The future of scientific publishing

This project explores the role of publishing in the scientific enterprise, asking how the scholarly publishing system can maximize benefit to global science and to wider audiences for scientific research.

Accessible publication of the results and ideas arising from research is a fundamental part of the scientific enterprise. Yet technological change, an explosion in demand for journal outlets, monopolistic behaviour on the part of some publishers, and the use of journal impact factors and cited publications as primary indicators of scientific merit have created systemic instability in scientific publishing.

Today many institutions and researchers are excluded from accessing articles that are hidden behind paywalls, and there are increasing calls for the reform of scientific publishing in order to further the global progress of science. It is clear that the system is no longer fulfilling the needs of its main audience: scholarly researchers and the institutions in which they work.

At the same time, Open Access is widely seen as a means to overcome inequities in access to knowledge, particularly in poorer countries and institutions, and ultimately to increase the use of scientific evidence in decision-making. However, routes to Open Access are far from resolved, as recent debates around the ‘Plan S’ initiative have demonstrated. The scientific publishing model is ripe for renewal.

Anticipated impact

Agreement on a set of principles for scientific publishing to maximize benefit to global science and wider audiences for scientific research; and their advocacy among the wider community of science producers, users, funders and publishers.

Opening the Record of Science:
Making scholarly publishing work for science in the digital era

In the first half of 2020, the Council developed a draft discussion paper that presents an initial analysis of the scholarly publishing system and its consequences, and a set of draft principles. Drafting was informed by a diverse scoping group (see list below) from the scientific community, and the draft paper was reviewed by an international group of reviewers. The draft paper was intended as background to a series of online discussions within the ISC membership that took place in September 2020. These discussions sought further input and, ultimately, consensus within the ISC community about the extent to which publishing regimes and current trends serve the needs of science, whether and what change may be needed, and provided an opportunity to discuss a way forward for action to achieve reform.

The resulting ISC Report Opening the record of science: making scholarly publishing work for science in the digital era was published in February 2021. It proposes a set of principles for scientific publishing that can maximize the benefit of publishing for global science and for the wider audience for scientific research. In the second phase of the project the Report will be used to set the agenda for discussion and action involving ISC Members and other stakeholders.

Key Milestones

✅ A draft discussion paper was prepared between May and June 2020, with input from the scoping group, and was then reviewed.

✅ The draft discussion paper was circulated to ISC Members on 23 July 2020, together with a survey, for feedback by 1 September 2020. Further input was provided through a series of virtual meetings for ISC Members which took place throughout September. The draft discussion paper was then updated to reflect input received.

✅ An ISC Occasional paper ‘Business Models and Market Structure within the Scholarly Communications Sector‘ was published in September 2020 as a complement to the draft discussion paper.

Following a review by the ISC’s Governing Board, the draft discussion paper developed through 2020 was published as an ISC Report ‘Opening the record of science: making scholarly publishing work for science in the digital era in February 2021.

✅ ISC Members were contacted on 19 February 2021 with an invitation to provide additional feedback on the Report, and to indicate their interest in engaging with the next phase of the project.

✅ A Steering Group for phase two of the project was appointed in March 2021 and met for the first time in April 2021. The Group’s remit is to advise the Council on tractable priorities for reform and action; to assist in identifying and addressing relevant regional priorities; and to advise on processes designed to implement change. 

✅ During the 2nd General Assembly, the ISC Members overwhelmingly supported the resolution on endorsing the “Eight principles for reform of scientific publishing” and working together to achieve reform.

Next steps

🟡 In this second phase of the project, the Council will seek to engage and collaborate with its Members, national and international funders, with universities, with open science bodies, publishers and individual scientists to create a powerful and broadly-based coalition for change to ensure that the processes of efficient dissemination and use of scientific work are central parts of a revitalized open science. 

Steering Group

The Steering Group provides oversight for Phase 2 of the project. The group was appointed in March 2021.

Photo of Abrizah Abdullah

Abrizah Abdullah

Professor, Faculty of Computer Science & Information Technology, University of Malaya

Dominique Babini

CLACSO Open Science Adviso

Michael Barber

Australian Academy of Science

Ahmed Bawa

Chief Executive Officer, Universities South Africa

Amy Brand

Head of MIT press

Luke Drury

Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and former President, Royal Irish Academy

Heather Joseph

Executive Director, SPARC

Joy Owango

Executive Director, Training Centre in Communication; and AfricArXiv project partner

Qinglin Wang

Qinglin Wang (from September 2021)

China Association for Science and Technology (CAST)

Zhang Xiaolin (until September 2021)

Chinese Academy of Science, China

Scoping Group

The Scoping Group provided input on the report that was drafted in 2020.

  • Bianca Amaro, President, La Referencia; and Coordinator of the Brazilian Open Science Program, Brazilian Institute of Information in Science and Technology
  • Dominique Babini, Open Science Advisor, Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO)
  • Michael Barber, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and former Vice-Chancellor, Flinders University
  • Geoffrey Boulton (Chair and principal author), Regius Professor of Geology Emeritus, University of Edinburgh; Member of the International Science Council Governing Board
  • Robin Crew, Senior Research Fellow (Entomology), Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria; Past-President, Academy of Science of South Africa
  • Luke Drury, Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and former President, Royal Irish Academy
  • Martin Eve, Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing, Birkbeck, University of London
  • Sari Hanafi, Professor of Sociology, American University of Beirut; President, International Sociological Association
  • Mary Lee Kennedy, Executive Director, Association of Research Libraries, USA
  • Nathalie Lemarchand, Professor of Geography, University Paris 8; Vice-President, International Geographical Union
  • Anna Mauranen, Professor of English Philology, University of Helsinki; President, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters
  • Ravi Murugesan, Associate, INASP
  • Joseph Mwelwa, JointMindsConsult, Botswana
  • François Robida, French Geological Survey (BRGM) and International Union of Geological Science Commission for the Management and Application of Geoscience Data
  • Peter Strickland, Executive Managing Editor, International Union of Crystallography
  • Paul Uhlir, Consultant on Information Policy and Management
  • Zhang Xiaolin, Chinese Academy of Science, China.

Review Group

This Group reviewed the report in mid-2020 and provided feedback to the ISC Governing Board.

  • Pearl Dykstra (Chair), Director of Research of the Department of Public Administration and Sociology at the Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Hazami Habib, Chief Executive Officer, Academy of Sciences Malaysia
  • Molapo Qhobela, Chief Executive Officer, National Research Foundation, South Africa
  • Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication, Director of the Harvard Open Access Project (Berkman Klein Center), and Senior Researcher, Berkman Klein Center
  • Sally Wyatt, Professor of Digital Cultures, Technology & Society Studies, Maastricht University

Advisors to the project

Rupert Gatti, University of Cambridge, authored the ISC Occasional paper ‘Business Models and Market Structure within the Scholarly Communications Sector‘ as part of this project.


Lizzie Sayer

Senior Communications Officer