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The Real Reason Journal Articles Should Be Free

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the because-linking-to-paywalls-annoys-me dept.

Businesses 193

Bennett Haselton writes "The U.S. government recently announced that academic papers on federally-funded research should become freely available online within one year of publication in a journal. But the real question is why academics don't simply publish most papers freely anyway. If the problem is that traditional journals have a monopoly on the kind of prestige that can only be conferred by having your paper appear in their hallowed pages, that monopoly can easily be broken, because there's no reason why open-access journals can't confer the same imprimatur of quality." Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts on the great free-access debate.

Around the time of the tragic suicide of Aaron Swartz, who lobbied tirelessly for free access to academic articles (in his sometimes grey-hat manner, which ultimately got him in trouble), I admitted to some friends that I didn't understand how this became a problem. Why aren't all journal articles free, all the time?

I don't mean that I didn't know why the journal publishers charged exorbitant fees for their subscriptions. If academic researchers have to have access to journal articles in order to do their jobs, then you can expect the journals to gouge academic libraries on the prices. What I didn't understand was: Why do academics even publish in journals that demand exclusive publishing rights for their work, and then charge readers huge fees to read it?

Well actually, we know the answer to that too: academics want the prestige of publishing in big-name journals that have established reputations, and as a result, those well-known journals are in a position to dictate the terms of the contract. A professor might genuinely want to publish their paper in a journal where it can be read for free by all, but they can hardly be blamed for thinking of their own career path first.

Here's the question I really wanted answered: If "prestige" only exists in the minds of other academics within a field, then why don't the academics within a given field just agree to confer "prestige" on papers published in open-access journals, if they can see for themselves that the quality is equivalent to what would be published in the old-guard journals that charge an arm and a leg? And then make hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions accordingly?

I don't mean that the papers published in an open-access journal would bypass the peer-review process, and that everyone in the field would have to judge the papers for themselves without any prior certification of their quality. One of the points that Peter Suber makes repeatedly in his book Open Access is that open access is not about skipping peer review and dumping papers directly onto the web. Rather, the process would work similarly to peer review for a traditional journal:

  1. Author submits a paper to journal XYZ.

  2. Journal XYZ selects one or more peer reviewers from among their list of people they consider qualified to review the paper. The peer reviewers send back their usual suggestions and some consensus is reached as to whether or not to publish.

  3. If Journal XYZ publishes the paper, then they have certified that the paper passed the quality controls in step #2, and the author can now legitimately claim that they had a paper published in Journal XYZ.

  4. If people in the field know that Journal XYZ is not skimping on the quality controls in step #2 — that Journal XYZ is sending the papers to the same academics who would do peer review for one of the old-guard journals, and who are holding the papers to the same standard — then they should respect the paper just as much as if it were published in a traditional journal. If a person has never heard of Journal XYZ, then it should only take a minute to explain to them how it works (and crucially, that Journal XYZ is just as strict about quality as the old-guard journals that everybody has heard of).

Each step in this process should cost the journal virtually nothing. The "hard cost," the part that consumes the time of people with unique skills, is the peer review step, but peer reviewers are usually paid by universities and consider peer review for academic journals to be part of their job description. At a minimum, all the editors really have to do is maintain the list of people they consider qualified to do the peer review, and send the submitted papers off to them.

Moreover, the entire process should be fast. Again, the "hard cost" in time is the peer review, but there's no reason that the delays between submission and publication should be in the range of months or years.

(I'm assuming that the article authors would want their writings to be widely read, or at least would not be opposed to it. That may not be the case if, for example, the authors were commissioned by a pharmaceutical company for a study that cast their drug in a favorable light, but the authors realize that their research methods contained errors and want to minimize the number of eyes on their paper, to reduce the chances of their chicanery being caught. Ben Goldacre's Bad Pharma documents these types of problems very thoroughly, but I'm sidestepping that issue for now.)

So, with that in mind as the ideal, I asked my friends, including many current and former academics, why this essentially wasn't the model that was used. Several mentioned the Public Library of Science, which publishes all articles in its journals under a Creative Commons Attribution License (free for anyone to read and reproduce in full, as long as the original author is cited), and finances its operations through publication fees. These fees are in the $2,000-$3,000 range, heavily discounted for low-income countries and authors, and in any case most academic authors pay the fees out of their research grants and not out of their own pockets. That sounded much better than the traditional model, I thought, but I still didn't understand why the costs weren't even closer to zero. Another friend pointed out that PLOS costs cover the expenses for many of their other activities — which are all noble goals, to be sure, but at the same time, why isn't anybody operating a more bare-bones model which minimizes all expenses, and charges almost nothing for publication or subscription?

This, it turns out, appears to be the approach of the PeerJ project, which aims to let authors pay a one-time fee of $99 at article submission time for the right to publish one article per year — or, if you prefer to pay only if your article is accepted for publication, you can pay $129 "on acceptance" (explained here). And the author of the Techdirt piece mentions that he submitted a paper which was published in the inaugural edition of one of PeerJ's journals, 10 weeks after the submission date. This is cheap and fast enough that I'd call it a validation of the theoretical model which predicts the whole process should be able to be done for almost no cost in almost no time. In other words, I think PeerJ will succeed, but even if it does fail, it will only be because of some anomalous business snafu, not because the hard costs of the service they're providing are greater than the dirt-cheap price they're charging for it. If for any reason PeerJ doesn't happen to get it right the first time, they or some other company should keep trying until someone makes it work.

The basic algorithm at work here — taking a piece of content, submitting it to one or more suitably qualified reviewers, and then certifying the content based on the feedback of the reviewers — is something I've advocated in many contexts over the years, for many different types of problems. In one article I argued that we could make success in the music industry into much more of a meritocracy, with far less arbitrariness in determining who succeeds and fails, if a suitably popular site like Pandora simply took new submissions from artists, had the content "rated" by a random sample of listeners interested in that type of music, and if enough of them liked it, push the content out to all of the fans of that genre. In "Crowdsourcing the Censors" I suggested that Facebook's complaint review process should use the same principle: If a given page received enough complaints, have the page contents reviewed by a random subset of Facebook users who had signed up to be "abusive content" reviewers, and then only flag the page for removal if a high enough percentage of those users voted that the page had indeed violated Facebook's guidelines. This year I argued that "We The People", the White House's online petition-drive-organizing website, should rate ideas based on what a random subset of users think of each idea, rather than allowing users to organize mobs of their friends and followers to vote their own ideas to the top of the pile (which, in case you missed it, is how 4chan gave us this). Or, if you think the general public is not qualified to rate ideas according to how they should be prioritized by the White House (and I'd be inclined to agree), you could have the ideas rated by a random subset of, say, the nation's economics professors.

Of course, I haven't heard of any plans to implement this algorithm in any of those contexts. Not that I expected the key power players to be reading my articles, but it's a little surprising that none of them ever came up with this idea independently, either. (To this day, the only website I'm aware of that ever implemented random-sample voting correctly, was, where users could rate members' pictures by attractiveness — but each picture's rating was determined by showing it to a random subset of the site's visitors. That system is gone, since the site has made itself over into a date-finding service.)

But academia in general, and science specifically, is different from other arenas in a number of key ways which could help this algorithm succeed:

  • Academia, uniquely, is comprised of many professionals whose love of knowledge and intellectual inquiry, is greater than their desire for money. That's not to say that I don't think the same algorithm could work just as well in a business like the music industry, where most of the stakeholders are in it for the money. But even if Pandora did successfully implement the algorithm, it would meet a lot of resistance from entrenched interests in the music industry, who make their money by finding and promoting and managing talent and would not be happy about a new system that threatened to make them irrelevant. In academia, by contrast, it's quite plausible that even the "entrenched interests" — the people who had become superstars under the old system — would see the new system's great potential for disseminating free knowledge, and would welcome it even if it gave scrappy new upstart academics a chance to dethrone them. Not everybody in academia loves knowledge more than they love their own prestige, but I know more people like that in academia than anywhere else.

  • In academia, even among people who do care primarily about their own prestige, many of them have tenure and guaranteed job security, a situation that does not exist in most other industries. This gives them the freedom to experiment with new models, such as submitting papers to upstart PeerJ journals. But more importantly for our purposes, it means they can announce that in their department's hiring and promotion decisions, they will count PeerJ-published papers as legitimate professional accomplishments, for the benefit of non-tenured faculty members who do have to worry about their resume.

  • Academics, particularly in maths and sciences, are more prone to the kind of thinking that would lead a person naturally in the direction of the kind of system that PeerJ embodies. First, think of a theoretical model (like the kind I described near the beginning of the article). This model predicts that, ideally, it should be possible to publish papers at very low cost with quick turnaround times, without sacrificing peer-review quality assurance. Now, try to approximate that model as closely as possible in the real world. (In most other industries that I've worked in, there's much more inertia around the existing way of doing things, and far less willingness to entertain any discussion about whether a theoretical model can show how we could accomplish the same thing with vastly less overhead.)

