Today’s post by Phil Davis outlines a small experiment to see if an open access publisher with an aggressive author-pays system would provide the kind of vigilant peer-review we ascribe to STM publishers everywhere. Our hope was that this experiment would fail. We hoped that Bentham Science Publishers would prove to be rigorous and uniform in their application of peer-review, and that our suspicion that something might be amiss with a publisher aggressively soliciting manuscripts would prove baseless.
Unfortunately, Bentham wasn’t up to the task. But there’s a larger issue this incident reveals, tangential to the story about Bentham.
While the paper they accepted was laughably nonsensical and there was no evidence of peer-review, the most salient communication we received from them around the paper they accepted was the invoice.
And this invoice begins the real story here.
It’s important that everyone in academic publishing realize there is a feeder issue at play — the swelling pools of author-pays funding, how they’re being managed, and policies around their use.
As Phil Davis has pointed out in other posts on this blog, there is a lack of transparency to how author funds are being spent while the oversight of these funds may not be adequate. In addition to pots of money coming from institutions, other pots of money have also opened up to support author-pays publishing — in early May, Pfizer agreed to cover author fees for any of their employees submitting to BioMed Central.
Institutions should contemplate how their policies and practices supporting author publication fees may encourage the emergence of publishing programs aimed at soliciting and accepting as many papers as possible. With poorly managed sources of funding (i.e., easy money), blaming these publishers is akin to treating a symptom of a more fundamental and deleterious malady.
Trust and independence are the foundations of valid scholarly communication. This story hints that the author-pays model can become a charade within the scholarly publishing community.
But it may not be the author-pays model itself that introduces the fatal flaw.
Instead, it may be the administrators of the funding who have shown an Achilles heel — lax oversight, a lack of transparency, motivations to support the “publish or perish” culture of academia today, and an inability to hold publishers accountable for services rendered.
With more funds going toward author-pays publishing, librarians, administrators, and even companies have to ask if their current practices for managing these funds are adequate to ensure the independence and trust that form the foundation of scholarly communications.
If they are not, then it won’t be only the authors who pay.