Why Nobody Cites Your Articles

Most academics will know that papers are produced and not read. The whole academic publishing system is geared to the production, and not the consumption, of text. The off-the-cuff sad joke used to be that only 8 people would ever read your work (and that included the reviewers and your mother). But it’s actually sadder than that. Lokman I Meho begins The Rise and Rise of Citation Analysis with the chilling words:

It is a sobering fact that some 90% of papers that have been published in academic journals are never cited. Indeed, as many as 50% of papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors.

Hours of intense labor and scientific rigor to produce a text that nobody reads. It’s disheartening. This sad labor is not limited to academic work, there are unfortunately many fields were the output is of little or no consequence and has no impact on its surroundings. But this is a sad comfort for academia.

Academic work is naturally limited and focused. If you want thousands of readers you are in the wrong job. Be happy that you are read and cited. If most articles are never read or cited then the fact that you are cited should be valued much more than it is. Also what about the cases where something is said in passing on social media? Shouldn’t that count for something? Probably not. How would a tenure committee value a tweet?

The real issue is that most articles that are produced are happily dumped into closed information silos. Academics are all too happy to sign away the rights to their articles to the publishers who promptly lock them away – in order to profit by steadily increasing the prices (serials crisis) they charge libraries to subscribe to the journals the academics need in order to publish more articles. The motivation for academics to participate in this system is that our careers are built on publishing in the “right” journals.

tshirtIn order to change this system the ways in which academic careers are determined need to be re-appraised. The production of knowledge and publication are important for science but this cannot mean that this production must be in the “right” journal. The appraisal of the scientific contribution cannot be tied to the brand name of a specific journal but must be about the article content.

In the meantime we must be more wary about handing away our rights, more careful to ensure that we can use and re-use our own texts. This requires strong academics and strong universities in order to stand up to the strong publishers. We must not let things like this happen:

Academic publisher Elsevier has been targeting open access websites and universities that are posting their own academic articles online with takedown notices for copyright infringement. (Wired Magazine, December 17, 2013)

Finally, by maintaining the rights to our own articles and by ensuring they are available to readers outside the academic sphere the knowledge in the articles can be spread beyond the narrow confines of the closed information silos. The knowledge in the articles might be read by more people and maybe, maybe, maybe be cited.

Gold Open Access is Bad for Science Publishing

Recently I was listening to a podcast discussing the recent Finch Report which comes out in favor of the Gold path of Open access. What open access is attempting to resolve is the problem that much of government funded research costs too much before it is made accessible. It costs so much that even some research libraries are unable to access the results.

The basic model is that the researcher applies for funding. This process is time consuming and often fails. Therefore too many people are chasing too little money. Those who are fortunate to receive funding will eventually need to publish their findings in scientific journals in order to advance in their careers (and to push scientific progress forward).

Scientific journals are basically other academics acting as editors and reviewers (for the most part unpaid). So the government is paying the academics to do this work as well. Once the material is published the university libraries have to buy a subscription in order to make the work available to their researchers.

Cash Flow

How many times in this process have we paid for the the results before they are available? In most cases none of the material is available to a wider audience outside academia.

The Gold Route to open access would make research available to researchers and the general public by making the researchers pay the publishers in advance to make their material available. In other words taking the subscription fees from the library budget and adding it on to the research grants.

There are problems with this.

1. The lock in to publishers is still strong. The reason why we are discussing a scientific publishing crisis is that the cost of purchasing access to the articles is too high to bear. Gold Open Access does not address this problem in the long term. Sure, in the beginning it may be cheaper than subscriptions but we are still locked into the publishers who have raised the prices of subscriptions to a level that even wealthy universities are struggling to survive. Do we really think they will not do the same when faced by individual researchers desperate to publish in order to move forward in their careers?

2. The greed issue. Journals need to fill their pages with scientific articles. Isn’t there a danger when they are being paid per article that they will be tempted to dismantle rigorous standards in favor of cash?

And most importantly

3. Authors without funding (Read Mark Carrigan’s excellent piece on this). What about those unfortunate researchers who did not receive funding? Either they will not publish (impossible situation in academia), they will take money from other projects to pay for publishing (Fraud? Embezzlement?) or the universities will have to pay (increases costs again).

As funding is the exception and not the rule (most grant applications are denied) most of the publishing in my field is done without direct financing. For example this summer I am busy writing two articles during my holiday. They are important to me and to my research but they are not funded through projects. But once I publish I will be in a better position to obtain funding – who should pay for this?

The gold route creates a wonderful situation for the publishers and will turn the well financed researchers into direct sub-contractors to the publishers, and those without financing into the beggars.

This is not good science.

Tolerance is Law

The good news today is that the revision to the article “Tolerance is Law: Remixing Homage Parodying Plagiarism” (written with Jan Nolin) are done and its been sent in to SCRIPTed

As its not been published yet all I can provide is the abstract and this wordle doodle of the text. The good news is that SCRIPTed provides its articles freely and openly online.


Three centuries have passed since copyright was developed to stimulate creativity and promote learning. The fundamental principles still apply, despite radical developments in the technology of production and distribution of cultural material. In particular the last decades’ developments and adoption of ICT’s have drastically lowered barriers, which previously prevented entry into the production and distribution side of the cultural marketplace, and led to a widening of the base at which cultural production occurs and is disseminated.  Additionally, digitalization has made it economically and technically feasible for users to appropriate and manipulate earlier works as method of production.

The renegotiation of barriers and the increased number of creators who publish their works has led to an increase in copyright violations and a pressure on copyright legislation. Many of these potential violations are tolerated, in some cases have become common practice, and created social norms. Others have not been so fortunate and the law has been rigidly enforced. This arbitrary application decreases the predictability of law and creates a situation where creation relies on the tolerance of the other copyright holders. This article analyses different cases of reuse that test boundaries of copyright. Some of these are tolerated, others not. When regulation fails to capture the rich variation of creative reuse, it becomes difficult to predict which works will be tolerated. The analysis suggests that as copyright becomes prohibitive, social norms, power and the values of the copyright holder dominate and not law.


The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control

An interesting sounding book The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control by Ted Striphas is out now both in print and in a online Creative Commons version or as the author puts it:

…not only as a copyrighted, bound physical volume, but also as a Creative Commons-licensed electronic book.  You can download the e-edition by following the “download” link of the navigation bar, above, or by clicking here.  The file is a “zipped” .pdf of the complete contents of Late Age, minus one image, for which I was (ironically) unable to secure electronic publishing rights.

I don’t want to split hairs but the digital version is also covered by copyright – but I get what he means. This sounds like a really interesting book and I am looking forward to reading it. For those of you who want more than the title here is the blurb:

Ted Striphas argues that, although the production and propagation of books have undoubtedly entered a new phase, printed works are still very much a part of our everyday lives. With examples from trade journals, news media, films, advertisements, and a host of other commercial and scholarly materials, Striphas tells a story of modern publishing that proves, even in a rapidly digitizing world, books are anything but dead.

From the rise of retail superstores to Oprah’s phenomenal reach, Striphas tracks the methods through which the book industry has adapted (or has failed to adapt) to rapid changes in twentieth-century print culture. Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon.com have established new routes of traffic in and around books, and pop sensations like Harry Potter and the Oprah Book Club have inspired the kind of brand loyalty that could only make advertisers swoon. At the same time, advances in digital technology have presented the book industry with extraordinary threats and unique opportunities.