On #PeerRevWk16: An Entirely Cynical Perspective

N. C. Hall  /  12/10/2016


#PeerRevWk16 is an annual effort by academic publishers to bolster flagging peer review participation, quality, and speed through explicit statements of thanks and recognition.

Although this initiative could be viewed as a face-valid effort by a public service industry charged by governments and post-secondary institutions with the sacred, inestimable responsibility of research dissemination, there are major ongoing issues underlying academics’ reluctance concerning peer reviews that this initiative does not discuss. From huge publisher profits afforded by gouging public institutions and not meaningfully compensating academics to unjustifiably high open access fees and peer review patents to stifle competition, there are serious systemic problems underlying the peer review process that this hashtag effort does little to address.

Basically, I started to feel uncomfortable seeing publishers attempt to dominate a hashtag ostensibly “for” academics with tweets containing marketing-department infographics on what academics want, promoting a new reviewer ratings system, or sharing “how-to” guides to cost-effectively improve the quality/speed of free academic labour. In response, it seemed important to balance this profitable status quo narrative by highlighting the uncomfortable realities of the peer review process for academics. I am by no means an expert on higher education policy/ethics/economics, I just wanted to share information and balance the discussion about how to promote research quality by better supporting those who do it.

It all started a few weeks ago when I first noticed tweets from academic publishers pop up in my timeline underscoring the importance and novelty of thanking peer reviewers as well as quantifying/ranking peer review efforts:

In typical fashion, I responded with flippant sarcastic commentary, thinking it to be an obviously transparent (and hopefully temporary) publisher effort to pacify volunteer reviewers with a pat on the back and self-relevant data:

But this weird gratitude parade only seemed to ramping up and it got me thinking more seriously about the motivation behind these reviewer appreciation efforts:

As a good academic, I supplemented these devastating hot takes with references to external sources outlining the growing dissent concerning the publication process:

With such an eviscerating response to this uncomfortable wave of public publisher affection, I thought my job was done. However, I soon realized there was an actual hashtag for this initiative – #PeerRevWk16 – and an entire week to come of publisher efforts to spam Twitter with pre-scheduled, strategic gratitude PR aimed at thanking academics by educating them as to their peer review value and responsibilities.

Some #PeerRevWk16 publisher tweets hoped to inform researchers of the importance of peer reviews as the cornerstone of scientific inquiry, as if they were somehow not addressing individuals who by definition should be not only intimately familiar with the scientific process but have based their research careers largely on this premise:

Other tweets expressed heartfelt thanks to reviewers for their time and effort through mass cut-and-paste “publishers are people too” gestures garnering remarkably few RTs or replies:

Publisher spam also included regularly scheduled marketing-office infographic blasts educating academics about why they do (read “should do”) peer reviews, with most results ironically showing academics to have already decided on better ways to spend their time:

And then there were the tweets consistently promoting the new reviewer recognition system “Publons”; a publisher-owned effort to bolster peer reviewer commitment by tracking, quantifying, and ranking peer reviewers:

But perhaps the most condescending #PeerRevWk16 tweets were those gently informing academics as to how they could better perform their free publisher labour:

So I admittedly got a bit snarky:

And being on sabbatical, words were soon diverted from manuscript revisions to countering this increasingly awkward, oblivious, and patronizing publisher narrative implying that problematic peer review disengagement could be remedied not by meaningful compensation or real talk about peer review costs, but by a Twitter campaign aimed at educating, flattering, and shaming academics. Again, I’m not an expert on the academic publishing industry, but it seemed important to share some thoughts on issues that were clearly being avoided such as:

1.  The peer review burden on vulnerable academics:

2.  The ethics of peer review compensation:

3.  In-store credit as review compensation:

4.  Financial compensation for peer reviews:

5.  The exclusion of industry expertise:

6.  Peer review sampling bias:

7.  The “gamification” of peer review:

8.  My personal review perspective:

9.  Public perception of publisher appreciation efforts:

So while the #PeerRevWk16 initiative does on the surface present as an effort to simply thank and support peer reviewers, a quick consideration of the academic publishing landscape suggests that it may also represent an effort to whitewash growing public discontent over a massively profitable industry that does shamefully little to show respect for the free academic labour on which it relies:

So for good measure, I doubled down with @AcademicsSay to better punctuate the #PeerRevWk16 publisher noise:

Even Nature got in on the fun:

And despite publisher-provided highlight reels of #PeerRevWk16 in which most of the above is effectively excluded, the narrative that resonated most with academics was obvious:

As to where to go from here, there were a few thoughts:

Maybe it’s just me, but this hashtag effort at best seems intended to distract from publisher problems or promote new publisher products. At worst, it seems a fundamentally misguided attempt to sustain profits by increasing peer review engagement among (a) inexperienced, less expert academics not yet familiar with the scientific process, (b) early career researchers trying any way they can to demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice their time and energy to potential employers, or (c) already overburdened academics disillusioned with the publication process who need and will take the self-esteem boost despite its patronizing tone.

Is a thank you from publishers for peer reviewing appreciated? Perhaps, but that’s not why we do it. And as a transparent attempt to placate a base increasingly dissatisfied with publishers profiting from their good will, institutional/disciplinary pressure, and passion for science, the #PeerRevWk16 effort kinda looks like using the “tip” section of a bill to provide actual tips on how to serve publishers better:

Of course, I might be entirely off-base in interpreting #PeerRevWk16 as anything other than a face-valid attempt to show some much-needed appreciation to hardworking volunteers. But as a leading authority on pandering to academics on Twitter, I can safely say that academic publisher trolling could use some work.

