Open Access: Credit Where Credit Is Due

Bob O'Hara | The Guardian | October 26, 2012

The monetary incentive for author-pays journals is towards accepting as many papers as possible, which obiously conflicts with the reputational incentive of only accepting "good" papers

Amongst the many "books that you absolutely have to read" for scientists is Bruno Latour's Laboratory Life (which is basically his PhD thesis). In this book, he documented the process of doing science as seen through an anthropologist's eyes. One of his insights is that a lot of what we do as professional scientists is try to accumulate credit: we want our work to be read and cited, and discoveries (like biochemical pathways) to be named after us. Whether we like it or not, this is an important part of being a career scientist: building up a reputation for doing good work, which is recognised by our peers who will then judge us for promotion, getting grants, being invited to speak at meetings etc.

And one way this manifests itself in science nowadays is in the choice of journal we try to publish in. We try to publish in journals that make us look better, i.e. those that have a better reputation, so we accumulate more credit when we list these in our talks and CVs. Thus in my area, ecology, we would rather publish in Proceeding of the Royal Society B or American Naturalist, than in Methods in Ecology and Evolution (despite the clear brilliance of the latter's editorial board) -- because of the reputation of these journals.