Blog: Research, Publish, Pay?

Starting off the year can be rather indicative of what lies ahead.

For me, this means a rare break from posting news and general links – I’m going to start with a blog post. I don’t like to pass negative comments on items that I post because I’d rather keep my views for lectures to act as counterpoints for discussion. One discussion that I can’t have is related to the publishing industry.

Unfortunately, it’s not the magazine industry that is the focus but rather the academic publishing industry. For those who aren’t familiar about how academics work here is a short break down of what we’re supposed to do:

1) Think about something, informed by previous research, and produce a hypothesis.
2) Conduct research (usually funded by an external body) on the stated hypothesis. This may take years and a team of people to produce a conclusion.
3) Write up the results at a high level, aimed at peers within the field.
4) Submit the resulting paper(s) to journals / symposiums or relevant places for peer-review. If our peers like the work, or think it’s important, they accept it for publication.

Once success in publication happens other field researchers can take inspiration from the work, and the cycle of new knowledge continues [A citation of work in a specific journal produces a number (impact factor). The higher the number, the more impressive the journal is to have work in]. This cycle has happened for several hundred years (dating back to the 17th Century) and researchers have produced letters, papers and presentations on every aspect of our modern world.

The modern world however, is taking things to a new direction thanks to the internet.

Production and distribution of knowledge-related materials has led to global communities of researchers collaborating on projects, or finding inspiration, across disciplines and ignoring geographical barriers. A positive aspect of the internet. In the end though they’re all had to suffer the cost of publishing to achieve work in a widely regarded journal for that all important impact factor publication.

Distribution of peer-reviewed academic journals has come under scrutiny for the method by which payment is required for subscription (reasonable) – but also submission and inclusion (unreasonable). Submission of papers may incur a cost of 100$ a page, as well as additional costs for colour printing or graphics. A sour grape to swallow for those already under pressure from management regarding submissions for the Research Excellence Framework 2014 (a scheme that uses publications and citations to measure the relative success of universities – a topic for future posts, perhaps!). Lecturing and research are seldom cohesive so lecturers are having to conduct ‘private’ research projects to keep their publication list fresh. Those in the digital industries like media are starting to notice a change in the way knowledge is accessed..

A backlash to the subscription model has emerged, and open source journals and enterprising academics have been using their own servers and domains to host their work and allow others to read it for free. Personally, I am in a difficult position because I’m a new comer to the academic publishing party. The field for audio engineering has very few journals that cater specifically to my research. There are a few, yes, but often rejection comes from the work being not specific enough – or too specific for that journal. Do I dilute my own research to get the journal, or do I re-write with specifics to wait another 3 months to be rejected?

Time equals money – and it’s known that PhD students aren’t paid nearly enough [certainly at UWS], and their job prospects in academia are fairly poor. Spending the time and effort on keeping publications happening is great for everyone unless you’re focussing on producing a new thesis of work (not a collection of publications with a theme).

So, will 2013 be the last year where the constraints of academic falsehoods of ratings and numerical data are finally crushed by allowing natural, high quality research to thrive like the ‘old days’?

I’m not sure what the answers are, and when they’re needed by – but it’s an interesting time to watch the digital revolution finally happen to journals. The music, film and magazine industries have all had to adapt and have done so in their own unique ways.

More information can be found from Ben Shirley’s article (here), with Forbes and the Guardian having written on the subject previously.

5/1/13 Update:

The Audio Engineering Society yesterday updated the option for authors to have their work featured in the Open Access section of their catalogue. One of my favourite audio-based organisations has shown itself to be forward thinking yet again!

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