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That $35 that scientific journals charge goes 100% to publisher, 0% to authors (twitter.com)
522 points by berkeleyjunk 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 150 comments

They also don't pay reviewers. The costs for a journal are only the cost of sending a webpage (which they charge what, $30 for?), the paper journal itself (for some absurd amount each year).

They do not pay the authors for the content, they do not pay the reviewers (who are the "added value" they harp on about).

They're basically a tool that converts tax payer money (the vast majority of those people writing papers are paid in part or entirely by tax payer funds) into private money for the publisher.

I agree with what you've said - one thing that is sometimes overlooked is that publishers pay academic societies for the right to use the journal. I am on an editorial board for a small-ish society: we make about $5000 per year in member dues (they are low) and about $120,000 per year in publisher royalties. We use this to fund grant programs, scholarships, conferences, etc, so it is not all bad, but yes the publisher is probably making much more.

Well, academic societies like this are the problem.

When high journal fees are talked about an often over looked fact is that scientists chose this model. Scientific journals were originally run as non-profits by their members.

I guess it was considered too much hassle, and they decided to move production too an external company... that’s when all this rent seeking behavior began.

My opinion really, is that scientists themselves should move back to the scientific society runs the journal model. It doesn’t make much work to publish a bunch of PDFs in an archive anymore.

In physics, we do. The American Physical Society (APS) journals are the gold standard in my field.

I'm a huge proponent of open-access publishing, but one must also appreciate the importance of the journals to the health of the society.

Here are relevant passages from statements by both candidates for treasurer in the 2018 APS election:

Candidate 1: James Baird

For now, there would seem to be three principal threats to the financial health of the Society. These are:

1. Open Access Publishing: Paid library subscriptions to APS journals constitute the largest single source of income to the society. Open access publishing threatens this subscription model. If paid library subscriptions disappear entirely, a new payer or payers will need to be found. Currently, this appears to be the author or the author’s institution. APS open access journal, Physical Review X, and the open access opportunities offered by the other Physical Review journals, are an ongoing experiment. The treasurer will need to be alert to financial trends in open access publishing.

Candidate 2: James Hollenhorst

APS is in very good shape, both in carrying out its mission and in its financial health. Nevertheless, the Society and its membership face many challenges, not the least of which is the threat to the business model due to rapid changes in the scientific publishing field. Open access is the rallying cry from the government, the universities, and from the readers and authors of our journal articles; but someone has to pay for the added value that APS brings.

What is the "added value" the society brings? If there was enough value add for researchers, then it could be incorporated into the membership fees. Conferences can be funded by commercial booths or higher attendance fees (most academic attendees are already paid for by grants); student conference scholarships can be paid for by a trust estabilshed by and promoted to senior scientists. The only other added value I can think of is political lobbying.

The society is a network of researchers with like interests. Political lobbying is also important for a lot of academic societies (like APS).

I find it interesting that you are advocating the removal of a current capitalistic/greedy funding model and replacing it with...another capitalistic/advertising model.

That post doesn't advocate for a new model; it just points out possible deficiencies in current conceptions.

>The society is a network of researchers with like interests.

So, the added value is for the researchers in the network, but that value is subsidized by the "payers", who are not the researchers?

>Open access publishing threatens this subscription model. If paid library subscriptions disappear entirely, a new payer or payers will need to be found.

Your scientific society sounds bad, and essentially has morphed in to a publishing company.

Seriously, a society should not be funded by publication fees.

Personally I think it would be better for the societies to stay small and be funded by membership fees or grant funding (as part of out reach other activities, meetings etc on grants).

If you find it through publishing you can’t really complain about the rent seeking behavior of journals...

Here is my hot take. Strictly speaking for APS, this funding model does not seem to be a big deal. If you are an active physicist in research, you are very likely to be part of an institution that has a subscription to the journals (university or national labs). If you are not an active physicist in research, the papers are probably prohibitively incomprehensible to you. I also think it makes sense for a society to publish journals. Societies facilitate the communication of research progress. This is clearly one of the goals of conferences. Papers in journals are usually a better format for communicating advances (more detail, can refer back to it at your leisure, peer reviewed, etc)

This. Several societies I am a member of are essentially only financially solvent due to their journals.

I’m a member of a few professional societies and while we do get revenue and sponsor scholarships, we also employ a bunch of people to promote and represent the society.

So it’s probably a wash if we lose the revenue, but don’t pay for the various people.

Largely, I think it’s tradition.