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What I Learned About Writing by Not

Author: Rebecca A. Adelman
Original: www.rebeccaaadelman.com


All is not lost.  What I have lacked in tangible productivity over my long season of writer’s block (which seems finally to be limping its way to a close), I have gained in new understandings of the intricacies of my writing process and the fussy mechanics of getting words on the page.

When you aren’t getting words on the page, it’s crazy annoying (at best) to hear about people that are.  And it’s similarly unpleasant to receive unsolicited suggestions about how to get yourself unstuck.  As if it was simply a matter of will or ergonomics or mental hygiene.  But if it was that easy, anyone could do it.  Producing good work, and doing it well, takes more than that.  So here are a few things I figured out about being productive when I was struggling to produce anything at all.  It’s an open letter, of sorts, to my writerly self – the “I” is me, and so is the “you.”  But the “you” can also be, you know, you, if you are reading this and wanting to reconsider your writing praxis.

Become attuned to your limits.
It’s hard to tune out the constant drone of academic meta-commentary about how much (or, from the occasional maverick, how little) we work.  And it helps to know that most of those aggrandizing self-reports are bullshit.  But even still, focusing too much on what other people are doing, or not, just leaves me insecure, or anxious, or envious.  So spend less time worrying about what other people are doing and focus on your own patterns. Then figure out how you work, and be honest about whether all the hours you spend “working” are actually that.  For example, I’ve figured out that I’m neither efficient nor terribly lucid after dinner, and that even when I go back to work late in the evening, I’m not getting much done besides maybe assuaging my guilt about not working enough.

Diminishing returns are a thing.  So consider whether you might be better served by reinvesting those mediocre or largely symbolic work hours elsewhere.

Figure out how you want the experience of writing to feel.  
Turns out, there are no extra points for suffering.  Or if they are, they circulate in an economy that is wildly unrewarding.  Like the counters where you redeem your tickets at arcades: a small fortune in tokens and hours spent playing Skeeball leave you with an armload of little cardboard rectangles and the teenager in charge of the whole operation barely acknowledges you when you come to select your prize and it ends up that all you can afford is a pencil case.  Anyway.

Few of us have the luxury, presumably, to only write when it feels good.  Deadlines, tenure, promotion, &c.  But unless you produce your best work in the throes of abject misery, experiment with the novel practice of setting your writing aside when writing feels terrible.  We all have different thresholds for ‘terrible,’ and that terrible feeling might be mental or physical, but when you encounter that threshold, I think it’s smart to heed it. Admittedly, I am still relatively new to the routine of being a peer-reviewer, but I have not yet encountered a reviewer questionnaire instructing me to give special consideration to a project if I think the author cried a lot (A LOT) while they composed it.  And if there are people who will give you extra credit for your anguish, think carefully about whether you want to play by that set of rules.

Spend some time thinking about how it feels when you are doing your best work.  Maybe you feel focused, or excited, or peaceful, or maybe you’re so in it that you don’t feel anything at all.  Take advantage of those times, figure out how to increase their frequency if possible, develop strategies for doing good-enough work in circumstances that only approximate them.  And otherwise: leave it alone.

Work at a pace that’s sustainable.
Pretty much every academic I know, including me, is overcommitted.  There are lots of reasons for this, both individual and structural.  Obviously, everybody will define “overcommitted” in their own ways, and experience being overcommitted idiosyncratically.  I’ll need to figure out, eventually, why I have a tendency to hoard projects, but here’s what I know for now: I tend to overestimate the amount of time that I have before a deadline, while underestimating how much work I will want to put into a given project.  Part of me also imagines that the asteroid will surely hit between now and whatever deadline so it won’t actually matter.

I can manage the consequences of my over- and underestimating (as well as the general paucity of asteroids) fairly well under normal circumstances.  But when shit, inevitably happens, that mismatch becomes acutely untenable.

So: try to plan out your projects and commitments, as best as you are able, so that they align with how busy you want to be, and when, while also maintaining an overall mode of existence that is tolerable.  (Parenthetically, I think academics ought to aspire to existences that are more than tolerable, and break the habit of postponing tolerability until the summer.)  Not all of this is in your control, of course, so another part of writing and working well is, I think, accepting that those plans won’t always pan out.  And leave a margin for catastrophes, great and small.  If your whole writing scheme is contingent on you never getting a flat tire / your kid never getting sick / you never getting called for jury duty / no one you love ever needing you or dying, it probably isn’t going to work for you long-term.

Consider what it’s worth to you.
Because we are all, alas, constrained by the laws of time and space, doing one thing generally means not doing another (or half-doing two things at once).  Try to be cognizant of the trade-offs your writing affords and requires of you.  Be honest about whether the potential rewards actually appeal to you, and your values.  And then consider the costs, and whether they’re acceptable.  With a few exceptions, I am generally fine to sacrifice binge-watching for writing.  And sometimes I feel very okay opting out of being social so I can stay in and work.  But on the other hand, it’s almost never worth it to me – though it used to be – to trade work for sleep, or healthy food, or exercise.  Maybe your non-negotiable stuff is different.  The point is to figure out what that non-negotiable stuff is, and protect it … otherwise work will eat it all.

Detach from the outcome.
Beyond doing your best to make your ideas intelligible and your style engaging, you can’t control how people will respond to your writing.  Consider your audience, but don’t obsess about them, and learn the difference between wanting to connect with your readers and needing to charm and trap them into your ways of seeing and thinking.  Efforts to engineer reader reactions almost never generate better writing, and are much more likely to result in arguments that overreach or result to pedantry, while the fixation with impressing your audiences will ultimately leave you stultified and unable to say much of anything at all.  Good ideas are much easier to come by than magic words.

