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Mass Resignation at Leading Neuroscience Journals Prompted by High Article Processing Fees

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The entire editorial boards of two of the highest-ranked brain imaging journals have resigned in protest at article processing charges (APC) for the journals' open access (OA) content.


Rival journal

NeuroImage, an Elsevier journal, was first published in 1992 and has an impact factor of 7.400. Its sister journal NeuroImage: Reports, was first published in 2021 and focuses on publishing null finding papers and registered report-style articles. In a Twitter post published April 17, NeuroImage editor-in-chief Stephen Smith, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Oxford, shared a letter signed by more than 40 academic editors that pointed a finger at the journals’ “high-profit” business model.

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“Elsevier has set the NeuroImage APC at $3,450 USD,” read the letter. “Compared against this, estimates of direct article costs at relevant journals are generally around $1,000 or lower. Scientists and funders increasingly feel that it is wrong for publishers to make such high profits, particularly given that the publishers do not fund the original science, or the writing of articles, or payments to reviewers and pay minimal editorial stipends.”

The letter went on to announce that the editorial team would instead start a rival, non-profit OA journal named Imaging Neuroscience, which is “intended to replace NeuroImage as our field’s leading journal.”

Neuroimage first became an OA journal in January 2020. This business model removes access costs to article readers but regains profits by charging academics to publish in the journal.

According to Smith’s post, the editorial board first requested that Elsevier reduce the APC to under $2,000 in June 2022. No reduction was forthcoming from the publisher and a follow-up request last month came with the threat of mass resignations. “In April,” said the letter, “Elsevier responded to all editors stating that the APC would not be reduced because they believe that market forces support the current APC.”

The former editorial board, which now is moving to publish Imaging Neuroscience, intends to undercut NeuroImage’s APC by more than half.

“Enormous” profits lead to breakdown

Sarang Dalal, a researcher at Aarhus University, former handling editor at NeuroImage and signatory of the letter said that rising costs had made publishing in the journal a challenge even for the editorial team themselves, with even greater barriers faced by researchers in less wealthy countries. Imaging Neuroscience intends to waive the APC for researchers from low- or middle-income countries. “The enormous profits that Elsevier reaps are completely inappropriate for academic research that is for the most part funded by taxpayers around the world,” said Dalal in a message to Technology Networks.       

The team stated their desire to continue editing any existing submissions to the journal for the next 12 months, a move supported by Elsevier, who told Technology Networks that they intended to work with the former editorial team to complete the editorial process for these existing submissions. “We value very highly our editors and are disappointed with the decision of the NeuroImage Editorial Board to step down from their roles, especially as we have been engaging constructively with them over the last couple of years as we transitioned NeuroImage to become a fully OA journal,” read Elsevier’s statement.

The statement continued, “NeuroImage has appointed an interim internal editorial team while we transition to a permanent team that will follow the highly successful hybrid model of in-house/external editors.”

Similar pressures

Elsevier’s statement defended its APC levels, pointing to the high publishing prices required for OA publication in other journals in the field. Nature Neuroscience (published by Nature) charges an APC of $11,390, Frontiers in Neuroscience (published by Frontiers) charges $3,225 for original research articles, Human Brain Mapping (Published by Wiley) charges $3,850 and Neurology (published by Wolters Kluwer on behalf of the American Academy of Neurology) charges at least $3,800. Elsevier’s parent company, RELX, reported an operating profit of roughly $2.85 billion in 2022.

From Smith’s perspective, these high levels of costs at rival journals may instead signal an oncoming wave of similar protests across the scientific publishing industry. “I think that most scientists are facing similar pressures, although different fields are at different stages of the gradual, probably inevitable, process of changing to fully open access, and to having the publication cost as low as possible.”

Smith said that the support he and his fellow editors had seen online suggested that “we might see resignations at other journals or decent reductions in publication costs.”

Sarang Dalal and Stephen Smith were speaking to Ruairi J Mackenzie, Senior Science Writer for Technology Networks