I am very surprised that I could not find any similar question here.

It seems to me that researchers from all universities are willing to write papers about their research for free and hand them into a journal to gain reputation. On the other hand, some other researcher do voluntary check the paper in order to examine if the paper is acceptable for the journal. Therefore, the main work is done by researches.

The remaining work for the journal is to offer a platform where researchers can communicate and making sure that the reviewer is selected anonymous and to bundle many articles to a journal.

Now everyone has to pay a huge amounts for the papers, they are not accessible for free to the general public, even though that most researchers are financed by taxes and only the journal is making profit.

Now I wonder, should it not be possible to create a network page for researchers which contains methods to imitate the review process of a paper? So that all papers can be downloaded at the website for free. I guess most researchers would be very happy if everyone could read their work. Also the money that is spend on journals by universities could be spend to this huge network page instead in order to keep it running.

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    Platforms like arXiv, ResearchGate and others offer some of the features you mention. Also, lets not forget about open access journals which can be free (such as JMLR). – Marc Claesen Jan 4 '15 at 16:14
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    My favourite metaphor of the current system is this joke from Scott Aaronson. – Aubrey Jan 4 '15 at 17:03
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    If your problem is access to scientific papers, I would recommend this answer: academia.stackexchange.com/a/12339/10643 – Cape Code Jan 4 '15 at 17:11
  • These are very good ideas. I think that they are already being developed, by PLOS for example. – Nicolas Barbulesco Jul 28 '16 at 18:09

Please meet the Open Access movement. In the last twenty years, many scholars and librarians did try to address the problem you pose. It is, in fact, a huge issue, and things like this don't change overnight.

The OA movement focused on two main strategies:

  • Publishing in peer reviewed open journals (gold open access): the idea is to create a brand new journal (or to change the model of an old one) which will provide articles free for the readers, without the current subscription model in which libraries (meaning, taxpayers) pay. The crucial factor of Gold OA is the presence of peer review: organize real journals costs a lot of money, and at the moment the major business model is APG (author processing charges), meaning that the author (often, the faculty behind it) pays for being published and cover the journal costs. We're still in transition, and there are a lot of drawbacks: there are predatory publishers who try to scam authors, and big publishers offer the "open access option" charging huge fees (this is also called double dipping, because a hybrid (both Open and Closed) journal will receive the money from subscriptions and the money from the authors. It is important to remark, also, that big publishers make a lot of money with subscriptions and they are actively challenging the open access model. PLoS, for example, is one of the new Gold OA publishers.

  • Self-archiving in repositories (green open access): it is the model of arXiv, Repec, and thousands of other repositories. They can be "institutional" or "disciplinary", and they accept mostly pre-prints, but also post-print articles.

Of course, there are some experiments in the field:


Full disclosure: I've worked as a digital librarian in managing OA journals from University of Bologna. I'm biased towards OA and open knowledge in general. Please keep it mind that my answers reflect these bias.

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  • big publishers make a lot of money with subscriptions so do gold OA journals with APCs. and they are actively challenging the open access model Hardly. Most have gold OA options to their journals for researchers who have 3000$ they're not sure how to spend. – Cape Code Jan 4 '15 at 16:55
  • A related read: academia.stackexchange.com/a/31621/10643 – Cape Code Jan 4 '15 at 16:59
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    I tried to address the phenomenon of "double dipping" of Hybrid Journals. Big publishers make tons of money from subscriptions (please, don't ask me to provide references now :-). Many scholars call this model "Red OA", because it "pollutes" the original and ethical drive of OA, and make researchers prefer the old closed system. – Aubrey Jan 4 '15 at 17:01
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    Not only hybrid journals. The Nature Publishing Group bought a large share of Frontiers, a luxury gold OA publisher. Gold OA is the next big pathway for tax money to flow into publishers pockets, you really think they'd miss that? – Cape Code Jan 4 '15 at 17:29
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    I'm biased towards OA and open knowledge in general. This is a good bias. – Orion Mar 17 '16 at 14:38

The traditional publishing model has in fact been heavily debated over the past decade or so, and there have been several reinventions. Among these are Open-Access journals, repositories like arXiv, academic social networks like ResearchGate and publishing the paper and the data through repositories such as GitHub.

Some of these are also attaining a great deal of success. The biggest reason we're "not there yet" is inertia. There are two reasons for this inertia.

  • Publishers don't want to lose their revenue stream, and produce propaganda claiming open access or other alternative models don't work, and traditional paywalled journals are the best.
  • There is a very strong culture of judging the worth of research by the journal it's published in. So in practice, if you have a very good paper, you make a decision: Do you compromise on your pro-OA sentiment and publish in a prestigious journal, or do you risk undermining your future job applications by publishing in an OA journal?

Ultimately, it appears to be the case that applicants who are seriously considered will be evaluated on the merits of the papers themselves, not where they published. However, when there are hundreds of applicants for a position that need to be quickly screened, will the overworked committee have time to read several papers of every single one, or will they start scanning the CVs for journal names?

OA will surely prevail in the end. Recent past has shown that in practice and in theory, there are no major reasons why it shouldn't. Perhaps after that, other more revolutionary changes will follow. However, OA will not "win" until faculties overcome the bias that OA journals are lesser journals and papers published in OA journals are not good enough for traditional ones. When they do overcome this bias, post-docs and graduate students will happily switch to publishing in OA, now that it's not endangering their career.

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    The issue that seems to get overlooked is that journals are intended to provide permanent archival of published papers. The problem with electronic journals, etc., is that it is not clear that they can do this with the same reliability as printed journals, which really are stored on paper in archival libraries. – Oswald Veblen Jan 4 '15 at 18:37
  • @OswaldVeblen Perhaps that was true in the past. Today, many libraries and online repositories are more than capable of archiving electronic copies. I suppose the question is something like, "If PLoS servers explode tomorrow, what happens to all the papers". But Google Scholar already finds several mirrors of a given PDF, and presumably it would find many more if not for copyright restrictions. – Superbest Jan 4 '15 at 22:37
  • @OswaldVeblen and the corollary is: which articles among the exploding number of them do we want to archive, now that curation and editorial rejection have become unfashionable. – Cape Code Jan 4 '15 at 23:19
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    @Superbest: I have had conversations with well-known researchers who are not at all confident about electronic archiving. They bring up the example of paper documents from ancient Greece and Rome (and many other historical civilizations) that we can still read, compared to electronic data from even the 1960s and 1970s that has been lost or is unreadable now. – Oswald Veblen Jan 5 '15 at 0:10
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    Superbest, @Oswald has a good point. Many organisations may archive electronic copies of papers, but these are only digital copies. When we unearth an ancient greek stone, or even a parchment from the Middle Ages, we can read them. When the archeologists of the future will find a hard disk, will they be able to read the "papers" inside ? Recently, a library has tried to read an archive, and could not read the tape, the equipment did not exist anymore. – Nicolas Barbulesco Jan 14 '15 at 12:37

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