Beyond Open Access

These are times of upheaval in scholarly communication. One thing that seems clear is that open access will prevail: since most scientific research is directly and indirectly funded through public money, it is simply inescapable that the public should have open access to the results of the research. And it is also inescapable that there needs to be careful stewardship of that public money and that it should not be syphoned off to support the large profit margin of legacy publishers. So, let’s accept that open access and fair pricing are non-negotiable and inevitable. What’s next?

What made open access feasible was the advent of the internet and the possibility to disseminate research papers quickly and without access controls. Many of us make our manuscripts available on disciplinary sites such as LingBuzz, the Semantics Archive, PhilPapers, and so on. In many ways, those sites are the primary way that new results first reach the community.

Beyond that, what else do we really need? Isn’t posting papers on such archives all that’s required to keep the engines of collaborative scientific progress well-oiled? Do we need peer review, do we need journals?

Since I am the co-founding editor of a staunchly peer-reviewed journal, with a rather draconian rejection rate, you might think that my answer will be unambiguous, but in fact, I don’t think these are easy questions nowadays.

What do journals actually offer? Here are the main considerations:

  • peer and editorial feedback to authors
  • curation: selecting and highlighting the best work
  • copy-editing
  • type-setting
  • income for publisher

The main costs for running a journal are in the latter three categories. The editorial work and the work of the peer reviewers is typically pro bono, covered by their employers. Some journals may pay the editor a small stipend or expense account, but that is the exception in linguistics at least.

Is it all worth it?

Authors at S&P seem to value the intensive and extensive feedback they receive. Is there any other mechanism by which authors can reliably receive such feedback? Experiments with open peer review have not taken off, at least in linguistics, but maybe it’s worth a try. One might hope that authors, especially junior ones, get ample feedback from their mentors and peers before a paper is injected into the publication pipeline. But judging by what gets submitted to S&P, I’m not so sanguine.

Do we need curation? If every paper is available in the disciplinary archives, how do readers decide which are worth the investment of a day of intense study, or at least an hour of cursory reading? Will established authors have a lock on the attention of potential readers?

Do tenure & promotion committees need the validation that comes from a paper having been published in a reputable journal? Shouldn’t they simply go by the considered opinion of the external letter writers and maybe by the objective citation record (keeping in mind, again, that much of the scientific communication happens through disciplinary archives and other ways of exchanging papers and drafts, so that citation archaeology should be maximally permissive, that is, more like Google Scholar than Web of Science).

Do we need copy-editing and type-setting? When we started S&P, it was clear to us that a new-fangled open access journal needed to have a very professional “look” to its articles. That together, with my frankly out-of-control obsession with typographic precision, lead to a very labor-intensive production process. Our competitor journals outsource this step to companies that do not have disciplinary expertise, for the most part. They also don’t necessarily offer copy-editing at all. The typographic results are also somewhat problematic. So, S&P can be proud of its presentation. But it is a major pain-point nevertheless. More on this later.

Now, these aspects of journals are not inextricably linked. We could easily unbundle them. And I think we should. We should experiment with a good number of models and see which ones work and which ones don’t. We may end up with a much more interesting and fruitful landscape of publication avenues.

Here are some of the options I see:

We could have “journals” that simply are listings of articles in the archives that the editors consider highlight-worthy. Something like the curated playlists on music streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music. Don’t know what to listen to among the millions of songs? Let an Apple Editor make the choice for you. Don’t know what papers to read among the hundreds on LingBuzz? Let our editorial board guide you.

A considerable step up from that are “overlay journals” (two examples). Here, authors post their manuscripts to an archive and also submit them to the overlay journal, which conducts standard peer-review, asks for revisions, and, perhaps but not necessarily, takes charge of copy-editing and typesetting. Accepted articles are updated on the archive and the journal links to the archived article from its table of contents. I think this is a very promising model.

Another model is to slim down peer-review to the barebones: simply make sure that an article isn’t complete nonsense and then publish basically everything. This is a model of several open access journals. Typically, there are production costs financed through author publication charges. Colin Philips reports positively on the experiences editing such a journal.

There are other possible recombinations of various ingredients of the journal system. I am very excited about the possibilities.

