Catching up on the last few days’ activity on the Twittersphere I realise that at last the Academic Journal Racket has made it into the mainstream media. The Guardian ran an article on Monday reporting that the Wellcome Trust had weighed in on the side of open access to academic journals, and followed this up with an editorial this morning. Here are the first two paragraphs.
Some very clever people have put up with a very silly system for far too long. That is the upshot of our reporting on scholarly journals this week. Academics not only provide the raw material, but also do the graft of the editing. What’s more, they typically do so without extra pay or even recognition – thanks to blind peer review. The publishers then bill the universities, to the tune of 10% of their block grants, for the privilege of accessing the fruits of their researchers’ toil. The individual academic is denied any hope of reaching an audience beyond university walls, and can even be barred from looking over their own published paper if their university does not stump up for the particular subscription in question.
This extraordinary racket is, at root, about the bewitching power of high-brow brands. Journals that published great research in the past are assumed to publish it still, and – to an extent – this expectation fulfils itself. To climb the career ladder academics must get into big-name publications, where their work will get cited more and be deemed to have more value in the philistine research evaluations which determine the flow of public funds. Thus they keep submitting to these pricey but mightily glorified magazines, and the system rolls on.
These are the points many academics, including myself, have been making for several years apparently with little success. What seems to be giving the campaign against the racketeers some focus is the boycott of rapacious publishing giant Elsevier I blogged about earlier this year, which was kicked off by mathematician and blogger Tim Gowers; the petition now has over 9300 signatures. Elsevier is one of the worst of the racketeers, which is deeply ironic. When Galileo, having been forced to recant by the Inquisition, wrote the Dialogues concerning Two New Sciences and got them published in non-Catholic Leiden, by Elsevier…
Elsevier has since withdrawn its support for the infamous Research Works Act, but I hope that doesn’t mean the campaign will dissipate. For the sake of the future of science, the whole system needs to be systematically dismantled and rebuilt free of parasites.
Today I see there’s a related piece in the Financial Times (although it’s blocked by a paywall) and I gather there has also been coverage on BBC Radio over the last few days, although I didn’t hear any of it because of my current location.
The fact that this issue has garnered coverage from the mainstream media is a very good thing. Academics have put up with being ripped off for far too long, and it’s to our shame that we haven’t done anything about it until now. Now I think the public will be asking how we could possibly have accepted the status quo and sheer embarrassment might force a change.
Another thing that we need to realise is the extent to which the Academic Journal Racket is feeding off the monster that is Research Assessment, specifically the upcoming Research Excellence Framework. The main beneficiaries of such exercises are not the researchers, but the academic publishers who rake in the profits generated by the mountains of papers submitted to them in the hope that they’ll be judged “internationally leading” (whatever that means). If the government is serious about Open Access then only papers that are freely available should be accepted by the REF. If that doesn’t shake up the system, nothing will!Follow @telescoper