And that, in the end, is the real reason journal articles should be free. Not because the U.S. government is making it a condition for taxpayer-funded research, although that is a welcome development. But because there's no part of the process that should cost very much to begin with, if article authors and peer reviewers are already being paid by their employers. The last piece of the puzzle is that enough academics and faculty departments have to agree to confer "prestige" on articles published in open-access journals, equivalent to the level of prestige that they would accord for an article published in a traditional journal of the same quality. If they won't do that, then the old-guard journals will maintain their monopoly on conferring "prestige", and don't be surprised if journal prices keep growing to the point where even Harvard can't pay for them.

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The harsh reality (4, Insightful)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year ago | (#43046599)

Most academics are publishing to advance their careers/reputations/chances-at-tenure, not as a community service. So publishing in "Bob's Open Source Mathematics Journal/Blog" is NOT the same as publishing in Annals of Mathematics to them. You may be able to talk them into *republishing* their articles in some open-source repository at some later date (and that seems to be the President's goal), but you can forget asking them to forgo the prestige of established print journals for idealism. It's hard enough to get tenure today even with a list of publications in prestigious journals, much less with a long list of publications in fly-by-night open-source journals that your review committee may not have even heard of.

Re:The harsh reality (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43046629)

Then we need to make the open source one most prestigious journal.

There is no need for an open source journal to be fly by night.

Re:The harsh reality (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#43046635)

The harsh reality is that you didn't RTFA. Congratulations, you have just described the problem. The article describes one potential solution.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43046739)

There was an article?

Re:The harsh reality (1)

linear a (584575) | about a year ago | (#43046851)

Don't believe them! It's a trap!

Re:The harsh reality (3, Insightful)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year ago | (#43046747)

The "potential solution" he seems to be advancing is "We should just all agree that open-source journals shall be as prestigious as the print ones." But that's never gonna happen, for the reason I described.

Re:The harsh reality (3, Insightful)

ranton (36917) | about a year ago | (#43047161)

You didn't list any actual reasons why an open journal could not become prestigous. You just said that they aren't prestigous enough right now. From what I read, you don't seem to think it is the fact that they are open, just that they are not established enough.

But if the government mandated that all research that is even partially funded by the federal government must be in open journals, those journals would become the prestigous ones overnight. While I sometimes read research papers written purely by entities like Microsoft Research, even many of those papers still have some professor from a University as a contributer as well.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047357)

But if the government mandated that all research that is even partially funded by the federal government must be in open journals, those journals would become the prestigous ones overnight.

No, overnight the whole thing will become a mess depending on how many options there are within a field and the quality of their review process (especially if there is any lag in quality due to learning curve of new people coming into the process). Once the dust settles, there will be prestigious open access journals, but it will not be a quick process still, and it might not even be painless depending on how well the open journals handle it.

Re:The harsh reality (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#43048433)

But if the government mandated that all research that is even partially funded by the federal government must be in open journals, those journals would become the prestigous ones overnight.

No, you just explained why they would NOT. As soon as the government is mandating that a journal publish "all research that is even partially funded by the federal government", then you make it a lower class medium. Sure, good articles from good researchers will appear there, but so will a plethora of junk from everyone who is fulfilling the government mandate. Respected journals are respected because they don't publish everything they get, they publish what passes peer review and contains content.

I used to browse some of the free publishers for ebooks. I got so tired of seeing absolute crap and having to spend time looking for the occasional gem that I just gave up. I know someone who is self-publishing via Amazon and actually selling their books for a reasonable price (for a book). I took a look at a couple of their books ('look inside') and what I found was a severe case of comma-itis, to the point that the sentences actually made no sense at all unless you simply ignored all the commas. Misspelled words. Things that a real publisher would never have let past the proof stage.

We do NOT want academic journals to go that direction. Not at all. Putting government mandates on them is one way of pushing them over the cliff.

Re:The harsh reality (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047187)

It's clearly a chicken and egg problem. The established papers have allot of credibility and allot of money and the two maintain themselves: with sufficient income you can pay competent reviewers, have a decent editorial process, advertise, distribute promotional copies, organize conferences etc. This in turn allows you to maintain a high perceived quality, get a high "impact factor" on various scales used to measure academic papers, and thus attract quality articles.

I don't agree that reviewers are free; they are free only for established journals because those either have some sort of bilateral relationship with the reviewer's employer or they can offer to the reviewer the unique recognition of being a reviewer for a famous journal.

On open source journal can't break the cycle without a critical mass of high quality authors. So in order to achieve free access, you need the actual academics to care about it enough for them to sacrifice some visibility and academic recognition. They won't because it's against their immediate goal - career and scientific advancement - and because there's not even a collective, financial interest for them, major universities already subscribe to prestigious journals, have ACM and IEEE site licenses etc. So the people writing the top-tier articles are not paying for this racket, it's the universities, governments and lower ranked academics who need to catch up.

Re:The harsh reality (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43048081)

Something sounds off, as that doesn't sound much like the review process in my field.

they are free only for established journals because those either have some sort of bilateral relationship with the reviewer's employer or they can offer to the reviewer the unique recognition of being a reviewer for a famous journal.

I've never been offered anything from a publisher for reviewing, including recognition since it is all done anonymously anyways. It is not like I put reviewing requests on my resume either, as it is typically a consequence of having published with the same journal before, and my publications are already listed. There is no agreement with my employer (a public university) beyond my bosses are ok with me doing it since it needs to be done, as long as I get other work done anyway.

The review process seems more driven by a sense of duty, "You had people review your papers, you should take time to contribute back for those reviews." Since they typically go after people who have published with them before, crappier journals just go after their authors, and get what they can.

So as far as I see it, the reviewers are still free. It is the people managing the reviewers that cost money in many fields.

Re:The harsh reality (2)

Zcar (756484) | about a year ago | (#43048043)

So how did Physical Review become prestigious when Annalen der Physik had been around in some form for a century?

An open source journal won't have immediate prestige, but it can gain it as it established a track record of quality.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43046825)

Is Bennett's long summary "TFA"? Here's a quote from that long summary:

And the author of the Techdirt piece mentions that he submitted a paper which was published in the inaugural edition of one of PeerJ's journals, 10 weeks after the submission date. This is cheap and fast enough that I'd call it a validation of the theoretical model which predicts the whole process should be able to be done for almost no cost in almost no time.

Heh, there are a lot of "literary journals" that will quickly "review" and publish the submission of a writer who forks over a fee, but I don't think they'll be replacing The New Yorker anytime soon.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43046837)

If you realized how many hours of work goes into a single journal paper, you'd have to pay someone way way below minimum wage before you get journal costs to approach salary, not to mention equipment costs and such.

Basically, I sympathize with some fields that have it rough, but for others this is an imagined problem.

Maybe fund research enough that academics can afford open source publishing fees.

Re:The harsh reality (4, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#43047097)

If you realized how many hours of work goes into a single journal paper, you'd have to pay someone way way below minimum wage before you get journal costs to approach salary, not to mention equipment costs and such.

I do realize how much work is done. The peer reviewers aren't getting paid by the journal. The people writing the article are actually paying to publish in the journal. Then people are paying again to read the journal. Where is the money going?

Re:The harsh reality (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047373)

Some (even if too small of a fraction...) of it goes to pay essentially full time babysitters for reviewers and authors. Unfortunately, there is not enough professional, proactive, enthusiastic, and punctual reviewers out there in most fields to get through the number of papers that need to be reviewed, so some filtering and management is needed.

Re:The harsh reality (2)

pjabardo (977600) | about a year ago | (#43047601)

And the sad part is that there is already a large infrastructure in universities that could do most of the "boring" work: libraries and librarians themselves. They know what to do and mostly know and how to do it.

Pooling among different universities would drop the publication costs to nearly zero. Hell, if each university had one person doing this work and a single server to handle the work, there wouldn't be enough work to go around. And libraries would be saving a large percentage of their budgets.

The publishers are today middleman parasites.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43048155)

At that point, it is not really that different than just having universities pay into a non-profit organization that is properly managed, other than making it too distributed and piecemeal among university employees could risk poorer organization.

And librarians could probably do the task, just as many other academic jobs could, but probably don't want to and it would be a rather drastic change in job description. It would go from organizing and managing documents and helping people looking for research to organizing and managing people and helping research look for people.

Re:The harsh reality (3, Insightful)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year ago | (#43048525)

And the sad part is that there is already a large infrastructure in universities that could do most of the "boring" work: libraries and librarians themselves. They know what to do and mostly know and how to do it.

