Those Who Publish Research Behind Paywalls Are Victims Not Perpetrators

Chris Chambers | The Guardian | January 23, 2013

Labelling scientists who publish in traditional journals as 'immoral' only hinders the cause of open access publishing

Last week, Mike Taylor eviscerated scientists for "hiding" their work in traditional journals that can only be read by taking out a subscription. It's difficult to dispute the position that publicly funded research should be freely accessible to the public. But do scientists who follow accepted publishing practices deserve to be labelled "immoral", as Taylor claims?

At best, this position paints a simplistic view of the incentive structures in academia. At worst it demonises the most vulnerable victims of the current system – junior researchers – and threatens to prejudice whole communities of scientists against open access publishing.

Taylor's position is derailed by one issue that permeates university-led science across the world. In many (if not most) fields, the journals in which we publish are judged to be an indicator of professional quality. This isn't a good thing, as the evidence linking journal rank with the merit of individual articles is weak to moderate, at best. But here science is bad at being scientific: the actual quality takes second place to the perception of quality, which is so strong that journal rank creates its own biosphere...