Problems of scientific publishing – Is it scientists vs. journals? 

Having to pay to get your work published

Sometimes I really wonder how this happened – as a scientist, you have put tons of work into getting the research you would like to share with the public and spend a lot of effort to write a good manuscript. Without them, there´d be nothing the journals could publish and earn money with – and they earn quite a lot, considering what most charge their readers. However, as an author you need to be overly happy if they accept your paper for publication, and NOT extra-charge you for it. Often, you even transfer basically all your rights on the manuscript to the journal and are not even allowed to distribute it. How does that help science? And how does this help your work to be widely known? Well, just opt for Open Source!

The problem with Open Source

Open Source surely is the best way to spread your research widely, everyone agrees on that, and journals have figured out that it is a good idea to provide that option to authors. I remember being more than happy when I found out that a certain journal we had chosen for a manuscript of ours, provided an Open Source option. Oh my, how did that change when I realized that they wanted to charge us around 3000 Dollars for it! Who has the fund to pay an amount like that?

Especially young scientists usually already struggle to get enough funding to cover their living and research costs, no way that we are able to pay this! The universities I worked for so far did not/ were not able to provide the necessary funds for Open Source publishing either. So, the only option is to either submit it to a (usually low or no impact factor) journal that will publish it (if accepted) at no costs for you or to publish it non-Open Source at a well-known journal. Guess what we aimed for. If you’ve got any interest in pushing your career forward, you are nearly forced to publish in a high-impact journal. Looks good on the CV, even if probably only a small amount of people will have access to your wonderful work!

What options do we have? It’s the well known publish or perish, and we are ruled by that. Haven’t published enough? You don’t get the job. Published in journals with a low impact factor? You don’t get the job. So basically, especially high-impact journals can get us to do whatever they ask for.

Where does all the money go?

Surely, a journal that earns tons of money by publishing your work should pay at least anyone else involved in the publication process a fair wage for their work. You´d think. Being a reviewer means that you spend quite a few hours in reading a manuscript, trying to get a grip on it, thinking about ways to improve it, providing useful comments for increasing the overall quality, checking journal guidelines, etc.. This is a lot of work.

This was the second time I had to tell my family when I was all excited that I was asked to review a paper for the first time, that I do not get a penny for my work. They were bewildered, and really, why shouldn´t they? Again, scientists doing all the work without getting paid. And, especially as a young scientist, you are incredibly happy if you even get the chance to review someone else’s work. It feels like “Finally, I´m a real scientist!”. Somehow, this system made us believe that it’s enough to just be recognized for your work. Money? Hey, we are people of the mind, we can live on clever words and impact points! Don´t you dare to insult us by offering money for the work we do!

Once you get to a certain stage of your career, you are not that happy about getting review requests all of the time. For obvious reasons. I was recently contacted by the editor of a journal where I had submitted a paper to, stating that they were not able to find someone to review it, and if I could provide some more names of potential reviewers. In the end, they apparently found one. Just one. For this certain publication, that’s quite good for me, as it means less work, but how can we provide a high-quality review if no one is willing to do reviews anymore? Wouldn’t it be great if we all start declining reviews when not getting something out of it? The system needs to change, and we have the power to do something about it!

Same is true for editors, who (as I´m aware) only get a ridiculous amount of money for the huge amount of work they do – for the reputation. Ask for a proper payment here, too!

Research needs to be sexy to be published

I wonder how many experiments have been done several times because authors were not able to publish their non-significant research outcomes. What a waste of time and money if we don´t have access to the things that did not work out! But manuscripts like that are not sexy enough and don´t sell well. Many scientists don´t even consider writing a manuscript about non-significant experiment outcomes for that reason. We could learn so much from this, though! Another thing that urgently needs to change, in my opinion. We need to share all of our research, to be able to learn from it and bring science forward.

Having to reformat your manuscript for every journal

Reformatting your manuscript to fit all the author’s guidelines of a certain journal is the most annoying thing in the writing process – and it takes up a lot of time. Ideally, you do this once – but if the journals decide to reject your paper – either directly or after a review process, you end up reworking the format for the next journal. Or, actually even for the same journal, when they change their guidelines. I recently had to reformat a manuscript for the third time for the same journal as they are apparently in a process of finding the perfect author guidelines and had different ones three times during a year! Reformatting that paper by now took more time than writing the whole manuscript. How effective could scientists work if they would not need to spend so much time just with formatting issues? Why can´t there be a general form research manuscripts should look like in all journals? Or at least, what is the problem with having the manuscripts formatted to the journal’s format AFTER the journals decide they find it suitable for publication?


Oh and please, if you´re a woman, ask a male colleague to be your co-author. Because that automatically increases the quality of your work. Check #addmaleauthorgate.


Do you have to add to that list, or other problems in mind? Share your thoughts and support the community!