In a recent opinion piece published in The Guardian newspaper, columnist George Monbiot shares his views on what he considers to be “one of the biggest rip-offs of the modern era”. He is referring to academic publishing, where research is often publicly funded.
Monbiot highlights that “everyone should be free to learn; knowledge should be disseminated as widely as possible”. However, with the traditional publishing model many articles are locked behind a paywall. He describes how, following a cancer diagnosis, he utilised pirate site Sci-Hub, which allows free access to millions of such papers. However, the website remains highly controversial and has been the focus of several law suits over its illicit use and dissemination of articles.
Monbiot describes some of the efforts being made to overturn the traditional publishing model, including Plan S. The key principle of which mandates that, by 2020, all reports of research funded by a consortium of national and European research councils and funding bodies must be published in open access journals or on open access platforms. Plan S has been met with concerns from publishers, but Monbiot argues that it should be “the beginning of the end” of the traditional publishing model.
Monbiot’s opinions have been met with some criticism from publishing representatives, including STM, a global trade association for academic and professional publishers. In a response letter to the editor of the Guardian, STM CEO Michael Mabe stated that, “much research worldwide is indeed paid for by governments on behalf of the public but funding that research is not the same as paying for publication.” While he acknowledges that things could be better, he notes that this would require investment “and that requires payment”.