Maintaining the quality of Scopus content – a Board member’s view
Mr. David Rew MA MB MChir (Cantab) FRCS (London) | Consultant Surgeon at University of Southampton, Medical Subject Chair for SCOPUS Content Selection Advisory Board
Scopus is not only the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature, it also prides itself on the quality of its content. In order to maintain those high standards, Elsevier relies heavily on the expertise of members of the Scopus Content Selection Advisory Board (CSAB). The Board is always keen to hear from Elsevier editors with a proven track record who are looking at further career development opportunities. Here CSAB member and Medical Subject Chair, Mr. David Rew, outlines the work of CSAB and what membership involves.
Scopus was conceived and created in 2004 as an advanced, quality-orientated citation system. The initial Scopus Advisory Board comprised some 40 members, who oversaw the acquisition of some 18,000 journals from more than 5,000 publishers, along with large numbers of trade journals, book series, and conference proceedings. By 2009, it was clear that the process of journal evaluation needed standardizing and formalizing. It was also clear that the CSAB needed to be streamlined.
The current structure of the CSAB
The Board now comprises some 15 independent members, each of whom has been allocated a role as Subject Chair. Some members have experience as editors, while others bring specialist skills such as bibliometrics and librarianship. The Board meets twice each year in countries where there is a growing Scopus interest and where members can meet and debate with loco-regional academic bodies. Board meetings generally last three days and combine invigorating debate with presentations on state-of-the-art developments in publishing, the system’s technical capabilities and its application to the host country’s requirements. Between meetings, Board members communicate by email or through a dedicated online platform.
The Scopus Title Evaluation Platform (STEP)
The first task of the new CSAB in 2009 was to oversee the development and launch of the Scopus Title Evaluation Platform (STEP). It now provides a common platform for the processing from application to final decision of all applicant journals of whatever specialty origin and publishing model. STEP formalizes a number of discrete steps in the journal accession journey:
- Title suggestion and initial registration.
- Initial processing to standard criteria which address the question “is this a bona fide academic, peer-reviewed journal which is likely to meet our requirements?”.
- The process is then handed back to the publisher and editors of the applicant journal for revisions, amendments, clarifications and enrichment of requisite data.
- Applicant journals which pass these thresholds are passed to the relevant Subject Chair or to his or her nominated reviewer for evaluation and final decision making.
Since 2009, some 15,000 applications have been processed of which around 1/3 were eligible for final review by the Board and some 2,500 were selected and added to the Scopus database. Title suggestions come from all sorts of publishers from all regions of the world. Journal inflow to STEP seems to be steadying at around 3,000 per annum.
Mr. David Rew is a Consultant Surgeon in Southampton, UK. From 2003 to 2009 he was Editor in Chief of the EJSO, the European Journal of Surgical Oncology, and from 2008 to 2010 he sat on the Executive Board of COPE, the Committee on Publication Ethics. In 2009, he was invited to join the independent and international Scopus Content Selection Advisory Board as the Subject Chair for Medicine. He has made a significant contribution to the work of the board and particularly to the introduction of a common and universal strategy on Publication Ethics and Malpractice, which is now applied to all journals on accession to the Scopus system.
The principles governing the work of the CSAB
The CSAB is comprised of members whose employment is independent of Elsevier, although we receive a modest stipend from the company, and the cost of attendance at Board meetings is met. Board members derive professional reward and satisfaction from the vigor and range of the discussions and insights in the search for consensus, and from the friendship and cohesion within a team which has formed effective working and advisory practices over its evolution. The core principles to which we work are that:
- All journals will be treated fairly, regardless of origin, publication model or type of content, so long as they meet core and established criteria and pass objective thresholds of quality.
- The focus is on quality thresholds for accession to Scopus. We have debated and rejected a range of “all-comer acceptance” models for the time being, although the impact of new evaluation systems and models such as crowd sourcing and the use of altmetrics are kept under continuous review.
- All applicant journals, whether accepted for accession or deferred, will be given the encouragement, opportunity and support to improve. We recognize that for many individuals, journals represent a lifetime of endeavor and nurture which must be respected. We are producing a range of explanatory documents and tools to help editors and publishers evaluate their journals, develop their strategic thinking and improve their quality.
The specifics of the work of CSAB members
CSAB members undertake three broad categories of work.
The first is effectively a consultancy function to the Scopus management and development team, through attendance and discussion at Board meetings and through electronic channels.
The second function is journal accession work related to the STEP process. I have now evaluated to final decision some 500 applicant medical journals, a workload which is paralleled by my colleagues in their own Subject Chair roles.
The third function is communications and training work. This can include participation in Elsevier webinars on subjects related to the work of the Board, and in seminars and workshops on Scopus activities. One key initiative by Derrick Duncombe, Customer Outreach Manager for Elsevier based in Singapore, has seen the creation of loco-regional boards in Thailand and South Korea to help develop regional journals to CSAB standards. Elsewhere, partnerships have been explored in editor workshops in South East Asia, India, Russia, Eastern Europe and most recently Brazil, while opportunities for future collaborations worldwide are under continuous review.
The work of the Scopus CSAB will not be complete anytime soon. The STEP program for applicant journals is maturing, and we are now turning our sights on those journals which accrued to Scopus before the STEP system was developed, and which a range of metrics suggest to be in need of review and support.
We also recognize that the title suggestion portal would benefit from a major overhaul, as would the introduction of tools to allow publishers and editors to recognize and undertake quality improvements before submission rather than later in the STEP process.
We are looking to expand and extend the regional boards and our education and workshop program, and we considering how alternative metrics, social media and the software algorithms familiar to users of eBay and Amazon could be used to refine our appraisal of journals and the user experience of Scopus.
The implications of the Scopus CSAB for Elsevier editors
We hope that for journals not yet included in Scopus, the selection criteria and assessment may be an inspiration and useful contribution to the development of a high-quality sustainable journal. All new and applicant journals are processed without fear of favor in the search for fairness in the accrual process, such that a small number of Elsevier journals have been obliged to defer entry. Some of the journals may need time for their metrics to mature and for their progression to be assured before they are granted accession.
In addition, our systems will in due course scan the metrics of all journals in Scopus, and we already have eyes on the poorest-performing categories for review and support, as indicated by the timeline metrics readily and publicly available for each and every journal within Scopus.
Accession to the Board is presently by invitation but we are always keen to hear from experienced and enthusiastic editors who might be in a position to contribute in the future. For those with a proven track record who are looking at further career development opportunities, a place in the CSAB team is well worth considering. The individual Subject Chairs are very approachable and scan the horizon for individuals with the appropriate skills, interest and experience to introduce to the Board. Interested editors can contact the Scopus Product Management Team via firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information on the subject matter of this article is available on the Content Overview pages of the Scopus info site.
Scopus can also be a useful tool for Reviewers and Editors in their editorial role. For more information on how to use Scopus see: Meester, W (2013) “Scopus: a must-have resource for reviewers” Reviewers’ Update, Issue 14.