In the spirit of rethinking all aspects of scholarly communication, even a now firmly established journal like S&P should be nimble and consider ways of making things (even) better. Here are some thoughts and questions (my own, not yet discussed with the other members of the editorial team):

  • How can we address the major pain-points in the production process? We do not outsource to disciplinarily naive companies, but rely on graduate student labor. This is not the most time-efficient way of doing things, even if the end-product is superior. If linguists were as proficient as mathematicians or computer scientists in the use of LaTeX, we could probably reduce the time from acceptance to publication, but that doesn’t appear to be a realistic scenario.
  • I think we might highlight articles that have been accepted in a way that reduces the pain of waiting for the official publication. Maybe, S&P’s homepage should link to the author’s final version of accepted papers right away (perhaps even with an assigned DOI). This way, they could be listed on CVs as published, for all intents and purposes.
  • I’d like to think about acknowledging the work of reviewers more openly. Perhaps, reviewers should have the option of being named as having helped a particular paper in the process to publication.

What other things should we think about?

Zombie Lingua Recruitment

My sources say that Elsevier is now actively trying to recruit scholars for the editorial team of Zombie Lingua (see these Language Log posts for the background: Lingua is dead. Long live Glossa!“, Lingua Disinformation”). Here’s a redacted sample of what they are sending to people:

Subject: Editorial Position Opportunity

Dear Professor […]

First please let me introduce myself as the […] at Elsevier responsible for the Social Science Journals, including our Linguistics portfolio.

I hope you do not mind me contacting you out of the blue like this, but as you may be aware we are currently looking for a new editorial team to head up the journal, Lingua. In discussions regarding this your name was suggested as a potential candidate to be part of this team. If this is something you would be interested in considering and would like to discuss this further, with no obligations, then please let me know. I would be more than happy to provide more details of the role and responsibilities.

Thank you for your time in considering this proposal. I look forward to your reply and hope to discuss this further with you in the near future.

Best regards

Needless to say, I’m hoping that the community is sufficiently immunized by now and that Elsevier will fail to attract linguists to stand up a zombie version of Lingua, which would not have any legitimacy as a successor to the journal’s proud tradition. The true successor to Lingua is Glossa.

By the way: Glossa is now open for business. The first few submissions have already been made.

Lingua Disinformation

Linguists today received a misleading email from Elsevier sent to everyone who has ever submitted to or reviewed for Lingua, the journal whose editorial board has decided to not work with Elsevier anymore and restart the journal as the open-access journal Glossa. Here is Elsevier’s email:

Dear Lingua Authors and Reviewers

As I am sure you are aware, as of the end of December 2015 the current Lingua Senior Editorial team will be standing down from their roles on the journal. Together this team and the Publisher would like to reassure you that while still in post they will continue their work for Lingua as they have always done during their tenure.

Further information regarding the handling of papers from January 2016 onwards will be sent in due course, but should you have any queries or concerns in the meantime please do not hesitate to contact us via the ‘Contact’ button on the journal homepage or via the following email address: .

My colleagues and I would also like to take this opportunity to reaffirm that we remain totally committed to the publication of Lingua as a quality journal serving the field of linguistics and look forward to supporting the journal and the linguistics community for many years to come.

Best Regards

Ann Corney, Publishing Director, Applied Social Sciences, Elsevier Ltd

There has been a lot of puzzlement over this message. Some comments below, but first a message from the interim editors of the successor journal Glossa, which I have been asked to help disseminate:

Dear colleagues,

Those among you who have been authors and/or reviewers for Lingua were sent a message today by Elsevier, and you might wonder about the journal, Glossa, to be set up by the very same editorial team which has contributed to the high reputation of Lingua in the past.

As of the end of December 2015, the current executive and associated editors of Lingua will stand down. The next day, they will be in charge of Glossa. Until that date, the undersigned will be in charge as interim editors of Glossa, (backed up by the entire former editorial board of Lingua which already resigned in October).

In that capacity, we would like to reassure you that Glossa will pick up where Lingua left off. We would also like to draw your attention to the fact that any author has the right to withdraw their submission from any journal as long as the copyright forms have not been signed.

We are currently working on the website (including an online submission system etc.) for Glossa, and will come back to you as soon as it is operational. In the meantime, you can send your questions to both of us.

