I also think journals as they currently stand serve an important purpose, of quality control. They are not perfect, but I have nightmares where the future of publication is just arXiv, or worse a wikipedia-style "the research anyone can edit". I'm not saying these don't have an important place, but I also want a way for the best papers to get exposure, and I think our current system is about the best way of doing that.
I agree that the journal system provides a valuable filter. My beef is not with journal, but with locking up publicly funded research. Open-access journals are an unequivocal good.
But I am not convinced that all journals filter on the right things. I like the approach of PLoS ONE (http://www.plosone.org/), which assesses papers purely on the quality of the science, and ignores subjective notions of "impact" or "importance". The result is that everything they publish is good -- as reliable as articles published in any other journal -- but it includes articles that would never get into, say, Science or Nature due to the self-consciously super-selective approach those journals take.
Anyway, that's a side-issue. The real issue is that, whatever selection criteria a journal uses, it should make the resulting papers freely available to the citizens who funded them.
1. Thank you for taking up the cause.
2. Trust me: Boycotting reviews is easy in my case. Unfortunately, this means no change because I stopped doing them -- it was just taking too much time for no reward.
3. wrt the above quote: I note that there is a market for selective journals. Much like reddit and HN, it is useful to have a crowd-source selection of interesting/important items. (Yes things get missed, but S/N is much higher than if I had to do it from scratch.
We don't need journals for that. They could be replaced by services like http://f1000.com/
In the current journal system, editor-votes have absolute veto power, and reviewer votes have large upvote power. This has led to much progress, but it is unclear that it is the best system possible.
Then there is the whole segmentation question, which is a big tradeoff between S/N and coverage of the space. An example: Physical Review A, B, C, D & E used to be one journal -- Physical Review. Phys Rev had a green binder, and people would keep these dead-tree objects on shelves for reference. Well, the publication volume kept growing: Some wag calculated that rate of growth of the volumes on the shelf would cause their edge to exceed the speed of light. (He also pointed out that no information would be exchanged, so there was no violation of physics.)
I agree. Right now the reviewers (= designated experts) have all the votes.
As I think about it, the reviewers achieved that status because they wrote articles that got upvotes from previous reviewers. The first reviewers were historical and they set the standards.
You could end up with a situation where the reviewers were poorly chosen and so upvote complete bullshit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair), but fields of science have a reproducibility clause that provides good amounts of self-correction.
Hmmm. I didn't think your boycott post would lead to an examination of the way science and engineering is published, but the time might well be ripe. That said: My recommendation is to narrow the scope and focus on the boycott. It's enough to keep your plate full for a while.
This would give more sway to old, established academics, but that's already the status quo (and roughly what you are trying to achieve anyway).
I think the main issue of "traditional" journals is that they are artificially constrained to publish 10 to 15 articles per month (or issue), whereas electronic publication can get rid of this constrain (as long as they have enough peer reviewers).
The OA model largely involves shifting the cost from the user to the author. This will be paid out of the authors grant money, which in many cases is publicly funded as well. It's not at all clear to me that the end effect is as different as the proponents claim.
Reminds me a bit of how Google uses "open" as a competitive weapon to push Android. I wonder if OA publishers are not doing the same to push their business model...
Were you born in that ivory tower, or did you just move there before you could read?
Go get a job outside of research for a while (software companies are hiring!) and then take another look at this question. Those of us on the outside can tell you the difference between PLoS and, say, Nature. It's about $200 per year per journal, or $30 per article in small quantities. More importantly, it's the difference between being able to quickly skim an article in thirty seconds with one click and paying to skim each and every one of the hundreds of articles that are required to really get a firm grasp on a field. It's the difference between being able to simply link your most interested blog readers to the original research (complete with original data and figures) and having to tediously paraphrase everything you want to convey, a paraphrasing process that often goes awry.
And I'm sorry the subject makes me angry. But it makes me angry! For example, the fact that most of my own published work is trapped behind expensive paywalls makes me very unhappy.
And I use the phrase ivory tower not as a mere gratuitous insult, but because it's the metaphor that seems to fit. Every time this subject comes up, a few people pop up to say that they just can't see the problem: Everyone who goes to school or works in science has one-click access to the whole literature, right? And if I happen to not be a college student or a scientist, can't I just physically travel to the nearest well-funded, publicly accessible university library? Doesn't anyone who matters have such a library at hand, and the time to visit it?
