Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The problem with academic journals

George Monbiot nicely summarises the problems with academic journals as they currently stand.

  • Journals get their content for free (papers submitted by authors).
  • Journals get their quality control for free (reviewers volunteering their time).
  • Journals get their editors for free (more volunteers).
  • Journals charge thousands of dollars per year for subscriptions.
Yet, academics must publish in journals to advance their careers: university managers and funding bodies all like the nice, simple metric of counting the number of publications an academic has published in high-impact journals. And most of the high-impact journals are the ones that cost thousands per year.
Monbiot argues that this has the effect of shutting cutting-edge science behind extremely high paywalls, which has the effect of making science inaccessible to most of the population. When this happens, is it any surprise that hokum like the anti-vaccination movement takes hold in the population? Or that creationist baloney circulates so widely?

I think it's time for scientists, and leading scientists at that, to start submitting more to open-access journals. More importantly, it's time for managers and funding bodies to ditch the overly simplistic measures of performance that are derived from impact factors. Otherwise, things are not going to end well.