There is a lot that can be said about universities in the digital age. There is also a lot that can be said about current models for scholarly publishing and the ridiculousness of holding on to analogue products trapped behind barriers in a digital age as the output of choice.
But, if one needed any more evidence of the pathologies of contemporary academic publishing, one need go no further than the quick analysis undertaken by Prof. Martin Weller of the Open University at The Ed Techie blog (thanks to Cory Doctrow at boingboing.net for the link).
His estimate of the total labour cost of peer-reviewing in any given year is £209,976,000. This is quite a conservative estimate with other calculations placing the global total at £1.9 billion!
And it's not just that these labour costs go uncompensated by the private publishers who rely on peer-review to ensure that their journals are publishing academically 'rigorous' research. Rather, they then turnaround and sell access to these journals for a tidy sum to the very institutions whose employees have been a source of unpaid labour. And in most cases, these are public institutions whose primary source of funding is from the government.
At a time of fiscal retrenchment, the continuation of this massive subsidy seems imprudent. Moreover, if there weren't already enough reasons, the barricading of most academic journals behind pay-walls can now add economic double-dealing into its calculus of moral dubiousness.
Given that keeping publicly funded knowledge behind barriers is socially irresponsible and that higher education budgets are going to be slashed in the UK, our disciplinary associations ought to be leading the charge for open access to all publicly subsidized academic outputs. Unfortunately, based on previous experiences, I'm not going to hold my breath....
Photo credit: cinocino