Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Wrong Answer

I probably shouldn't pick on Elsevier, but its journal editors and publishers often make it too easy for me. I've experienced similar feedback on manuscripts submitted to non-Elsevier journals, with similar offers to publish in a lower impact "open source" journal as long as I was willing to fork over around three or four grand. I realize this will come as quite a shock for many readers, but I actually don't have stacks under the mattress just in case I need to get manuscript published. Nor do my colleagues in regional universities (where I work) or community colleges. Nor would my institution be able to reimburse me if I could somehow front the money for publication.

I look at it this way: What the editor of this particular journal did was lay bare a genuine concern that those of us who value open source have. Simply saying " paywalls" is insufficient if citizens who fund the research have to pay a for-profit company for the privilege of making it public or if underpaid faculty have to go nearly bankrupt in order to meet their professional development obligations. That is essentially the message that this particular editor is giving me. Scientific work is a public good. It should be treated as such. There are obligations those who edit and publish have to respect the trust taxpayers place in scientific endeavors every bit as much as there are obligations those of us who do scientific research must respect. There is something rotten about a system that effectively double-bills taxpayers and/or researchers. There is something equally rotten about the so-called premier journals explicitly or implicitly engaging in publication bias (favoring statistically significant novel findings over replication attempts and null findings) and relegating the more fundamental work of researchers to outlets that would be presumably unread. The older I get, the less patience I have for that sort of approach. It violates the spirit of the scientific enterprise in favor of greed.

In short, I get it: the insular worlds within which we scientists live are microcosms of our aching planet. The system itself is fundamentally broken. Too many of us feel trapped - too trapped to rebel against a system that is clearly stacked against honest researchers and the public. There are no clear rewards for those who rebel. And yet increasingly, I think we must rebel. Someone once wrote something about having nothing to lose but our chains. Maybe that person was on to something.

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