All best wishes,
Waltraud Paul and Guido Vanden Wyngaerd, interim editors of Glossa &

Some comments:

  1. I would like to reiterate that despite the desperate rhetoric in the last sentence of Ms. Corney’s email, there is no way at all that whatever zombie journal Elsevier manages to keep running under the venerable name Lingua will have any moral right to be seen as the continuation of Lingua. Instead, Glossa is the rightful continuation.
  2. I also reiterate my call to the community not to work with Elsevier in propping up Zombie Lingua. Instead, get ready to support Glossa once it’s fully running in January.
  3. Lastly, authors with manuscripts currently under submission to Lingua should consider their options; please contact the interim editors of Glossa with any questions about that.

[In related news, the Open Library of Humanities announced today that in addition to Glossa, three other journals will flip from for-profit models to open access in 2016.]

Lingua Roundup

In case you’re not glued to social media 24/7, you may have missed some of the coverage of the Lingua → Glossa Affair.

Media coverage after the early Inside Higher Ed article has included:

Yesterday, an Elsevier PR blog posted a mendacious “clarification”. In addition to some of the comments on that post, you can look in other places for the truth:

Elsevier claims that it founded Lingua, that it therefore has the right to the name, that the proposed open access charge of 400 Euros per article is not sustainable. Obviously, Lingua was founded by linguists not by Elsevier. The charge is almost certainly sustainable (in fact, Elsevier has journals that subsist on such a charge). And there are other lies in their statement. (By the way, the PR spokesman is the same person who made some rather revealing statements about women in STEM last year, as pointed out by Curt Rice, linguist and the president of Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences.)

I stand by my call for community action: support the Glossa team, do not agree to help Elsevier stand up a sham Zombie Lingua.

To end with a quote from Mike Taylor:

You know what’s not sustainable? Dragging around the carcass of a legacy barrier-based publisher, with all its expensive paywalls, authentication systems, Shibboleth/Athens/Kerberos integration, lawyers, PR departments, spin-doctors, lobbyists, bribes to politicians, and of course 37.3% profit margins.

The biggest problem with legacy publishers? They’re just a waste of money.

Lingua → Glossa

There is exciting news from the open access revolution.

[Previously:] A few years ago, I put up some relevant short notes, focussing to some extent on Elsevier’s particularly egregious enmity towards open access: “Attach from big money publishers” and “News from the open access revolution”. Especially relevant is Elsevier’s rear-guard action against open access mandates such as MIT’s, discussed in an informative article by my former colleague Richard Holton. I also published my personal open access policy. In the mean time, the Elsevier Boycott started by our colleagues in mathematics has 15,286 signatories. The fully open access journal Semantics and Pragmatics that I co-founded with David Beaver is thriving and is now the second full journal of the Linguistic Society of America (alongside the flagship journal Language, which has a one year delayed open access policy).

This past month, our colleagues on the editorial team of the venerable journal Lingua proposed to the journal’s publisher Elsevier that Lingua should become a “fair open access journal”. It would charge reasonable, not excessive, article fees, which would be payed by a new consortium, with the result that the journal would be free to readers and authors. Not surprisingly, given Elsevier’s profiteering nature, Elsevier did not agree. In response, the entire editorial team resigned and will start a new open access journal with the same focus and scope as Lingua. Elsevier insisted that they have the rights to the name Lingua (even though the name has historic value and reputation that was created by linguists and not by a publishing company). So, the new journal will be called Glossa, but in the eyes of the community it is the rightful continuation of Lingua. Elsevier will try to start their own new journal, which they will name Lingua, usurping a name that has a lot of associated goodwill because of the hard work of the editors over decades. To me, that is a despicable insult to the linguistics community. A colleague suggested the alternative name “Zombie Lingua” for the Elsevier project, which I hope will stick.

There’s various hopes I have for the near future:

Finishing Lingua’s current business

The current editors of Lingua will finish up their current business over the next few months and will officially step down on December 31. I think the community should support them as best as possible, particularly by finishing any outstanding reviews. Any authors with work under submission to Lingua should strongly consider withdrawing these submissions and resubmitting them to Glossa as soon as that new journal is open for business (which is projected to be in January).

