I wish I liked this article, but it seems that Manjoo has failed to appreciate why this problem is difficult, and therefore, why it has not been solved already.
So, on the one hand, even MIT probably can't unilaterally make a lot of progress on this issue. On the other hand... almost every recent paper I've ever been interested in is available from the author's webpage (making this quote: "much of the work produced in academia is never seen by anyone outside that cloistered world, because everyone who’s not affiliated with a university is cut off from access" ring hollow to me), all of the work to produce the journals is done for free or nearly free by researchers, and (anecdotally) everyone prefers electronic copies of the journal articles anyway. It seems like open access publication is almost inevitable.
A more manageable (but less sexy) step might be for MIT and other universities to defray the admin costs for some of these flagship journals that want to go open-access. The article mentions the American Historical Review as having annual (editorial) costs of about $500k , which is tiny for a university.
 From this post: http://blog.historians.org/news/1734/aha-statement-on-schola...
The fact that papers you are looking for tend to be available on author's webpages is atypical. A very small percentage of the 2 million papers published each year is available online for free. Institutions pay $8 billion a year to subscribe to journals, and they would be only too glad to cancel those subscriptions if they could.
I'd love to see data on this, so I can see why my experience is atypical: are conventions different in some fields than others? Do I just have good luck? Am I misremembering or just wrong (which is possible)? The original article states, "Much of the work produced in academia is never seen by anyone outside that cloistered world, because everyone who’s not affiliated with a university is cut off from access" and I'd really like to know exactly which articles Manjoo has looked for and been unable to find w/out a university license. Institutional access needs to be a lot more comprehensive than what almost any individual needs access to, so I don't think that their subscription costs really are compelling evidence against my experience.
I'm kind of surprised that no one's pointed out an easy and really effective step MIT could take unilaterally: make all of the journals the MIT Press publishes open access (MIT is also a publisher). Some of them are among the best journals in their fields (e.g. the Quarterly Journal of Economics is one of the 4 most prestigious journals in econ and the Review of Economics and Statistics is very very good).
A good comment would at least say why you think it's a difficult problem (that the author has supposedly missed).
As far as hiring or giving tenure based on merit instead of journal prestige, this is achievable. It's hard because traditionally journal names are extremely important. But it's doable. When I was a grad student, I was personally aware of the process of hiring people in my field. The problem right now is that one person could say, "X is good but candidate Y has two articles in Awesome Journal, so Y seems better." That statement implies Y has good work, but we need to make room for the reply, "Yes, but X has done better work and avoided Awesome J. because it's closed access." It's an attitude shift, which is hard, but doable.
For elaboration, I endorse and agree with pseut's comment, he said more or less what I would say.
I recently served on a hiring committee in my own mathematics department. It is extraordinarily difficult to evaluate the work even of other mathematicians. In areas other than my own, I can distinguish bogus work from good work, but I find it difficult to distinguish good work from excellent work. Although we rely principally on letters of recommendation, and interviews (although we must of course first narrow our search down to a shortlist), we find that quality of journals is a good barometer for quality of work.
I would like to see publishing change as much as anyone, and I am a signatory to the Elsevier boycott (see www.thecostofknowledge.com). I believe we stand the best chance of effecting change if we seriously consider the obstacles standing in our way.
Hiring/tenure attitudes can include respect for people who choose to avoid closed-access publishers. This doesn't punish people who continue to publish the old way. If done right, it only helps the careers of those who avoid closed journals.
By the way, I somewhat snarkily complained that your comment was snarky. That was hypocritical of me, at least in spirit. Sorry about that. I like non-snarky, straightforward comments.
I'm glad you're signed up at the cost of knowledge. My personal role in open access is mainly as the creator of that site.
This is an author that is confusing "most people in academia" with MIT.
Mere publication is not the path to tenure at MIT, and the tenure committees are well-versed in the difference between impact and the # of pubs.
The article points out one reason to not provide open access: the difficulty of financing peer-reviewed publishing if subscriptions are free. If there is not a good solution for that problem, the emotional appeal of "do it for Aaron" will not be enough to win--especially because the people who feel the greatest emotional attachment to Aaron are the people who already agreed with him.
The rallying cry "do it for [person]" is usually only effective at rallying the troops who are already on your side, not convincing the other side.
| the difficulty of financing peer-reviewed publishing if subscriptions are free
If the publishers were more honest, and allowed people to download papers for the cost of the bandwidth plus a small contribution towards a sysadmin's salary, say 20 cents, and charged the full $10 wack for physical subscriptions/prints, we would have app-store economics and much, much less of a problem.