Look, and move, forward. 
You will have seasons when you are more productive, seasons when you are less productive, and seasons when you are scarcely functional.  Hopefully, over the course of your writing life, these will balance out into an overall sense of accomplishment, with a body of work that bears it out.  When you are more productive, spend some time figuring out what enables you to work at that level, but don’t make yourself crazy trying to recreate it every time you encounter a slump.  Chances are, it’s mostly a matter of circumstance: a legitimate manifestation of your brilliance, sure, but maybe also just good luck. Conversely, the seasons when you are less productive are also likely to be those in which your luck is worse than usual, and not a  final revelation of your incompetence.

Capitalism tells us that time is modular, that any hour has potentially the same value as any other hour, and hence that missed hours can be replaced.  Nope.  If there is something big that keeps you from your work for a season, you won’t (sorry) be able to get those hours back.  And especially if that something big is also something massively unpleasant, you probably won’t be able to stop feeling lousy about those lost hours, anxious or mournful about the work you could be doing, and resentful of the people around you who happen to be enjoying one of those good-luck seasons of magical writing.  In those moments, all you can do is muddle through: do what you can with your radically reduced resources, plead for deadline clemency if you need it, and accept – your overwhelming fatigue may help lubricate this process – that you probably won’t be producing your very best work at this particular godawful juncture.  And don’t compound the insult by blaming yourself for those lost hours, those words left unwritten.  For my part, now that I’m halfway (give or take) back in the saddle after a pretty unrelentingly miserably eighteen months, it’s a daily struggle not to take the losses of that period out on myself.  It takes a lot of mental discipline to focus on what you can do, not on what you didn’t because you couldn’t.

*    *    *    *    *

So that’s a little bit of what I know now that I didn’t know before.  It strikes me as odd that academics, generally so good at questioning why things are the way they are, rarely bring their skeptical sensibilities to the task of questioning their own work habits or the expectations they have internalized.  And for those who are satisfied with their circumstances, there may be no need for this kind of querying.  But I get the impression (or maybe I just run with an exceptionally grumpy crowd) that lots of us are less than satisfied.  Of course, many of the reasons for that are structural, and so insuperable by these tiny little hacks.  But despite this, or maybe because of it, minor adjustments made in the service of your own comfort are meaningful, worth it, and necessary.

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Scientists Have the Power to Change the Publishing System

Author: David Kent
Original: University Affairs | The Black Hole


Earlier this month I read an article by Julia Belluz that ripped into the scientific publishing system. The saddest, and truest, sentiment of the article can be summed up in the following quotation:

“Taxpayers fund a lot of the science that gets done, academics peer review it for free, and then journals charge users ludicrous sums of money to view the finished product.”

This is certainly not the first attack against the publishing process nor the first to encourage open-access publishing. In the remainder of her article, Ms. Belluz focuses on the role that governments can play in getting more scientific research freely and instantly available. In sum, she suggests that government funding agencies (e.g., the United States National Institutes of Health or the Canadian Institutes of Health Research) could refuse to give grants to those scientists who did not publish in open-access journals.

This is a laudable, and indeed it is the approach being taken bit by bit by funding agencies – the Wellcome Trust in the U.K. for example has a very robust open access policy that includes providing grant funding for the open-access charges. While this will certainly get more research out sooner and without charge, I believe it misses out on an important aspect of the power dynamic that plagues the scientific publishing process.

The fact is that journals with high impact factors wield enormous power because they hold the key to scientists’ careers – the field has become so obsessed with metrics that it is insufficient to be a good scientist with good ideas and the ability to perform good research. As things stand now, if you want research grants (and in most cases, this means if you want a job), then you need to publish a paper (or several!) with a big-name journal.

So what can scientists do? Well, it turns out scientists are involved in just about every aspect of the publishing power dynamic. First, one needs to understand what’s at stake. Scientists want big name papers for three main reasons:

  1. Grants
  2. Jobs
  3. Recognition

However, papers in big-name journals do not directly give you grants or jobs, nor are they the only way to be recognized as a good scientist. Other scientists make these decisions, but far too often their judgment is impacted by the glitz and glam of the big-name journals.

Jobs are often won by those doing research that has good institutional fit – they bring a novel technology, a new way of looking at things, or a broad network of excellent former colleagues – but jobs are often lost because the candidate is “not fundable.” The latter is more often than not decided based on where they have published and how a grants panel will view them. So it basically comes down to who can get grants. And who generally decides funding outcomes? Scientists.

I wonder how many grant panels have heard the phrase “the project looks good, but the candidate has only ever published in mid-range journals.” Indeed, I know several scientists who rank applications based on a candidate’s publication record irrespective of how good or bad the project is or how well-resourced the working environment is.

One suggestion: Ban the CV from the grant review process. Rank the projects based on the ideas and ability to carry out the research rather than whether someone has published in Nature, Cell or Science. This could in turn remove the pressure to publish in big journals. I’ve often wondered how much of this could actually be drilled down to sheer laziness on the part of scientists perusing the literature and reviewing grants – “Which journals should I scan for recent papers? Just the big ones surely…” or “This candidate has published in Nature already, they’ll probably do it again, no need to read the proposal too closely.”

