The rapidly evolving scholarly publishing landscape has both publishers and the academic communities scrambling to adjust. The rise of online publishing, open access, pre-print servers, and other technological and process changes seem to put more control of the publishing process into the hands of authors and researchers. This empowerment, however, does not mean the end of the publisher’s role in scholarly publication. On the contrary, it is simply another evolution.
The value publishers bring to scholarly publication
The common perception is that a journal publisher handles top-level management and coordination of the business and publishing model required to produce a sustainable academic publication. Publishers are responsible for a scholarly journal’s reputation, and therefore act as a gatekeeper for good science that fits the journal’s purpose and scope. But what does all that entail?
To illuminate the value that publishers provide to scholarly publishing, The Scholarly Kitchen’s Kent Anderson created a list of 60 things publishers do, which has since been updated to 102 things. The list encompasses everything from creating, launching, and branding the publication, to securing funding, hiring editorial staff, overseeing workflows, and creating and maintaining standards and guidelines for content — to name just a few. Much of a publisher’s role is to simplify the often-arduous task of getting a researcher’s work published, and because the publisher does it so well, authors are often unaware of or take for granted all the work they perform behind the scenes.
One area that is crucial but often misunderstood or unappreciated is the publisher’s role in peer review, the cornerstone of reputable and reliable scholarly publishing. And even though the push toward open access (OA) and open peer review practices has caused some in the scientific community to question the value of publishers in this environment, it is more important than ever for maintaining the scientific integrity of the research it publishes. But that role is changing.
A publisher’s changing role
Not only do publishers and their editorial staff oversee and manage the workflow of the peer review process, they provide the initial evaluation of the topic, relevant research, and the appropriateness for their journal. They assess the methods, data and findings, check for plagiarism, and decide whether the paper is worthy of advancing through the editorial and review process. They perform initial edits for the manuscript and select appropriate experts to review the research. They provide guidelines and training for the reviewers and collaborate with reviewers and authors to improve the article’s quality, value and completeness. Through their oversight, publishers ensure that peer reviewers are objective, fair, have no ulterior motives or biases, and provide useful rather than derogatory comments. They keep the process moving and on track and catch crucial errors that could damage a publication’s reputation.
The publish or perish culture, the open access movement, and the “need for speed” all have the potential to undermine good science if proper oversight is not provided. They are some of the reasons predatory journals have proliferated over the past decade. And they are why publishers need to re-evaluate their role.
Openness and transparency build trust and support integrity. But some researchers and reviewers believe transparency in the review process will allow biases and prejudices to subvert the traditional peer review process. It’s an increasingly obscure line and the publisher needs to guide the formation of policies that outline which side of the issue a publication will follow. There’s room for both.
With the overwhelming number of scientific papers being submitted for publication, it can be difficult to find quality reviewers. Publishers can’t afford to relax their standards just so they won’t be seen as bottlenecks. Publishers can attract and maintain high-quality reviewers through rewards and incentives. By ensuring the reliability and integrity of your scientific literature, you will attract the highest quality science and therefore, act as a first-level filter for sound research.
The root of scientific publishing is the distribution of scientific research that enables further scientific advancement. Without the oversight and facilitation that publishers provide, that advancement can get bogged down in the details of publishing as well as the intrusion of poor research. Removing publishers from the process is not the solution; the solution is to recognize the contributions of the participants and the value they provide, and to work together to improve processes as well as the end products.
Contact your Sheridan representative for a consultation or visit our contact page to learn how Sheridan experts can help streamline and simplify your publishing processes.