I'm sorry, but that's just silly. Being a librarian does not mean someone knows what articles should be accepted, who should referee them, how to format them, or most of the other things a professional publishing house does.

If you look at the mastheads for many of the respected journals, the editors are not librarians (except maybe for journals in library "science"), they are people in the field. Otherwise, you'd be feeding reviewers absolutely unfiltered junk and forcing them to waste their time doing the editor's job of preselection.

Pooling among different universities would drop the publication costs to nearly zero.

Pooling would create a more expensive job of coordinating, and of course, put a lot more people on the taxpayer-funded payroll as many people would have to be hired to do this new job. Where you get the idea that this would cut the costs to nearly zero, I cannot understand. Maybe you think that the existing librarians just sit around reading books all day and have lots of free time they could use to run a respected academic journal. Not the librarians I know, and the ones I know wouldn't be able to do the job in the first place.

Re:The harsh reality (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about a year ago | (#43047647)

I think he read it fine. The problem is that an "open an free" journal should prove itself just as reputable and worthy as the privately operated peer-review journals.

I'm all for an open and free alternative peer reviewed journal, but I should want to use it because of its overall value and reputation not because I was forced to do it or because "open and free" magically equate to the traditional journals. The private journals had to prove their worth when they started, the open journals are just going to have to do the same.

Re:The harsh reality (5, Insightful)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about a year ago | (#43046939)

The key is "review".

I put stuff up on my webpage all the time. But it's not peer reviewed. If someone from Nature or SIGGRAPH called me tomorrow and asked me to review a paper I'd bloody well do it. But if someone from a journal or conference I never heard of asked me to peer review something I may simply say no. It's not just the prestige of the author that matters. The reviewer has to feel they are actually reviewing peers and not just random crazy people.

We could do all scientific publishing on our own websites for all it matters if the goal is just free. But the goal isn't free. The goal is make sure that the work that gets published stands at least some degree of scrutiny so you can expect that it actually is a new contribution to a particular field of knowledge. Maintaining those contacts, running those conferences, maintaining the staff that organize this hugely complex apparatus of knowledge and have the skillset to even know what the heck is going on isn't free.

You can cut journals out of the process, but that job needs to be done by someone, and they need to be paid. Now, obviously you could gut the profit making side of the business (and since it's the government paying for the subscriptions already they're already paying for it, so it could be a cost savings measure), but one shouldn't be under the illusion that the job of peer review isn't important or that it's free.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047277)

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice there is..."
Alas, free scholarly online journals will never be of consistently high quality for the same reason that postings on slashdot will never be. It's not that you couldn't have consistently competent reviewers (or even editors or writers of summaries :-) ...).
    But that requires organization, and the organization will continue to lack because there is no force to bring it into being.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047445)

Too bad there isn't a method of extracting wealth from everyone in a nation and using it to administer things that are for the benefit of everyone, like the growth of knowledge.

Re:The harsh reality (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about a year ago | (#43047761)

Certainly that's what would have to happen.

But the infrastructure is there now in the private sector. If you don't appreciate the challenges of moving that to the public sector you're going to have a rough time of it. Journals are big international products, which adds a layer of complexity onto this, as no one really trusts the US government to be the ones running the scientific community, but the US wouldn't let anyone else do it for their own scientists. US scientists would still be stuck paying for foreign journal publications, but is the US government going to get into the business of trying to charge every foreign scientist 100 bucks a year for access to US journals? They certainly *can*, but I doubt they want to.

Re:The harsh reality (2)

boneglorious (718907) | about a year ago | (#43048741)

US scientists, by and large, would probably not get on board if the US was going to charge foreign scientists for access. For one thing, a major reason for open-access journals is so that researchers in less-developed countries that may not have access to expensive journals can still keep abreast of current research. Plus, at least in my industry, there basically aren't national borders to the research. Sure, I apply to US for my grant money and my colleagues in Austria apply to their government for their grant money, but we're collaborating, visiting each other, and conferencing like we're all in the same magical Country of Science.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047581)

I put stuff up on my webpage all the time. But it's not peer reviewed. If someone from Nature or SIGGRAPH called me tomorrow and asked me to review a paper I'd bloody well do it. But if someone from a journal or conference I never heard of asked me to peer review something I may simply say no. It's not just the prestige of the author that matters. The reviewer has to feel they are actually reviewing peers and not just random crazy people.


Any move to a new model has to have the support of the community. Have you ever tried getting academics to agree on a course of action? It's orders of magnitude worse than cat-herding.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Jawnn (445279) | about a year ago | (#43048541)

I'd agree, but the fact is that "... maintaining those contacts, running those conferences, maintaining the staff that organize this hugely complex apparatus of knowledge..." is nowhere near as daunting as it used to be. To be sure, it requires some effort and that effort should be compensated, but the scale that used to justify selling out to this or that print journal no longer exists. Time for change.

journal spam (1)

boneglorious (718907) | about a year ago | (#43048679)

But if someone from a journal or conference I never heard of asked me to peer review something I may simply say no. It's not just the prestige of the author that matters. The reviewer has to feel they are actually reviewing peers and not just random crazy people.

Yeah, it would quickly turn into the spam we all get from random publishers asking us to contribute to their journal we've never heard of... So how would a scheme like this pull itself up by its own bootstraps out of the morass of publication spam we all get already?

Re:The harsh reality (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | about a year ago | (#43047115)

everyone needs to jump ship at the same time

i didn't say that was easy, but it will get the job done quite well

a slow bleed will, indeed, not confer the same prestige, but only for a short period

which is small comfort for the guy whose career collided with that short period

so it's a problem

Why tenure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047165)

It's hard enough to get tenure today even with a list of publications in prestigious journals

I get the impression that tenure is a major concern only of American academics, but obviously the world of publishing extends beyond that to many other countries. I am at a northern European university, and here there's no need to worry about tenure, because it's rarely a problem to keep renewing one research or teaching contract year-in, year-out. And in the rare case that you are suddenly unable to renew that contract, you'll receive completely adequate benefits from the state for the few months until you can do so again. Are academics in the US desparate for tenure because without that job security they would be left in poverty?

Re:Why tenure? (1)

Silas is back (765580) | about a year ago | (#43047377)

"getting tenure" is just a proxy for becoming a prof. I don't know at which university you are and how many grants that you have reeled in, but at the European and US agencies that I have applied you better have a list of good publications to get your funding. And as for "not to worry about tenure", that is highly illusory. Tenure and teaching contracts may save your salary, but what do you say to your lab technicians, programmers and grad students when you run out of money? "Don't worry, you'll get completely adequate gov benefits"?

Re:Why tenure? (3, Informative)

alexander_686 (957440) | about a year ago | (#43048737)

2 Factors which are specific to research institutions.

Associate Professor / Post-Grad / Grad Student = indentured servant / long hours / low pay. Routinely ranked as a highly stressful. Full Prof means labs staffed by said indentured servants. Routinely ranked as a highly rewarding for the time /money.

Up or Out: Most research institutions have a 7 year limit – either make full prof by that point or start searching for your next job in a new city.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047189)

You may be able to talk them into *republishing* their articles in some open-source repository at some later date (and that seems to be the President's goal), but you can forget asking them to forgo the prestige of established print journals for idealism.

It seems it depends heavily what field you are in, but a lot of journals already let you do this, with no time delay. Journals I've published with have explicitly told me that I was allowed to post the article online, under two conditions: it doesn't include the final formatting done by the journal (but with templates, the version I have is pretty similar anyways...), and that it not be posted somewhere else that charges money for access.

Stuff like that seems win-win mostly. I get a paper in a journal with a lot of prestige and history, I don't pay any fees at all, and the paper is still freely available to anyone to read, on both my website and arXiv. Additionally, the free version mentions what journal it went to, so it is obvious it has been peer reviewed, as opposed to some of the junk that ends up on some sites.

The long run problem is what would those journals do if a library stops paying them for access. If they started failing in a business sense, would they stop allowing people new submissions to be reposted? They at least can't stop me from reposting stuff I submitted, as that was part of the terms of the copyright agreement I signed with them.

Re:The harsh reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047267)

Then they should fetch their funding from a place other then the public's pocket I guess.

Re:The harsh reality (1, Interesting)

Jawnn (445279) | about a year ago | (#43048467)

...but you can forget asking them to forgo the prestige of established print journals for idealism. It's hard enough to get tenure today even with a list of publications in prestigious journals...

"Established print journals" exist today because, at one time, it was expensive to regularly collect, review, and publish (as in print and distribute) the articles featured in those journals. Now it isn't. The "prestige" you speak of is a function of the review process. The logistics of that process has never been particularly challenging or expensive, but with the today's technology they are positively trivial. Distribution - same deal. Printing (on dead trees) is unnecessary. So it's just a matter of collecting the the players who can provide effective peer review. And it is those players who, for mostly mercenary reasons, who are lining up with the publishers of print journals. The pursuit of knowledge should be above such crass considerations, so it is doubly shameful for those "peers" to hitch their wagon to an industry that hasn't yet realized it's dying.

