Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The OA Interviews: Taylor & Francis' Deborah Kahn discusses Dove Medical Press

Please note the postscript to this interview here

The open-access publisher Dove Medical Press has a controversial past and I have written about the company on a number of occasions (here, here, here and here).
Deborah Kahn

When Dove was acquired by Taylor & Francis last September it was assumed (by me at least) that controversy had become a thing of the past for the publisher.

Seven months after the purchase, however, a medical technology company called Minerva Surgical took the unusual step of publishing a press release alleging that a paper published in Dove’s International Journal of Womens Health makes “material misleading statements” about the nature of a study funded by a rival in “clear violation of the COPE guidelines.”

As a result, Minerva said, the paper should be retracted immediately.

To discuss this latest incident, Dove’s background, and some of the “historical issues” the publisher has faced, Taylor & Francis’ Director, Medicine and Open Access, agreed to do a Q&A with me, which I publish below.

Of the latest controversy Kahn says, “our investigations show that the peer review was carried out to high standards and that the journal behaved well, and the authors responses have satisfied us that the complaints are unfounded.”

On the historical issues, she adds, the naysayers were wrong to have doubted Dove’s probity. “We went through very detailed due diligence, carrying out an extremely thorough process, when we acquired Dove Medical Press. We were satisfied that, after some historical issues, improvements had been made to their peer review process working with the OASPA membership team … Eight months on from our acquisition, Dove are performing well in all areas, we remain confident that we got value for money, and are delighted that they are part of Taylor & Francis Group.”

There are one or two places in the Q&A where readers may feel there is a little repetition. If so, this is because the interview was done by email in a staged way. I have, however, not edited the text as I am keen to publish Kahn’s answers exactly as she emailed them to me.

The Q&A begins …

RP: I am wondering why Taylor & Francis (T&F) decided to buy Dove Medical Press? I have seen the short press release published at the time, which talks of Dove journals having Impact Factors (and of T&F wanting to expand in OA and medical journals) but I am also aware that the perception in the market is that (as this article puts it), titles from Dove “tend to rank poorly on impact factor”. Can you say more about why T&F chose to buy Dove?

DK: Open Access and Medical publishing are both strategically important areas of investment and growth for Taylor & Francis. So we were delighted when we were able to enter into discussions with Dove Medical Press, as they fit so well with our plans.

Dove Medical Press is a small and entrepreneurial company, with staff based in Auckland and Macclesfield, all of whom are committed to excellent service to authors, and high-quality peer review. They publish around 100 journals, of which 12 have impact factors ranging from 1.7 to 7 –  almost all of them placed within the top two quartiles of the Journal Citation Report.

Two more titles are set to receive Impact Factors in the next release of the JCR. The vast majority of the rest of the journals are indexed in the DOAJ, PubMed and the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI). All of these indexes perform in-depth checks on the quality and integrity of the contents of journals before accepting them for indexing.

We chose to buy Dove because we were impressed by the quality of their content, the quality of their peer review, their focus on author experience, and their loyal author following, with a high percentage of repeat authors. We rated it a very good business in its own right and knew that we would learn from them as we continued to develop our own open access offerings.

RP: How much did T&F pay for Dove?

DK: This wasn’t disclosed at the time of acquisition. Please see the press statement released by Informa, our parent company.

RP: Yes, I saw that, but I was hoping you could tell me anyway? Frankly, I don’t understand why this information needs to be secret, although I suppose it fits with the secrecy that has always surrounded Dove. When I interviewed Dove’s Tim Hill in 2008 he refused to tell me who the owners of Dove were and denied that (despite what some believed) there was any connection between Libertas Academica (LA) and Dove, or with him (aside from the fact that the owner of LA was his son).

Then, when in 2010 I emailed him to point out that New Zealand Companies House records that he had one time been the sole director and shareholder of LA, and had in fact  been a director of LA when he told me in 2008 that there was no connection, he responded, “Henceforth I will not be providing you with any comment or information on any subject.” In 2016, I tried to make contact with Dove directors Graeme Peterson and Kevin Toale, neither of whom responded.

Can you tell me why there has always been this kind of secrecy surrounding Dove? OA advocates argue that scholarly publishing is primarily funded by the taxpayer and so should be transparent both in process and financing. There is now also a widespread belief that there should be even greater transparency with regard to medical research, and those who publish it, not least because it is felt that pay-to-publish OA has made it easier for pharmaceutical and medical device companies to use scholarly papers as marketing tools. Do you agree that there are dangers here and that greater transparency is essential?

DK: I do believe that there should be transparency in all scholarly publishing, both in traditional subscription and open access publishing. COPE, OASPA, WAME and the DOAJ have collaborated to identify Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing, and these principles form part of the criteria on which membership applications to those organizations are evaluated. All Dove journals are included in the DOAJ and have “the tick”, which means they have met the high level of compliance to these criteria.

All Dove journals are also members of COPE and have met their membership criteria also.

I don’t think that there has been secrecy around Dove Medical Press. Information about the company has been available from Companies House since they came into existence in 2003. Nothing in our due diligence suggested anything to the contrary.

Tim Hill (from Dove) is Tom Hill’s father, and he may have helped his son establish Libertas Academica in the first instance. However, Tim Hill was not involved in the direction or any of the operations of Libertas Academica. No current Dove staff have ever worked with or as part of Libertas Academica, nor do the two companies share any operations.