There was a time when printed journals in university libraries were the best we could do. But now it is 2011, and many people no longer read physical books or magazines. In less than a decade the idea of having to leave the house to retrieve written material will be as quaint as having to talk to a human telephone operator to place a long-distance call. In this era, if the attitude I described above isn't "ivory-tower", what is? What should I be reserving the ivory-tower metaphor for?
This is not cheap, and I'm very glad I didn't need to cover this back when I was publishing papers.
If anyone knows a good article on the detailed economics I'd love to see it.
We have a couple of EICs for major journals at our school, and I suspect (but do not know for certain) that the journal subsidizes their conference attendance too, so that the journal's senior editorial staff can meet in person at least annually.
My point is: don't constrain your cost focus to just distribution. There's more to running any organization than initially meets the eye.
Have a web site where scientists can submit papers. Other scientists can then review the papers. The reviews are publicly (though optionally anonymously) published along with the papers, and the authors of the paper can submit revised versions of the paper.
The website would get far too many terrible papers.
Many papers would get no reviews.
Many reviews would be terrible, and done by non-trustworthy people.
The problem with the system you are suggesting is that it feels a lot like wikipedia, and who "wins" on wikipedia has little to do quality, and a lot to do with who is willing to spend the most time editing / wiki-lawyering.
There have been studies (arXiv used to link to them, maybe still does) that show that open access substantially increases the number of citations a paper receives. That strongly suggests that open access works better for distributing research even within the academy, which is just common sense — open-access papers are easier to discuss, find links to on Reddit and Wikipedia, and often simply obtain. Outside the academy, where it's even harder to measure readership, we can expect the effect to be much more extreme, since most people outside the academy actually have to pay to read non-open-access papers.
The "less selective" bit manifests itself as a reduced average "impact"/"importance", rather than as a reduced average quality.
The moral seems clear: other things being equal, freely accessible papers tend to get cited more often than paywalled ones. (Who would have guessed?)
I don't think this is going to be hard to replicate, but it's still reasonably expensive to do well for a for a large number of articles, so I suspect open access would require at a minimum a few hundred dollars per submitted article worth of work which can’t exactly be add supported.
I agree that something needs to be done though. I've been thinking of the similarities between publications and web pages a la page-rank. There are a lot of parallels, not just in content but also with respect to who has contributed and who has helped to review the paper. I've often wondered why Google Scholar doesn't take advantage of this. I do suppose though that there's no money in it. Who wants to see ads in/around their article? There's a viable non-profit model here maybe.
For an open-access journal to become prestigious it needs high quality contributions. But at the same time an author of some important discovery will more likely to publish it in some high prestigious non-open-access journal. Of course for tenured faculty members it is not such a big problem because they have a secured position. But for their apprentices not having high impact publications may become a problem in their future career. And while tenured adviser may force a postdoc to publish in an open-access journal most of them will not likely do this because they understand that this puts members of his/her lab in a bad position compared to competing scientists.
I think that well known scientists should make the first move here and to start publishing in open-access journals. Their work has a lot of traction and will not suffer from being published in some not-so-well-known open-access journal. On the other hand this will help open-access journals to start building reputation.
In there end there shouldn't even be journals, just articles you're pointed to by smart people. Maybe someone would start a ThesisHub for collaboration...
BTW everyone, please release papers in a more useful format than PS/PDF. HTML/CSS is intended to handle device independence and different user needs and would be a better choice. PDFs, which I always read on the computer anyways, are more of a burden than a benefit. In a browser I can run Aardvark or other live editor and make a page readable. With PDF I'm stuck dragging a too-small window over a perfect representation of a useless printed page.
(FD: I've reviewed my share for IEEE. Now I have no time.)
First, handling fees. As someone starting out in the field, there are a great number of journals that advertise (read:spam), and have handling fees. It feels very much like a scam, or a system were "success" can be bought.
Second, as one commenter on the article suggests, with a handling fee, the publisher is incentivized to print more. (There's an undercurrent of complain in my field that there isn't enough quality publication space, so this is two-sided, but is the cost of more outlets a lowering in quality?) However, with a subscription model, the quality must remain high to keep subscribers. (One might also argue that "closed" publishers want to print as much as possible to give more authors' schools reason to subscribe, but I don't know the level of this effect.)
Third, on a more personal level, living as a doctoral student—more particularly, with the budget of a doctoral student—even nominal costs can seem overwhelming. I don't see my institution covering "handling fees" in the near future, particularly with the amount of cost-cutting going on. The fees are less onerous for faculty, but present a slightly higher barrier for student entrants.
