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It's Time For Academics To Take Back Control Of Research Journals (theguardian.com) 74

Stephen Curry, a professor of structural biology at Imperial College London, has a piece on The Guardian today in which he outlines the history of the relationship between commercial interests, academic prestige and the circulation of research. An excerpt from the article: "Publish or perish" has long been the mantra of seeking to make a success of their research career. Reputations are built on the ability to communicate something new to the world. Increasingly, however, they are determined by numbers, not by words, as universities are caught in a tangle of management targets composed of academic journal impact factors, university rankings and scores in the government's research excellence framework. The chase for metricised success has been further exacerbated by the takeover of scholarly publishing by profit-seeking commercial companies, which pose as partners but no longer seem properly in tune with academia. Evidence of the growing divergence between academic and commercial interests is visible in the secrecy around negotiations on subscription and open access charges. It's also clear from the popularity among academics of the controversial site Sci-Hub, which has made over 60m research articles freely available on the internet. Over-worked researchers could be forgiven for thinking that the time-honoured mantra has morphed to "publish, and perish anyway."
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It's Time For Academics To Take Back Control Of Research Journals

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  • The summary is pretentious enough. "Caught in a tangle of management targets"?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      > The summary is pretentious enough. "Caught in a tangle of management targets"?

      I don't see anything wrong with the language. Do you have a problem with the wording or the substance of it?

    • The summary is pretentious enough. "Caught in a tangle of management targets"?

      Translation: "I need more one-syllable words!"

    • I've been listening to a bit of Marillion recently, I'm sure it's a line from Fugazi.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This other industry. [wikipedia.org]

    Eventually, talent won't be running the show - professional managers will, or it probably won't survive. And the managers won't necessarily have the best interests of the talent first, and sometimes not even second or third.

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @04:06PM (#54486833) Journal
      I guess from the perspective of an academic:
      1) They got into science presumably because they want to do science, not run a journal.
      2) Running a journal is a lot of work for no extra pay
      3) The university pays for their Elsevier subscription anyway, so they get access to all the other papers already (and non-PhDs don't do science anyway).
      • by gwolf ( 26339 )

        It depends what you mean by "to run". Some research institutes publish their own journal. Being its chief editor is a honor for the designated scholar - And, if the journal is good and visible, gives them quite a bit of exposure, which translates into academic "points".

      • 2) Running a journal is a lot of work for no extra pay

        If you're doing online-only publication, it's not that much harder than being on the programme committee for a conference (actually, less so, because you don't have such hard deadlines) and academics are expected to do that for the good of the subject and for no extra pay.

        - An academic who spent a large chunk of his Christmas holiday reviewing a big pile of papers for an ACM conference.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sci-Hub is not the solution. The issue is twofold: First, scientists (still) believe they must publish; they don't -- do achieve something in your field of research, and the world will know. Second, publications must be controlled by researchers and only stuff that really matters should be published. Science needs a shift or values and priorities, a Second Renaissance.

    • by XXongo ( 3986865 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @04:51PM (#54487099) Homepage

      Sci-Hub is not the solution. The issue is twofold: First, scientists (still) believe they must publish; they don't -- do achieve something in your field of research, and the world will know.

      It is the new researchers who need to publish. Yes, once you've established a reputation in your field, people will know who you are. But that very often takes decades. Until then, you need publications to show you have a track record of good work.

      (And even then, the reputation is usually phrased in terms of what you published: "e.g., "X published one of the seminal papers on bismith selenide semiconductors." And it will be two decades between when you published your paper and when the rest of the world starts putting bismuth selenide in their high-end devices.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      do achieve something in your field of research, and the world will know.

      How? Are they psychic? You may not have noticed but most academics (at least in the fields I'm familiar with) would rather pull out their own fingernails than hold a press conference (or network for that matter), and the ones that do enjoy big-noting themselves are not necessarily the ones with anything worth saying.

      Second, publications must be controlled by researchers and only stuff that really matters should be published.

      We do this already. It's called peer review and impact factor. It's relatively easy to get crap published in a low impact-factor journal that no-one will read or care about. It's really fre

  • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Thursday May 25, 2017 @03:44PM (#54486695)

    There seem to be several "open source" journals, but I'm wondering how seriously they are taken, especially to the University Gods that dish out tenure? I don't know...

    But also, how about some of these "prestigious" universities publish their own damn journals?

