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Hashtag Scholarship – SNC #DigPINS

Hashtag Scholarship

Let’s say I’m just continuing the conversation and not that I’m super late in posting this piece.

The final week of #DigPins was about scholarship and the timing was rather appropriate. My most recent paper came out (finally) about the role of genetic resistance and chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer. You can access the paper here thanks to the grant covering the hefty open access fee: https://doi.org/10.1080/19336896.2018.1474671

Scholarship, particularly in the digital world has been an area of interest for me especially in terms of access. The current publishing model is this: (1) Scientist writes paper based on research paid for by a grant often from a government entity – NSF, USFW, NIH… etc. (2) Scientist submits paper to a journal for peer-review, depends on the journal but most have very small administrative roles and few are paid. (3) Associate editor – unpaid – arranges review from two or three experts in the field. (4) Reviewers spend time reading, commenting, and evaluating the manuscript – again unpaid, but necessary for tenure and promotion. (5) Once accepted the manuscript goes from journal to the publisher for type-setting and generation of a proof.

Only the last step involves payment, my article for open access cost $2950 USD. The journal sees little if any of that money, the associate editor doesn’t see any, nor do the reviewers or authors of the research. There have been a number of studies looking at the costs of publishing, sure servers are expensive, and having the skills to prepare the entire publication is valuable. But in the age of open access and free exchange  of information, I find the current model troubling. Here is a figure from a blog that articulates my frustration much better: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/follow-the-money-what-really-matters-when-choosing-a-journal/ 


Figure 2- trends in publishing. Data from American Research Librarians statistical summary 2004-2005 and 2010-2011


If it isn’t obvious from the figure, publisher revenues have gone up 4-5x the rate of inflation. Online availability came out in the early 2000s and they started bundling access, therefore lowering the individual cost of a journal but now institutions are paying for access to journals they may not need. Apparently they took a page from the cable company play book.

Alternatives have come out including preprint archives and sites like Researchgate. Copyright comes into question as to what the author can and cannot post and where. Researchers have been slow to adopt these, in part because they lack the prestige and mostly because the ones with the influence to make changes are fine with the current model as their research funds and institutions can easily afford these fees. Small institutions like SNC are forced to find work arounds for access or in the case of publishing – accept limiting access to their work. For my work, I’m fortunate that I was able to pay for open access… probably won’t be the case for some of my other papers. So even if I rely on my network to distribute the paper and increase visibility, few will be able to easily access it. If nobody sees your work then what is the point?

I’ll step off my soapbox now and get back to work.

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