I'm confused by the relationship. Don't the publishers own the journals? What rights are the getting from the academic societies? Please excuse my ignorance. :)

Naming rights, like when you want to call your journal the Proceedings of the X Society.

A role not mentioned above is the editor.

By this I don't mean a copy editor, but the person who decides who to send the manuscript for review, and makes the decisions on whether the manuscript is rejected, accepted, or more review is needed. Doing this job properly basically requires a researcher with experience in the field the journal is about.

It appears there are many journals where no editor is employed full-time by the publisher. If all of them are unpaid, then indeed the journal operation should be cheap.

There are however some journals (iirc Nature and APS journals are like this) with professional editors employed by the publisher.

I had this job as a second year computer science student at an Elsevier journal. Was payed <$10USD an hour. Spent most of the time on Google or dblp looking for reviewers, emailing them, and trying to get them to turn in their reviews. Actually among the 5 of us, 3 were undergrads and 2 were master students. One undergrads wasn't even computer related field. Said journal charges >$50USD per article and >$2500 for a yearly subscription.

That does not speak well of the publisher. Of course with Elsevier, just add it to the pile...

Actually, many journals require you to give up to five names of possible reviewers, so the authors are somewhat responsible of this task too. And it can be quite difficult if you are in a niche field and you have been there for a while, because you cannot suggest any colleague or anyone who has published with you, neither you want anyone with whom you may have a conflict of interests.

Anyway, most of the journals I know use unpaid editors, that do it because of prestige. That does not make the journal articles any cheaper.

Sure, authors can suggest reviewers, but the editor cannot always assume the list is reasonable. This is one of the things where a good editor with understanding of the field can in principle "add some value".

Yes, publisher profits - especially for places like Elsevier - are ridiculous, even for the costs involved.

But it's easy to overlook important costs in the publication system. One, as others have observed, is editors (and some administrative staff). Their value is certainly up for debate; I have had colleagues ascribe significantly more value to them than some of the other comments here.

Another, though, is archival and continuity of access. The publisher I am most familiar with is the ACM; they have contracts with archivers in place so that should they go insolvent or otherwise be unable to continue providing access to the published papers, these firms will take their archives live so the work remains accessible. By the very nature of the business, the fees they collect now need to be sufficient to keep the work accessible in perpetuity with no further payment.

As with other societies, ACM's journal revenue also goes to fund conference development, outreach and advocacy activities, student grants, etc.

There is a lot of rent-seeking in scholarly publishing, even (in my opinion) from scholarly societies. I personally believe that many of our needs could be better met by investing the funds we currently spend on commercial publishing in university libraries and rehoming the scholarly publishing enterprise there. However, sustainable open access is not as simple as just running a web server.

I think you're downplaying the actual costs they have quite a lot, which is a shame, because even without that the share of profits they extract is still disproportionate and unjustifiable.

On one hand you have free journals out there and on the other entertainment companies producing billions of dollars worth of content for less money charged to their consumers.

These people spend 0 on content and their infrastructure is easily rivaled by free alternatives.

He is in no way downplaying anything. The whole thing is ridiculous.

Those journals do a lot less. I'm not saying that the other stuff is worth doing, but at least it's something they're doing - there's no need to brush that aside.

>I think you're downplaying the actual costs they have quite a lot

Yeah right, that's why SciHub[1], which does it for free has been nearly impossible to maintain. The main difficulty is the cost of hosting, and not at all the mounting pressure from the litigation from the publishing industry.


I assume you're being sarcastic?

How are their costs significant? Web hosting is extremely cheap. As far as I can see their only really cost is staff to arrange reviews (which is surely a very low paid job).

Everything else they might do - collating papers into a physical journal, complaining about bibliography formats, etc. is superfluous nonsense that nobody really cares about.

Look at arxiv - the only thing it's missing that journals have is reviews.

AirBnB -- How are their costs significant? Web hosting is extremely cheap.

Yelp -- How are their costs significant? Web hosting is extremely cheap.

Twitter -- How are their costs significant? Web hosting is extremely cheap.

This would be a good reply, except you've failed to acknowledge arxiv's existence.

Is the value of journals over arxiv worth the price? (market says yes, but markets are sometimes wrong).

>This would be a good reply, except you've failed to acknowledge arxiv's existence.

Or SciHub's, for that matter.

Come to think of it, what does pay arXiv's bills?

Are you seriously comparing the web hosting needs of Elsevier and Twitter?

