The technical side of an academic journal can be explained very easy. A journal is some kind of newspaper about scientific topics, it has the pdf format and contains of text and images. Creating a journal from scratch is possible with open source software like LaTeX and a bibliography manager.
But, this explanation ignores the social context in which academic journals are created. Why someone submits a paper to a journal, why are papers usually (>99%) are created by teams of authors? Why are the prices for journals so high? The answer to all these questions are given in the following blogpost.
Starting a journal is a social role play. On one side, there are researchers from the subject of Artificial Intelligence. They have a long experience with algorithm and software and are able to write a paper in English. On the other hand of the table are sitting customers who have a need for a paper. The customer initiates a “Call for paper”. That is a description of a problem, and a payment how important this topic is for him. In today’s scientific landscape, the customer are equal to the government and large companies who are interested in detailed question. For example a car-company want’s to build an autonomous car and has so questions about the vision system.
After the call for paper is written down, the other side (the researcher) can answer to this call. They are doing the experiments, writing the paper and deliver it to the customer. He reads the results, decides that it is great and pays the money. The overall workflow is interactive, it is a dialogue between the customer and the researcher-team.
What modern academic journals are doing is a permanent “call for paper”. That means, they have an ongoing need for new knowledge. And each paper they published is paid, that means money is transferred from the journal to the authors. How much money costs a single paper? A lot. Let us take a look into the well documented EU FP7 research project. According to the overview https://ec.europa.eu/research/fp7/pdf/fp7-inbrief_en.pdf the total costs are 50 billion Euro. According to a different website https://www.openaire.eu/fp7-stats the result of the effort was 244763 publications which means papers. So a single papers costs 204279 EUR.
Researchers are publishing content in journals and working together in larger teams, because they are paid by the customer. The customer is a research organization which is either the government or a for-profit company who is financing a conference or a journal. Without a customer, research wouldn’t work. That means, a single researcher is not writing a paper because it is fun, but because it is his job.
For the untrained eye the combination of government founded research and researchers who are submitting papers is uncommon. It looks, that the game is faked and that more money is paid then it should be. The main problem in scientific research is to find a customer who is interested in the result. Customers who have a need for a paper are seldom. This can be seen in the visit counter of existing papers. A typical document created in that domain has less then 10 visits worldwide. That is surprising, because on the first hand, technology progress is important for society and on the other hand nobody needs it. To overcome the bottleneck the government and large cooperation have build an artificial need for scientific research. That means, the government defines themself as a research customer who is interesting in the topic deeply. This produces a stable a mount of “Call for papers”. Suppose, the government decides to no longer play the customer in the game. What would happen with the EU FP7 research project? RIght, it would be canceled. The 50 billion EUR are not spend for writing papers. But without a “Call for paper” the researchers are not allowed to fulfill the demand, they are obsolete and doing nothing. The result would a collapsing research system.
Modern societies have build over decades an environment which generates a need for new papers. This is called in the literature research funding and means a social role play which produces opportunities for new researchers to engage in the community. After the EU FP7 project was over, the next large scale project started, called Horizon 2020. The idea is the same. Large scale customers initiate a “call for papers”, with slightly modified topics, and researcher groups are working together to fulfill the needs. After a transaction is completed it gets paid.
According to self-awareness, the current public founded research landscape works great. But in reality there are some problems visible. The major one is, that the research is done within government, universities and companies but not transparent for the public. That means, a large company has a need for a paper, a large university provides the researchers to fulfill the order and the resulting pdf paper is hidden behind a paywall. Open Science tries to open this process a bit. The first option, called Open Access, is about removing existing paywall. Open Science goes a step further and asks if other customers and other researchers can be included in the workflow. Are large companies the only possible customers who have a need for a paper? Or can the process be financed with crowdsourcing and kickstarter? And are universities the only place in which research can be done, or is a wikipedia like crowd also able to fulfill tasks?