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The story of Academic Publishing: from Galileo to Nature


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These are the slides of a talk I gave to the Young Research Meeting 2019 in Tor Vergata.
I briefly presented the story of academic publishing, from the first journals to the modern publication system, passing through open access, impact factor, etc…
I showed how big publishers are making a lot of money thanks to the free work of scientists, that in search for prestige support high-impact-factor journals. Finally, I presented valid alternatives to the present commercial publishing system, and invite people to use them.

Published in: Education
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The story of Academic Publishing: from Galileo to Nature

  1. 1. Claudio Attaccalite  The story of  Academic Publishing:  from Galileo to Nature
  2. 2. Old Journals Sociology and Psicology History of scientific publishing (first and after 1945) Money, money and money New journals Curiosities Conclusions
  3. 3. Life without scientific journals 1/2
  4. 4. Life without scientific journals 2/2 "Data aequatione quotcunque fluentes quantitates involvente, fluxiones invenire; et vice versa", which means "Given an equation involving any number of fluent quantities to find the fluxions, and vice versa." “The foundations of these operations is evident enough, in fact; but because I cannot proceed with the explanation of it now, I have preferred to conceal it thus: 6accdae13eff7i3l9n4o4qrr4s8t12ux. On this foundation I have also tried to simplify the theories which concern the squaring of curves, and I have arrived at certain general Theorems.” 6accdae13eff7i3l9n4o4qrr4s8t12ux 2nd letter that Newton wrote to Leibniz (via Oldenburg) in 1677 Anagram
  5. 5. The first scientific journals Denis de Sallo (5­1­1665) Royal Society (6­3­1665) History and the Learned Journal Harcourt Brown Journal of the History of Ideas, 33(3) , pp. 365-378 (1972) Nullius in verba
  6. 6. Multiple discoveries and priority Resistance to the Systematic Study of Multiple Discoveries in Science Robert K. Merton European Journal of Sociology, 4(02) 237 -282 (1963) “Multiple discoveries suggest that discoveries become virtually inevitable when prerequisite kinds of knowledge and tools accumulate in man's cultural store and when the attention of an appreciable number of investigators becomes focussed on a problem, by emerging social needs, by developments internal to the science, or by both.” Scientific journals reduce  the “the wasteful duplication of scientific effort” Number of simultaneous discovery ended in dispute: 92% in the 17th century 72% in the 18th century 59% in the latter half of 19th century 33% in the first half of the 20th centuy
  7. 7. Sociological and psychological effects of scientific publishing Resistance to the Systematic Study of Multiple Discoveries in Science Robert K. Merton European Journal of Sociology, 4(02) 237 -282 (1963) The Eureka syndrome when a scientist has made a genuine discovery, he is as happy as a scientist can be. But the peak of  exhilaration may only deepen the plunge into despair should the discovery be taken from him. Deep concern with establishing priority. Cryptomnesia (“Unconscious Plagiarism”) referring as it does to seemingly creative thought in which ideas based upon  unrecalled past experience are taken to be new.  Hamilton: "As to myself, I am sure that I must have often reproduced things which I had read long before, without being able to identify them as belonging to other persons"  Enhance the role of genius Multiple discoveries are a measure of the likelihood that the discovery will be promptly  caught up in the advancement of science but also for individual discovers. Contrast between heroic theory of science and en environmental theory of science 
  8. 8. Scientific journals,  first half of the last century   Science publishers were mainly known for  being inefficient and constantly broke.  Journals, which often appeared on cheap,  thin paper, mainly produced  by scientific societies.  Untangling Academic Publishing:  A history of the relationship between commercial interests, academic prestige and the circulation of research A. Fyfe et all.­is   Reputation could be gained through  membership in the appropriate society,  meetings with people, demonstrating one’s  knowledge through conversation etc.. Scholarly culture has been called  “gentlemanly”
  9. 9. Scientific journals,  second half  of the last century Growth and professionalization  of Academia Higer edu. Instit. 31 in 1962 to 162 in 2015 Staff 4000 in 1945 to 200.000 in 2015 Expansion of academic  publishing 10.000 journals in 1980 to 62.000 (2000) exponential grow, doubling rate 15 years From ‘70 database switching to citations, IF Job levels: lecturer, senior lecturer,  assistant professor etc..  Research output rose importance as  indicator of reputation and funding,  respect to teaching The total UK library expenditure in  journals rose from £ 47m  (1993) to  £180m (2014) per year 280%!!! (RPI only 82%) 
  10. 10. From scientific­journals  to money making machines Rupert Maxwell 1951:   Maxwell bought Butterworths published and renamed it in  Pergamon Press. The Greek city of Athena, goddess of wisdom.  Strategy:    As science expanded, he realized that it would need new  journals to cover new areas of study. All he needed to do was to convince  a prominent academic that their particular field required a new journal to  showcase it properly, and install that person at the helm of it 1959:  Pergamon was publishing 40 journals, 6 years later they were 150. Japan Scientific Society gave Maxwell the rights for free to have them in English 1957:  Maxwell negotiated English­language deal with Russians.  Rupert Maxwell:   Born in 1923 in a Czech village, he had fought for the  British Army and worked for the intelligence service, using his nine  languages.  After the war starts working for Springer and Butterworths. 1984:  Maxwell made questionable investments: the Oxford United football,  television stations, UK’s Mirror newspaper group, New­York Daily news.  He sold Pergamon to Elsevier for 919m GBP
  11. 11. High impact journals  Before 1974 people did not take  much notice of where they publish. But then Ben Lewin created  “The Cell”   In the same period publishers adopted the  “impact factor”  metric created by Eugen Garfield in 1960 
