Yesterday, I took occasion to channel my pal Tony in a scarifying indictment of the scientific integrity of the editors and publishers of scientific journals. Sure it was an N=1 anecdote, and I don't believe that any journal editors are culpably corrupt, but I also know that if they rejected every paper submitted because the science inside was flawed then there would be no more journal (and no more pay-check). When you consider that the average number of times a paper is "cited" is less than one, you may conclude that eliminating half the published literature would have zero impact on the progress of science. An uncited paper may have been read by somebody, but nobody (cripes, not even the authors themselves in a subsequent paper) has abstracted anything useful from it.
Journals make their money by
- charging a subscription to readers (almost all of the publishers' income for almost all journals is generated by [confidential] bundling deals struck with libraries)
- or by levying a fee (£1290/$1985/€1515 per article in one random case) on authors
- . . . or both!
I'll point out to
Last Thursday, we celebrated the PhD of my friend and colleague El Asturiano (huzzah!). At the party afterwards I found an old friend of mine from college days who happened to be in town from South Africa. I hadn't seen him for 35 years so it was gratifying to see that he had bigger trousers than me, although my hair was grayer. We caught up and checked for mutual friends and we were soon talking about Win Hide. By asking me to help teach a course in ZA at the end of the last century, Win had been instrumental in us celebrating Dau.I's 6th birthday by sipping ice-cold chardonnay while watching the sun slip quietly into the sea from the top of Table Mountain.
By way of Googling myself up to date with ons ou weldoener, I found that rather than whinging like me about the iniquities of the science publication industry, Win Hide had taken a stand. He's no longer working in the old "coloured" University outside Cape Town where the course had been run, but has a position in the Harvard School of Public Health. But about a year ago, he resigned from the editorial board of Genomics, a key journal for large-scale sequence-based biology. Because he grew up in South Africa (albeit not in the townships), he felt he could no longer support a system that accepted much of its creative copy from the dispossessed of the Third World and then tilted the economics so that neither those submitting scientists nor even their institutions' libraries could afford the subscription to read their own papers.
There's got to be a better way.