Challenge of parallel publishing

“Publish or perish,” as the old academic saying goes. The saying has many sides to it, depending on whether it is looked at from the viewpoint of an individual or an institution. Back in the day when university positions were public offices rather than employment relationships, professorships were filled almost exclusively on the basis of the applicant’s scientific merits – assessed by publishing activities. Even today, the extent and quality of the applicant’s publishing activities continue to be major factors affecting the evaluation; however, also other factors have gained importance. From the viewpoint of the university, the old system looked at publishing activities as just one, rather loosely defined entity in the ministry’s funding model, whereas in today’s funding model, publishing activities are defined very rigorously and given significant weight in the earning logic.

Since 2011, the Publication Forum project coordinated by the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies has been tasked with the classification of different publication channels on the basis of their quality. This work is now in the final stretch, and researchers representing the fields of my faculty are increasingly choosing to publish in journals and with publishers that have been assigned a Publication Forum classification. In other words, researchers’ publishing behaviour has changed significantly.

Satisfying the requirements of the ministry isn’t enough anymore, as also research funders have their demands. The European Union and the Academy of Finland have expressed their strong preference, or even demand, for publishing research findings in open access channels. In many fields, this demand is currently conflicting with the Publication Forum classification. In human sciences, open access publishing is still in its infancy. The majority of open access channels are so new that they have not been given a Publication Forum classification. The Bell’s Predatory Publishers List, on the other hand, reveals that open access publishing has brought about hundreds of fraudulent journals seeking to make money off of researchers.

The schizophrenic situation was recently noted in a meeting of the chairs of the Publication Forum panels, a role in which I have acted for a year now and, before that, as a member of a panel ever since its establishment. At worst, publishing in a journal with a Publication Forum classification can be in conflict with funders’ requirements. Furthermore, from the viewpoint a researcher’s merits, it is usually better to publish in a high-impact, Publication Forum classified journal than in an open access channel still finding its place.

As a solution to the problem, setting up a system of parallel publishing in the universities has been proposed, allowing researchers to make their articles accepted for publication in scientific journals available to everyone without infringing any copyrights. The idea is good, but the legal jungle is really thick. Parallel publishing would require contracts with hundreds if not thousands of publishers. This is something that cannot remain at the responsibility of researchers, and I suspect that without additional resources, the task is also beyond the scope of the library.

In my opinion, publishing research findings in forums that have the highest scientific and social impact is crucial for promoting science.  A journal with a high Publication Forum classification doesn’t necessarily guarantee the best impact.

harri_siiskonenHarri Siiskonen