"On the one hand, information wants to be expensive,"
January 29, 2018 10:15 PM   Subscribe

We've failed: Pirate black open access is trumping green and gold and we must change our approach - Toby Green in Learned Publishing, distributed by Wiley

some quick definitions of green, gold and black access (and others)

Sci-Hub lost a legal battle and some domain names last November.Sci-Hub’s cache of pirated papers is so big, subscription journals are doomed, data analyst suggests. Is that why Sci-Hub is so popular?


Who is downloading pirated papers? Everyone.

Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?
Many scientists also believe that the publishing industry exerts too much influence over what scientists choose to study, which is ultimately bad for science itself. Journals prize new and spectacular results – after all, they are in the business of selling subscriptions – and scientists, knowing exactly what kind of work gets published, align their submissions accordingly. This produces a steady stream of papers, the importance of which is immediately apparent. But it also means that scientists do not have an accurate map of their field of inquiry. Researchers may end up inadvertently exploring dead ends that their fellow scientists have already run up against, solely because the information about previous failures has never been given space in the pages of the relevant scientific publications. A 2013 study, for example, reported that half of all clinical trials in the US are never published in a journal.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.
posted by the man of twists and turns (53 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mandatory Gold OA is the worst idea of all time. “That’ll be $60k for your Article, Sir and Madam and Dr.”

Sci-Hub won because academic publishing is bullshit. As worthless as most writing is, turgid academic prose is 100x worse. Who the hell would pay for it on purpose?

I don’t review for any Elsevier publication (I do review for Oxford, for CSHL, and for Nature on occasion, as well as for various OA journals). I have no illusions about what I’m doing.
posted by apathy at 10:22 PM on January 29 [9 favorites]


The Elsevier statement from the Guardian article:
A representative of RELX Group, the official name of Elsevier since 2015, told me that it and other publishers “serve the research community by doing things that they need that they either cannot, or do not do on their own, and charge a fair price for that service”.
Literally every part of that statement is a lie: "serve the research community" - serve is a very generous interpretation, 'exploit' is a better word, "either cannot, or do not do on their own" - this is not true, "and charge a fair price for that service" - nothing could be further from the truth.

Most mass pirating websites cannot stand up to even casual scrutiny in regards to ethics, but Sci-Hub is a very notable exception to that rule. Notably this is because even if one would question the ethics of their mass piracy, there is no doubt by any of the participants of the system that they are more ethical than the publishers whose (unethical) copyright they are violating.

These articles are worth reading - the negative impact on science that these publishing houses have is greater than one would imagine.
posted by el io at 11:11 PM on January 29 [12 favorites]


The fundamental problem IMO is that restricted journals' customers are institutions, not readers. I have legal ways to access most journals but it's a pain. Even after doing all the validation, half the time my registration expires or it turns out that I haven't asked for the journal in the right way: it's available through this service, not that one, or by pretending that the journal is classified X rather than Y. In contrast, Sci-Hub would be much easier to use (if I used it, which I don't, because it's wrong) and would get me the paper I want directly, in an easily-archivable format. Where Sci-Hub it would fall down, according to people who have used it, is in conducting searches. But that wouldn't be an issue if you're just following a document trail from a bibliography or find a reference via Google or whatever.

It's an amazing thing, if you think about it: the big publishers have managed to create a model that doesn't even work for the people who are doing the right thing, while piracy mostly works for everybody. But institutions can't use or promote piracy, so to demonstrate that they're doing the right thing they're going to keep paying for journals even if most of their clients actually use Sci-Hub.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:11 PM on January 29 [12 favorites]


(editing to add context, sorry)
In green open access, you publish your paper with a big company. They charge people to read it – but you make another version available for free. This has not caught on except in math and physics.
Green open access is fairly widespread in computer science as well. ACM provides an official "Author-izer" service using which authors can let anyone access their papers for free from the ACM Digital Library, and many people put PDF copies of their papers on their own homepages as well. I speculate that this is correlated with computer scientists' early adoption of the web and Tim B-L's original vision of what it would be for.

