When researchers have to pay for their publications

Author: Bielefeld University

Today, research articles are often accessible free of charge. The open access movement has ensured this. However, specialised publishers have increasingly begun to charge authors from the scientific community fees for publication. The international research project ROARA deals with conflicts between economic and scientific interests in publications. It analyses how this new development affects the quality of published articles and the evaluation of research. The project is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. The Bibliometrics working group at the Faculty of Sociology is involved in the project. The Bielefeld project team is led by Associate Professor Dr Niels Taubert. ROARA starts in September 2024.

Publications play a central role in science. Researchers use them to disseminate their scientific findings. However, publications also determine careers, as they are used to evaluate researchers. Articles in renowned scientific journals help scientists, for example, to apply for a professorship or to apply for funding.

Risk of publishers neglecting the quality of articles

The ROARA project aims to analyse where economic and scientific interests collide with regard to research publications. This can be the case, for example, when publishers publish more in order to increase revenue, but do without sufficient quality control. The project is investigating these collisions and how they affect the evaluation of research. “When the majority of scientific journals were still printed, publishing houses financed themselves through subscriptions to scientific libraries,” says Niels Taubert. Since scientific journals have been distributed almost exclusively online, the open access movement has been campaigning for the removal of payment barriers in order to make scientific publications freely accessible.

Fees often run into thousands of euros

Many scientific institutions support this and research funders are increasingly demanding that the results of funded projects are freely accessible via open access. Niels Taubert, observes a key trend reversal: “Academic publishers are reacting to the new development by adapting their business models. Instead of charging for reading, many are now asking authors to pay for publishing.” These publication fees often amount to several thousand euros per article.

Mann mit Brille in grau-schwarzen Strickjacke
“Publishers thus generate enormous profits, most of which come from taxpayers’ money. And when academic careers and profitable businesses are at stake, this can lead to questionable publishing practices”
PD Dr. Niels Taubert

The project title ROARA stands for “Repercussions of Open Access on Research Assessment”. The interdisciplinary project is being funded by the Volkswagen Foundation for four years. Scientists from three locations are cooperating on the research.

ROARA is headed by Professor Dr Isabella Peters from the German National Library of Economics (ZBW) – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics. The project team at Bielefeld University is led by Dr Niels Taubert. He is a member of the Faculty of Sociology and heads the Bibliometrics working group, which is part of both the faculty and the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies of Science (I²SoS). The team from the University of Ottawa in Canada is led by Professor Dr Stefanie Haustein from the School of Information Studies there. Haustein is also co-director of the Canadian Scholarly Communication Lab.

The teams in Bielefeld and Ottawa have extensive experience in mixed-methods research in scholarly communication and bibliometrics. Overall, the ROARA team combines perspectives from bibliometrics, library and information science, web science, economics and the sociology of science. “The results of the project will be of great importance for science policy, scientific communication and research evaluation,” announces Niels Taubert.

 [Translation generated with automated support]