Cites & Impasse: feedback desired

In the most recent W.a.R. post, I said this:

In the meantime, other than various other stuff, there’s a possible Cites & Insights (if anybody cares–and based on recent readership levels, I’m not sure) and the question of following up on 3,300-odd journals that were in DOAJ on 1/1/16 but not on 1/1/17. And slowing down a bit.

I’m still unsure–and the title of this post, which started out as a typo, may be meaningful.

Here’s the numbers:

  • The January 2017 Cites & Insights, Gray OA 2012-2016: Open Access Journals Beyond DOAJ, shows 1,043 total downloads, but 975 were in 2016 and only 68 are in March 2017. I’d hoped that this study–which I wasted spent way too much time on–would get, say, one-fifth the readership of Gold Open Access Journals 2011-2015 and might have some small effect on the discussions regarding “predatory” journals. (I’d really hoped that somebody might acknowledge that the “420K 2014 articles in predatory journals” figure was provably wrong–but I keep seeing that figure repeated.) [Remarkably, GOAJ  2011-2015 has another 2,099 downloads in the first half of March 2017!]
  • The February 2017 Cites & Insights, a fairly ordinary issue, has a total of 408 downloads to date, but only 82 in March: not terrible, but not impressive.

Readership is way down–and so is my motivation to write the [March? April? May? Spring?] issue–but not just because of declining readership, and partly for one reason that I think may be related to declining readership. So I’m offering up a couple of possible reasons and asking for feedback. C&I isn’t entirely going away [yet], but could become a mostly-OA-supporting-material outlet. Or not.

1. Dystopia Fatigue: 45 for the Loss

The reason that is definitely reducing my interest in writing and may be reducing others’ interest in reading C&I is that so much mental and emotional energy is spent trying to cope with the dystopian situation that could be summed up as 45–not only an administration that appears set on making America a mean-spirited, post-science, pathetic nation relying on bloated armaments to push actual great nations around, but also the newly-empowered racists and bigots who seem to feel that it’s now American to loudly proclaim the shameful feelings they once tended to keep to themselves.

It is draining to read the news. It is worse than draining to read some of the reactions. It is draining to try to determine what (other than the usual PPFA, ACLU, AU etc. checks) to do about it–and whether drastic actions are warranted.

I can only assume that others also find it draining, and may not feel like reading secondary/apolitical stuff like C&I that isn’t actually good “escapist” reading. (I’m just over halfway through The Devil’s Brood: is that escapist?)

For British readers, there s a separate-but-related dystopian present going on.

It’s hard to argue with a lack of remaining energy. I will surely agree that real action that might help preserve what’s left of America’s greatness is a whole hell of a lot more important than reading (or writing) my stuff.

Now, getting off the soapbox:

2. Old, Repetitious and Largely Irrelevant

That’s the quick way of putting it.

I’m trying to do stuff that nobody else is doing, since I gladly affirm that younger, more energetic and probably brighter people can and should be doing the kinds of things I used to do. Without mentioning my age directly, I’ll note that our taxes for 2016 are heavily impacted by being required to either take certain payments starting last year or losing half of that money to the Feds.

The GOAJ studies are good examples of stuff nobody else is doing. I’d like to think that most C&I essays also fall into that category–but they may not be worth doing. As for repetitious and irrelevant…perhaps.

So…

[A few of you will wonder whether my continued lateral-nerve problem, being reduced to six-finger typing, is also a factor. No, the nerve still hasn’t recovered, and may or may not ever do so. But I managed to write all three booklength portions of GOAJ2011-2015 despite this problem, so while my typing continues to be much slower and less accurate than before March 2016, that’s not a major factor.]

  • Should I spend most of the “pause”–the next three or four weeks, before Phase 2 of the GOAJ2011-2016 research and then all the analysis and writeup–on revisiting the 3,000-odd “departed” journals for a supplemental chapter and just let C&I lie dormant? And use leftover time to catch up on reading…
  • Should I try to split the time between that revisit [which turns out to be reasonably fast because I’m only looking at 2016 availability and article counts, not APC levels] and doing a C&I issue? [Which would probably consist of one medium-length roundup on access & economics and one relatively brief roundup on the disappearing blacklists.]
  • Other suggestions?

