Nationalize and Democratize Scientific Publishing


by Daniel T.

  1. All science is social. It begins with a research hypothesis that emerges from previous observations described in publications or learned through correspondence. The research program is funded by either for-profit corporations or government/non-profit agencies. Industry funding for research and development outpaces governmental funding, but most industry research is unpublished — these are company secrets. For academic research (i.e. government-funded) and some industry research, scientific publishing is the ultimate means of disseminating your findings. Like any means of publishing, a manuscript is prepared by the researchers. Based on the research area and the perceived importance of the work, scientists submit their work to a particular journal. The manuscript is assigned to an editor who decides if the manuscript is a fit for the journal. If not, the manuscript is rejected, and the authors decide on a new journal. If yes, the manuscript is sent to a number of experts in the particular research field for peer-review. Based on their feedback, the editor can accept the manuscript for publication or request that the manuscript be modified before a second round of peer-review. The final type-set manuscript is either made freely available if published in an open-access journal or otherwise hidden behind a paywall.

  1. The oldest scientific journals date to the mid-17th These journals were founded by monarchy-supported scientific societies. For the next three hundred years, scientific journals were operated by non-profit scientific societies. By the 1950s, a for-profit model began to take over the industry.
  2. Today, the English-language scientific publishing sector is a $10 billion USD market that controls all publicly-funded scientific research. This relationship needs to be recognized as parasitic.
  3. In 1980, the five biggest scientific publishing corporations (Reed-Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer Nature, American Chemical Society, Taylor & Francis) operated a little over 20% of all journals. Today, the same five corporations control over 50% of all scientific journals. Only one of these five journals, American Chemical Society, is non-profit. The for-profit corporations listed above report profits ranging from $250 million and $1.22 billion USD a year at margins between 23 and 37%.
  4. All journals, non-profit and for-profit alike, triple dip into the federal science budget. First, researchers pay an average of $4000 USD to publish a manuscript with a journal. Second, academics peer review research articles for free. Third, universities, colleges, and research libraries pay subscription fees to the same journals. Overall, over $100 million CAD is spent each year in paying publication and subscription fees to journals.
  5. To maintain revenue streams, journals place embargoes on research findings until they are published. Most also require authors to transfer over their copyright. With 80% of journals hiding articles behind paywalls, many are people are kept from reading pertinent scientific updates. This includes members of the public, such as medical professionals and teachers, and academics residing in impoverished and sanctioned countries, like Iran.
  6. Scientists are primarily evaluated on the basis of their publication record. As both the federal scientific budget and the number of tenure-track professor positions stagnates, the pressure for scientists to publish in prestigious journals increases. Success rates for federal Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant applications submitted between 2000 and 2005 averaged 30.2%. The number plummeted under Stephen Harper’s government to only 14.3% in 2015. And despite proclamations to the contrary, funding levels have not recovered under Justin Trudeau’s liberal government; the success rate in the spring 2019 competition remained at 15.6%.
  7. As scientific articles are transformed into commodities, journals compete for submissions by inflating their prestige. This involves preferentially publishing ‘breakthrough’ articles and rejecting validation and falsification studies. As a result, a reproducibility crisis has taken hold. Retraction rates continue to soar and attempts to replicate research findings fail more often than not. Crucially, important studies, such as clinical trials of ineffective drugs, are never published. This issue is compounded by the high cost of publishing in a journal. For struggling labs, it is difficult to justify publishing negative findings.
  8. Other journals offer a pay-to-play model, where any article will be published as long as the requisite fees are paid. Approximately 10,000 such predatory journals have popped up and inundate the scientific literature with claims that have not been peer reviewed.
  9. With so much of the scientific literature locked behind paywalls and with high-profile retraction rates becoming common, public trust in scientists ebbs. Yet, nearly all surveyed Canadians report a desire for science to be shared in easy-to-understand language.
