Investigating peer review overlay services

Today, a new journal in mathematics was launched by Timothy Gowers and Dan Kral. The journal, called ‘Advances in Combinatorics’, is an overlay journal, built entirely on articles contained in the arXiv repository. It is free to read and will not charge authors to publish. The relatively low costs of running the journal are being covered by Queen’s University Library in Ontario, Canada, which is also providing administrative support.

COAR and Queen’s University Library were very keen to participate in the launch of this journal as it offers a model of overlay services on top of repositories, a model that could eventually be generalized beyond arXiv. “This aligns really well with our vision for next generation repositories”, says Kathleen Shearer, executive director of the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), “on top of which we can build services such as peer review”.

According to the journal’s founder, Timothy Gowers, research professor at the University of Cambridge, ‘Advances in Combinatorics’ was created in order to “give people the option… to submit to a journal that is not complicit in a system that uses its monopoly power to ruthlessly squeeze library budgets”.

The extreme profit seeking of some of the commercial publishers (it has been reported that Elsevier made profits of approximately $1.2 billion US dollars in 2017) is stretching library budgets to the limit. In addition, it has created significant barriers in access to research and -with the advent of article processing charges (APCs)- it is exacerbating inequalities in researchers’ ability to publish.

Martha Whitehead, vice-provost (digital planning) and university librarian at Queen’s University says, “As libraries, we need to nurture and invest in new models that will contribute to a more sustainable and inclusive system for research communications. We are delighted to be able to support this innovative approach to journal publishing.”

The journal plans to set a high bar for acceptance. Currently there are no non-commercial publishing venues that cater for combinatorics articles at the level envisaged. The aim is to offer an ethical alternative by launching a journal that publishes high quality papers, but does not charge publishing fees or for subscriptions.

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