Control-F Bomb

Issue 55 · July 2023

Join the conversation on Twitter @Briefer_Yet and LinkedIn.

Did a colleague forward the The Brief to you? Sign up via the button below to get your very own copy.

International STM Publishing in China: State of the Market Report 2023

C&E recently released a report with Nicko Goncharoff of Osmanthus Consulting on China’s rapidly evolving STM journals sector. This in-depth report will help journal publishers – including societies – set a China strategy for this critically important market. Read key takeaways from our Q&A with Nicko on the C&E Perspectives blog, and learn more about the report and purchase options here.

C&E Perspectives: Audience Strategy for Publishers and Associations

As publishers and associations look to grow revenue and compete in the open access (OA) world, an audience-centric mindset is a must. A data-driven audience strategy serves not only an organization’s current customers, but also the broader global audience that engages with its products, content, and brand. In a recent piece from the C&E Perspectives blog, we dive into the distinctions between subsets of an organization’s “audience” and what it takes to build an effective audience strategy – and why it matters. Explore the article to learn more.

AI in Scholarly and Professional Communication

We strongly recommend Joe Esposito’s piece this month in The Scholarly Kitchen, “Who Is Going to Make Money from Artificial Intelligence in Scholarly Communications?” which explores the metaphors we use to think about artificial intelligence and offers suggestions on how publishers can make up lost ground.

Control-F Bomb


On July 13th, the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee released their proposed Fiscal Year 2024 bill for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. In that proposed bill, section 552 would block any funds from being used to “implement, administer, apply, enforce, or carry out the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s August 25, 2022, Memorandum to Executive Departments and Agencies entitled, ‘Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research’” (also known as the Nelson Memo). While some immediately jumped to the conclusion that this bill language was the result of publishing industry lobbying, the STM Association has told The Brief that they did not advocate for the inclusion of this language and only learned about it when it became public. 

Our sources suggest a much simpler explanation that has nothing to do with publishing or science policy per se. Rather, the language in the bill is a far more blunt instrument drafted by far-right members of Congress opposed to all things they perceive as “woke.” Essentially, a search for words such as “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “equity” turned up the Nelson Memo, which has the word “equitable” in its title, and thus it became one of the many government activities to be targeted for defunding by the bill.

The irony is that if the policies described in the Nelson Memo are implemented, it will (as we have discussed previously) create many inequities even as it eliminates others. While the policy may reduce access inequities facing readers of the research literature, it will shift those inequities onto authors, as the resulting transition to article processing charge (APC) Gold OA creates obstacles for anyone without sufficient research funding (inequities acknowledged in the economic analysis that accompanied the Memo). 

What happens next is unknown. Although the anti–Nelson Memo language in the appropriations bill may have come about because of partisan posturing, it has now opened the door for those critical of the policy’s initial implementation (the required notice to Congress was not given and the Memo’s accompanying economic analysis was poorly researched) to have their say. Furthermore, this anti-DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) move is just one among many, many attempted defundings from the House (search the draft bill for these words and you’ll see what we mean). If the Democrats and the White House have to pick their battles, is defense of the Nelson Memo high enough priority to make the cut?

cOAlition S No Longer Likes APCs


cOAlition S has decided it no longer likes the APC and has convened a working group, along with PLOS and Jisc, to identify alternative models. The working group is limited to 12 individual participants, representing “the three key stakeholders – funders, institutions/library consortia and publishers – in roughly equal proportions.” 

There are many drawbacks to APCs. The three they cite are:

  • They create barriers to participation for those with limited funds.
  • The rate of article growth is leading to ever-increasing costs for funders and research-intensive institutions.
  • The article is further embedded as the research output of value, blocking progress toward an Open Science ecosystem.

We suspect the second point is the most disagreeable to cOAlition S. 

Despite these drawbacks, we were surprised to see cOAlition S convene such a working group. For nearly 5 years, cOAlition S has nudged, pushed, and cajoled publisherstoward fully OA, APC-based publications. They even set up their Transformative Journal program to flip journals from hybrid to fully OA, which for most, if not all, such journals means a flip to APC-based publication. cOAlition S would likely argue that they have never endorsed the APC, which is technically true. But it is also true that no other established model both fulfills Plan S’s requirements and is economically viable for most publishers in the long run. And that may be the point: cOAlition S has realized the model they have been promoting (if indirectly) has many drawbacks. 

