Some thoughts on ASAPbio

Angela DePace, Assistant Professor, Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School

I believe strongly in open access (mainly because everyone deserves access to the scientific literature, but also because of the immorality of making large profits from free academic labor and the unsustainability of library subscription prices).  I also believe in open peer review; I strive to write critiques that I would be happy to read to the author in person.  It took me longer than it should have to start signing my reviews, but I recently did, and so far so good. I also think that post publication peer review would be a huge step forward for decreasing publication time and increasing the accuracy of the literature, as it would be a more visible record of vetting by the community rather than a select few.

At this stage in my career I’ve come up with a compromise to accommodate these values while still trying to work within the system enough to effectively recruit people and compete for funding, which I think are the things potentially most affected by where I choose to publish.

The policy is that we prioritize publishing in open access journals.  When there is not an appropriate journal (or we are rejected by the few appropriate ones), we publish in closed access journals that allow open access for a fee. I am lucky to be able to pay the exorbitant fees to do this; I am explicitly supported by my department to do it and I realize not everyone has those kinds of deep pockets.  This is a ridiculous compromise because it increases the profits of the journals by double-dipping, which I find outrageous, but it at least accomplishes the goal of making the literature open to the extent that I can.  I actively avoid sending our work to Cell Science and Nature, because I believe that publishing in these journals is highly over valued and results in frustratingly long delays, subjective assessment of impact and reinforcing trendy topics.  However, I do not enforce this rule when working with collaborators, because it would restrict who I can work with too much.  In this case, I advocate for open access and non CSN, but will yield to group opinion.  We have posted all of our recent work on BioRxiv, with the exception of two papers, one that was published in Cell Reports, where we were obliquely discouraged from posting on bioRXiv and it was about to be accepted (so it seemed like a wash), and a collaborative paper where an author was uncomfortable posting it (still under review).

Coming up with this policy involved some compromise (see above about paying open access fees to closed journals and not enforcing CNS on collaborators), but so far it’s been ok to live by.  I do not have the easiest time getting funding, though it’s hard to disentangle the effect of publishing on that.  And BioRXiv in particular has been nothing but positive as a way to be able to cite our work when we think it is complete, and to get feedback from our peers.  I am lucky that I am part of a very progressive department with a highly supportive chair, who has explicitly told me that he will advocate for my publishing policy if it is ever an issue for me during promotion.  We discussed it early on, and I think that was useful for both of us.

Many people have asked me how I recruit good students and post docs with this publishing policy in place.  I haven’t found it to be a problem.  I think the new generation is bolder than we give them credit for.  Also, I think my personal story of getting a job with NO first author publications from my post doc probably helps.  I tell them it’s about doing amazing science, communicating it clearly, and networking, all of which I will help them do, without CNS.  This of course means making a serious commitment to effectively training the people in your lab, but that’s a whole other topic.

I would be very happy with a new world order where everyone published in F1000 or BioRXiv + overlay journals and we used smart searches to find articles (rather than relying on the editors of journals to curate for us).  New technology does a better job of finding me stuff to read than the table of contents of any given journal (Pubchase, custom RSS feeds, Twitter recs from respected colleagues).  Especially with the option of versioning articles, I think this system would capture much of the current value of peer review, be faster, and more sustainable.  To transition to that new world order, I think it would be valuable to unionize in some respect (something that I think Mike has advocated for quite some time).  If some critical mass of respected senior and promising junior people could state that they were members of an easily defined group with a core publishing and reviewing policy, it would make it easier for other people to identify and evaluate that choice.  Imagine on your NIH Biosketch stating at the end of the personal statement, “I am a member of XX, and therefore publish all of my work in journals that support immediate publication and post-publication peer-review (see website).”   This of course requires many highly prominent people to do it as well in order for it to be effective, but if that group existed, I’d likely sign on given the enormous number of benefits.