I've always wondered why this model hasn't taken off in other fields. I had a conversation last year with a couple of biologist* friends who were talking about the dilemma between open-access fees and the traditional closed-access model. I mentioned that everyone should just put PDFs of their own papers online, and it seemed like they simply hadn't ever thought of that and were pretty excited about it. Can cross-disciplinary advocacy be the answer?

(*Well, a biophysicist and an agronomist.)
posted by a car full of lions at 11:13 PM on January 29 [10 favorites]


That said, the context of the conversation was, "I want my articles to be more accessible to anyone who wants to read them", not "I want anyone who wants to read any scientific articles to be able to do so". Green open access works great for the former goal, it does not help much for the latter. Still, it's a good way to do your part to make the world a little better, if you're not looking to change the world for everyone.
posted by a car full of lions at 11:20 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


Green open access is fairly widespread in computer science as well.

I notionally understood that people were mad about Elsevier for the longest time but could never get my head around it because everyone made their papers available for download. The fight seemed truly (heh) academic. Only when touching literature outside the field did I understand that many researchers wouldn’t upload copies of their own work.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:46 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Additionally, (some) publishers allow you to share your papers with the research community but 1.) who but the research community is looking for papers in the first place? and 2.) the primary and easiest way to do that is to put them online (in the case of my book chapter, PhilPapers—I've never been in a peer-reviewed journal). Something not worth sharing is not worth writing plus having more eyes on knowledge will only increase it, which I think is the purported goal of academics—increasing truth. I honestly cannot think of anything that is enhanced by being run as a business, from academics and governments to comic books or Greek food.
posted by koavf at 11:53 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]


The big problem with pirating Scientific Journals is of course that you're taking money from the writers who need that incom...
What?
Publishing papers doesn't pay the authors anything? Oh...

Well, uh, I mean obviously the big problem with pirating scientific journals is that the Peer Reviewers won't get paid. Surely the biggest cost in journal publishing is paying the robust peer review system.
What? They don't either... part of the expected academic workload you say... oh. Oh, I see.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:47 AM on January 30 [58 favorites]


> Green open access is fairly widespread in computer science as well. ACM provides an official "Author-izer" service using which authors can let anyone access their papers for free from the ACM Digital Library, and many people put PDF copies of their papers on their own homepages as well.

It's reasonable to expect that as people pursue specialties in their own field, they're going to have less attention to spare to things that don't interest them or which they don't consider necessary. But computer literacy is by definition the day job of the membership of the Association for Computing Machinery, so of course they will investigate issues around existing means of information distribution and pursue methods outside of the rote shrinkwrapped third-party services.

Somebody within CS setting up a CS-oriented publications site can get their own papers out of doing it, which is not necessarily true of a computer-literate biology scholar.
posted by ardgedee at 4:39 AM on January 30


There is a preprint server for biology: https://www.biorxiv.org/
posted by unknowncommand at 4:54 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


Isn't the only purpose of peer-reviewed journals to be exclusive and prestigious? Any schmoe can publish open access, but give me that sweet sweet Impact Factor!
posted by anthill at 5:05 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Green open access and pre-print servers are all good and fine, but it seems like people still do place value on the peer review process, and I wonder how peer review could be funded if not through journal subscriptions. It's true that the peer reviewers themselves don't get paid, but at least in the hard science field I'm most familiar with, the editors who select the peer reviewers do. Tracking down researchers who are both sufficiently qualified to review an article and willing to do so in a reasonable amount of time is not trivial, and academics are generally not willing to do it for free. An alternative would be to let the authors select the reviewers for their work, and in fact, most journals do allow the authors to propose potential reviewers. However, this opens the door to conflicts of interest, ranging in ethical shittiness from only listing your conference drinking buddies to registering fake email addresses for real academics in your field so you can review your own paper. I'm not saying the current model of limiting access to institutions that can afford the exorbitant subscription fees is the best or only way, but I'm not sure I've ever come across a discussion of alternatives to using paid editors for peer review.
posted by aerobic at 5:13 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


The Impact factor is the chicken and egg problem that needs a real solution. I cite freely available articles over gated articles preferentially, but I'm afraid that I'm one of the only ones. Also I tend to get most of the "freely" available papers from researchgate and not from truly open acess journals meaning that any attempt that I try to push the more open journals gets swamped out by authors making their papers available. We have a position in our company to pay the journal fee to allow papers to be freely downloadable, but most academics wouldn't be able to absorb that cost.

