Researchers! Stop doing free work for non-open journals!

September 29, 2011

A month ago today, George Monbiot’s piece Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist was published in The Guardian.  It stirred up a lot of debate, and has garnered 365 comments so far, most of them strongly supportive.  When we wrote about his article here at SV-POW!,I concluded with this declaration:

From now on, I plan to stop freely volunteering expertise and labour to non-open journals.  When I’m asked to review a manuscript, I’ll reply saying that I’ll be happy to do it for free if the final published version is going to open-access (as it will be at, say, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, PLoS ONE or Palaeontologia Electronica); but that if it’s going to be paywalled, I am available at a reasonable consultancy rate of say £100 per hour.

That caught the eye of the Times Higher Education editors, and I was asked to write a short piece for them on this subject.  I’m pleased to say that it’s in today’s issue, and also available online.  Hopefully it will reach a very different constituency from the one that usually reads Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week.

Read the article: Peers, review your actions.

And if you feel strongly about the hijacking of academic publishing by for-profit corporations, please consider leaving a comment on that article instead of, or as well as, here.  (No registration is required.)

What you can do

If you are a researcher and don’t like the stranglehold that commercial publishers have on our work — if you object to the fact that much of your institution’s funds goes to pay these unappointed gatekeepers for subscriptions, rather than on funding research — if you agree that work funded by your government should be freely available to citizens — then please join me in refusing to review for non-open journals.  It’s the right thing to do.  Leave a comment if you want to register your support.

22 Responses to “Researchers! Stop doing free work for non-open journals!”

  1. Richard Says:

    I broadly agee with the sentiments, but the problem at the moment is that unless the whole community is onboard this doesn’t work. If I don’t review that paper, then the journal will certainly find someone else eventually who will, who may well be much less qualified to review the paper. An increase in the number of reviewers with insufficient knowledge of the area of research they are asked to review will increase the amount of sub-standard science being published. If I care about the quality of research being published and publicised in my tiny area of science (and I do, as I think almost all of us do), then how can I stop reviewing papers in mainstream journals?

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    You make a fair point, RIchard, but I think if we want a better world we need to be prepared for some tough decision along the way. You say “An increase in the number of reviewers with insufficient knowledge of the area of research they are asked to review will increase the amount of sub-standard science being published.” In fact, it will increase the amount of sub-standard science being published in non-open journals. I won’t shed too many tears over that, because it will mean yet more competitive advantage to the open-access journals.

    Viewed in that light, withdrawal of your reviewing effort from non-open journals (and of course continuing to review for open journals) is actively helping the open ones.

  3. Michael Richmond Says:

    I applaud the sentiment.

    In my field (astronomy), there are no open-access journals which have a good reputation. By that, I mean “count heavily in tenure and promotion decisions.” So, it could be risky for young astronomers to refuse to publish in or work with the big, important journals.

    For old blokes like me who don’t have to worry about the rat race, there’s no obstacle.

  4. Richard, that’s just vain! “I am better qualified, so science will suffer if someone else reviews” – seriously? I am not God’s Greatest Gift to palaeontology or biomechanics, most certainly not! Neither are you. And in fact, given how large and encompassing our area of research has become, nobody can be sure to be the perfect reviewer even for papers very close to his/her own line of work.

    That said, you do have a point: a wide choice of reviewers for an editor usually means a better review. But will it harm journals if people refuse to review? Yes, those who do not get the best reviewers anymore will get hurt. No, the open-access journals will even profit: there’s a limit to how many papers I can review, and thus not working for free for one journal keeps capacities for others. As Mike said, we’d be helping the open-access journals!