No, they're comparing the cost structures, which both do not consist only of web hosting.

Web hosting is cheap enough that Wikipedia runs entirely on donations.

Wikipedia definitely it not cheap, the donations that it receives are not a little, and web hosting are not its only costs.

Wikipedia only spends $2m on hosting out of a budget of $91m. It's biggest expense is salaries ($33m).

But this is one of the biggest sites in the world. Something closer to what Journal Publisher's would need is Arxiv.

Arxiv's budget is $1m of which they spend $60k on hosting and basically all of the rest on staff and staff support.

Eslevier's revenue is £2.5b. billion. Their profit margin is over 50%. What a monumental waste.

Their profit margins is usually between 30-40%. Which is still a monumental waste.

>Look at arxiv - the only thing it's missing that journals have is reviews.

That is a pretty significant difference.

>he costs for a journal are only the cost of sending a webpage (which they charge what, $30 for?), the paper journal itself (for some absurd amount each year)

They do have editors and other staffs, aren't they?

In my experience (especially with Elsevier), their copy editors are doing more harm than good. I dread having to go through proofs, as they always manage to sneak in mistakes, from spelling errors to changes in equations or figures.

My advice to students: NEVER just accept the proofs they send you, ALWAYS do meticulous proofreading of the proofs even if your manuscript was flawless. I'm aware of one case where they removed the entire abstract, and since the authors didn't notice that when checking the proofs in the publisher's online proof-checking system, the paper was published that way. They had to publish an erratum with the abstract because, once published, they don't allow changes to articles, even if it was clearly a mistake by the journal. (Disclaimer: It wasn't my paper, so I don't have an axe to grind here; I just found it appalling.)

I've given up checking the manuscript proofs, it's a waste of time. The real paper as it was intended is available on arXiv.

Yes "editors", those are people who will write you back "article does not conform with spec"(honestly though I think that's just a bot using their emails) until you fix the formatting yourself. And will send you the joined replies from the per reviewers.

They are not editors in any real sense of the word.

I do not think they are bots. A bot would not ask you to submit an appendix as a separate file in the first submission and merge it after the first review, for example.

Most of the work they do is, indeed, forwarding emails (not even reading reviews and authors responses). However, from time to time, they have to solve difficult issues (corrections, conflicts, plagiarism) and for that you need a person.

The list of Editors, Senior Assistant Editors, Assistant Editors, Assistant Senior Editors, Executive Editors, Editors Adjutant, Editors Emeritus, and Editors-at-large _did not stop scrolling_!

I have found that copy editors and layout people add an immense of value to the final product.

It's really the ultimate in gatekeeping and trolling.

Culture promotes an "authority" of a journal, while the journal gets to selectively choose what to publish, while collecting fees from scientists and their institutions & trying to gouge the public by renting out the work of scientists at high rates.

Re: taxpayer dollars, note that in the US the NIH is the latest source of public funding for research and requires open access publishing these days. The NSF (which does not require open access) is considerably smaller, as are all other funding sources.

This is fantastic! Not sure how I was unaware of this.

Also it’s very dangerous to stand in front of them, as they have people spending more tax payer money guarding their interests. Like it happened to Aaron Swartz

Is it strictly true that authors are allowed to send you their papers if you email them? Are they allowed to send the published version, or must they send a preprint? If they can send you the published version, why can't they host it somewhere? And if they can only send the preprint version, why not put it up on arXiv anyway?

I don't mean to cast doubt on the tweet's purpose (I agree with it), and for what it's worth I've emailed other researchers for paper access as well. I would just like to see some proper legal analysis behind these questions, because I see the same point repeated frequently by scientists who are not lawyers.

It would be pretty cool if there were a platform that automated your request to get a paper from an author. I don't know how that would be plausible without hosting the papers though, and I imagine that would get into trouble.

Yes. We can send papers to whomever we want. At one point, when you published a paper in a journal you’d get a stack of printed copies of your paper in the mail from the publisher that you were free to share with anyone. I think I have a few of those stacks around from papers I published 20 years or so ago.

Even if you technically aren’t allowed to share, that has NEVER stopped someone from sharing in my career. The only time I’ve had trouble with people sharing is if I ask for code to reproduce what they published. That usually is met with silence.

This is highly field-dependent. My old field – solid state physics – did reasonably well on reproducibility, not least because of a bunch of committed open-source folks who had been burnt by exactly this (and by licensing their previous code commercially and getting screwed by their publisher, preventing them from reproducing their own work) working on ABINIT (abinit.org), led by Xavier Gonze. There's a culture around sharing pseudopotentials, too, which is good.

