DOAJ’s open letter to SSHA communities about Plan S

The recently published Royal Historical Society (RHS) working paper on Plan S contains some errors about the role that DOAJ might play in Plan S certification. These misunderstandings are commonplace and we, the DOAJ Management Team, have seen them before in other responses to Plan S. They are disappointing but they are not surprising. The draft Plan S requirements are vague enough to allow for assumptions to be made. Many statements from organisations or representative bodies, and papers, including the one from our DOAJ Board member Jan Erik Frantsvåg, have made the same assumption.

So far DOAJ has refrained from responding to Plan S and its commentators. The draft guidelines published by cOAlition S thus far are only that: draft. DOAJ is not a confirmed “partner” of Plan S. Feedback on the bold plan, submitted after public consultation, is still being worked through and, until we hear further, nothing is confirmed. However, the responses keep coming and with them perpetuated myths about what DOAJ does and who it serves.

The DOAJ Management Team recently decided that it is time to do a bit of “myth-busting“. Therefore we are publishing this open letter, partly as a response to the RHS paper, mostly as a way of addressing the misunderstandings that have been circulated on social media, but also as a call to SSHA communities to collaborate with us.

SSHA communities are going to need a lot of support

We felt it was important to respond to this particular statement because it illustrates that there is a great need to support social science, humanities and arts (SSHA) communities. DOAJ is keen to work more closely with SSHA communities and the organisations and bodies working with them to enable them to become fully familiar with the driving forces behind open access, in a way that the STEMM communities already are. Organisations representing SSHA communities can assist their members in that process and encourage them to embrace open access and the free dissemination of publicly funded research. RHS has a responsibility to help their members to understand the importance of open access, new publishing models and the opportunities which open access publishing brings, as much as research funders have a responsibility to fund more History research than they do today in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.

 

With this post, DOAJ is putting out an open call to representative groups in the social sciences, humanities and arts to collaborate with us…

DOAJ falls short in its coverage

The RHS paper points out that ‘most ‘history of medicine’ journals identified from the DOAJ are not fit for purpose for high-calibre UK History research publications’ (page 3). We agree 100% that our coverage of SSHA journals is not good enough and this is something that we are actively tackling this year.

In 2015, DOAJ tightened its acceptance criteria and made all the 10 000+ indexed journals reapply to remain indexed. Many SSHA journals failed to submit a re-application to us, or didn’t meet enough of the criteria to remain indexed. It is not enough to expect these journals to simply come to us and apply. We must go to them and help them understand why being indexed in DOAJ is a good thing, but we cannot do it alone. With this post, we are putting out an open call to representative groups in the social sciences, humanities and arts to collaborate with us and help us to identify journals that are fit for purpose, and which should be indexed in DOAJ.

 

The current draft of the Plan S requirements disfavour any journals, SSHA or otherwise, that do not charge APCs and these are exactly the journals that DOAJ is trying to protect and promote.

Plan S and SSHA journals

The RHS paper describes an understandable concern that Plan S disadvantages SSHA journals, many of which do not charge APCs. We were pleased to read this comment as this echoes exactly the concern which DOAJ presented to cOAlition S during the feedback period. The current draft of the Plan S requirements glosses over any journals, SSHA or otherwise, that do not charge APCs and these are the journals that DOAJ is trying to protect and promote.

DOAJ also presented feedback that shows how the current draft of Plan S favours the larger, more traditional publishers since it provides incentives for them to “flip” to open access. The small, innovative, perhaps unfunded, open access journals and publishers are given no support at all and DOAJ is in agreement with RHS that this will directly affect SSHA journals in a major way.

 

DOAJ is not an index of high impact, high prestige journals from the Global North and neither will we become one if we become a cOAlition S partner.

DOAJ and Plan S compliance

Many commentators of Plan S have mentioned either that many journals in DOAJ are not Plan S compliant or that it is hard to identify Plan S compliant journals currently indexed in DOAJ. If cOAlition S confirms that DOAJ is a partner in Plan S implementation then the DOAJ Management Team will adapt DOAJ, both the website and the editorial processes, to allow journals to apply for Plan S compliance.

  • We will add a separate stream for those journals seeking Plan S compliance.
  • Being indexed in DOAJ will not equal Plan S compliance.
  • We will make it possible for journals to be indexed appropriately in DOAJ: Plan S compliant or DOAJ compliant or compliance for both.
  • We understand that many of the journals which eventually achieve Plan S compliance probably aren’t in DOAJ today.
  • We do expect that many of the journals in DOAJ today may not even want to apply for Plan S compliance.
  • We will work hard to make sure that Plan S compliant journals are quickly and easily identifiable by users.

