Published with Elsevier, the Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering is peer-reviewed and open-access. With publishing costs subsidized by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, authors do not have to pay any fees, and the articles are immediately and permanently free for everyone to read and download. It appears to make sense that the same Academy is also responsible for the peer-review. A quick glance through the editorial board shows a list of mostly Chinese editors, though they are scattered in institutions from around the world.
I was skeptical at first as to whether there would be a fair representation of authors. The incentive is certainly there to accept more articles from authors within China or scholars affiliated with the Chinese community. In all likelihood, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, no doubt affiliated with the government, decided to subsidize publishing costs to promote scholars from within the country. I counted the number of articles published by Chinese authors in a few issues, and surprisingly, the representation did not appear overly skewed compared to a non-open-access journal in the same discipline published by Elsevier.
The difference lies instead in the “journal metrics,” values that are meant to measure the journal’s impact and ranking. And prestige. The open-access journal appears to have the lower citation factor, lower impact factor and lower ranking. The metrics are really not surprising.
I think the Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering could gain more traction if it diversified in its editorial board. “Free” does not have to be associated with “lower quality,” especially when the evaluation panel is recognized and respected by scholars from around the world. But that may be difficult to do if the journal is in fact tied to some political agenda.