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The Scientific Literature

What If the Journal Disappears?

Hmm, here’s a question I hadn’t considered. What happens when an online-only journal quits publishing and (apparently) deletes its archives? That’s what seems to have happened with the “Journal of Advances in Developmental Research”.
Now, to a first approximation, the loss of many of the papers in this journal will not, in all likelihood, be much of a setback. Here is (was?) its stated focus:

The Journal of Advances in Developmental Research is a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journal that publishes research articles, general articles, research communications, review article and abstracts of theses from the fields of science, social sciences, sports science, humanities, medical, education, engineering, technology, biotechnology, home science, computer, history, arts and other fields which participates in overall development of society.
It provides a platform to discuss current and future trends of research and their role in development of society.

Now, that doesn’t sound like anything anyone would want to read. But as long as your check cleared, you could publish in it – it was one of those bottom-of-the-barrel predatory publishing venues. What happens now, though? If there was something worthwhile in any of those papers, we’ll never have any way of knowing, because they’re all gone. Can (or should) the authors resubmit the papers somewhere else where they can be seen?
Here, for reference are Jeffrey Beall’s current criteria for a predatory publisher. One of them is that they “(Have) no policies or practices for digital preservation”. Although these guys seem to have had a policy, if you count “wipe the hard drive” as a policy.
Tip via Ivan Oransky and Jeffrey Beall on Twitter.

14 comments on “What If the Journal Disappears?”

  1. As an author: If we are talking about an open access journal, you can always as soon or even before publication put a copy in arXiv if it fits in the categories of arXiv, or in figshare for example otherwise. Figshare gives DOI identifier which is good. If the journal is not OA and it went down the drain, you might as well put it on arXiv or Figshare.
    As a reader: If the paper doesn’t exist anywhere and the author cannot provide it or be contacted, it is not part of the scientific literature any longer I would say. No?

  2. microbiologist says:

    In this particular case, the journal is probably no loss. But what about the nonpredatory ones? No publishing house or journal lasts forever.
    This is one of the scary things about online access and increasing digitalization. With paper subscriptions, the physical journals can stay on your bookshelves or the shelves of the university libraries indefinitely, even if the subscription is not continued or the journal stops publishing. I have spent many happy hours in the stacks of various universities and the NIH, reading papers published anytime in the last century. I haven’t gone to an academic library in years, but I continue to read old papers that are available online (many free, others available through current online subscriptions by the library at the company I work for). I don’t know whether the library stacks still exist, but I would not be surprised if they are gradually being shredded. It would be nice to think that digital access would remain in perpetuity as technology changes, but I am not very optimistic.

  3. bank says:

    Isn’t the Library of Congress meant to keep a copy of everything published? Or does that not include electronic-only publishing?

  4. Anonymous says:

    bank@3 – While one of the early functions of the Library of Congress was to keep a copy of everything that was published (actually, everything that was copyrighted), the explosion in publishing and the automatic copyrighting of works on creation means that doesn’t happen now.
    While for a *registered* copyright (not everything that is published gets registered) you’re still required to send two copies to the Library of Congress, the LoC doesn’t have to keep them. In fact, most items submitted in the process of registration are given away to other libraries and organizations, etc. It only keeps copies of works “deemed significant” (which still accounts for several thousand per day).
    I’d guess it’d be more likely that the Internet Archive ( had a copy of the papers than the LoC does. But even their subject to being blocked by paywalls, access restrictions, etc. That said, searching for at shows they have a functional homepage archived as of June 2012, which includes articles from the then-most-recent December 2011 issue (listed as the “Forth coming Issue”). I didn’t bother to check all issues and all articles, though – there may be holes in the coverage.

  5. Mike P says:

    Maybe someone could systematically download all the online-only journal articles (perhaps through the MIT network) and make them all available in one place for free. Once they become widely distributed, loss of the original journal website would be moot.

  6. Laura says:

    Some of the articles in the journal have been captured as part of the Internet Archive (
    University libraries back up their electronic journal subscriptions through digital preservation projects such as ScholarsPortal (Ontario), Portico, LOCKSS, etc.

  7. Michael Kuhn says:

    There is actually a dedicated system for this case, used e.g. by FigShare, NPG, OUP, … : CLOCKS
    The journals deposit a copy there, and when they go the way of the dodo, a trigger event opens the archive. Of course, the publisher has to care about their content in the first place, which a predatory publisher won’t.

  8. Rich Apodaca says:

    How many ways are there to repeat the same warning?
    Authors who sign copyright transfer forms before publication are putting their hard work at the mercy of a publisher whose interests may or may not align with their own.
    The publisher, not the author, decides what happens thereafter – even if that means the journal and all of its content goes dark.
    This applies to every article in every ACS publication – even those bearing the highly misleading “AuthorChoice” label.
    Authors have no recourse at all. They can’t even re-submit their own manuscripts because they’ve already waived every right they had to it. Any publisher accepting such a manuscript would open themselves to a nasty lawsuit down the road. It just wouldn’t happen.
    Like any serious injury, the best course is to avoid it in the first place:
    Stop signing copyright transfer forms. If your favorite journal can’t live with that, find one who can. There are many out there now.

  9. metaphysician says:

    This is one of the many reasons I believe copyright should *only* protect use, not non-use. Copyright laws should have a very stringent “no active use” provision, such that a copyright owner *can’t* sit on their own IP without sending it into the public domain.

  10. None says:

    I keep PDFs of my papers freely available for downloading from my personal website. I don’t care anything for copyright laws for work I have authored, regardless of whatever I may or may not have signed. I view this as the new version of the old-school send out printed reprints upon request methodology. So far, no problem.

  11. Chris Swain says:

    How long is the copyright for scientific publications?
    In the UK it seems to be 70 years for musical, literary or artistic works, but 25 years for typographical publications?

  12. db says:

    I am pleased to announce my new journal service, “The International Journal of Lost Journal Publications.” Scientists are hereby invited to publish their articles that may have been lost in the dissolution of other journals in the pages of IJLSP for a nominal fee of $1,500. Small, nonsequential bills please.

  13. Polymer Phil says:

    Copyright is something that bothers me as a scientist. Patents expire in 20 years, forcing drug and chemical companies to continue inventing new things in order to survive. Copyright is essentially perpetual – every time the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons are about to go into the public domain, Disney lobbies the government to extend copyright protection. A movie studio or music label could cease all new production and continue to make money for decades.

  14. Sisyphus says:

    Everything going digital reminds me of “1984” where people in the Ministry of Truth (i.e. Google?) would change history or send it down the memory hole and people would become unpeople as if they never existed. This is so much easier if everything is digital.
    By the way Derek, is this blog archived somewhere?

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