Role of Publishers
At the end of 2018 there was a lot of social media discussion on the “opening” of the public domain (US works published before 1923), the fact that many NIH funded recipients had published their works in questionable perhaps fraudulent journal outlets. These comments all raise the old question of the role of publishers. On the public domain issue, I thought my former colleague Michiel Kolman said it best when he said that those works wouldn’t be known now, and wouldn’t therefore be viewed as treasures, if they hadn’t been published originally under the copyright system by publishers who cared about the works, the authors, and the market for the works. This traditional role of publisher as editor, as curator, as promoter and supporter, is still as relevant today as it was in 1922, and is still relevant for STEM publishing as well. Scientific authors today can easily post their own works themselves on the Internet or in their institutions’ repositories, and yet authors continue to value the editing and publishing process.
the proposed Plan S for European research funders, and related questions about the role of publishers in STEM. On the public domain issue, I thought my former colleague Michiel Kolman said it best when he said that those works wouldn’t be known now, and wouldn’t therefore be viewed as treasures, if they hadn’t been published originally under the copyright system by publishers who cared about the works, the authors, and the market for the works, see @michielams .
This traditional role of publisher as editor, as curator, as promoter and supporter, is still as relevant today as it was in 1922, and is still relevant for STEM publishing as well, IMO.
One thing the Internet has given authors of all kinds is the ability to post their own works themselves outside of the traditional copyright and publishing system— that can be done very easily right now. STEM researchers can likely post on their own institutional repositories. Yet authors, of all types, continue to value the editing and publishing process.
Brendan Butler said on the NIH controversy that it was more important for the research papers to be open and available, even if in questionable publishing outlets, than for them to have been published in a traditional journal by Elsevier (or presumably any other traditional publisher). This suggests that openness is the only value, or an overriding one. Professor Pam Samuelson said something similar in response to Paula Browning (NZ copyright licensing organization) about copyright assignment not being in the “long term interest of science” (she did not mention whether exclusive licenses to publish fall into the same category).
Obviously for the subscription business model, a publisher must have something to sell in order to maintain that model. Of course STEM journal publishers generally support a variety of policies around the posting of pre-final versions of journal papers, including the recent scholarly collaboration networks— see the STM association’s site for policy references… (all this applies to the traditional subscription model, OA publishing will use CC licenses or something similar to indicate user rights)
So this raises the question of whether openness is the only and overriding interest in scholarly communications—in which case the solution is simply self-publishing or institutional publishing.
If society sees value in publishing, which is after all first about distributing and making content available (even if on commercial terms), and then about doing so in a way that emphasizes quality and longevity, then we are by definition living in a world of compromise. Some degree of openness which nonetheless still permits investment in quality, clarity, consistency and commitment to ethical principles (including archiving responsibility— see the classic Scholarly Kitchen post on all the things publishers do at https://howcanishareit.com/) is likely what society needs, and what researchers and authors continue to value. Of course there will be questions about how to do this most efficiently and effectively, but the proponents of openness over all must or should admit is that quality and care matter as well. Openness in and of itself is not a value, it is an element that must be looked at in combination with other values!