It's the end of week five of our ten-week term. Work has overwhelmed me -- I'm feeling swamped and more behind than I like to be at this time of the term. I haven't had time to post much. So, in lieu of an actual entry, below is the abstract from a talk I gave last Tuesday. The presentation was part of COA's ongoing Human Ecology forum.
The Political Economy of Peer-Reviewed Academic Journals
I will begin this talk with an overview of the process of publishing
in academic peer-reviewed journals, highlighting the extent to which
journals rely on uncompensated labor; neither authors nor peer
reviewers are paid. Many academic journals are owned and operated by
non-profit professional societies, such as the Society for Human
Ecology or the American Physics Society, and hence pro-bono or donated
labor on their behalf seems is seen by many as a professional
obligation. However, there are also many journals that are owned by
for-profit companies such as Elsevier or Springer.
I will summarize a number of studies that show that journals owned by
for-profit companies charge between three and six times more per
article than non-profit journals, and that there is little difference
in quality between for- and non-profit journals. The extra cost of
for-profit journals is borne almost exclusively by non-profit
educational institutions and the tax-payer dollars and donations that
support them. The largest academic publishing group reported a profit
of 1.7 billion euros in 2004. The net result is that for-profit
journals limit access to information that rightly belongs in the
public domain while extracting huge profits from the academic
I will argue that the issues around for-profit academic publishing
provide a useful case study that may help shed light on broader
questions concerning how costs and benefits are distributed between
the public and the private sector. In addition, I will suggest that
the persistence of for-profit journals can serve as an interesting and
somewhat subtle example of a market failure.
To conclude, I will put forth some ideas for individual and collective
actions that researchers can take to improve the situation, and will
briefly present several successful examples of such action.
2 days ago