Of course I generalize and there are many crusaders out there (Michael Eisen, Randy Sheckman, Fiona Watt, etc.) pushing to change things and I mean them no offence. I just wish that more people could feel safe enough to follow their lead. In my own journey to start up a lab, I am under enormous pressure to publish in a big journal (i.e., my open-access PLoS Biology paper doesn’t make the grade and open source juggernaut e-Life has yet to achieve high-level status despite its many philosophical backers).

So, in sum, scientists in positions of power (peer reviewers, institute directors, funding panel chairs) are the real targets for change. Assess based on research merit, not journal label. Let’s make journals tools of communication, not power brokers of scientific careers.

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Je Suis Reviewer #2

Author: Ana Todorović
Original: Musings


I was recently invited to review a manuscript for a journal I follow regularly. The content was right along the lines of my kind of research, and I was happy to accept. I was, of course, Reviewer Number Two.

I always have been, in each of my fifteen-ish reviewing experiences. But this was the first time that the drop-down menu actually encouraged me to be your stereotypical Number Two:

I was in the second year of my PhD when that first reviewing assignment landed in my lap. So there I was, sifting through my inbox, deleting the “Dear Dr. Todorovic” flattery of predatory publishers. But then I hesitated at this one e-mail, because apart from the heading, it lacked the usual telltale signs of spam.

An invitation to review.

I forwarded it to my supervisor. “Oh, that’s a good journal – don’t you know it? I’d accept if I were you.” Wow. Pride and chagrin, all rolled into one.

I kept re-reading that manuscript, re-wording my review, postponing the submission. Should I tell the editor I’m a clueless student, and not Dr. Todorovic? Should I say I’ve never done this before, that I don’t know what I’m doing or why they picked me? That it’s all a big mistake?

In the end I said nothing. I pressed the submit button; the world didn’t implode. Two days later, an e-mail arrived. The other reviewer didn’t do their job on time, the editor thought my concerns were substantial enough to request a major revision. I was mortified.

***

It got easier over time and with some experience, but it never really got easy. I still open the report of the other reviewer, the one that knows what they’re doing, with trepidation. If they caught something I should have, I feel ashamed. If their misgivings align with mine, I’m flooded with relief. If I mention something they didn’t, I worry that I was nitpicking.

As Reviewer #2, I get to see plenty of weak papers in low-impact journals, written in broken English, with poorly described experimental procedures and inconclusive results. It’s very annoying when these come from good labs that write up their other papers, the ones I don’t get to review, with care.

I never know how much to judge and how much to help. I never know if helping will be seen as asking them to write the paper I would have written, the thing Reviewer #2 is notorious for. I never know what to do when I need just a few extra pieces of information to understand the design, before I can decide about the rest. I get frustrated when I don’t understand things, and I worry that this frustration will spill over into my review as pointless vitriol. Another feature of #2.

It’s worse when the journals are good. I can judge whether a design is creative and elegant, and can lead to the claimed conclusions. I can judge whether the analyses are sound. In some cases I will even check whether the numbers in the reported statistics all match up (you’re welcome). But when I have to judge novelty? And whether the wow effect matches the scope of the journal? Good grief, how should I know? Ask Reviewer #1, I can barely keep up with my own narrow topic.

***

Most of the learning from that first review onward was (and still is) a lonely process, with only the other reviewer’s comments as any substantial form of feedback. So every time I hear a gripe about Reviewer #2, I cringe a little on the inside. It’s me, it’s me, and I’m trying to be invisible.

I don’t think we should stop grumbling about Reviewer #2, I’m a big fan of complaining. But maybe, just maybe, a little bit of structured guidance would help? Someone to show us how to be kind but decisive. To tell us to always list strong points, then voice our misgivings as suggestions for improvement. To consider whether the experiment is something others would care to know about before we rip it apart.

I had a supervisor who showed me the ropes, but this shouldn’t be left to individual group leaders. We’re all in this together, both causing the damage and taking it. Instead of throwing young researchers into it head-first, maybe we can teach them, and make reviewing a more user-friendly experience.

“Hi, my name is Ana and I will be your reviewer tonight.”

Can’t Disrupt This: Elsevier and the 25.2 Billion Dollar A Year Academic Publishing Business

Author: Jason Schmitt
Original: Medium


Twenty years ago (December 18, 1995), Forbes predicted academic publisher Elsevier’s relevancy and life in the digital age to be short lived. In an article entitled “The internet’s first victim,” journalist John Hayes highlights the technological imperative coming toward the academic publisher’s profit margin with the growing internet culture and said, “Cost-cutting librarians and computer-literate professors are bypassing academic journals — bad news for Elsevier.” After publication of the article, investors seemed to heed Hayes’s rationale for Elsevier’s impeding demise. Elsevier stock fell 7% in two days to $26 a share.

As the smoke settles twenty years later, one of the clear winners on this longitudinal timeline of innovation is the very firm that investors, journalists, and forecasters wrote off early as a casualty to digital evolution: Elsevier. Perhaps to the chagrin of many academics, the publisher has actually not been bruised nor battered. In fact, the publisher’s health is stronger than ever. As of 2015, the academic publishing market that Elsevier leads has an annual revenue of $25.2 billion. According to its 2013 financials Elsevier had a higher percentage of profit than Apple, Inc.

