Opinion statement of the SFE² regarding the scientific publishing system

The current scientific publishing system does not serve the interests of science because it slows down the publication of new findings and hinders their dissemination to the scientific community and the general public. The delays between the findings and their publication are long because of a fierce competition for journals with the highest impact factors1, which often results in multiple submissions. Then, the prohibitive prices of subscriptions2 or open access publishing in most journals very strongly limit the dissemination of knowledge.

The funding model for scientific publishing is aberrant and unacceptable because funds that are mostly public pay for both research and peer review, as well as for dissemination or access to the results (depending whether journals have publishing fees, for open access in particular, or paid access). However, the historical model for the dissemination of science was not this one3 and modern alternatives are developing.

Numerous scientific journals are competing to publish a large volume of articles and, as a consequence, most of them add very little value to the manuscript submitted by researchers after peer review and revisions, which is simply published after minimal page layout work. This process can even reduce the quality of the presentation of the findings by imposing strong constraints (on the length of the text, number and format of figures, etc.) that date from the times of offset printing; these constraints are obsolete today because the scientific papers are mostly distributed electronically.

Finally, the dominance of a few scientific publishers (the five largest publish 50% of articles4) amplifies the effects described above, because the decision of those few influences the field as a whole. Moreover, this dominance could diminish the diversity of the articles eventually published, while this diversity contributes to the continued renewal of science.

Consequently, members of the French Society for Ecology and Evolution:

  • Support the organizations negotiating the prices of subscription to scientific journals with publishing houses (in France, primarily the Couperin consortium) and compel them to be extremely firm in those negotiations, for the sake of science and the common good in the long term.
  • Accept the risk of cancellation of the current subscriptions if the conditions offered by publishers are not considered acceptable. They point out that alternative solutions exist to access scientific information (public repositories such as HAL, arXiv, bioRxiv; direct request to authors, now facilitated by “academic” social networks; etc.).
  • Support the development of new ways of disseminating scientific knowledge, not based on commercial journals but on open archives and a public peer review process, completely handled by the researchers themselves (https://peercommunityin.org, with PCI Evolutionary Biology and Ecology). Indeed, they are convinced that this publication model will ensure faster and more universal access to scientific information, as well as a more motivating and higher quality peer review process. They hope that such initiatives will eventually replace a large proportion of current journals. In addition, they ask research evaluation bodies to integrate these new publishing methods into their metrics.
  • Suggest that other scientific societies and scientific foundations also take a stance regarding the current scientific publishing system and let the organizations negotiating their subscription to scientific papers know about their position in the mater. Indeed, only an internationally coordinated action can have a significant impact on current policies for the dissemination of science.

 


  1. Moreover, the use of these metrics for the evaluation of research personnel and units is debatable; see for example “Les dérives de l’évaluation de la recherche : du bon usage de la bibliométrie”, Yves Gingras, 2014, ISBN: 291210775X.
  2. The french government pays about 40M€ per year to Elsevier, with a 5 years commitment, for its institutions to get access to a collection of 2000 journals among those published by this company.
  3. The oldest scientific publishing system is the publication of articles by scholarly societies (e.g. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society), which charges a moderate amount per page to authors, requires a subscription fee for readers to access the most recent content and makes older content free to read.
  4. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127502