Dethroning the Academic Journal: The Movement Continues

  Jan 28, 2017   Enago Academy
  : Industry News, Publishing Hot Topics

Academic publishing is still largely the domain of traditional academic journals. Academics understand the impact of having their work published by an established, highly-revered, peer-reviewed journal—it means esteem for the work, for them, and for the universities they represent. It can also mean progress along the pathway to tenure or grant funding or a desired position within the university. Academic journals still command a great deal of influence. However, open access publishing is beginning to gather steam and move into that sphere of influence, and this is no passing phase. Much like the general movement to digital, wireless, or online communication, this movement is not about to be derailed or reversed. Academics want to preserve the legitimacy provided by academic journals while making publishing more accessible and collaboration more authentic. SocArXiv, focused mainly in the fields of sociology and social sciences, is the latest manifestation of this movement.

New Players in the Field

The Center for Open Science (COS) is at the heart of new technology and methodology in open access publishing. Founded in 2013, COS is a non-profit technology company with a mission to increase openness, integrity, and reproducibility of scientific research. It is responsible for building the platform on which SocArXiv is based: Open Science Framework (OSF). OSF is a web application that connects and supports the research workflow, enabling scientists to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their research. Researchers use the OSF to collaborate, document, archive, share, and register research projects, materials, and data.

“OSF | Preprints” is the COS preprints service that utilizes OSF. SocArXiv is the latest version of OSF | Preprints, which also includes PsyArXiv and engrXiv for psychology and engineering, respectively. OSF | Preprints also uses SHARE to link with other preprint service providers in order to create an even more expansive shared database. SHARE is the result of a partnership between the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the COS.

One can see that the COS has been a true catalyst for change in the industry. Philip Cohen, the director of SocArXiv, is hoping that it will be a sea change. He, and other academics like him, would like to see academic research move beyond the confines of traditional publishing. In an ideal situation, researchers would be able to share, comment, and collaborate on one another’s work, all in the service of making the work better and creating a truly interactive community of readers, authors, and publishers. Although SocArXiv is still in its Beta stage, >600 papers have been deposited and downloaded over 10,000 times.

Ideological Struggle

The old vs. the new method is a never-ending tale. In any arena, resistance to change generally comes down to power and money. While academic publishing is a lucrative business, academic scholars are primarily interested in acquiring power over their work and the means by which it is published.

Academic journals and for-profit publishers are concerned about losing both their influence in the academic world and the source of their revenue. As publishers of commercial books and magazines have had to adapt to a digital age, academic publishers will also have to adapt to this change. However, this adaptation will have to encompass more than just simply moving their journals to an online format. Scholars are looking to rework the process of academic publishing from beginning to end.

In the blog written by Richard Poynder, Philip Cohen is quoted as saying, “In the end I believe we need to replace the current journal system. I hope SocArXiv helps us move in that direction.” Poynder comments, “…It is hoped that SocArXiv will disrupt the traditional system, and help to eventually supplant it.” Technology, particularly as embodied by the OSF, seems to be the pivotal component of this disruption and replacement.

Technology, Funding, and Power

Open Access publishing aims to remove the limitations of traditional academic journals such as paywalls, restricted access, and a small group governing a large community. The technological advances represented by the OSF are impressive means to do this. One of the key elements of academic journal publication is citation metrics, which are the means by which authors, their supporting institutions, and journals can keep track of how many times their work has been cited elsewhere. The more citations an article has, the better for all. Because this function is now available in an open format, traditional academic journals can no longer make proprietary claims regarding citations.

The next step is procuring funding for this new methodology. Currently, SocArXiv, through the University of Maryland (in which serves as its home base), has received grant money from Open Society Foundations and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Each of these societies contributed $50,000 which is encouraging to SocArXiv stakeholders.

Universities seem to hold the key in the area of funding. Significant portions of departmental budgets are devoted to journal subscriptions and society memberships because it is important for faculty to be active members in their fields. Convincing universities that those dollars would be better spent on open access publishing and the technology that powers it will ensure the long-term success of platforms such as SocArXiv and other repositories like it.

As much as universities hold the power to affect change, traditional academic journals will not willingly give up the power they have over academic publishing. They will have to find a way either to co-exist or somehow join forces with open access publishing if they want to take part in this future. Ultimately, scientists and scholars believe they should hold the power when it comes to the development and publication of their work, as this is in the best interest of what really matters—the work itself.


  1. Amy Buckland (2016, August 8) Building Open: SocArXiv. Retrieved from
  2. Sarah Mosseri (2016, December 13) Open Access Archive SocArXiv Launches. Retrieved from
  3. Socarxiv is launched. Retrieved from
  4. NFAIS (2016, December 7) SocArXiv is Officially Launched in Beta Version. Retrieved from

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