Scientific journal

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Cover of the first issue of Nature, 4 November 1869. Nature cover, November 4, 1869.jpg
Cover of the first issue of Nature , 4 November 1869.

In academic publishing, a scientific journal is a periodical publication intended to further the progress of science, usually by sharing findings from research with readers. They are normally specialized based on discipline, with authors picking which one they send their manuscripts to. [1]



Scientific journals

There are thousands of scientific journals in publication, with one estimate from 2012 indicating that there were 28,100 that were active, [2] and many more have been published at various points in the past (see list of scientific journals). Most journals are highly specialized, although some of the oldest journals such as Science and Nature publish articles and scientific papers across a wide range of scientific fields. [3] Scientific journals contain articles that have been peer reviewed, in an attempt to ensure that articles meet the journal's standards of quality and scientific validity. [1]

Although scientific journals are superficially similar to professional magazines (or trade journals), they are actually quite different. Among others, scientific journals' papers' authors are experts who must cite everything (and have a bibliography). They also deal with research, and are peer reviewed. Meanwhile, trade journals are aimed at people in different fields, they focus on how people in them can do their jobs better, they cover information related to work, and they include tips and advice for improving performance. Also, they are not scholarly. [4]

Articles in scientific journals

Articles in scientific journals are mostly written by active scientists such as students, researchers, and professors instead of professional journalists. Their intended audience is others in the field (such as students and experts), plus their content is more advanced and sophisticated than what is found regular publications. [5] They have different purposes, depending on the type. Ones with original research are meant to share it with others in the field, review articles give summaries of research that has already been done, and perspective articles give researchers' views on research that their peers performed. [6]

Each article has several different sections, including the following: [7]

Scientific journal articles are not read casually like a person would read a magazine. For, whereas magazine articles can be read in a more casual manner, reading one in a scientific periodical would require a lot more concentration. More to the point, reading an article in a scientific journal would entail first reading the title, to see if it was related to the desired topic. If it was, the next step would be to read the abstract (or summary or conclusion, if it is missing the abstract), to see if it seems worth reading. And, if it seemed like reading it would be worthwhile, the reader would then read the whole article. [8]

Publishing research results is an essential part of helping science to advance. [9] If scientists are describing experiments or calculations, they should explain how they did them so that an independent researcher could repeat the experiment or calculation to verify the results, or so that they could evaluate whatever the research article's findings were. [10] Each such journal article also becomes part of the permanent scientific record. [11]


Articles in scientific journals can be used in research and higher education. Scientific articles allow researchers to keep up to date with the developments of their field and direct their own research. An essential part of a scientific article is citation of earlier work. The impact of articles and journals is often assessed by counting citations (citation impact). Some classes are partially devoted to the explication of classic articles, and seminar classes can consist of the presentation by each student of a classic or current paper. Schoolbooks and textbooks have been written usually only on established topics, while the latest research and more obscure topics are only accessible through scientific articles. In a scientific research group or academic department it is usual for the content of current scientific journals to be discussed in journal clubs. Public funding bodies often require the results to be published in scientific journals. Academic credentials for promotion into academic ranks are established in large part by the number and impact of scientific articles published. Many doctoral programs allow for thesis by publication, where the candidate is required to publish a certain number of scientific articles.


Articles tend to be highly technical, representing the latest theoretical research and experimental results in the field of science covered by the journal. They are often incomprehensible to anyone except for researchers in the field and advanced students. In some subjects this is inevitable given the nature of the content. Usually, rigorous rules of scientific writing are enforced by the editors; however, these rules may vary from journal to journal, especially between journals from different publishers. Articles are usually either original articles reporting completely new results or reviews of current literature. There are also scientific publications that bridge the gap between articles and books by publishing thematic volumes of chapters from different authors. Many journals have a regional focus, specializing in publishing papers from a particular geographic region, like African Invertebrates .


