Dialectica and the Challenges of Converting a Journal to Open Access


A reader recently pointed out that the philosophy journal Dialectica in 2020 became an open access journal, after 15 years of being published by Blackwell-Wiley, but that the journal’s latest issue was dated 2020. What’s going on at this journal?

A lot, it turns out.

I asked the journal’s editor, Philipp Blum (Lucerne), for an explanation, which he provides below. As you’ll see, the conversion of a journal to open access can be difficult. Dr. Blum describes some of the various challenges involved, and the work that he and his fellow editors have been doing over the past few years.

The light at the end of the tunnel is this: over the next two months, Dialetica will be publishing 12 issues, catching the journal up to the end of 2023, with plans to publish the first 2024 issue by the end of April.

Here is Dr. Blum’s account:

The Editorial Board of Dialectica, the Swiss philosophy journal founded in 1947 by Bernays, Gonseth and Bachelard, decided in 2019 to go real (so-called “Platinum” or “Diamond”) Open Access, increasingly dissatisfied with the combination of poorer service and higher costs provided by our former publisher Blackwell (bought by Wiley in 2007) and convinced that universities should not have to pay for the fruits of the work of their employees. Helped by a grant by the Swiss National Science Foundation for the year 2020, we founded the Dialectica Open Access Initiative to develop a workflow, based on Markdown and MacFarlane’s pandoc, turning final manuscripts into aesthetically pleasing pdfs and smartphone readable htmls. 

Unfortunately, this took us a really long time. In retrospect, it would have been better to cancel our publication contract with Wiley at the end, rather than at the beginning of the flipping process. Using only freely available software, we had to develop a number of tools, for example environments for principles and statements common in philosophy papers, which we make freely available on our GitHub “DialOA” page. In the context of this second project, funded by swissuniversities, we also started working on an OA toolkit, to lay out the choice-points and difficulties we faced, in the hope of helping other philosophy journals to go OA – which, for us, means getting rid of commercial publishers altogether. We also started making publicly available the huge bibliography we use for the copy-editing of Dialectica articles, which may, perhaps, one day complement PhilPapers and CrossRef. 

During this time, we maintained our ordinary procedures: good papers kept being sent in, the Editorial Committee met every week to discuss them, using the “fishpond”, our system for triple-blind refereeing. With the indispensable help of my co-editor, Fabrice Correia of the University of Geneva, we accepted original papers of the highest quality for all the Dialectica issues up to 76(4), the autumn issue of 2023, all of which are now being copy-edited and will soon be made freely available to everyone.

To those with papers to submit, he adds:

Now is the perfect time to submit your paper to Dialectica: we are able to speedily review them and there are still open slots in 77(1), to be published in April.

And to the philosophical community, he says:

Any advice, especially on copy-editing and collaborative proof-correction, as well as new members for the Editorial Committee are most welcome! Please write to [email protected]

Dialectica bills itself as a “general analytic philosophy journal”. It is the official organ of the European Society of Analytic Philosophy. You can learn more about it here.

 

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Jakub Mácha
Jakub Mácha
1 month ago

The way Dialectica does things should be an example to other journals. I’m going to submit to Dialectica and will always be prepared to review there.

Stephen Francis Mann
1 month ago

Sounds like a long slog but certainly in a good cause. Their efforts should ensure a smoother journey for the (hopefully many) journals to come after them.

Is there any particular reason why they chose not to use an existing framework e.g. OJS?

Björn Lundgren
Björn Lundgren
Reply to  Stephen Francis Mann
1 month ago

Probably because of their so-called “fishpond” model of processing manuscripts, which is basically a model in which manuscripts end up in a pond and editor can pick up something they find interesting, read and then try to build a case for it with the other editors (using peer-review).

Manolo
Manolo
1 month ago

I didn’t know about the Dialoa effort! It looks fantastic, and I will start using pandokoma immediately. Thanks for making all of this code available, Julien and the rest of the team!

Last edited 1 month ago by Manolo
Antony Eagle
1 month ago

This is a great initiative and the openness about process and documentation is wonderful. Obviously a lot of hard work involved from everyone involved. Can I also take the opportunity – once again – to thank John MacFarlane, the creator of Pandoc which dialectica are sensibly using in their workflow? These efforts to help academics seize the means of journal production would be vastly harder without this sort of relatively user friendly tool, and that Pandoc is by ‘one of ours’ is just a bonus!

