Greening grass behind the paywall


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Greening grass behind the paywall

Tomas Zvolensky, 27 October 2020

Based on progressively increasing unrest among scholars about publishing practices, open access (OA) journals became abundant. Unfortunately, also have the predatory journals that used the OA wave as an opportunity to parasite on the effort of scholarly publishing at improving itself. Despite the poor style, it worked due to the naivité researchers can have. Cash in and publish anything as long as it is paid for.

The issues science publishing faces are manifold. There is no simple truth or solution to the long and deep-rooted habits the system faces. No king to be decapitated, no dictator to be overthrown. Makes one wonder if life was easier in the medieval times in some ways. It is virtually impossible to point a finger and say: when we change this, everything will improve. Nevertheless, the pressure of the regulatory bodies on the publishers grows. The shifting publishing policy landscape has the major players slowly changing too. Rolling out ‘all-new OA multidisciplinary’ journals became another wave the science publishers are forced to catch in hope of extinguishing the smoldering embers of changing policy and preserve their profits for a little longer. That is until they start a fire of a world-wide policy shift.

Undeniably, the shift of the requirements on authors to publish in OA journals as a part of academic career advancement is a positive trend. Still, it is a mystery that the scientific world that values the progress and change to better, more efficient practices the most, is so resistant to changing the way its findings are reported. With evolving technology and dissemination of information, scholarly publishing should inevitably change as well. So why is there so much resistance? 

The tenets of instinctual human behavior are universal across the board - yes, including academics. Growing competition beats on the drums of our survival instincts. Academics have to work increasingly longer, harder, and faster to keep their livelihoods. Scientific research is morphing into an industry that is a slave to productivity, which is not necessarily conducive to groundbreaking scientific discovery. Given the sheer amount of scholars in the system, many of the Ph.Ds are taking on a much wider spectrum of positions. By the law of normal distribution, very few make it to the elite ranks. It is natural that the majority will get by or invent new ways to make ends meet.

The requirements for scholarly publishing have not evolved much. Publishers as any other businesses have one goal that stands above all others - to maximize their profit and minimize the overhead expenses. They are not motivated to change a well-working money-making machine. And why would they? The nature of human resistance to change is a slave to ‘how big the pain is’. In other words, no pressure from outside? No reason to change then. That is, until now. The policymakers (at least in the EU) are pushing towards making publishing in OA journals mandatory to secure future rounds of funding. 

Paywall journals are not enthusiastic about this, naturally. Did you notice though? Many major publishers proudly announced the creation of OA journals across all fields as an attempt to hold on to their revenue streams. And hey, everyone is used to high article processing charges for OA publications, right? Seemingly greening grass on the side of the paywall journals is being undermined by the publishers’ search for the simplest solution to the OA dilemma. And why wouldn’t they? Their customers are too busy trying to survive to be figuring out how to improve this complicated system. Even more so, since there is no incentive to cut even a small portion of their overloaded schedules. On the flip side, it is the institutions researchers are employed at paying for any publishing charges, so why to bother. 

OA is becoming a virtue out of necessity in this game paid by us all. I mean, publishers do have expenses be it CAPEX or OPEX when looking under the hood of the publishing machine. The profit margins of OA are still way beyond what you would expect compared to the most successful enterprises like Apple or Google. Half-hearted attempts to regulate publishing behemoths by asking them how to regulate themselves further shows how deeply troubled the research publishing industry is. 

The change is not to be expected to come from the researchers themselves. Paid for being in opposition with each other, every scholar has their own mind on how to improve this issue. In the end, there is no single body or union bringing researchers together. The change is then in the hands of every single researcher. The mixed feelings with which the plan S was adopted, endorsed, or nothing at all, clearly indicate the deep conflict full of political and manifold thought directions.

Services like google scholar offer a great alternative to evaluating the quality of publications than impact factor ever can. Publishing in journals that promote openness of the review process and put virtually zero delays between the submission and publishing are the ones that future scholars should use. Evolution can not be stopped, even the evergreen of single-blind peer review needs to be retired at some point. You are part of this evolution, the time is now. Start now!

#AmReading, #Frelsi, #PublishFast, #PPPR, #Scholar, #ECRchat, #AcWri, #AmWriting, #AcademicLife, #PhDchat, #MakePublishingGreatAgain


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