Accessibility and added value: a personal perspective on publishing in PeerJ by Erin McKiernan

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In just a few days the inaugural ARCS: Advancing Research Communication & Scholarship (Philadelphia, April 26-28) will begin. As PeerJ is one of the sponsors of the event we asked Erin McKiernan, (published author with PeerJ and ARCS co-organiser) to give a personal perspective on some of the scholarly communications challenges she has faced, and why she chose PeerJ. Here’s what she said …

“In 2013, working as a researcher in Mexico, I entered my academic credentials into an electronic system used for evaluations and promotions. When the system returned my automatically-generated CV, one of my published articles was missing. I went back into the system and confirmed I had entered the information correctly. Then I reviewed the evaluation criteria and realized what had happened – the system had deleted my article because it was published in a journal without an impact factor. Because of where I chose to publish, it was as if an entire piece of research I produced never existed.

The journal I chose to publish in was PeerJ. This year, I chose again to submit my work to PeerJ. Some might say, knowing the possible consequences for my career, this decision was crazy. Some might say my experience shows I should change my publishing strategy. I say it shows we should change how we evaluate researchers. I believed then, as I believe now, that PeerJ was the right venue for my work. And I support the ways in which PeerJ is trying to change our broken scholarly communication system.

The most important factor in my decision to publish with PeerJ was access. PeerJ is an open access journal, which means it provides unrestricted access to, and reuse of, all published articles. As a researcher who has worked in Puerto Rico and Mexico and seen the damaging effects a lack of access to the academic literature has on students, faculty, and scientific progress, it was crucial for me to publish my work in an open access venue. From increased access to research comes real impact and new discovery.

The second factor for me was cost. Many researchers are concerned about the rising cost of article processing charges (APCs) at some open access journals. At the time I published my first article with PeerJ, I was working as a high school teacher with no research funds and couldn’t afford a high APC. PeerJ’s membership model, where authors pay a small, one-time fee to publish for life, was perfect. Even on a high school teacher’s salary, I could pay the $99 fee out of pocket to ensure my work was accessible. PeerJ is showing that low-cost, high-quality open access publishing is possible and sustainable.

I also had a scientific reason to publish with PeerJ. Unlike many journals that look for novelty, impact, or interest to determine whether work should be published, PeerJ is concerned only with “scientific and methodological soundness”. Readers should be able to decide for themselves what they find interesting, but they can’t do that if manuscripts are held up at the gate by a small number of reviewers who make this decision for them. Impact is something that often can’t be immediately gauged – it can take decades for scientific discoveries to demonstrate their impact, which they can’t do if they are never published. And novelty? A novel, positive result is great. But equally important to scientific progress are null results, replications, or failures to replicate. We have to mitigate the ‘file drawer’ problem in science, and policies like PeerJ’s help us do that.

Finally, there is a lot of talk about the added value provided by publishers. Authors are demanding more, especially if they are paying to publish. What do I want as an author? (1) Make it easy for me to submit; (2) Produce a high-quality final product; and (3) Provide great support at every step of the process, from submission to post-publication issues. Although I didn’t know it the first time I submitted, PeerJ does all of this and it is a huge part of why I chose them again this year. Their submission system is smooth and easy to use and they have minimal formatting requirements, especially for the initial submission – both of which save me time and hair-pulling. The final published article looks great and is easy to read, showing that low-cost doesn’t have to mean low-quality. In addition, every time I had a question during submission or an issue to resolve, like a typo discovered post-publication, their editorial staff have been helpful and efficient. As an author, I couldn’t ask for better value.

At ARCS, we couldn’t ask for a better partner. We’re grateful that PeerJ will be helping us bring young scholars to ARCS to discover all the ways in which the next generation can improve scholarly communication.”

Why not join hundreds of happy authors like Erin and submit your next article to PeerJ.

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