French fries and academic publishing

March 19, 2012

When my youngest brother was about eight years old, he quipped, “French fries: they may be high in fat, they may be high in cholesterol, but doggone it, they’re salty.”

I often think about that in reference to barrier-based academic publishing. It doesn’t serve authors, it doesn’t serve readers, it doesn’t serve academic libraries, but doggone it, at least it costs vastly more than it should.

So why do scientists, who (1) are at least reasonably intelligent (by and large–insert quip about your least favorite scientist here), (2) have careers that depend on being read as widely as possible, and (3) never have enough money to do all the work they need, keep publishing in this almost comically flawed* system?

Mike takes a stab at an explanation in a new article in The Scientist: Academic publishing is broken. Don’t be fooled by the “tell us something we don’t know” title (which, remember, has to reach people who don’t know about the OA wars); the article contains some new facts and analysis and, in my opinion, precisely nails the problem. Go check it out.

Image borrowed from here (with instructions!).

* It would be comical, if it wasn’t actually contributing to human misery.

Update (7th April 2012)

The Scientist article now exists in a Spanish translation, kindly contributed by Gustavo Rodriguez.

3 Responses to “French fries and academic publishing”

  1. Mark Robinson Says:

    I think that that The Scientist article is the best one yet, Mike! A clear, concise, and complete summary of the current situation. I think I prob would have included a sentence about PLoS allowing full-colour figures and unlimited length at no additional cost, and about them waiving open-access fees for those unable to pay but, perhaps ironically, you were being mindful of length limitations for your article. You’ve addressed those issues in the comments anyway.

    There is a massive amount of inertia within the walls of academia, and the the different buckets of money for open-access publication and subscriptions only helps the publishers in maintaining the status quo, but I really hope that some real change can start to occur rather than have things fizzle out after people have vented on various blogs.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Mark! Yes, article length was an issue — not so much that I had a specific word limit to stay within, but just that the audience of The Scientist isn’t looking for a complete and exhaustive treatise. (In any case, I am not the person to write that: Heather Morrison of The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics is writing one as her Ph.D dissertation, the ongoing draft of which is publicly available.)

  3. […] the paper, by the way. Buried beneath a huge pile of french fries. […]

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