Marcus Huber

IQOQI-Vienna’s very own Marcus Huber takes the discussion initiated by Nicolas Gisin and Reinhard Werner from pen to print. With the launch of the new open-access journal Quantum, Marcus together with his comrades-in-arms Christian Gogolin and Lidia del Rio plans to reform science publishing by reclaiming the publishing process for the quantum community.

Community participation and transparency are, according to the editors, key factors for guaranteeing the quality of published research. For now, the team is drawing on a resource that has always been instrumental in bringing about change: volunteers. Quantum is a work in progress, format, platform, peer review and other issues will be revised and fine-tuned in an ongoing development.

With Marcus Huber, IQOQI-Vienna has recovered one of the most promising young scientists in the hot new field of quantum thermodynamics for Austria. With the prestigious START Prize, Marcus Huber was able to bring his ambitious research program, which will be relevant for future quantum technologies and smart nano-machines, from Barcelona and Geneva to Vienna.

Quantum: Let’s reclaim science publishing!

By Marcus Huber

It’s now been little over three months since Quantum has launched and thus it is time for a little update. But beware, this is my private take on the subject and I do not claim to communicate as a spokesperson for Quantum in this post. It’s just my personal view on the nature, scope and future of the journal. First of all, for those who haven’t heard yet:

Quantum is a non-profit arXiv overlay journal for all quantum sciences. It was founded by Christian Gogolin, Lidia del Rio and myself, turning a somewhat ubiquitous sense of dissatisfaction with for-profit publishing in the scientific community into a direct action for change. We are not alone in this endeavour, as there are several initiatives to revolutionize the way in which we disseminate knowledge. Scipost, Discrete Analysis etc. are all examples of a new wave of non-profit publishers.

In Quantum, we operate on a number of basic principles that aim to put science first and address some of the issues that Reinhard Werner has so eloquently elaborated in his prior post.

Science is not exclusive for the rich: we never put any financial burden on the reader or author of any of our articles. While we do ask for a publication fee of 100-200€, this can be waived without explanation and all our articles are obviously free to read (and published using a CC BY 4.0 creative commons license).

Good science is not about fancy headlines and impact factors: We have no target rejection rate and every paper is judged only on its own scientific merit. The expected number of citations is not even an implicit criterion, honest communication is an explicit one.

Our editors are not selected for their name or prestige, but for their competence and enthusiasm. In fact, our entire editorial board has been selected from a long list of volunteers that now put in long hours to make the journal work. We’ve had a huge number of volunteers, and are happy to have excellent scientists from all branches of the community serving as active editors. What is more, to ensure long-term viability and dedication on the editorial side, we have a large list of reserve editors that can be activated a moment’s notice to take over and mediate excessive workload on the currently active board.

The scientific community knows best: Community participation and transparency is key to highlighting high quality research. Fundamental decisions about the journal are made by a steering board, mediated by Christian, Lidia and myself on the executive board. We discuss important decisions with the community on reddit and make every financial transaction transparent on our homepage.

I’d also like to mention an obvious disclaimer: There are a lot of systemic issues in science (and some of them also connected to publishing) which we cannot or do not address at the moment. We’re trying to fix a small set of issues that we felt could be dealt with in this fashion, but that does not mean that we can or should not care about other issues still. Science funding, job security, equal opportunities and many other things are worth putting up a fight for, and when autocrats all across the globe deny basic scientific truths, it is also our obligation to rise up (not only for their denial of evidence and facts).

Now that this shameless self-advertisement is done, let’s give a status update: To date we’ve had more than 40 submissions and we want to thank all the authors for their trust and with it their support of a paradigm shift in scientific publishing. Expect the first handful of excellent papers to be published very soon. We’ve decided to collect the first few accepted papers in a launch issue, but in the future, there is no more need to follow the traditional publishing route and we’ll publish accepted papers as they come.

What will the future hold? We are working on a series of updates and proposals that we want to discuss with the community in going forward:

Modernising peer review: The traditional peer review model of one editor corresponding with 2-3 referees is owed to the limitations of 20th century communication. We’ve launched following this basic structure, with some moderately innovative updates, because this is what we as a community are used to and we didn’t want to risk the entire endeavour by starting with too many experiments at once. We are aware of many alternative experiments in peer review taking place in other platforms that we will consider when shaping the journal in the future: fast community feedback and instant commenting as a part of public peer review, like e.g. Scirate; reviewer communication in non-anonymous forums before forwarding decisions to the authors (as used by e-life); post-publication reviews, highlighting exceptionally important papers as done by most publishers nowadays; etc. We want to carefully improve the peer review mechanics of Quantum in the future, without deviating from our above principles. As curating service for high quality research go, we need to remain consistent and not betray the trust that our first submitters put in our journal.

Open data: Modern experiments and simulations produce huge amounts of data. For reproducible data analysis, everyone would benefit from this data being published alongside the article describing this research. arXiv does not have the capacity to store this additional data (and neither do we at the moment, but we are working on this) and there is a lack of incentive for research groups to put their data into a readable (possibly standardized) form. We’re currently trying to acquire funding for large data storage and devise some extra incentive for supporting open data in the context of publishing in Quantum.

Crediting peer review: While peer review is becoming increasingly important to organise an ever growing amount of information being published (arXiv’s monthly submission numbers keep rising), there is no denying that current publishing models dis-incentivise thorough peer review. While we won’t be able to compel hiring panels and funding agencies into taking these into account, we still feel that writing in depth reviews is a valuable service, that deserves recognition of some form. While individually obviously impossible for anonymity reasons, there are a bunch of ways this could work. Publons is a cross-journal platform that enables to credit reviews with a multitude of journals in a unified manner, internal incentives can range from simple badges/certificates to the possibility of invited opinion pieces on our homepage.

While we have many more ideas, we all have limited time, so we’ll focus on one thing at a time. Do you have any ideas how to further improve knowledge dissemination using our platform? Please just use this subreddit to tell us what you think.

Ultimately, a journal’s reputation is only a biased average of the articles published within. To be successful we need a certain degree of belief that the journal will indeed achieve the level of quality it intends. As you will see in the upcoming articles, we’ve managed to inspire enough confidence to succeed in this task. This is a great start, so let’s continue to reclaim publishing as a community!

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