The Case for Reform of Scientific Publishing

This timely discussion paper sets out priorities for reform in scientific publishing proposed by the International Science Council.

The Case for Reform of Scientific Publishing

In 2019, shortly after the creation of the International Science Council, its Members, primarily international scientific Unions and Associations, national and regional scientific organizations including Academies and Research Councils, and international Federations and Societies, were asked to identify what they considered to be the most important contemporary issues for science.

Among the issues identified was the future of scientific publishing, and in 2021 a set of publishing principles was endorsed by the ISC’s Members at their General Assembly. Following the endorsement, an international Steering Committee was created to help identify the actions needed to realize these principles. A series of studies were undertaken to identify ways in which barriers to realization might be overcome, and business models, technologies, and procedures were examined to facilitate this.

The Case for Reform of Scientific Publishing, represents the culmination of this phase of work, setting out priorities for reform for the ISC. The discussion paper by the International Science Council, explores the vital role of publishing in the global network of scientific ideas and information. It addresses the shortcomings of the current system from numerous angles, and proposes a transformative vision for the future.

As we stand in the cusp of a new era of open science fueled by digital advancements, this report critically examines how the scientific publishing industry has yet to fully embrace the potential of the digital revolution. From improving the peer review process to ensuring open access to scientific papers, the ISC lays out a comprehensive roadmap for reform highlighting the urgent need to shift from a ‘publish or perish’ culture to one that values diverse contributions to science and prioritizes the global dissemination of knowledge as a public good.

There have been major shifts in the publishing landscape over the last decades, with more changes on the horizon. Yet, the broad membership base of the ISC will agree that scientific publishing is still the primary mode of communicating scientific results and the basis of peer review of these results. As part of the ISC’s endeavour to map the current and potential future landscape of the science system, we are pleased to present these reports on scientific publishing.

Paper One outlines eight key principles which we hope would be used to chart the course of publishing in a turbulent scientific landscape. 

Paper Two, The Case for Reform of Scientific Publishing, presents a narrative of a possible reform of the scientific publishing system. We hope that ISC members will use this paper as a catalyst to present their own views, both as individuals and as Member organizations, and to highlight to ISC how best to support members on this journey. 

These principles, first endorsed by ISC Members at their General Assembly in 2021, and the latest discussion paper, are a credit to the work of the ISC’s Future of Publishing project steering committee led by ISC Board Member and Fellow, Geoffrey Boulton. They are an example of how ISC Members can coalesce around issues of critical importance that springboard discussions into action for the wider scientific community.

We invite ISC Member organizations and the broader scientific community to share their views on the future of publishing, and any recommendations for action by the ISC, through the survey below.

Salvatore Aricò, CEO

The Case for Reform of Scientific Publishing

This discussion paper has been developed by International Science Council as part of the Council’s Future of Publishing project and is a companion piece to the “Key Principles for Scientific Publishing” paper.


Geoffrey Boulton

ISC Governing Board Member, ISC Fellow, and Chair of the Future of Scientific Publishing project

“The advancement of knowledge as a global public good has become essential, not just for its intrinsic cultural value, but increasingly as indispensable in identifying and addressing the manifold problems our societies and the planet face and for the opportunities it offers.  This discussion paper represents the outcome of the work of the ISC’s Future of Scientific Publishing Steering Group in the aftermath of that General Assembly’s endorsement of the Eight Principles. It analyses if, and how, present publishing practices fall short of the ISC’s Eight Principles and its vision of science as a global public good, and suggests possible avenues of approach that a subsequent phase of action might take. It is the view of ISC that this vital public good is not well served by current systems and that reform is a vital priority. These are ambitious objectives, but ones that respond to the needs of the times.

We invite the ISC community to contribute their ideas and opinions to the objectives by completing the short feedback survey on Papers One and Two”.

➡️ Read MoreCharting the Future of Science: Reforming scientific publishing for a new era of open knowledge

Dominque Babini

Open Science Advisor at the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), Future of Publishing project Steering Committee member, and ISC Fellow

“The voice for social science is critical for the future of publishing. For CLACSO, the Latin American Council of Social Sciences, it is a rich experience to participate in the ISC project on the future of scientific publications and in the ISC-GYA-IAP partnership on research evaluation

In both projects, it gives CLACSO the opportunity to share the Latin American experience of two decades of scholar-led and non-profit initiatives to provide visibility and open access, with no fees for readers and authors, with the goal of promoting equity, bibliodiversity and multilingualism in scholarly communications. It contrasts this approach with the negative impact in developing regions of increased commercialization of international scientific publishing and its research assessment indicators.

I particularly encourage specialists from developing regions, who are part of the ISC network, to participate in the ISC calls for engagement to ensure global voices are heard on these important topics”.


Participate in the dialogue, take the survey

This survey will remain open until 1 March 2024. We encourage all ISC Members and the wider community to respond. We encourage you to raise the issues contained in this discussion paper with your communities and offer, if possible, an organization-wide or community driven response. You may answer the survey questions online, or you may prefer to send your responses via the “upload file” section of the survey below.

Contact: Megha Sud, Senior Science Officer: megha.sud@council.science

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

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