Saturday, May 14, 2016

Be Your Own Publisher?

The problem with paying any 3rd party for academic publishing is that these 3rd parties are corporations. Corporations have the defining goal of making as much profit as possible by providing a service.

This goal is often at odds with what is best for science. Under the traditional publishing model, financial considerations favor the strategy of hoarding all the most exciting research and leasing it out for incredible subscription fees. Researchers stretch their data to try to get the most extraordinary story so that they can get published in the most exclusive journal. Under the Open Access publishing model, financial considerations favor the strategy of publishing as many papers as possible so long as the average paper quality is not so poor that it causes the journal's reputation to collapse.

Subscription journals apparently cost the educational system billions of dollars a year. Article processing fees at open-access journals tend to sit at a cool $1500. How can it be so expensive to throw a .PDF file up on the internet?

Let's consider the advantages a published article has relative to a preprint on my GitHub page. Relative to the preprint, the science in a published article has added value from:
1) Peer reviewers, who provide needed criticism and skepticism. (Cost: $0)
2) Editors, who provide needed criticism, skepticism and curation. (Cost: $0)
3) Publicity and dissemination for accepted articles (Cost: Marketing budget)
4) Typesetting and file hosting (Cost: $1500 an article, apparently)

The value-added to researchers comes from the following sources:
1) The perceived increase in legitimacy associated with making it past peer review (Value: Priceless)
2) Prestige associated with being picked out for curation. (Value: Priceless)

It leads me to wonder: What might be so wrong with universities, laboratories, and researchers simply using self-publishing? Websites like arXiv, SSRN, OSF, and GitHub provide free hosting for PDFs and supplementary files.

If the main thing that distinguishes a preprint from an article is that between two and five people have read it and okayed it, and if that part costs nothing, why not save a heap of money and just have people post peer reviews on your preprint? (Consider Tal Yarkoni's suggestion of a Reddit-like interface for discussion, curation, and ranking.)

Is it possible that we might one day cut out the middleman and allow ourselves to enjoy the benefits of peer review without the enormous financial burden? Or does institutional inertia make it impossible?

Maybe this fall my CV can have a section for "Peer-reviewed manuscripts not published in journals."

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