Once the impact factor gets sorted out though then you will get better papers being published in open access journals and those will be impactful thereby creating a positive feedback loop.
posted by koolkat at 5:20 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


at least in the hard science field I'm most familiar with, the editors who select the peer reviewers do

Like, they get salary for it? That seems really weird to me.

The norm I'm most familiar with is that their institutions give editors time away from teaching, a couple-few graduate assistant lines, and so on. That's it. But mostly we own and run our own journals, using publishers like Sage/Oxford/Elsevier as agents for production editing and marketing.

Anyway, an alternative that works perfectly well is unpaid editors.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:43 AM on January 30


Green open access and pre-print servers are all good and fine, but it seems like people still do place value on the peer review process, and I wonder how peer review could be funded if not through journal subscriptions.

Simply put: instead of pouring vast amounts of public money into monopolistic for-profit entities, it should be possible to use less public money to fund open access publications that do not need, for instance, expensive paywalls + extensive legal departments + money-processing mechanisms + CEOs that take home £4.5m in a single year. Win-win.

But the main problem is not an economic one: as noted by other people above, the big issue is prestige. Institutions and careers are tied to impact factors, and those, for historical reasons, are tied to commercial journals in many domains. Programmes such as H2020 are pushing for OA (no OA, no sweet EU money) but it's still a hard sell both for institutions and for individual researchers whenever OA alternatives are perceived as less prestigious than non-OA ones. The whole culture has to change, but it's really slow. Sometimes it's beyond silly: my wife's PhD dissertation is freely, officially, legally available on the internet (yeah!) but she was forced to turn it into an physical book from a known publisher because she must have something made of dead trees on her resumé. It doesn't matter that the PDF is as scientifically sound as the book, or that it contains more information than the book (she had to cut 1/3 of the text due to size limitations), or that it's free for everyone to read and quote (while the book has a small run and will never be read outside the few hundred people who will actually buy it). For the scientific community she works in, only the book counts, because dead trees are magical or something.
posted by elgilito at 6:05 AM on January 30 [6 favorites]


> For the scientific community she works in, only the book counts, because dead trees are magical or something

Sounds like a pretty shit scientific community. When you put it this way, I can start to sympathize with people who want to pull funding from scientific institutions (Don't pull funding from scientific institutions!). I guess what I'm trying to say is, you're not doing a good job of convincing me this is something worth protecting or fighting for.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:21 AM on January 30


Another problem with gated publications is that they're too expensive for non-academics. I'm not in the sciences, and not associated with an institution, but I'm self-educated in some fields to a pretty high level as part of my side job of writing SF games and space history. The contrast between NASA and their free NTRS (which I use for the space history) and the gated stuff (biology, planetary science, and the like being useful for the former) could not be more stark.

We bemoan scientific illiteracy, but what do we expect when academics are talking solely to themselves?
posted by Quindar Beep at 7:04 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


A friend recently moved to a senior position in Elsevier, and I expressed some horror at that: "They're evil. You're working for Satan." He said "They're not all bad", to which I repeated my first observation. "Yeah... " he admitted.

Apparently, the wages of sin are pretty damn good, and the people of Elsevier know exactly what they're doing.

As I always say when scientific publishing comes up - science journalism suffers hugely from paywallism. We're not affiliated to academic establishments, there's no money sloshing around to spend on access - and there could never be enough. The amount necessary for anyone working cross-discipline is beyond staggering. Is it a good idea that people writing about science for a wider audience are denied access to the primary information sources? If you're writing about a new paper, then you can generally get it from the lead researcher by email - although whether that happens by deadline is another matter - but anything else is Sci-Hub or not doing your job.
posted by Devonian at 7:09 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]


This might be a dumb question, but what's to stop a wealthy, prestigious institution like Harvard from purchasing a few of Elsevier's top journals (let's assume Elsevier is selling), hiring an editorial staff, and making them open access? (Obviously they could also found their own but that's a higher hurdle, I get that.)

