Opinion: Pay to publish is an affront to the scientific method

When I was in journalism school, they taught us never to accept as much as a cup of coffee from a source and to never offer anything other than exposure for an interview. 

The philosophy behind that lesson was simple: if either party has something material to gain from the exchange of information, that information can’t be trusted.

It’s a pity, then, that the majority of academic journals require their authors pay anywhere between $100 and $9,000. 

Publishers say they need the money to cover the costs of peer review, printing and staffing because subscriptions and advertising dollars aren’t enough. 

Predatory journals with serious-sounding names will publish anything for the right price and even make your dead grandma an editor for a little extra. 

But as the pressure mounts on academics to publish and “stay relevant” while their course load overwhelms their schedules, more academics are becoming willing prey. 

“Researchers” who don’t have time to research will intentionally submit to these fake journals, ever present on Google Scholar, to stack their resume and get a promotion. 

Who’s going to bother reading their work anyway?  

This unholy union of fake news academic publications and those who fear perishing, should they not publish, sully the name of authentic scientific research. 

The public has come to know the words “studies show” as something bound to become disproven. 

At fault is the very system of pay to publish, used by both the venerable scientific journals and their unscrupulous doppelgangers. 

If publications cared about the scientific process, they’d turn down any monetary offer. 

Research deserves consideration based on the quality of work, not the wealth of whoever is funding the project. 

My moral grandstanding on this issue may seem naive. 

But I know first hand how tough it is making a buck in the world of publishing. 

I’ve been laid off more magazines, newspapers and news sites than I care to disclose, not to mention the $15 per article I graciously received when I was first starting out as a reporter. 

There is another route where research is peer reviewed at no cost to the author nor to the reader and it’s called the Waterloo Journal of Environmental Studies (WJES). 

As a non-profit funded by UW students and community advertising, WJES serves as an answer to the corporate cloud hanging over scientific research. 

Our first issue features five papers by UW undergrads, blindly reviewed by four professors and a master’s student. 

WJES is getting UW students’ research peer reviewed, published and potentially cited, all before they’ve even graduated.  

Their scientific material will enter the public domain, barrier-free and stay there. 

This first issue is a humble first step where UW students can catapult their academic careers from. 

It’s also the beginnings of a new model for academic rigour, one that relies on the scientific method instead of a cheque in the mail.