The funny thing is... (4, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43046669)

...that this is precisely the kind of stuff that WWW was invented for. Nah, twenty years later, and the web is dominated by YouTube and Facebook.

Re:The funny thing is... (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#43046811)

The people have spoken.

Re:The funny thing is... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047219)

Why are you moaning? They're not mutually exclusive. The masses may use the web for social diversions, but they doesn't stop academics using it. Far from it. Thanks to the masses coming online, we now have ubiquitous Internet access from almost any device we care to use, unlike a few years ago where you needed to book time on machines if you weren't in a comp-sci lab.

Re:The funny thing is... (5, Insightful)

clawhammer (1671506) | about a year ago | (#43047545)

And yet when I have to write a research paper for class, do I have to go to the library, look up relevant journals in the card catalog, hunt through an index to find keyword references, dance all over the periodicals section finding the proper volume and issue, and then have to sit there then and there to read it and summarize it? No. I can sit at home, log in to my university's library, do a keyword search over a vast number of journals, and get the abstracts and articles immediately. Does my university not have a printed copy? No worries- they've got access to three online databases that have the article.

Now, I'm sure the university pays large sums of money for this privilege. But it looks to me like the internet is meeting that original reasoning just fine, notwithstanding the amount of people on facebook during class (and then come up to me later not understanding what a constructor is... even though the professor spent the whole hour explaining it.... but that's a different topic).

Re:The funny thing is... (1)

steelfood (895457) | about a year ago | (#43048021)

+1 Sadly true.

Academia only thrives when there is a large amount of societal wealth. People are really only interested in academic pursuits when all of their other needs have been met.

With a shrinking middle class and society getting overall poorer, people are more interested in putting food on the table. And entertainment is a great stress reliever.

You know a society is going to fall when more people are interested in fun and games than in progress.

Public-funded research should be public. Period. (1, Insightful)

Bearhouse (1034238) | about a year ago | (#43046681)

We paid for it. We should be able to see it, and profit from it.
Of course, some exceptions for sensitive strategic military stuff, but such should be identified and ring-fenced from the start.

Now, if Prof. "X" wants to boost his reputation by publishing in a 'prestigious' journal. Well, let him/her pay for it.
I don't buy this 'editorial excellence and peer review' crap; it's been discredited too many times.

Put it on the net; it'll get reviewed...

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (2, Insightful)

mog007 (677810) | about a year ago | (#43046761)

Peer review is one of the most important components of modern science. It must be done.

It ensures data isn't faked or fraudulent.

Granted, peer review isn't 100% effective, some research slips in that shouldn't. I don't see why the open journals wouldn't just become the more prestigious journals when all the big research goes there first.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047063)

It ensures data isn't faked or fraudulent.

NO. That is absolutely not the point of peer review.

Peer review is designed to ensure that there are no methodological or logical flaws in the project. Essentially, peer review assumes that the data is accurate, but makes sure that the conclusions derived from the data are reasonable. It will also check to make sure that the methodology used to collect the data is sound.

There are almost zero checks for faked or fraudulent data. Faked data will only be found immediately if the faker did something very stupid.

Where science will find faking is in followup studies. Eventually, people will try and reproduce the same result, or at least a similar result. If they fail to reproduce the claimed data, then there is an issue and the fake might be eventually found. But this takes quite a bit of time, effort, and money, and therefore isn't part of the peer review process.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43048703)

It ensures data isn't faked or fraudulent.

NO. That is absolutely not the point of peer review.

Peer review is designed to ensure that there are no methodological or logical flaws in the project. Essentially, peer review assumes that the data is accurate, but makes sure that the conclusions derived from the data are reasonable. It will also check to make sure that the methodology used to collect the data is sound.

I agree that the point of peer review isn't to guard against fake data but this view is overly narrow. The point is (or can be) much broader than error trapping. Done right (according to me, anyway, and I do a lot of it) peer review for journal articles helps make papers better. Reviews in my field (geosciences) can address writing, logic, figures, ties to previous work... I have been asked questions as an author that made me entirely rethink the point I was making. Constructive peer review leads to better papers, and that's why it's important to the scientific community as a whole.

The scientific societies, not for-profit companies like Elsevier, are the major publishers in my area. It's interesting that some European and American societies now have open-access journals. The American Geophysical Union publishes Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems [] , which operates under a Creative Common license (even though the AGU just entered a partnership with for-profit Wiley). The European Geophysical Union has a couple of open-access journals (one on building computational models [] , another more general [] , and I may be missing some. The EGU journals published the author/reviewer/editor dialog as "comments" and allow for anyone to comment (up voting!) but I've never heard anyone say they find that more useful than careful peer review.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43046823)

another problem with the "prestigious" journals is that the editors can often be political with the articles received and show bias towards articles that either boost or negate their own research.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047427)

That is going to be a potential problem with journals, open or not. The closed journals I've dealt with had appeal processes and ways to bring extra editors into the process if there is a perceived conflict. So while single people can have their influence, either way there would be some amount of review and oversight possible.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43046891)

Now, if Prof. "X" wants to boost his reputation by publishing in a 'prestigious' journal. Well, let him/her pay for it.

Not only authors publish based on prestige. It's their institute, their school, working group, ...

I think forcing public institutions to publish freely 1 year after is a good compromise. Libraries won't be forced to subscribe to most journals. 1 year old research is enough in most cases, the rest can be bought by article.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43046941)

I don't buy this 'editorial excellence and peer review' crap; it's been discredited too many times.

Put it on the net; it'll get reviewed...

I have served as Editor-in-Chief and/or Associate Editor for various "prestigious" peer-reviewed journals (both Open Access and Paywall). You seriously underestimate how much CRAP is submitted to serious journals. Without a peer-review filtering process, the quality stuff would be buried below the noise floor and become unreachable.

As for discrediting the necessity of peer review, please back that up with some references.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43047059)

You seriously underestimate how much CRAP is submitted to serious journals.

He mentioned "editorial excellence", do you really need that to weed out outright crap? Perhaps the whole "buy a prestigious journal, get a bunch of good articles" model is wrong. Why not treat all papers individually? You don't need to get them shoved to you, researchers simply publish online and the rest of the community then reviews the things that have been published. Reviewers get meta-reviewed and receive new reviewing weights accordingly. No journals needed. Something like Slashdot comments, only more thorough. (I guess the real problem is the automated logic that would select appropriate reviewers for the respective articles in an unbiased, yet meaningful way. That sounds pretty tough to me.)

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (4, Insightful)

Silas is back (765580) | about a year ago | (#43047243)

This is like saying "we don't need Slashdot or Ars Technica or the NYT, just go to Twitter and let the community upvote the most important news. People with more followers have more weight when favoriting/retweeting".

You will never again see actual news.

There is no way around peer review, and good peer review can only happen if experts choose the review panel. Now this is already being done by professors for journals (for free!) and there is a movement of high-profile profs that will only review for Open Access journals. This is definitely a way to go, and the government agencies requiring Open Access is likely the best solution to date.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047325)

(I guess the real problem is the automated logic that would select appropriate reviewers for the respective articles in an unbiased, yet meaningful way. That sounds pretty tough to me.)

That is kind of like saying: "Why don't we just build a space elevator now? (I guess the real problem is finding a material to use, and that might be tough.)"

Finding appropriate reviewers, screening for conflict of interest, managing the reviewers, and resolving conflicts is a bulk of the work an editor does. Getting that all to work well is what increases the relevance and usefulness of some journals (inertia being the other half...).

Additionally, a big aspect of some of those steps is not just making sure the research did a good job, but filtering for significance. Some of the most prestigious journals are picky about how important and wide reaching they think the paper will be, while others are more work horse, take anything or reasonable quality and usefulness.

This isn't to say this can't be divided up and done more collaboratively and with the help of technology. But there is a lot involved that it is not going to be solved by just a better website interface.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047185)

I'm an academic researcher. I research new technology because I believe in the power of science to make the world a better place. I strongly believe in it, this job is my life's work, my childhood dream. I don't publish in prestigious journals because I want to show off. I publish in them because otherwise I am not going to be able to carry on doing this work. Researchers are valued by their publication record, and it is assessed on shallow terms. The majority of researchers are, like me, post-docs. We work temporary contracts for a couple of years, desperately hoping we'll get a good enough publication record so we can move on to being a lecturer/ assistant professor.
If I was forced to pay to publish in the established journals then I would pay. But it would be a matter of survival not vanity.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (2)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#43047355)

I generally agree, but it would be easier if federal funding for research were a bit more generous so it actually paid for it, rather than paying for only parts, sometimes not even very large parts.