Such a scheme wouldn't support as many journals as commercial publishing, I guess, but it would add to the prestige of the institutions that hosted journals like that. Conceivably if you could get 50 or so top universities in the US to form a consortium, to host 50 top journals, you could create an institutional subscription model where other universities could pay a subscription fee to join the consortium to help defray costs of running the journals across the entire academic market in the US and ... get early access? see pre-press papers? Vote on the direction of the consortium? Get the prestige of being in the consortium and access to consortium conferences? (Then you could allow corporate entities to subscribe too, for the networking benefits.) But in any case the published papers would be free, the subscription to the consortium would be to a) support the work and b) get some knock-on benefits.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:13 AM on January 30


Anyway, an alternative that works perfectly well is unpaid editors.

No.

Stop disrespecting labor. If there's an issue with doing something because people want some form of compensation for their labor, "well, what if we just didn't pay them" is not an answer.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:22 AM on January 30 [17 favorites]


Why I still won’t review for or publish with Elsevier–and think you shouldn’t either
In hindsight, this shouldn’t have surprised me. There’s really no good reason why most scientists should be aware of what Elsevier’s been up to all this time. Sure, most scientists cross path with Elsevier at some point; but so what? It’s not as though I thoroughly research every company I have contractual dealings with; I usually just go about my business and assume the best about the people I’m dealing with–or at the very least, I try not to assume the worst.

Unfortunately, sometimes it turns out that that assumption is wrong. And on those occasions, I generally want to know about it. So, in that spirit, I thought I’d expand on my thoughts about Elsevier beyond the 140-character format I’ve adopted in the past, in the hopes that other people might also be swayed to at least think twice about submitting their work to Elsevier journals.
Germany vs Elsevier: universities win temporary journal access after refusing to pay fees
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:27 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]


at least in the hard science field I'm most familiar with, the editors who select the peer reviewers do

Like, they get salary for it? That seems really weird to me.


Yes, at least from what I understand, the major publishing houses that are dedicated exclusively to this field have contractor-type agreements with academic editors, where they receive either a yearly or a per-paper fee. Some journals by these publishers also employ full-time, non-academic staff editors to manage peer review.

But mostly we own and run our own journals, using publishers like Sage/Oxford/Elsevier as agents for production editing and marketing.

I guess this is a cultural difference between fields. There are still smaller journals like those you mention in this field, but it is dominated by journals owned and run by large for-profit publishers or non-profit professional societies with significant publishing arms.
posted by aerobic at 8:32 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


I love Sci-Hub and people should donate, but in Bruce Sterling's Distraction, America's enemies bring it to its knees by ignoring intellectual property norms. Maybe Sci-Hub is part of the Russian conspiracy. :-)
posted by Coventry at 9:16 AM on January 30


Anyway, an alternative that works perfectly well is unpaid editors.

No.


Depending on the field, unpaid editorship has some benefits. Proof of expertise and community status aren't much compared to a salary, but they are gateways to other, more lucrative work. This is, I suppose, the standard argument for being paid in exposure, which is garbage, but -perhaps incorrectly- I assume that exposure functions at least a bit differently in the academic market than the popular press.)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:35 AM on January 30


Exposure is bullshit no matter what the field. What is the problem with paying people an honest wage for honest work?
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:42 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


Stop disrespecting labor. If there's an issue with doing something because people want some form of compensation for their labor, "well, what if we just didn't pay them" is not an answer.

I'm sorry, but I have to think you're very unfamiliar with academic journal publishing, because this is a pretty silly thing to say about the tenured professors at R1 universities who, overwhelmingly, are who run the journals. I mean, you understand that they continue to get paid whatever their salary is by their own university? This is not some uber-style gig economy bullshit, this is service by well-established, prominent members of their disciplines.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:11 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


I mean, you understand that they continue to get paid whatever their salary is by their own university?

