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Among the earliest research journals was the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in the 17th century. At that time, the act of publishing academic inquiry was controversial, and widely ridiculed. It was not at all unusual for a new discovery to be announced as an anagram, reserving priority for the discoverer,

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but indecipherable for anyone not in on the secret: both Isaac Newton and Leibniz used this approach. However, this method did not work well. Robert K. Merton, a sociologist, found that 92% of cases of simultaneous discovery in the 17th century ended in dispute. The number of disputes dropped to 72% in the 18th century, 59% by the latter half of the 19th century,

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and 33% by the first half of the 20th century. The decline in contested claims for priority in research discoveries can be credited to the increasing acceptance of the publication of papers in modern academic journals.

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The Royal Society was steadfast in its not yet popular belief that science could only move forward through a transparent and open exchange of ideas backed by experimental evidence.

[edit] Publishers and business aspects

In the 1960s and 1970s, commercial publishers began to selectively acquire “top-quality” journals which were previously published by nonprofit academic societies. Due to the inelastic demand for these journals, the commercial publishers lost little of the market when they raised the prices significantly. Although there are over 2,000 publishers, three for-profit companies (Reed Elsevier, Springer Science+Business Media, and John Wiley & Sons) account for 42% of articles published. What data is available indicates that these companies have high profit margins, especially compared to the smaller publishers which likely operate with low margins.[1] These factors have contributed to the “serials crisis” – from 1986-2005, the number of serials purchased has increased an average of 1.9% per year while total expenditures on serials has increased 7.6% per year.[2]

Unlike most industries, in academic publishing the two most important inputs are provided “virtually free of charge”.[1] These are the articles and the peer review process. Publishers argue that they add value to the publishing process through support to the peer review group, including stipends, as well as through typesetting, printing, and web publishing. Investment analysts, however, have been skeptical of the value added by for-profit publishers, as exemplified by a 2005 Deutsche Bank analysis which stated that “we believe the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process”.[1]

[edit] Crisis

A crisis in academic publishing is “widely perceived”;[3] the apparent crisis has to do with the combined pressure of budget cuts at universities and increased costs for journals (the serials crisis). The university budget cuts have reduced library budgets and reduced subsidies to university-affiliated publishers. The humanities discipline has been particularly affected by the pressure on university publishers, which are less able to publish monographs when libraries can’t afford to purchase the monographs. For example, the ARL found that in “1986, libraries spent 44% of their budgets on books compared with 56% on journals; twelve years later, the ratio had skewed to 28% and 72%”.[3] Meanwhile, monographs are increasingly expected for tenure in the humanities

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