Brian Nosek, a professor at the University of Virginia and director of the Center for Open Science, says, “Academic publishing is the perfect business model to make a lot of money. You have the producer and consumer as the same person: the researcher. And the researcher has no idea how much anything costs.” Nosek finds this whole system is designed to maximize the amount of profit. “I, as the researcher, produce the scholarship and I want it to have the biggest impact possible and so what I care about is the prestige of the journal and how many people read it. Once it is finally accepted, since it is so hard to get acceptances, I am so delighted that I will sign anything — send me a form and I will sign it. I have no idea I have signed over my copyright or what implications that has — nor do I care, because it has no impact on me. The reward is the publication.”

Nosek further explains why researchers are ever supportive by explaining the dedicated loyal customer base mantra, “What do you mean libraries are canceling subscriptions to this? I need this. Are you trying to undermine my research?”

In addition to a steadfast dedication by researchers, the academic publishing market, in its own right, is streamlined, aggressive, and significantly capitalistic. The publishing market is also more diverse than just the face of Elsevier. Johan Rooryck, a professor at Universiteit Leiden, says, “Although Elsevier is the publisher that everybody likes to hate, if you look at Taylor & Francis, Wiley, or Springer they all have the same kind of practices.”

Heather Morrison, a professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Ottawa, unpacks the business model behind academic publisher Springer and says, “If you look at who owns Springer, these are private equity firms, and they have changed owners about five times in the last decade. Springer was owned by the investment group Candover and Cinven who describe themselves as ‘Europe’s largest buy-out firm.’ These are companies who buy companies to decrease the cost and increase the profits and sell them again in two years. This is to whom we scholars are voluntarily handing our work. Are you going to trust them? This is not the public library of science. This is not your average author voluntarily contributing to the commons. These are people who are in business to make the most profit.”

Should a consumer heed Morrison’s rationale and want to look deeper into academic publishers cost structure for themselves one is met with a unique situation: the pricing lists for journals do not exist. “It’s because they negotiate individually with each institution and they often have non-disclosure agreements with those institutions so they can’t bargain with knowing what others paid,” says Martin Eve, founder of the Open Library of the Humanities.

In addition to a general lack of pricing indexes, the conversation around the value of a publication is further complicated by long-term career worth. David Sundahl, a senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, says, “We actually understand how money passed through to artists who wrote music and authors who wrote books — but it is not clear how the value of a publication in a top tier journal will impact someone’s career. Unlike songs or books where the royalty structure is defined, writing a journal article is not clear and is dependent not on the people who consume the information but rather deans and tenure committees.”

Disruption Doable?

It is precisely the prior lack of a pricing and value barometer that leads to the complexities associated with disrupting the main players in academic publishing. “Adam Smith’s invisible hand works to lower prices and increase productivity but it can only do so when valuation or pricing is known and the same thing is true for disruption. If you don’t know how to value something, you actually don’t have tiers of a market,” says Sundahl.

If a disruptive force was to significantly change academic publishing it needs to happen in a market that is currently underserved or undesirable by the large-scale publisher. “Disruptive innovation is usually driven by a group who can’t afford to build something that is as big, fancy and sophisticated as the existing solution — they then have to find a market where either people don’t have anything available to them or they are satisfied with something less than perfect,” says Sundahl.

Should academic scholarship keep existing in a similar trajectory as in the past decades Sundahl finds incumbents (existing big publishers) almost always win when competition takes place along those sustaining strategy lines. “To revolutionize academic publication, a new system would need to be developed in a basement market which would eventually enable people to gain enough credibility doing this new solution. People would then begin to value this lower end, well done research, and that is when the world starts to change,” says Sundahl.

The prior is exactly what large entities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or perhaps even top tier research one (R1) universities can’t do. “They have to play the game the way the winners are already playing it. Incumbents almost always win under those conditions,” says Sundahl. And to further complicate matters, junior colleges and community colleges, which perhaps would represent fertile grounds to be served by a newer, “basement market” entrant, may be less likely to spearhead this new outlet themselves due increasing government constraints focused nearly exclusively on job placement and starting salaries in lieu of a research-based, theoretical curriculum.

Open Access Packs a Punch

Driven by the lopsided power structure the move toward open access and the unrestricted access to academic information has been exponentially growing. Perhaps it is, itself, a “basement market” for leveling the academic publication environment and creating a market where respect and credibility can be fostered, grown and transitioned into the existing academic prestige, merit, and tenure conversations.

“The open access environment is one of the more fertile environments for people to be thinking: if we don’t like the old way, what should the new way look like,” says Heather Joseph, executive director at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). Joseph finds that the quantifiable numbers of open access journals speak for themselves and says, “You can look at the number of strictly open access journals if you look at the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). When it started tracking open access journals there were a few dozen and now they list over 10,000 open access journals.”

The push toward open access is not only growing in sheer numbers of journals but also in an increasingly confrontational strategy that academics leverage against large publishers. “At the moment, the Netherlands, the whole country, has said to Elsevier that we want all of our researchers to be able to publish open access in your journals at the same rates we would pay for a subscription last year and if you can’t do that we’re going to cancel every one of your journals, for all of our universities nationwide,” says Eve. “They have a few days left to resolve this, and it looks like they are going to cancel all the Elsevier journals.”

Rooryck found his recent very public decision to step down and move his Elsevier journal Linga to open access met with complete support from the other six editors and 31 editorial board members. “The process went very easily. We were all aware of the pricing and Elsevier’s practices and within a week everyone agreed to resign,” says Rooryck. Eve’s platform, the Open Library of Humanities, will now house the new open access iteration of Lingua, which will be called Glossa. Eve says, “Right away it is 50% cheaper to run it through us then when it was with Elsevier. So anybody subscribing to it already sees 50% more revenue.”

