Progress on Open Access?

The current state of play with regard to Open Access publishing is very disappointing. The academic publishing industry seems to have persuaded the powers that be to allow them to charge exorbitant article processing charges (APCs) to replace revenues lost from subscriptions when they publish a paper free to readers. This simply transfers the cost from reader to author, and excludes those authors who can’t afford to pay.

This current system of ‘Gold’ Open Access is a scam, and it’s a terrible shame we have ended up having it foisted upon us. Fortunately, being forced to pay APCs of many thousands of euros to publish their papers, researchers are at last starting to realize that they are being ripped off. Recently, the entire Editorial Board of Neuroimage and its sister journal Neuroimage: Reports resigned in protest at the `extreme’ APC levels imposed by the publisher, Elsevier. I’m sure other academics will follow this example, as it becomes more and more obvious that the current arrangements are unsustainable. Previously the profits of the big publishers were hidden in library budgets. Now they are hitting researchers and their grants directly, as authors now have to pay, and people who previously hadn’t thought much about the absurdity of it all are now realizing what a racket academic publishing really is.

The people at the top have been slow to grasp this reality, but there are signs that this is at last happening, In the USA there has been the Nelson Memorandum (see discussion here). Now there is movement in the European Union, with member states apparently set on agreeing a  text to be published next month (May 2023) that calls for immediate open access the default, with no author fees. This is clearly how Open Access should be, though I am still worried that the sizeable publishing lobby will try to persuade research agencies and institutions to pay the existing fees on behalf of authors, which does not solve the problem but merely hides it.

I know I’m not alone in thinking that the current publishing ecosystem is doomed and will die a natural death soon enough. The replacement should be a worldwide network of institutional and/or subject-based repositories that share research literature freely for the common good. Universities and research centres should simply bypass the grotesque parasite that is the publishing industry. Indeed, I would be in favour of hastening the demise of the Academic Journal Racket by having institutions make it a disciplinary offence for any researcher to pay an APC.

We are lucky in physics and astronomy because arXiv has already done the hard work for us. Indeed, it is now a fact universally acknowledged* that every new research paper worth reading in these disciplines can be found on arXiv. Old-style journals are no longer necessary. It is great that arXiv is being joined by similar ventures in other fields, such as BiorXiv and EarthArxiv. A list of existing repositories can be found here. I’m sure many more will follow. What is needed is a global effort to link these repositories to each other and to peer review mechanisms. One way is through overlays as demonstrated by the Open Journal of Astrophysics, there being no reason why the idea can’t be extended beyond arXiv. Other routes are possible, of course, and I would love to see different models developed. I think the next few years are going to be very exciting.

*It is also a fact universally acknowledged that anyone who doesn’t understand the reference to “a fact university acknowledged” has not read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen…

6 Responses to “Progress on Open Access?”

  1. An important post, Peter. I’d argue, however, that we (i.e. the academic research communities), are just as much a part of the problem. There continues to be a lazy reliance on journal brand-name and/or h-index as a proxy for the quality of a paper. The publishing industry’s stranglehold remains because our reward/incentive system too often emphasises journal brand. Until our attitude to publication forum changes, true open access won’t be possible.

    • telescoper Says:

      Indeed. I regard the traditional mode of academic journal as being very like vanity publishing. Some academics are undoubtedly very vain. I wonder though how much of the blame for this lies with academics (undoubtedly some) and how much with Management?

      • I’d lay the lion’s share of the blame at our door. How many times over the years have you been in various committee meetings assessing applicants for fellowships, PDRA positions, faculty jobs etc… and heard something along the lines of “Well, Candidate A has a better publication record than Candidate B” when the person making that statement hasn’t read even one of the candidates’ papers? We’ve outsourced quality assessment to journal brand (and the abomination that is the h-index.)

  2. Moving to a repository-based (institution and/or arxiv) publication system would not impact the h-factor much, one would think, as its based on citations. Papers can and do get citations via arxiv – the OJAp has a very healthy citation rate, I believe.

    What it would stop is the judgement of papers based on journals – i.e. impact factor of the journal. Institutions that are signed up to DORA – including RCUK – are already committed to not using impact factors of journals as an assessment of quality for job and grant applications. One can I believe still use cites (taking into the account the citation rate of the sub-discipline, as these vary widely), as it can (or at least has) been used as an indicator of the impact of a paper.

  3. […] see the Observer has picked up on a story I wrote about a couple of weeks ago concerning the resignation of the entire Editorial Board of an Elsevier journal called Neuroimage. […]

  4. […] it was foretold the Council of Europe has now released a document (PDF) that calls for “transparent, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: