Saturday, September 16, 2006

Publishing is theft.

I have just read an interesting article by Richard Smith, ex-editor of the British Medical Journal, on the theme that publishing is theft. The idea is that the publishers make millions from publishing scientific journals, but their imput is minor.

The articles that they publish cost them nothing, the research is funded from public funds, or charity, or the pharamceutical industry. The journal has to pay to register the article, but the editorial assisatnts who do this are among the poorly paid. The editor nowadays is paid (unless he works for one of the many societies that publish scientific journals - these editors are largely unpaid) but the amount he is paid is nowhere near the market rate. He is often a leading academic who may gather prestige from editing a major journal, but prestige don't pay the rent.

Then the paper is sent to referees who are unpaid. Refereeing is hard work and anonylous, so no-one gets any prestige for that. It is seen as a professional duty. You want your papers refereed so you must referee other people's.

Finally the paper goes back to the publisher who must pay for the setting (cheaper now it is electronic) and proofing and printing. This may not cost much at all, many journals have a print run of about 500 copies only. Marketing needs to be done, but this is often rudimentary. These journals are must-haves for the scientific community and libraries are bound to buy them. The price is inflated. A year's subscription to Brain Research costs about the same as a medium sized automobile.

As an Author, Editor and a Reviewer I find much to agree with in this article, though the alternative - PUBMED - imposes charges on the author which will deter the individual without a large research grant behind him from publishing at all.

Today I refereed two papers for a hematology journal with an impact factor of over 3. They were dreadful. Almost insulting that the authors tried to get them published. Undoubtedly they will turn up somewhere in a journal short of copy. I will keep my eyes open for them.

Also today I read an article about a clinical trial of a supposed cure for the common cold published in The Lancet in 1944. It was of course useless, even though it had reviously been lauded in a British newspaper, The Sunday Express. Somebody said about that newspaper that the only things you could believe that was written in it were the title, the date and the price.

Typically, the product is still being marketed in Brazil, but you can get it over the Internet.

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