The future of scientific publishing

This project will involve key stakeholders to undertake a major review of the role of publishing in the scientific enterprise. This will be used as a basis for identifying 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.

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.

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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 is intended as background to a series of online discussions within the ISC membership that are being planned for September – November 2020. These discussions will seek 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 to agree on a way forward in a plan for action to achieve reform.

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. The discussion paper and survey are password protected; if you represent an ISC member and have not received a password, please contact Anne Thieme.
  • 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.

Next steps

Virtual discussion meetings with ISC members will take place on 22 September (from 14:00 – 16:00 UTC/16:00 – 18:00 CEST) and 29 September (from 07:00 – 09:00 UTC/09:00 – 11:00 CEST). If you represent an ISC member and have not received an invitation by 18 August, please contact Anne Thieme.

Later phases of the project will focus on outreach to involve a broader group of stakeholders, with the aim of creating an international coalition for change. Following those meetings, the discussion paper will be amended to create a position paper to be placed before the ISC Governing Board for its agreement and potentially for the creation of a longer-term plan for action. We anticipate that this would involve a wider group of stakeholders, including governmental, inter-governmental and UN bodies, publishers and other scientific groupings.

Scoping group

  • 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

  • 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