    In the end, the for-profit journals that one apparently has to be published in will continue to flourish as long as the university communities themselves publish in them, judge peers by them, and pay the astronomical subscriptions to them.

    In other words, these people complaining about the state of "professional; journals are in control of the entire situation.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      As a biology-related researcher, eLife, eNeuro, the PloS journals (especially PloS Biology), are pretty highly respected. But the biggest name journals, Nature (the whole family), Neuron, Science, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science are all non-open (though PNAS has an open-access option). Usually, we take the open-access option if we can.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      To get funding (from government or industry) you need to be able to show how good you are. Current metrics are based on number of journal publication and rank of journals published in. Unfortunately for largely historical reasons the high rank journals tend to be the expensive walled gardens. No funding = no job = even less income than the pittance you currently survive off. That's a pretty strong incentive to play nice with the status quo.

      Obviously this has to change (and I suspect it will), but it's n

    • by XXongo ( 3986865 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @04:53PM (#54487119) Homepage

      There seem to be several "open source" journals, but I'm wondering how seriously they are taken, especially to the University Gods that dish out tenure?

      Some are, some aren't.

      The problem is, the entry barrier to putting up a website and giving it a prestigious journal title is pretty much zero. So there are literally thousands of "open source journals" that have no redeeming merit whatsoever, and the ones which are actually real tend to get buried in the clutter.

      • The problem is, the entry barrier to putting up a website and giving it a prestigious journal title is pretty much zero. So there are literally thousands of "open source journals" that have no redeeming merit whatsoever, and the ones which are actually real tend to get buried in the clutter.

        Perhaps if the better ones were endorsed by one or several real and respected Universities?

        • This. Oxford, Cambridge, Hahvahd, Hull, Yale and Trump-U[1] could set up a co-op, non-profit, joint venture, call it what you like.

          With that branding It'd be more than awesome, it'd be the gold standard.

          [1] Maybe let the Sorbonne and that one from Canada that sounds like it's Belgian in too, so they don't sulk.

          • You know what else most of the universities on that list have in common? They own publishers, which make money from for-profit journals.
        • It doesn't need to be endorsed by a university, a learned society is sufficient. My highest cited papers have been published in the open access 'Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics' which is run by the European Geophysical Union, its nowhere near nature or science in impact factor, but it is a respectable mid tier journal. The writer pays up front for hosting/typesetting etc the cost of which you put into your grant.

          Its much more open than a traditional journal. They publish the initial submission, the review

  • Happen to the free exchange of ideas?
  • See the quantum journal http://quantum-journal.org/ [quantum-journal.org] for an example.

  • by EvilSS ( 557649 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @03:57PM (#54486789)
    I mean, really, why do they need them? Other than putting stuff onto actual paper, which these days seems somewhat pointless since most of this will actually be consumed digitally anyway. Are you telling me the academic world can't work out a way to coordinate peer review and put out papers without the help of massive commercial academic publishers?

    And if they do, how the hell has Amazon not stepped into the field and undercut everyone? About the only thing I can see the publishers have going for them is momentum and legacy at this point.
    • by Phillip2 ( 203612 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @04:16PM (#54486891)

      Scientific Publishing is, largely, about brownie points, rather than communication.

      We get forced to use publishers because that's how we are judged; it's not a question of whether the publishers are doing anything actually useful.

    • by WrongMonkey ( 1027334 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @05:25PM (#54487303)

      I mean, really, why do they need them?

      You publish in the journal where your work will get read (and hopefully cited). If you publish in a top tier journal, like Science or Nature, then every working scientist will at least read the title in their weekly Table of Contents email. If you publish in a highly regarded specialist journal, then most of the people in your field will read the abstract. My highest cited paper was rejected by Science because the topic wasn't of "general interest to the scientific community", but it has 230 citations in an impact factor 4 journal because it was useful for researchers in my field.

      But if you dump your paper in an open source journal (like PLOS ONE) nobody is going to bother reading it because PLOS ONE publishes 20,000 papers a year with no filter on quality or content.

      • Nobody reads.
        The combo of conferences and the lecture circuit is how impactful science is circulated.
        The journal article provides the details to the interested.
        The ONLY purpose of a journal is to assure that someone reviewed the work.

        • by WrongMonkey ( 1027334 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @05:56PM (#54487531)
          Maybe this is something that is field specific. I've heard that in computer science conference presentations are more important than journal publication. Maybe that's true.