Your point? Either its explicitly stated in their employment that peer review for another entity is part of their duties, or it's a side gig, and should be treated like any other side gig. Which means paying people for their work.

This is not some uber-style gig economy bullshit, this is service by well-established, prominent members of their disciplines.

This sort of attitude is how we wind up getting the gig economy - once the excuses for not paying people properly for their labor start, there always becomes a new one.

Also, let's note that you've given no other argument for why not paying for the work of peer review is legitimate other that "it's how things are done", which is not a defense.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:35 AM on January 30 [8 favorites]


You shouldn't say unpaid editors, you should say editors paid by an academic institution. There's no question tenured faculty could do the work of editors -- they already are in many instances. If the institution is paying them 50% of their time for editing duties, there's nothing exploitative about that.

I totally agree that academic journal publishing companies offer very little in value to the academic community. Authors don't want things behind paywalls, they are already paid for their research and want as many people to read their work as possible. Peer-reviewers don't get paid for their work. The funding institutions want maximal dissemination (and NIH already requires articles to be free after a year).

It's easy to picture a better world. Large academic institutions pay millions of dollars each year to companies like Elsevier for journal access. The institutions themselves could fund editor and assistant positions and release the papers for free. Same expenditure by the institutions, but everyone in the world gets access. Of course, moving from this world to that one is extremely difficult.

Paying peer reviewers is a weird situation. Would there be competition to be a reviewer? Would reviewers be paid a flat fee per review? In some cases, my review of a paper is "I can't understand this due to language problems.", other times it's detailed notes about methodology. I'm not sure if hourly or percentage time is the right way to go either...
posted by demiurge at 10:48 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


Either its explicitly stated in their employment that peer review for another entity is part of their duties,

Yes, it was made pretty explicit in my offer letter that part of the expectations of me as a faculty member was service to the community. And a big part of service to the community is serving in (unpaid) roles like reviewer, conference chair, journal editor, etc. The university expects you to do it, and they will look at your record of service when reviewing your tenure / promotion case, so evidently it's part of what they're paying you for. Hope that clears up the issue.
posted by a car full of lions at 10:53 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]


Hope that clears up the issue.

It does - it's yet more evidence that academia is more full of shit than the Augean Stables. When people fling around amorphous terms like "service to the community" to justify demanding additional labor to be given unpaid, with the threat of one's career held over them, that's the sign of an unhealthy culture. And let's note that if we were talking about a corporation here and not academia, I doubt there would be any disagreement.

(By the way, what happens to the faculty who can't, for a number of reasons, give that unpaid labor? I guess they become the casualties.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:16 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


So I'm confused. Is scihub.org the "Sci-Hub"? Or is it some other site with a very similar name (and apparent goal)? It seems like it has no-shit fulltext PDFs for a bunch of journals right there on it, but... it's not what I expected.

Mostly, I'm suspicious because it's got a US P.O. Box listed along with the ability to accept PayPal donations, which is, uh, not normally something I associate with sites actively pushing back against corporate greed and regulatory capture; you lose the ability to have people send you checks through the mail or use PayPal pretty quickly as you make deep-pocketed enemies.

Wikipedia lists a number of domains for Sci-Hub, all of which are apparently offline—making Elsevier et al's campaign to shut it down more effective, at least presently, than the entire Hollywood machine's campaign to take out The Pirate Bay (which is currently accessible via a number of mirrors and domains).
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:32 AM on January 30


No. A valid domain which works for me is sci-hub.tw. I think the canonical domain is sci-hub.io, but that's blocked for me (I think for the whole US.)

I'm not sure what scihub.org is, but it's pretty clear they have a different mission.
posted by Coventry at 11:42 AM on January 30


I'm confused. Is scihub.org the "Sci-Hub"


No.