Comments are open. I’m interested in your feedback.


Updated March 22, 2017:
I’m still looking for feedback of all sorts. If your comment doesn’t show up, it may be awaiting moderation or possibly deleted as spam–I’ve had to change spam control (from Spam Kismet 2, which no longer seems compatible, to WP-SpamShield), and I no longer see spam-trapped comments. You can always email me your comment (waltcrawford@gmail.com), if it doesn’t show up within a day of posting…if you note “Intended as a post comment” I’ll add it here.

7 Responses to “Cites & Impasse: feedback desired”

  1. This may or may not be helpful, but I wonder if one aspect of C&I which is worth considering is their long term historical value. I actually find myself not infrequently dipping back into an old issue to try and understand what the state of play was at a particular time. Is it worth for instance getting the individual articles into an index to make them searchable and get them DOIs etc?

    I do think that data work on GOAJ is crucial and as you say not being done elsewhere (I do keep meaning to go back to the question of whether there are ways to automate some of that). I also think under the circumstances of the current external environment that taking time to burrow, catch up on reading or whatever activity is most effective is an extremely valid use of time.

  2. Walt Crawford says:

    Cameron: I don’t know how I’d go about getting C&I articles (not scholarly, not refereed) into a database or getting DOIs, but I suspect either/both would require significant time/energy. (DOIs aren’t free…and I’m not sure what kind of database would be appropriate for C&I.) In practice, C&I is searchable through the search box on the home page (http://citesandinsights,info), although that also gets results from this blog. Google itself also indexes both C&I and the blog, to be sure. I’m not sure what more I can do in that regard…for that matter, if/when I stop doing C&I it’s unclear how long I’d retain the domain, although it is or was archived by at least one agency [and there’s always IA]. Also, I stopped doing HTML separates because there was very little readership and no additional support, and they represented extra hassle.

    It does appear that there’s *some* broader longterm value: at least so far, when I do the monthly stats, every issue shows at least one download.

    As for GOAJ, I’m sure there are ways to automate some or most of the work, but we’r not there yet (and possibly because I spent five decades as an analyst/programmer, I find myself reluctant to resume programming!). Meanwhile, I’m trying to find the balance.

    Sorry for the slight delay: I can’t imagine why, but the filters I used trapped this comment as spam. Fortunately, I check such comments almost every day.

  3. simon batterbury says:

    I have found your work very insightful and today I am giving a presentation about OA and journals to the Institute of Social Futures at Lancaster University UK. Anything that shows trends in the sector is very welcome – we have a fight on, still , in social sciences with about 65% of WoS journals controlled by five publishers. Thanks for your work. I only go though about 300 journals for my website on reliabel social sci journals – you do 10000… (and yes I did pay for the book I downloaded!)

  4. Marc Couture says:

    First, I must say that I find your work truly invaluable. I wrote that much in various comments on blogs and other media, for instance here http://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/beware-academics-getting-reeled-scam-journals.

    What you do is the kind of work (or hobby) I could envision as a recently retired researcher used to do such thorough analyses, but I’m not sure I would have your patience and dedication. I also understand well why “younger, more energetic people” (I leave out the ‘and probably brighter’ part) don’t rush to do it: too much work for too little results that count, academically speaking.

    I’m sad to see that, focussing on your download data (which don’t seem bad to me, considering the sheer size of your always relevant discussions) and continuing dominance of the Shen & Bjork (S&B) result, you think that you don’t influence the discussions regarding “predatory” journals.

    On the contrary, I notice that both your more technical studies (OA landscapes) and your other works (syntheses, opinion pieces), though not peer-reviewed, are regularly mentioned, and most often praised in these discussions. These are found mainly on blogs and the like, but they are also cited in peer-reviewed papers (see https://scholar.google.com/scholar?oi=bibs&hl=fr&cites=1521755663959316205&as_sdt=5 , for instance) and prestigious venues (Nature News, http://www.nature.com/news/open-access-index-delists-thousands-of-journals-1.19871).

