Voting with your feet: choosing which publishers deserve your time

Picture from above of black shoes and bottom of black pants standing on black asphalt, with two white arrows painted on the asphalt just above the feet, one arrow pointing diagonally up and the other pointing diagonally down
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Written by guest contributor Jessica Lange

Academic publishing relies on the voluntary participation of scholars to contribute as peer reviewers and editors. Editors typically look after reviewing initial submissions to a journal, finding peer reviewers, and reviewing the final submission for acceptance. Peer reviewers serve an equally important role, assessing a scholarly work for its validity, impact, and relevance to the field.  

Researchers choose to serve as editors and peer reviewers to contribute back to the scholarly community and advance research. This is also considered part of the “job” of an academic for the purposes of tenure and promotion. However, as precarious academic positions are on the rise, this underlying principle is being reconsidered. Even for academics with a full-time position, the squeeze of increasing administrative responsibilities alongside a heavier valuing of research in tenure and promotion, has led some to make strategic choices about where to devote their energies.  

Despite the importance of these roles to the scientific community, many people outside academia are surprised to learn that neither peer reviewers nor editors receive compensation for their work. Given that large, commercial publishers post hefty profit margins and may have questionable privacy practices, researchers are starting to wonder if these corporations should benefit from their voluntary labour and scholarly expertise.  

If the above applies to you, I’d recommend the KU Leuven framework based on the Fair Open Access Alliance. When evaluating a publication for editorial or peer review duties, ask if : 

“The supplier of the infrastructure for scholarly communication has a transparent ownership structure, and is not profit-driven and accountable to shareholders, but mission-driven and accountable to the academic community (e.g. an editorial board or scholarly society).” (Fair Open Access) 

This framework privileges “scholar-led” operations, those run and led by academics themselves, supported in many cases by universities, societies, libraries, or associations. For example, the McGill Library hosted journal Seismica, a free-to-authors and readers open access journal, launched in specific response to the for-profit nature of scientific publishing in their discipline.  

How can I assess a journal?  

Journals will typically post this kind of information in their “About” page. Review their website to see if they are published by a commercial publisher (e.g., Wiley, Elsevier etc.), a non-profit (e.g., Cambridge University Press, University of Toronto Press etc.), or independently supported by a university, library, or association. Does the journal provide a mission statement? What is the publisher’s mission and goals? If the journal charges article processing charges, are they transparent about the fees (if applicable)? 

What else would you add for consideration?  

Additional resources

Jessica Lange is the Scholarly Communications Librarian at McGill University. In this role, she provides services to the campus community in the areas of open access, publishing, author rights, and open educational resources (OERs). She also manages McGill’s open access repository eScholarship and its scholarly publishing program. Her research interests include scholarly publishing and open access.  


Advertisement for MyResearch graduate seminar series with the message, start your journey here.

Welcome to the Schulich Library summer edition of the MyResearch workshop series, restricted to McGill graduate and postdoctoral students. Choose the series that is designed for you, whether you are in health and biological sciences or physical sciences and engineering.

Register for each of the Zoom workshops in this series below.

MyResearch – Research Foundations

Take your research to the next level. Learn about the extensive library services that can support you throughout your research. Identify key resources you will need for your research, and learn advanced search strategies and techniques. Learn how to stay up to date on your topic by creating effective alerts.

MyResearch – EndNote Essentials

Find out how to build your personal database of references using EndNote. Learn how to organize the references in groups, produce bibliographies, attach files to your references, insert bibliographic citations in your papers in your chosen style, and more.

MyResearch – Getting Your Research Out

Your article is written – now what? Learn about important issues and trends in scholarly publishing such as Open Access and predatory publishing. Gain practical tips on identifying where you can publish and understand the role of citation analysis tools and metrics (such as impact factor and h-index). Learn about different scholarly profiles and their impact on your presence as a researcher. 

We hope that you will join us!

Books on display in May: Women in STEM

This month’s print book and ebook displays spotlight women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The books are about remarkable women who made advances in their fields, despite the challenges of oppressive systems and all of the forms that harassment can take. They tell the stories of women in STEM who did not quit.

The print book shelves can be found on the main floor of the Redpath Library Building, in the McLennan-Redpath Complex, during the month of May. Take a look at the selected titles in our catalogue list for the Women in STEM print book display.