Supporting Glossa

Everyone should support Glossa: submit your best work to it, agree to review for it, help it get ranked and recognized across the academy.

Do not support Zombie Lingua

It won’t come as a surprise from a veteran Elsevier boycotter like me that I think that the community should not assist Elsevier in standing up a new journal that usurps the Lingua goodwill. Do not serve on the editorial team, do not submit articles, do not review for them. I certainly won’t.

I welcome discussion of my recommendations. For further information, there is a largely accurate article at Inside Higher Ed and there is the website of the Ling-OA initiative, which the Lingua/Glossa team is working with.

Treat your reviewers well

S&P asks its reviewers to overcome the discipline’s culture of procrastination and supply reviews within a default of 4 weeks (sometimes more for especially complex or long papers). We try to repay reviewers in two ways that we consider best practices:

  • Reviewers are copied on editorial decisions. They are sent the editor’s feedback to the author and copies of all the reviews.
  • Reviewers are notified when a paper they worked on for us is published.

Neither practice is as widespread as it should be. In fact, sometimes when we have a new editorial team member, they are skeptical about sharing the entire editorial feedback with the reviewers. It doesn’t take long for them to change their minds when we get the usual enthusiastic feedback from reviewers.

This morning we published a new paper and I spent a few minutes notifying the five reviewers that had worked on various iterations of the article. I just got this response: “Thanks for letting me know. It’s nice of you to do this for reviewers. I wish other journals would follow you too …”

Get cloaked!

I like to take my devices to coffeeshops and get some work done. I also travel once in a while. At all those times I connect via wireless connections that are far from secure. So, a few months ago I discovered Cloak, a great VPN service that painlessly and automatically secures my net traffic every time I connect to a wireless network that I haven’t explicitly marked as trusted. I have a $2.99/month “mini” subscription that gives me 5GB of data throughput. My laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad are all set up to use the service. Highly recommended!

Keep reviewers in the loop

S&P makes a point of keeping reviewers informed about the fate of papers they review, copying them on the editorial decision, forwarding the other reviews, and letting them know if and when the paper gets published. We think that reviewers deserve to be kept in the loop. I get annoyed when I work on reviews for other journals and am not at all kept in the loop.

At this time of the year, I begin to feel the same about promotion and tenure letters I wrote over the summer. I find it irksome that departments do not let me know what happened to the cases I wrote for. Why is this not common practice?

Apple Watch Purchase Prevention

This is the Apple Watch edition of my new Purchase Prevention Program, trying to keep me from early adopting.

Smart watches are going to be the new hotness, especially once the Apple Watch is out. I’m going to stick with my trusted basic Citizen watch for a while longer. Here’s what would persuade me:

  • standalone functioning, does not need a phone nearby (don’t want to lug anything else along when I’m on long runs)

  • robustness so it can withstand movement and sweat when I’m exercising

  • full set of GPS, altimeter, pulse rate, etc sensors so it can track my runs and every day activities

  • an elegant stylish design that doesn’t scream “nerd”

  • displays just the time and date in analog form in its default appearance

  • displays an alert when there’s a message from a VIP connection

  • excellent speech recognition so I can respond to messages on the spot

  • functionality to take voice memos on the go

  • can send music to Bluetooth earphones

I suspect that the third generation Apple watch will get close to this package but perhaps Garmin, Fitbit, UP or the like will beat them to it. In the meantime, I hope all the early adopters buy loads of early models so that R&D continues at full speed. Ping me when my dream watch is on the market.

A guide for the perplexed author in semantics

Note: at the upcoming LSA annual meeting in Portland, I will be part of a session about the publication process. My role will be to talk about open access in linguistics. I just remembered that I had lying around a draft guide to publishing articles. So, here’s the draft. I’d be very grateful for feedback so I can improve this document but also figure out what makes sense to talk about in Portland.

You have written something that you think other people should read. You want the input of other experts. You want your ideas to make their way through the discipline. You want the excellence of your ideas to reflect positively on you. How best to achieve those goals? What follows are my recommendations. These are my opinions only, but I have reached them over my 25 years in the discipline. I hope that some might find this subjective guide useful.

My main prescription is: disseminate early, often, and relentlessly.

