2025: Peer Review
Title text: Your manuscript "Don't Pay $25 to Access Any of the Articles in this Journal: A Review of Preprint Repositories and Author Willingness to Email PDF Copies for Free" has also been rejected, but nice try.
When a researcher wants to publish their findings, they send it to an academic journal. The editor of the journal is another researcher (usually a college professor), who gets paid nothing or a minimal honorarium for editing the journal. The editor chooses a few (usually three) peer reviewers who are other researchers familiar enough with the study's subfield to judge the study's quality fairly and accurately, and sends it out to them for review. These peer reviewers do not get paid for the work of reviewing the manuscript and offering a detailed critique of every part of the study, from literature review to methodology to conclusions drawn from the results. If the peer reviewers and editor agree that the study was well-conducted and the paper well-written (or just needs minor revisions), it is accepted and published in the journal. The researcher is not paid for getting their paper published in the journal.
In short, nobody in the process is paid for their work except the journal publisher, who charges other researchers, libraries and individuals for access to the fruit of these people's free labor. This is commonly referred to as a "paywall".
This system relies upon researchers to be employed by either companies or universities in positions which require them to publish in order to remain employed or achieve promotions or pay raises. In universities, only postdocs and tenure-track or tenured professors are paid in a way that figures in their research time as well as their teaching time, which means that anyone not in one of those positions (lecturers, educators, adjunct instructors) is not paid for any research they might be doing and publishing, nor are those who are conducting research but cannot get a tenure-track job due to universities replacing tenure lines with non-tenure-track positions.
Ponytail seems to be presenting papers concluding that this flow of currency is not equitable. Unfortunately, the journal she has submitted these findings to has opted not to review or publish them, likely because they have a financial interest that conflicts with the publishing of her findings, since sending her paper to review would reach her target audience of voluntary peer reviewers and could potentially incite them to go on strike and demand payment for their work.
Furthermore, the comic contains the joke that Ponytail is doing exactly what she is dis-encouraging in the paper: publishing it in a journal, which probably does not pay their reviewers and possibly locks the papers behind a paywall. However, as this is how science works at the moment, she is obliged to do so in order to reach her audience.
The title text refers to a Twitter post that went viral. Researcher Dr. Holly Witteman informs the public that you could just ask many researchers for a PDF copy of their academic paper and that they would be delighted to do so free of charge. (This hearkens back to the days of snailmail, when researchers would distribute printed copies, "reprints", of their work for, at most, the price of a self-addressed stamped envelope.) She has additionally written an article on the situation and how to get papers for free.
Pre-print repositories, such as arXiv, are online databases for researchers to publish drafts of their research for quick distribution to willing reviewers, sidestepping the lengthy and often arduous reviewing process as conducted by many research journals. These databases are free to access by researchers and the general public, and often papers will remain on these sites long after their journal publication, making them a convenient way to get to papers locked behind a paywall. However, the pre-print versions of the papers will often lack peer review, and as such may contain a higher occurrence of errors. There are also sites which collect and re-publish papers for free, such as Sci-Hub, which attempts to provide all published papers free of charge globally. Links to Sci-Hub can go dead after being widely published; this one was live as of 19th of March, 2020, but has since died and changed to a spam page.
In the title text, the publisher refuses to publish a paper that describes ways to get around the paywall restrictions that make up their bottom line. In this refusal they even acknowledged that the author has tried to trick them, maybe by using one of those very long titles filled with incomprehensible jargon that is almost impossible to read, and remember to the end. So they finish the refusal by adding a "but nice try".
- [Ponytail is sitting in a office chair at a desk reading from a laptop. Above her the text from the screen is shown in a frame with a zigzag arrow pointing to the laptop.]
- RE: Economics Journal Submission
- We have received your manuscript "The Bizarre Economics of Academic Publishing: Why Volunteer Peer Reviewers Should Rise Up and Demand Payment from For-Profit Journals."
- We have elected not to send it out for review.
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