Of course, people with a monopoly don't tend to reduce their prices voluntarily (apart from Amazon..) and full, free, open access (at least for publicly funded research) is a very reasonable demand.
Nope. Peer reviewing is performed largely for free; in the few cases where the reviewer is paid, their fee is paltry. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that it often costs scientists hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to even submit their article to the journal in the first place. You might say, "Well, what about editing? That must be expensive, right?" Wrong. Scientific journals do not edit the content of articles they publish. I've met many professors who learned that the hard way when they encountered typos in their own published journal articles. The whole system is a corrupt, monopolistic joke, and the sooner that everyone who works at Elsevier/JSTOR/wherever is out of a job, the better.
The case of academic publishing is particularly strange. The following parties want articles to be freely available: the authors, universities, funding agencies, and the taxpayers who pay for some funding agencies. The flow of money is so perverse, and the culture of tradition so strong, that no one has a good immediate incentive to switch to open access, though.
This is an important problem because 99% of the world has no access to research that essentially everyone involved, except the publisher, wanted to be free. Or, if you think money is more important than access to research, consider that in 2011, Reed Elsevier made more money than any of these: Verizon, Nike, Mastercard, FedEx, Bank of America, Delta, or Amazon.com. And their huge profit margins come from a strongly inelastic, broken system that funnels money from our universities and taxpayers.
We do not live in a society where merits are often where battles are won or lost, though. Certainly not in entrenched systems.
As it turns out, there's not just your side and the other side. There's also the side of people who are largely undecided, and don't realize just how broken the system is. "Do it for [person]" lets them know there's a problem.
A better idea would be to invest the effort and money in building free alternatives based on alternative business models and working out how to incent authors to use them. This doesn't involve the breaking of any contracts or dishonouring agreements and is actually addressing the root cause rather than engaging in journal by journal skirmishes.
Well I guess that depends on what you base your morality on. I am of the view that it is inherently immoral to base a person's access to education on their wealth, because it ensures that wealthier people will have an easier time remaining wealthy and that poor people will have a harder time becoming wealthy. That applies equally to grade-school mathematics and reading texts as it does to academic journals.
"all parties to the "paid journal" business model, including the paper authors, seem to have entered into these arrangements with coercion."
Failure to publish means losing your job as a researcher; how is that not coercive?
"The authors of papers are, in fact, paid; they are paid with the prestige that comes from being published in such a journal"
Which is detrimental to the quality of research, and by extension harmful to society. By making publishing so prestigious, we have encouraged researchers to tackle only smaller, safer problems, to avoid questioning the validity of commonly used research techniques, and to waste resources by publishing minute variations on a single idea over and over again. Since copyright itself exists "to promote the progress of science," it would seem that correcting those problems would be of paramount importance -- and the prestige associated with publishing in a "big name" journal is one of the factors that created this situation.
With regards to your second point, failure to publish may mean losing your job but then that is because publish is part and parcel of your job. Failure to teach, turn up in the morning, wear decent clothes and a plethora of other things could likewise cost one their job but this still doesn't constitute coercion because the person is still free to work elsewhere.
As for your last point, I fail to see why this is an issue. Publishing is prestigious because it is a proxy for the endorsement of ones peers and a form of validation in an "industry" where there are few objective measures of a person's relative performance as a researcher. Maybe the issue isn't publishing per se but rather that journals are not exclusive enough and hence accept lower grade research. Maybe there is a market then for a journal to be even more selective -- and therefore even more prestigious than its competitors -- and by doing so incent a higher level of research.
Not in a democracy. For a democratic system to work, the entire population needs to be educated well enough to make a rational choice when they are asked to vote.
If you want a system where knowledge is a "product," what you want is a plutocracy: a system where the wealthy rule, because only the wealthy are educated enough to rule. I cannot speak for you, but I live in a country that was founded on a principle of representative democracy and which has a constitution that is meant to prevent the establishment of any sort of aristocracy, plutocracy included.
"it is necessary to ensure that others invest the time and incur the opportunity cost of doing things that further human knowledge"
That is not what the subscription fees for academic journals are for; the authors of scientific articles are almost never paid by the publishers who collect fees for access to those articles. The purpose of journal fees is and has always been to monetize the publishing industry itself; once upon a time, before there was an Internet or a Web, that was the best known method of mass-distributing scientific journals and other academic writing.
