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Academic journals: an open and shut case

I would normally put thie link below into our Education section but CrimeTalk is very much about talk as well as crime. And talk is not cheap, especially for academics. They/we do/did all the hard graft: the hours and hours of painful labour poring over every word and thought for its truth value, the days of finding the right people to ask questions of, weeks discovering the sources of the information they need to build a picture....then they sell it, either to a book publisher for 10% or to a journal run by fellow academics who give them precisely nothing for it, other than an imaginary status voucher which they can then cash in at the next research audit/lottery and so keep their employment for a further few years.

Academic journals: an open and shut case

The link is to a Guardian leader and the comment begins as follows:

"Some very clever people have put up with a very silly system for far too long. That is the upshot of our reporting on scholarly journals this week. Academics not only provide the raw material, but also do the graft of the editing. What's more, they typically do so without extra pay or even recognition – thanks to blind peer review. The publishers then bill the universities, to the tune of 10% of their block grants, for the privilege of accessing the fruits of their researchers' toil. The individual academic is denied any hope of reaching an audience beyond university walls, and can even be barred from looking over their own published paper if their university does not stump up for the particular subscription in question.

This extraordinary racket is, at root, about the bewitching power of high-brow brands. Journals that published great research in the past are assumed to publish it still, and – to an extent – this expectation fulfils itself. To climb the career ladder academics must get into big-name publications, where their work will get cited more and be deemed to have more value in the philistine research evaluations which determine the flow of public funds. Thus they keep submitting to these pricey but mightily glorified magazines, and the system rolls on."

Following the Guardian comment, there are many interesting and sensible comments. Perhaps I can add here that the solution advocated in the article is the one supposed here in earlier articles in our Education section, namely that "the old order needs to change, not just for the good of academics, but for the good of the public who pay them. Copy-editing and admin will still need to be funded, but this can be done through direct grants for a fraction of the cost of subscriptions."

If websites like CrimeTalk were funded by universities directly, the latter would save themselves a lot of money. Moreover, academics could, through those universities and through editorial boards on websites, have considerably more control over content, production values and styles, and intellectual standards.

There is one vital thing I must add: by not overturning the iniquitous system of academic publishing, and it really is wrong not just "silly", scholars are, as the Guardian says, denying themselves an audience beyond academic walls. From personal experience and having committed the silly sin myself,  I can say this works in two ways: [1] by academics' writing in a technical language which is developed within the cloistered walls of an enclosed system and has no need to explain itself to anyone outside, and [2] by suppressing the public voice in return for re-employment within the university - the technical language combined with a rigged peer-review system contains the academic publication within its enclosed environment in return for a steady and comfortable salary. In developing countries, it is called bribing off potential trouble-makers....

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