Rooryck finds the move toward broad open access a natural progression and says, “The knowledge we produce as academics and scientists should be publicly available in the same way we have a company that delivers water to our faucets and electricity to our home. These are things we have a right to. Public knowledge and education is a human right and it should not come with a profit tag of 35%.”

Although it appears open access has the ability to simultaneously diffuse academic knowledge to a larger body of readers and cut costs significantly, many feel that the for profit academic publishers are still situated to continue into the near future. Joseph says, “I think the play for most smart commercial publishers is to try to preserve the current environment for as long as they can: delay the policy changes, delay the culture changes and to be working on things like tools and services applying to aggregation of data, where they are then embedding themselves more deeply in the workflow of researchers and becoming essential to researchers in a different way.”

“If you are no longer essential to researchers in the, ‘you have to publish in my journal in order to get tenure and promotion’ what do they replace that with? I think the smart publishing companies like Elsevier, like Springer, who are very smart in that regard, have been thinking about where they can go to be playing a role of continuing to be seen as essential by the research community once they are no longer playing the role of providing assessment,” says Joseph.

Onward and Upward

“In the US Congress we have been finally making progress with the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) bill. It moved through the committee it was referred to in the Senate and is poised to move out of the Senate and potentially be considered by the House and hopefully pass. Ten years ago, I would have said we didn’t have a chance to do a stand-alone bill,” says Joseph.

Perhaps the recent congressional support Joseph refers to is one more verifying measure that the majority of articles will be moving toward an open and accessible framework. Many in the academic community hope that this government support signals the reprioritization of a research framework and the switching of the guard. And while the prior is extremely important, others in the academic community are hoping to grow “basement markets” from the ground up.

The Center for Open Science, which provides seed funds to startups in the academic scientific research space, is led by Nosek and focuses on aligning scientific values to scientific practices. “The open science framework is just a means at connecting all the research services that researchers use across the entire research life cycle,” says Nosek.

Nosek is optimistic about the evolution of technology in open science and says, “There are a lot of startups going at different parts of the research life cycle. Whether it is publication and what a publication means, or looking at full articles and whether you can make articles convey information in smaller bite size pieces.” Nosek tells me that there are so many solutions happening in research right now and mentions it is hard to judge what the true solutions will look like. “I sometimes think some of the ideas haven’t a chance, but what do I know? I could be completely wrong about it. And that is the whole point — do some experimentation and try out ideas. And the fact is there are a lot of people who see what the problems are and have a unique sense of a potential solution — it is a very lively time to try out different answers.”

Time will tell if open access will be the needed disruption to allow the academic environment to right itself or if a new market emerges from startup incubators like the Center for Open Science. Regardless of how the future vision is realized, most in the academic community hope that the new iteration of scholarly articles and publishing will do more good toward humankind than that of a hefty profit margin.

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Me and My Shadow CV

Author:
Original: Chronicle of Higher Education


This fall I’m serving as the designated coach for doctoral students in my department who are on the academic job market. They’re a talented group, with impressive skills, hopes, and dreams. I’m grateful to be guiding them, as they put their best selves before search committees. However, one part of the work is not all that pleasant: I also need to ready them to face mass rejection.

Regardless of any happy outcomes that may await, they’re about to endure what may be their first experience of large-scale professional rebuff. Before, during, and after college, they sought part-time and full-time jobs and applied to graduate schools. They didn’t get hired, or they didn’t get in to some of those schools, naturally. But now they’re putting themselves in line for 40, 50, or more rejections within the space of weeks and months — on the heels of a grueling, humbling few years of dissertation writing.

I feel their pain, to some extent. Those of us on the job market a decade or more ago got our mass rejections in thin envelopes or via email in May or June, after we’d had a few closer looks and maybe even a job offer. Today’s candidates learn they’re out of the running for coveted jobs much sooner, and secondhand, by confronting another candidate’s report of an interview or an offer on the Academic Job Wiki.

That then-and-now difference got me thinking about how we teach graduate students to face academic rejection. Of course, we largely don’t. Rejection is something you’re supposed to learn by experience, and then keep entirely quiet about. Among academics, the scientists seem to handle rejection best: They list on their CVs the grants they applied for but didn’t get — as if to say, “Hey, give me credit for sticking my neck out on this unfunded proposal. You better bet I’ll try again.” Humanists — my people — hide our rejections from our CVs as skillfully as we can. Entirely, if possible.

That’s a shame. It’s important for senior scholars to communicate to those just starting out that even successful professors face considerable rejection. The sheer scope of it over the course of a career may be stunning to a newcomer. I began to think of my history of rejection as my shadow CV — the one I’d have if I’d recorded the highs and lows of my professional life, rather than its highs alone.

More of us should make public our shadow CVs. In the spirit of sharing, I include mine here in its rough outline, using my best guesses, not mathematical formulas. (I didn’t actually keep a shadow CV, despite predictable jokes I may have made in the past about wallpapering my bathroom with rejection letters.)

