I had a letter published in the New York Times the other day – it can be found on the Times website here and a I reproduce it below.  While this letter was in response to an article that dealt specifically with the high cost of academic journals, I have long been troubled by a system that puts so much control over the professional lives of academics in the hands of publishers.  I hope to develop the suggestion in much more depth in the coming weeks.

To the Editor:

Kate Murphy is correct that there is a tension between the right to access research funded by the public (whether through direct grants or by nonprofit entities) and the often outrageous cost that academic journals charge to access it. Journals justify their prices by pointing to the peer review process that they provide in order to assure quality. Yet the tasks of peer review and publication are separable.

Professional scholarly organizations have the ability to offer peer review to their members that is independent of any specific journal. These academic organizations would have to increase their dues to provide this service, but because they know the field well and have fewer potential commercial conflicts, they could do so better and at lower cost. Authors of articles approved by one or more such organizations could then shop for the best place to publish them.

Such an overhauled system would put additional pressure on journals to lower their prices as authors sought the venues that would give them maximum exposure.