Jake Young has written an excellent summary of a panel discussion he attended at the Society for Neuroscience meeting.
I encourage you to read the whole thing, as it presents a fascinating interplay of the forces at work in academic publishing. But if Jake’s synopsis is too much for you, here’s a quick summary of the issues involved:
- The current “market-based” scholarly publishing system is primarily paid for by governments: Researchers and libraries get grants, and the grants pay for subscriptions to journals.
- This system limits access: not everyone has access to libraries, and not all libraries have equal access. (To take one small example, the Davidson College library doesn’t subscribe to the online edition of Science. That’s because the institutional rate for the online version is very expensive, so they figure anyone who’s really interested will just subscribe since Science is a really cheap journal to subscribe to on an individual basis. But $139 here, and $200 there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.)
- All the panelists agreed that since it’s all government money anyway, the same research could be published under an “open access” model and made freely available to all.
- Not to belabor the point, but this would be a better system.
- The problem comes when you get down to details: the Public Library of Science, for example, already publishes several excellent journals in this way, but requires authors to pay a fee of up to $2,500 when the work is published, to cover editing, typesetting, and administrative costs. This could be a problem because not all researchers can afford the fee, so good research may go unpublished. (However, additional grants could be made available for these cases. Remember, it’s all the same pile of money.)
- The bigger problem appears to be that publishers are unwilling to let go of their empires: Elsevier publishes over 1,500 journals, and makes a tidy profit doing so. Moving to a completely new model would be economically unstable to them, so they prefer to stick with the old system.
- Publishers appear incapable of understanding that there are other ways of distributing information. I’d like to see some wikipedia-style journals, some efforts to peer-review blogs, and some other, more efficient models developed. While peer review is a very good idea that shouldn’t be abandoned, it’s not necessarily the only way to distribute reliable research results.
Any other thoughts from CogDaily readers?