The death of a vastly exaggerated academic journal, says ERC president

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Publication in highly selective journals will remain important for scientists in the future, as academics will always recognize the added value by academics committed to such publications, said the new President of the European Research Council.

Dismissing predictions that traditional scholarly publishers will no longer be needed in the near future as preprint and other open access platforms grow in popularity, Maria Leptin said she had not foreseen a world without reviews.

Even in decades to come, researchers “will still be submitting papers for peer review in the same way as they do now”, said Professor Leptin, who took over as head of the research funder from the European Union in November, after serving as director of the European Molecular Biology Organization. (EMBO), which publishes a number of journals, since 2010.

On the potential abandonment of journal-based peer review that some have predicted, Professor Leptin added: “Post-publication comments, badges and all that… I don’t see it, because the work expert referees put into reviewing articles makes it better and it’s already something we use to judge articles.

His comments are contained in a new book, Plan S for Shock, by Robert-Jan Smits, who oversaw the creation of the Plan S open access initiative when he was a senior civil servant at the European Commission, and journalist Rachael Pells, who chronicles the development of the initiative and its launch possible in January 2021.

Leading open access advocates interviewed for the book insisted that journals will become — and may already be — obsolete.

“We don’t need journals,” said Robert Kiley, the former head of open access at the Wellcome Trust, who is now head of strategy for Plan S. He argued that a “completely open repository where researchers can upload their research once they feel ready to share it – just like any preprint server” would be a more efficient model, to which reviewers could add their comments.

But Professor Leptin noted that a survey of EMBO members in 2019 suggested there was little appetite for this type of model. When asked how they would select papers outside their field, they opted for papers “by someone they know or have heard of, a highly esteemed name in science – or they turn to very selective review,” said Professor Leptin, who argued that scientists “need a kind of flag that says ‘start here'” when undertaking research.

For Jasmin Lange, director of Brill, the Netherlands-based publisher of nearly 300 journals, journals will become more important than ever as trusted sources within the internet’s “huge information flood” .

“What a newspaper does is build a community,” she said, adding that the titles were a “discussion platform that we as a publisher have set up with the publishers and on which we are continually working to improve ourselves by looking for new authors and also new readers”. . The community “won’t radically separate from existing journal models, because we’re talking about very specialized communities that publish with society journals – subdomains of subdomains,” she explained.

Smits, who is now president of Eindhoven University of Technology, said Times Higher Education that he thought “the newspaper’s role would diminish”.

“It’s a generational thing,” he said. “The average age of professors in Europe is around 54, and they’ll be there for another 10 years, but the next generation is already sharing their findings in a very different way – it’s not so much around journals,” did he declare.

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