There have been some interesting developments this week in the field of academic publishing. A particularly interesting story concernes the resignation of the entire editorial board of the linguistics journal Lingua, which is published by – (no prizes for guessing) – Elsevier. Not surprisingly this move was made in protest at Elsevier’s overpricing of “Open Access” options on its journal. Even less surprisingly, Elsevier’s response was considerably economical with the truth. Elsevier claims that it needs to levy large Article Processing Charges (APCs) to ensure their Open Access publications are economically viable. However, what Elsevier means by “economically viable” apparently means a profit margin of 37% or more, all plundered from the tightly constrained budgets of academic research organizations. In fact these APCs have nothing to do with the actual cost of publishing research papers. In any other context the behaviour of publishers like Elsevier would be called racketeering, i.e.
Racketeering, often associated with organized crime, is the act of offering of a dishonest service (a “racket”) to solve a problem that wouldn’t otherwise exist without the enterprise offering the service.
Let me remind you of the business model that underpins the academic publishing industry. We academics write papers based on our research, which we then submit to journals. Other academics referee these papers, suggest corrections or improvements and recommend acceptance or rejection. Another set of academics provide oversight of this editorial process and make decisions on whether or not to publish. All of this is usually done for free. We academics then buy back the product of our labours at an grossly inflated price through journal subscriptions, unless the article is published in Open Access form in which case we have to pay an APC up front to the publisher. It’s like having to take all the ingredients of a meal to a restaurant, cooking them yourself, and then being required to pay for the privilege of eating the resulting food.
Why do we continue to participate in such a palpably ridiculous system? Isn’t it obvious that we (I mean academics in universities) are spending a huge amout of time and money achieving nothing apart from lining the pockets of these exploitative publishers? Is it simply vanity? I suspect that many academics see research papers less as a means of disseminating research and more as badges of status…
I’d say that, at least in my discipline, traditional journals are simply no longer necessary for communicating scientific research. I find all the papers I need to do my research on the arXiv and most of my colleagues do the same. We simply don’t need old-fashioned journals anymore. Yet we keep paying for them. It’s time for those of us who believe that we should spend as much of our funding as we can on research instead of throwing it away on expensive and outdated methods of publication to put an end to this absurd system. We academics need to get the academic publishing industry off our backs.
All we need to do is to is dispense with the old model of a journal and replace it with a reliable and efficient reviewing system that interfaces with the arXiv. Then we would have a genuinely useful at a fraction of the cost of a journal subscription . That was the motivation behind the Open Journal of Astrophysics , a project that I and a group of like-minded individuals will be launching very soon. There will be a series of announcements here and elsewhere over the next few weeks, giving more details about the Open Journal and how it works.
We will be starting in a modest way but I hope that those who believe – as I do – in the spirit of open science and the free flow of scientific ideas will support this initiative. I hope that the Lingua debacle is a sign that change is on the way, but we need the help and participation of researchers to make the revolution happen.Follow @telescoper