For-profit journal companies are one side of the problem, but there are even a lot of non-profit professional organizations which don't publish open access, because they need the revenue provided by library subscriptions to keep the organization going: organizations like the Association for Computing Machinery, IEEE, and the American Mathematical Society. If these organizations were funded by taxpayers instead of having to rely on raising their own funds, they would not have that problem, and would have no problem going open-access.

Re:Public-funded research should be public. Period (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about a year ago | (#43047493)

If you want it freely available then lobby your granting agencies to pay for it.

Most granting agencies take a dim view of high publication costs in grant budgets.

Nice to see them catch up with the NIH (5, Informative)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about a year ago | (#43046719)

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has required this for some time now. Interestingly enough once NIH made this mandatory, the for-profit journals found ways to comply on a per-article basis so that academics would still publish with them.

The important thing to consider about all this, though, is that the for-profit journals still get more readers than the open access ones. I am one of many who wish that this was not the case, but it simply is. Hence if you want your work to be read by the largest number of possible readers, and become incorporated into your field of work, you want to get it into the larger, more prestigious -and more expensive - journals.

That said, some of the open access journals - PLoS ONE being a great example - are catching up quickly and drawing lots of readers and with them lots of citations.

The only problem left is that the open access journals cost about as much for authors to publish as do the for-profit journals. I had a paper in PLoS ONE recently and we paid somewhere around $1,400 to publish. By comparison the journal a lot of our "higher impact" work goes to costs around $1,500 and even Nature is in the same ballpark (not that we publish in Nature). So if the open access journals with their lower impact scores can't attract authors with lower publishing costs they need to do it with promises of good exposure.

Re:Nice to see them catch up with the NIH (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about a year ago | (#43047517)

Many PLoS ONE level impact journals are free to publish in, unless you want colour in the print version or blow through their page limits.

Re:Nice to see them catch up with the NIH (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about a year ago | (#43047611)

Many PLoS ONE level impact journals are free to publish in, unless you want colour in the print version or blow through their page limits.

I'm not aware of any no-cost (for authors) journals - at least, none that accept life sciences papers. For that matter, PLoS ONE is already seeing impact factors around 4 or so, which to the best of my knowledge is the highest impact factor to date for an open access journal.

That said, some journals will allow authors from certain (member) institutions to publish for free, but someone has to pay that membership cost. I'm also not sure why you mention color or length - I have never seen an open access journal charge for color or length as they aren't doing a print journal anyways.

Nature, Science and everything else (3, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | about a year ago | (#43046791)

There are a few journals - Nature and Science being the premier ones - which serve as filters, a word that I don't see mentioned in the OP. (Each field tends to have a few of their own, such as Physical Review Letters in physics, but let's keep it general.) A paper appearing in Nature or Science has passed through a fairly rigorous weeding out process, and is judged to be interesting and / or important to a wide audience. It may not be right, but it is likely to be worth reading. That is not the same as "prestige."

I don't see these journals going away, even if putting everything in Arxiv becomes routine (as I think it should). There is a lot of stuff published, and the need for filters is going to grow, not diminish, with time.

Re:Nature, Science and everything else (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047109)

What I don't see is: Why should I have to pay Nature in order to read the results of a study primarily funded with my tax dollars?

Re:Nature, Science and everything else (2)

biodata (1981610) | about a year ago | (#43048211)

Because the researchers got their public funding by getting lots of publications in Nature. It's a vicious circle and nothing about the current proposals in the UK or US seems like it will make a difference to the cycle - get some funding -> do good research -> publish in Nature -> get more funding

Re:Nature, Science and everything else (1)

blueg3 (192743) | about a year ago | (#43048573)

Because the people managing the distribution of your tax dollars haven't decided that publication of results in a free journal is a goal. Which to an extent is reasonable -- the point isn't to educate the masses, the point is to advance the state of the art. So it needs to be available to other scientists, who, by and large, do have access to these journals. Requiring them to publish in a free journal has a nonzero cost that isn't fulfilling the primary goal of the research.

Convince your lawmakers that publication in open-access journals is important. Funding agencies can add that as a stipulation to their grants and it will get done. The NIH did it.

Re:Nature, Science and everything else (2)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#43047125)

This is also why I'm skeptical of suggestions, like this one [] from the founder of, that decentralized metrics will remove the prestige of the top journals. In a formal sense, they will make it possible to have a prestigious paper outside of a prestigious journal: you could have high citation counts and a high h-index publishing exclusively technical reports or self-hosted whitepapers. Therefore, the argument goes, there will no longer be any need to chase the prestigious journals, because on your CV people will look at citation metrics and not care where those papers are published.

But in practice, the metrics actually work to strengthen the prestigious journals even more. If your paper appears in Nature or Science, many people will see it who would not have otherwise seen it: even people outside your usual field, and science journalists who may write stories further disseminating it. This greatly raises the odds that your paper will get a lot of citations. Therefore, if citation metrics are important to you, that's just one more reason, not one less reason, to prefer the prestigious journals.

Re:Nature, Science and everything else (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047811)

The filters fail.

I say this as a tenured professor at a Tier I research university who is actively involved in research.

The inter-reviewer correlation in their reviews is about .29, which is far below what's deemed acceptable inter-rater consistency by any stretch of the imagination:

I could post many, many other examples of what actually happens in the review process.

I also think the typical hierarchy of journals is pretty flawed. I sigh every time I see a paper in Nature or Science in my field, because what gets published is usually horribly done, and reflects the prejudices of researchers outside my field, in terms of what they think my field should be saying, rather than what's empirically justified. The papers published in something Nature or Science often would never be published in a lower-tier journal because of methodological flaws, but that never stops them from being published and creating a storm of misconceptions and bogus replications.

I agree entirely with the original posted story and his/her confusion. I would only add that pay-to-publish, regardless of how well-intended it is, is only going to make the situation worse, as it ties your ability to publish to your ability to pay--it's backwards in its economic structure and is a recipe for corruption. The original story author is right to be confused about why open access publishing is solving one problem while introducing another.

Traditional publishing does serve some goals: it introduces editing (which is not the same as acceptance/rejection based on review) and page design experts, which is critically important. It's much more pleasant to read the copy of a stats paper formatted by a journal's copyeditors and design experts than some manuscript written in Computer Modern by some mathematics professor who has idiosyncratic preferences in design. The editors actually improve the papers overall (even though they introduce all sorts of problems in the process).

Blogs and self-published papers need to become a much more central part of academic publishing. Ironically, there was a period a long time ago when it was fairly common for universities and departments to do this; I think in some ways we'd be returning to a model something like that.

There will always be room for journals, but I think journals will function differently in the future, becoming more of a place for a clean, edited version of a paper. I suspect the importance of journal prestige will decrease (at least prestige in the sense that it is now).

Re:Nature, Science and everything else (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43048675)

The only thing really needed is for the community of top academics in the field to decide on such a journals. This is something that could be collectively decided upon by e.g. International Congress of Mathematicians for the field of mathematics. Just found a bunch of journals for each subfield with the publication criteria that getting published means that the result needs to be notable for all mathematicians working within that subfield and one top journal for articles that are notable to the whole mathematical community. Then create a non-profit organization to run them and put the top experts of each subfield as editors.

The only problem is finding the will to do it. Much of the initial filtering process could even be made democratic by making submissions public and letting people vote on them.

Inertia and Time (1)

langelgjm (860756) | about a year ago | (#43046863)

First off, on the time issue, I think a lot of time between submission and publication (or decision) is eaten up by reviewers. You can't expect to get immediate responses from your reviewers (after all, while they are doing this as part of their job, they also have their own research and teaching to do). And some reviewers will be really bad in getting back to the editors in a timely fashion.

Second, inertia plays a large role. Sure, everyone could agree that open access journal X is just as prestigious as closed access Journal Y, but there is a lot to be said for a journal name that everyone recognizes. People use journal names and reputations as a heuristic for quality precisely because they can't reasonably assess the quality of every paper.

Essentially, there is no inherent reason why you cannot have a prestigious open access journal. The problem is that prestige takes time to develop, as well as concerted effort on the part of people who are choosing to submit to the open access journal rather than somewhere else. That's not going to just happen by itself - you'll need an organized effort to get tenured faculty to publish in specific journals (and in some disciplines, they may be more interested in ongoing conversations taking place in other journals).

Re:Inertia and Time (1)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about a year ago | (#43047155)

I think you just put your finger on the ultimate answer to the OP's question. In other fields this process is sometimes called 'building a brand' and once you have it you charge a premium for it. And now that it exists, it is self-sustaining to a degree. One guy will say "I published it in Open Widgets Journal" and the audience will immediately think "It wasn't good enough to be published in Closed Widgets Quarterly". In other words, barriers to entry and switching costs discourage new entrants to the field.

arXiv (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43046881)

The degree of publication openness varies by scientific sub-field, with some doing better than others. From my own experience, the nuclear and particle physics field does a pretty good job with this.