Antony Eagle
1 month ago

On the ‘dltc bibliography’ project: this could be really helpful well beyond dialectica. At AJP we also allow Pandoc markdown submission and if almost all bib entries were in the dialectica bibliography we could tell our authors to use their identifiers and avoid having to get authors to supply their own .bib files, of varying quality and consistency.
I once had a dream that we as a community might be able to standardize on PhilPapers identifiers, and then bibliography generation could happen automatically using a tool that retrieved BibTeX entries from philpapers and processed the resulting file with citeproc – then authors could just provide their bibliography as a list of identifiers and every journal could ensure consistency of data source – would also make life easier for copyediting and production. My coding skills aren’t up to this, and no idea if philpapers would like the workout this would give to their API, but what a world we could be living in…

Helen De Cruz
1 month ago

I was managing editor of Faith and Philosophy from 2019 to 2023 and it was a similar problem–huge, huge difficulties in the transition. You have to get all these bits and pieces, hosting, DOI resolution, copy-editing, communicating with the typesetting firm (who doesn’t implement all the corrections first time round, frustrating), wrangling the authors to get their corrections through, keeping on reminding them to do so. It’s incredibly difficult (without an RA I could not envisage doing it, and most of my RA’s time went into this). I certainly gained an understanding for why it’s not so simple to say: let’s go open access, though such initiatives are admirable.

Björn
Björn
1 month ago

Thought seems to have similar struggles going OA (although not for free) as their most current issue is published “June, 2022”.

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Björn
1 month ago

Thought does have recent articles on their ‘online first’ however, including one from 2/20/24.

I suspect the biggest problem with Thought is that in order to go open-access they’ve moved to charging an absurd $1500 publishing fee which I have no idea how anyone pays.

Björn
Björn
Reply to  Ken
1 month ago

Well, there’s not enough articles there to fill all the issues for 2022 and 2023, so I wonder what the plan is.

Agree, it is an odd model… And I wonder why they need 1500 USD per article. The most recent issue had 8 papers. With 4 issues per year, that is 32 papers. Even if they allow half of the papers to be published for free (as they have promised waivers) that is still 24 000 USD per year. What non-profit journal needs that kind of budget?

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Björn
1 month ago

Maybe they are paying a part-time employee. I think that’s the biggest expense. (It certainly is for the journals I’m involved with.)

Also — is THOUGHT really non-profit? It seems to be published by “The Thought Trust”, but it’s in Wiley’s Online Library.

Björn
Björn
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
1 month ago

That may be the case.

Sure, I just basically presumed it was. Perhaps it isn’t non-profit.

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
1 month ago

I suspect you’re looking at their old site, and not the new one on the PDC: https://www.pdcnet.org/tht/Rights-and-Permissions.

EDIT: It’s no longer in the Wiley Online Library, but I have no idea whether it’s properly a non-profit. The only thing I can find is: “The Thought Trust is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organization that inherits key aspects of the mission of the former Northern Institute of Philosophy.” (source: https://www.pdcnet.org/tht/About-the-Society). I’m no expert in Scottish law by any means, but SCIOs seem to be charities under Scottish law, which according to this website at least (https://www.oscr.org.uk/about-charities/overview-of-scottish-charities/) require the following:

“All charities in Scotland must meet the ‘charity test’. This is set out in law and means that among other things, charities must:
Have only charitable purposesProvide public benefitUse their funds and property only for charitable purposesAllow fair access to the benefit they provideNot be, or exist to advance, a political party.”
I don’t know whether that meets the bar for ‘non-profit’ but it’s something at least.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ken
Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Björn
1 month ago

Getting professional copyediting and typesetting is pretty hard for under $60/1000 words, especially if you’re trying to publish in both XML and PDF.

Having a publication fee that some percentage of authors can pay because their grants or their universities have dedicated funds for open access publishing seems like a reasonable way to cover those costs.

Björn
Björn
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
1 month ago

The word limit for a Thought piece is 4500 words, so copyediting and typesetting would be max 270 USD per article (using your numbers). For 32 articles it is a total cost of 8640 USD. That’s pretty far from 24000 USD (which is a low number based on the supposition that only 50% pay for the fee). Ofc there are other costs, but I’m not sure how this fee can be motivate in a non-profit model.

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
1 month ago

How common is it for universities to have these dedicated funds? I didn’t think it was extremely common, but I’ll admit I have no actual data or widespread experience here beyond the places I’ve worked (which did not have such funds).