Academic Publishing: Never Mind the Quality…


I was interested to see that the latest issue of Private Eye contains a short item about academic publishing:

I’ve heard many stories of this type, with publishers putting pressure on their Editorial Boards to allow more papers to be published. This is undoubtedly motivated by the Gold Open Access model in which authors or their institutions are forced to pay thousands of dollars upfront to publish papers. Since the publisher makes an eye-watering profit on every article, why not publish as many as possible? The recent decision by the Royal Astronomical Society adopt this model is highly likely to have a similar effect there, as its journals will be able to increase revenue at the expense of quality. Under the older subscription-based system, publishers could sell their product to libraries on the basis of quality but they no longer need to do that to make a profit.

The academic publishing industry is perverse enough without adding this obvious incentive to lower editorial standards. There are far too many low quality papers being published already, a situation driven not only by the profiteering of the publishing industry but also by the absurd policies of academia itself which require researchers to churn out huge numbers of papers to get promotion, win research grants, etc.

This part of the academic system is definitely broken. To fix it, academic publishing must be taken out of the hands of commercial publishers and put into the care of research institutions whose libraries are perfectly capable of publishing and curating articles on a non-profit basis. But that won’t be enough: we need also to overhaul how we do research assessment. The principles outlined in the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment would be a start.

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