This is not how the economics of academic journals currently work. It is very standard for large academic publisher to produce a large quantity of really poor journals. These journals are then bundled into packages with the bigger name one and academic libraries are essentially forced to purchase the package (because pricing for the quality titles along doesn't make sense).
This is an important difference because it means you don't have a situation where someone submits a manuscript, pays the handling fee, and feels the journal owes them positive reviews and publication.
Many open-access journals provide waivers for authors without institutional funding. Typically, editorial staff and reviewers and not informed whether or not the author took a waiver, so that can't influence the accept/reject decision.
distribution costs are marginal, it is possible for an open access journal that wouldn't take handling fees. it could be a non-profit organisation, or it could have other monetisation methods.
EDIT: Link from comment above shows fees for the PLoS family of journals start at $1350 per article and go up rapidly from there.
Boycotting would run counter to his own goals (while the guy who got the task of actually reviewing the paper has interest in the topic and would like to boycott journals but is not in the position to do so).
Does this justify his actions? Is the only way to disrupt entranched business to conduct borderline actions? Effectively pushing boundaries to the very limits of legality?.
Either way, this is the concept of "tipping point" in action folks.
The surfer is not the wave.
Further, it created a martyr for the movement of open-sourcing articles and to be quite frank about it, the journal owners are now very afraid of their monopolies crumbling to this movement. They knew this day would come, but the speed with which this is gathering pace is terrifying.
One solution would be for universities taking stands like this is to somehow "give credit" to their academics who are asked to do peer review for non-open-access journals.
But I have never seen anyone's career affected by which journals they review for. It might happen, but if it does then it's news to me.
(BTW., for academics who feel they must publish in one of the tabloids, Science is much sounder than Nature because all their papers become freely accessible one year after publication, which is much better than nothing.)
Oh they absolutely are. Academic CVs are full of listings of which program committees you're on. You start being a member of a committee for a smallish conference (in programming language research, something like VEE or PLaS), then try to move up to a few medium size ones (CC, perhaps), and finally you make it to being on the program committees of the top top journals (PLDI or POPL).
I decided not to go down the academic career path after doing my PhD, but it was pretty plain even to a PhD student that being on good program committees is part of your career progression.
When I asked what motivates researches to volunteer their free time to do peer reviews, that was one of the answers I got. It's a small benefit.
I'm also an associate editor of an ACM journal and often have a very hard time getting people to review submissions. My sense is that a lot of my peers have simply stopped doing (most) journal reviews at all.
A person can be totally overloaded just doing conference reviews, which are a lot more fun anyway. The papers are shorter and (at a good conference) the papers are a lot better than journal submissions.
Researchers at universities invariably do academic work for conferences, for journals, and for other universities — giving talks, for example. Often they get paid directly for these. This is a fundamental part of how academia works, and has been (in various forms) for centuries.
I worked in Silicon Valley as a sysadmin and programmer in 1996-97 and 2000-2006, at a total of seven different companies. I've also worked professionally at a professional services company, a defense contractor, and freelance for various clients (primarily in the US). I don't think I've ever seen an employment contract that purported to prohibit me from "doing professional work not associated with [my] current job". In some cases I have proposed modifications to confidentiality agreements with the explicit purpose of ensuring that I could moonlight safely (for previous clients, normally). The modifications were accepted.
The point I was making was that employers could enforce the parts of the contract that allow them to control whom their employees work for. That would, at the very least, not be contributing brainpower to an industry that charges the very same companies / universities enormous sums for access to journals.
While you may not have seen such restrictions in sysadmin/programmer type positions, they certainly exist in several scientific and medical-related disciplines (though I agree that can be waived in certain circumstances).
A significant proportion of science research is funded by non-governmental organisations - for example the Gates Foundation.
Furthermore, most universities will charge the researchers who receive grants a cost known as 'overhead' that can often be 100% of the grant. Typically, the funding agencies pay for this separately.
Overhead does not seem relevant to this point.
This page from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funding_of_science) suggests that over 63% of research is funded by private sources.
Overhead is relevant as it shows that even at 'public' universities, the funding agency must pay for the research to be carried out, countering arguments about the public paying for research.
Perhaps more relevant, though, very little research indeed is funded by subscription fees to scientific journals or conference proceedings or sales prices of academic books; journal and conference authors don't even get royalties, and neither do their institutions, and very few academic books make a substantial amount of money.
I don't understand why overhead is relevant; we're arguing about who the funding agency is, not how grants are structured. If the NIH has to spend 40% of their dollars on overhead so that their PIs have offices and library access, and so does the HHMI, how does knowing this allow us to more accurately compare the expenditures of the NIH and HHMI?