With apologies for the delay, I want to offer a Big Deal Longread for this past weekend that is hot off the presses: From symbiont to parasite: the evolution of for-profit science publishing by Peter Walter and Dyche Mullins, two molecular biologists at UC San Francisco. In it, the authors bring evolutionary metaphors to bear in describing the changing relationship between scholars and commercial publishers like Elsevier, proposing steps that individual academics can take to help their communities escape from what they characterize as a parasitic relationship. Here’s the Abstract:
Two 17th century institutions—learned societies and scientific journals—transformed science in ways that still dominate our professional lives today. Learned societies like the American Society for Cell Biology remain relevant because they provide forums for sharing results, discussing the practice of science, and projecting our voices to the public and the policy makers. Scientific journals still disseminate our work, but in the Internet-connected world of the 21st century, this is no longer their critical function. Journals remain relevant almost entirely because they provide a playing field for scientific and professional competition: to claim credit for a discovery, we publish it in a peer-reviewed journal; to get a job in academia or money to run a lab, we present these published papers to universities and funding agencies. Publishing is so embedded in the practice of science that whoever controls the journals controls access to the entire profession. We must reform our methods for evaluating the contributions of younger scientists and deflate the power of a small number of “elite” journals. More generally, given the recent failure of research institutions around the world to strike satisfactory deals with publishing giant Elsevier, the time has come to examine the motives and methods of those to whom we have entrusted the keys to the kingdom of science.