  5. […] Mike Taylor of SVPOW and Giraffatitan fame has published an article on why we should stop reviewing for for-profit journals in Time Higher Education. How this came about is described here. […]

  6. Richard Says:

    Sorry Heinrich, but I disagree entirely with your accusation of vanity. Science is so specialised now that for most palaeontological papers there are only a handful of individuals in the world who have sufficient in depth knowledge to review the content in a really adequate manner. That doesn’t mean other people cannot write very useful reviews, but as an editor I want at least one reviewer who really knows the subject they are reviewing and as a reviewer I know there are some (admittedly very small) areas of our subject where I am among the best placed people to review work, and where I know that I can contribute to improving papers. If researchers start refusing to review papers that will not mean papers do not get published, it will mean that they get published but with less appropriate reviewers and therefore probably on average worse quality science. Good reviewing is an important part of the production of good science.

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    Got to agree with Richard on his main point: increasing specialisation does mean that probably pretty much every one of us is among the top handful of people worldwide in at least some tiny subarea (and of course in the case of someone like Richard that is a much, much bigger area than in my case!)

    Still, I don’t think that’s a reason to continue to give that unique expertise to corporations that will turn around and hide the results from the world. It’s more reason to donate that work instead of the journals that will let the world benefit.

  8. Richard Says:

    But most of us review for both open and non-open journals, and most people in my experience only turn down reviews either because they feel that the topic is out of their area, because they have a conflict of interest, or because they are too busy (usually this is not because of other reviewing commitments, but because of the general challenge of juggling personal and academic life). I don’t really see what benefits refusing to review will bring, other than people reviewing fewer total papers in areas they are well-qualified to address.

    I think it is far more positive to (as you do) encourage researchers to submit to open journals in the first place, and (most importantly in my opinion) encourage funding agencies to promote open access and provide sufficient money to allow researchers to meet open access fees. It would also be helpful if open access was factored into assessments of research quality such as the UK’s Research Excellence Framework so that young researchers trying to make a career have greater incentive to submit to open journals.

    There is no way that I will stop reviewing for non-open journals, but I am trying to make more of my own work open access.

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    Well, Richard, it’s clear that you and I are in agreement about where we want to get to, but differ only on tactics for getting there. Of course I agree that submitting to open journals is the most important thing; but I do accept that there are times when the reasons for not doing that are very strong — for example, when someone has a study that might get into Science or Nature, and needs the high-impact publication for a promotion. That is Strand One in the strategy to promote open access (as I do mention in the THE article). But I am looking beyond that to what else can be done, and reviewing only for open journals is an important additional strand.

    Beyond that, I very much like your other suggestions — though I have no idea how to go about influencing funding agency policy or the REF assessment criteria. Do you?

  10. […] board, we could pull the last creaking support out from the Jenga tower of piled-high feces that is for-profit academic publishing. Now, you may whine that you don’t want to have to waste time formatting your own manuscript, […]


    Stevan Harnad
    EnablingOpenScholarship (EOS)

  12. […] again I urge you — join me in refusing to do free work for paywalled journals. Advertisement Eco World Content From Across The Internet. Featured on EcoPressed Solar […]

  13. […] readers will know that, as part of a broader strategy favouring open-access publishing, I no longer perform peer-reviews for non-open journals.  (I mentioned a recent example in a comment on the last article.)  I’ve had support for […]

  14. […] the actual slides.  Then we got distracted and posted a whole sequence of articles on Open Access ([1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6]).  If that seems like an intimidating sequence to catch up, you should […]

  15. […] written about this a lot, so I won’t rehash the arguments in detail.  In short: your unpaid volunteer work should be […]

  16. […] Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week – Researchers! Stop doing free work for non-open journal… Rate this: Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeOne blogger likes this post. […]

  17. […] Mike Taylor: Researchers! Stop doing free work for non-open journals! […]

  18. Janis Says:

    to quote Harlan Ellison—i don’t take a piss without getting paid for it. pick my brain, you pick my pockets. Do you work for free, your boss, your boss’ boss? PAY ME.

  19. […] in the end is very, very simple: we have to stop giving them our good stuff. Just don’t. Don’t give your work to subscription-based journals. Don’t review for them. And don’t act as an editor for […]

  20. […] community by editing and reviewing for OA journals, and stick it to the barrier-based publishers by not editing and reviewing for them (here’s how to politely decline, and see more discussion […]

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