Open Access in Food Science: Self-Selecting for the Second Choice?

As someone with a background in programming (I finally caved recently and installed Linux on my new computer, one of the older and more established open source alternatives to Windows and macOS), I’ve been aware of open source software for a long time, and I owe a lot to that community. OpenOffice was the word processor I used for all of my writing in high school (and I did an awful lot of it) since my family was hardly going to shell out for a Microsoft Office license; the GNU Image Manipulation Program has always let me dabble in digital art without having to commit to buying Photoshop; and to this day I use R for much of my statistics.

So it would make sense that, as a researcher, I’d be equally enamored with its close cousin, open access. Unfortunately, in Food Science, I’ve only ever heard of researchers opting to publish in open access journals when they’ve already had the manuscript rejected from their journal of choice. When I went to investigate today what the options even were for open access journals in food science, one of the first things I found was a peculiar bit of language on the Wiley Library page for the Journal of Sensory Studies (JSS), which is not an open access journal:

This journal works together with Wiley’s Open Access Journal, Food Science & Nutrition [FSN], to enable rapid publication of good quality research that is unable to be accepted for publication by our journal.

Given what I know about the prevalence of and attitude towards open access journals in my field, this has a strong subtext. If your work isn’t up to snuff to be published in the more prestigious, elite journal with the higher impact factor (2.072), we’ll automatically pass you along to the open access step child, which manages to have a lower impact factor (1.747) even when anyone in the whole world can see it. Admittedly, there are non-quality-related reasons why a manuscript could be unsuitable for JSS: JSS is a journal specifically for research which has an impact on the practice of sensory science such as methodology development or comparisons, whereas FSN has a broader scope covering most if not all areas of food science and human nutrition. Aside from research which falls outside the topic area pretty explicitly stated in the name of the journal, though, most of the reasons JSS lists for manuscript rejection would be considered not following standard good practice in sensory science.

The motivation for this program (which also passes along rejected articles from many other food science journals) isn’t entirely clear to me. If the JSS editorial staff want to support open access, why have they not made their own journal open access?

If one reads the overviews of the Journal of Food Science (JFS) and FSN, the two journals have nearly identical scopes (covering food chemistry, engineering, microbiology, sensory science, nutrition, and safety), with FSN breaking the categories down further, especially with regards to nutrition and safety, and JFS having fewer categories with more of an emphasis on reviews, cutting edge research, and industry relevance or collaboration. JFS will also pass along research articles which do not make it in for consideration by FSN, which is an even stranger partnership to me as there are few topics which fall inside the scope of one journal but outside the scope of the other. Both are published by Wiley, and much of FSN’s language about its open access status centers around “speed” and “efficiency” of publishing. And then, of course, there’s the big difference–that the authors or their institution must pay to cover publication costs in FSN, a $2,600 fee which can be discounted for members of certain professional societies or users of the manuscript referral program from a more prestigious journal.

I’ve been using the word “prestigious” a bit sarcastically n this post, but it is, in fact, the word that FSN uses to describe the partner journals that send along rejected manuscripts. I believe in open access, and I’d love for it to take off more broadly, but I think it’s pretty clear that it has a perception as the place for lower-quality work in my field. I suspect this may be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as a journal is hardly going to become prestigious or overcome its second-fiddle reputation to attract submissions if it is, in fact, not attractive to researchers in the field as a first choice.

So how exactly do we break that cycle? Well, I just learned that Virginia Tech can waive the publication fee for Wiley open access journals as of the start of this year, so maybe I don’t have much of an excuse to put my (purely metaphorical) money where my mouth is anymore.

One comment:

  1. I think this is a really interesting piece of the puzzle when thinking about why open access journals sometimes have a bad reputation within the scientific community (besides non-legitimate open-access journals just seeking to collect publication fees). I have not heard of this idea of “passing down” manuscripts from a non-open access journal to an open access journal as an alternative option. It’s no wonder that in your field, open access journals are not highly regarded! I wonder how journal reputations might change if the more “prestigious” journals in your field became open access- but as we learned yesterday, that is not always the easiest transition to make.

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