An interview with BioMed Central

Here at CiteAb we are always very interested in developments in scientific publishing, and our recent discussion with Shreeya Nanda, Deputy Editor for Biology and Medicine at BioMed Central, was full of food for thought on a wide range of publishing issues. Here we share with you a behind-the-scenes view of this renowned open access publisher.

BioMed Central Blog Image

The company was acquired in 2008 by Springer, and now publishes over 250 journals. More than 60 of these form the BMC series, which comprises subject-specific journals focused on the needs of individual research communities across all areas of biology and medicine, publishing sound science, provided that there is some advance in the discipline.

The rest of BioMed Central’s journals span a wide variety of subjects across biomedicine, with an increasing number published in partnership with learned societies. Many are highly selective and leaders in their fields; most are headed by Editors-in-Chief with solid international reputations.

Shreeya spoke to us about her role within BioMed Central. She said: “I work as part of a team of Biology and Medical Editors. We are responsible for defining BioMed Central’s editorial policies and maintaining best practice in peer review across our journals. We also advise on all aspects of research and publication ethics and work closely with in-house editors, external academic editors and COPE (the Committee on Publication Ethics).”

Shreeya told us that BioMed Central was set up to demonstrate that there was an alternative model for science publishing, one in which the redistribution of scientific research is not restricted, and which as a result better suits the needs of not just the scientists who do the research, but also the funders who pay for it and society as a whole.

Shreeya said: “As many open access advocates have argued, scientists simply want as many people as possible to have access to their research, something that is easily done in an online world. Funders pay several hundred thousand dollars for the research that produces an article, but then they lose control of it.”

Importantly, open access enables research to be equally accessible to all scientists, not just those in the richest institutions and the most developed countries. Finally, open access also allows researchers to mine and analyse the literature for knowledge.”

BioMed Central operates on the ‘gold’ open access model where authors pay an article processing charge (APC) on acceptance of the manuscript and the article is made freely available immediately. However, it isn’t usually the individual author who pays the APC, as BioMed Central has several institutional membership schemes that can help alleviate costs for authors. Most APCs are paid by institutions with open access funds or by funding bodies.

The company also offers country-specific APC waivers to authors from low-income countries and discretionary waivers for authors in difficult financial circumstances. Shreeya says: “BioMed Central is committed to the principle that no one should be barred from publishing due to lack of funds.”

Shreeya continued: “A variety of peer review models are embraced at BioMed Central, ensuring that the integrity of the research is maintained, but also to make sure that we are answering the needs of the community. For example, we operate open peer review on the medical BMC-series journals where openness and transparency are key. This model has also been adopted by several biology journals, such as Biology Direct and GigaScience amongst others. BMC Biology has taken a different approach by adopting a ‘re-review opt-out’ policy whereby an author can choose not to have their manuscript re-reviewed by the original referees, in which case the in-house editorial team check the revisions instead and make the editorial decision.”

We spoke to Shreeya about the company’s motivations to publish under the Creative Commons license. She said: “There are two main reasons for this, the first being that under a creative commons license, the authors – the people who did the research – retain copyright of their own work, instead of handing it over to the publishers. Second, by enabling their content to be re-used and re-distributed without restriction (as long as there is proper attribution), a creative commons license helps remove any barriers to access and also makes it easier for work to be reproduced, replicated and mined.”

Innovation is the lifeblood of a company, and Shreeya tells us that BioMed Central is always trying to improve upon existing services and products. Currently the two main topics of interest and discussion are peer review and open data, and the company has something new to offer on both fronts.

On the peer review front, in addition to the novel models discussed above, BioMed Central partners with Peerage of Science and Axios Review, both new initiatives in the field of ecology and evolutionary biology designed to separate peer review from the journal.

With regard to data, following a public consultation the company revised the copyright and licensing agreements of its open access journals in September 2013 by adopting the Creative Commons CC0 waiver. What this essentially means is that data published in all articles in BioMed Central journals will be available for sharing, integration and re-use without legal restrictions.

BioMed OA Africa Blog ImageRegarding BioMed Central’s initiatives for developing worlds, in addition to the country-specific waivers, the company also has a portal dedicated to open access in the developing world, which highlights authors from the developing world and their research. The portal also provides information regarding waivers and advocacy material to help spread the word about open access in these countries. In 2010, BioMed Central teamed up with Computer Aid International to raise money, which enabled the charity to send more than 200 computers to Kenyatta University in Kenya.

Discussing impact factors, we addressed the fact that many of BioMed Central journals are highly rated. Shreeya said “Although the company is incredibly proud of the journals that have achieved high impact factors, we recognise that impact factors can be a rather arbitrary measure of a journal’s success. As the Editor of BMC Medicine, Sabina Alam, has previously commented, “While the IF is a useful guide of journal level citations, it doesn’t account for the impact individual articles may have in the very long-term (i.e. more than 5 years after publication), and it certainly doesn’t account for the interest non-clinical researchers (including patient advocacy groups and clinicians who don’t regularly publish in journals) may have in the findings of specific research”. To better assess the impact of individual articles, article level metrics, which give information on article accesses, coverage in the media and on blogs, and through social media sharing for example, are provided for all articles published in BioMed Central journals.”

But it isn’t all about the impact: while BioMed Central is justifiably proud that many of its journals rank highly according to measures such as the impact factor, the company is committed to providing a home for all sound research, so that the scientific record is complete. As noted above, the BMC-series journals lay more emphasis on the soundness of the work presented than on the interest that it will arouse. BMC Research Notes provides a forum for confirmatory studies and negative results; an avenue to publish the latter is also provided by the Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine

What are you opinions on impact factor – are you encouraged to target high impact factor journals by your funders or institution? Do you have a preference on peer review models? Comment below or join the conversation on Twitter using @CiteAb.

– The CiteAb team


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