Science: Disrupt

I was interviewed for Science Disrupt about scholarly publishing, academic reform, and the usual stuff. Enjoy!

Source: Science: Disrupt

The cost of knowledge is extraordinarily low and the cost of withholding knowledge is extraordinarily high

By Lawrence Yolland

Jon Tennant, a palaeontologist and Batman of Open Access sat down with us (over Skype) to discuss the value of open access and wade through the mud of scientific publishing. Jon is relentless, and there was never a sense of deflation over the current situation, only a drive to push for more transparency and actively pursue new outlets

For those in the open access community, it would come as no surprise that prior to the interview, Jon sent us what my co-Science: Disrupt(er) Gemma, considered a brilliant mind dump of awesomeness – which is to say he concisely, eloquently and humorously spilt the beans on all things publishing. So with that said, here we go:  SD: When it comes to scientific publishing, there’s enormous cost involved - but what exactly are we paying for? JT: In the case of a journal like Science or Nature, it’s prestige. You get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve beaten the editorial criteria that results in a 90%+ rejection rate. You’ve also reduced the content of your work to two pages, hidden all the data in supplementary material, squashed the images allowed in the text to thumbnail size…and then paid to allow access to that single file. But a Nature publication defines your career, and that’s why researchers pine for them. Some journals charge as much as $6000 (including VAT – often excluded from APC prices up front), while others, such as PeerJ offer $99/author for a lifetime of publishing (one per year) – There are also others that are free to read and are funded by external grants or funders. How is that massive disparity offering good value for money to those who fund us? SD: You’ve certainly not been holding back on the subject of journal paywalls and embargoes… JT: Paywalls are a monstrosity, designed to prevent access to those without financial or academic privilege. If you think about it, it explicitly reveals the business models of traditional publishers, which is, preventing access to knowledge. Green open access embargo periods are a hilarious irony where publishers truly have shot themselves in the foot. If they offer a competitive product, then why do they need to enforce an embargo period on what is essentially a peer reviewed word document? Surely what they offer is substantially more value? But there’s something much more sinister to consider; recently a group of researchers saw fit to publish Ebola research in a ‘glamour magazine’ behind a paywall; they cared more about brand association than the content. This could be life-saving research, why did they not at least educate themselves on the preprint procedure and archive the paper in the pre-referee stage so that is was freely accessible (which is compliant with the journal policy in this case)? This is because we have distorted our incentive and assessment system to the extent that where something is published matters more than what we publish.  “the currency represented by publishing is used as a proxy for the true currency of research, which is quality” SD: Publications are the currency of academia and getting into Nature or another top tier journal suggests a particularly impactful, sexy and noteworthy piece of research within these circles, right? JT: At the end of the day if you were to apply as a post-doc with a list of publications in journals with a comparatively low impact factor, you probably wouldn’t be let in the door. The thing to reflect on, is that the currency represented by publishing and journal brands is used as a proxy for the true currency of research, which is quality. Another irony here is that we continuously commit to such nonsensical practices, despite supposedly being the harbingers of evidence and reason. SD: Impact factor is a hugely flawed system that is deemed a measure of journal quality but how did it come to be in the first place? JT: The impact factor was originally designed to assess which journals are being cited most, so that librarians can check which subscriptions are worth renewing! How it became used to assess individuals and research articles is through a combination of pressure, overburdened assessment systems, and laziness, along with having it forced down our throats by publishers at every turn. There are documents like the Leiden Manifesto, The Metrics Tide, and the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment that all point out problems with the IF, and there are some interesting potential alternatives, such as a richer suite of article level metrics.  “The irony of it being a gold standard is that it is neither golden nor a standard.” SD: One important area to cover is peer review, a process that is widely seen as a gold standard, effectively a banner for the rigour of the scientific method, but it’s not quite the case is it? JT: The irony of it being a gold standard is that it is neither golden nor a standard. A sta


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