  • What my CV says: I have published many articles in refereed journals. What my shadow CV would say: Multiply that 3x to get the approximate number of rejections I’ve received. Earlier in my career, it was more like 4x; now it’s closer to 2x. That does not count “revise and resubmit” letters. Fortunately, the rejections do seem to get nicer, as I learn better how to present work for publication and to select journals that are a good fit for my work. I also receive more invitations to contribute, providing better odds for acceptance.
  • What my CV says: I have published books at a great university press. What my shadow CV would say: My first book was rejected six times at the proposal stage before it found a home. One of them was a report so nasty it made me question my will to write another sentence.
  • What my CV says: I’ve edited several collections of essays. What my shadow CV would say: One collection was rejected 12 times at the proposal stage. Another collection almost imploded due to conflict among contributors. A savvy press editor smoothed the ruffled feathers. That’s not all. I co-wrote a book that was under contract but was canceled by the university press’s marketing department. That book never saw the light of day. And another co-edited book, commissioned by a professional organization and some distance along, was canceled by the press and then by the organization.
  • What my CV says: I’ve received some grants and fellowships. What my shadow CV would say: Multiply that total 5x to get the number of grant rejections I’ve received — with, again, the most depressing rates of rejection coming earliest in my career. Early on, I would apply for four to eight grants or fellowships, and receive none or one. I applied for one grant eight times before receiving it. I like to think the organization finally awarded it because they were tired of hearing from me, but maybe my application actually improved.
  • What my CV says: I’ve taught at five fabulous institutions. What my shadow CV would say: This one is the worst. In the process of trying to solve a two-body problem, I was on the job market a lot. I think I’ve been rejected for nearly 400 college teaching jobs and postdoctoral fellowships. In other words, I got offered less than 2 percent of the jobs I applied for, and I’m by no means among the hard-luck cases.
  • What my CV says: I have won elections to office in my professional organization. What my shadow CV would say: I have lost about half as many elections as I’ve won. I’ll take those odds!
  • What my CV says: I have some great recommenders. What my shadow CV would say: They are great. I’ve cried in front of a few them. Academic life has been stressful. (Also, thank you for those hundreds of recommendation letters. They made everything possible.)
  • What my CV says: I have had some great students. What my shadow CV would say: They are great. A few have cried in front of me. Academic life is still stressful. (And you’re welcome for those hundreds of recommendation letters. I may still owe more to the universe than I have given.)
  • What my CV says: I have published in and been quoted in popular media. What my shadow CV would say: You can’t really count the number of times that The New York Times didn’t call you for a quote, so no formula there.

I made many failed attempts at getting my work in print, while learning how to write for new audiences and building relationships with editors. Let’s call this rejection factor 4x, on average, although many of those rejections were not of pieces that eventually saw print but those that never did.

In total, these estimates suggest I’ve received in the ballpark of 1,000 rejections over two decades. That’s 50 a year, or about one a week. People in sales or creative writing may scoff at those numbers, but most of my rejections came in the first 10 years of my academic career, when I was searching intensely for a tenure-track job. Very few came during the summer, when academic-response rates slow to a crawl. I remember months when every envelope and every other email seemed to hold a blow to the ego. My experience was not unusual. Unfortunately, a multiyear job search is, if anything, more common now for would-be academics than when I was on the market.

Most of us get better at handling rejection, although personally, it can still knock the wind out of me. Usually in those moments, I recall something a graduate-school professor once said after I railed at, and — much to my embarrassment — shed a few tears over a difficult rejection: “Go ahead,” he said. “Let it make you angry. Then use your anger to make yourself work harder.”

It sounds so simple. Whether any single rejection is fair or unfair doesn’t ultimately matter. What matters is what you do next. You could let rejection crush you. Or you could let it motivate you to respond in creative, harder-working, smarter-working ways. (I’m convinced, though, that rejection is particularly tough to take in academe because so much of our work is mind work, closely tied to our own identities and sense of self-worth.)

A CV is a life story in which just the good things are recorded, yet sometimes I look at it and see there what others cannot: the places I haven’t been, the journals where my work wasn’t accepted, the times a project wasn’t funded, the ways my ideas were judged inadequate. I’ve started to imagine my CV as a record of both highlight-reel wins and between-the-lines losses. If you’re lucky, you will, like me, also one day come to recognize the places where the losses — as painful as they were at the time — led to unexpectedly positive things. Slammed doors, it turns out, may later become opened ones.

When I was meeting with my department’s academic-job seekers recently, one of them asked me about the last time I was rejected.

“My last rejection was one week ago,” I admitted to them, feeling uncomfortably like someone introducing myself at an AA meeting. “I got two rejections, in fact. One was really, really hard to accept, and, I think, wrong. But I’ll take it for what it’s worth and try again.”

Increasingly, I see rejection as a necessary part of every stage of an academic career. I remind myself that the fact that I’m still facing rejection is evidence that I’m still in the game at a level where I should be playing. I’m continuing to hone my skills and strive for better opportunities — continuing to build both my CV and my shadow CV. Each version is necessary as we seek to advance our research, teaching, and service, the activities to which some of us — and I wish there were many more of us — have the good fortune to devote our professional lives.

Academic Journals: The Most Profitable Obsolete Technology in History

Author: Jason Schmitt
Original: Huffington Post


The music business was killed by Napster; movie theaters were derailed by digital streaming; traditional magazines are in crisis mode–yet in this digital information wild west: academic journals and the publishers who own them are posting higher profits than nearly any sector of commerce.

Academic publisher Elsevier, which owns a majority of the prestigious academic journals, has higher operating profits than Apple. In 2013, Elsevier posted 39 percent profits, according to Heather Morrison, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Information Studies in contrast to the 37 percent profit that Apple displayed.

This lucrative nature of academic publishing comes at a price–and that weight falls on the shoulders of the full higher education community which is already bearing the burden of significantly decreasing academic budgets. “A large research university will pay between $3-3.5 million a year in academic subscription fees –the majority of which goes to for-profit academic publishers,” says Sam Gershman, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT who assumes his post as an assistant professor at Harvard next year. In contrast to the exorbitant prices for access, the majority of academic journals are produced, reviewed, and edited on a volunteer basis by academics who take part in the tasks for tenure and promotion.

