Open Access Journals in Environmental Engineering

In all honesty, when I first set out looking for open access journals in Environmental Engineering I expected it to be fairly straight forward. What I ended up finding was very far from that. Most of the top journals that I am used to dealing with (Nature, Environmental Science and Technology, Water Research) were not open access – though they do have some open access articles. I ran across a couple journals that claimed to be open access, but were largely considered predatory – OMICS Publishing Group among – which opens up an entirely different can of worms. As I sifted through a number of open access journals unrelated to my discipline and others from smaller countries without large investments in research, I came to realize there does not seem to be many (if any?) high profile, accepted, open access journal in my particular field. I inevitably selected an interactive open-access journal named ‘Drinking Water Engineering and Science’ (DWES, https://www.drinking-water-engineering-and-science.net/about/aims_and_scope.html), however, the lack of highly reputable journals that are open access, in my opinion, is worrisome.

DWES is a “peer-reviewed open-access journal for the publication of original research in drinking water treatment and supply” and is primarily focused on “applied research in water sources, substances, drinking water treatment processes, distribution systems, and residual management” which aligns nicely with my personal interest in drinking water and wastewater treatment. Based out of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, DWES is associated with Copernicus publications and primarily serves researchers from universities and research institutes as well as scientists and engineers working in industry.

Open access does feature prominently on DWES website and is explicitly identified multiple times, in multiple sections.  DWES doesn’t state where exactly they fall within the greater ‘open access movement’, but they do advertise their free immediate access to original publications. Interestingly enough, DWES also has a section where they discuss the ethics of their publications, citing that ethical standards are critical to high quality scientific publications. Copernicus Publications, DWES’ associate, have guidelines to help ensure ethical publishing while DWES itself is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). DWES states that their selection of publications will be based solely on the quality of a studies scientific merit and not on the race, gender, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, etc. of the authors.

Overall, I find open access journals to be a good idea and am hopeful that they become more prevalent in my field; however, I find the one potential hang-up to be related to the economics of what open access requires. In the current framework most journals operating expenses (editing, publishing, etc.) are paid for by the users (readers/subscribers). Open access removes this cost burden from the user, but that does not remove the cost in its entirely. Journals still need to pay for the services they provide and, outside of government subsidies, these costs are often incurred by the authors. In my opinion, the pay wall that was limiting dissemination of information to the user is now only going to be felt by the primary investigators conducting the research in the first place – which I do not know if it is a better or worse model. Additionally, open access potentially opens the door for predatory open access journals which levy high fees on authors for publication, while not provide the same level of editing and credibility seen in the current system. As I have said before, I very much like the concept of open access, but I feel there are some very important hurdles that must be crossed before it can be completely adopted and replace the current model.

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