Papers are usually first posted, before peer review, as freely-readable preprints on This is actively encouraged by the journal publishers: the last time I submitted a paper to an APS journal, they had an option to give them an arXiv preprint number, and they would import the paper from there. The journals still coordinate selecting paper referees and maintaining high editorial standards, so papers have the benefit of going through rigorous peer-review (and being re-written/improved in the process) before being officially published in a journal. The changes are included as updates on the arXiv preprint, so anyone wanting to read the paper can get a free copy there. Journals are supported by institutional library subscriptions and membership fees (in the case of professional societies like APS), with library subscription fees that are *much* lower than for money-grubbing bastards like Elsevier. APS is also promoting a new series of their own open-access journals (with publication fees).

Fundamental problem - incentives (1)

sinij (911942) | about a year ago | (#43046921)

Fundamental problem with academic publishing is incentives. With some notable exceptions, a scientist's salary is fixed based on seniority and degree. Masters will always get less than PhD, no matter competence or productivity.

Since monetary incentive is removed, secondary incentive system has to be implemented. This is where prestige comes in, and it is largely determined by type of publications that accept your articles. It is economy of artificial scarcity.

Nothing will change until fundamental problem - researchers getting "paid" by publishing - is addressed.

Re:Fundamental problem - incentives (3, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#43047387)

I think the opposite is actually the problem: salaries generally do vary based on prestige which just gives one more reason that scientists feel they need to chase it. Prestige is much more important to salary than seniority and formal credentials: a hot-shot young scientist who is getting papers in Nature on a regular basis will have universities competing to offer him or her more money than they pay many of their tenured faculty.

Wary of the sneer in this (3, Interesting)

Improv (2467) | about a year ago | (#43046975)

So long as whatever new journals come along continue to act as gatekeepers for good science through a rigourous system of peer review, I'll be happy. I would not trust the author of this /. writeup to maintain that system though; the high level of sneer in his every word is worrying.

Re:Wary of the sneer in this (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047033)

Bennett is a known idiot. Why his blowhard screeds still get posted here is quite a mystery.

agreed ... (4, Informative)

oneiros27 (46144) | about a year ago | (#43047339)

He has no idea what he's talking about, as he only sees the problems at the surface. []

But there are some folks who have given better suggestions that are actually involved in the publication process. Take for instance Jason Priem and Brad Hemminger's article last year, "Decoupling the Scholarly Journal [] " (note -- which actually *was* peer reviewed, unlike someone using Slashdot as editorial / soapbox.)

For those not familiar with the authors, Priem is one of the people behind the Altmetrics Manifesto [] , which argues for other way to measure the value of scientific articles other than h-index and impact factor. Unfortunately, a lot of tenure & promotion committees look at those as being their all important measure.

There *are* folks working on the issue ... I'm involved with it from the side of data citation [] . Some of the societies care ... I know AAS (one of the societies I'm a member of) published a statement that they open access to anything 12 months old automatically, and have for years.

But we've got it now where the publishers are paying the societies for the right to publish their journals ... and for societies who were losing members due to the recession, a few of 'em took the bait. It's going to take some time to figure out what the best models and infrastructure are for each discipline, who's going to pay for it, and for all of the existing contracts to run out.

Mouais (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43046981)

This is the kind of journalist work I love : Reportage []

No, it's all about your salary! (1)

robotito (460199) | about a year ago | (#43046989)

The governments pay a researcher for his production. One way to measure how productive is a researcher is by how many publications does he has during the evaluation period. Other stuff is included, of course: lectures, graduated grad students, the citations of your work, conferences, invited talks, and how hard is to get a publication in the journals you are publishing... well, the variables depend on the country, but that's the idea.

The nice publishers joined forces to facilitate this evaluation, with the hope to make them easy to follow up or to evaluate a researcher. They created a web site, the web of science, where the authors can check the publications, references and citations of their work of from other researchers, in an automated way. When you are applying for funding, you just give the ISSN number of every publication you had in the evaluation period, and that's it, you print it, or send this information to the government, they get your publication record, citations, etc., etc., and renew a contract, get a promotion, or give you thanks.

The problem is... you need to publish in a journal from the circle of publishers who maintain this website, if you publish in a journal not from those publishers, then, your publication cannot be counted by... by the government, hence, you won't get a payment rise, or your contract will not be renewed. Since the government only checks this website, then everybody must publish on the publishers in that circle. And that's where the bad thing comes: offer/demand, you only publish with them, then, only those publishers have the good journals, if those are the journals where everybody publish, then, the good research is in there, hence, they can ask for more money to read their top journals. You need them to do research, and your research will be published there, so you can have a job.

That's it, it is just a circle that went wrong, but now everybody is mad at the publishers. The problem is that the governments are helping a bit on this.

Alternatives to this web of science, are very few: Microsoft Academic Search, Google Scholar, (, Research Gate?), but none of them as "professional" as the web of science in the eyes of the governments, so you just continue using the Web of Science.

Re:No, it's all about your salary! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047065)

I suppose it depends on what field you are in... because I've never used web of science or ISSN for listing publications in grant proposals and progress reports. Also, as far as I've seen, the Web of Science includes journals based on some vague concept of importance, not necessarily publisher, and they do include indexing of several open access journals not associated with such publishers. There are some other field specific databases at least that are not company run, such as NASA's database for astrophysics.

Speaking from experience on both sides... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047011)

Each step in this process should cost the journal virtually nothing. The "hard cost," the part that consumes the time of people with unique skills, is the peer review step, but peer reviewers are usually paid by universities and consider peer review for academic journals to be part of their job description.

The reviewing is the hard part in the sense that it takes the most specialized knowledge to do well. As far as effort though, the part he writes off as costing virtually nothing was by far more time and effort consuming for me than the reviewing part. Selecting reviewers is not a quick and simple thing, especially if you are trying to make sure the reviewers have knowledge of the particular subject. Unless you have some really generic papers, it is difficult to have a short list of reviewers to just pick at random, it takes a lot of time to make sure you have a good match, and to make sure there are no obvious conflicts of interest. On top of that, once you pick the reviewer, there is no guarantee that they will review it in a timely, professional manner. Some reviewers take a bit of nagging to get them to actually get around to things, others obviously review things without much effort and their review reflects they didn't read the paper thoroughly, and then there are more subtle issues and conflicts that can come up between the author and the reviewer. It is one thing if the reviewer obviously didn't read the paper based on their review, much more complicated if the author makes that charge and the review looks at least on topic.

So while you can have the peer review process managed by volunteers, in my experience at least having done plenty of reviews and having tried volunteering for the other side of the editing process, the management part takes a lot more time and effort. There is a lot more room here to screw things up, depending on how you handle the review selection process, and how you handle conflicts between reviewers and authors. It is even more difficult to keep this consistent if you have multiple volunteers handling this, or if those volunteers have their own schedule slacking, etc. The process does have a lot more potential to run smoothly if you have a single person managing this stuff full time, instead of a handful of people throwing in volunteer time into it. At some point it comes down to someone just spending time to babysit everything.

That said, I support open access, and I do find some of the prices publishers charge for open access publishing to be rather exceptionally high. I think there is a lot of room for improvement. Although, for a long time, I won't be surprised if it comes down to journals with a small team of paid staff charging reasonable publishing fees tending to edge out completely free and volunteer journals in quality. And it is such difference in quality that could affect the importance and consider such journals get, for both career positioning and readership, especially if there is potential for a feedback effect.

Academic evaluation (2)

seyfarth (323827) | about a year ago | (#43047025)

Academics are evaluated during the tenure process by committees composed of people from multiple disciplines. This means that there would need to be an agreement throughout a university to accept open access journals, in order to match the tenure demands of the institution. Furthermore many academics transfer to different institutions during their career, so for personal reasons many would choose to target widely accepted journals to maintain job flexibility. The only reasonable course is for these journals to evolve prestige based on quality of published research which will take time. It's not easy to replace this outmoded model with a superior model due to inertia for a variety of reasons.

One real possibility would be for the prestigious journals to move to being online-only. This would reduce their operating cost significantly which could result in lower fees for publications and subscriptions.