One working for now is sci-hub.la
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:48 AM on January 30


I notionally understood that people were mad about Elsevier for the longest time

Up through 2008 they were simultaneously making money off of arms fairs and medical publishing.
Through its subsidiary, Reed Exhibitions, Reed Elsevier runs arms fairs in Britain, the United States, the Middle East, Brazil, Germany and Taiwan. The same subsidiary runs Lancet conferences, including the forthcoming one in Asia. The Lancet told us how the fairs have in the past included cluster bombs, which are especially dangerous to civilians because they fail to explode and thus create minefields.6 The Lancet has consistently spoken out against cluster bombs. Last year's fair in the US included torture equipment sold by Security Equipment Corporation, who use the grotesque slogan ‘Making grown men cry since 1975.’ The Lancet has long been a leader in condemning torture.
Quoted text courtesy Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, via US National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health.

As a gardener, my wife would consider it excessive to salt the ashes after burning Elsevier to the ground.
As a physicist, her work has been available in the arXiv.org e-Print archive since grad school.
She'd comment, but she's spending a week (away from her research and teaching) reviewing grant applications.

“serve the research community ...
...
And Homeopathy isn’t some fly-by-night outfit. It’s owned by Elsevier, one of the world’s largest publishers.
...

Does a journal of homeopathy belong in science? (STAT News, part of Boston Globe Media)
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:14 PM on January 30 [5 favorites]


demanding additional labor to be given unpaid, with the threat of one's career held over them

What? No, your university is paying you to do it as part of your job. I thought I just said that. You take some time out of your research and teaching duties to fulfill your service duties. It's unpaid in the sense that you're not paid by the journal.

There are a lot of problems with some universities placing unrealistic and unhealthy expectations on their pre-tenure faculty, it's true. But in all of those cases, those expectations have to do with their research output! Nobody burns out because they couldn't fulfill their service obligations.
posted by a car full of lions at 12:38 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


A reasonable parallel, it seems, might be how large open source projects are sustained by corporations that depend on them.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:47 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


And of course all of these things can be true at once. Junior faculty are overworked. Peer reviewing takes time beyond the conventional eight hours. And if you want to be in the room where it happens, you have to do more.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:51 PM on January 30 [4 favorites]


A car full of lions - I respectfully differ with your assessment. For untenured faculty, and some state school faculty who rely on regular evaluations, there is no direct "compensation" or guidelines around service. There is a "service" tick box, but all metrics of promotion relate to research productivity, grant awards (in some domains) and teaching (in different degrees). You can receive tenure having done 3 reviews a year, and it counts the same as doing 15 reviews a year or being an associate editor. Being an editor does not relieve you of research expectations. In small or interdisciplinary fields, the number of review requests from high profile journals can get quite high And there is perceived (if not real) downsides to damaging relationships with peers and possible mentors/collaborators by declining reviews. So you could indeed burn out on service insofar as you may not feel comfortable declining reviews, and the loss of that time can damage research productivity.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 1:34 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


And Homeopathy isn’t some fly-by-night outfit. It’s owned by Elsevier, one of the world’s largest publishers.

Out of curiosity, I read some papers from Homeopathy a few years ago and each one went like this: "After relentlessly torturing the data for weeks, we found one p-value < 0.05 that we believe is not a typo. Big success! Unfortunately our experiment cannot be replicated because reasons kthxbye." I'm not kidding. Not only it showed the limitations of peer reviewing, but it demonstrated that Elsevier did not really care for science.
posted by elgilito at 1:54 PM on January 30 [4 favorites]


Well, Homeopathy is hardly the only journal which publishes articles like that.
posted by Coventry at 2:18 PM on January 30


Psychology has had a preprint service for just a few years now, and has been followed by a host of newer servers in other domains, thanks to the Open Science Framework.
posted by heyforfour at 2:44 PM on January 30


It seems to me that the big problem that expensive publishers solve is the selection of which articles get published.
This needs to happen separately to any one institution for conflict-of-interest reasons - real or perceived. That means that it doesn't really work to assign responsibility for specific journals to specific academic institutions.
However, the internet has also brought a new type of journal to the world that performs this function - content highlighters such as kottke.org, scottaaronson.com/blog/, Terence Tao's blog, YouTube's "two minute papers", and http://www.compoundchem.com/category/this-week-in-chemistry/
I think this is the big thing that sites like ArXiv are missing.
Perhaps it is time to start including such highlighters in impact factor calculations, so they can be made fully part of the system, get better rewarded, and thus do a better job?
If arxiv.org had a list of prestigious people who each recommended two or three articles a week, and they made sure they were peer-reviewed before recommending them, and these recommendations counted for impact factor, why would you need a journal at all? Impact factor calculations would be more accurate that way too - really noteworthy papers would be recommended by all or most of the highlighters.
The problem then becomes: how do you get started as an "official" highlighter? How do you measure each highlighter's impact factor?
posted by jnnnnn at 3:13 PM on January 30