    This can be related to the ongoing debate about scholarly journals in general, and peer-review (open or not) in particular. It demonstrates that researchers are more and more prone to consider works found in alternative, non-peer-reviewed venues, if they them interesting and rigorous. It’s a type post-publication peer-review, along the more formal types seen on PubPeer, where there is one on the S&B paper (which refers to a detailed discussion on Retraction Watch, where someone mentioned your work, and to which you contributed).

    So I can just hope you don’t “throw in the towel”, and keep on providing us all these so badly needed information, data, and exhaustive reviews.

    Returning to the specific issue of the Shen & Bjork surprising figure, that they refused to discuss on Retraction Watch, I had told you privately that, ideally, it should be challenged in another peer-reviewed paper, that I was considering writing. I’m now revising my intentions, in part because such a paper would have to include much more than only another, certainly more accurate, value of this figure. It should discuss, for instance, the very notion of predatory/ illegitimate/ greyOA journals, the various criteria and methodologies used or proposed by organizations to build black or white lists and, hence, their purpose, value, and relevance. However, I realize that many recent papers have been published around these same issues.

    Furthermore, I wonder if, assuming this article would eventually be published, it would really settle the issue. If the main goal is to determine rigorously the number of articles published by fraudulent, deceptive or illegitimate journals, then the large inaccuracy of the S&B results, which they acknowledge in a way by describing them as “rough estimates”, is much less important than the fragility of their main assumption, namely that all Beall’s lists journals are predatory. As you pointed out, S&B high numbers shrink again when one restricts itself to cases in which Beall ‘made a case’.

    The only useful thing I could see is to take every opportunity to add, when feasible, some nuance to the oft-repeated simplistic statement “420 k articles were published in predatory journals in 2014”. For instance, one could explain that a more rigorous statement would be: “Reported estimates of the number of articles published in predatory journals in 2014 vary widely, from about 100 k (Crawford, 2016) to over 400 k (Shen and Bjork, 2015), depending on how one defines ‘predatory’, how one judges if a journal falls in this category, and how one counts or estimates actual article numbers”. Naturally, I would add that the first result, obtained through an exhaustive tally, with raw data publicly available, is surely the most reliable.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t make a good one-liner, which is the reason I think we will keep on seeing statement like the first one.

  5. Walt Crawford says:

    Thank you for that comment. I won’t just throw in the towel; one question (so far not much addressed) is whether Cites & Insights should continue to be about more than OA. Still thinking. I’ll revisit this to think more.

  6. Marc Couture says:

    I think I didn’t understand well (not even sure I now do, though) what you meant by “C&I isn’t entirely going away [yet], but could become a mostly-OA-supporting-material outlet. Or not.”

    Im my previous comment, I focused on your rather bleak, but totally unjustified, assessment of your role and influence (“not worth doing”; “repetitious and irrelevant”). It’s true that your very detailed analyses and syntheses/reviews, of the type that one usually finds in limited-readership documents like theses and research reports, are not designed to become the most read around. But they are *extremely* valuable, even irreplaceable, for those (like me) who read them.

    To get to the point, what do I think of the inclusion of non-OA-related subjects in C&I from time to time? Well, it doesn’t harm, and it often makes for pleasant reading (I particularly enjoy your sense of humour). The bottom line is that I hope it doesn’t distract you from what you do better than anybody. I haven’t seen any sign of this so far.

  7. Walt Crawford says:

    I think there are two somewhat separate issues here. One is whether the OA-related work, and specifically the research, is worth doing and is effective. The answer there is certainly “yes” for Gray Open Access Journals–the 2011-2015 study has been downloaded and presumably read more than anything I’ve done in the last decade (I think March 2017 downloads have passed 3,000!) and I’m sure it’s being used. I’ve been (and am) frustrated on my apparent inability to move the discussion of “predatory” journals by doing a 100% survey, but it’s clear that other OA-related work has done better.

    The gray-OA study wouldn’t happen again in any case (although I might do a partial update this summer in order to get a “total” picture of gold OA activity): too much work, too little readership, and the source list isn’t being updated.

    The second issue is Cites & Insights–which was never intended as a “mostly Open Access” publication. (Indeed, I stopped writing about OA at C&I altogether for a couple of years). I could change C&I into a “mostly OA with digressions” thing, or I could continue with it on a less frequent publication dealing with libraries, technology, media and policy–and their intersections, such as OA. That’s still up in the air.

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