From Fast Company:
The world of scholarly communication is broken. Giant, corporate publishers with racketeering business practices and profit margins that exceed Apple’s treat life-saving research as a private commodity to be sold at exorbitant profits. Only around 25% of the global corpus of research knowledge is open access, or accessible to the public for free and without subscription, which is a real impediment to resolving major problems, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Recently, Springer Nature, one of the largest academic publishers in the world, had to withdraw its European stock market floatation due to a lack of interest. This announcement came just days after Couperin, a French consortium, cancelled its subscriptions to Springer Nature journals, after Swedish and German universities cancelled their Elsevier subscriptions to no ill effect, besides replenished library budgets. At the same time, Elsevier has sued Sci-Hub, a website that provides free, easy access to 67 million research articles. All evidence of a broken system.
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A global community to coordinate and regain control–to develop a public open-access infrastructure–of research and scholarly communication for the public good is long overdue. The issues of governance and ownership of public research have never been clearer. Another isolated platform will simply replicate the problems of the current journal-based system, including the “publish or perish” mentality that perverts the research process, and the anachronistic evaluation system based on corporate brands.
Researchers are still forced to write “papers” for these journals, a communication format designed in the 17th century. Now, in a world where the power of web-based social networks is revolutionizing almost every other industry, researchers need to take back control.
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If we diversify our thinking away from the superficial field of journals and articles, and instead focus on the power of networked technologies, we can see all sorts of innovative models for scholarly communication. One ideal, based on existing services, would be something much more granular and continuous, with communication and peer review as layered, collaborative processes: Envisage a hosting service such as GitHub combined with Wikipedia combined with a Q&A site such as Stack Exchange. Imagine using version control to track the process of research in real time. Peer review becomes a community-governed process, where the quality of engagement becomes the hallmark of individual reputations. Governance structures can be mediated through community elections. Critically, all research outputs can be published and credited–videos, code, visualizations, text, data, things we haven’t even thought of yet. Best of all, a system of fully open communication and collaboration, with not an “impact factor” (a paper’s average number of citations, used to rate journals) in sight.
Such a system of scholarly communication requires the harmonizing of three key elements: quality control and moderation, certification and reputation, and incentives for engagement. For example, it would be easy to have a quality-control process in which instead of the closed and secretive process of peer review, self-organized and unrestricted communities collaborate together for research to attain verification and validation. The recklessly used impact factor can be replaced by a reward system that altruistically recognizes the quality of engagement, as defined by how content is digested by a community, which itself can be used to unlock new abilities within such a system. The beauty is that the incentive for researchers switches from publishing in journal X to engaging in a manner that is of most value to their community. By coupling such activities with academic records and profiles, research assessment bodies can begin to recognize the immense value this has over current methods of evaluation, including its simplicity.
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How will we fund scholarly publishing? Well, it’s a $25 billion a year industry: I’m sure libraries can spare a dime. Making a more just system of scholarly communication open-source means that any community can copy it, and customize it to suit the community’s own needs, driving down costs immensely. Furthermore, initiatives such as the Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services (SCOSS) or a recent proposal for libraries to set aside just 2.5% of their budget to support such innovative systems, offer paths forward. The possibility is real for creating something so superior to the present system that people will wonder how publishers ever got away with it for so long.
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On average, academics currently spend around $5,000 for each published article–to get a PDF and some extra sides. A range of different studies and working examples exist that show the true cost of publishing an article can be as low as $100 using cost-efficient funding schemes, community buy-in, and technologies that go a step further than PDF generation. We can do better.
Link to the rest at Fast Company
PG will note that academic publishing is an extraordinarily profitable activity for the academic publishers and ripe for disruption. A long time ago, he worked for a large subsidiary of Reed Elsevier, now the RELX Group, which also owns Elsevier.
Elsevier is the world’s largest academic publisher, so he has some understanding about what a wonderfully profitable business it is, particularly in an online publishing world.
The two most important inputs for academic publishing, scholarly articles and peer review, cost the journals virtually nothing. Academics write articles for publication because publishing research papers is a requirement for most academic teaching posts. Peer review services by other academics in the field is designed to ensure the quality of the publications. Being selected for a peer review panel adds to an academic’s distinction and provides him/her a leg up the competition to be published in the academic journal for which the peer reviewers are providing essentially free expert services.