Do We Need a New Model for Academic Publishing?

UVenus writers respond to the recent controversies related to academic publishing.

October 9, 2017

In the past few months there have been two instances of highly controversial -- some would say offensive -- pieces being published in academic journals.

Some see these as indicative of larger problems with the way that academic journals function, citing failures in the peer-review process, as well as issues with the continued focus on high citation counts, which result whether the piece is linked to as a result of controversial content or academic relevance.

Are these instances indicative of larger issues in the academic journal community? What can be done?


Janni Aragon, Victoria, BC, Canada

Both those instances reflected problems with oversight, communication, and leadership. As the stories unfolded, I was surprised and disappointed that the usual process of review was lacking or perhaps the editorial board did not have the foresight to think fully about the implications of the work. As a long-time reviewer for Political Science, Gender Studies and Education journals, I had moments of disbelief.

During the last several years, I have tried to include as many Open Education Resources (OERs) in my courses. The Open model can include more transparency with peer reviewing, too. I also try to review articles that are published in Open Access journals. The current publishing system is failing and is economically problematic thanks to paywalls and more. We need to fix the publishing problem.


Ernesto Priego, London, UK

Do we need a new model? Yes. Do they exist, or are colleagues trying out new models? The answer is yes, too.  Post-publication peer review and open peer review are a couple of strategies being tried out to make the review process more transparent and accountable. What recent cases have shown is that yes, there are larger issues in the academic journal community; Janni is right to point out that recent cases had to do with lack of oversight, communication and leadership. They also indicate that, at least in the humanities, journals have varied in their approach to peer review - the way many fields do call for papers indicates that many papers are accepted on the basis of an abstract only-- once the full piece is submitted, it must be hard to revert a decision. The humanities and social sciences, in my opinion, should only accept full pieces after review.  This is how most scientific journals operate, but they also reflect a different workflow, as traditionally the motivations to write a full paper may have been clearly distinct. One of the joys of academia is its social nature, but this can also create nightmares of conflict of interest, where closely-knitted groups favour each other, accountability is non-existent, and transparency is blurry at best. These are not easy things to say or to accept when they are old customs, but publishing ethics should be taken more seriously in relation to topics, formats, and authorship, not just in relation to human participants in studies. Now, don’t get me started on problems of access-- when will we stop rewarding the paywalling of research? But that’s for another time...


Lisa Di Carlo, Providence, RI

High citation count can be indicative of many things, rigorous scholarship being only one. What about notoriously bad articles that are repeatedly cited, only to be used as academic punching bags? Do journals benefit from publishing them as well?  In a perfect world, academic publishing would be an accessible platform for sharing and discussing ideas. Anonymous reviewers, gatekeeping by the disciplinary silverbacks, and a lack of concern for the greater good of the discipline keep it from being that accessible platform.  Reviewers should be required to identify themselves. Young, active scholars should be infused into a reviewer roster that rotates according to recent, relevant scholarship. Finally, as Ernesto mentioned, abolishing paywalling will go a long way to democratize access and change the way journals think about their current practices.


A. S. CohenMiller, Astana, Kazakhstan

At a university that is becoming a top research center in Central Asia, we are constantly confronting the issue of academic publishing and how best to move forward. While we have implemented a model of requiring faculty to publish in various levels of indexed journals or top journals depending on the discipline, that can also create problems with pushing to publish within only one type of model. Within education, one of our main goals is to share information with a larger public. Yet, when I finish an article, I am still faced with a typical dilemma of where to submit - the higher impact journal which tends to have restricted access to the larger community, or the journal that may not be indexed in SCOPUS or elsewhere, but can be easily accessed by anyone interested in or needing the information. I found myself with this exact dilemma when I wrote a piece about the process of developing a model of teaching and learning for visually impaired students. While we presented to those in the region and helped others to develop their own systems, we also found ourselves pushed to submit the article within a recognized journal to evidence our work to our departments.

As the co-founding editor of an open-access journal, I am keenly interested in these discussions of academic publishing and what we can do to improve getting scholarship out to a wider public, quickly, but also without these highly problematic hiccups evidenced recently. These types of discussions provide us a way to consider where the boundaries of academic publishing exist and once we can fully see the box we are in, we can then push forward in new ways.


Lee Skallerup Bessette, Fredericksburg, VA

Um, yes? Sometimes I feel like every other blog post I write is lamenting the limited and limiting nature of traditional academic publishing. Peer-review, even blind ones, reinforce traditional academic hierarchies. The form and format themselves limit the kinds of scholarship that we do, that we think we can do, that we value. We’ve mistaken form for function, which is to communicate new knowledge and insight. We put things like a blog post or a robust social media presence under “service” when really it’s all forms of scholarship. “Rigor” is the “grit” of academia.

And we keep asking this question over and over. We keep saying, things are broken, and then nothing gets fixed. Tenure requirements are still traditional. Experiments, however noble, often end up recreating the same scholarly models, if not the economic ones. So I guess I don’t feel as hopeful as many do. Academia changes slowly, but the durability of our publishing model will probably outlive us all, unfortunately.


Readers, what's the alternative?



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