In the 17th century, scientists wrote letters to each other, and included scientific ideas with them. Then, in the mid-17th century, scientists began to hold meetings and share their scientific ideas. Eventually, they led to starting organizations, such as the Royal Society (1660) and the French Academy of Sciences (1666). [12] In 1665, the French Journal des sçavans and the English Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society began systematically publishing research results. Over a thousand, mostly ephemeral, were founded in the 18th century, and the number has increased rapidly since then. [13]

Peer review did not begin until the 1970s, and was seen as a way of enabling researchers who were not as well-known to have their papers published in journals that were more prestigious. Though it was originally done by mailing copies of papers to reviewers, it is now done online. [14]

Publishing process

The authors of scientific articles are active researchers instead of journalists; typically, a graduate student or a researcher writes a paper with a professor. As such, the authors are unpaid and receive no compensation from the journal. However, their funding bodies may require them to publish in scientific journals. The paper is submitted to the journal office, where the editor considers the paper for appropriateness, potential scientific impact and novelty. If the journal's editor considers the paper appropriate, the paper is submitted to scholarly peer review. Depending on the field, journal and paper, the paper is sent to 1–3 reviewers for evaluation before they can be granted permission to publish. Reviewers are expected to check the paper for soundness of its scientific argument, including whether the author(s) are sufficiently acquainted with recent relevant research that bears on their study, whether the data was collected or considered appropriately and reproducibly, and whether the data discussed supports the conclusion offered and the implications suggested. Novelty is also key: existing work must be appropriately considered and referenced, and new results improving on the state of the art presented. Reviewers are usually unpaid and not a part of the journal staff—instead, they should be "peers", i.e. researchers in the same field as the paper in question.

Standards and impact

The standards that a journal uses to determine publication can vary widely. Some journals, such as Nature , Science , PNAS , and Physical Review Letters , have a reputation of publishing articles that mark a fundamental breakthrough in their respective fields.[ citation needed ] In many fields, a formal or informal hierarchy of scientific journals exists; the most prestigious journal in a field tends to be the most selective in terms of the articles it will select for publication, and usually will also have the highest impact factor. In some countries, journal rankings can be utilized for funding decisions [15] and even evaluation of individual researchers, although they are poorly suited for that purpose. [16]

Reproducibility and replicability

For scientific journals, reproducibility and replicability of the scientific results are core concepts that allow other scientists to check and reproduce the results under the same conditions described in the paper or at least similar conditions and produce similar results with similar measurements of the same measurand or carried out under changed conditions of measurement. While the ability to reproduce the results based only on details included in the article is expected, verification of reproducibility by a third party is not generally required for publication. [17] The reproducibility of results presented in an article is therefore judged implicitly by the quality of the procedures reported and agreement with the data provided. However, some journals in the field of chemistry such as Inorganic Syntheses and Organic Syntheses require independent reproduction of the results presented as part of the review process. The inability for independent researches to reproduce published results is widespread, with 70% of researchers reporting failure to reproduce another scientist's results, including more than half who report failing to reproduce their own experiments. [18] Sources of reproducibility vary, including publication of falsified or misrepresented data and poor detailing of procedures. [19]

Types of articles

Title page of the first volume of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the first journal in the world exclusively devoted to science Philosophical Transactions Volume 1 frontispiece.jpg
Title page of the first volume of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society , the first journal in the world exclusively devoted to science

There are several types of journal article; the exact terminology and definitions vary by field and specific journal, but often include:

The formats of journal articles vary, but many follow the general IMRAD scheme recommended by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Such articles begin with an abstract , which is a one-to-four-paragraph summary of the paper. The introduction describes the background for the research including a discussion of similar research. The materials and methods or experimental section provides specific details of how the research was conducted. The results and discussion section describes the outcome and implications of the research, and the conclusion section places the research in context and describes avenues for further exploration.

In addition to the above, some scientific journals such as Science will include a news section where scientific developments (often involving political issues) are described. These articles are often written by science journalists and not by scientists. In addition, some journals will include an editorial section and a section for letters to the editor. While these are articles published within a journal, in general they are not regarded as scientific journal articles because they have not been peer-reviewed.