  10. Frustration within the scientific community is boiling over. In particular, the open-access movement has won numerous victories. Many federal funders, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and American National Institutes of Health, require that scientific articles be made publicly available within 12 months of the publication date. Scientists have also founded non-profit, open-access journals, including the Public Library of Science (PLoS One) and eLife, and preprint servers. PLOS One rapidly became the largest journal in the world. Preprint serves like ArXiv and BioRxiv allow scientists to share and archive manuscripts prior to peer review. Such repositories accelerate scientific communication.
  11. Currently, 23 funding agencies have endorsed Plan S, which would require that all published work be made immediately available to the public and would cap publication fees. Canada and America have not endorsed Plan S.
  12. Other scientists operate databases of pirated scientific articles. Kazakhstani neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan founded Sci-Hub on the basis of communist ideals. A large scientific publisher was granted a $15 million USD injunction against Alexandra, who faces extradition to the US.
  13. For-profit corporations push back heavily against any attempt to make scientific findings more accessible. Elsevier, the largest publisher of scientific journals in the world, annually spends $2 million USD lobbying the American government to overturn open-access policies. Reactionary forces also attempt to equate open-access journals with predatory journals, many of which are open-access.
  14. The public also desires open-access to scientific articles. A petition circulated online in early 2020 succeeded in unlocking 32,000 articles on COVID-19.
  15. Throughout the 20th century, scientists founded dozens of repositories and databases. These resources are responsible for archiving and distributing data and provide limited peer review, do not charge researchers fees, are freely accessible, and are federally/institutionally funded. These resources often emerged from grassroots efforts following community consultation among scientists within a particular discipline.
  16. To rescue the scientific community from exploitation, financial and scientific, it is necessary to nationalize and democratize the scientific publishing industry. Although the open-access movement makes several important demands, it does not adequately address financial exploitation or the reproducibility crisis. Further, it is based on a reformist mindset that will be brutally attacked by for-profit publishers rather than a genuine mass movement of scientists, teachers, librarians, healthcare workers, and the public at large. Only once liberated from the profit motive can the utility of scientific communication be maximized.
  17. Some key demands, as Canada transitions towards a nationalized and democratic model, include:
  18. Government funding agencies must immediately endorse and adopt Plan S. All published research funded by the Tri-Council (NSERC, CIHR, SSHERC) must be made immediately and freely available to the public. Publicly-funded research belongs to the public. Publication fees capped at $500.
  19. Cancel all subscriptions to closed-access journals.
  20. Blacklist all journals that do not make their finances publicly available.
  21. Blacklist all journal that publish ads paid for by pharmaceutical companies.
  22. Require concurrent deposition of all raw data associated with a scientific publication with a centralized archive. Standards for deposition will follow gold standards followed by open-access journals like eLife and be updated following community consultation.
  23. Require that all publicly-funded research be immediately published on a preprint server when submitted to a peer reviewed journal.
  24. Establish a centralized ethics committee to oversee all allegations of scientific misconduct perpetrated by Canadian scientists. The committee will be comprised of elected members from all Canadian universities and research institutions.
  25. Offer asylum to all people at risk of extradition for pirating scientific articles.
  26. Pay all graduate students enrolled in a research stream a living wage.
  27. Pay all postdoctoral fellows, research associates, and laboratory technicians a living wage.
  28. Increase the number of tenure-track research positions.
  29. Increase the federal scientific budget. Raise success rates in grant competitions to 30%.
  30. Launch an editorial board of elected scientists to oversee nationalization of scientific publishing.
  31. Once launched, require that all publicly-funded scientific research be published in the nationalized journal.
  32. Archive and make freely available all Canadian research previously published in closed-access journals.
  33. Require that all published scientific articles include a lay summary.
  34. Host an annual convention of scientists and other stakeholders, including representatives of patient groups, librarians, students, etc., to propose and adopt new standards designed to promote transparency, expediency, reproducibility, collaboration, and communication with the public.
  35. As we demand the nationalization of Big Pharma and the public ownership of pharmaceutical companies, we must demand the public access and ownership of their industrial, pharmaceutical, and scientific research.Amendment by Sam to add the following:
  36. We demand that research groups around the world collaborate on research regarding all life-saving and life-sustaining medications, including a potential COVID-19 vaccine; we demand no profit on any life-saving and life-sustaining medications, including any potential COVID-19 vaccine.