The Women in STEM ebook display has an additional 100 titles to explore online.

Beyond books, I want to highlight two electronic videos in the McGill Library collection that are worth your attention: Ms. Scientist, and Picture a Scientist.

Ms. Scientist, 2018 film (43 minutes)

Around the world the fields of scientific research and development remain a male-dominated environment. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics less than thirty percent of the world’s researchers are women. Many women enter a career in science but leave because of roadblocks and challenges. Canada wants to change that. Brandy Yanchyk’s documentary Ms Scientist explores how Canada is trying to get female scientists to stay in the fields of science and progress to the top. Ms Scientist looks at the successes and challenges that Canada’s female scientists face. The film delves into their lives and examines the obstacles that are hindering their success such as balancing family and work, sexual harassment and unconscious bias.

Picture a Scientist, 2020 film (1 hour 37 minutes)

Picture a Scientist is a feature-length documentary film chronicling the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. A biologist, a chemist and a geologist lead viewers on a journey deep into their own experiences in the sciences, overcoming brutal harassment, institutional discrimination, and years of subtle slights to revolutionize the culture of science. From cramped laboratories to spectacular field sites, we also encounter scientific luminaries who provide new perspectives on how to make science itself more diverse, equitable, and open to all.

For more links, visit our Women in STEM page on the Redpath Book Display guide.

Have a lovely May!

Health Quackery Exhibit

Health information literacy and critical thinking to the rescue

Quackery is a fuzzy concept that can be defined in broader or narrower terms, but here I will use the concept to touch upon health fraud, bad science, pseudoscience, and misinformation. Health quackery has come in many forms over the ages (both outside and within the medical establishment), but it seems fair to say one antidote is a combination of health information literacy and critical thinking.

The April exhibit on the main floor of the Redpath Library Building is a playful attempt to capture a few of the historical and contemporary issues related to the subject, while also drawing on some resources that may be useful in developing a critical approach to the marketing of health products and services. Here I have selected a sample of authors who have written directly or indirectly on the topic.

Books by Ben Goldacre

Cover image of the book Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre
Cover image of the book Bad Pharma, by Ben Goldacre

Ben Goldacre, known in part for a column he penned in The Guardian, has written accessible books such as Bad Science and Bad Pharma, taking a critical look at alternative approaches as well as the pharmaceutical industry. He is a proponent of open science and runs the Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science.

Books by Paul Offit

Paul Offit is a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases with expertise in vaccines, immunology, and virology, and his work contributed to the development of a vaccine for rotavirus. He is an interesting example of the complexity of being publicly accepted as a trusted figure when you are seen as having a conflict of interest (COI), financial or otherwise. That said, anybody trying to sell you some kind of health product or service, pharmaceutical or not, can be accused of a potential conflict as well, and many such figures do not disclose or admit their own COIs.

Books by Jen Gunter

Jen Gunter, a gynecologist who has written for the New York Times, is not afraid to call out celebrities for their questionable health claims. She is an advocate for women’s health.

Books by Timothy Caulfield

Timothy Caulfield is a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta. He takes fun pokes at celebrity “health” culture. You can also find him on Twitter.

Books by Joe Schwarcz

Joe Schwarcz is one of McGill’s resident skeptics when it comes to health quackery and has written many books which may be of interest to critical minds. He is the Director of the Office for Science and Society and seeks to elevate the level of critical thinking applied to health and scientific claims.

Critical thinking and health information literacy

Antidotes to health quackery include critical thinking and health information literacy. There are many problems with medical research and valid criticisms with regard to relying too dogmatically on certain study designs as best evidence, for example, but the accumulation of science-based knowledge is an evolving process, studies can be badly or well done, and we need to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty while able to appraise–at even a basic but solid level–the available evidence.


Health quackery flourishes in unregulated environments. Regulation is one way in which the public is protected from false or overreaching claims. Knowing more about how food, drugs, and other products are regulated helps understand why some seemingly outrageous claims still seem to make it through the protections in place.

