Thursday, October 6, 2011

The problem with academic journals 2

In this earlier post I linked to an article by George Monbiot that discussed the biggest problem with academic journals, which is the enormous expense of accessing journals or journal articles, given that the content and quality control are all provided for free.

Monbiot's original article touched off something of a storm in the academic web, with some echoing his sentiments, and others (some of whom, at least, were connected to the publishers) attacking him. The publishers themselves tried to justify their charges by writing a lot without saying very much (I find as I lurch remorselessly towards 40 that I have less and less tolerance for corporate weasel-wording). Still others discussed whether open access journals are feasible alternatives.

I serve on the editorial board of an open access journal, so I know that they can have a problem with legitimacy, or at least with being taken seriously. But open access journals are still fairly new, and it takes time for a journal to build up its article base, which in turn allows it to build up its citation rate, which in turn builds its impact factor, which is the most important, or at least the most widely known, measure of a journal's success, despite the problems with it.

From my own point of view, I review papers for open access journals with the same care as I review any other paper. As a working scientist and active author, if I can't find a copy of an article online, I won't cite it. It's the authors of the paper who are missing out then, it makes no difference to me whatsoever if they get cited or not.

It's interesting that an august institution like Princeton university, in an effort to promote open-access journals, has recently enacted a policy that forbids its staff from assigning copyright of articles to journal publishers. Let's hope that we see more top institutions doing the same thing: the sooner we break the stranglehold on top science held by the old publishers, the better for everyone.