The "opportunity cost" of research is paid for by the government and by the researchers themselves. The overwhelming majority of professional researchers are being paid less to do their research than they would to work in private industry. Graduate students, whose work constitutes a sizable portion of the research work that is done, are paid almost nothing -- barely enough to live on. There is no "return on investment" to speak of; all a researcher gains from publishing a paper, in strict economic terms, is a padded CV that might help that researcher advance their career (but which will do little to help them make as much money as they would in a corporate job). Researchers are willing to forgo a higher salary for various reasons, but there is a common theme, which is a high philosophical ideal: the work is more intellectually interesting, there is a chance to contribute to the greater pool of human knowledge, working as a university professor allows one to impart knowledge onto the next generation, there are bigger problems to solve than what corporations are doing, etc.
"I would rather that research and knowledge is entirely funded by private money and the private sector than by government fiat."
There are two problems with that:
1. The private sector tends to focus education on vocational training. There is certainly a place in the world for such training, and we could not have a society of specialized workers without some form of vocational training, but we need more from our education system than job training. Again, if we want to even pretend that we are a democracy, we have to at least have a populace that is able to read and understand the implications of major political issues.
2. Private sector research tends to shy away from big, risky lines of work that may have no payoff at all. There are few exceptions to this rule; the most prominent is Microsoft Research, which is one of the only "academic" research labs in private industry and which is a place where researchers are doing things nobody else is willing to touch. The development of things like the Internet, nuclear power, the space program, genome mapping, and other "big ideas" would almost certainly have not been possible without government funding, because the key, foundational work of these things had no commercial value whatsoever, with commercial value being realized only after a great deal of risky research.
"failure to publish may mean losing your job but then that is because publish is part and parcel of your job"
Except that people are not paid to "write papers," they are paid to "do research," which is supposed to be reported on by writing papers. Researchers who are under pressure to publish more papers can always use "old tricks" like taking a single good result and splitting it into multiple small results that can be published one at a time, or publishing a good result and then publishing multiple tiny variations on that result. As I noted above, researchers do not generally choose their careers because of the pay; it is equally true that researchers do not choose their careers because they are excited by the idea of publishing a lot of journal articles.
"this still doesn't constitute coercion"
I think you should look up the definition of "coercion" in the dictionary:
Threatening someone with unemployment if they fail to do a particular thing is coercion by definition.
"validation in an "industry" where there are few objective measures of a person's relative performance as a researcher"
Counting the number of journal articles a person published is not even a remotely objective method of judging their performance as a researcher. It is on the level of counting the number of lines of code a person writes as a measure of their performance as a programmer. The only reason it is used as a measure of anything is because the people in charge of hiring decisions often lack the time or expertise needed to closely examine a researcher's work, so they just combine the number of papers published with the perceived prestige of the journals those papers were published in and use that as an approximation. I have seen good work get rejected from top journals, and I have seen mediocre work get accepted to those same journals, just like I have seen 10 lines of code that does more than 1000 lines of code in the same language.
I doubt there is a market-based solution to this, because it is not an economic problem. It is an academic problem that stems from the policies and approach we take to judging the quality of research for employment purposes. When a university is considering hiring a professor, they do not ask their faculty to read that professor's published work thoroughly; instead, they ask the faculty to judge whether or not that professor will bring in grant money (it is unlikely that private sector funding would truly change this; you see similar patterns of behavior out of the private sector, on both sides), if that professor can increase or maintain the school's prestige, etc. Teaching is low on the list of priorities, and a person who spends all their time chasing after big, difficult, and risky problems has a lower chance of being hired than a person who follows tried-and-true approaches to research strategy.
There's nothing that says "existing journals must change or we have no other option"
It will take longer than just providing another avenue to publication.
The incentives for publishing need to be addressed adequately. It's relatively easy nowadays to figure out how to produce articles for publication cheaply.
True, just like Wikipedia lacks prestige and "credibility" now.
I'm willing to wait +/- 20 years until all those old folks die off or become irrelevant and today's late teens can't remember a world without Wikipedia and have never seen a printed encyclopedia.
If most of those institutions are looking at the same set of prestigious, closed journals, avoiding those journals is not an option for an ambitious academic --- and if MIT starts insisting they must, good talent will go elsewhere.
