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Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics

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ESEP 8:pp13 (2008)  -   10.3354/esep00086

The siege of science

Michael Taylor1,*, Pandelis Perakakis2, Varvara Trachana3

1Departamento de Astrofisica Molecular e Infrarroja (DAMIR), Instituto de Estructura de la Materia (IEM), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC), Calle Serrano 121, Madrid 28006, Spain
2Departamento de Psicologia, Campus Universitario de Cartuja, Granada 18071, Spain
3Departamento de Imunologia y Oncologia, Centro Nacional de Biotecnología (CNB), Darwin 3, Campus de Cantoblanco, Madrid 28049, Spain

ABSTRACT: Science is in a state of siege. The traditional stage for scientific ideas through peer-reviewed academic journals has been hijacked by an overpriced journal monopoly. After a wave of mergers and take-overs, big business publishing houses now exercise economic control over access to knowledge and free scientific discourse. Their ‘all is number’ rationale, made possible and perpetuated by single-parameter bibliometric indices like the Impact Factor and the h-index has led to a measurement of scientists, science and science communication with quality being reduced to quantity and with careers hanging in the balance of column totals. Other multi-parameter indices like the subscription-based Index Copernicus have not helped to resolve the situation. The patented and undisclosed black box algorithm of the Index Copernicus has just replaced one yardstick by another even less accessible one. Moreover, the academic as author, editor and/or reviewer, under intense competitive pressure, is forced to play the publishing game where such numbers rule, leading to frequent abuses of power. However, there are also deep paradoxes at the heart of this siege. Electronic software for producing camera-ready-copy, LaTeX style files, the internet and technology mean that it has never been easier or cheaper to publish than it is today. Despite this, top journals are charging exorbitant prices for authors to publish and for readers to access their articles. Academic libraries are feeling the pinch the most and are being forced to cut journal subscriptions. Not surprisingly, scholars in droves are declaring their independence from commercial publishers and are moving to open access journals or are self-archiving their articles in public domain pre-print servers. That this movement is starting to hurt the big publishing houses is evidenced by their use of counter-tactics such as proprietary pre-print servers and pure propaganda in their attempts to guard against profit loss. Whether or not bibliometry will be an artefact in the future depends on the outcome of this battle. Here, we review the current status of this siege, how it arose and how it is likely to evolve.

KEY WORDS: Academic journals · Power law · Biomedicine · Bibliometric indices · Quality · Evaluation Open access Publishing model

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ESEP THEME SECTION: The use and misuse of bibliometric indices in evaluating scholarly performance