Re:Academic evaluation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047379)

Indeed. In my field, the peers don't rank the journals and aren't usually the university administrators assessing a "quality publication". The systems for doing that are byzantine and inherently conservative. Also, shifting the costs to the academic doing the publishing is hugely problematic. Research budgets are not bottomless pits, and paying to take the Gold Route from research funds means that they won't be used elsewhere. And not everybody has a research budget (I don't). In particular, those looking for jobs tend to have posts that are underfunded, and they are exactly the ones who need the high-visibility publications.
So you get a system where the established scholars are usually already associated one way or another with closed-access sources, and the new generation can neither afford open-access nor the career risk to prestige of publishing in an "unknown" source. Then administrators, who can't tell quality if it bit them in the ass, want quantifiable metrics of scholarly worth, and guess where online-only open-access journals usually end up?
Another problem is that there's now an industry of predatory open-access publishers. Pseudo-journals with lofty names that make huge sums of money getting gullible researchers to pay $3000 out of their pocket for a non-existent peer-review status.
That said, if you can pull off an open-access article, it has a strong advantage: open-access articles get cited more frequently and are intrinsically more visible than paywalled stuff.
As it is, most of the publications circulate in sneakernet/samizdat in conferences now.

cost-benefit says no(t yet) (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047073)

Open-access and other cheap(er) publication venues are out there, more and more over time. But as well as lack of 'prestige' there are obstacles:

1) If you have a great result you publish it in the best place you can, not the most accessible to random people. Thus open-access journals get weak submissions, which makes them either look weak or not publish much. When someone is looking for a place to publish, he or she may be turned off by the quality or limited/sporadic content, while the journal may water-down its quality in order to have any content whatsoever. The result is a downward spiral.
2) It's all in the indexing. Looking through random web searches is a necessity, but looking through sites like ACM or IEEE removes a huge amount of dreck.
3) New venues are flaky. If archived in somewhere prestigious, that archive will likely persist, one way or another. A new journal that pops out of nowhere with unclear backing may or may not be there in a few years, and then all that lovely free access is moot.
4) They cost too much to the author. Yes, they give discounts to the poor, but it's still a hefty amount to publish when other good places do it for free or fairly close to free.
5) The people running them are largely unknowns. If some number of well-established and famous people would support and be involved that may turn some heads, but they don't, so it's mostly it's independents, startups and new researchers, none of which have much pull.

Contact one of the authors (2)

John Bokma (834313) | about a year ago | (#43047081)

In my experience, just contacting one of the authors and kindly asking for a copy works. Moreover, once you start to contribute a little (in my case reporting possible new species of scorpions and assisting on a field trips / being a guide to a location of a possible new species) makes that new articles just come in regularly by email.

That said, I do agree that access should be free.

Re:Contact one of the authors (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43047273)

For recent papers, this works great. A lot of paper-reading research, however, leads back to articles from many decades ago --- the really important ones that frame the basic concepts that all later papers refer back to. In these cases, all the authors are likely to be retired or dead (and in any case hard to find contact info for or correspond by email). I think the biggest challenge for open-access scholarship is "rescuing" all the old papers, digitizing and archiving them in publicly accessible repositories. This is one area where evil for-profit publishers really have the academic world over a barrel; even as new submissions transition to open-access formats, a lot of the critical grounding one needs to understand what's going on in a field of research is locked away in the vaults of old-guard publishers for extortionate-pay-per-view (or hundred-thousand-dollar-per-year institutional archive subscriptions) profiteering.

Re:Contact one of the authors (1)

John Bokma (834313) | about a year ago | (#43047507)

In my experience, those decade old articles if still used as references for recent articles also can be gotten by just contacting one of the authors of the recent article. And indeed they are often low quality (scanned, etc), so I am all for converting those to PDF as much as possible (not 1:1 scanned pages in a PDF).

As I hinted at in my previous reply I do some (amateurish) research into scorpions (one scientist calls me a "live scorpion enthusiast", which I think describes me quite well). I am not alone in this, and it's quite easy to build a network consisting of professional researchers and amateurs that do exchange articles, even decades old. It beats paying (for example) Elsevier 35 USD for each single article.

Re:Contact one of the authors (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43047781)

Informal peer-to-peer information sharing networks do partially alleviate these problems, to a similar extent as one's ability to bit-torrent out-of-publication recordings circumvents copyright law in those areas. One perk of my institutional affiliation is having good librarians, who will photocopy/digitize old articles and send them to me with a boilerplate "fair use" cover sheet (despite the dire warnings against any form of duplication or storage printed on the articles themselves). The downside is that such things can only be done on a small scale and slightly covertly --- try sharing important papers on your own public research website, or distributing them to a whole class of students, and you risk bringing down the wrath of Elsevier's legal goons. And once you dig a few levels deep through references in referenced papers, you may exhaust your friend's libraries (for my most recent paper, I needed an article from a 1960 translation of a Russian journal, which no one else was citing directly, but which was important for correcting published errors in out own prior and others' papers in the field).

Re:Contact one of the authors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047549)

Unfortunately the publishers don't even do that good of a job of that in some fields, so it is almost like they weren't there anyways. On some subjects, it ends up being far easier and faster (if not the only way) to just email someone who cited the paper to find that they have a photocopy sitting around that they can copy to me. At least for the most important papers in some fields, there seems to be a relatively active sneaker net of copies.

Economics papers (1)

Kurast (1662819) | about a year ago | (#43047159)

Almost all papers from the fields of economics, administration and the like are posted (many even on draft status) on [] for free.Even if they are selected and put into a journal after, you will probably will have free acess to them if you just look for then into there.

It's not the academics opinion that really matters (1)

morethanapapercert (749527) | about a year ago | (#43047163)

As other posters have pointed out, the presitige of say Nature or Journal of American Medicine is very hard to match, let alone exceed. Prestige is not something you can just collectively decide to bestow. A given publication starts with a certain degree of respect/prestige when it is founded, based on the credentials of the founders. From there, it EARNS it's reputation over years, often decades of established track record. Trying to *choose* to accord prestige to a publication is like everyone deciding that, as of tomorrow, Joe Blow is going to be a world famous author and Generic Garage Band is going to be so well known that their next concert will be a sold out stadium venue.

Worse yet is the fact that, in academic publications, it's not the opinion of the authors that matters, nor is it, to a lessor extent, the opinion of the authors peers in that discipline that matters either. As others her have pointed out, publication is important for two reasons beyond the academic consideration of advancing the field. Being published in say Nature, matters for tenure and grant applications as well. It's the presitige of the publication of non-academics in the academic field that matters for those issues. You not only have to convince Professor Steamhead of the integrity of your Open publication, but convince the Dean of Steamology that a) Example Journal is as good prestige wise as Nature and b) This fact is already well established in that field, so all the other deans and grant board chairmen know this too.,/i>

THAT is the hard thing to establish, the near universal understanding and presumption that new and shiny Open Journal for Steamology is just as good as Proceedings of the Royal Society for Steamology which has been publishing for over 80 years.

Re:It's not the academics opinion that really matt (1)

Biotech_is_Godzilla (2634385) | about a year ago | (#43048557)

The idea of getting everyone to "decide" a random new open access journal should be high prestige may be a pipe dream, but a top-flight open access journal can spring up overnight, with the right backing. There is a recent example of this in the biosciences, [] , backed by several big funding bodies.

I'm sure it's not much cheaper to publish there than other open access journals, but it aims to be on a par with Nature & Science, and the articles in it look of a similar quality from what I've seen. If enough high-prestige universities and funding bodies back a new open access journal it can go right in at the top...

Academic circus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047179)

The academic circus is all about pleasing the right people and having the right network.

I gave up on a very advanced PhD thesis without regretting it for a second (maybe because the job that dragged me away was simply so much better than being a PhD student slave) because I suddenly didn't have to deal with this circus of vanity and status anymore; instead I'd suddenly be able to focus on real research and engineering.

The big ones like IEEE are and will for a long time dominate the "market", commercialize other people's work, and hinder free access to the world's knowledge. I doubt it's going to change in my lifetime.

Missing: hierarchy (4, Informative)

spasm (79260) | about a year ago | (#43047293)

The detail you're missing is that academic journals have a hierarchy. The top ranked journals in a field get far far more submissions than mid or lower ranked journals. So even though the peer-review process might be identical (to the point where in small fields such as mine I regularly review for both top ranked and mid ranked journals, as do all my colleagues - ie its even the same pool of reviewers), the higher ranked journals will end up publishing the more groundbreaking research, because they cream off the best of their submissions (and once your article gets rejected at the top journal you resubmit it to a lesser journal). As a reader, you use the contents pages of the high ranking journals to work out what's currently considered cutting edge in your field, and the mid-ranking journals to see all the necessary 'filling in the gaps' research. As an author, you want to be published in the top ranking journal because a) it's more likely to be seen and read by colleagues in your field; b) your colleagues pay more attention to your work generally if you're consistently publishing in top ranking journals; and c) tenure/promotions committees give more 'weight' to articles published in higher ranking journals. I've literally seen publication requirements for tenure at some US universities that look like "A minimum of 3 articles published in the following list of top-raked journals or a minimum of 5 articles published in the following list of lesser-ranked journals".

