Friday, January 15, 2010

A New Approach to Covering the Costs of Autism Research Publication

I would like to propose a new approach to paying for the costs of autism research publication. Instead of having subscribers pay for access to autism research journals, a much better solution would be to have contributors pay for the right to publish in autism research journals.

This idea might at first appear to be somewhat counterintuitive, but it has one obvious advantage over the current approach: the new approach does a much better job of matching costs to benefits. For example, readers of autism research journals, who currently receive nothing of value for their enterprise, would no longer be charged for the privilege, providing in this case a perfect match of expense and gain. At the same time, those who get published in autism research journals—and thereby gain access to doctoral degrees, tenured positions, editorial appointments, government committees and of course additional funding—would be obliged to provide some recompense for these many benefits, thereby helping to keep the system going.

But I believe I can do this excellent idea even one better.

Instead of charging a flat fee for the publication of an autism research article, a much more effective approach would be to charge an exponentially increasing scale based upon the number of co-authors listed on each paper. A one-author article, for instance—which, after all, does have some chance of providing valuable insights into the nature of autism—might be published for just a nominal amount, or perhaps even for free. Adding a second author, however, would require the contribution of, let us say, an additional two thousand dollars to the final invoice, and adding a third author would augment the overall fee by a further four thousand dollars, adding a fourth author would cost an additional eight thousand dollars, and so on.

Under this proposal—and given the size of some co-author lists I have seen on recent autism articles—a few lucky journals might find themselves able to cover an entire decade's worth of expense through the publication of a single article alone. However, let me be clear on this—I do not recommend the booking of outlandish profits under such circumstances: the majority of revenue gathered in excess of reasonable costs should be returned immediately to supporting governmental agencies, for the express purpose of retiring national debts.

Another feature that might be added to my proposal—a slight improvement, if you will—is to require a surcharge for the inclusion of any co-authors who possess high name recognition or who have reached a certain standard of publication profligacy. That is to say, for each S. Baron-Cohen, G. Dawson, or F. Volkmar pasted onto the end of any given co-author list, this would add, oh let us say, an additional fifty thousand dollars to the final publishing fee. Now it is true that if this supplemental S. Baron-Cohen, G. Dawson, or F. Volkmar happens to be the tenth author “contributing” to the given paper, then that additional name, under the scale described above, would already be setting back the paper to the tune of a half million dollars or so, and thus tacking on an additional fifty thousand dollars might seem like overdoing it a bit. But keep in mind that the value in this new approach is to match costs to benefits, and we all know how much a career (not to mention, the peer review prospects) can be enhanced by association with that one special “colleague.” If perhaps this final feature of my proposal does seem a bit too controversial, might I suggest employing it on a trial basis at first, in just a few select journals, until the feature's true benefit becomes more apparent.

I of course have some additional revenue-raising suggestions, ones based upon the number of citations employed in each article—in particular, citations of the authors' own prior work—but I would prefer to keep such suggestions on the back burner for now; I do not want to overload the system all at once with too much cash. After an appropriate investment plan has been put in place at each journal, along with all the necessary safeguards, maybe then consideration can be given to some of these more advanced techniques.

Now I know what you must be thinking. You must be thinking that if this new approach is so obviously beneficial, then why has someone from the autism research community not already suggested it. I admit to feeling a bit sheepish about having to make this proposal myself, being an outsider and all, but I would note that there are many circumstances in life in which those who are part of a community are so attached to that community they cannot easily take a step back and gain helpful perspective. Quite often—let us be honest here for once—people are simply standing too close to the problem to recognize its solution.


Alexander Cheezem said...

Interesting idea, but the economics of it don't really work out.

Suffice it to say that pay-to-publish journals, which exist, still need to charge subscribers.

Hua said...

I'm no economist so I can't really comment on the mathematical side of things, but I do think you have some really interesting ideas. I think thinking like yours is really going to help people out in the future.

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Anonymous said...

I wish I could read journals my uni doesnt subscribe to.