Academic cover charges

I’ve made it as a cover model. Not on a glossy magazine that you might find at your local newsagent or supermarket though…


My colleague and science-y friend, Thien Ngo, has just published a paper in Chemistry A European Journal about the charge-separating properties of some cool molecules he designed and synthesized himself. It’s highlighted as a “Hot Paper” and they asked him to design a cover picture for the journal. So at coffee time one day he and a few friends, including myself, came up with the Dragon Ball Z-inspired idea you see above (an explanation can be found here). Is it the only time I’ll ever get to be on the cover of a publication? Only time will tell… but I don’t want to discuss the article or the possibility of a career change here.

Did you know that as well as asking you to do all the design yourself, scientific publishers also ask you to contribute to the costs of printing it? This normally amounts to a few hundred USD. And if you want an A3 copy to put one your wall (!), it’ll cost you a few more 10’s of dollars. That goes on top of the charges often added for colour pictures in the article itself (a few more 100’s of USD) and for even just the privilege of having the article published in the first place (depending on the journal, this could run into 1000’s of USD!!! Even digital-only journals!!!!!).

It sounds a bit like a raw deal for scientists, considering that their main job is to do research (rather than ever-so-slightly amateur graphic design), and especially considering that journals get additional income from selling advertising space anyway. And it hurts the science too because this money for publishing comes out of the same budgets as for scientific resources, which are being slashed around the world.

The other not-so-great side of the coin is that we – universities and institutes – have to pay for the privilege of accessing and reading the same articles! They’re usually not available to the general public, unless you pay a one-off fee of a few 10’s of USD per download. Ben Goldacre has written a thought-provoking piece about academic publishing here. Is the situation ridiculous? I think so.


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