SIESTA (icmab.es/siesta) is now open too, I note. That's the team I used to work alongside.

In my field (computational biophysics), it's pretty common practice to post published code on a git repository. Code used to produce published results absolutely should be accessible.

> Code used to produce published results absolutely should be accessible.

Although I agree with this sentiment, I think that if this was a requirement we would not get much more code but much less papers.

I'm not in academia so maybe I'm being flippant, but what is even the point of a paper whose results can't be reproduced? Are you really advancing knowledge in any meaningful sense if someone can't repeat what you did?

Exactly. In one recent case, someone published a paper about an interesting graph centrality metric that I was interested in trying out. Unfortunately, their description in the paper was far too vague to be useful - "implemented as a simple extension of Brandes' algorithm". In attempting to reproduce it, that meant I needed to go read up on the algorithm they extended, and then try to figure out how they actually extended it. In the end, I couldn't actually reproduce the work, and never heard back about the code that the authors used in their published work. That severely degrades the utility of the paper. Yes - the paper does contain some knowledge that they shared with the world, but it was difficult to build upon and replicate since they failed to describe what amounts to the experimental apparatus and setup that was used to obtain the results they published. Unfortunately, this is relatively common in CS (at least, the corners of CS where I work).

I know this is a big issue in AI/ML right now. Deepmind's papers are notoriously hard to reproduce, because they will lay out the general terms of the architecture but not specific implementation details - things like filter length, stride, number of layers, number of hidden units, feature selection, and all the little tricks of initialization or normalization or a zillion other subtleties.

The trouble being that those "specific implementation details" are typically non-obvious and absolutely crucial to getting the system described to work at all. For instance, as far as I know, nobody's managed to implement a WaveNet that sounds anything like as good as Google's samples. Neural Turing Machines - published three years ago - were so finicky that someone actually figuring out how to implement the damn thing and have it actually work as described was enough to warrant a paper of its own (Implementing Neural Turing Machines, https://arxiv.org/pdf/1807.08518.pdf). Not to mention how hard it is to iterate on failed replications when you aren't blessed with ten thousand Nvidia Teslas and custom tensor ASICs and have to wait eternities for models to train. At this point, I think most of the community just kind of looks at their papers, sighs in jealousy, and moves on.

You must make possible for other researchers to reproduce your work, but that does not mean you have to give it to them for free.

I work in an university, but in close collaboration with industrial companies. We use models that we explain with detail in our papers, so that other researchers can write their own implementations and maybe confirm or disprove our results. But we do not make the code available.

This is what I see, that does not mean I think it is the best approach. I would really like to release all the code I write. It would make research advance faster, and I do not think that it would harm the company who pays for my work in any way.

But they pay, and they have strict policies. At least they allow me to share most of my code with other researches in a personal basis and write papers about it. I am quite sure that, if to publish papers I had to always share the code, they would just directly hire me or someone else to do it and there would be no papers at all.

I think a lot of this depend on the field and context. For example in physics there are a lot of commercially available simulation tools that help with analysis of an experiment. You of course describe the approach and setup of the simulation but you can not publish/reference the source code since you are just a licensee.

Psychology is one of the worst offenders. A lot of junk science in that field. Some psych papers read more like advocacy than actual science.


Your first move when trying to find a free version of a paper is to look up the lab webpage of the corresponding author's lab.

9 times out of 10 they have a mirror of the PDF.

And even if they don't, Master's theses and Ph.D. dissertations are often published in a searchable repository, hosted by the university. Look for recent graduates of the group you're interested in -- group websites ususally have lists of alumni. Their dissertations often contain versions of the papers you're interested in.

> or must they send a preprint?

What do you think is the difference between a pre-print and the published version? Let me tell you - it's zero difference except for the page number is added.

Yeah, this is not necessarily true. I've had papers change dramatically (and in a positive way) due to reviewer comments.

In my experience, the version authors are allowed to share is after peer review but before copy editing. Idk if that is technically preprint, but it's the version I put on arXiv.

In my field, journals get pretty touchy about that.

In my (sub)field, this is not generally true. It's not generally the case that final conference papers are the same as the ones put on arXiv six months before.

Depends on what you mean by "pre-print". If you mean a copy of the paper before reviewing, etc., then there's a considerable difference.

