The world of scientific publishing continues to excite. Long-standing readers will recall that I have addressed this topic before. My remarks have even been quoted by The Guardian, no less (well, by The Guardian’s website at any rate).
To recap, the controversies here revolve around the funding model used to support the publication of scientific journals.
Traditionally, as with most other types of publishing, the whole system relies on the willingness of readers to pay publishers for the privilege of reading what it is that they publish, just like when you pay a shopkeeper the price of a magazine before you take it home and look at it. Publishers rely on this revenue to: (a) ensure the viability of the publication; and (b) turn a profit. In principle it all seems reasonable and straightforward.
However, the problem with much of the scientific publishing world is that the pages of these journals contain research that would not exist had it not originally been funded using public money. The problem critics point to is with the paradox of publicly funded information falling into the copyright-wielding hands of private corporate publishing companies.
Moreover, the primary readers of these journals are themselves typically public servants (most often university faculty), whose salaries are also drawn from public funds. And the journals are primarily available through university libraries, themselves funded using public money (although an independent reader is welcome, in most cases, to download the research directly from the publisher’s website on a pay-per-view basis).
The metaphor of scientific progress still involves researchers standing on the shoulders of giants. It’s just that nowadays they have to pay to do so.
Overall, the taxpayer pays at least treble for the next cure for cancer: the government funds the original research; public-servant scientists spend taxpayer-funded time to conduct the research; and publicly funded university libraries pay subscriptions to enable those same scientists to eventually read about the research in journals. It’s like paying a third-party corporation every time you look at yourself in the mirror. Or something. Continue reading “A long and tedious blog post about scientific publishing”