Assessing health information

Some other potential remedies when seeking trusted health information and interpreting health research:

Online Health Information Aid

How to Read a Paper

Look It Up! What Patients, Doctors, Nurses, and and Pharmacists Need to Know about the Internet and Primary Health Care

Users’ Guides to the Medical Literature

Many thanks to Joe Schwarcz for providing the community with his critical perspectives on the topic, as well as for loaning us some interesting examples of products marketed to consumers for their presumed health benefits (check out his Facebook video). The ducks are also thanks to his extensive collection.

A big thank you to Tamanna Patel, Mary Yearl, Lucy Kiester, and Amanda Wheatley for their invaluable help with this exhibit! Any sources of criticism are entirely the responsibility of Genevieve Gore.

List of library items on display and other related items

April Book Display: English & Academic Writing

Redpath Book Display

April may be a busy time while you are completing your term papers and exams. It may also be a great time to reflect and determine what you want to accomplish in the upcoming summer vacation. How about uplifting your academic writing skills? No matter what level of study you are doing or what role you are playing in academia, good writing undoubtedly makes a positive contribution to your work. Not only does it help to make your ideas more precise and persuasive, but also it aids in your reasoning, analyzing, and critical thinking.

With that in mind, the McGill Library created a virtual book display entitled “English & Academic Writing”, consisting of recent print books, ebooks, e-videos and website resources on academic writing and English communication. They are useful for both instructors and students of various disciplines, including those whose mother tongue is not English. Selected print titles are now available for borrowing on the Redpath Book Display on the main floor of the Redpath Library (aka. the northern part of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library) during the entire month of April.

Here are some of the titles that you may want to start with:

100 tips to avoid mistakes in academic writing and presenting

100 tips to avoid mistakes in academic writing and presenting, Adrian Wallwork & Anna Southern, 2020, Springer

This ebook contains one hundred typical mistakes relating to papers, proposals, oral presentations, and correspondence with editors, reviewers, and editing agencies. While it is primarily intended for non-native English speaking researchers, it is also useful for those who are revising their works in order to have them published.

How to fix your academic writing trouble: a practical guide, Inger Mewburn, Katherine Firth, and Shaun Lehmann, 2019, Open University Press

This print book explains common feedback students receive from their instructors of a writing course, such as “Your writing doesn’t sound very academic” and “Your writing doesn’t flow”. It also provides advice on how to fix those issues.

Writing for engineering and science students: staking your claim, Gerald Rau, 2020, Routledge

This ebook is a practical guide for both international students and native speakers of English undertaking either academic or technical writing. It uses writing excerpts from engineering and science journals to explore characteristics of a research paper, including organization, length and naming of sections, and location and purpose of citations and graphics. It covers different types of writing, including lab reports, research proposals, dissertations, poster presentations, industry reports, emails, and job applications.

Academic writing for university students, Stephen Bailey, 2022, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group

This print book is designed to help with writing essays, reports and other papers for coursework and exams. It consists of four parts: The Writing Process: From finding suitable sources, through to editing and proofreading; Writing Types: Practice with common assignments such as reports and cause-effect essays; Writing Tools: Skills such as making comparisons, definitions, punctuation and style; and Lexis: Academic vocabulary, using synonyms, nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs.

“They say / I say”: the moves that matter in academic writing: with readings, Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, Russel K Durst, and Laura J Panning Davies, 2021, W.W. Norton & Company

This text has been used in many writing courses to teach students how to structure a scholarly conversation while building their own arguments. It provides practical rhetoric templates that are useful for citing different views in the literature, for example, “In discussions of………………, a controversial issue is whether……………… . While some argue that………………, others contend that………………. .” It is definitely a helpful guide for writing your literature review.

Becoming an academic writer: 50 exercises for paced, productive, and powerful writing, Patricia Goodson, 2017, SAGE

This print title is a workbook of 50 exercises, covering both linguistic basics (e.g. grammar and vocabulary) and writing specifics in different sections of an academic work, such as abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion and conclusion.

For those whose mother tongue is not English, also feel free to watch some e-videos listed in the “Study English” and “English Composition” series.

Since it takes effort and time to improve your writing, why don’t you start the journey with a book from our book display today?

These student papers are the best

Excellence in

Written Communication

I am delighted to present to you three of our Communication in Engineering, Excellence in Written Communication Award winners! These are the best student papers from past terms of CCOM 206. They have been added to eScholarship@McGill and they are well worth a read.