On the other hand, all of the instances I'm aware of, the authors can send out copies of the paper after reviewing changes; i.e. the same content that will be (or was) published. It may or may not have the same formatting, but it's the same text.

In general, yes. And even if it's not, people (read: academics) almost universally don't really care and will send you their paper anyways. The main thing is sometimes getting more well-known professors to reply which is a whole other topic, but most will still be happy to share their paper.

Re: your latter case, yes. I suspect that automating this process will likely lead to worse consequences (sharing papers via email is something that everyone-knows-that-everyone-does kinda thing, even if it may not be "fully legal"—whatever that means), but setting up infrastructure to share your papers (even with approval) is likely to be met with some amount of resistance and probably not-greatly-worded letters from publishers.

To be fair, a good chunk of useful publishers (not all... I'm looking at you, Cell) are moving to allow reviewed articles on authors' websites, but almost all journals allow preprints to be available on open sites (and be submitted for review).

Each journal is different in what they allow to be shared. There are primarily three "versions" of the paper:

1. Pre-review, pre-print: i.e. the journal had no part in the paper up to this point

2. Post-print: Changes have been made to satisfy the reviewers' comments. Contains all the final content that will be published

3. Publisher's version: The publisher has done copy-editing (layout changes), and probably adjusted it to fit whatever style their journal is.

You can check the rules for most publications here: http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/index.php

I actually replied to the author when she originally posted this a few weeks back asking about this. I’d be curious what the actual legal rights are. It would seem there might be some kind of loophole in this where it’s easy to set up a service that acts on behalf of authors as an agent vending out the papers to whoever wants them. And then of course that seems easily automatable. So essentially you just wind up with an open hosting site for all papers that authors. They just need to upload them and grant permission to perform the service or something like that. (Didn’t get a response though.)

Generally what you're looking for is "research reports" of the team. These are the original versions of the published papers, before details have been cut out to fit a page limit.

If you're into brevity, you can also search for PhD theses of one of the co-authors within a similar time period as the interesting article. I believe in vast majority of papers the footwork is done by a PhD student, that will then incorporate the thing into a thesis.

If all else fails, email the authors.

Most author publishing agreements allow stipulate this. In my experience, the author retains copyright, but grants a license to distribute the typeset, proofread document. You generally have the right to distribute an un-typeset copy on your own website, and on platforms (arXiv), sometimes after an embargo period (6 months to 2 years). I think personal communication attachments are not really considered distribution, so I have not seen the published/preprint version stipulated either way.

It's not strictly true, but generally, authors are allowed to send the published article, and I've never heard of someone getting in trouble for doing so even in cases where it wasn't allowed.

My wife is applying for a PhD and has simply asked professors for a copy of their paper. Nearly all of them have happily obliged.

The submission requirements explicitly require authors to not make any papers they submit available elsewhere.

I don't think that's normally true. Do you have an example of a journal with such a policy?

You might be mistakenly thinking of the requirement not to submit the same paper concurrently to other journals. For example, ACM's policy: https://www.acm.org/publications/policies/author-representat...

And from ACM's "Author Rights" page: "Authors can post the accepted, peer-reviewed version prepared by the author [...] On Author's own Home Page" https://authors.acm.org/main.html

It's not common anymore fortunately, but as recently as five years ago most biology journals were very preprint unfriendly and considered trying to publish a work already on a preprint server as a scam similar to republishing a journal article. Things are finally trying turning around, although preprints in biology are still very rare as opposed to those in CS or physics.

A shout out to biorxiv.org for doing a great job there!

Is that with other publications, or any availability at all? It would seem that others think that one off copies are acceptable.

They tend to require they not be sent elsewhere for publication. That usually doesn't include archiving them on the lab's website, sending via email, etc. They're just not interested in double-publishing.

Nature explicity states the opposite for its group of publications. You can post your papers on your website, on arXiv, wherever you want.

I'm getting fed up with the for-profit scientific journal system. I was recently invited to submit an article to a new journal on computer networking of some kind. They mine publications and just start mailing authors, soliciting publications paid for by authors. I don't even work in computer networking! Ugh so I wrote back:

Dear XXX,

I mean you no personal disrespect. However after reviewing your request, I believe your institution serves no purpose in today's publishing world and absolutely will not be paying it USD 1,250 for the privilege of publishing of a paper in a field in which I am not an expert. Such a contribution would in no way advance either Science or humanity, but instead only create more confusion by frustrating several fields' fledgling efforts to sift the wheat from the chaff using a proper scientific process.

