The Publishing Spring

Published: 2012-04-23

Graham Haylor, DirectorGraham Haylor, IFS Director

Imagine a restaurant to which you bring the ingredients and where you are requested to do most of the work in preparing the food, but if you want to eat the finished dish, the restaurant charges you a hefty sum. It does not sound like a great bargain, but essentially that is the deal research scientists accept when they publish their work.

Little surprise then that there is a good deal of discussion going on right now about academic publishing. In a frustrated blog post in January this year Tim Gowers, the distinguished Cambridge mathematician, declared that he would henceforth decline to submit to or review papers for any academic journals published by Elsevier. Thousands read the post and hundreds left supportive comments. Within hours a website was established called The Cost of Knowledge where more than 9,000 scientists have already registered their protest...

If you want to publish in a scientific journal you have around 20,000 to choose from. Most of them are owned by three publishing houses: Elsevier, Springer and Wiley. The problem is that while much of the research is funded by foundations and charities (including IFS), or from other public funds, the published results sit behind the ‘paywalls’ of private publishing houses. Paying to access the science we fund seems wrong. To access one article can cost 40 USD. To subscribe to one journal can cost as much as 25,000 USD/year. Universities buying bundles of journals carry bills of millions to access the journals their scientist require.

An alternative is open access publishing, such as ‘Scientific Reports’ owned by the parent company of the journal Nature, or the Public Library of Science (PLos) whose titles include: PLos One, PLos Biology and PLos Medicine. Access is free. The catch is that the cost of publication is borne by scientists themselves, and that can be ¼ of the value of an IFS grant!

IFS occupies a special niche in early career science support in least developed countries. Our new 10-year strategy continues to emphasize building scientific capability, but also, in common with many research funders, now also aims to maximize the impact of the science we fund. That includes the need to reduce barriers to sharing innovation and knowledge and putting research into use.

This ‘Publishing Spring’ has once again kindled a desire to consider an on line IFS journal. We have started to talk about this in the Secretariat and the IFS Scientific Advisory Committees. We are not alone: One of the world’s largest funders of science, the Wellcome Trust, is in the final stages of launching a scientific journal called eLife. PLos believe information on the web spreads further, has more influence and is used in more ways than the people who wrote it could ever imagine.

Tell us what you think! Leave a comment below or email us. Should IFS launch an online journal?

3 comments

Comments

  1. Kevin Kanyuira Gikonyo, May 02, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    Dear Dr Graham
    IFS should launch an online journal.

    Currently I'm pursuing MSc Research Methods sponsored by RUFORUM consortium and thanks to R open-source statistical package, I'm able to analyze my data.

    Part of the course requirement is that we should publish our research but due to high publishing costs, our work may never reach a wider audience.


    Kind regards,

    Kevin Kanyuira Gikonyo,

    Fisheries Officer - Nyakach
    Biostatistics Intern - International Centre for Insect Physiology & Ecology (ICIPE)

  2. David Penman, Apr 24, 2012 at 02:09 PM

    I share your views on the problems of both the traditional and open access publishing models, but someone has to pay for publishing? If not the customer (traditional) or the funders of research through grants (open access), then IFS would still have to pay. In some cases, institutions such as universities pay a fee that gives access to the open access journals (which at least gets around one of my nightmare scenarios, where PhD students couldn't afford to publish papers from their thesis!).

    Also, remember that pretty much all publishing models assume unpaid reviewing input from academics to ensure (at least some) quality control over what is published. With increasing pressure on academics to justify their work activities (i.e. does every activity bringin sufficient income to cover the cost of employment), will (unpaid) reviewing time be squeezed out of existence?

  3. Bam, Apr 23, 2012 at 01:41 PM

    I think it is long overdue. This I will call innovation; innovation towards sustainable science research in the 21st Century.
    Imagine, you either contact the author of a paper or you can read only the abstract if you are from a third world where access to credit /debit cards to buy or pay for subscription of these journals online is always limited or non-existent. In cases where institutions have subscribed, some papers are still to be paid for and hence makes the whole situation complex to even manage.

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