Friday, April 28, 2006

End of Week Five

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.


theindicator said...

What's next? End of Week Seven? Some of us like even numbers, you know!

- Student

shiva polefka said...

i just saw this news article from May 19th-- out of date but still quite interesting especially in the context of this post-- Liebermann is proposing legislation for open access to a subset of journal articles stemming from federally funded research. As one who often does primary literature reviews at a non-profit organization (and so must commonly resort to begging authors for PDF's), I would love to see this occur.