Welcome to the age of diminishing returns

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Frontiers in Energy Policy and Systems: a new open access journal

"Frontiers in Energy Systems and Policy" is a section of the new journal on energy the "Frontiers" series. It is an open access journal that aims at publishing high quality papers by means of an innovative refereeing proces. I thought it was a good idea, so much that I am trying to do my best in the role of chief editor. 

It is a difficult moment for science, under attack from many sectors. The recent smear campaigns against climate scientists show that the ivory tower doesn't exist any more. And, yet, it is a moment in which we desperately need science to face the multiple challenges we are facing: climate change, ecosystems disruption, resource depletion and more.

And, right in this difficult moment, scientists find themselves stuck with an obsolete paradigm of information dissemination. Their work is paid by the public but it remains hidden from the public and policy makers behind a paywall for the profit of commercial publishers. At the same time, the traditional refereeing process favors "excellent mediocrity" but doesn't work very well in filtering unacceptable papers. We need to do better if we want science to have a positive impact in the world.

The ongoing revolution of "open access" in scientific publishing is promising to open up science, improving the dissemination of scientific results but, at the same time, it has led to a proliferation of low quality journals. That doesn't mean that open access is bad in itself, but that we need to improve the quality of the reviewing process. That was the reasoning that led to the birth of "Frontiers," It was started in 2007 by Henry Markram and Kamila Markram at the EPFL in Switzerland and it is now a collection of open access, high quality journals. All of them practice the principle of "open reviewing"; that is, reviewers collaborate with authors and their identities are disclosed on the published articles. I thought it was a good idea; so much that I thought I could try to do my best as "Chief Editor" of the section titled "Frontiers in Energy Systems and Policy"

I know what you are thinking: it is what everyone asks me when I tell them about the new journal: open access is expensive! (*) But open access doesn't cost more than the traditional method - actually it costs less. It is just that, so far, libraries were paying and scientists were not even perceiving that these costs existed. But they do exist and someone has to pay them. Open access only makes these costs visible by shifting them from libraries to authors in exchange for a wider dissemination of their work. Think about that: if you don't believe that the results of your work should be widely known, then you should ask yourself if your work is worth doing.

Of course, new ideas often look better than the old ones, but you can't be sure until you try them in practice. It is what's being done with the new publishing paradigm. Open access coupled with open reviewing looks like a good idea, but we have to experiment with it and many things may change as we do that. In any case. of one thing I am sure: the old ways are not possible any more. 

To conclude, a note about "Frontiers in Energy Systems and Policy." It is a journal which, in my opinion, should go beyond the desperate search for miracle gadgetry that characterizes energy research nowadays. Rather, it should go to the hearth of the energy problem and publish true systemic research aimed at understanding the causes of our problems - including resource depletion, energy efficiency, EROEI studies, impact on the ecosystem of of our energy producing activities, and more. So, if you have good papers in these fields, you are encouraged to submit them to us!

Mission Statement

Energy Systems and Policy is a specialty section of Frontiers in Energy Research.

Energy is a physical entity but the way it is created, distributed, and stored is part of a technological, economic and social system that turns out to be a fundamental factor in shaping the organization of the whole society. In the past, societal energy systems have been based on agriculture. In modern times, we saw a switch to coal, then to crude oil and, progressively to natural gas and nuclear energy, with renewables fast becoming a major player in the field. The frontier in this area is not so much the details of a set of technologies which, by now, are often mature and well known. It is how to integrate these technologies in the form of new energy systems in the economic and social fabric of our world. This section welcomes the submission of original studies that examine the characteristics of new energy sources in a systemic way. That is, we welcome studies that aim at exploring parameters of energy systems such as the energy yield (or Energy Return for Energy Invested, EROI), the economic return, the pollution effects, in particular in view of the effects on climate, the general sustainability of the system in terms of the natural resources that must be engaged: e.g. land area and rare mineral resources. The possibility of obtaining energy from urban waste and the efficient exploitation of waste heat is also an important systemic factor in energy production. Storage and distribution are also a major components of energy systems; e.g. in terms of “smart grid” and its integration with storage systems at different scales. The specialty also accepts contributions dealing with the impact of energy systems in all sectors of society, including on the world's poorer regions in term of pollution, waste, land use, and climate change. Finally, the specialty accepts model studies on the future development of energy sources, both renewable and non renewable. We expect articles for Energy Systems and Policy to be in depth and original studies which will have an impact on the specific technological field addressed but also able to lead to reasoned choices not only by scientists but also by the public and by policy makers.

* About publishing fees, the mission statement of Frontiers says that "Frontiers...has a commercial mandate to develop multiple revenue streams that can be used to support open-access publishing." It means that if for some good reason you can't afford to pay the full cost of publishing (e.g. you work in a poor country) the publisher can help in various ways; it can be discussed.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! Especially for the scientifically educated, but not affiliated to any institution, that pays for the online access to literature (like me and many many others).

    I'm a bit skeptical about acceptance by authors though.

    One remark: One field of energy, which is not "sexy", feels even a bit dull, but of widely understimated importance is "using less". IMHO it would deserve its own "department" in "frontiers in energy".

    Dominik Lenné