An analysis of the present system of scientific publishing: What’s wrong and where to go from here



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The Journal

Historically journals have played many important and essential roles in the dissemination of information. In their simplest form they are archives of information; one can dig up ancient copies of journals in any well-equipped library to find data. In the pre-internet era they were the easiest way to distribute new information to the broadest possible audience; anyone who was interested in learning the most recent accomplishments in their field could flip through a copy of the appropriate journal and read a description of the research. Usually, the research was (and for the most part still is) presented in a common format which included an abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion and references; readers knew where to look in the article for the information they needed.


Journals act as gatekeepers to the scientific archive, keeping out undeserving or plagiarized research. The fact that an article appears in a journal indicates that it has gone through some sort of peer review that had provided some sort of validation to the purpose, necessity and results of the research. The fixed costs of publishing a journal are thought to be a barrier to entry for journals that have not reached a level of public acceptance or academic stature. Journals also provide some sort of qualitative comparative measure to the research. The more prestigious the journal, the more important and conclusive the research is thought to be.
With the prospect of creating a long-term digital archive of all scientific data (as opposed to the present paper archive) it doesn’t make economic sense for individual journals to maintain their own archives (See later for a discussion of the issues of maintaining a digital archive). Instead we envisage a much smaller yet important role for journals in our potential solution; As described, journals presently perform both a repository and an information service function45. In our proposal they would retain a portion of the service function, and spin off their repository functions. That is, they would retain only their most important and irreplaceable role as editors and facilitators of peer review. (Although some have claimed that the editorial process actually diminishes the value of an article46.) Rather than having each journal maintain copies of their articles, a system has to be developed to maintain an easily accessible archive that would promote interoperability that would allow for large scale and mining of scientific literature.
Journals should, though, maintain their banner on the top of their specific articles in the archive as the journal’s name is somewhat indicative of the quality of the article.
We assume that many journals may decide to continue publishing online, still there should be a universally accepted framework that would demand that the articles be deposited in an archive shortly, if not immediately, after publication. Some journals might also choose to continue to publish paper versions of online articles, possibly for the small but persistent Luddite population. Journals might also publish smaller, single page, abstract-like versions of their online content in print journals; for example, the FASEB journal publishes short summary versions in print but longer articles online47.
Nevertheless, research articles ought to be provided to the scientific public for free.

Journals claim that providing free and unlimited access through a provider other than the journals to online articles will deplete an economically important source of revenue for the journals, could lead to loss of quality control, abuse of content, and will put too much control within a centralized organization, rather than what they claim is a more stable system where hundreds of journals provide independent access48. Additionally, the transfer and duplication of information from the journal to the archive could potentially corrupt the data49. Journals claim that they can maintain profits by instead of providing their information right away freely to the public, that they instead wait 6 months where they can charge for access, after which they will provide the article for free on their website, where they can control and monitor access


We propose a more research friendly profit making approach: To prevent lost of profits, journals will retool their revenue mechanisms. One possible solution is to charge authors for the cost of editing. Given the general inelastic demand for publishing articles, journals should be able to charge enough to be profitable. Anyway, the authors will just pass the cost to their funding agencies and the costs should not limit the ability of a researcher to publish. Moreover, given that the economic system of publishing tends to favor those who pay, a system wherein the author is paying is a system that will reflect the goals of the author, i.e. broad dissemination50 . Additionally, by not maintaining any archival functions, the journals do not have to fear that the copy that they submit to the archive will be corrupted through reproduction, instead, the journal should submit their copy immediately to the archive.


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