For this study, we selected to work with the Web of Science (WoS), an established journal indexing database and evaluation platform that covers most academic disciplines. The WoS includes the Journal Citation Report (JCR), which calculates and provides a ranking of journal impact factor (IF) metrics annually. This enabled us to obtain IF values for the journals selected in the current study.
For this exercise, we considered the journals that were indexed to the Social Science Citation index (SSCI) list, which contains journals that have an IF. A more inclusive index, the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI) is also available on the WoS, but the WoS does not calculate IF values for ESCI journals. Subsequently, our analysis considered only the journals indexed on the SSCI list. Since IF values are calculated on the basis of the number of citations that a given journal achieves in a three-year period, by definition, journals with higher IF metrics have greater number of citations and, consequently, greater ‘impact’, in the strict sense that they are more likely to be cited by scholars in their fields and to influence paradigms.Footnote 2 Additionally, journals that wish to be indexed in the SSCI list are assessed by their performance in citations, which means that, by definition, SSCI journals have greater scholarly impact than those journals that are not indexed there.
Our objective was to include journals from both STEM and HSS fields to achieve a more comprehensive study that would consider disciplinary differences. In selecting what fields of study to examine we considered practical and strategic parameters. These needed to have a relatively broad appeal and not be too specialised that could display a very idiosyncratic publishing landscape with limited broader relevance. We also hoped to compare a field of study considered to be highly international with one known to be dominated by Northern publishers to test possible differences in the IF-APCs relationship. We also needed to consider the number of journals under each field of studies selected for analysis to ensure that sampling would be manageable within the timeframe of this study and given the resource constraints that we faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Working within these specifications, we initially selected to look at Computer Science and Development Studies. We chose Development Studies because it is historically documented and empirically evidenced that this discipline is extremely biased in favour of the Global North [4, 10, 13, 15, 18]. In 2017, Sarah Cummings and Paul Hoebink co-authored a study that examined patterns of publication in the field of development studies by looking at 10 ‘well-known’ journals . Their findings pointed to a strong Western dominance in terms of the ownership of the journals, the nationality of the authors, and the international diversity of their editorial boards. In his 2020 monograph , Márton Demeter demonstrated that all the highly ranked journals in Development Studies were published in Western countries, with the biggest share appertaining to the UK (51%), the US (37%) and the rest of Western Europe (12%). He also found that publication outputs have been historically dominated by the Global North (see Fig. 1).
However, the WoS does list a Development Studies category. As an alternative, we considered using the search engine Scopus, which listed both disciplines. However, Scopus does not use the IF metric, rather the SCImago Journal Rank (SJR). The closest category to Development Studies that we could identify on the WoS was Area Studies and we decided to select this as our second field of study. On the other hand, Computer Science is a fairly international field of studies, which could serve well our purposes. Since there are various subfields within the computer sciences on the WoS, we decided to choose an applied (Computer Science Engineering) and a more theoretical (Computer Science Theoretical) subfield. We anticipated the theoretical field to be dominated by scholarship produced in industrialised societies, and the practical field to display a more even global distribution. This hypothesis was informed by two empirical realities: the unequal distribution of academic capital , with western industrialised societies historically dominating in paradigm-setting due to epistemological and material advantages , and the observation that practical professions tend to be widespread in industrialising societies appertaining to the Global South. We decided to select Anthropology as a third subject, which has been undoubtedly dominated by Northern researchers. This is also confirmed by the geographic distribution of the journals in the WoS ESCI list, which includes 217 journals in Anthropology, of which 189 (87% of the sample) are published in North America or Western Europe. Moreover, the Euro-American region publishes the top ranking (q1-ranked) journals in the world.
The data we worked with were obtained from the official WoS site. The number of journals in each of the examined fields was as follows: Computer Science Theoretical (n = 103), Computer Science Engineering (n = 104), Area Studies (n = 68), and Anthropology (n = 85). We recorded the following data from all the journals: rank on the SSCI list, IF values for 2018, and APCs charged to authors wishing to publish under a Hybrid Open Access (OA) model. We categorized journals according to three OA models: Hybrid OA, Diamond OA and No OA option. In the Hybrid OA model, authors can publish either under the classical model where they do not have to pay APCs but their papers are published behind a paywall (with readers incurring the cost of accessing them) or they can publish open access if they cover the Gold OA APCs. In the latter case, authors (typically with the support of funds granted by their institutions or funders) need to cover the APCs in full, while readers can access the content freely and immediately . In the Diamond OA model, neither the author nor the readers have to pay since Diamond OA papers are free-of-charge for both the authors and the readers. Finally, in journals without an OA publishing possibility, authors must publish under the classical model: they do not need to pay APCs but readers need to pay the journal in order to access the papers [19, 31]. Our initial aim was to include only Gold OA publishing journals, but they are not generally encountered as such, unless they are some kind of so-called ‘predatory’ initiative, charging moderate fees in return for a quicker, less rigorous peer review and editing process.Footnote 3 We did not record data on Green Open Access model, because, in our experience, they offer only a limited contribution to open science. Big publishing houses like Elsevier, Springer and Taylor & Francis demand an embargo period ranging from 18 to 36 months before authors can upload their final manuscripts to public repositories. This can result in a situation whereby papers become out-dated by the time the embargo period is lifted. While all the big publishing houses emphasise the advantages of Gold OA publication model (financed by the author), comprised in a higher number of readers and more citations, they cite no data to demonstrate the same result for delayed Green OA publishing.
Furthermore, we decided to compare APCs with data from different regions of the world in order to explore global economic disparities and the implications for authors in the Global South.Footnote 4 Under Plan S, OA publishing will be encouraged through a strengthening of the link between publication and research funding. As we noted in our previous paper, while OA costs will be covered by funders directly, this is no reassurance from the perspective of global publishing inequalities because of disparities in research funding in the world and the structural and normative characteristics of collaborative research development practices placing researchers outside of Western Europe and North America at a disadvantage [16, 17]. In considering what measures to use for this exercise, we discussed the respective benefits and shortfalls of per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). We decided that it would be important to take into account geographical differences in purchasing power, which would enable us to make a more informed argument about economic disparities among researchers in the world. Finally, in order to be able to relate this exercise to publishing asymmetries and to understand better the implications of the IF-APCs relationship, we analysed the concentration of publishers in high-income societies for the subject areas we examined.