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Friday, 10 August 2007

T*ts, Bangs, and Tenure

I've a friend who's a psychology PhD, struggling to establish herself on the academic ladder. She's been told that in order to keep her job she has to get two papers published in a recognised journal.

I'd always thought that publication in learned journals was a way for academics add to their income. Not so, apparently. Not only does the author have to submit, rewrite, and resubmit until the required standard is reached. The author also pays for publication.

A couple of weeks ago I had to go through the process of buying a couple of academic articles online (neither of which turned out to be worth the money, but that's another story). What I saw along the way confirmed this. On the guidelines page of one medical/academic publisher I read of how the author can pay their normal fee, for which the publisher will sell the article to readers in the normal way, or a hefty multiple of it, for which they'll make the article available to others without charge.

The advantage to the author being, presumably, that wider distribution can lead to more citations and consequent professional enhancement.

Citation seems to be the name of the game, here. Neither of the articles I bought turned out to contain much of use, beyond what was already suggested in the abstract. For a working writer looking for insight, detail and some actual information, they were a waste of money.

I suppose the abstract served the same function as a Roger Corman trailer. As a producer friend once put it, "All the tits and bangs, and then there's no need to see the movie."


Caroline Callaghan said...

Hi Steve - I'm quite surprised by this one. I spent quite a while as an academic (before leaving to become a freelance trainer), and I've never heard of an academic having to pay to get published. You're correct, though, that we don't get paid for publishing - if only! And there are certain targets to achieve - X number of publications per year in top-rated journals - so as to help our universities in the regular university ranking exercise.

Maybe it's different in some areas than others (mine was business and management). Or maybe things have changed in the years I've been out of academia. But your friend could do with checking out whether it really is a reputable journal/publisher she's aiming at if they're asking for payment. It could be like the vanity publishers in fiction writing.

Caroline Callaghan

Stephen Gallagher said...

Hi Caroline

I subjected the piece to a rigorous fact-check (ie I asked said friend in the pub last night) and she confirmed that the journal in question is one of those top-rated peer-reviewed venues selected for recognition by her (psychology) department.

I couldn't quite believe it, either, which is what led me to look into contributor guidelines when I was downloading the articles!

Jay said...

I was just tipped off to the existence of your blog, Steve, so I'm playing catch-up. I read this out to my other half, who works as a university librarian. Apparently it is common practice now to charge the author for publication, but it's a relatively new thing that came in in the last few years.

You're spot on as to why some authors pay the extortionate fees to make their work available for free. With the journal subscription fees so high now, very few individuals can afford it, so the main source of revenue is the libraries. And with budgets being slashed there too, libraries are cancelling subscriptions left right and centre, so the journals are having to find new income streams, and shifting it to the author. Who grins and bears it, because you can't get citations if nobody can read your work.

In principle, research grants should take into account author fees, so it doesn't come out of the author's own pocket. It remains to be seen if that is happening, though...


Stephen Gallagher said...

When I mentioned buying the articles to said psychologist, she said I should have asked her - apparently she could have used her library privileges to get them for free.

Of course I said that my principles wouldn't allow it.

That, and she'd been away on holiday at the time.

But to my mind, it made a weird economic structure even weirder.

Caroline Callaghan said...

Jay said:
"Apparently it is common practice now to charge the author for publication, but it's a relatively new thing that came in in the last few years."

Phew! Looks like I got out of the academic/publishing rat-race just in time then! :)