Judith Simon

Research Institution
University of Vienna, Department of Philosophy & Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis

Academic Position
Principle Investigator and Senior Researcher

Important grants and merits
Project: "Epistemic Trust in Socio-Technical Epistemic Systems" (P 23770) funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)

Research builds upon previous research. Hence, any restriction on the availability of scientific content has serious negative effects. However, the current scientific publishing system is highly restrictive and unfair: while the content and its evaluation is provided by researchers for free, the costs for accessing scientific journals have exploded in recent years. Hence, it’s not only the interested taxpayer who does not have access to recent scientific findings, researchers who produce them may not have access either. Unsurprisingly, a study on Web2.0 and the scientific publishing system revealed that researchers are highly dissatisfied with this system: 98,3% reject the prevalent subscriber-only model and 97,7% object the (forced) transfer of copyright to the publishers (Ponte & Simon 2011). In short, researchers favor Open Access and creative commons licenses over current publishing practices.

Then, why is that status quo so persistent, one may ask? I think the most important reason is that current evaluation systems (for hiring, promotion and tenure decisions) in academia are based upon publications. That is, especially as young scholars, we have to publish in reputable venues to promote our career – and these reputable journals are mostly in the hands of commercial publishers. Hence, as long as the academic evaluation systems are not changing, scholars will continue to publish in commercial journals and solutions such as “gold open access” emerge: by paying an extra fee to the publishers, authors can make their articles available for free. While this is highly profitable for publishers, it surely cannot be the long-term solution and it also leads to further injustices: the rich are getting richer, i.e. those who can afford the extra fee will be read and cited more often and their reputation rises accordingly.

How could these issues be addressed? One option is to terminate the forced copyright transfer to the publishers. Given that researchers in the US whose research is publicly funded get exempted from copyright transfer, it is incomprehensible why the EU or national funding agencies do not prevent this forced transfer as well. Moreover, national repositories or ideally a shared European Open Access repository should be created where results of publicly funded research are made available for free. For us researchers remains the duty to develop sound quality assurance mechanisms for non-commercial Open-Access solutions. Finally, evaluation criteria in academia need to be reconsidered – as long as publishing in commercial journals is the major criterion for hiring and tenure decisions, the system will not change.

Ponte, D.; Simon, J. (2011), Scholarly communication 2.0: exploring researchers' opinions on Web 2.0 for scientific knowledge creation, evaluation and dissemination. Serials Review 37(3), 149-156.