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Big Idea Concept, The woman open the door in the maze-shaped brain

Editors at one of the top journals for imaging of the brain and spinal column quit en masse after publisher Elsevier refused to lower article publishing fees.

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Elsevier, which says it disseminated about 18 percent of Earth’s scientific articles last year, declined editors’ requests to lower the $3,450 publishing fee at one of its journals.

NeuroImage editors said they formally asked Elsevier in June to drop the charge below $2,000. Early last month, they warned they would resign.

“We believe that the current slow decrease in submissions/publications is primarily due to the APC [article publishing charge]—we hear a lot on this from researchers in our field, no longer willing to submit papers or review,” they wrote. “We appreciate that you do not accept that, but it’s not helpful to argue further in the absence of definitive proof. Nevertheless, NeuroImage remains the largest and ‘top’ journal in our field, and we would like to keep it this way.”

On Monday, every editor at NeuroImage and the NeuroImage: Reports companion journal—over 40 people—resigned.

“It’s a pretty big exodus,” said Cindy Lustig, a University of Michigan at Ann Arbor psychology professor and one of the eight now former senior editors of the open-access NeuroImage. The departures also include editors in chief and handling editors.

“Getting 40-plus high-powered academics to agree on anything, much less keeping it quiet until we made the official announcement, I think is slightly miraculous on its own,” she said.

The editors wrote in an email, “As you have confirmed that the APC will not be reduced, all editors from both journals are now resigning with immediate effect.”

They’re starting their own journal, taking themselves, the Twitter profile they were using and (almost) the same name. They plan to publish their new Imaging Neuroscience with MIT Press.

Elsevier says it has over 2,800 other journals. But the en masse exit is part of continuing backlash against the business model of the world’s largest scientific journal publishers.

The new journal’s leaders shared their announcement on Twitter.

“Scientists and funders increasingly feel that it is wrong for publishers to make such high profits, particularly given that the publishers do not fund the original science, or the writing of articles or payments to reviewers and pay minimal editorial stipends,” the announcement said. “As a result, authors and reviewers are increasingly refusing to work with high-profit journals.”

Stephen Smith, NeuroImage’s now former editor in chief, said he received $8,000. Lustig said she was paid $1,500 a year as a senior editor. She said peer reviewers weren’t paid.

Lustig said high publishing fees present barriers to certain researchers, such as those from smaller colleges, those early in their careers and those from lower- and middle-income countries that don’t provide as much government grant money.

“A lot of the research that we’re doing is government-funded,” she said. “So in the U.S., that’s from NIH [National Institutes of Health] grants and NSF [National Science Foundation] grants, and so when people are paying those publication fees, that’s money that’s going toward this for-profit journal.”

“We are aiming for less than half of the current NeuroImage APC, or even lower,” the new journal’s leaders announced. “The APC will be waived for low- or middle-income countries. Our ambition is for Imaging Neuroscience to replace NeuroImage as the top journal in our field, focusing on imaging of the brain and spinal cord, in humans and other species, also including neurophysiological and stimulation methods. The overall scope, quality level and entire editorial team will be the same as it had been at NeuroImage (combined with the editorial team from NeuroImage: Reports).”

A spokesman for Elsevier, which didn’t provide an interview Wednesday, said in an email that the company was “disappointed” with the resignations.

“In line with our policy of setting our article publishing charges competitively below the market average relative to quality, the fee that has been set for NeuroImage is below that of the nearest comparable journal in its field (based on Field-weighted Citation Impact),” the spokesman said. “We want to reassure all authors that we will continue to work together for the foreseeable future to ensure all submissions already in process are handled appropriately to a final decision.”

He didn’t say what the “nearest comparable journal” is and said, “We don’t release individual journal profit figures.”

NeuroImage has appointed an interim internal editorial team while we transition to a permanent team that will follow the highly successful hybrid model of in-house/external editors already adopted by many journals from Cell Press and The Lancet,” he wrote. Asked who is on the “interim” team, he wrote that “they will be put up on the website when they are all confirmed.”

The departing editors and Elsevier have agreed for the departing editors to continue reviewing papers that have already been submitted.

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