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In response to the uptick in journals with questionable editorial practices that have followed in the wake of the open-access movement, several publishing associations are banding together over a new set of principles to tell the legitimate journals from the crowd.

The Committee on Publication Ethics, the Directory of Open Access Journals, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association and the World Association of Medical Editors on Thursday announced the “Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing.” The 16-point document, described as a work in progress, covers everything from the necessity of using peer review to dictating where information about copyright and licensing information is displayed to publishing schedules and marketing practices.

The open-access movement has generated much excitement from scholars who view the editorial processes of traditional journals as barriers to publication for researchers, especially if their work doesn't fit neatly into the scholarly visions of mainstream journals. But starting an online open-access journal is quite easy if one doesn't care about quality, and many that have appeared can hardly be described as “scholarly.” Some of those journals were recently exposed by John Bohannon, a Harvard University biologist and writer, who submitted a fabricated article written by an imaginary scholar to 304 open-access journals. More than half accepted the article for publication, many with little or no signs of peer review.

Paul Peters, president of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, acknowledged that such reports have highlighted a need for scholarly publications to embrace a common set of principles.

“[E]ach of the organizations that were involved in drafting this statement have seen an increase in applications for membership over the past couple of years, which is to a large degree driven by the growth of new open-access publishers,” Peters said in an email. “While many of these new publishers are doing an excellent job in adhering to the commonly accepted set of best practices, we do see a number of membership applications coming from publishing organizations that are not doing as good of a job, either because of a lack of knowledge about appropriate publishing standards or possibly due to a lack of interest in certain cases.”

Many of the standards seem like common sense, but Peters said scholarly publishers have not before been expected to uphold a commonly agreed-upon set of standards. Journal names, for example, “shall be unique and not be one that is easily confused with another journal,” one principle reads -- an effort to prevent copycat publications created to swindle researchers. Others principles state journals should have “governing bodies whose members are recognized experts in the subject areas included within the journal’s scope” and soliciting submissions should be “appropriate, well targeted and unobtrusive.”

Joseph J. Esposito, a digital media, software and publishing consultant, said the principles appear "well-intended, if reactive," and that they will likely improve as more organizations pitch their ideas.

"It is good to see that the work of Jeffrey Beall and John Bohannon is having a positive effect," Esposito, who writes for the Society for Scholarly Publishing's Scholarly Kitchen blog. "Both Beall and Bohannon have been much criticized (I personally have some reservations about Beall's approach), but the fact is that together they have altered forever the 'Wild West' aspect of some strands of open access publishing. Over time reliable voices will arise, whose judgments concerning journals will be the equivalent of a new kind of impact factor ranking."

In the document presented Thursday, the four organizations also pledge to assist journals that are found to have violated any of the 16 principles. Failure to correct their practices could lead to suspension or termination.

“In the interest of fairness, we believe that it is important to have an objective set of standards that we can use to evaluate membership applications, and ideally we would like for these standards to be shared by other publishing associations,” Peters wrote, adding that he hoped the principles “can serve to both provide guidance to new publishers about the standards that they will be expected to uphold, and to become the basis for many of our membership application decisions.”

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