Saturday, September 19, 2020

Failure to Preserve Science Journals


Today online research can supplement field and lab research in multiple sciences, but a study suggests that some potentially important findings are no longer available because they have not been preserved.

The work of archiving and preserving science journals is time consuming and there is no uniformly applied process to preserve free downloadable journal articles. If the publisher ceases to exist, the journals may vanish. 

Eighty-four online-only, open-access (OA) journals in the sciences, and nearly 100 more in the social sciences and humanities, have disappeared from the internet over the past 20 years as publishers stopped maintaining them. The average duration of online access appears to have been about 10 years.

“The analysis demonstrates that research integrity and the scholarly record preservation … are at risk across all academic disciplines and geographical regions," says Andrea Marchitelli, managing editor of, the Italian Journal of Library, Archives, and Information Science.

The authors of the study are Mikael Laakso (Hanken School of Economics), Lisa Matthias (Free University of Berlin), and Najko Jahn (University of Göttingen). To determine the list of the 176 vanished journals, they did some digital detective work because clues about them are fragmentary. After the journals go dark their names no longer appear in bibliometric databases.

The authors defined a vanished journal as one that published at least one complete volume as immediate OA, and less than 50% of its content is now available for free online. Some of the content may be accessible as printed copies or in paywalled commercial services.

They used a historical archive of internet content, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, to determine when production ceased and when content disappeared from the internet (within 5 years for three-quarters of the journals). The journals had been based in 50 different countries. Most of the now dark journals published articles only in English.

The study found that only about one-third of the 14,068 journals indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journals in 2019 ensure the long-term preservation of their content. Some commercial services offer it, and the Public Knowledge Project Preservation Network, does so for free.

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