Monday, January 29, 2007

Scientific publishing

Scientific publishing, I read a year ago, is the most profitable part of the publishing business. It has increased its profit continuously more than inflation for the last fifty years. To be beneficial scientific publications need to be an essential tool for scientific development but they have degenerated to a point where many University libraries cannot afford the price for what should be an essential tool.

Newton said that "he could see further by standing on the shoulders of giants". In this day and age where it is effectively not possible to read all the literature published within a scientific speciality there is a crisis. The crisis is that it is impossible to read everything anyway and much of what is out there can not be read because it is impossible to afford it.

When a system is broken, inertia will prevent things from changing. When a tipping point is reached, things break, they break fast and if there is nothing to replace it, things break badly. For the publishers the prospects are bleak. They have made it plain that they plan to play dirty; they have hired a PR guy that is known to defend the indefensible. This can only bring the moment when things break that much closer.

By going for half truths and lies, they will alienate the very people they rely on. They will destroy this carefully created fa├žade of an industry that is a benefit to science. They will destroy much of the goodwill that they depended on. In a way it is sad, in another way some call it evolution.

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