Electronic publishing

Electronic publishing is a new area of information dissemination. One definition of electronic publishing is in the context of the scientific journal. It is the presentation of scholarly scientific results in only an electronic (non-paper) form. This is from its first write-up, or creation, to its publication or dissemination. The electronic scientific journal is specifically designed to be presented on the internet. It is defined as not being previously printed material adapted, or retooled, and then delivered electronically. [22] [23]

Electronic publishing will likely continue to exist alongside paper publishing for the foreseeable future, since whilst output to a screen is important for browsing and searching, it is not well suited for extensive reading. Formats suitable both for reading on paper, and for manipulation by the reader's computer will need to be integrated. [22] [23] Many journals are electronically available in formats readable on screen via web browsers, as well as in portable document format PDF, suitable for printing and storing on a local desktop or laptop computer. New tools such as JATS and Utopia Documents provide a 'bridge' to the 'web-versions' in that they connect the content in PDF versions directly to the World Wide Web via hyperlinks that are created 'on-the-fly'. The PDF version of an article is usually seen as the version of record, but the matter is subject to some debate. [24]

Electronic counterparts of established print journals already promote and deliver rapid dissemination of peer-reviewed and edited, "published" articles. Other journals, whether spin-offs of established print journals, or created as electronic only, have come into existence promoting the rapid dissemination capability, and availability, on the Internet. In tandem with this is the speeding up of peer review, copyediting, page makeup, and other steps in the process to support rapid dissemination. [25]

Other improvements, benefits and unique values of electronically publishing the scientific journal are easy availability of supplementary materials (data, graphics and video), lower cost, and availability to more people, especially scientists from non-developed countries. Hence, research results from more developed nations are becoming more accessible to scientists from non-developed countries. [22]

Moreover, electronic publishing of scientific journals has been accomplished without compromising the standards of the refereed, peer review process. [22] [23]

One form is the online equivalent of the conventional paper journal. By 2006, almost all scientific journals have, while retaining their peer-review process, established electronic versions; a number have moved entirely to electronic publication. In a similar manner, most academic libraries buy the electronic version and purchase a paper copy only for the most important or most-used titles.

There is usually a delay of several months after an article is written before it is published in a journal, making paper journals not an ideal format for announcing the latest research. Many journals now publish the final papers in their electronic version as soon as they are ready, without waiting for the assembly of a complete issue, as is necessary with paper. In many fields in which even greater speed is wanted, such as physics, the role of the journal at disseminating the latest research has largely been replaced by preprint databases such as Almost all such articles are eventually published in traditional journals, which still provide an important role in quality control, archiving papers, and establishing scientific credit.


Many scientists and librarians have long protested the cost of journals, especially as they see these payments going to large for-profit publishing houses. [26] To allow their researchers online access to journals, many universities purchase site licenses, permitting access from anywhere in the university, and, with appropriate authorization, by university-affiliated users at home or elsewhere. These may be quite expensive, sometimes much more than the cost for a print subscription, although this may reflect the number of people who will be using the license—while a print subscription is the cost for one person to receive the journal; a site-license can allow thousands of people to gain access.[ citation needed ]

Publications by scholarly societies, also known as not-for-profit-publishers, usually cost less than commercial publishers, but the prices of their scientific journals are still usually several thousand dollars a year. In general, this money is used to fund the activities of the scientific societies that run such journals, or is invested in providing further scholarly resources for scientists; thus, the money remains in and benefits the scientific sphere.

Despite the transition to electronic publishing, the serials crisis persists. [27]

Concerns about cost and open access have led to the creation of free-access journals such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS) family and partly open or reduced-cost journals such as the Journal of High Energy Physics . However, professional editors still have to be paid, and PLoS still relies heavily on donations from foundations to cover the majority of its operating costs; smaller journals do not often have access to such resources.

Based on statistical arguments, it has been shown that electronic publishing online, and to some extent open access, both provide wider dissemination and increase the average number of citations an article receives. [28]

Traditionally, the author of an article was required to transfer the copyright to the journal publisher. Publishers claimed this was necessary in order to protect authors' rights, and to coordinate permissions for reprints or other use. However, many authors, especially those active in the open access movement, found this unsatisfactory, [29] and have used their influence to effect a gradual move towards a license to publish instead. Under such a system, the publisher has permission to edit, print, and distribute the article commercially, but the authors retain the other rights themselves.

