Publisher bans & DORA 

A DORAat10 Local Event Report

In May 2023, DORA celebrated it’s 10th Anniversary with two plenary sessions and a decentralized weeklong program of local events organized by community members from around the world. Event organizers were given the option to write brief reports on their events that summarize key takeaways and recommendations.

By Zen Faulkes

Scientists long knew that measurements of journals, like impact factor, were poor measures of the individual articles within them. The Declaration on Research Assessment in 2013 spelled out many of the issues with assessing researchers using journal-level measurements. 

But recently, some institutions reportedly created policies that target publishers rather than single journals. (“Reportedly” is used here because efforts to get confirmation from institutions failed.) 

The online roundtable “Publisher bans & DORA” (held on 15 May 2023) discussed cases where institutions created policies targeted at specific publishers that aimed at discouraging, discounting, or discarding research appearing in their journals. 

Zen Faulkes (moderator) outlined reports of policies aimed at publishers during their presentation. For example, the University of South Bohemia reportedly declared research appearing in any journal from a particular publisher as invalid. The medical school of the Technical Institution of Munich would not pay article processing fees to a certain publisher. While not paying fees is not a ban, the policy is obviously intended to steer researchers away from certain publishers. Requirements to publish in indexed journals can exert the same pressures on researchers as a ban. 

The panelists noted one positive effect of these policies: they can push publishers to do a better job on quality control. Without such disincentives, publishers could operate in a “consequence free” environment, where any journal could become a predatory journal, with no peer review or editing. 

The policies had more negatives than positives, however. 

Loss of academic freedom: Both panelists and the audience felt that where scholars choose to share their work is an important part of academic freedom. Jennifer Guarini (panelist) said, “The one who knows your work the best, that’s, I firmly believe, the authors. They know their work, where their work should go. And every author should have the choice to submit their work where they think it’s going to be, where it’s going to find its audience.” 

This is also publisher’s counterargument to bans. In an email, Katherine Sharples (Wiley Publishing, which owns Hindawi) wrote, “Ultimately we support author choice and believe it’s important for researchers to have a range of publishing venues to choose from and not to be penalised for that choice.” Likewise, a statement from Ryan Siu (MDPI) said, “We believe researchers should have the freedom to choose the publisher of their choice without restrictions from institutional regulations, and any restrictions applied to those choices are counter to academic freedom.”

Lack of transparency: Katherine Stephan (panelist) asked, “Who decides (bans)? Are they being transparent about why those things have been banned? And again, how do you get off it?” The difficulties of confirming these policies shows that it can be difficult to know who is making these decisions, what criteria they are using, and how often decisions are reviewed. 

Publishers are also concerned about a lack of transparency. Without transparency, publishers can complain (perhaps rightly) that criticisms and bans are based on misinformation. An administrator setting policy may see no obligation to inform a publisher, which may defeat the purpose of getting publishers to behave “better.” Publishers cannot take steps to get off a banned list if they do not know there is a banned list. 

Impeding collaboration: Choosing a publication venue for large collaborative teams is already ripe for potential conflicts between contributors. Restrictions on publication venue make the negotiations for where to submit work even more complex, particularly if different team members have to abide by different, possibly conflicting policies. It can become “a very herculean task to choose a journal,” said Payal Joshi (panelist). 

Collateral damage: Publication can take time, and journal quality changes. A snap decision to ban a publisher because of a new problem could affect researchers that submitted articles in good faith before the problem was recognized. “What happens if you publish in one of these journals,” said Guarini, “and then two years later somebody decides that this journal is going to be banned from your evaluation?” 

“For any researcher, you’re tarred with a brush by an association to that publisher….  That seems an extremely heavy weight to carry for a person,” Stephan later wrote. 

Even lists that are not intended for faculty assessment can be misused. The Norwegian Register for Scientific Journals (mentioned a couple of times during the roundtable) places journals in four “levels”. Levels 1 or 2 are for normal scholarly journals. Level X is for venues whose status is uncertain. Level 0 is for publications that are not recognized as scientific journals, such as academic publications in non-scientific fields or popular journals in addition to scientific journals that failed to meet Registry criteria. 

The purpose of the Register was to compare institutions, not individuals. But at a glance, this system can be seen as giving a journal “allowlist” and “blocklist” aimed at individual researchers. Vidar Røeggen (Senior advisor, Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions) wrote in an email, “When our model was evaluated in 2013, the evaluators found some traces of misuse… we have tried to address this problem by writing our recommendation of responsible use.” 

Panelists also noted that publication practices vary widely from field to field. Humanities scholars often publish work in books rather than journals. And publication practices are changing. For example, preprints are becoming more widely accepted for assessments in many scientific fields, despite having minimal peer review – a factor which is often the focus of criticism for publishers. 

Institutions demand research productivity. It is not surprising that researchers want journals where their work has a good chance of being accepted and will be published quickly – even if that path might be seen as sketchy “shortcuts” by some colleagues. Nor is it surprising that publishers will try to meet that demand in the market. Like bailing water out of a sinking boat without fixing the leak, bans on publishers feel like institutions are trying to address the symptoms of a problem they themselves created without addressing the underlying cause. 

The roundtable is on YouTube:–c 

The video is also on Figshare, along with other content: 

All quotes used with permission

Haley Hazlett
Dr. Haley Hazlett has been DORA's Program Manager since 2021. She was a DORA Policy Intern before taking the role of Program Manager. She obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2021 and is passionate about improving research culture for all researchers.

Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard