Duke experts on the future of scientific publishing and the role of universities

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How scientific publishing has changed in the past years and where is it heading? Will traditional journals adapt their business models and co-exist with open access journals or will they disappear? Is publishing in peer-reviewed publications as important for Academia as it used to be? How the current pandemic affects science publishing? How could universities affect the future of science publishing and what are some of the possible implications of the “scientific publishing revolution” for Duke researchers?

More than 120 people joined the October 15th Research Town Hall hosted by the Duke Office of Scientific Integrity to find answers to these questions. The participants also had the opportunity to ask additional questions and learn about the resources available for Duke researchers to help them choose how they disseminate research results.

“Why does science publishing matter?, Misha Angrist, PhD, core faculty of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society, and associate professor of the practice at the Duke Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), rhetorically asked in his opening talk. The answer lies in science’s key role as a service to society and the public. He mentioned a recent New York Times article, “Covid, Climate and Denial”, which includes a quote from John Cook of George Mason University. “Mr. Cook noted that when it comes to climate change, fewer than 10% of Americans are outright dismissive about the science; and 12% of the public are not at all concerned about coronavirus; the solution lies not in persuading those already steeped in the science denial, but in protecting 90% of the public from scientific disinformation”, summarized Prof. Angrist.

The key problem is how the existing publishing models serve this goal.

Angrist described the”old school of science publishing” – a prosperous business centered on traditional high impact journals and peer review. Top ranked and high impact journals, such as “The Lancet”, are published by Elsevier, the “foster child for what’s wrong with science publishing”, Angrist said: “Its revenues last year were about $3.5 billion, its adjusted profit margin was 37%; by comparison, Apple’s was 25% and Google's was 21%.” The traditional science publishing model started to change as soon as the new millennium started. Some academics, including Nobel laureates, came together with the goal of finding a way to lower the barriers for people getting access to research. “I would argue that this didn't go far enough; that anyone, and especially patients and their loved ones should have access to the scientific literature” - Angrist commented.

He added that the alternative model, open science, has grown in the past twenty years, but not without his own unintended consequences of which, the rise of predatory journals is the biggest of all and it became a serious “threat to the integrity of academic publishing”. “These unscrupulous publishers are exploiting the open-access (OA) model by corrupting the peer-review process, which is often absent or minimal. Their motivation is the procurement of evaluation and publication fees, which in the absence of traditional subscription rates are necessary to cover operating costs.”[1] Angrist explained, citing the article “Science for sale: the rise of predatory journals”.

Another phenomenon in the context of the open access movement is “the rise of pre-prints[2], which showed its positive impact especially during the COVID 19 pandemic, by allowing scientists to disseminate their findings “more rapidly, at higher quantities, and more publicly than ever before. By prompting a mad dash for knowledge, COVID-19 has placed scientific inquiry firmly in the public domain, and expedited the movement toward open science.” The unintended effect of this “foundational and hopeful shift” (as Angrist described the pre-prints ascension) is what an article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings calls “a pandemic of publications”.  (More about the pre-prints pandemic was presented in a previous town hall and explained in an interview for DOSI by Prof. Chris Simon of the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities and History of Medicine.)

Dave Hansen, JD, legal expert of Duke University Libraries, centered his talk on the legal challenges of institutional contracts for journals and books. To Angrist’s point, Hansen confirmed that just one publisher, Elsevier, accounts for about $3 million a year in spending.

Arnetta Girardeau, JD, another Duke Libraries legal expert, focused on the distinction between copyright and plagiarism which: while first one is about ownership, the other is about attribution.

Karen Barton of the Duke Medical Library, talked about how Duke University Medical Library supports researchers throughout the research cycle, while her colleague Haley Walton focused on the COPE Fund at Duke - Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity (COPE). By being part of COPE, Duke reimburses authors for article processing fees when publishing in open access peer-reviewed journals.  She reminded researchers about the opportunity to schedule consultations with library personnel such as; subject librarians, data management consultants, data scientists, GIS specialists and archivists; and of the services available to researchers such as; literature review methodology, reference management, data collection, data cleaning and analysis, data visualization, mapping and GIS. The Libraries experts are also available to provide advice on all publishing models – traditional, open access or hybrid (open access for some articles for a fee). A journal selection checklist has also been made available to researchers. In addition to these resources, researchers are provided with the following tips for enhancing research impact:

  • Publish in high-quality open access journals. See the Be iNFORMED checklist for more information.
  • If publishing in a traditional journal, try to negotiate permission to archive a version of your article in an open repository such as DukeSpace
  • Include data availability statements and link publications to data in an open repository such as the Duke Research Data Repository.
  • Register for an ORCID iD, keep your profile up to date, and add the URL to personal websites, Scholars@Duke, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Keep your Scholars@Duke profile up to date (link your ORCID iD)
  • Create a Publons profile to track peer review and editorial work as well as publications and citations (link your ORCID iD)
  • Share the link to your research and/or a video or visual abstract on social media.


Dean Smith, director of Duke University Press talked about the future of scientific publishing from his own experience as former director of Cornell University Press, where he led university’s expansion in digital publishing footprint from 350 to more than 3,000 eBooks. “Open access becomes the predominant model. The future of digital access is open access”, Smith said. He emphasized the role of top ranked universities such as Johns Hopkins, Chicago, Cornell, Duke, MIT have over the future of scientific publishing. These universities promote mission-driven publishing, which prioritizes equity and inclusion over stock portfolios. Smith reminded the audience of the important lesson that the pandemic teaches us about the role of accessible scientific information for speeding discovery and innovation.

Note:  Duke Office of Scientific Integrity would like to express special thanks to Megan von Isenburg, Associate Dean for Library Services & Archives at the School of Medicine and David Hansen, Associate University Librarian for Research, Collections & Scholarly Communication, Duke University Libraries, for their role in designing and planning this event with us.
Many thanks to all town hall panelists for their contribution to educating the research community:
  • Misha Angrist, PhD  (Science and Society), Associate Professor of the Practice, SSRI
  • Karen Barton, Biomedical Research Liaison Librarian, Duke University Medical Center Library & Archives
  • Arnetta Girardeau, JD, Copyright & Information Policy Consultant, Duke University Libraries
  • Dave Hansen, JD, Associate University Librarian for Research, Collections & Scholarly Communication, Duke University Libraries
  • Dean Smith, Director, Duke University Press
  • Haley Walton, Librarian for Education and Open Scholarship, Duke University Libraries



[1] Bartholomew RE. Science for sale: the rise of predatory journals. J R Soc Med. 2014;107(10):384-385. doi:10.1177/0141076814548526