Publishers cannot be blamed for sticking to the golden goose



Scientists and Scholars (hereafter “S&S”) are a strange group. They are obviously not savvy in business matters, otherwise they would be doing business. (Some do—not necessarily the best of them all.)

S&S are also very different from those whose writing profession (fiction and non-fiction writers, journalists, copywriters, and freelance trolls) sell their writing for a fee. Technical literature is a product written for profit. Articles in S&S research journals are not written for sale. They are written to be read, used, applied and built upon by other S&S. They are contributions to knowledge.

Not that S&S are altruists or independently wealthy. The extent to which her work is read, used, applied, and built upon determines her career. Their work is funded by their employers, usually universities and research institutes, and by research funding councils – the latter often state-owned, with tax money. Rather than selling their words, S&S have a keen interest in making their work freely available to all potential users.

In the old pre-digital days of S&S publishing, the true cost of making print-to-paper available to potential users required the services of another profession for production and delivery. But (to put it in a nutshell) those days are gone forever. Publishing online isn’t entirely free, but the cost is so ridiculously low that all an S&S writer has to pay for is a blog service provider, much like a phone or email service provider.

In this world, the idea of ​​paying a fee of £2,700 (US$3,400) per article to have it published is as grotesque as it is gratuitous.

Not quite, but almost. There is one factor I left out. S&S research is peer-to-peer research, from trained specialists to trained specialists. Therefore, there is a phase of ‘quality control’ called ‘peer review’, in which experts ‘review’ the work of their peers in order to assess it for ‘publishability’.

Peer Review and Publishability

Publishability where? In a peer-reviewed journal whose imprimatur and track record attest to the level of quality. Why? After all, reading, using, and applying research to create more research takes time and effort. There’s no time to just take what might be in an uncredited S&S blog post and take the risk of using it and building on it.

There is a debate about that. We live in an unknown era of uncontrolled digital disinformation of all kinds. Some feel that reliance on unreferenced, uncertified S&S information in the ChatGPT era is not just for the creators, users, and S&S research (i.e., human knowledge ) itself is risky; Uncontrolled S&S can also be risky for ordinary people whose health and safety depends on it.

However, others feel that S&S’s traditional quality control, which consists not only of peer review and pre-release certification, but also of the cumulative, self-correcting nature of S&S research even over time, is sufficient.

Research cannot be built on shaky foundations in the long run. This may be more true of the first “S” in S&S (science, including technology), which is considered more objective than the second “S” (scholarship). But those who take a closer look at the actual cognitive, social, and political dynamics of scientific inquiry may not be so confident.

Given the lightning-fast, global reach of digital disinformation, it’s easy to imagine the immediate catastrophe that could be unleashed by an uncredited, pseudo-scientific S&S blog post convincingly authored by a mercenary-handled (be it for combat or trade) ChatGPT fake, deadly but widely used “cure” during COVID pandemic.

This is perhaps all too flashy or at least premature. Furthermore, it is irrelevant to the issue of S&S’s publishing costs since peer reviews are not, never have been, and could never be offered by publishers. It is and always has been provided by the peers, the S&S community itself. And provided free of charge.

Who’s to blame?

So, you should be wondering what is the point of charging S&S authors trying to publish their giveaways to report their giveaways, given the near-zero cost of online publishing and the fact that it’s free could possibly explain, let alone justify, quality control by peer reviewers. path findings?

The answer is not as complicated as you might imagine, but the answer is shocking: The culprits are not the publishers, but the S&S writers, their institutions, and their funders! The publishers are just businessmen trying to make money. In fact, £2,700 is the same amount they made per article before the era of online access, in the Gutenberg era of printing on paper.

Under increasing “open access” pressure from S&S authors, institutional libraries, research funders, and activists, publishers made the obvious business decision: “You want open access for all users?” Pre-pay for release and you’ve got it!”

How much did the publishers charge? The same amount per item they earned from subscriptions. Not considering the fundamental change in the actual cost of providing online access, nor the fact that the only remaining essential service they offered – peer review – was not provided by them at all but by the peer community for free . The same ones who would now pay the “publishing fees”.

So you can’t blame publishers for trying to hold on to their golden goose: free articles from authors; free refereeing services from peers; no printed edition required; So the publisher has no choice but to collect the rent.

All other goods and services are now obsolete – or almost obsolete: reduced to the tiny, trivial cost per article of managing peer review by paying secretaries to run the collection and monitoring software. And in a shoddy way, practically the way commercial products are advertised to potential consumers through spam. Except that the consumers here are the peers offering their services for free (and increasingly inferior).


Why are they even doing this? The answer will shock you again: superstition; the same superstition that drives authors (and their institutions and their funders) to comply with their publishers’ outrageous copyright terms: “If I’m not a reviewer, the journal will stop publishing my own work!” If I have my own reviewed, revised work publish online for free for all, I will be prosecuted by my publisher for copyright infringement and the magazine will no longer publish my own work.” Publish or perish.

And the author institutions too thought and acted on the same superstitious (and lazy and shameless) principles. The university libraries, which had been campaigning for lower subscription prices, immediately lost interest when their subscription burden was lifted.

The publishers’ golden goose had successfully transitioned to “Fool’s-Gold OA” (Open Access), meaning the outdated costs continued to be paid at the same price, but as author-end publishing fees rather than user-end -Subscription fees for access. (“Fair-Gold OA” would only have charged the small fee for administering the peer review.)

The publishers are to be congratulated on pulling off this scam with the outdated 40 per cent mark-up of £2,700 per item in return for next to nothing hanging from a skyhook gleefully as Cheshire Cat’s smile .

It’s not like the S&S community has no other choice. They were offered “Green OA” self-archiving as an alternative, with the University of Southampton providing the free software for creating institutional Green OA repositories, as well as the institutional and funder mandate model that would require all university researchers and all recipients of research funds, their to archive (“or perish”) peer-reviewed research papers themselves immediately after acceptance for publication.

This policy would have forced publishers to limit themselves to the minimal remaining cost of managing peer reviews. But superstition (and habit and digital laziness — finger) has taken hold, and publishers are still laughing to the bank.

Stevan Harnad is Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Science at the University of Southampton in the UK, Professor of Psychology at the University of Quebec in Montreal in Canada and publisher of Animal Consciousness (an online-only journal of Fair-Gold OA, published and subsidized by Well Being International: no publication fee, no access fee). He is a former OA Archivist who has tired to try to persuade scientists and scholars to overcome their superstitions and just move their fingers.

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