DOAJ’s mission is to ‘to increase the visibility, accessibility, reputation, usage and impact of quality, peer-reviewed, open access scholarly research journals globally, regardless of discipline, geography or language’. That missions includes a focus on open access journals from the Global South. It is impossible today to tell what effects Plan S will have on scholarly publishing in the Global South.

The RHS paper states that ‘relatively low quality standards of the OA journals in DOAJ suggest that these outlets lack staff, expertise and/or funding to undertake essential editorial work (of which English prose enhancement forms only one example)’ (page 20). This is a sweeping generalisation. The author of the paper assesses the academic quality of these journals by their structure and financing and this is a mistake we see time and time again, particularly from commentators in the Global North. Every journal in DOAJ has been manually reviewed to ensure that it meets our standards for best practice and publishing standards in open access. We index journals from all over the world, journals of all shapes, sizes and business models and yes, many of them are run single-handedly without funding. But DOAJ is not an index of high impact, high prestige journals from the Global North and neither will we become one if we become a cOAlition S partner.

The RHS paper also states that ‘Plan S’s reliance upon DOAJ, …has caused some bemusement in the OA community.’ (page 17) Any bemusement displayed by the open access community is based on misunderstandings: the misunderstanding that DOAJ, in its current form and structure, is ready to monitor Plan S compliance; and the misunderstanding that DOAJ still has a problem with quality. DOAJ took proactive steps in 2013 to address the problem of questionable journals and implemented its expanded application form in March 2014.  We hope that this post goes some way to address those misunderstandings.

 

DOAJ has grown to represent the gold standard of open access.

‘…DOAJ, which has well-known issues with quality/reliability’ (Page 17)

We refute the claims that we have problems with quality and we would welcome a discussion with the author of the RHS paper to look at the evidence she has for this statement. In 2014, DOAJ rewrote the standard for quality, peer-reviewed open access publishing. The re-application project referred to above was the start of a long process to raise the bar to be indexed with us and since then, DOAJ has grown to represent the gold standard of open access. In fact, it is very hard to find questionable publishers in DOAJ today.

Our criteria form the basis of the criteria for almost all of the other services operating within open access and our metadata is pulled into every major aggregation, indexing and discovery service, including Scopus, Web of Science and others. Indeed Scopus will only add their open access tag to a journal when they see it has been indexed in DOAJ, and Web of Science requires indexing in DOAJ for open access journals to be in their list.

 

DOAJ article metadata is as up-to-date as the publishers wish it to be

Some of the journals mentioned in Appendix 1 of the RHS paper have published content more recently than stated but have not supplied metadata to DOAJ. Unlike other indexing services, we do not go out and collect article metadata from journals so DOAJ only contains the article metadata that publishers have provided to us. We work very hard to encourage publishers to send their metadata to us and the advent of our API has gone a long way to facilitate this. We are seeing the number of articles deposited rapidly increase. (266,255,000 hits recorded to the API in 2018.) We are researching ways to make depositing metadata with us even easier, particularly by allowing other XML formats to be deposited with us. This work will need to be complete should DOAJ become a key player in Plan S. 

 

Many journals from countries where English is not the first language enhance their article content’s visibility in DOAJ by uploading translated abstracts to us.

Non-English language content in DOAJ

‘The DOAJ descriptor often suggests that a journal publishes both in English and other languages when in fact only an English abstract is published’ (page 18). In fact, where a language or multiple languages are displayed against a journal entry in DOAJ, this refers to the language of the full text and not the language of the abstracts. See https://doaj.org/application/new#languages-container. Many journals from countries where English is not the first language, and which publish in their native language, enhance their article content’s visibility in DOAJ by uploading translated abstracts to us, but the full text content often remains in a language other than English. They do this because they know that the article metadata will be widely disseminated and DOAJ is an excellent platform for them to share their published work.

As I wrote earlier, DOAJ would love to work closely with societies and other organisations in SSHA, like the Royal Historical Society, to identify journals which are ‘fit for purpose for high-calibre … research publications’. We note the statement that ‘RHS lacks sufficient staffing or financial resources to undertake a full analysis of the availability and Plan S-compliance of OA History or Humanities journals’ (page 16) and expect that that may be true of other SSHA communities. I wonder if there isn’t a piece of work here that we can do together to kick start this process?

2 thoughts on “DOAJ’s open letter to SSHA communities about Plan S

  1. It is quite correct that there is no sign of a formal agreement, or even approach from cOAlition S to DOAJ. But, on the other hand, who else will have the apparatus ready to do such a certification of compliance, given the time constraints?

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