THE article: Do academic journals pose a threat to the advancement of science?

Times Higher Education has run an article by Zoë Corbyn on A threat to scientific communication – subtitled: Do academic journals pose a threat to the advancement of science? She interviewed a number of people (including me) on both sides of the fence and I think it’s a balanced article. If you work for a publisher (or own a publishing house) you may think differently.

I still believe in a role for publishers and I know many people in publishing who are trying to do exciting things but the current position must change.

The article, which you should read, covers:

  • the impact factor

  • the monopolistic position of certain publishers

  • some barriers to innovation

  • a feeling that change has been far too slow and that change will happen anyway

My quoted remarks are probably no surprise to readers of this blog, but THE is widely read at least in the UK and my opinions were intended to reach the heads of Universities and spur them to action. Simply put, Universities get the publication process they deserve. They have the financial power to change it to suit the twenty-first century they haven’t done so. They must.

Zoe puts the value of scholarly publishing at 3 B GBP == 5 B USD. It’s obviously a difficult figure to compute ans many publishers publish things other than journals (e.g. databases, handbooks, series, etc.). I guess the global academic research budget at ca 500 B USD. Cambridge Harvard, Stanford have research incomes of ca 500 M USD. Allow a power law and you get somewhere near that. As a rough check Wellcome will pay 1-2 percent of a grant for the cost of publishing a paper, which gives roughly the same ballpark. I’d be grateful for other figures. What’s the NIH spend? 30 B USD ( Again use a power law and you get somewhere in that region.

The people who should jointly control this half-a-trillion USD are the funders and the researchers. So why does a metric system outside their control have such massive influence?

Universities have lost their Presses as major forces, their Libraries have no influence, so it has to be those who run the Universities to reclaim their standing.

The least they can do is read THE and start to address the problem.

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3 Responses to THE article: Do academic journals pose a threat to the advancement of science?

  1. Pingback: Impact Factor Boxing 2009 « O’Really?

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  3. The same that happened and is happening to newspapers, will soon happen to scientific journals. They are based on a old fashioned system, that has nothing to do with how scientists want to work nowadays. They are not at the service of science, they just try desperately to hold their dominant position in the distribution of knowledge.

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