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Harsh Words for HHMI, Max Planck, and Wellcome Trust

Since the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Plank Society, and the Wellcome Trust announced their launch of a new online-only, open-access genomics journal last month, the move has drawn some criticism. Over at the Great Beyond blog, Nature's Declan Butler — who is a self-proclaimed open-access publishing advocate — questions the groups' rationale for launching such a publication. While he notes that he is not speaking on behalf of his employer, Nature Publishing Group, Butler says that "the three funders' arguments on the need for this new journal seemed to me vague and unconvincing, and poorly thought-out, surprisingly so." He adds that, in his opinion, the groups' "rationale for the new journal, what value it could add, what shortcomings in the existing journal offerings it would address, and how precisely it would achieve this, were similarly disturbingly wooly, and simplistic."

Butler's not the only skeptic. Richard Grant at Confessions of a (Former) Lab Rat, this week also questions how, exactly, the groups plan to launch the proposed journal. According to Grant, the HHMI-Max Planck-Wellcome Trust announcement was more about hype than substance. "Obviously this new Journal with No Name will publish only the best research," he says. "Which means that Wellcome-funded researchers will publish in this journal, and this journal only — obviously, because this is the best journal, and they are the best researchers."

In a guest post at Iddo Friedberg's blog Byte Size Biology, The James Hutton Institute's Leighton Pritchard says that while the new open-access genomics journal is "a great idea," particularly because it has the potential to overcome some of the oft-discussed problems with peer-review, he suggests that it "runs a risk of opening the scientific process to a potentially damaging slander by opponents of science." Pritchard says:

Where I think that the new journal will shake up peer review is in its intent to publish reviewers' comments publicly, but anonymously. This cuts both ways: authors will no longer be able to "get away with" ignoring potentially serious criticisms from a minority reviewer, unnoticed, after publication, but nor will poor or unreasonable reviewers be able to hide behind the opaqueness of the current review process. ... But I do have one serious criticism, which comes not from being a scientist, but instead thinking about how the public sees science. ... The anonymity and stringency of peer review in journals ... is where I think the new journal risks offering an easy target to those who would seek to undermine public confidence in science.

Pritchard goes on to add that, no matter how "ethically clean the journal is," its potential lack of "independence and transparency in the cycle of funding and publication" is threatening. Without independence and transparency, he says, "we risk delivering an opportunity for slander into the hands of those who would undermine science for political goals."

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