OTOH, I am aware of several open-source publications (usually, ones that also ask authors for up-front fees) that have highly questionable rubber-stamp peer-review processes.
Of course there are plenty of predatory publishers, many quite laughably obvious. Beall’s list is generally reliable, despite its compiler’s blatant anti-OA bias. For a particularly humorous recent example, see the rudest paper ever published.
However it is not as widely known that “establishment” publishers such as Elsevier have a far from spotless record in this regard. One of the reasons I have such strong feelings about them is how careless they are of basic standards. Not only is the price of their journals far too high and their position monopolistic, they really don’t care about scholarship, just profits. In the “old days” this was not the case – journals were published by publishing houses with some interest in scholarship, not multinationals who publish fake journals and journals with no apparent peer review , bundled together with real journals.
So to me the question is: Why do you value them so highly? Are they really providing you with value? I don’t just mean the value of being published in them, but the actual reading of them. Is their ability to pick out the good research from the bad really worth so much? Or is it quite literally their exclusivity that generates their value, almost in its entirety? That you can’t even get the research any other way?
Let me jump in on those: they provide rather little value now that other tools are available. I am not aware of anyone who still browses journal issues looking for interesting papers, but instead they use automatic keyword alerts, Google Scholar searches, alerts when your own paper is cited, etc. The work of Brembs I linked to earlier has shown that there is very little correlation between such measures as impact factor (a proxy for journal quality) and the quality of individual articles, and in fact the glamour journals have higher rates of retractions. Their main function now (not historically) is to give some kind of reputation enhancement to authors.
I and almost all my colleagues have rather large egos in some sense, or we wouldn’t be doing research at all. But this is really taking it too far. I sometimes feel that there are quite a few researchers who want as few people as possible to read their work – they mainly want to convince bean counters enough (often by sheer quantity) so that they can commandeer a larger slice of a small and shrinking pie for themselves, in order to do more research. Of course, not all of us are like that, but progress toward utopia is slower than I thought.
More interesting reading: Brian Nosek and others have written some great papers: [[Scientific Utopia I. Opening scientific communication | http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.1055] and [[Scientific Utopia II. Restructuring incentives and practices to promote truth over publishability | http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.4251]
I am a huge supporter of open access journals. But I’d point out they aren’t free. There is almost always a “page charge” even for internet-only journals to cover admin costs. That charge isn’t paid by the libraries but by the researcher = tax payer.
It is perhaps field-dependent, but the vast majority of OA journals have no author fees. See Peter Suber’s Open Access: six myths put to rest. Suber is the most prominent authority on Open Access, and always worth reading when he writes on the topic.
To get promotions and pay rises in almost any research organisation means you have to convince the accountants* who run all those organisations that your science is any good. Since those accountants neither understand nor care about the science you do they simplistically rely on “standard metrics” and that means you must publish in the commercial journals.
Unless of course you are already successful and then you can tell the commercial journals (and those accountants) where to shove it.
What I find amazing is how few obviously successful people do break free in this way. I know many who could, and ought to be setting a good example to their junior colleagues, but don't. I have not been able to work out why. Randy Schekman's actions should be normal, but they are not (yet).
The other thing I find weird is how journal editors stick with publishers who are actually producing a rather poor product in most cases, then selling it in a way that restricts readership. I wrote a blog post on pusillanimous editors a while ago.
In both cases we are talking about people who have "made it" professionally. I hear from some that they can't afford to change habits, because it would disavantage their junior coauthors. That has never really made much sense to me.
For those interested in delving into the mess that scholarly publishing is now in, these slides by Bjoern Brembs are a good start. I tried to keep the post focused on a single issue, but as noted in the comments there are many other related problems.
The depressing thing is that researchers themselves are probably the only ones who can fix the system, and the technical problems are trivial. All the problems are political: how to act collectively without a central authority, how to redistribute power within the profession, etc.
I strongly encourage you to consider doing this using Open Journal Systems, and keeping it owned by a nonprofit organization. There are plenty of such journals. Even if you don't do everything yourself on the technical side, PKP (the makers of OJS) offer a cheap hosting option. Don't get involved with a large commercial publisher!
If academics were to set up their own peer review system, perhaps using an open source model, is there any reason more research could not be published online for all the world to see?
I didn't want to get into this issue in deail (though I alluded to it in my post), because I wanted to make some common ground with those who are frightened of such amajor change. I support something like what you propose, and am an editor of a free journal myself that does not involve any external publisher (with Open Journal Systems, much can be done by academics at the cost of a fair amount of time spent learning how it works).
The current system is clearly optimal only for the publishers, and severely suboptimal for everyone else. Many alternatives exist, which are far better for society overall. The big problem is how to get from where we are now, to any one of these alternative futures. It is a big collective action problem, and researchers are pretty decentralized and governed by career imperatives (e.g. compete very hard for scarce funding) that still make actual dissemination to the public a fairly low priority.
Do you get the sense that NZ universities encourage faculty to act in a way that furthers open availability of research they produce?
Not nearly as much as I would like. Fairly weak (in my opinion) "mandates" are starting to appear (e.g. Lincoln, Waikato). Auckland is definitely encouraging uploading of versions allowed by publisher contracts (possibly with embargo periods) to its own repository. But the whole issue seems to be a fairly low priority.
Hi Mark, do you mind saying specifically what you asked for under the OIA?
I varied the wording a little. An example (Universty of Auckland request):
From http://statistics.caul.edu.au/inst_data.php I can see how much Auckland spends on serials (nearly $15 million in 2013 - may be in Australian $). I am interested to know:
* what UoA currently pays each of the main commercial publishers (including Elsevier, Taylor/Francis, Springer, Wiley) for journal access
* what exactly is obtained for that outlay (e.g. names of standard packages, such as those listed at http://www.elsevier.com/online-tools/sciencedirect/collections)
Please supply this information, under the Official Information Act 1982.
A further note that I didn't include in the article: I made a followup request to all the institutions ina single email, explaining why I thought the public interest outweighed their right to withhold. Amusingly, the librarians started discussing by email how to get rid of me, while not noticing (for a while) that I was being copied on all the emails. Eventually a few of them replied (maybe all) reiterating their refusal, so at that stage I went to the Ombudsman. I didn't have time to approach each one by phone andsee whether I could re-word the request to ensure success, and I doubt that would be possible anyway.