Monopoly in Science

monopoly-guyLinkedin has taken to sending me interesting news titbits. Which I didn’t necessarily ask for, but do wonders for my productivity. Did I say productivity? I meant procrastination. Anyway, one of their headlines was about an Elsevier boycott. And it turns out a lot of people agree.

Elsevier is an enormous publishing company that publishes, and thus controls, a huge amount of scientific journals. It roughly works like this: a scientist has an original idea, does a lot of work, but for that work to be recognized and used in the field it must be published. A scientist is usually judged for grants, jobs and most other things by the amount of publications he has.

This is where the publishing guys come in. they publish your article (assuming they like you, and you comply with their (often weird) conditions) and you get..

Well.. nothing. You don’t get any money for it and you have to sign over your rights to the article over to them. Then other people pay the publishing company to be allowed to read your work. And if you weren’t smart enough to save your own copy, you have to pay to read your own work.

My first thought in response to this was: “But we can’t boycott Elsevier, we need them”. And then I started thinking.. I might be completely off the mark here, but do we actually need them? Is there a reason we can’t just have our own publishing websites and trust our peers to separate the wheat from the chaff? Isn’t this whole journal thing a bit of an archaic pre-internet artefact?

I guess we should try and pry ourselves loose from the dream of ‘getting published in a good journal’ and focus on doing such novel and innovative work that peers will cite us. Citation is a better measure of research value anyway.

Unfortunately most scientists are so deeply inundated in their work that bringing about change is not something that will happen overnight.

“Hey want to rise up against oppression?’

“ Sure,  I just have to finish this assay, do an analysis and read a paper. Also there’s a new xkcd comic”

“Really? Cool! Err.. next week maybe?”

“yeah, sure…”

We are great procrastinators after all…

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