So in short, even though I (like everyone I know) would prefer to publish in open access journals, simply on ethical grounds, most of us still submit a lot of our work (and particularly our best work) to journals which have been around for longer than the open access movement just because they remain at the top of the hierarchy. The good news is this isn't a static situation - journals can and do move up and down the hierarchy, and some of the open access journals (including some of the PLOS journals you mentioned) are rising quite rapidly in the impact rankings. The other major point is a lot of the key journals are actually the property of various societies or academic organizations which simply contract with for-profit publication companies to handle all the messy bits (eg 'Addiction', the leading journal in my field, is the journal of the Society for the Study of Addiction, not simply a journal owned by Wiley who publishes it). A lot of these contracts are long term (25 years or more) but as they expire, you might see a lot of key journals becoming open access simply because the sponsoring organization decides to switch to an open access model simply because they now can, and have a philosophic interest in seeing their journal be as accessible as possible.

Re:Missing: hierarchy (2)

joe_frisch (1366229) | about a year ago | (#43048139)

It is not just the authors worrying about their own careers.I work at a DOE lab and the DOE evaluates the lab based on the number of publications with a strong weighting for "high impact" journals like Nature and Science. If I take an article that could be accepted into one of those journals and publish it somewhere else, I am not only hurting my own career, but endangering the funding for the entire lab.

I don't like this evaluation scheme, but I also can't think of a better way to do it.

If the open journals could become considered "high impact" I would be very happy to publish there. Unfortunately it is a chicken and egg problem: the best papers won't go to the open journals until they have a reputation of publishing the best papers.....

Costs missing in the post's assumptions. (4, Informative)

caesar-auf-nihil (513828) | about a year ago | (#43047329)

As someone who is on the editorial board for 3 journals, reviews about 3-4 papers a week, and is not a faculty member (I'm a contract researcher) with over 50 peer reviewed publications to his name, let me tell you about some costs you're missing in your assumptions.
1) You're correct that the peer review process is provided free by scientists like myself, and it is our duty to provide this review. However, I'll spend 1-3 hours on a paper reviewing for content. What I'm not doing is copyediting. You're assuming that the papers submitted are in good shape when they arrive, and I would say out of the hundreds of papers I've reviewed over the years, only rarely have I found one polished and ready to go. Almost all of them have formatting errors, typos, and grammatical errors. The worst ones sometimes are those where the author is not a native English speaker. They could have absolutely fantastic results, but the spelling and grammar is so bad you can't exactly figure out if they've discovered something novel or if their results are totally bogus. You need to pay for someone (or multiple someones) to clean up, copyedit, and format each paper.
2) Electronic review system. I'm not seeing how your model pays for this. Someone has to pay to host, maintain, and power those servers - they don't set up themselves. That is a cost that can be divided per paper submitted to the journal - but then onto #3.
3) Many of the open-access journals make the author pay to submit the article upon acceptance to the journal, thus paying for items #1 and #2, but with budgets being cut you're asking the author to sacrifice even more of his small budget (which in my case pays some of my salary). So who pays in the end is always going to be a sticking point.
4) Not all peer review is fast. You're assuming all scientists are ideal and get right on the paper as soon as they get it. I've had papers that came back in a week, and others that took 9 months (reviewer #3 sat on it and the editor couldn't get them to follow up after they had accepted the invitation to review). So you need to pay for some infrastructure to either pull the paper back from the offending reviewer, or pay for automatic reminders and follow-up.

I personally like the existing system as is - it works well for me and I can usually rest assured that the content which does finally get published is polished and ready to use. But I'll agree that the journal costs are not sustainable. What I'd rather see is that after 5-10 years, any federally funded research automatically becomes public domain. That way the journal publishers make their funds to sustain the quality of the journals (and I'm talking print quality here only) and the system continues to run smoothly, plus the public domain gets to build off of the results that we as taxpayers paid for.

Re:Costs missing in the post's assumptions. (4, Informative)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about a year ago | (#43047589)

There's also archiving. Someone has to keep those papers available so the scientific record stays intact. Many of the existing journals have also done a good job scanning old papers and making them available as well.

Someone still has to connect the right peers (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about a year ago | (#43047435)

You can't just send the paper to random people to review. They do, at least, need to have some expertise in the subject. On the other hand, I don't think you can rely on people to accurately portray their own level of expertise. (I'm an expert on zero point energy fields and over unity devices.) So, you need some way of reviewing the reviewers. I suppose I could think of some algorithms for doing this (using some kind of impact factor), but I don't think the results would be as good as the results from a committee of humans. That said, I don't have any idea where all that money is going for a journal.

Follow the incentives (1)

jimbomarq (1857698) | about a year ago | (#43047521)

Change college ranking criteria, and you will change tenure requirements. Change tenure requirements, and you will change publishing habits. University presidents care how they appear in the college rankings, and faculty productivity (publishing in big journals) in on key to those rankings. So they help to create tenure requirements that ensure that faculty publish in top journals. They don't care if those top journals are open access or not.

Editing and production have costs (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047559)

This essay completely ignores the costs of editing and typesetting.

A journal editor is not an automaton but rather an expert in the field who spends a lot of time making decisions that require expertise: summarily rejecting papers that wouldn't be worth a reviewer's time; judging who is qualified to review an article; weighing conflicting reviews; handling appeals and all the other special circumstances that come up. Some editors go further and work with authors to improve papers in a variety of ways. And very few scientists are good enough writers that their manuscripts won't benefit substantially from professional copy-editing.

Finally, there's the process of converting author-submitted LaTeX or MSWord files into professionally typeset journal pages. This process is not automatic and requires quite a bit of skill. Only a small subset of authors will ever learn to produce typeset manuscripts that approach professional quality. You might claim that readers don't care about these things, but in fact, it's far easier and quicker to read an article that is properly typeset.

So the challenge of open access (which I'm all for) is to find a way to pay the salaries of the editors and typesetters. Anyone arguing for open access who doesn't even acknowledge the importance of editing and typesetting shouldn't be taken seriously.

THE Real Reason Journal Articles Should Be Free (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43047593)

The real reason journal articles should be free is that right now science is like a secret behind a paywall.

The funny damn thing about "prestige"... (1)

idontgno (624372) | about a year ago | (#43047605)

If everyone has it, no one has it. The essence of prestige is eliteness... "I'm better than you..." "You can't be one of us..."

It's the same impulse which makes every bloody-handed barbarian who smacks down all the neighboring barbarian call himself a noble. It's what makes a lot of people look up to some fairly terrible examples of Homo Sapiens as celebrities or leaders. It's what makes a lot of people struggle to join organizations pre-populated by horrible people.

Theodor Geisel did some significant research on this subject [] .

Less of an issue in Computer Science (3, Interesting)

The Atog Lord (230965) | about a year ago | (#43047713)

I cannot speak for academia in general, but I can provide a bit of insight for how this works in computer science. I have published articles in journals and conferences in computer science, and they are all available for free on my website. In fact, I have found that most researchers in computer science make their work available to the public, on their website, free of charge. Think about it -- we want our work to get out there and be read. Ideally, we would even like it to be cited. And keeping it behind a paywall does nothing to further this.

Some academic conferences, such as the Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (, explicitly allow authors to post their publications on their websites. Other venues may technically prohibit this practice, but authors in computer science tend to post their research online anyway. In general, I have found computer science articles far more accessible than, say, those times I have been looking for an article in psychology or economics.

is it prestige or (1)

Frontier Owner (2616587) | about a year ago | (#43047919)

if one gets an article published and it has gone thru peer review and peer acceptance it carries the prestige. The problem is, the peer process limits the amount of people looking at it, thinking about it, or working on it. Opening the articles up to be free is gonna open them up to a whole new audience that may have a new concerns. Now the publisher or writer has to spend resources to investigate the concern or lose credibility. As long as it costs something to get a copy of the journal, then readership is limited to those willing to spend the money. A passing interest in a subject may get people searching the web on the subject, but not spending money on a magazine they aren't going to read regularly. Heck, I hardly ever read the ME magazines I get with professional memberships.

Method to change anything (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43048421)

1. Recognize the way it is
          1a. And the why of the way it is
2. Recognize the way it can be
          2a. And the why of the way it should be
3. ?????? (the how to move from 1 to 2 part)
4. Change Achieved (Equivalent to Profit!)

2 and part of 1 are recognized in TFA. (Way it is, way it can be, why it should change - free information is good.)

Prestige may be part of it why the way it is, though I'm skeptical that this is the whole. But let's say it is.

What TFA completely misses the point on is part 3. The question seems very simple. How do Open Access journals then gain the ability to confer more prestige? Or how do academics recognize those who publish in the open source as gaining more prestige?

Until that question is accurately described and answered, there is no way to reach step 4.

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