Open Access Logo.

The Future of Academic Publishing.

I am a big proponent of Open Source software, having benefited greatly from it and contributed as well. At my previous job for the Department of Energy, I was part of a team that developed an open source tool for analyzing the behavior of floating offshore wave energy converters. The tool lowered the bar for entrance to new entrepreneurs, from startup companies to student teams, who would have previously had to buy expensive licenses for very specialized tools. It was amazing to see so many people use our tool and even modify and expand it. To me this is the power of free, open source, and community-driven/assisted development. I thought my enthusiasm for open source software would translate to open access publications, however there are some fundamental problems with the current system of open access. In this blog I discuss my views on the advantages and disadvantages of open access. I hope to learn more and maybe change my opinions in the next PFP which will focus on open acess.

Advantages

The main advantage of open access journals is that it is free for readers. At a philosophical level, I believe science should be accessible. Open access journals require payment by the author and no payment by the readers. The payment is usually quite high (~$2,000) for a single paper. The idea is that one’s company or project would pay for this fee and then the science would be free for anyone to access, hence Open Access.

Criticism

The main criticism, and the reason I cannot be fully on board with open access is that it leads to lower quality journals. With the commercialization of journals, their bottom line is profit. When readers are the payers it is in their best interest to put out quality material. But when authors are the payers, the bar lowers. Rejecting a paper is no longer just ensuring quality material for your readers but is rejecting a sizable sum of money.

Problem with current system

I am not fully on board with the current system either, and don’t believe there is any good option available. The current system has large companies making a profit, using free labor from volunteers (reviewers) who are pressured to do it to advance their careers. They also charge ridiculously high fees to read publications in their journals. The price makes the science unavailable except for those in institutions that pay for the subscriptions to these journals. Elsevier is a classical example. They now own hundreds (or thousands?) of journals and do not sell them individually, but require institutions to buy their very expensive ‘bundles’.

A good system

I am not sure what a good system for divulging scientific research would be, but it is not the current situation and the open access movement has some serious fundamental problems it would have to resolve to be a good candidate. I am not sure what the solution is but I think a good start is removing the profit making aspect of it all, e.g. by moving journals to professional societies and non-profits.

Example Open Access Journal

I’ll end the blog with one example in my field. Interestingly enough, Elsevier does open access, and one example is the Computers and Fluids Journal where you can publish under either the free-to-publish or the open access models. This is one of the best-known journals in the field and covers problems in computational fluid mechanics. They do not associate themselves with the rest of the open access movement but do market it as reaching a wider audience. Particularly they have different levels of open access, some with a specific focus on developing countries. They also have a Green Open Access option with self-archiving. These multi-tier open access with the option of free-to-publish is a very interesting approach. It suggests to me that Elsevier sees a threat and/or a profit in the open access movement.

So what do you think the future of scientific publishing looks like?

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