Journals and Science Cannot Coexist.

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Publishing journals is a big industry. The market-size for English-language journals in 2017–2021 was valued at US$9.9 billion for newspaper subscriptions in the STM region alone. Globally, more than 28,000 peer-reviewed publications are available and 1.8 million to 1.9 million new papers are written annually; annual full-text updates are valued at 2.5 billion. Almost 1% of expenditure of universities is on Journals. (source)

At any given time, 10 million scholars around the globe are trying to expand the limits of human understanding. Most believe they have access to the latest resources possible to support them in their search for knowledge. In fact, the reverse is true: the analysis instruments at disposal for scientists are so poor that we are compelled to use non-official and often illegal alternatives.

Much of the research experiences begin with a literature review, examining hundreds of journal papers, reviewing the data and formulating a test hypothesis. The fact for many scholars is that identifying and accessing papers can be incredibly tiring. According to Benjamin Kaube shows that it requires an average of 15 inputs from the user, several logins to various repositories, dead connections, and waiting for constant redirects. This is quite unbelievable if you think how consumer services like Netflix offers your content at minimum 3 inputs.

The size of this issue is enormous: 10 million scholars around the world access 2.5 billion journal articles online per year (pdf). The time spent trying to reach it is a burden on human development and on generating and disseminating new scholarly information. By calculating the total amount of time spent by scholars trying to obtain access to a single paper, Kaube have estimated that research output equal to some 11,500 academics is wasted per year. (source)

Even if you want to publish a paper, normally, no compensations are made to contributors for their submissions to publications or to reviewers of particular articles. Just think about the outrage if YouTube stopped paying their content creators. In 2019, Elsevier’s scientific publishing business reported profits of €942m on just over €2.6bn in revenue. It was a 36% margin which is higher than Apple, Google, or Amazon posted that year. But certainly, a journal that makes lots of money by publishing the work should pay a decent salary to at least everyone else participating in the printing process for their work. You’d think so. (source)

Being a reviewer means that you spend quite a few hours reading a manuscript, trying to get a grip on it, wondering about ways to improve it, making helpful feedback to improve overall accuracy, reviewing journal recommendations, etc. It’s a lot of effort. Editors in several publications receive an honorarium and a donation to their office expenses but it still does not reflect the amount of work a scholar has put into reviewing it.

Traditionally, page payments were demanded from authors (in the hope that the charge will be charged to their university or to a research grant), although this custom is now less popular than before. What more, if you publish on “Online Journals”, you even have to pay for the review. It does not end there. You also pay for publishing the journal. Think about it: You research everything and pay to get it reviewed? Then you publish without any financial reward or pay for it. But you have to pay for reading their published paper? Something doesn’t feel right. People follow this crazy custom because they need it for their career. To rise in academic world, people need to be published in journals with high Impact Factor. That is why this crazy culture has continued.

As you guessed journals are basically like newspapers and magazines where they want flashy titles. But science is not all about ground-breaking discoveries. Many studies have been performed several times since authors have not been able to report their non-significant test results. What a waste of time and effort if scientists don’t have access to stuff that didn’t work out! But those manuscripts are not “flashy” enough, and they don’t sell well. For this cause, many scientists do not even bother writing a manuscript about non-significant experimental outcomes. But people might learn a lot from this, though! People should able to share all of their research, to be able to learn about it and to bring science forward.

According to Research Network Information (2008), “the journal market is, in economic terms, unusual in that the reader in the faculty or corporation may select or recommend the titles that are acquired, without having to bear directly the cost of acquisition. So, the purchase is made by the library, which has the budget, but is driven by the requirements of its readers. Price signals do not reach the ultimate consumer — the reader.” This is the issue: many people do not know the real cost of reading a paper and that is why their business model works.

With all the money journal gets you would expect that they have high standards for articles. For example, Journals (such as Nature and Science) the guardians of quality they often pretend to be; the number of articles that are faulty which they had to be retracted has grown significantly over the last two decades, with glitzier publications withdrawing more papers than lower-profile competitors. Worse, findings in prestigious journals are no more statistically robust than those in lower journals.

Science needs to avoid focusing too heavily on journal publishing as the only accepted qualification for scholars and the only road to career advancement. Resources exist that report how much a preprint has been viewed or whether a set of medical data has been referenced in the guidance for doctors. These can be used by universities and federal departments who pay for research. If these changes are introduced, it would strengthen the science world and accelerate research.

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Written by Wanonno Iqtyider

By accelerating the distribution of papers and completing full open access to them, we support everyone who is approaching an uncertain future.