Make your work available

As soon as you have a handout or slides that you’ve used for an official talk, put that on your website. When you have a draft paper, put it on your website. In each case, also point people at it through whatever networks you are part of (your department, contacts at other institutions, your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ connections).

Post to repositories

By the time you have a revised draft that is ready for submission, it’s time to also share it via disciplinary repositories (LingBuzz, Semantics Archive, PhilPapers).

Excursus: Why not stop here? Why submit to peer-reviewed journals? At some point in the future, we might reach a system where you post something to the disciplinary repository, peer review occurs in the open, and you revise your paper accordingly. The paper gets rated and assessed by various metrics (likes, number of comments, number of downloads, number of citation). We are not there yet. And to be honest, I am a firm believer in high quality peer review of the old-fashioned kind. If and when we move to the kind of free-for-all I just sketched, I’m worried that quality work from young and hereto-forth unknown authors will not get the attention it deserves. Of course, whatever the superstars put in the repository will get all the attention it deserves (and more). But the expert feedback curation from good editors and peer reviewers of good journals makes it much more likely that the discipline will be exposed to the merits of new work even if it doesn’t come from the superstars.

So, yes, submit to peer-reviewed journals. I hope they’re here to stay.

Choosing a journal

When it comes time to submit your work to a journal, the first consideration in choosing a journal is whether it is an appropriate and adequately high profile venue for the work. Journals differ along various additional dimensions: quality of peer review and editorial feedback, speediness of the review and decision process, respect for author’s rights (including the right to make available preprints and postprints), quality (and existence) of copy-editing, quality (and existence) of professional typesetting (including whether they accept LaTeX source rather than insisting on a less sophisticated format), whether or not they publish an online-first/early version of a paper as soon as it is ready, speediness of publication of print version. If you are new-ish to the field, you should ask for advice from trusted mentors.

Don’t let them lock up your work

Many journals lock up your work behind a toll access barrier. You should attempt to mitigate that lock up, because it is in your best interest for your work to be as easily accessible by as many readers as possible. It is imperative that you carefully read the publishing agreement that the publisher will ask you to sign. Make sure to understand in detail which rights to your own work you are being asked to sign away. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to include this in your decision of where to submit. There is a handy service that lets you explore the policies journals have with respect to your rights as an author: Sherpa/RoMEO.

a. Unless forced otherwise by the publisher, keep the early versions of your work (sometimes called preprints) on your website and in disciplinary and/or institutional repositories, but add to the downloads all the bibliographic detail of the published version.

b. Unless the standard publisher’s agreement already gives you the right to provide open access to your final manuscript (sometimes called postprints; the version you prepared for final submission after receiving peer review and editorial feedback, but before copy-editing and publisher’s typesetting), try to insist on that right. You can try to make your signing of the agreement contingent on the publisher accepting an author’s amendment. See the SPARC Addendum.

c. An increasing number of publishers offer to make your paper open access if you pay them a fee. This is called an author-pays hybrid open access model. There is a suspicion that publishers charge excessive author fees (“double dipping” since they still rake in subscription fees for a journal that only contains sporadic open access articles). Some universities subsidize such fees. Fees can also sometimes be charged to grants that funded the research reported in the published article.

d. There are some journals that are entirely open access and charge author fees to fund their operations (this is often called gold open access). This is an unusual model in linguistics and at this point pretty much irrelevant to publication in semantics. Some universities subsidize such fees. Fees can also sometimes be charged to grants that funded the research reported in the published article.

e. There are some journals that are entirely open access and DO NOT charge author fees. These are typically funded through institutional support (this is sometimes called platinum open access). Semantics & Pragmatics is one such journal. Others in adjacent areas are The Philosophers’ Imprint and the Australasian Journal of Logic.

Don’t get involved with edited volumes

Sometimes you might be asked to contribute your work as a chapter in an edited volume or handbook. I have done this (sometimes after having a hard time getting a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, sometimes because it felt like an easy way to get something out, sometimes because I felt an obligation to the editors). I recommend against it. Edited volumes are a poor vehicle for cutting edge work. They are not as rigorously reviewed as top journals. They are not recognized by promotion & tenure committees as particularly impressive. They often take an enormously long time to get published, often more than even the most egregiously slow journals. Don’t do it.

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