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Open access publication in the spotlight (January) - "On the ruins of seriality": The scientific journal and the nature of the scientific life

Date:30 January 2024
Author:Open Access Team
Article in the spotlight January 2024
Article in the spotlight January 2024

Each month, the open access team of the University of Groningen Library (UB) puts a recent open access article by UG authors in the spotlight. This publication is highlighted via social media and the library’s newsletter and website.

The article in the spotlight for the month of January 2024 is titled "On the ruins of seriality": The scientific journal and the nature of the scientific life written by Dorien Daling (lecturer at the Faculty of Arts).


Twenty-first-century discourse on science has been marked by narratives of crisis. Science is said to be experiencing crises of public trust, of peer review and publishing, of reproducibility and replicability, and of recognition and reward. The dominant response has been to “repair” the scientific literature and the system of scientific publishing through open science. This paper places the current predicament of scholarly communication in historical perspective by exploring the evolution of the scientific journal in the second half of the twentieth century. I focus on a new genre of scientific journal invented by Dutch commercial publishers shortly after World War II, and on its effects on the nature of the scientific life. I show that profit-oriented publishers and discipline-building scientists worked together to make postwar science more open, while also arguing that formats of scientific publication have their own agency.

We asked corresponding author Dorien Daling a few questions about the article.

You write that twenty-first-century discourse on science has been marked by narratives of crisis, and that the dominant response has been to “repair” the scientific literature and the system of scientific publishing through open science. Has open science succeeded in doing this?

That depends on how you define both ‘open science’ and what it is that it needs to ‘repair’. Open science reforms have presumably made science (or some sciences) more robust and rigorous, by promoting activities such as data sharing and by advocating stricter editorial policies on statistical reporting. Also, it seems that we are transitioning to a more open and collaborative way of producing and communicating scientific knowledge, which includes societal actors beyond the traditional scientific community and emphasizes societal impact. At the very least, the open science movement has ignited debate on what constitutes good science.

But my article is not so much about whether or not open science is the wave of the future. Rather, I try to show that some arguments for open science rely on ahistorical conceptions of the scientific life and the scientific journal (e.g., that scholarly communication was ‘pure’ and unproblematic prior to the post-World War II rise of commercial publishers). Moreover, in the history of scientific publishing there has been relentless experimentation with publication formats, publishing models, judgment procedures, indexes, and metrics. All of these efforts were aimed at making knowledge communication more efficient, more objective, more fair, or more open. And all of them were political, in the sense that they were connected to specific normative expectations of what science should be and who should be able to access scientific knowledge. On top of that, they seldom solved the issues they intended to address. Or they made things worse.

How can the open science movement be improved, in your opinion?

One thing that comes to mind – apart from lack of reflection on potentially unintended consequences – is that it is not always clear what it means to practice open science. What does it entail when your field is not immediately associated with data and other materials that can easily be shared and reused? The humanities and some interpretative social sciences do not establish a clear boundary between research and writing. So, it appears that open science tends to favor technological and methodological one-size-fits-all solutions that disregard the plurality of epistemic practices: the various ways in which knowledge is made. Another concern is that open science may reinforce global inequality (see the November 2023 blog by Flávio Eiró).

Academic publishers are notorious for their huge profit margins and highly paid CEO’s. How do you reflect on this? Can open science make a difference?

I am not so sure. In many respects, open access has essentially come to mean ‘pay to publish’. Responding to Plan S, the majority of commercial publishers have been able to integrate demands for ‘openness’ into their business models. They rapidly developed ‘transformative agreements’ and signed deals with governments, promoting open access funded by Article Processing Charges (APCs). This commodified model of open science is a far cry from the original open access vision. Public funding is still flowing to these publishers (which could otherwise go to actual research) and the publishing system is still favoring well-funded researchers from wealthy countries.

How did you select the journal in which to publish? 

Endeavour is a well-respected international journal dedicated to the history and philosophy of science. It is interested in making connections between history and present-day concerns, and in reaching multidisciplinary and non-specialist audiences. The tricky part is of course that it is published by Elsevier, which has become emblematic of an abusive publishing industry. My article reveals, however, that commercial publishers changed scholarly publishing not just for the worse (from today’s point of view) but also for the better. After World War II scientists and commercial publishers based in or originating from continental Europe worked together to pursue their own agenda of openness. The key element of their agenda was to counterbalance the hegemony of American and British journals, which were published by nationally oriented scientific societies, only accepted papers in English, and were also inaccessible to many authors from Europe and the Global South due to their high page charges. In contrast, the postwar genre of scientific journal invented by commercial publishers was international (in the composition of editorial boards and the implementation of multilingual policies) and free of charge for authors (through the introduction of a subscription-based system). As a result, the journal literature became more inclusive of knowledge produced by new or marginalized scientific communities. Obviously, this does not take away from the fact that science’s current publishing regime and reward structure are in need of reform.

Could you reflect on your experiences with open access and open science in general?

I am still finding my way around open science practices. I intend to keep publishing open access, and I am currently exploring possibilities for public engagement and collaboration with practitioners of science communication. I hope to contribute to the public good not only by doing open science but also by scrutinizing its assumptions and values. Studying scientific publishing in the past, as well as historical conceptions of the purpose of the scientific enterprise, is crucial to understanding the problems that we are witnessing today and to imagining future forms for the production and communication of knowledge.

Useful links

PhD dissertation by Dorien Daling Stofwisselingen : Nederlandse uitgevers en de heruitvinding van het natuurwetenschappelijke tijdschrift, 1945-1970: 


Daling, D. (2023). “On the ruins of seriality”: The scientific journal and the nature of the scientific life. Endeavour, 47(4), 100885. 

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About the author

Open Access Team
The Open Access team of the University of Groningen Library

Link: /openaccess