Researchers uncover unethical standards within conservation and ecology publishing

7 July 2020

Researchers at the University of Oxford have conducted an evaluation of how ethical the publication models of over 400 academic journals in conservation and ecology are according to the Fair Open Access Standard.

Results published in Conservation & Society found that much of the research in conservation and ecology is published in academic journals that do not follow these ethical publication principles. The researchers found that:

  • Two thirds of journals, which published nearly half of all articles, complied with only two or fewer FOA principles.
  • Four publishers own 80% of the 25 journals with the highest impact factor;
  • Only twenty journals (5%), publishing less than 1% of all articles, complied with all five principles.
  • The majority of journals restrict access only to those that can pay, request large fees from researchers to publish, or that demand sole copyright ownership to the research despite not having funded or otherwise contributed to it.

The findings reveal that researchers wanting to publish in the most prestigious journals have little option but to comply with their guidelines even if unfair.
Their study used the websites of 426 journals to evaluate their publishing model against the Fair Open Access criteria – a set of conditions established by a group of scholars and librarians aiming to help transform the conventions of scholarly publishing:

  1. The journal has a transparent ownership structure, and is controlled by and responsive to the scholarly community.
  2. Authors of articles in the journal retain copyright.
  3. All articles are published open access and an explicit open access licence is used.
  4. Submission and publication is not conditional in any way on the payment of a fee from the author or their employing institution, or on membership of an institution or society.
  5.  Any fees paid on behalf of the journal to publishers are low, transparent, and in proportion to the work carried out.

Lead author, Diogo Veríssimo from Oxford’s Department of Zoology, said: ‘Our results suggest there is a problem with the publishing landscape in conservation and ecology. Not only are most journals far from complying with ethical publishing standards, but the more prestigious the journal is, the less likely they are to comply with these standards. This means academics from lower income countries, as well as researchers that are part of NGOs, are largely excluded from reading and publishing many of those journals, which exacerbates pre-existing inequalities.

‘In addition, by requiring researchers to pass publication copyright to the publishes, despite publishers not contributing at all to the research itself, it means that these journals are not controlled by the scholarly community, but are instead run entirely for profit and with no mechanism of returning income to the field they are supposedly contributing to.’

These findings show that there is a wide variety of publishing models currently being used by ecology and conservation journals, and many of them don’t meet the ethical standards.

The researchers encourage authors to play an active part in addressing the inequalities of this situation by "voting" with their research papers, submitting their research to the publishers with the more ethical publishing models, and using this to encourage a culture shift towards more ethical practices.
To assist with this, researchers have built an online database - - so that authors can use it to help to decide where to submit their next publication.

Read the findings in Conservation & Society:

For more information and interview requests contact:

Notes to Editors: 

The University of Oxford
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