Here at STC we have covered the growing problems with the way that scientific publishing has evolved over the past few decades. Two instances come to mind, a conversation I held with George O'Toole and a recent praise of the eLife model as a step in the right direction to alleviate some of the problems. Our voices echoed what has become a growing movement among scientists to do something about the for-profit science publishing model which, in the eyes of many of us, makes absolutely no sense and whose continuation we see as utter nonsense.
That is why I consider reading the recent perspective on the subject by Peter Walter and Dyche Mullins to be an absolute must. After reading it, please make sure to pass it along, within it there are several actionable items that could make a huge and healthy difference for the present and future generations of scientists. Change can happen but it will take the concerted action of scientists around the world. The failure of publishing giant Elsevier to reach an agreement with the University of California (UC) system is certainly a crack in the for-profit publishing wall; the wall must fall. Some felt the Berlin wall would never fall, but fall it did – thirty years ago, and the world became a better place. No scientific article should sit a single day behind the paywall of for-profit publishers.
For-profit publication has evolved from symbiont to a parasite of the scientific community. A few select nuggets from the Walter and Mullins perspective make this more than evident. Based on UC library usage statistics, each downloaded article from the PNAS costs the system $0.04. In contrast, each Elsevier article download costs $1.04! It is no surprise that in 2018 the Elsevier journals division posted earnings of $1.75 billion and estimated profits of $737 million. Translated to terms scientists can understand, "every time we pay a $3000 article processing charge, only $1800 supports the publishing process, while the remaining $1200 goes directly to Elsevier shareholders." Who pays for such exaggerated profit margins? Practicing scientists through publications charges and by not extracting any profit despite the fact that they do the vast majority of the work toward publication. Not to mention demanding that their libraries buy subscriptions. It simply does not make sense. Walter and Mullins offer a number of directions we all need to take to tear down the tree of for-profit science publishing. My favorite, their suggestion for a reply when asked to review for a for-profit journal:
Thank you for inviting me to review this work. I will be happy to do so, but please be advised that I charge $400 per hour [optional: and I read rather slowly].
Please confirm that this arrangement is acceptable to you.
Sincerely yours,. . .
Note that the suggested rate for professional advice is a bargain. It would be very hard to find a lawyer to work for this rate for a for-profit enterprise.