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January 26, 2012


Two more points that I think should be included

Elsevier publishes or has published astroturf journals.

They have used schemes to ensure good reviews of their product and I have no idea if they continue to do so.

More on this topic (more or less) today over at LGM.

Elsevier has created legions of 'copyright violators'. I think it would be difficult to find any serious scientist who has not yet made some unauthorised copies from Elsevier journals.
From what I remember, being out of academia for a few years now, authors now have trouble using/getting access to their own works while in the far distant past (late 20th century) they got a high number of copies free of charge. This diminished over time and iirc has now ceased completely, i.e. authors have to buy copies of their own published papers at full charge. Where I was it was a common practice to create everything in two different versions, one to be published, one to be used among colleagues, at conferences etc. in order to avoid copyright violation charges.
The extreme prices have led to multiple institutions pooling their resources, so there would be at least one copy of an essential journal in the region. "If you pass by institution X to-morrow, could you please make a copy from Journal Y and drop this copy from Journal Z at the office of our colleague professor Q? Should you meet anyone from H institute while you are there, please ask him or her, whether he could send us this article from Journal P, please".

Nob being in academia, I'm not quite sure where the choke points are in the current scheme.

What stands in the way of a group of like minded academics 'publishing' their own journal on the web?


What stands in the way of a group of like minded academics 'publishing' their own journal on the web?

Nothing. And Everything. For example, in 2001, the 40 members of the editorial board of the journal Machine Learning resigned and started an open access journal called the Journal of Machine Learning. It seems to doing well.

This is just a guess, but since ML as a field tends to be really interdisciplinary, the access limitations of expensive journal access were a lot more crippling than they would be for a journal in, say, endocrinology or geology. JML staff probably really wanted to get their journal into the hands of, and solicit articles from people who don't consider themselves pure ML folk: people in the statistics, NLP, IR, OR, and robotics communities for example.

The biggest problem is coordination. If everyone decides to move en masse, it is really easy. But it is tough to herd a large group of cats who are often scattered about the globe. It is tougher still when the younger folks, the ones who would be most invested in systemic change, are also those who are least secure professionally, desperately scrambling from one postdoc to another.

"What stands in the way of a group of like minded academics 'publishing' their own journal on the web?"

Peer review?

I've thought about this a lot.

Turb.: "Nothing. And Everything."

Yes. Someone has to grant themselves the authority, and enough other people (with authority) have to buy into it.

"Become the ruling body." - Ray Smuckles

I'm not an academic, but I doubt Elsevier is going to change the way they operate.

Publishing academic journals seems to be a classic "cash cow." That is, it's a profitable business with little or no growth potential. So you milk it for whatever you can get as long as it's viable, but don't put any resources into building it up.

It makes no sense for the company to try to improve its reputation, since the business is going to disappear in a few years anyway.

@bobbyp: What stands in the way of a group of like minded academics 'publishing' their own journal on the web?

There's a big chicken and egg problem with new journals. Academics are judged by the quality of journal their work is printed in. Journals are judged by how often their publications are cited (average cites per article or "impact factor"), which depends on having good work and being prestigious so everyone reads them. Everyone wants to publish in high impact factor journals, which means they have the pick of articles to publish and tend to remain at the top of the heap.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, new journals generally have a low impact factor because nobody reads and cites them yet, which makes it hard to attract the kind of good submissions that will build a high impact factor. So low prestige journals tend to stay that way, too. This is a big problem for a new journal; you can only attract good authors if you already have good authors who want to publish there. The only ways a journal can carry this off is if A) it tied in to an established journal so authors have confidence it will become established (e.g. Nature spinning off Nature Medicine, Nature Biotechnology, etc.), B) it's in an emerging field without established places to publish, or C) the founders themselves agree to publish there and are prestigious enough to attract readership. Bucking the establishment is going to be an uphill battle.

@byomotov: Publishing academic journals seems to be a classic "cash cow." That is, it's a profitable business with little or no growth potential.

I think you're wrong about that. Science is still a growing area, at least judging by the number of new journals that keep cropping up and the increasing page counts of the journals out there. This is related to the point I made above about established journals creating spin-offs to expand into new areas. If scientific publishing weren't a growing area, they'd just change the focus of their existing journal instead of spinning off a new ones to cover new fields.

Roger Moore,

Yes, science is growing area and more and more results will continue to be publiished. I just question whether the traditional journal will remain the vehicle of choice for publication.

Even recognizing the chicken-egg issue, it seems to me that given the prices charged and the technical, if not organizational, ease of moving to digital publication, that the paper journal's days are numbered.

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