Wishing your institution failure in the sincerest capacity,


The volume fake journal spam I’m getting lately is shocking. It seems they just trawl for emails form high impact journals.

The type of spam which has inspired one of my favorite papers titled "Get me off Your Fucking Mailing List": http://www.scs.stanford.edu/~dm/home/papers/remove.pdf

Sadly a low-quality pay-for-play journal trying to extract money from people who want the prestige of publishing in a journal isn't all that different from the multitude of conferences that seek speakers--often in areas where they have zero expertise (ask me how I know)--as an excuse to chase them for sponsorship dollars or to otherwise extract money from them.

(In the US, it's mostly just about pay-for-play--i.e. you won't get a speaking slot unless you sponsor--but I've heard about much sleazier operations elsewhere.)

No scientific journal of any repute pays its authors. Or reviewers.

Authors (more precisely, the grants we get to do our research in academia, or our employers in industry) pay the journal for the privilege of publishing there, and offer our services as reviewers for brownie points.

You might even argue that helps protect the integrity of the journals.

If journals paid authors for published papers, there would be a greater incentive for an author to tweak/falsify data to make the conclusions stronger, the paper more exciting, and more attractive to publishers.

we have this perverse incentive, but it’s located at a different place in the chain: the grant agencies.

TBH though, for the most part, authors of tech books don't really make meaningful money either. Writing is something you do for some combination of personal satisfaction, extension to day job, or personal brand building. And tech reviewers of those books (and reviewers of proposals) may be paid, but it isn't much.

None of this should be taken to suggest that there aren't issues with the scientific journal model but lack of author payments is probably not one of them.

Non-academic here: why distribute electronic copies of a paper through a scientific journal? I can see why publishers existed pre-internet (printing and distributing paper journals costs money), but seems outdated at this point.

What's the incentive for a scientist to hand over copyrights to a journal?

For us academics the ‘literature’ is our peer reviewed repository of scientific knowledge.

Various Journals have reputations in certain fields and publishing in such a journal is a measure of your ability within your field. I can glance at an academics publications list and get a good measure of their speciality within a field and the likely quality of their work.

There are various methods to add numbers to this. Journals often go by the impact factor and academics are measured by the h-index. Most of these are only relavent within a particular field as some topics are hotter than others and generate more citations.

Historically journals were run by various intellectual societies etc. Papers were submitted for publication and the editors would send manuscripts to other academics for review. All of this was voluntary, not unlike the old days of internet moderation. Of course to distribute the printed volumes of the journal readers were asked to pay. All of this was considered reasonable.

What happened was that text book publishers began to buy up journals and sell tranches of journals to university libraries. You could no longer buy those three subscriptions you need, you’ve have to buy this expensive bundle, oh and you don’t get a print version, that’s extra.

So we now have a situation where government and industry fund scientific research. Academics, who need strong publications to get ahead, write and also review manuscripts for free so that some publishing house can claim massive profits for hosting a bunch of €50 PDFs.

It’s no wonder SCI-HUB, where almost every researcher I know pirates papers daily, has taken off.

Why can't people abandon the journals that were purchased by text book publishers? If article submission and peer reviewing are completely independent from publishers, creating and migrating to a new journal should be feasible. The PDFs could be distributed via torrents; each author could seed his own work.

Apparently, people would rather submit to abusive high impact journals than help raise the impact factor of open access journals.

Why do people use Facebook or Twitter or Instagram? Convenience mostly, and some nice features that emerge from centralisation. People, including academics, are about as willing to give up their copyright in order to be published as your average Joe is willing to give up their privacy by using Facebook.

What journals and publishers provide are: esteem, convenience, trust, correctness, and, and this might sound outrageous in the age of the bazaar, but exclusivity. There is an awful lot of crap out there. In my opinion, the best feature publishers (open access or otherwise) provide is being a filter for all the noise of the internet. Some journals are better at this than others and reputation is hard earnt and easily lost.

Also, I can't speak for all OA journals, but the Impact Factor is considered an awful metric and avoided. There is the rise of so-called 'alt-metrics', but I've yet to see anything less-awful come out of that yet.

Some people do, but most don't because they don't really care about science or spreading information, but just getting an easier way to progress in their career. And the system is gatekeeped mostly by such people, so in a lot of fields one is at considerable disadvantage if they care about things other than selfish career development.

