Toward a more open scientific community: a case study

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Academic publishing operates on an absurd business model:

  1. Academics hand over content to the publisher, for free.
  2. The publisher recruits, for free, academics to judge the merits of the content.
  3. The publisher recruits, for free, academics to edit the content.
  4. The publisher distributes the edited content, for a fee.
  5. Academics purchase, for a high fee, rights to access the content they have produced, judged, and edited for free.

We spend over $10b/yr on publishers; switching to open access would bring the cost down to $200m/yr. But is it practical?

Here’s a fascinating example: Discrete Analysis, a new mathematics journal that aims to be both cheap and high-quality.

Mathematics is a good discipline for such experiments, as mathematics journal publishers expect researchers do the typesetting as well, publishers thereby contributing only a tiny fraction of the work that goes into preparing and publishing a paper.

Why, then, bother with an online journal such as Discrete Mathematics, when we can simply publish on online paper archives such as ArXiv? Because, of course, peer review is important.

ArXiv is successful despite the lack of peer view, because theoretical works can be reproduced at a tiny fraction of the cost it would take to reproduce physical experiments. While bioRxiv is fantastic, I wonder if the natural sciences community might dismiss new results that have yet to be peer reviewed.

This is why Discrete Analysis is an interesting case study: results are available as soon as possible, there will also be peer review.

Once this model is more widely accepted, we could very well abolish paper publishing and drive the cost down even further. The Other Important Founction of journals — metrics for researchers — can then be researched and established with the leftover money.

Further such attempts can be found within the Cost of Knowledge movement, organized primarily by mathematicians and computer scientists.