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



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Problems with the Current System


`“Our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purposes” – Dr. Vannevar Bush, 19458.
Although there was no practical alternative in 1945 to the publication process, the internet presents an opportunity to reshape the scientific publication process. Still, the internet is only starting to make inroads into the methods of transmitting research, and much of the heretofore evolution of scientific information dissemination has resulted from a haphazard and undirected progression of research methodologies. For example, the web now allows researchers the ability to present much of their data in forums other than journals, such as private websites, pre-prints, databases, newsletters, reports, working papers, theses, conference proceedings. While not peer reviewed, this ‘gray information/literature’9 is gaining validity and importance in research as a source of scientific information. For example, the US departments of Energy and Defense, as well as other governmental agencies currently have well over 100,000 scientific and technical non-peer reviewed reports which they have integrated into a central repository: the GrayLit Network10.
Nevertheless, to achieve a true paradigm shift in scientific publishing, we need a directed evolutionary event (Contrast with Ann Okerson’s position11), a total and global unified revamping of the system from the ground up. Although two-thirds of all journals already publish online12, there are many issues with the present system of peer review academic journals, problems that cannot be solved by simply making PDF copies of the journal articles available online: “An electronic document is not {simply} the electronic version of a traditional paper document …{Rather it is} a document comprising a variety of different types of information presentations that are brought together by an author in order to present a comprehensive scientific argument …” 13.
This paper will examine some of the issues with the present system of scientific publication - such as rising costs, poor peer review and slow dissemination of information - and present a possible alternative to the present situation. The discussion is not novel, many groups have already attempted to tackle the issue and reform the world of scientific publishing and data dissemination (See for example: The Scholars’ Forum14, SPARC15, or the ‘Tempe Principles’16 ).


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