Since the earliest days of scientific research, scholarly publishing has allowed scientists to share new ideas and evidence with each other, and with the wider public. By sharing knowledge claims so that they can be scrutinized, tested and applied, scientific publishing forms the basis of scientific ‘self-correction’, and underpins the kind of international scientific collaboration essential to tackling the global challenges facing the world today, from climate change to pandemic response.
The published record of scientific knowledge and understanding found in books, journals and other print or digital texts is continually refreshed and renewed as new discoveries are made.
Yet there are deep concerns within the scientific community that contemporary publishing systems fall far short of the needs of global science. A small number of corporations control access to much scientific publishing — both for authors and readers. Today many institutions and researchers are excluded from accessing articles that are hidden behind paywalls, and from publishing articles in journals with unaffordable fees.
A huge explosion in demand is putting the peer review system under strain, and large numbers of so-called predatory publishers are exploiting increasing demand by providing unscrutinised routes to easy publication. And the use of journal impact factors and cited publications as primary indicators of scientific merit has locked scientists into a publication model based around ‘high-impact’ journals that are unaffordable for many authors and readers, deepening inequalities and limiting access to useful knowledge.
The scholarly publishing system is no longer meeting the needs of its main audience: researchers and the institutions in which they work.
In order for scientific publishing to fulfil the vision of science as a global public good — a source of beneficial and applicable knowledge that is freely available and accessible worldwide, and which can be used by anyone, anywhere, without preventing or impeding its use by others — it must satisfy two fundamental responsibilities:
- Global inclusivity that provides a voice for all, and is sensitive to diverse perspectives;
- Enabling ideas, evidence and data to circulate freely, quickly and efficiently, be disseminated widely and deeply, and be made openly available for scrutiny, application and re-use.
In October 2021, Members of the International Science Council (ISC) adopted a resolution in favour of eight fundamental principles for scientific publishing, and committed to work towards reform of the publishing system.