New Scientist calls for the end of the scholarly publishing industry: "more profitable than oil," "indefensible"


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and distinguishes these paywalls from the paywall used by Scientific American for the majority of its articles by stating “good journalism does not come free”

Regardless of what people think of paywalls, I would hope that just about anyone would be able to see the difference between the two without needing an explanation or a defense.



I better stop criticizing the BB store and start publishing those affiliate links…



Maybe I keep reading too fast, but I’m genuinely confused as to whether you’re discussing New Scientist, Scientific American, or both. I don’t think you mean Scientific American.

There is some good reason to charge for articles, in that maintaining a journal does carry some cost. Editors and staff need to be paid to maintain a publication of any quality, and often editor pay is necessarily commensurate with what you would pay any expert in the field. My criticism of the open-access model is that it’s accountable to the researchers trying to publish or perish, which creates a different set of perverse incentives. The issue is confounded by the economics of being a researcher, as well as the economics of being a library. The latter has to keep forking over money to the industry and sustaining it if your institution is going to have access to the corpus of knowledge necessary to get its work done.

There are papers that still get cited going back to the eighties that are still under copyright and still critical in certain fields. In small-angle scattering, for instance, a lot of the physics was solved decades ago and is still referenced because it doesn’t change. While I don’t know how many of these resources are currently freely available (one of the luxuries of working for an R1), libraries can’t simply boycott the journals until they play ball, because it would bring things to a screeching halt, excepting sources like Sci-Hub.

My point with all of this is not that the industry as-is, is necessary, but that there is little in the way of “consumerist” solutions for reasons similar to why we can’t reform the healthcare industry through consumer actions: The market is effectively held hostage. Scientists as a group need to start publishing more in open-source and hybrid journals, and holding those journals to task for quality, while perhaps even pushing legislation that changes the copyright term for scientific articles? That last suggestion carries a lot of issues and I’m not going to pretend it might serve as an unproblematic panacea, but I think it’s worth exploring before advocating for, at least. What’s clear to me is that we might need external, non-market pressure (i.e. governmental or institutional), to change the worst of it.

ETA: I’m aware that different journals have different compensation strategies for editors including uncompensated editors. It’s hard to talk about this subject and not paint with too broad a brush. The same for really any statement made about how journals work in the aggregate. It’s hard not to over-generalize because journal models are diverse.


There is a similar dynamic at play in the history field (and I realise that there are posters here on BB who are far more qualified than I to comment on this). One specific example that I’ve come across, repeatedly, is Jonathan Bailey’s article on the development of artillery theory and practice, and the consequent birth of modern warfare during WWI. It’s a seminal article that gets referenced all over the place, which is still safely tucked away behind a paywall several decades after it was first published.

I realise that the dynamics in the science world are a little different, and as I understand it the funding for historical research is in some cases broader and more diverse that the almost pure public funding model of science, but the outcomes are the same; lack of access to current state of the art thinking, which retards informed debate.


You know usually doesn’t get paid directly in the academic publishing industry? The authors of the research itself. In some fields, they have to fight for grants that pay their salaries, and then publish a certain number of articles a year or they will be denied tenure. On top of that, most of them teach as well, a task that’s regarded with all the praise of a heroic endeavor but is, in reality, given almost no weight in tenure decisions at many institutions. The people they teach are paying high tuitions that don’t even pay the salaries of the people teaching them. Whose salary do those high tuitions pay? Administrators’ and coaches’, that’s who.


There’s a world of difference in the subscription costs of non-profit journals vs journals published by rent seeking profit based corporations like Elsevier.


In many cases, the article itself is usually part of a larger project that will eventually become a book. Not always of course, but often, the journal article is in the service of getting some feedback on a specific aspect of a larger project. I can’t say if that was the case with Bailey’s work, as I’m not familiar with his work, but I’d say that it’s likely that his article was later turned into a more discreet part of a book project.

This isn’t really true in the states, I’d say (although I’m sure that’s likely more true for civilized countries!) - humanities profs almost entirely depend upon public funding models (either getting grants from their institution, using a sabbatical year to finish up a manuscript, or getting a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), etc), while there is much more private funding available for the sciences, depending on the field of course. I haven’t look at the budget for the NEH vs. the National Endowment for the Sciences (NES), but I’d imagine that the NES has a larger yearly budget (too lazy to go look it up, frankly). Most humanities folks can’t depend on becoming the next Jill Lepore or Tim Snyder, either. She’s pretty much in a unique position in the academy, being a public intellectual. Most of us end up publishing our books with academic presses that are going to sell our books for a relatively high cost for a hard back (from $50 to $80, say), which means that most us aren’t going to sell well to the public and will mostly be bought by other specialists in our field, our friends/colleagues, and libraries.