          But speaking as an actual laboratory scientist: I read. My colleagues read. Conferences presentations are either "work in progress" or "broad summary of everything in our lab for the last 5 years", depending on the venue. There is no way that a half hour talk or a single poster can actually provide the detail necessary to understand and evaluate cutting edge research.

          • There's some truth to the grandparent. There are enough papers published now that the ones that I'm most likely to read are ones where someone says 'this was an interesting paper, you should read it', rather than simply reading all of the ones published in relevant journals (on top of the pile of ones that I have to review).
          • by toupsz ( 882584 )

            Computer scientist here. Computer scientists read too, communication is not by word of mouth. It is true, however, that conference proceedings for good conferences are considered at least as good, if not better, than most journals. The pattern is more that you publish and give talks on original work, then develop a synthesis of multiple pieces of work + new data into journal articles (which is substantively different than other fields). My understanding of this is that it came about due to the speed at whic

    • There is no peer review anymore. The scientific method is barely given a nod anymore. The crap getting published these days where no one has replicated the results or, worse, if you don't agree with it, you are ostracized is the norm. It goes hand in hand with the un-abashed bias displayed by the media. If you are quipping the latest trend, no one will hold you accountable, much less check your work.

  • The impact factor of a journal is supposedly the moving average over the latest two years of the number of citations to papers published in it. Is the IF of web journals and open publication sites counted in this ranking, or is this still another private club for the legacy journals?

    • Of course you can count impact factor for web journals or open publications. Its just a statistic, like average word count or average daily site visitors. There is no governing authority of impact factor.
  • They cannot. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @04:43PM (#54487055)

    The issue here is less about greedy journals and more about the fact that universities are being run like businesses which results in the "publish or perish" expectation. The system has become completely mismanaged into being a capitalist nightmare where you do what they want or you lose what you love. I believe this could be remedied if it became exceptionally difficult to revoke tenure, requiring that colleagues agree to it. The greedy journals problem can easily be done away with by freely releasing the research and only allowing non-profit journals to publish their work.

    TL;DR: The problem is the culture of university administrations, not with the researchers themselves.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I believe this could be remedied if it became exceptionally difficult to revoke tenure, requiring that colleagues agree to it.

      You realize that tenure is exceptionally difficult to revoke. If you have tenure, you basically have to commit crimes before they consider firing you. Getting tenure, however, require a great deal of journal publishing. Also once you have tenure, if you don't perform, you don't get any sort of raise.

  • by twasserman ( 878174 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @05:34PM (#54487349)
    Back in the day, there were a few journals that were recognized as having high standards for refereeing and publication. In academic computer science, these were the journals that were the most important for promotion and tenure, and even carried greater weight than some of the highly selective conferences. Promotion and tenure are the keys to long-term (perhaps lifetime) careers in the most prestigious universities, and that situation remains largely unchanged today.

    As we look around the world, though, it's clear that there are many thousands of academics in universities of varying quality who would also like to have their work published, even if it's not in, for example, one of the ACM's or IEEE's Transactions journals. So we now have a slew of journals focused on computer science, some of which are, to be polite, not very selective about what they publish, as long as the authors pay the publication fee. There are also more and more low-quality journals that publish online using an open access approach. Many of these journals use highly credible names, and it's easy for a novice to confuse them with well-known and higher-quality journals. If you do a search on "fake journals in computer science', you will see that there are hundreds of such journals; if you go to the web page for such a journal, it looks real, complete with editorial board members who hold academic positions. Life would be simpler if these fake journals didn't exist, but most of them seem to find enough paying authors to put out new volumes of their journals. If your papers are continually rejected by the program committees for various conferences, this may be the only way to publish your work, even if it's not very good. Indeed, some of these journals have published papers that were generated by bots.

    In principle, there is nothing wrong with submitting your work to be published in one of these fake journals. You can tell your Mom that you are a published author, and you can include this "publication" on your CV, but it won't help you to become a full Professor at a reputable university.

    If you are not an academic at an institution that evaluates your publication record for promotion, then this whole process probably seems silly to you. In that case, you can view the promotion process as a game where you play by certain established rules, just as people in industry tend to play by a different set of rules to get promoted and earn raises.

  • Academics are already in control. This is what they devolve into when given the opportunity.

  • Wait, he does more than playing basketball? [grin]

  • Spoken behalf of fabricated resveratrol, carbon dioxide, and medical research.

    ... but if this gets the government of California to stop funneling money into how you shouldn't even be in the SAME ROOM as your cell phone, I'll call it a win.

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