Comment on “Young Researchers Better Avoid EGU Journal Climate of the Past”

I am one of the 4 Chief Editors of the journal Climate of the Past (CP) which is referred to in the article by Martin Trauth. I would like to thank Professor Trauth for his courtesy in letting me explain the publication system of CP so that young researchers can decide for themselves whether it is for them or not.

The European Geosciences Union (EGU) publishes 17 journals, almost all of which use the same model, with a 2-stage publication process and open peer review (also known as Interactive Public Peer Review). On submission, papers receive a light touch “access review” which determines whether they are of a quality that has the potential to be publishable. If they pass this test they are posted online as “discussion papers”. These Climate of the Past Discussion (CPD) papers are clearly labelled as such, and have a clear designation that they are drafts under review. During the discussion period (normally 8 weeks) at least two peer reviews appear, and other scientists may also post unsolicited reviews. All the reviews appear online. The author then has to post a response to each review, which also appears online. At the end of this process, the editor makes a decision, and from this point on the paper is treated in the same way as with other journals, with further rounds of review that are not posted online (although they are now made available after publication).

There are two issues raised by Professor Trauth’s article; these relate to the status of the discussion paper and to the open availability of the first-round peer reviews. EGU considers that the discussion papers have a similar status to preprints posted on a preprint server or conference papers that have not been peer reviewed. This means that they are published and therefore cannot be unpublished or withdrawn, but that their appearance in CPD should not prevent submission of a similar paper elsewhere if the CPD paper has not progressed to final publication in the peer-reviewed CP. We appreciate that some publishers take a different line and do not accept papers found on preprint servers, but there are plenty of publishers who will consider such papers.

The aim of the open peer review process is to take a step towards a more transparent system. In some cases, this encourages reviewers (including those who remain anonymous) to provide more considered and more polite reviews. The system provides the option (though not often used) for interested scientists other than the nominated reviewers to offer useful review comments. And it opens up the option that a genuine back and forth discussion takes place during the review period. Again the published comments, including of course the responses from the authors, remain online.

The costs of publishing papers in EGU journals are borne by authors or their institutions as an article processing charge, which allows the paper to be seen freely by all potential readers without a pay wall. This charge used to be applied after publication of the discussion paper, and I can understand Professor Trauth’s annoyance that a charge was made for a paper that did not ultimately reach final publication. The system has changed since January 2016 and the charge is only payable on final publication.

Clearly there are pluses and minuses to this system, and the merits of all parts of this are discussed regularly by editors of EGU journals. The appearance of the discussion papers allows authors to make their work available at an earlier stage, and allows at least the option that extra expertise can be applied to reviewing the paper. It can however lead to difficult discussions with other journals about whether a paper has already been published or not. These can usually be avoided by simply making sure that the rejected paper is substantially improved before submission elsewhere.

The discussion comments are often quite useful and instructive for readers who really want to delve into a topic. Of course they may “influence” reviewers of future papers, but I would hope that such reviewers and editors are fair, and that comments that draw on these open reviews are either still valid or if they have become invalid, are dealt with in the author response and editorial stages. Clearly Professor Trauth feels this has not been the case for his example but we have not heard that such issues are prevalent.

Researchers, young and old, must decide where best to publish. The EGU journals offer the advantages of full open access, enhancing your readership. Some authors value the early availability of a version of their paper in the discussion phase, and some enjoy the open peer review. None of us like negative peer reviews, and clearly it is not nice when such reviews remain visible, but the appearance of both positive and negative reviews is a consequence of following the open route. The majority of papers are improved in the peer review process and accepted for final publication, and will not experience the negatives that Professor Trauth has discussed.

Finally I would like again to thank Martin Trauth for letting me post this article on behalf of the Co-Chief editors of Climate of the Past.

Eric Wolff, University of Cambridge and Co-Chief Editor of Climate of the Past