The concept of scientific journals as we know them today has been invented some 150 years ago to fit the needs of scientists in the paper age: topical, peer reviewed (blind-blind), printed, sold by long term subscription contracts periodicals.
They are still there because the industry that grew over the 150 years, now an oligopole of a few huge international companies with about an annual turn of investment of some 30%, keeps it going, by long.term subscription contracts, by the scientists sticking unreflected to their habits, by their fear of career danger, by the pressure of an enormous amount of marketing, including political pressure, and by the simple fact, that a new service type, whichever, always has the problem to grow under the big trees.
So, as realists, we have to wait, until the big publishers slowly adapt and adjust an try out new service types, such as ‘open access articles’ on demand of the author, or even open access journals in parallel to the existing ones. Only when these will have enough revenue to replace the traditional one, will the boost of change improve.
With 17 years of the internet, we still don’t have such simple services, so needed by the scientists, such as
– ask some topical words and get all(!) the recent papers of other authors in the world on your screen to read and download. Would be really simple to realize (by mandate of the Research Institutions for their researchers to put a digital copy of any researcher’s paper online open access on the local repository); But the big Industry fights against it by pressing for new legislation (e.g. in the US by IPA and SOPA);
– ask for all recent papers of an author (or author group), and all the papers where they are cited , to be read and downloaded online;
– put research results immediately online by the Research Institution (before the peer reviewing), and let the results being checked by the whole international relevant science community in public, and immediately, instead of keeping the paper hidden until some peer reviewers have had time to read it.
In the paper age that made sense, because their was no quick and efficient way to inform the community beforehand and discuss it online;
– ask the author for the full scientific information (experimental) data, computer code, mathematical derivation steps to the result, sources drawn, – all of which might be necessary to redo the experiment, to check the validity of the result, to build on the findings effectively;
– ask for ‘professional scientific information’, by which I mean that a scientist who is expert in his field wants (immediately, free access, everything), wants the results of his colleagues in a form that he most effectively can build on it in his actual research; instead he gets papers who have long chapters on introduction to the field, history, the general method in the field, earlier work, long list of references, former work of the group etc., but the core of the new finding is given as nice to read sketch, but lacking enough details to make use of it, to build on it, to check it. No wonder, that clever authors, short on time, reuse the general chapters of their own older articles to copy and paste them in their newer ones. Nothing wrong with it, and the publishers know it and tolerate it; No wonder that even more clever authors cut their new research findings into small slices, each then written as a stand-alone paper of just marginal scientific contribution. And the frustrated referees have to read through all this marginal stuff; Surely, there are some attempts to overcome this, e.g. by a Summary Service, for example Papercore;
-ask for distributed collaborative research effort supporting tools such as jointly work on the screen on the development of mathematical derivations by a community of experts; by jointly working in a distributed collaborative moderated research effort of a group of scientists using e.g. a WiKi, so that anyone can join and see;
-ask for: given I am on travel in a town, where are the geographically next researchers in my field; (but see an example: say you are a Metal Physics researcher and you are at the moment physically at Aachen, Germany, then use PhysNet and push the button “i” to get the Neighbour Institutes abroad);
– ask the commercial Publishers to be eligible to read your own by them published papers: most will charge you 30 Dollars per paper, even if it is only one page;
To cure this is all too easy to establish, given the enormous financial means poured by the governments into the scientific journal sector, but instead it is locked into the printed age business model of the Scientific Publishers; The motors of the necessary change to the digital age in the scientific publishing area should be the Science Ministries, the Governments,- but instead they do not understand and lump the scientific sector into the more general belletristic market and apply the copyright laws suitable there (where authors live from their work and the work is for private use) to the scientific sector (where authors are paid to do research as effective as possible, and the researchers are to be best informed to be able to do their research, which is their professional task).
Therefore we have to wait for a new Government, which understands the scientific needs, and understands, that funding scientific needs effectively, drawn from the researcher’s necessities, and not from habits and history, with a new copyright which derives the new legislation from the needs of the researchers, not from the wishes for a good revenue from an Industry of the paper age. In Germany that is most easily seen: All the major Scientific Institutions form a Coalition for Action ‘Copyright for Education and Research’, and even are forming an Infrastructure for Copyright in Science and Education.
But the present Government seems to form a firm coalition with the lobby organization of the Publishing Industry, instead of going the natural path: ask for needs of the Nation for research first, what the scientists need, and then put through effective legislation to assure and enable this; history tells that with a reliable legal frame given, Industry will be flexible and adjust and come up with fitting business models. It could be so simple. Even the money is there: Scientific Information Management costs are less than 1% of the research costs, but with the lack of an effective scientific information much of the research effort could be in vain.
Eberhard R. Hilf 26th January 2012