Nathan Robbins – Performance of Nose Cone Geometries on Sounding Rockets

Read the full paper on eScholarship

This investigation compares the performances of several nose cone geometries and their suitability for flight on a high-altitude sounding rocket. Many geometries have been proposed to mitigate the extreme aerodynamic forces and phenomena encountered during such high energy ascents. The geometries in question include the conic section, Haack Series nose cone, and the aerospike nose cone; all of which are evaluated according to their coefficients of drag, heating characteristics, and several outstanding factors such as wall shear stress, pressure distributions, and useful internal volume. The investigation concludes that the aerospike nose cone is well suited for high-altitude sounding rockets because of its capacity to reduce drag, its exceptional ability to reduce heating, and its larger useful internal volume. Through this unique combination of performance and volume, the aerospike nose cone is a likely candidate for the forebody of high-altitude sounding rockets for future missions.

Katia Rosenflanz – Biodiesel Production: Advancing Lipid Extraction to Fuel our Future

Read the full paper on eScholarship

The use of diesel and fossil fuels to power the globe’s increasing energy demands have caused large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, negatively impacting the environment. This has led researchers to investigate alternative energy sources. Biodiesel, a renewable, biodegradable, and environmentally-friendly resource, shows promise; microalgae, which consume large amounts of carbon dioxide, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases, has been introduced as a potential supply for the necessary oils. Because of algal cells’ strength and chemical properties, however, the physical extraction of lipids is difficult. This paper compares three methods to improve lipid extraction: microwave radiation, osmotic shock, and bead beating. They are assessed based on dry weight lipid output, efficiency, and scalability. Based on research, bead beating has high energy consumption and relatively low lipid production; thus, it is unadvisable for mass production. Osmotic shock has high output and no energy consumption, but is fairly inefficient due to a large time requirement. Microwave radiation performs fairly well in terms of lipid output, efficiency, and scalability, making it the most viable option, but microalgal biodiesel is only now entering the picture as an alternative energy source. Further research and resources must be invested in order to introduce these techniques into the global energy market.

Allan Reuben – Nanomagnetic Logic Circuits as an Alternative to Silicon CMOS-based Circuits for use in Extreme Environments

Read the full paper in eScholarship

As hardware and software technology improves, sending robots to do research in extreme environments is increasingly frequent. This shift creates a need for computer chips optimally designed for those environments. Computers that operate in extreme environments must account for limitations and requirements not present in consumer or corporate uses such as: extreme power management, high radiation exposure, and high computation reliability. Silicon-based computers have become the accepted standard in computing for every environment due to their high speed and ease of manufacturing. Nanomagnetic logic circuits are a promising new technology that may help engineers optimize computers for use in extreme environments. These two systems are compared based on their durability from radiation, power utilization, and clock speed. For mission-critical computer operation in extreme environments, nanomagnetic logic circuits offer many advantages over traditional silicon-based computers.

Restoration Continues Apace

Dozens of representatives from all trades and occupations in the construction industry are making great progress with the restoration of the Macdonald-Stewart Library Building, home of the Schulich Library. All demolition work is finished and only construction phases remain.  The work has unveiled many missed and forgotten windows, promising naturally brightened floors. New finishes and increased washrooms will ease your long hours of study.

To shed some light on how this is shaping up, here is a before photo of our very popular group study, 5th floor. Large swaths of floorspace had been closed off with the false walls that covered up our unique windows.

A very full Schulich 5th floor, with temporary walls blocking the windows.

Here is a similar, panned-out view of that section, windows shining through.  Women’s needs were woefully underserved in our building, and this floor will also include a large women’s washroom of ten stalls, as well as two individual, gender-neutral washrooms.

Schulich 5th floor, windows uncovered. Things are looking brighter!

For more information on the renovation project, please see the project page

Metrics 3 x 3

I wanted to do a review of the 3 big citation indexes (Web of Science, Scopus, and Google Scholar) at 3 different levels (articles, authors, and journals), since there have been some noteworthy changes this year. Citations are only a part of the story so I will point out when alternative metrics are available, such as views and mentions on social media.

A bit of history: Web of Science was launched as the Science Citation Index in the 1960s, by the Institute for Scientific Information. One thing that they did that set them apart while they were gathering information from journals, was to include each paper’s list of references. It seems like a small thing but it revealed the relationships between papers, and also provided citation counts.

