Thoughts about Academic Publishing

Last week, Geert Lovink emailed me about ideas regarding Academic Publishing.

Without divulging the entire contents of our conversation, what follows is an edited version of my reply.

A few initial thoughts:

It seems there is a serious logjam in this regard, especially in the humanities. As usual, the “hard” sciences argue less about such things – it’s not in their purview to question / change their social appearances and methodologies – and as a consequence they always seem to be a few years ahead of the humanities, as the humanities, soft sciences, philosophers, and theoreticians are by necessity of their trade constantly questioning their social appearances and methodologies. Combined with the global emphasis on STEM education and its inherent coherence with the agendas of capital, hard science and engineering also get the lion’s share of funding as well, allowing them the resources to develop socialised forms of knowledge distribution, and allowing these systems to exist (viz ArVix among others).

However, even the hard sciences have their own set of problems, because 1000 articles on ArVix (and other open science forae) aren’t worth one article in say, journals like Nature or Science. However, these journals are the property of  huge publishing combines like Elsevier etc. As is well understood it is these corporations that hang like a pall on academia, and it is they who, in their own self interest, seek to do to Alexandra Elbakyan,, libgen, and aaaaarg, what they did to Aaron Swartz.

The ecosystem of academic publishing is a thicket of exploitation – in fact, academic publishing *requires* this ennobled slavery, and the humanities haven’t really helped the situation or themselves with the constant arrangement and re-arrangement of intellectual circular firing squads.  Even that self-destruction often fails as it is hampered by a lack of proper funding.

Academic Publishing is a rotted and broken system. It must be transformed.
“One part is about the existing critique of peer review.”
Peer review is so broken that’s like dynamiting fish in a barrel.

“And the new attempts to get rid of”
I haven’t followed that thread – I know that The Big Five want it dead, but I don’t know what attempts to kill it have been made.

“(We need) An argument to write less, work on concepts and overcome big data.”
There is a lot in there. I don’t think there will be any way to overcome big data – however, big data can be transformed. That’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

Something I am concerned with is the post-Napsterisation of academia, speaking form my own experiences.
Prior to Napster, there were many record companies, and even small ones were able to eek out a living selling records. CDs reduced music to data, and increased profit ratios as they were MUCH cheaper to reproduce than vinyl LPs. For much of the 90s, hard drives were small and extremely expensive. Prices collapsed in the late 90s (In 1995 I bought my first 1 gigabyte drive for $550, in 2000, one could buy a 30 GB drive for $125). This, in conjunction with the advent of DSL, set the stage for Napster…

Within several years after Napster, the music industry was left with 5 major companies (now 3). Musicians no longer make significant money from their publications – they make their money on endless and exhausting performance. All methods of free distribution of music (pirate bay, datalockers, music blogs)  are actively harrassed, persecuted, and opposed. The Major Companies maintain their power as gate-keepers to acceptance, as the 21st century musician’s career depends on mass acceptance and distribution.
Within several years after Swartz, the Academic Publishing industry was left with a handful of major companies (now about 5). Academics no longer make significant money from the publication – they make their money on endless and exhausting performance in the classroom and if they are fulltime tenured professors, from travel grants from their universities. All methods of free distribution of knowledge (Sci-Hub,libgen ,  are actively harrassed, persecuted, and opposed. The Major Academic Publishing Companies maintain their power as gate-keepers to acceptance, as the 21st century academic’s career depends on acceptance into elite publishing sites, and the dissemination/distribution of their ideas once so accepted…

As Attali said : music is heraldic. If you want to know what the future is like, look at music.
And right now, music is in a harrowing state, where the Industry is parasitic and dying and taking the whole thing down with itself. Musicians, like academics, are atomised and incapable of organisation except in spot formations over specific topics (FarmAid, Feeding the Poor, 9/11, for musicians, endless and largely ineffectual conferences etc. for academics) few of which challenge the system itself, or even have any notion of reform. And those who do seek such change engage in circular firing squads due to the aforementioned atomisation. Competition is most vicious when the rewards are small and / or shrinking, and in humanities research, questioning everything, including presentation and language, are part of the practice itself. So, the delays makes sense, but all academics are in a very weak and continuously weakening position.

Capital has academia exactly where it wants it – on its knees and begging for scraps.