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Scientist meets publisher: the video

Scientists – myself included – are increasingly frustrated by the outmoded academic publishing system. The situation as it stands made sense in the pre-internet era, when one needed a printing press to…

Academic knowledge is boxed in by exclusive, expensive journals.

Scientists – myself included – are increasingly frustrated by the outmoded academic publishing system.

The situation as it stands made sense in the pre-internet era, when one needed a printing press to distribute articles, but here in 2011 our antiquated approach looks absurd.

Put simply, you shouldn’t have to pay to read research articles by academics any more than you should have to pay to read articles on this website. On the internet, the costs of publishing are low.

It’s an unfortunate legacy of the printing-press era that corporate publishers own the journals in which most research articles appear.

The subscription fees are sometimes exorbitant – more than US$11,000 per year for a subscription to Experimental Brain Research, or about $300 for a single issue of that journal.

For a university’s researchers to read such articles, the university must subscribe to these journals.

Few individuals or small businesses can afford such rates. And so a lot of knowledge remains locked away, which is just silly because the taxpayer funds most research, including my own.

And by paying my salary (through the government’s grants to universities), the taxpayer has also paid me, in effect, to write the articles.

There are remedies available, as explained by some of the articles already published on this topic in The Conversation, and things are (slowly) changing for the better.

A large part of the problem is that many researchers don’t realise how silly the system is, and don’t know about the alternatives.

To illustrate how absurd the publishing system is, a colleague and I have put together a video called Scientist Meets Publisher. Enjoy!

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3 Comments sorted by

  1. Krystal Evans

    logged in via Twitter

    Even worse is that many publishers require the authors to pay the journal to publish their article! A submission fee to put forward the manuscript for consideration (eg. $50) and then a per page fee if it gets accepted for publication (eg. $60 time 10 pages). Often publishing colour figures costs significantly extra (eg $600 per figure), so if you want to show your beautiful four colour confocal microscopy images in all their glory, it again costs more. So in order to publish in the top-tier journal scientists end up paying publishers amounts running up into the thousands of dollars. When I try to explain this to friends in other professional positions they cannot understand how or why scientists tolerate this!

  2. Diane Lester

    logged in via Facebook

    I like your video but think that change will only come when the upper reaches of academia show an interest in open access, and, in my experience, they couldn’t care less. As a biomedical scientist outside academia I often write to institutions asking why their research isn’t OA with little effect. Recently, I received this reply from the vice-chancellor of an Australian Go8 university.
    ‘publisher’s policy in respect of copyright determines the versions of any published paper we are able to make available. As you will appreciate, obtaining copies of all papers, clearing them for copyright purposes and mounting them (if permitted) in the repository, is a huge resource-intensive task. Alas, we are unable to make all papers available.’
    There seems to be no sense of public accountability concerning taxpayer-funded research. Its all about the trophies of established journal brands.

  3. Alex Holcombe

    logged in via Twitter

    Diane: The best response to this situation is to strive to change it, as you have with your letters, which together with other efforts should eventually have an effect. We are winning small victories, and occasionally large ones. In Australia, QUT has had an open-access mandate for awhile ( and ANU has recently ramped up the amount of material available. The infrastructure necessary to do this is not trivial, as alluded to in that administrator's response to your letter, so we simply have to increase the pressure on these thrifty administrators who are more often in a program-cutting than program-expanding mood. Another thing we need more people to do is write to the NHMRC and ARC and ask them to strengthen their mandates for free dissemination of the research they fund.