That's why this is hard.
Note, I mentioned nothing about credibility or it's sarcastic variant "credibility". Though, saying you appeared in Wikipedia is hardly prestigious, and I like Wikipedia.
> I'm willing to wait +/- 20 years until all those old folks die off or become irrelevant and today's late teens can't remember a world without Wikipedia and have never seen a printed encyclopedia.
I should hope you'll need to wait a great deal longer than that! I hope for a day when I am so old even I can't remember a day without Wikipedia.
An example of this already starting to happen for mathematics: http://www.nature.com/news/mathematicians-aim-to-take-publis...
It's good idea to use arxiv because they enforce submission standards. For-profit journals can't do that and society presses try but are not always successful. What happens if arxiv decides it needs to charge for submissions to defray operational costs? It's too early to tell.
They also do not prohibit individual journals from charging for publishing a paper. Not different from today's open access policies.
Bottom line -- for me its not different. It's just someone saying, "I think I can do it cheaper this way."
Review and editing is often done by volunteers, so this should not be a problem: we should encourage people to voluntarily review and edit journals that are freely accessible and shared. Assuming, of course, that the people who are in a position to do so actually care about making their work available for everyone to read, rather than just to the ivory tower.
It's easy to make the taxpayers pay for everything but I'd feel better about it if the proponents of this were at least actually actively using the research in question.
This still doesn't answer the question of how properly to prioritize the taxpayer funding involved. Fully funding every journal gives no incentive for efficient operation and would be incredibly wasteful. But if we decide not to fully funding all journals, who makes that decision? What criteria do they use? What specialized training should they have? Etc., etc.
First of all, the reviewers and editors of journals often work as volunteers -- so the notion of cost here is somewhat dubious.
That being said, I see no problem with asking universities to facilitate the review and editing process, using money given by the government for that purpose, and to host publicly accessible archives of academic publications for the benefit of society. We should remove academic publishers from the picture entirely, because they contribute nothing to society anymore. Universities already use tax dollars (grant money) to pay academic publishers for journal access; why don't we cut out the middle man?
The reviewers and Editors (in the editorial sense of the word) are not the largest contributors to the costs associated with publishing an academic paper -- that's why they can be done for free (in the cases they are). When they are done for free they offer some other career-enhancing benefit.
Most of the cost relates to making the sausage, if you will. The manuscripts must be wrestled into a form that can be printed. That is boring and tedious work that you have to pay someone to do. There's the cost of the infrastructure required for these folks to do their work. Then there's the continuing cost of hosting the digital version(s) of the article.
I believe preparing an article for publication and distribution can be reduced to a fixed cost -- provided all parties involved cooperate.
It would be helpful to think about _why_ academic publishers exist in the first place before tossing them aside. Otherwise we'll just end up with the same situation we have now.
I don't understand what you mean by that. I merely point out it needs to be done and most discussions about open access publishing neglect to mention it.
That's why we're able to have a conversation about open access in the first place: the original source of scarcity has mostly evaporated, but Elsevier et al. are still collecting rentier profits from the artificial scarcity of access to a printing press.
The part of academic journals that actually creates value - i.e. the work of writers, reviewers and editors - is mostly unpaid work anyway.
Yes, it's cheaper to produce an archive-ready article and I think it should have moved into the category of solved problems long ago. It just hasn't.
Like you said, the industry is ripe for disruption. It has been for over a decade.
Anyway, I think we are generally on the same side.
If you haven't already read the following you should:
He also makes the "rentier capitalism" analogy.
You know, the funny thing is that this pretty much describes the business model for all websites with user-generated content.
In practice, researchers publish their work because their jobs and livelihoods depend on it. In practice, researchers publish the same paper with minor tweaks in multiple journals because they need to pad their CV. In practice, most of humanity cannot read journal articles anyway so researchers are only really communicating with each other when they publish -- and they already know how to contact each other.
So that is the value researchers derive from publishing their work: failure to publish means failure to advance one's career. It makes no difference what a researcher publishes, and so researchers tend to gravitate towards problems that do not seem very hard (but they make it sound very exciting in the titles and abstracts of their papers, because the people with hiring/firing power usually can't get through the introduction).
MIT is not necessarily blameless here. I for one will be reading that report.
Why, it can only be the government's fault!
Could someone please explain what is stopping arXiv from filling the role discussed in this article?