“Even the Harvard University Library, which is the richest university library in the world, sent out a letter to the faculty saying that they can no longer afford to pay for all the journal subscriptions,” says Gershman. While this current publishing environment is hard on large research institutions, it is wreaking havoc on small colleges and universities because these institutions cannot afford access to current academic information. This is clearly creating a problematic situation.

Paul Millette, director of the Griswold Library at Green Mountain College, a small 650 student environmental liberal arts college in Vermont, talks of the enormous pressures access to academic journals have placed on his library budgets. “The cost-of-living has increased at 1.5 percent per year yet the journals we subscribe to have consistent increases of 6 to 8 percent every year.” Millette says he cannot afford to keep up with the continual increases and the only way his library can afford access to journal content now is through bulk databases. Millette points out that database subscription seldom includes the most recent, current material and publishers purposefully have an embargo of one or two years to withhold the most current information so libraries still have a need to subscribe directly with the journals. “At a small college, that is what we just don’t have the money to do. All of our journal content is coming from the aggregated database packages–like a clearing house so to speak of journal titles,” says Millette.

“For Elsevier it is very hard to purchase specific journals–either you buy everything or you buy nothing,” says Vincent Lariviere, a professor at Université de Montréal. Lariviere finds that his university uses 20 percent of the journals they subscribe to and 80 percent are never downloaded. “The pricing scheme is such that if you subscribe to only 20 percent of the journals individually, it will cost you more money than taking everything. So people are stuck.”

Where To Go:

“Money should be taken out of academic publishing as much as possible. The money that is effectively being spent by universities and funding agencies on journal access could otherwise be spent on reducing tuition, supporting research, and all things that are more important than paying corporate publishers,” says Gershman. John Bohannon, a biologist and Science contributing correspondent, is in agreement and says, “Certainly a huge portion of today’s journals could and should be just free. There is no value added in going with the traditional model that was built on paper journals, with having people whose full time job was to deal with the journal, promote the journal and print the journal, and deal with librarians. All that can now be done essentially for free on the internet.”

Although the prior clearly sounds like the path toward the future, Bohannon says from his vantage point the prior is not one-size-fits-all: “The most important journals will always look pretty much like they do today because it is actually a really hard job.” Bohannon finds that the more broad journals such as Science, Nature, and Proceeding of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) will always need privatized funding to complete the broad publication tasks.

Another Option?

“A better approach to academic publishing is to cut out the whole notion of publishing. We don’t really need journals as traditionally conceived. The primary role of traditional journals is to provide peer review and for that you don’t need a physical journal–you just need an editorial board and an editorial process,” says Gershman.

Gershman lays out his vision for the future of academic publishing and says that a very different sort of publishing system would be that everybody could post papers to a pre-print server similar to the currently existing arXiv.org. After posting research, then the creator selects to submit it to a journal, which is essentially sending them the links to your paper on the pre-print server. The journal editorial board do the same editorial process that exists now–if your paper is accepted to their journal they can put their imprimatur on your paper saying it was accepted to this journal–but there is no actual journal–it is just a stamp of approval.

What Gershman’s concept does is remove most of the costs from the equation. The cost for running this pre-print server would be a shared cost for all universities and funding agencies and could clearly infuse millions upwards of billions back into the broad higher education system should an overarching system be implemented and respected. Bohannon is not convinced the prior is an easy sell. “We would need a real revolution. By revolution I mean a cultural revolution among academics. They would have to totally change the way they do business and, despite having the reputation of being revolutionary, academics are pretty conservative. As a culture, academia moves pretty slow.” Nathan Hall, professor at McGill University, follows Bohannon’s reasoning and says, “I think there is a sense of security in maintaining a set of agreements with known publishers with reputations like Wiley or Elsevier. I think universities aren’t quite aware of the benefits and logistics of a new system and they are comfortable maintaining existing relationships despite some questionability for what the publishers are providing.”

Open Access for the Future?

“The phrase ‘open access’ can mean several things,” says Lariviere. Open access on a broad scale refers to unrestricted online access for peer-reviewed research. Lariviere details how publishers have co-opted this terminology and in doing so perhaps increased profit further. “Elsevier says you can publish in open access, but in reality it means paying twice for the papers. They will ask me ‘do you want to publish your paper open access’ which means paying between $500 and $5,000 additional for that specific paper to be freely available to everyone. At the same time, they will not reduce the subscription cost to the overall journal, which means they are making twice the money on that specific paper. If you ask me if this type of open access is the way to go, the answer is no.”

Luckily large granting bodies have begun using their clout to push toward true open access. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has been a longstanding champion for creating open access. Since 2008, the NIH has had a mandate for all research funded by that body to be published open access. Recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation brought their clout into the open access conversation. Starting in January 2015 all work funded through the Gates Foundation will be open access and the foundation says: “We have adopted an Open Access policy that enables the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research funded, in whole or in part, by the foundation, including any underlying data sets.”

As higher education is redefined to meet the needs and affordability required of the 21st century certainly the most basic functions of sharing academic research need to be retooled. There is no reason an academic publisher should have such a significantly different economic picture from standard publishers. The stark contrast is troubling as it tells just how far from reality our higher education system has traversed. Correspondingly, there is no reason universities should pay $3.5 million to have access to peer-reviewed data. This academic conversation is society’s conversation–and it is time that the digital revolution level one last playing field: because we, the people, deserve access.