The Editors are Revolting


Funders are not the only ones increasingly disillusioned with the APC and the changes it often leads to in journals (such as higher article output, potentially of lesser quality). In the last month, two editorial boards have resigned en masse, the result of editors balking at publisher attempts to adapt to funder OA policies. The editors of Critical Public Health resigned because Taylor & Francis planned to take the journal from hybrid status to fully OA, as did those at Wiley’s Journal of Biogeography. Meanwhile the Design Research Society condemned Elsevier for its plans to greatly expand the publication volume of Design Studies from 35 articles per year to 250, presumably to make the journal sustainable in the volume-driven world of OA. These editorial revolts follow two others, as we discussed in the May issue of The Brief: the resignation of much of the editorial board of Wiley’s Journal of Political Philosophy over the firing of the journal’s editor-in-chief because of his refusal to increase the number of articles accepted each year and the editorial team behind Elsevier’s NeuroImage who similarly quit in protest, in response to perceptions that the journal’s APCs are too high. 

Two lessons can be learned from these revolts.The first – true long before OA policy became an issue – is that a community needs to own its journal, rather than just being associated with a journal owned by someone else. Journals are often the cornerstone of a research community. If that community wants some level of control over this key piece of community infrastructure, then ownership is essential. A publisher, particularly a commercial publisher such as those involved here, has fiduciary duties and, in the end, will do what’s best for business – in these cases, trying to make the journal sustainable. (When a society licenses publishing rights to a publisher, it retains ownership and control over editorial matters, and thus the right to control the destiny of that journal.) 

The second lesson is that this is just the beginning. Funder and governmental policies related to researcher publishing activities are drastically reshaping behaviors and responsibilities across the research community. Publishers (including societies) are trying to adapt their journals to survive in this new world. The changes can be dramatic and affect not only editors and editorial boards but also researchers and research communities. While it is understandable that certain editors and editorial boards have balked at the changes being implemented by publishers, it is less clear whether these research communities have significantly different alternatives. As they launch new journals, either owned by the community itself or via a joint venture with a different publisher, the publications will be subject to the same funder policies, costs of publishing, and market forces as the publisher-owned journals they are leaving behind. We do not mean to suggest they cannot make different choices – they of course can – but the range of potential alternatives may be more constrained than some departing editors may have hoped for. 

Meet the New JIF


Last month saw the annual release of the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) from Clarivate, which is either a day of celebration or mourning, depending on how your journal’s Journal Impact Factor (JIF) score fared. We are not supposed to care too much about JIF in this day and age, given DORA (the Declaration on Research Assessment) and other initiatives to reduce its perverse influences. Nonetheless, JIF still matters and many publishers will do a dance of crowing just the right amount about the JIF while noting they don’t put much stock in the score. “We were pleased to see our JIF climb by 2 points this year to 10.7 – and especially wish to point out how we are now ranked higher than our primary competitor, The Journal of Second Class Research, which is still wallowing in the single digits – although of course we don’t think looking at a citation average is a true proxy for quality.”

The 2023 JCR (which provides the 2022 JIF – citations in 2022 to papers published in 2021 and 2020) is different from past JCRs in many ways. This is the first year we know of where the total volume of citable items declined as compared with past years. At last check, the Web of Science (WoS) lists around 100,000 fewer articles published in 2022 than in 2021, and if one assumes each article contains 20–40 references, that means 2–4 million fewer citations to go around. The literature usually grows each year, so this is an unusual dynamic, largely caused by the receding wave of COVID-19 publications (both papers investigating COVID and those written up and submitted while researchers were shut out of their laboratories and offices during the initial phase of the pandemic). As the JIF is a lagging indicator, the effects of the pandemic paper surge will likely be visible for another year or two. A secondary contributor to the decline in overall citations in the most recent JCR may also be the relatively large number of journals that Clarivate delisted from the WoS this March. At least 50 journals were removed from the WoS, including the second-largest journal in the world. Although the removal of these journals is unlikely to significantly affect scores, it still results in fewer citations to go around.

While there are fewer overall citations, the impact may be greatest on journals that most benefited from papers about COVID. These papers, published in 2020, generated a lot of citations in 2021, leading to large jumps in JIF scores for journals that published the first COVID studies. The important papers published early were still being cited in 2022, but the case studies, editorials, and perspectives received many fewer citations. Journals that saw large JIF increases last year due to one or two heavily cited COVID papers have likely come back to earth as this effect attenuates.

