As an academic, I spend quite a bit of time writing and publishing papers; the “publish or perish” adage is true — if I were in a university setting, research papers would be one of the yardsticks by which my academic performance would be measured. As I work at the intersection of academia and industry, research papers are still one of the key progress markers of my career.
In graduate school, I did not spend too much time thinking about the ethics and politics of research paper publication. I worked as hard as I could, and inwardly rejoiced at every publication, large or small, first author or not. They seemed so hard to get!
As a researcher with a team of collaborators, partial grant funding and a history of publishing papers in my conferences / journals of choice, I feel a bit more confident about my chances at publication for any given manuscript. Looking back, I feel frustrated that I did not spend more time carefully thinking about whom my publication supports. Specifically, I never gave much thought about whether my papers went to open-access or closed-off “paywall” venues.
Now, as a more senior researcher, I pay much more attention to this issue. Recently, my collaborators and I wrote our first publication for a new grant, and, to our great joy, it was accepted at a key journal in our field! Our joy quickly turned to disappointment, as the journal offered us two options: pay a hefty fee to make the paper open-access, or give copyright over to the publisher. We did not budget for open-access fees in the grant, so reluctantly we decided to give up copyright.
This debacle has made me think more carefully about where I wish to submit papers. On the one hand, I would rather exclusively support open-access journals and conferences, which make their proceedings freely available. On the other hand, I am still a pretty junior researcher, and it would be difficult for me to pass up an opportunity to publish my research at a prestigious journal that has closed access. Furthermore, the vast majority of my work is with collaborators, and I do not want to force my collaborators to work by my principles.
After some thinking about this issue and discussing it with my friend Dan, I decided to pursue a middle path. Beyond publishing papers, I can affect publication standards by reviewing papers or sitting on program committees for conferences. Reviewing and committee duty are important parts of my scientific career, but they are not the same kind of progress marker as paper publication. I can promote open-access publishing by agreeing to review papers exclusively for open-access journals or for conferences that make their proceedings freely available. Finally, I can communicate the reasoning behind my decision to review / not review to the journal editors (same with program committee duty and conference organizers), thereby further promoting the cause of open-access publishing.
I am making a firm commitment: starting on the date of this post, I will not review any papers for closed-access journals, nor participate in any program committees for conferences that do not make their proceedings freely available. I urge my fellow academics to join with me in this effort — I hope that together we can help make science freely available to the public!