Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Paying for the back-end; research is only the beginning of the cost

Let’s be realistic: new ideas are too expensive.

The research part is only the tip of the iceberg.

After years of meticulous research, you must publish; this is enormously expensive. Manuscript publication may include various opaque “first-copy costs” and indexing costs, as well as back end costs associated with sustaining an editorial staff and infrastructure at many thousands of peer-reviewed journals. These costs come either via the direct cost for publishing your manuscript or for purchasing licenses to view other published manuscripts for citation in your paper. You may also have to pay for translation to English or from English to other languages. You might purchase a subscription to an individual journal so you can offer a copy of your published manuscript to your mom and dad!

In addition to publishing your research in a journal, you will also try to present your research at a reputable conference, where you’ll be able to share with, and learn from, other experts in your field. In this case, you’ll be paying for airfare, housing, and transportation. You might even pay to submit your abstract to that conference for consideration! However, you will certainly pay to print a glossy 35”x55” poster to help your peers visually understand your research, unless you plan to be maligned for a lack of professionalism and credibility. There will be additional registration fees for attending the conference to hear selected research presentations. You will probably purchase a few drinks of KY bourbon to make these mounting costs easier to rationalize.

Succinctly: if you can’t afford to reference old journal articles, you can’t publish new manuscripts. If you can’t afford to support journal infrastructure, you can’t disseminate new ideas. If you don’t attend conferences, you aren’t part of the discussion. There is no good alternative to this process.

For every chunk of new information you create, you’ll move through this process once. If you’re good, these costs will be paid many, many times throughout your career.

Where does the money go? Who is making sure this money is spent effectively?

How much should it cost to share an important new idea with the world?

It’s easy to blame journals, conferences, airlines, etc. for these costs. They are prohibitively expensive, elitist in their assurance that only researchers with financial backing are taken seriously, conservative in their support of the status quo over progressive science. Unfortunately, researchers are responsible for sustaining these exorbitant costs, too.

Scientists participate in a system that both requires and rewards dutiful, enduring payment of these costs. They are systemic, rationalized, and accepted, in that they are accounted for in research and development costs. Ultimately, they are anticipated by principal investigators at universities, in industrial settings, and at government laboratories. Thriving within this system is a major piece of achieving recognition as a scientist, securing research grants and a laboratory, and reaching tenure. Spending money to disseminate information in this way is part of being able to continue doing great science.

There is nothing sinister on either side; the system demands payment then rewards participation.

It is a monopoly.

At OSK, we believe all parties involved are doing the best they can to discover great things with as little waste, in as much haste, as the system allows. Despite the tradition that is this process, however, there are probably cheaper ways to do it.

We’d like to see more accountability across the board. We believe discussion about the merits of other information systems must emerge, allowing the community to identify the best ways to innovate. For a brief moment in human history, we believe both publishers and researchers should be held up to scrutiny to justify these exorbitant costs, to identify to best way to move forward with science.

The result of reducing/eliminating unnecessary back-end research costs will be fewer barriers to entry into research, less money wasted on infrastructure and bureaucracy, a greater breadth of big ideas, and higher quality science. Cutting these costs will ultimately require a concerted effort by publishers/conference facilitators and researchers.

(The above hyperlinks were the first examples I found illustrating these very typical publishing costs – no harm is meant to individual entities therein)

1 comment:

  1. Particularly grievous in this money-making scheme is how NIH grants (and other government-sponsored grants) can be used for publication costs. In this instance, public funds may be diverted to publishers. This is an acquiescence to the current system that has become inexorably, exorbitantly expensive to researchers without the appropriate backing. If I may be so droll, who would imagine the government backing bureaucracy?


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