Perhaps it is time to start including such highlighters in impact factor calculations

Or, and I know this would be more difficult work, but I think it would be worth it, perhaps people could be evaluated in terms of science accomplished, instead of publicity attained.
posted by Coventry at 3:24 PM on January 30


So, an impact factor, but different.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:58 PM on January 30


A car full of lions - I respectfully differ with your assessment.

Fair enough. I'm willing to admit that my department had unusually healthy expectations for junior faculty, compared to other institutions.

But this is not a problem that would be solved by paying reviewers and editors for their work, like NoxAeternum demands.
posted by a car full of lions at 9:18 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


If you think impact factor has any correspondance to good science, I have a bridge to sell you.
posted by Coventry at 11:14 PM on January 30


But this is not a problem that would be solved by paying reviewers and editors for their work, like NoxAeternum demands.

Alone, no. As I said, academia is more full of shit than the Augean Stables, and thus cleaning it out is an accordingly Herculean task. But it would be a good step forward, acknowledging that that peer review and editing are actual work, not just "service to the community". And that term reminds me of something that I've said in prior threads - if someone says something like "X is a calling", what they really mean is "I'm going to shame you into being paid less for X." I have little patience for arguments for why people should not be properly compensated for their labor, but maybe that's just my growing up in a union household talking.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:17 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I'm seeing the problems with going along with the original framing. Let me rephrase that.

This is not a problem that will be solved by having journals pay reviewers and editors, instead of having universities pay reviewers and editors for reviewing and editing as an expected part of the duties of research faculty. Like I have been saying all along.

You start paying for reviews, you create all sorts of conflicts of interests like, I'm now incentivized to agree to review a paper I would otherwise decline as being outside my area of expertise, I'm incentivized to reject a borderline paper because I know I'll get paid again for reviewing the resubmission, and so on. What we have right now is effectively a basic income model, which ideally permits you to perform or decline reviews based on your unbiased scholarly judgement, rather than on personal financial considerations.

But then again, I suppose the "academic peer review is just like Uber OMG" axe needs to get ground. Thanks for shitting all over my field repeatedly with the Augean stables metaphor, I'm out.
posted by a car full of lions at 10:18 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


This is not a problem that will be solved by having journals pay reviewers and editors, instead of having universities pay reviewers and editors for reviewing and editing as an expected part of the duties of research faculty. Like I have been saying all along.

Except this isn't what you are doing. In my experience, actual duties of one's employment are well demarcated so that they can be tracked, moreover they are balanced with the other aspects of one's workload as they are considered part of it. As was pointed out above, peer review and journal editing aren't treated like this - it's just a tick box that is expected to be filled in, but no further consideration is given to the work behind it.

You start paying for reviews, you create all sorts of conflicts of interests like, I'm now incentivized to agree to review a paper I would otherwise decline as being outside my area of expertise, I'm incentivized to reject a borderline paper because I know I'll get paid again for reviewing the resubmission, and so on.

Oh, a "money corrupts" argument. These aren't old at all.

If the offer of money would have you act unethically, the problem is either that you're not being compensated properly (in which case making this work unpaid is just compounding the problem) or a problem with your ethics. Reviewers and editors in all sorts of fields are paid and nobody sees this as intrinsically ethically problematic - I find it hard to believe that this is an issue for academia alone.

What we have right now is effectively a basic income model, which ideally permits you to perform or decline reviews based on your unbiased scholarly judgement, rather than on personal financial considerations.

No, what you have now is a system designed to extract unpaid labor through the use of terminology used to make opposition sound petty ("service to the community") as well as the use of the stick of one's employment and career. The whole point of a basic income is that it's given without strings - even you acknowledged that's not the case.