As we discussed previously in The Brief, this year’s JCR brings the welcome expansion of the JIF to journals in the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI) and the Arts and Humanities CItation Index (AHCI). Previously, only journals in the Science Citation Index Expanded (SCIE) and the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) received JIFs. That means some 9,000 journals from 300 publishers received their first JIFs. Oddly, those journals with newly minted JIFs are displayed in their appropriate JCR subject categories, but are not officially ranked. So even if an ESCI journal has the fifth-highest JIF in the subject category, and it is slotted in the fifth spot in the category display, it exists in some sort of nebulous limbo and is not the fifth-ranked journal in the field – that would be the SCIE or SSCI journal with the next-highest JIF score. Clarivate explains that “journals indexed in AHCI and ESCI are receiving a JIF for the first time with the 2022 metrics, released in June 2023. They will not however receive a rank, quartile, or percentile. These values will be calculated with the release of the 2023 metrics in June 2024.” It isn’t clear why the extra year is needed, but for now it’s worth noting that the increased number of ties, and the listed but unranked journals, make a journal’s actual rank in its category more complex to sort out.

Another notable change in the new 2022 JCR is how Clarivate calculates and displays the JIF. Rather than going to the thousandths decimal place in its scores, the JIF is now rounded to the nearest tenth. For many, this is a welcome development, as the extensive run of numbers after the decimal point implied a false precision to the metric. But it has resulted in a large number of ties, where journals that could have been easily ranked by looking beyond the tenth place are now slotted into the same spot in their categories. One interesting thing to note as you peruse JCR categories: tied journals are sorted according to the journals’ Journal Citation Indicator (JCI) as a secondary source characteristic. The JCI is a metric introduced in 2021 that seeks to provide a “field-normalized measure of citation impact.”1

1 Note: This story has been corrected to indicate that the secondary sort characteristic in the JCR is based on the JCI. Originally the story stated that the secondary sort characteristic was alphabetical order based on the title. We regret the error.

Springer Nature Acquires


The ongoing consolidation of the infrastructure of scholarly communication continued this month as Springer Nature acquired, a (if not the) leading research methods repository. Open methods are likely the next step in the drive toward open science, and this acquisition is a strong, forward-looking move by Springer Nature that fits well with its existing portfolio. Springer Nature is already one of the leading publishers of protocols, including SpringerProtocols, a database of more than 66,000 protocols, and Protocol Exchange, which includes more than 1,700 protocols, many of which describe techniques used in Nature Portfolio journals. Their protocols flagship is Nature Protocols, whose editors commission authors to write protocols for cutting-edge technologies.
Despite earlier investments by EBSCO and the Genetics Society of America (not to mention the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation), it appears that the platform lacked necessary “resources and stability.” What this means for the many members of the research community that previously partnered with is an open question. The repository is an important component of PLOS’s open science strategy, and has long been integrated into many journals including GigaScience and GENETICS. As was the case with Wiley’s recent infrastructure acquisitions, we suspect most partners will continue using the service. As Joe Esposito and Roger Schonfeld wrote back in 2021, consolidation can bring benefits (along with market power). If Springer Nature invests significantly in this latest acquisition, it could potentially speed the broad uptake of open methods practices, improving reproducibility and research progress. Time will tell, but the ongoing concentration of essential infrastructure into the hands of a small number of market powers remains a concern for the wider community.



Annie Callanan has stepped down as CEO of Taylor & Francis.

Emilie Delquié has been named Silverchair’s SVP of Product and Customer Success, and Veronica Showers has joined the company as VP of Customer Success.

Leo S. Lo, Dean of the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences at the University of New Mexico, has been elected to the ACRL Board of Directors as Vice-President/President-Elect. 

Vikram Savkar has moved from his position leading Wolters Kluwer Health to become Executive Vice President and General Manager of the company’s Financial Compliance Solutions business.

ACS has named Mohammed Yahia as Editor-in-Chief of its weekly news magazine, Chemical & Engineering News.

Digital Science continues to reshape its executive team as Fedor Zeyer has been appointed Chief Financial Officer.

Briefly Noted


In other Nelson Memo news, draft public access implementation plans from several agencies were released over the past month. The Department of Energy’s plan, as with all previous agency plans released to date, largely follows the terms of the previous Holdren Memo, but with the embargo shortened from 12 months to zero. The accepted manuscript (or better) must be deposited in the agency’s PAGES repository by the funded author. The policy extends the Nelson Memo’s requirement for published articles to include “conference proceedings or papers that are subsequently published in a peer-reviewed journal.” The plan from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is notable in that it includes some hedges around the intellectual property rights associated with the funded researcher’s outputs. NIST suggests that a 12-month embargo may still be permissible, depending on the copyright status of the paper, and that NIST will further study the Code of Federal Regulations “to determine conditions under which awardees can deposit author manuscripts in institutional repositories.”