What baffles me is why these people choose academia. It's a really uncertain and laborious way to even sustain oneself, let alone succeed.

Trust building and a seal of quality through peer review.

Basically, a paper that is published in a journal like Nature or Science or the field-specific top journals is assumed by the community to have been reviewed at much higher standards than those published in lesser known journals, just because it is much, much more difficult to publish in these journals. Thus a paper there will be a signal that you are a capable scientist.

Also, peer review is necessary as protection against crap. I am not saying that this is a fool-proof system, but science has to have one, preprints should exist but science needs to be reviewed and approved by professionals in some way, and the professional reviewers need to be incentivised to do a decent job.

Peer review may be the only asset keeping journals alive at the moment. I've been wondering whether traditional journals can be overcome by making high-quality peer review the focus of the business model.

In many cases, it’s a scientist’s only way to advance his or her career.

This is the actual incentive, from a researcher's point of view. Even when there are plenty of outlets that provide quality control, archival, etc., researchers still submit to the same traditional journals because those journals' brand names are the stamp they need on their CV to advance an academic career that is already incredibly unlikely (due to their being far more applicants than positions).

It's not the only way, but an easier one if the scientist just cares about their own ass.

It's a (fairly) standardized, robust, and trusted way of peer-reviewing data and results. Without some mechanism like that, there's no easy way to tell if Dr. X's results are as well peer-reviewed as Dr. Y's, at least as it currently stands.

Exactly this. Also different journals act as a weak filter for impact of the research.

In some countries, especially in Europe, there are even tables ranking all journals and essentially assigning a point value. Whether you get promoted or fired depends on how high your score is.

In this increasingly digital world, the printed and distributed journal seem less and less important. Of course individuals are still free to download and print a paper for convenience.

So what if the scientific community/industry focused on the real added value. Those are:

1. Peer review

2. Prestige

Because the pre-internet problem of distribution doesn't exist anymore (a basic web server to host papers is relatively cheap), that would allow to bypass traditional journals.

For that to happen, we would need a group of already reputed and respected researchers to review the submitted articles. But because the journal fees would be avoided, that means the money could be collected to pay those reviewers.

This. I hope more people start thinking along these lines so that we can find a solution that respects and exploits the useful boundaries and incentives in the system, resulting in better science.

> For that to happen, we would need a group of already reputed and respected researchers to review the submitted articles. But because the journal fees would be avoided, that means the money could be collected to pay those reviewers.

Scientists are motivated by curiosity for their field, prestige, and having a stable job position were they can follow these motivations without fear. But they are not motivated by money (grant applications are a necessary evil). Due to this I don't think that you can start paying professors with stable positions, but you could start permanently hiring those many highly qualified mid-career academics who are still on the way towards a permanent position (and may never reach it). The review quality will be improved if people review full time, which can lead to journal prestige, faster review times, reviews with a broader look on science.

Fortunately everyone in my field puts our papers on arxiv anyway. Sure, the journal will format it differently and maybe catch some grammar mistakes, but the content will be the same.

An interesting point is that if you email the author, they can send you their paper for free legally. Couldn’t a platform be created (essentially an email autoresponder) where you send a formatted request to the author, and the platform processes the request and sends the paper to you on behalf of the author?

That's basically https://arxiv.org/. The pre-print copyright (i.e. before editor/review comments) still belongs to the author so they can post it.

The IEEE recently revised their copyright assignment terms to explicitly permit authors to upload the POST-review publication to Arxiv, along with a few other outlets.[0]

[0]: https://ieeeauthorcenter.ieee.org/publish-with-ieee/author-e...

Would you know if there’s an effort to backfill Arxiv with post review publications (superseding the previously published drafts)?

I think you are thinking of the Open Access Button: https://openaccessbutton.org/


But really, anyone with half a brain is going to try sci-hub first.

Not an issue if you have low abandonment of subscribers but an issue if everyone exchanges papers that way. You get a lot of value out of being able to search all the journals in one place. Also what happens if the author is dead or has dropped off the face of the planet.

Isn’t that just HTTP?

That would count as publication.

Sounds like a gap in the market.

They have found a way to bottle prestige which is extremely profitable. It has negative marginal cost and only you can distribute it.

Do the authors own the IP for their journals? I was under the impression that in most instances the IP was either public or owned by the university/instition.

Your are confounding two issues. One bit of IP is the copyright assignment for the article itself. Typical for-pay journals require assignment in order to publish (i.e. they at minimum own the publishing rights moving forward).

