More than two thousand researchers have signed a petition to boycott a new Nature journal over the fact it will be available only by subscription.
The new journal — Nature Machine Intelligence, about machine learning — plans to charge readers for access, unlike most other journals in the field. The researchers who signed the petition have pledged not to submit their work to the new journal, and will decline to review or edit papers for it, as well.
Most journals published by Nature Publishing Group are available only by subscription — but that doesn’t work for the machine learning community, the signatories argue:
[We] believe the adoption of this new journal as an outlet of record for the machine learning community would be a retrograde step. In contrast, we would welcome new zero-cost open access journals and conferences in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The petition was released on Saturday around 2000 UTC time, according to coordinator Tom Dietterich of Oregon State University; by Tuesday morning, it had 2160 signatures. Dietterich told Retraction Watch:
I expected this initiative to be strongly supported by the research community, but I am surprised at how quickly the signatures have accumulated.
Free and open access to knowledge is important in all fields. It is particularly important for students and faculty whose universities cannot afford the subscription fees for closed-access journals or cannot afford to pay (as authors) for their papers to be open access. Open access speeds up scientific progress by enabling anyone anywhere on earth to read the latest research and make their own contributions.
The machine learning community has embraced openness in publishing papers, software, and data sets. We have previously fought with Kluwer Academic Press…over open access to the journal Machine Learning (which I served as Executive Director for 6 years from 1992-1998). This resulted in a partial victory in that papers in MLJ are now open access 1 year after publication. It also resulted in the creation by Leslie Kaelbling (MIT) of the Journal of Machine Learning Research, which continues to be the most prestigious place to publish journal-length machine learning papers.
According to the petition, in 2001, the editorial board resigned from a subscription-based journal, Machine Learning, now published by Springer (which has merged with the publisher that includes Nature Publishing Group), and formed the open-access journal the Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR).
In response to Dietterich’s tweet about the petition, Nature Machine Intelligence posted over the weekend:
We respect your position and appreciate the role of OA journals and arXiv. We feel Nature MI can co-exist, providing a service – for those who are interested – by connecting different fields, providing an outlet for interdisciplinary work and guiding a rigorous review process.
— Nature Machine Intelligence (@NatMachIntell) April 29, 2018
A spokesperson for Nature Machine Intelligence told us:
We support the machine learning community’s view that open access and preprint servers, such as arXiv, have important roles in the dissemination of research. At Nature Research we are also achieving this by helping the community to freely share their discoveries by encouraging preprint posting and data- and code-sharing. We continue to extend access to all Nature journals in various ways, including our free SharedIt content-sharing initiative, which provides authors and subscribers with shareable links to view-only versions of published papers.
Selective journals like Nature Machine Intelligence — which involve substantial editorial development, aim to provide high levels of author service and publish informative, accessible content beyond primary research — require investment. At present, we believe that the fairest way of producing these journals, which ensures their long-term sustainability as a resource for the widest possible community, is to spread these costs among many readers — instead of having them borne by a few authors.
Dietterich told us:
We hope to prevent the establishment of an expensive closed-access journal in the machine learning field. This could unfold in a number of different ways. For example, Nature Publishing Group could make their new journal free and open access or they could decide that there is not a viable business in the machine learning area.
The new journal is scheduled to launch in January 2019.
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