An Academic Spring

     The world of academic publishing was recently set in turmoil by Cambridge University mathematician, Dr Timothy Gowers whose personal blog site clarified reasons to boycott Elsevier, the publishers of more than 2000 academic journals in a wide variety of fields, many of which are top academic journals. 

     Dr Gowers, a world-known mathematician and former (Nobel Prize equivalent) Fields Medal winner, is an inspiring character whose actions have emboldened others to also take action.

Sources : 
    From January 2012, more than 9,500 researchers worldwide have signed online submission refusals to publish their works in, editing papers for or even refer to any article published in  Elsevier or  journals belonging to the Elsevier Company. As the number of academicians participating in this process seems to have increased rapidly, the world may be looking at the onset of its academic spring. 
     Dr Gowers cites three important reasons for his opposition to this giant worldwide publishing press. First of all, Elsevier?s journal registration fee is set too high, accruing company profit at 36 % of entire income in 2010. The practice of Bundling provides a second reason, where libraries are compelled to take out unnecessary journal subscriptions. The third reason is Elsevier supports legislation such as the Research Works Act that would forbid the government requiring that free access be given to taxpayer-funded research.
     According to Elsevier, however, high price setting is necessary to control the quality of the academic papers published. The costs of peer review, editing and publication are additional. Elsevier price-setting is explained by the company as no different to that of averagely sized press industries. High profit also comes from efficiency in organizational operations.
     This conflict between academicians and the publishing house has been lengthy due to the culture of free-information flow amongst academicians where all the costs and benefits of work processing and editing are provided free of charge. 
     Academicians are not pleased that the publishing company looks for highest profit gain by setting a journal membership fee and controlling many well-known academic journals. Academic online publishing thus remains at breaking point in this conflict.
     Academicians and many universities have tried to cut this large publishing company from its production and research publishing supply chain in various ways, for example, by resigning from the editorial groups of many journal publications, by establishing new publishing houses with lower membership costs and less service limitations or creating websites to channel the publishing of academic papers with no member subscription costs.
     Nevertheless, compared to the former publishing process for journal papers, the new methods are still unreliable in terms of the academic quality of papers published. Academic papers published solely on Internet lack official expert peer reviews, making them especially unreliable. Meanwhile, university ranking is still considered from the number of papers published in high impact journals belonging to Elsevier?s giant world publishing enterprise.
     The suggested solution for this problem is that state agencies and foundations support research grants that specify conditions of free access to journal publishing and that reinforce the strength of academic journals where all academicians can freely present their work.  There are also time limitations involved in assessing the costs involved in providing access to papers. The United Kingdom and the US government are working overtime on this too.
     For Thailand, where the minimum wage has increased and competition is intense, research production and innovation is needed to propel the country forward economically. However, Thailand?s national academic and research movement is unable to bring hope to the country, with this obstructed progress not from the normality of the private sector, but due to research access restrictions of state agencies.
Private sector access to state agency generated research is limited by benefit sharing and the high price set on research. Commercial purchase from state agencies is not worthwhile, which leaves much research unable to developed and used commercially. Finally, it will render many research outdated and unused.
     The operation of state bureaucracy and the investigation of state budget usage may partially limit and make cooperation difficult between state agencies and the private sector. Research investment may also be seen in terms of financial account benefit, rather than present and future economic and social benefit.
     It may be time for the government, state agencies and academicians to stand up and reform research management, whereby national innovations will render research the answer for the future of the country.
Kriengsak Chareonwongsak.
Senior Fellow at Harvard University?s Center of Business and Government.