Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Perspectives on Scientific Publishing

I'd like to kick off this blog by highlighting a sentiment made by several others: the model of academic publishing is broken. It is a business model in which publishing companies receive content, copyright, editing services, and peer review services from (mostly) government paid researchers on a volunteer basis. These same companies take the content and place it behind a paywall, selling the work back to universities through subscriptions, and denying the taxpayer which funds most of these transactions (namely, the research, the researchers, and the university) any access to the results. At least, this is the often repeated compliant about the publishing industry.

There have been efforts to change from some. Digital publishers have arisen with different business models, such as open access publishing. In this model, the copyright is not always forfeited by the authors of the manuscript, and the publisher derives profit not from subscriptions but rather through fees assessed by the authors themselves. This model is logical, since there is usually great incentive for the authors to publish, enough for them to devote precious grant dollars or other funds towards these fees. After all, publishing articles in peer reviewed journals is important for maintaining funding from government agencies.

Most of these new models claim represent some improvement over traditional publishing, although each is unique. These include PeerJ, Frontiers, and PLoS One. You can read more about PeerJ in a insightful post at TechDirt.com. Likewise, the Chronicle of Higher Education ProfHacker blog has an interesting interview with the founder of Frontiers.

You can read more about the issue and make up your own mind. I think that publishing companies should adapt to new technologies, but that their business model or presence is not necessarily a problem in research. The editing and peer review services offered by these companies is important for scientific research; as technology improves, these services should be augmented in ways that more fully engage the readership of academic journals as well as the authors. In particular, I would like to see an effort to promote scientific communication from graduate students, who usually are responsible for executing the experiments and gathering the data that supports a manuscript.

By more actively engaging graduate students, and making them aware of the role of communication in the scientific community as well as their own careers, publishing companies will not only be empowering an important segment of this community but fostering good relationships with future lead researchers.

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