wishes

Herbert Macgregor
Chromosome Research

cc Conly Rieder

cc Prof. Walther Traut
Associate Editor

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6 Responses to “On Refusing to Review for Chromosome Research”

  1. 1 Neil Lawrence January 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Point 9 is ridiculous. Is he saying that we are obliged to provide our services for free to publishers so that they can sell the results citing all the value we added?

    Not sure what you mean about confusion on point 2 though. Biology journals do seem to be charging a ridiculous amount for open access.

    • 2 caseybergman January 20, 2012 at 10:36 am

      Agreed about point 9.

      The confusion on point 2 is that it is not free to publish in closed access journals. Universities subsidize page charges through purchasing journal subscriptions via indirect costs. Thus we do use taxpayer, student fee and charity funds to publish in closed access journals, just indirectly. Saying it is free to publish in closed access journals is short sighted and ignores the wider economics of scientific publishing, which are in fact a zero-sum game. We already pay to support the entire publishing industry, we should not however give away our product and pay for it twice. See Mike Eisen’s recent piece for another perspective on this point: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/11/opinion/research-bought-then-paid-for.html

  2. 3 Jeremy Leipzig February 7, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I am surprised Dr. Macgregor suggested 700 downloads/month is somehow evidence working in favor of closed access. This number seems quite low.

  1. 1 Why I will no longer review for your journal « Jabberwocky Ecology | Weecology's Blog Trackback on January 27, 2012 at 1:27 pm

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