PLOS staff have officially unionized.

Ithaka S+R released a draft report on “Shared Infrastructure for Scholarly Communication” for community input

Stanford’s President resigned after a report found flaws in several of his lab’s research papers. “As a result of the review, Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was expected to request substantial corrections in the 2009 paper, published in Nature, as well as another Nature study. He also said he would request retraction of a 1999 paper that appeared in the journal Cell and two others that appeared in Science in 2001.” He will remain at Stanford as a faculty member. 

One of the biggest issues in rapidly correcting the research literature when problematic papers are published is the conflicts and delays created by inefficient and poorly coordinated interactions between journals and the host universities of the authors in question. While some have proposed resolving these delays by effectively severing questions of the paper’s accuracy from investigating potential malfeasance, a new effort published in JAMA Network Open offers a set of principles for enhancing these journal–university partnerships to better resolve issues of research integrity. These sorts of decisions got more complicated last month as a researcher filed a lawsuit against PLOS claiming “breach of contract, negligence, defamation, and unfair and deceptive trade practices” for the publication of an expression of concern about her paper.

Springer Nature released their second ever Annual Report. James Butcher took a closer look in his Journalology newsletter: “Revenues for the Research division grew by 4% to $1,312 billion, but the growth in publications was far more modest. Submissions grew by 6.6% from 1,436,320 (in 2021) to 1,530,608 (in 2022) but the number of published articles only grew by 1% from 406,495 (in 2021) to 410,769 (in 2022). 115,000 articles (28%) were published via the transfer cascade. MDPI and Frontiers are growing significantly faster, which is problematic for a company that’s looking to change owners.” Elsewhere, Springer Nature signed a three-year deal focusing on social sciences and humanities books with China’s Phoenix Publishing Media. For more background on the increasing importance for publishers to build bridges to their Chinese counterparts, see C&E’s recently released report on the state of the STM publishing market in China.

Lots of news on the rapidly developing artificial intelligence (AI) front. In legal matters, OpenAI is facing a class action lawsuit over the use of novels for training ChatGPT, and further suits were filed against OpenAI and Meta by authors Sarah Silverman, Christopher Golden, and Richard Kadrey. In what is a hopeful sign for content creators, OpenAI has signed a deal to license Associated Press news content for training. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health has declared that using AI tools in the peer review of grant applications is a breach of confidentiality and forbidden. Google’s medical AI chatbot has been in testing at the Mayo Clinic since April. ChatGPT usage fell off significantly from May to June, suggesting that a lot of its traffic is from students using it to cheat, er, rather, using it for “research.” Perhaps in the rush of all these AI developments, some perspective is warranted. For that we recommend Joe Esposito’s recent Scholarly Kitchen piece where he looks at both the very human nature of AI and the copyright/business implications for publishers. Further, Benedict Evans has a superb piece out this month on the effects that AI will have on the automation of work. We particularly appreciated being introduced to the “Lump of Labour” fallacy: the “misconception that there is a fixed amount of work to be done, and that if some work is taken by a machine then there will be less work for people.”

Peer review was on our minds this month as the perhaps vague but certainly all-encompassing theme of this year’s Peer Review Week – “Peer Review and the Future of Publishing” – was announced. Although it’s a common practice for many journals, we at The Brief were pleased to see IOP Publishing explicitly formalize approval for the practice of collaborative peer review between a researcher and their students or other early career collaborators. In an attempt to keep us all on the same page as we discuss new routes to peer review, NISO (National Information Standards Organization) has published a set of standard terminology for peer review. And two looks at gender bias in peer review caught our eye, a study on grant application review and a new book by leading researchers Cassidy R. Sugimoto and Vincent Larivière.

As noted above, progress toward open methods continues, as PRO-MaP – a new set of draft recommendations to improve methodological clarity in life sciences publications – has been released as a preprint.

Speaking of preprints, PreprintMatch – a new tool for matching preprints to their formally published paper versions – has been released. One interesting finding already from the tool is that preprints from lower-income countries are much less likely to eventually be published in a journal than those from higher-income countries. 

And while we at The Brief are loath to wade into the current political morass, we do think there’s likely some merit in choosing who to vote for based on their sense of design and implementation of typography.

It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful; they are found because it was possible to find them. – J. Robert Oppenheimer