(And to the person who equated the open source model - open source has a massive free labor problem itself, one it's going to need to deal with.)

But then again, I suppose the "academic peer review is just like Uber OMG" axe needs to get ground.

I'm equal opportunity when it comes to people not getting compensated properly. I think that part of what's driven the decades long stagnation in wages is a growing disrespect for labor, which has manifested in a number of ways. And one of those ways has been to find ways to discount labor and justify not compensating for it. So whether it's academia or the gig economy, it needs to be pushed back on.

Thanks for shitting all over my field repeatedly with the Augean stables metaphor, I'm out.

You know why I used that metaphor? Because I keep reading stories about how sexual harassment is endemic in academia. Or that minorities feel uncomfortable in academia because of an atmosphere of soft bigotry that makes them feel like they can't really speak their mind openly. Or the growing use of adjuncts, destroying job security at the bottom rungs (which just so happens to harm women and minorities disproportionately.) And in quite a few of these cases, I hear the academy defended with "well, that's how academia is."

Academia has a lot of problems, and it needs to fix them, or they will get fixed for them,in ways the academy may not like.

(Also, if you want to argue that my field is full of shit, go ahead. I'm a programmer, and I will happily explain all the ways the field is fucked up, because I get to see it all from the inside.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:47 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


(Also, if you want to argue that my field is full of shit, go ahead. I'm a programmer, and I will happily explain all the ways the field is fucked up, because I get to see it all from the inside.)

Ah, the old “I don’t feel bad for being crass because I also hate my own thing” defense.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:04 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]


In my experience, actual duties of one's employment are well demarcated so that they can be tracked

I can tell by this that your experience is not with American academia.

as well as the use of the stick of one's employment and career

The people running journals are, overwhelmingly, some of the most powerful people in their disciplines, in some of the most prestigious positions in their disciplines, at or past the peaks of their careers, and are effectively unfireable except for gross misconduct.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:58 AM on February 2


Ah, the old “I don’t feel bad for being crass because I also hate my own thing” defense.

A tone argument. These aren't old, either.

But you're right - I don't feel bad about being crass when talking about a field that seems to not want to fix the myriad issues that keep harming people and driving them out. Whether I'm talking about academia or software development is up to you.

The people running journals are, overwhelmingly, some of the most powerful people in their disciplines, in some of the most prestigious positions in their disciplines, at or past the peaks of their careers, and are effectively unfireable except for gross misconduct.

One, this may account for the topmost tier at the journals, but they're supported by a number of lower tiers, which also use unpaid labor as well.

Two, this isn't the defense you think it is - you're basically saying that the duties of managing a journal are such that barring the position being treated as a position entailing genuine work, the only individuals who have the ability to manage them are the people in a position of privilege. That's problematic for a bunch of reasons as well.

Three, everyone deserves to have their labor respected and compensated properly - from the bottom to the top. A practice doesn't stop being abusive just because it's being applied to people better able to weather it.

I can tell by this that your experience is not with American academia.

Obviously. Which doesn't mean that I can't look at their practices and say "hey, that's unhealthy." I get that there is going to be a bit of nebulousness, as research is not something that adheres to a timeline. At the same time, I routinely see by all sorts of employers the tendency to use ambiguity in job duties to expand them without a commensurate increase in compensation. This is why unions routinely hammer out duties in bargaining negotiations and then hold the employer to those agreed upon limits. Of course, academia has never been a fan of organized labor, as we've just seen with Columbia University refusing to enter negotiations with their recently certified graduate student union.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:36 AM on February 2


Alexandra Elbakyan is plundering the academic publishing establishment
Sci-Hub provided press, academics, activists, and even publishers with an excuse to talk about who owns academic research online. But that conversation — at least in English — took place largely without Elbakyan, the person who started Sci-Hub in the first place. Headlines reduced her to a female Aaron Swartz, ignoring the significant differences between the two. Now, even though Elbakyan stands at the center of an argument about how copyright is enforced on the internet, most people have no idea who she is.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:31 AM on February 8


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