Category Archives: royal_society_of_london

tipping point?

An article by Eileen Gifford Fenton and Roger C. Schonfeld in this morning’s Inside Higher Ed claims that over the past year, libraries have accelerated the transition towards purchasing only electronic journals, leaving many publishers of print journals scrambling to make the transition to an online format:
Faced with resource constraints, librarians have been required to make hard choices, electing not to purchase the print version but only to license electronic access to many journals — a step more easily made in light of growing faculty acceptance of the electronic format. Consequently, especially in the sciences, but increasingly even in the humanities, library demand for print has begun to fall. As demand for print journals continues to decline and economies of scale of print collections are lost, there is likely to be a tipping point at which continued collecting of print no longer makes sense and libraries begin to rely only upon journals that are available electronically.
According to Fenton and Schonfeld, this imminent “tipping point” will be a good thing for larger publishing houses which have already begun to embrace an electronic-only format, but smaller nonprofit publishers might “suffer dramatically” if they don’t have the means to convert to an electronic format in time. If they fail, and no one is positioned to help them, “the alternative may be the replacement of many of these journals with blogs, repositories, or other less formal distribution models.”
Fenton and Schonfeld’s point that electronic distribution might substantially change the format of some smaller journals echoes other expressions of concern about the rise of “informal” academic journals and repositories, mainly voiced by scientists who worry about the decline of peer review. Most notably, the Royal Society of London issued a statement on Nov. 24 warning that peer-reviewed scientific journals were threatened by the rise of “open access journals, archives and repositories.”
According to the Royal Society, the main problem in the sciences is that government and nonprofit funding organizations are pressing researchers to publish in open-access journals, in order to “stop commercial publishers from making profits from the publication of research that has been funded from the public purse.” While this is a noble principle, the Society argued, it undermines the foundations of peer review and compels scientists to publish in formats that might be unsustainable:
The worst-case scenario is that funders could force a rapid change in practice, which encourages the introduction of new journals, archives and repositories that cannot be sustained in the long term, but which simultaneously forces the closure of existing peer-reviewed journals that have a long-track record for gradually evolving in response to the needs of the research community over the past 340 years. That would be disastrous for the research community.
There’s more than a whiff of resistance to change in the Royal Society’s citing of 340 years of precedent; more to the point however, their position statement downplays the depth of the fundamental opposition between the open access movement in science and traditional journals. As Roger Chartier notes in a recent issue of Critical Inquiry, “Two different logics are at issue here: the logic of free communication, which is associated with the ideal of the Enlightenment that upheld at the sharing of knowledge, and the logic of publishing based on the notion of author’s rights and commercial gain.”
As we’ve discussed previously on if:book. the fate of peer review in electronic age is an open question: as long as peer review is tied to the logic of publishing, its fate will be determined at least as much by the still evolving market for electronic distribution as by the needs of the various research communities which have traditionally valued it as a method of assessment.