  12. 12. Merges and acquisitions ‘You  have  no  idea  how  profitable  these  journals  are  once  you  stop  doing  anything.  When  you’re  building  a  journal,  you  spend  time  getting good editorial boards etc.. and then ….. we stop doing all that  stuff and then the cash just pours out and you wouldn’t believe how  wonderful it is.’ Pierre Vinken, the CEO of Elsevier 
  13. 13. Society publishers Acta Physica Hungarica,  Anales de Física,  Czechoslovak Journal of Physics,  Il Nuovo Cimento,  Journal de Physique,  Portugaliae Physica   Zeitschrift für Physik.
  14. 14. Open Access In 2000  Patrick O. Brown, a biochemist at Stanford University;  and Michael Eisen, a computational biologist at the  University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley  National Laboratory created  the Public Library of Science (PLOS)       “papers are not to be excluded on the basis of lack of   perceived importance or adherence to a scientific field”
  15. 15. Five companies control more  than half of academic publishing 50% in 2006, rising, thanks to mergers and acquisitions,  from 30% in 1996 and only 20% in 1973 But some disciplines have escaped the control of the major publishers: art, humanities, but also physics (untill now) "As long as publishing in high impact factor journals is a requirement for researchers to  obtain positions, research funding, and recognition from peers, the major commercial  publishers will maintain their hold on the academic publishing system,"  Larivière­06­companies­academic­publishing.html
  16. 16. As NATURE became a brand
  17. 17. Scientific Publishing                 is a remarkable big business  With a total global revenues of more than £19bn, it weights between recording and film industries but it is more profitable  For example Elsevier in 2010 posted a profit margin  of 36%. Higher than Apple or Google 20%  for society publishers and 25% for university publishers Successful magazines make profits of around 12­15% This margin raised to 40% in 2013
  18. 18. Why Scientific Publishing                 is so profitable? Governments fund scientists  Scientists give their results to publishers for free Scientists peer review  manuscripts Publishers sell products  to libraries A triple pay system Governments fund libraries
  19. 19. What about (gold) Open access        ● In physics the major part of journals allows authors  to self­archive contents that have been published  ●  Open­access journals have a lower publication  cost (only online, new companies, better workflow) ● Conversion to OPJ is slow because subscriptions  are paid by universities, and for scientists  perspective subscriptional journals are for free. but
  20. 20. (Gold) Open access                 is not a solution ●  PloS ONE    $1350  70% ●  Physical Review Letters  $2700        35% ●  Nature                                      $30k­40k     8%  ● Publication cost  is proportional to  impact factor (you can pay  to get more visibility) ● Acceptance rate is higher for lower cost
  21. 21. green Open Access (SciPost and others) Let’s bring some money  back to science
  22. 22. An idea of Jean-Sébastien Caux
  23. 23. ● Two­way open access: for  readers and authors! ● Managed by professional scientists ● Non­profit ● Peer­witnessed refereeing Scientific publications  undergo a peer refereeing process, witnessed by the  community instead of hidden behind closed doors. ● Accountable and credited refereeing Peer refereeing should be accountable, and should be incentivized by being  credited ● Post­publication evaluation Peer evaluation does not stop at the moment of publication.
  24. 24. Submission through arXiv  SciPost Editor (me) Three referees are  contacted Referees report  and editor  recommendation Decision on publication or rejection is  taken by the Editorial College PublicationComments Rejection
  25. 25. Other interesting initiatives not just good storytelling (also replications)
  26. 26. Curiosity: living without scientific journals  Demostration of the Poincaré conjecture by Grigori Perelman "If anybody is interested in my way of solving the problem, it's all there [on the arXiv] –let them go and read about it" Not only Perelman: “The paper is already quite popular and it would do its work as arXiv document. I submitted it to xxxx journal .... that has my full sympathy.” The polymath blog Massively collaborative mathematical projects The 4chan theorem open e-Print archive
  27. 27. Curiosity: most cited papers of all time BIOLOGICAL TECHNIQUES BIOINFORMATICS PHYLOGENETICS STATISTICS CRYSTALLOGRAPHY ● Top paper: 1951-method for quantifying protein in a solution 305.000 citations! ● DNA sequancing method (Nobel) ● Polymerase chain react.(Nobel) ● 1980 genetist Nicoletta Sacchi fast way to extract RNA DENSITY FUNCTIONAL THEORY ● The Kohn papers on DFT ● Different functionals ● Software packages ● Software for analize x-rays patterns, diffranction data etc.. ● List of radii of ions ● Statistical methods for survavial patterns in polulations ● Method to compare data ● Bootstrap method applied to evolution trees ● Method to generate phylogenetic trees ● The Kohn papers on DFT ● Different functionals ● Software packages ● Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (what genes produce a protein) If citations are what you want: devise a  method that makes it possible for people to make new experiments or calculations.
  28. 28. Conclusions ● green Open Access journal (SciPost and others) are  a valid alternative to Open­Access Journal and  Subscriptional Journal  ● They will not substitute normal journals but can push them to low their prices ● Please do not work free, as authors or referees, for big publishing companies.  Unless you are a shareholder. ● “The moral courage and commitment required to publish research outside the  established prestige­generating channels proved too high a barrier for most  academics” Let’s bring some money back to science Credits ●  scientists figures from Scienza­Coatta ●  Guardian illustrations by Dom Mckenzie
  29. 29. References: ● SciPost, ● ● Open access: The true cost of science publishing ● ● How much does it cost to publish in Open Access? ● To Open Access or not to Open Access? ● Giornali ad accesso aperto e giornali per ricercatori ricchi (italian) ● Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science? ● SciELO, ● The Truth about China’s Cash-for-Publication Policy ● Give researchers a lifetime word limit