I wanted to make a joke about weaponizing history to close that funding gap, but then I remembered we already do that and that there are countries that are scary good at it. Then I became too depressed to make that joke.


Indeed. That’s what area studies came from, the Cold War, modernization theory mentality.


The particular article went through several iterations in the 80’s and 90s, and did eventually end up in an (at least one) anthology book. So; you’re right there :slight_smile:

Edit to note: it was originally penned, along with at least some of the revised and expanded versions, while he was working for the UK Government. All of which is paywalled. I’m not sure what the ethics and rules are there, but on the surface it seems wrong.

This isn’t really true in the states, I’d say (although I’m sure that’s likely more true for civilized countries!) - humanities profs almost entirely depend upon public funding models (either getting grants from their institution, using a sabbatical year to finish up a manuscript, or getting a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), etc), while there is much more private funding available for the sciences, depending on the field of course.

Yeah, to be honest, I don’t really know where the funding generally comes from. What I’ve seen in the fairly narrow area that I’ve spent most time is that there appears to be a large-ish grouping operating in parallel to the institutional academic world. Folks like Paddy Griffith (RIP) and Ian Daglish (RIP) and Mungo Melvin. And, yes, those are all British examples :blush:. Another would be Rob Citino, a US writer who perhaps has straddled the Academic-Commercial divide a bit more than the others.

For the sciences, my impression is that the universities (edit: and public sources generally) continue to fund a fair bit of general or basic research, while private funding - of which there is definitely a shit-ton - seems largely directed towards a narrow focus on the mechanics of monetising stuff discovered by the universities.

Edit2: to re-iterate, I don’t mean to start a pissing match over whether ‘science’ or ‘humanities’ needs to end the scholarly publishing scam more than the other. They both do.


I thought the same thing.

I see the explanation/defense as anticipation of stupid comments from people who don’t care about the content of articles. Readers love pointing fingers and yelling “Gotcha!” (even when there’s nothing to say “Gotcha!” about).

This way, should some ne’er-do-well come along and say, “Gotcha! You’re hypocrites because you charge money for work!” the author can point to the parenthetical aside as evidence that the author anticipated the stupid response, and that the author isn’t a moron.

I hate it. Smart people now have to write more so that conversations aren’t dominated by stupid people yelling, “Your fly is open! Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha!”

I’m with you. It’s lame.


Journalists get paid by the journal, in some way or form. Either they sell the article to the journal, or they’re permanent staff for the journal.

Scientific journals don’t pay the scientists who write the articles, nor the referees who check the article. They do, however, generally, make you sign over the copyright to that article.

For a concrete example, I’m a co-author on this paper. Most of the authors were being paid by public funds, and did not receive any funding from the journal. I don’t even have access to this article, since I’m no longer with the institution that gave me access.


For that matter, journalists who get paid by the journal also don’t have their work subject to peer review.

I would question whether these journals really see all that much “profit” in the end. If they are, I might posit that their fees would still be worth it if those profits were channeled into improving the peer review process somehow (since many would argue it has some glaring flaws as it is).


The initial referees aren’t paid by the journal either. I’m not sure if you’re assuming that.


There’s also the weird “gotcha” responses to comments where I end up scratching my head and going, “I’m not sure what that had to do with my comment at all.” Sometimes I think people just want to share a related thought or a tidbit but can only frame it as an argument? I’ve been burned by that trend (behavior? tendency? not sure what to call it) since sometimes people have assumed I’m disagreeing with them rather than just using their remarks as a springboard for my own thoughts. It’s hard to blame them for being defensive.


Definitely and absolutely. Within STEM, pure sciences are treated as freeloaders for having the gall to beg for funding, even though there’s no applied science without pure science. Short-term financial return on investment is a shitty metric for research funding.


AFAICT, most of the journals don’t pay for ANY aspect of the articles they distribute, including layup. The authors get nothing, the reviewers get nothing, and the authors have to submit their papers in a specific format (font, size, margin, justifications, referencing, etc) that is cut-and-paste ready.


You’re right. It’s been a few years, but I recall now having to submit the article in the AMS style, which basically meant that it was ready to paste in the journal.


Meanwhile, a grass-roots campaign against it is gathering momentum.

Or possibly astroturf.