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

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An analysis of the present system of scientific publishing:

What’s wrong and where to go from here

Dov Greenbaum1, Joanna Lim2 & Mark Gerstein2,3

1Department of Genetics,

2Department of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry

3Department of Computer Science

Yale University

P.O. Box 208114

New Haven, CT 06520-8114, USA.


As recounted in Professor Guédon’s work, “In Oldenburg’s Long Shadow” scholarly journals where initially founded in order to preclude intellectual property disputes. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, first published in 1665, was to be a register of scientific ideas, and the arbiter of what was science; as a secondary goal, it would also disseminate scientific ideas1. Henry Oldenburg, inspired by Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum, was the pioneer behind the journal, and the concept of peer review; Oldenburg would have articles sent to experts to review them prior to their inclusion in the Phil Trans 2. The concept of peer review was later cemented as a requirement for publication almost 100 years later when the editorial process of the journal was taken over by the Royal Society 3. These notions of wide dissemination and peer review have subsequently become hallmarks of scientific journal publishing. In addition to these, there are other objectives of scholarly journals including: the creation of archives for scientific data, a system to prevent plagiarism of other’s works, and a sort of currency for scientists, demarcating their level of prestige as a function of the number and quality of the articles published4. Journals as we know them are becoming less important in the dissemination of scientific information (they are used more as a currency representing scientific ability rather than their initial purpose of information dissemination); better vehicles of communication, (e.g., more able to conform to the now diverse levels of collaborations that are the norm in present-day scientific research) are required 5. Publishing scientific articles in general, in its present form, is slow, inefficient, costly and sometimes even a hindrance to research, and the flow of information6. In addition the paper, as opposed to digital medium used presently is “difficult to produce, difficult to distribute, difficult to archive and difficult to duplicate.”7

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