How Academic Science Gave Its Soul to the Publishing Industry | Issues in Science and Technology

“In recent years, frictions between the scientific community and the publication industry have emerged, mostly centering on the expenses associated with accessing the results of research. As libraries, either individually or acting through consortia, negotiate contracts with publishers, an emerging sticking point for many is open access publishing. The entire University of California university system recently dropped its subscription to all Elsevier-published journals, citing a desire to transition to open access publishing and an unwillingness on the part of the publisher to meet their related demands. The venerable Max Planck Society in Germany, with 14,000 associated researchers, dropped its Elsevier subscription when the publisher was unwilling to meet its demands regarding open access publishing. The same is true of consortia representing 300 universities in Sweden and Germany, and France dropped Springer Nature over similar disputes. Innumerable individual universities, including Cornell University and Florida State University, and other subscribers are actively choosing to drop or being forced by financial considerations to substantially reduce their access to journal packages offered by Elsevier, Springer Nature, Taylor and Francis, and other profit-oriented publishers….

Although corporate publishers played essential roles in distributing scientific findings in past decades, there is no reason that the scientific community—nor the taxpayers on whom researchers and their institutions depend—should accept the damaging dependence today. The journals these publishers own are “essential” to science only because the metrics of self-governance say they are. All of the research published in them today could be published in journals not subject to shareholder demands of continual profit growth….

The crowning irony in the story I have told here is that the power of publishers over science has been created by the mechanisms of scientific self-governance. But if science is self-governed, we scientists can change the metrics by which we assess our own work, and we can change our relationship to an industry that damages science. Many of us in academic institutions have a hand in writing and implementing tenure and promotion guidelines. We serve on grant review panels, and we serve on committees advising universities and libraries. We provide our free reviewing and editing labor to corporate publishers. We scientists therefore hold the power to help restore to science both a notion of self-governance that is consistent with the ideals expressed in Science, the Endless Frontier and a notion of quality that is appropriate for a world whose improved well-being depends on the creation of useful new scientific knowledge.”