Problems exist with various aspects of academic publishing: open access, peer review, publication bias. I’m not going to go through all the issues here, as they’ve been covered eloquently elsewhere. I suggest reading The Scholarly Kitchen. Anyway, here’s me weighing in with a possible new model that could solve most of the problems with academic publishing*.

A simple regulatory framework

Regulation is costly to maintain and enforce, so it’s often best to try and keep it to a minimum. Nevertheless, academic publishing is big business, so pussyfooting around won’t achieve much; strong policies need to be drawn up. In my proposed model, research resulting from government funding (and government funding resulting from research) should be subject to two conditions:

  1. All outputs must be published with open access and
  2. <peer review of all publications must be handled by an independent third party.

These two requirements would be enforced by bodies that fund research, such as the NIHR and Research Councils UK, or the NIH in the US. They would also be necessary criteria for inclusion in REF (and its international equivalents). We’re close to achieving the first criteria, but I’m not aware of any discussion of the second.

The ideal outcome

I think this environment could result in desirable outcomes. The new pressure upon academics from universities and funding bodies to conform to the two conditions above would lend to a system in which academics cease to submit articles to journals. Instead, journals would ‘bid’ for papers. They would compete in various ways; on quality, distribution and price. The price would be in the form of the publication fees charged; The American Economic Review could demand a higher fee than The Journal of Health Economics. New journals looking to build credibility could even pay the academics for the right to publish their paper. Universities would pay publication fees on behalf of academics. It’s also likely that they would fund the peer review process through subscription fees to the companies providing it. A lot of time and money would be saved by enabling the transferability of reviews and removing the need for academics to make multiple submissions. I also suspect that, not having to go through this rigmarole, academics would be more inclined to publish negative results.

In this world, the process of publication would go as follows:

  1. Academic writes paper;
  2. Academic submits paper to peer review company;
  3. Peer review company obtains reviews from numerous academics, including reviews of reviews;
  4. Journal editors are given access to the manuscript and all reviews;
  5. Journal editors ‘bid’ for the right to publish the article;
  6. Academic selects journal for publication;
  7. Paper is published.

The necessary organisations for this model already exist. Creative commons provides a variety of open access licences. Companies like OAK have popped up to deal with the administration of publication fees. Peerage of science is a company providing portable peer review, with growing interest from open access publishers. As the market expands, other companies would inevitably enter the arena.

Maybe the ‘simple regulatory framework’ set out above wouldn’t result in the ‘ideal outcome’ described… but I reckon it might.

*this model may very well have been proposed elsewhere, but I am unaware of it.

doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.1101321

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