The various bits of IP that can be assigned for the work/discoveries you did vary very much from institution to institution, and may vary with the source of funding. Nothing is really simple here, an it runs the gamut from the investigator owning everything to the investigator owning nothing other than attribution, etc. rights

Assuming here that you mean "Do the authors own the IP for their journal articles". The answer is that it depends on the journal, but in a lot of cases, you sign over copyright to the article itself to the journal [1]. However, you still retain the IP of the things that the article is describing. If J Random Professor, PhD wants to patent something that they invented in a university lab, the usual breakdown in royalties is something like 1/3 goes to the university as a whole, 1/3 goes to the department that the lab is in, and 1/3 to the inventors themselves.

[1] https://www.elsevier.com/about/policies/copyright, for example

Typically no (except in open access journals), if you are talking about the paper rather than the rights to the discovery itself.

The journal usually takes copyright but any IP should be protected before publishing. Generally all the IP owned by the author’s employer.

IP should really be protected before publishing because publishing counts as a public disclosure and in the U.S. starts the clock ticking.

Yes, exactly.

The rebellion against pay-walled research publications really needs to be holistically supported by all researchers. The big problem is that lot of "good" journals have also pay-walled publications that they pay nothing to authors but charge ridiculous amount per publication. This includes big names like Nature and several publications of IEEE.

Every time stuff like this comes up I think of these guys http://discreteanalysisjournal.com/post/40

This is the best model I've seen for modern publishing

I agree it's become a problem and place for companies to milk the system.

What is the alternative? There will be costs. How should it be paid for, which both maintains quality and is fair to authors?

There are lots of different ways to pay for it.


Many private companies sponsor research and conferences. They'd be happy to pay and universities can self organize to do blind reviews.

Costs are negligible. Plenty of free journals around.

why is this a surprise for anyone? of course you don't get paid for publishing in a scientific journal.

If Dan Brown sells 80 million copies of The Da Vinci Code, he has probably worked something out with his publisher that he gets some amount of money per book sold. If Michael Jackson sells 45 million copies of Thriller, he probably gets a cut of each sale. If, for some weird reason, a million people pay $35 to download the CRISPR gene editing paper, Jennifer Doudna is probably not getting a penny of that. It's surprising to many people not in science that the usual model of "I pay publisher $x for a bunch of bytes, then publisher gives y% of that to the person who came up with that sequence of bytes" doesn't apply in science.

Many papers in Nature can be found free.

Here is a paper from Doudna lab published in Nature. It should be free through PubMed Central.


That's because you have already paid for that sequence of bytes (probably with your taxes), and the journal is rent-seeking. The scientist has already been paid and now you have to pay the troll under the bridge.

Because most of the time when you publish something that gets sold part of that money goes back to you? For someone who isn't in academia it seems weird and pretty obvious that you're getting scammed. The answer probably isn't to pay the authors, but it's to not charge for the digital content.

"we are allowed to send them to you for free".

Keyword: allowed.

How can these smart and brave people, that push the boundaries of human understanding and knowledge, act so stupid.

What is the problem with "allowed"? Are they not, in fact, allowed (making it stupid to claim they are?)

Or are they allowed in the sense that they don't require anyone's permission (making it stupid to believe that they do?)

Because these smart and brave people need to keep their positions to push the boundaries of human understanding and knowledge.

Especially for junior faculty, making a principled stand is a good way to kill their career.

what would be stupid about them sending someone a copy of their article for free?

I think that GP has an issue with the implication that the publisher is in a position of power to allow this behaviour in the first place and could also possibly deny it.

While this is sad, if the scientific journals end up paying the authors, it won’t be 35$ anymore, it will be more(which I am happy to pay). The publishers I am sure won’t be taking a pay cut though!

Does anyone actually access articles on a per-article basis? I would bet the lion share of downloads (and revenues) are institutional subscriptions.

When I worked at an academic publisher I was surprised by this, often it's researchers at small or private institutions that don't have a library or one that pays lots of subs.

Also - used to be you'd set this to have a price context for reprints (printed version of the article with more logos) which were a much bigger & more profitable revenue source. Pharma companies would buy '00s to distribute at conferences.

The pharma companies still do, at least at the conferences I go to.

Sometimes people ask their librarian for an article, and they pay for it without the requester knowing (or caring).


Thank God for the arxiv and SciHub

I don't see anything wrong with that.

What a racket!

Preaching to the choir and racking up some cheap karma, are we?

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