Should universities and their research staff cease the hunt for prestige to benefit academia and society at large?

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We would like to get your thoughts on a recently published article “The costly prestige ranking of scholarly journals” has just been published by Bård Smedsrød, Professor at the Department of Medical Biology and Leif Longva, Academic Librarian at UiT, The Arctic University of Norway.

The article lays out fundamental flaws in academic publishing processes today and challenges researchers to make a stand and contribute to a move toward Open Access Publishing models.

The flaws, highlighted by the article, stem from the long review and editing stages an article will typically take until the point of acceptance and eventual publication. Smedsrød and Longva note that during this period, the article is hidden from the research community which “represents a major loss of efficiency and productivity and equates to an economic cost to research and society”.

But because researchers are rewarded for their perseverance in attaining publication in a prestigious journal, they are happy to accept the cost of the process. The problem is that the research community and society beyond still bear the cost of waiting for the content to be published, with no consequential reward to the larger community to balance that loss.

The conpher team is mainly made up of early-career researchers. When it comes to publishing our research, we engage with a full spectrum of publishing options, we submit pre-prints, to open access journals, to established subscription journals. As a group, we do not follow a defined pattern in the choice of forum to share our research, but we are guided by our mentors and peers, by our previous publishing experiences, the different subject areas we work in, career prospects and aspirations and fundamental requirements for a structure which we need to maintain our research processes.

a prestige journal on my CV marks me as a good candidate

For early-career researchers like us, we are fighting for recognition, fighting for grants, and fighting for possibly the security of tenure. According to Alperin in his article published in April 2019, 40% of research-intensive universities in the United States and Canada explicitly mention that journal impact factors can be considered in promotion and tenure decisions. More likely do so unofficially, with faculty members using journal names on a CV as a kind of shorthand for how “good” a candidate’s publication record is.

That is our (the academic community) challenge – how do we overcome the balance between achieving our career goals if they are basically determined by following the same path of our predecessors in the hunt for prestige.

Is it right that journals have become over time a proxy for quality of researchers? “Researchers are thus evaluated not based on what they have accomplished in their research, but rather on where they have published.”

If that evaluation was removed, the conpher team feel that the shift to a more efficient publishing process could happen at a dramatically rapid rate, to the benefit of the individual, to our research community and to society.

Smedsrød and Longva conclude with a call to arms!

“The present system of scholarly publishing, designed for Gutenberg’s 500 years old technology, is more than ready for a major revision. Universities ought to have the motivation and possibility to develop more healthy models for scholarly publishing.”

They suggest universities can and should take action suggesting withdrawing support for their faculty to contribute peer-review services or editorial board positions for certain journals and publishers until publishers agree to a fairer deal with respect to access and charges.

What do you think? What do you see as the way forward? Let us know! Add your comment below!

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