Web of Science did not have any real competition as a citation index until 2004, with the launch of both Google Scholar and Scopus (from the publishing giant, Elsevier). While Web of Science is deep, indexing over 100 years of journal content, it is selective and therefore the coverage is not as wide as Google Scholar or Scopus.
  1. Article metrics

Citation counts may vary between the indexes, depending on their coverage of a subject. It is interesting to explore each one, and necessary to indicate where a count is coming from. The number is often highest in Google Scholar, since it can link to non-journal content like presentation slides.

Citations are useful in general because they allow you to move forward in time, finding newer papers that may be of interest. If a paper is important, you can always set up a citation alert to receive email notifications. Sorting your search results in Web of Science and Scopus by citations will also help you find those seed papers that are often referenced in your research area.

New in beta in Web of Science is the presence of enriched cited references in some records, with specifics on where in the text an article is cited, how many times, and in connection with which other references. They highlight hot papers, those published in the last two years with an unexpectedly high citation count over the most recent two months for their field. They also make it easy to find highly cited papers from the last 10 years.

Item-level usage counts came much later in Web of Science when people became interested in seeing alternative metrics. They count how many times people click on the full-text or export an item to a citation management program like EndNote (EndNote is available from McGill Library!). You can see which papers people are paying attention to in the last 180 days, or all time (really since 2013, when they began counting).

Scopus does have view counts, but they take alternative metrics further by integrating PlumX Metrics with 5 categories: Citations, usage (clicks and downloads), captures (bookmarks), mentions (blog posts, Wikipedia, etc.), and social media (tweets, Facebook likes, etc.).

2. Author metrics

Article citations are used to calculate author metrics. A popular metric is the h-index, where the number of citations an author has received meets their number of published papers (read about this index in Hirsch’s article in arXiv). Some criticisms of the h-index are that it is dependent on the age of the researcher and also on their field, so it shouldn’t be used for comparisons.

When searching for author metrics it is useful to have these identifiers on hand, if possible:

A new visualization in author profiles in Web of Science is the Beamplot, with citation data going back to 1980. Individual points on the plot represent the citations for a given paper, divided by the mean for papers in the same Web of Science subject category from that year.

3. Journal metrics

The Journal Impact Factor and other metrics for journals indexed in Web of Science are published each year in Journal Citation Reports. Web of Science is now a collection of subject indexes and Journal Impact Factor data is provided for journals in the Science and the Social Science Citation Index. This year, Journal Citation Reports has expanded to include the Arts & Humanities and Emerging Sources Citation Index journals, with their new metric: Journal Citation Indicator. It allows for comparison of journals across disciplines. 

There is an updated CiteScore methodology in Scopus with a 4-year publication window (the Journal Impact Factor has 2 years to build up citations). You can choose to rank only open access journals in a subject by CiteScore. You can also find out what percentage of a journal is made up of review articles (reviews are often highly cited), or is never cited at all, by using the Scopus source comparison tool.

Google Scholar does have a metrics page that ranks journals by h5-index (h-index for articles published in the previous 5 years). They can be organized by category and sub-category.

Journal metrics are not meant to be used to judge the research of individuals, but they can come in handy when you are deciding on where to publish your research. Still, they are no substitute for the advice of trusted experts.

I probably went on for too long, so please let me know if you have any questions!

Citizen Science and the Cochrane Crowd

Are you interested in citizen science and health research?

Consider becoming a member of the Cochrane Crowd! The Crowd is a Cochrane initiative inviting volunteers to contribute to high quality, independent health evidence. Cochrane is a global, not-for-profit network of researchers aiming to gather and summarize research evidence to improve health outcomes. Research output has grown exponentially and there is a significant need to sift through large quantities of research on whether treatments work or how accurate diagnostic tests are, to name but a couple of examples.

Finding and classifying all the research on a given intervention or topic can be unfeasible for research teams with limited resources. This is where the Crowd comes in: Volunteers for the Cochrane Crowd help identify and categorize research by contributing to tasks such as screening records to pick out randomized controlled trials or studies on COVID-19. Just a few minutes a day can make a big difference when many hands make light work. Check out their FAQ for common questions and answers, and join the Crowd. You’ll be surprised by what you learn along the way.