Academic publishing – are the winds of change starting to blow?

By Siouxsie Wiles 02/02/2012

Ages ago I wrote about the academic publishing model we biologists are subjected to*. Finally it seems as though the winds of change are beginning to blow. Here’s hoping a gale develops.

Currently doing the rounds is a site where academics can pledge to take a stand against the giant publishing house Elsevier. The objections are:

1. They charge exorbitantly high prices for their journals.

2. They sell journals in very large “bundles,” so libraries must buy a large set with many unwanted journals, or none at all. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting their essential titles, at the expense of other journals.

3. They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information.

People have the option of pledging to refrain from one or all of: publishing, refereeing or doing editorial work for the publisher. There are currently almost 3000 signatories.

On a related note, Jarrett Byrnes, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at UC Santa Barbara and one of the founders of the fabulous SciFund Challenge**, has set out a fantastic vision for the future of scholarly publishing. His idea, SciX, is a sort of one stop shop which everyone would submit their paper to for ‘crowd-reviewing’ prior to submitting to a journal. But to submit you have to also review other’s work. Instead of months of back and forth between the researcher and a small group of reviewers, everyone with the relevant expertise could critique any given part of a paper. Jarrett explains it much more eloquently and clearly than I am, so do check out his blog post.

Meanwhile, Rosie Redfield, the microbiologist named one of Nature’s newsmakers of 2011,*** has just written up her work trying to repeat the findings of the arsenical bacterium. Submitted to Science, she has also posted the manuscript for crowd reviewing.

And to cap it all off, the Faculty of 1000, a post-publication peer review network have just announced F1000 Research a new fully publishing program across biology and medicine, that will start publishing later this year. Their aims:

“…to address the major issues afflicting scientific publishing today: timely dissemination of research, peer review, and sharing of data. Diverging from traditional journal publishing, F1000 Research will offer immediate publication; open, post-publication peer review; open revisioning of work including ongoing updates; and encourage raw data deposition and publication.”

Now we just have to get over our love/hate relationship with impact factors, (including the fear many emerging researchers have that rejecting high impact journals for true open access journals will sabotage our careers..) and commit to these new models. Exciting times ahead.

1. Send (often publicly funded) research paper to a journal.
2. Journal sends paper for (mostly unpaid) peer review.
3. If lucky paper is accepted.
4. Sign over copyright to the journal.
5. Generally pay (often in the form of page charges) for journal to publish paper (from 500 to 5000 USD [645 to 6450 NZD] depending on the journal.
6. Academic institution has to pay a subscription to access the paper.
7. For those institutions that do not have a subscription, individuals can pay a charge to access a particular article. This access can range from 24h to several days. It is currently 32 USD (41 NZD) for 7 days access to a single article published in Nature.

** Which recently raised over 75,000 USD for science projects using ‘crowdfunding’

*** And the scientist I most want to be like when I grow up….

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