Even if they retain the copyright to an article, most journals allow certain rights to their authors. These rights usually include the ability to reuse parts of the paper in the author's future work, and allow the author to distribute a limited number of copies. In the print format, such copies are called reprints; in the electronic format, they are called postprints. Some publishers, for example the American Physical Society, also grant the author the right to post and update the article on the author's or employer's website and on free e-print servers, to grant permission to others to use or reuse figures, and even to reprint the article as long as no fee is charged. [30] The rise of open access journals, in which the author retains the copyright but must pay a publication charge, such as the Public Library of Science family of journals, is another recent response to copyright concerns. [31]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Preprint</span> Academic paper prior to journal publication

In academic publishing, a preprint is a version of a scholarly or scientific paper that precedes formal peer review and publication in a peer-reviewed scholarly or scientific journal. The preprint may be available, often as a non-typeset version available free, before or after a paper is published in a journal.

Electronic publishing includes the digital publication of e-books, digital magazines, and the development of digital libraries and catalogues. It also includes the editing of books, journals, and magazines to be posted on a screen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Academic publishing</span> Subfield of publishing which distributes academic research and scholarship

Academic publishing is the subfield of publishing which distributes academic research and scholarship. Most academic work is published in academic journal articles, books or theses. The part of academic written output that is not formally published but merely printed up or posted on the Internet is often called "grey literature". Most scientific and scholarly journals, and many academic and scholarly books, though not all, are based on some form of peer review or editorial refereeing to qualify texts for publication. Peer review quality and selectivity standards vary greatly from journal to journal, publisher to publisher, and field to field.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Academic journal</span> Peer-reviewed scholarly periodical

An academic journal or scholarly journal is a periodical publication in which scholarship relating to a particular academic discipline is published. Academic journals serve as permanent and transparent forums for the presentation, scrutiny, and discussion of research. They nearly universally require peer review or other scrutiny from contemporaries competent and established in their respective fields. Content typically takes the form of articles presenting original research, review articles, or book reviews. The purpose of an academic journal, according to Henry Oldenburg, is to give researchers a venue to "impart their knowledge to one another, and contribute what they can to the Grand design of improving natural knowledge, and perfecting all Philosophical Arts, and Sciences."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Open access</span> Research publications distributed freely online

Open access (OA) is a set of principles and a range of practices through which research outputs are distributed online, free of access charges or other barriers. Under some models of open access publishing, barriers to copying or reuse are also reduced or removed by applying an open license for copyright.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scientific literature</span> Literary genre

Scientific literature comprises academic papers that report original empirical and theoretical work in the natural and social sciences. Within a field of research, relevant papers are often referred to as "the literature". Academic publishing is the process of contributing the results of one's research into the literature, which often requires a peer-review process.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elsevier</span> Dutch publishing and analytics company

Elsevier is a Dutch academic publishing company specializing in scientific, technical, and medical content. Its products include journals such as The Lancet, Cell, the ScienceDirect collection of electronic journals, Trends, the Current Opinion series, the online citation database Scopus, the SciVal tool for measuring research performance, the ClinicalKey search engine for clinicians, and the ClinicalPath evidence-based cancer care service. Elsevier's products and services include digital tools for data management, instruction, research analytics, and assessment.

An article or piece is a written work published in a print or electronic medium. It may be for the purpose of propagating news, research results, academic analysis, or debate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Self-archiving</span> Authorial deposit of documents to provide open access

Self-archiving is the act of depositing a free copy of an electronic document online in order to provide open access to it. The term usually refers to the self-archiving of peer-reviewed research journal and conference articles, as well as theses and book chapters, deposited in the author's own institutional repository or open archive for the purpose of maximizing its accessibility, usage and citation impact. The term green open access has become common in recent years, distinguishing this approach from gold open access, where the journal itself makes the articles publicly available without charge to the reader.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hindawi (publisher)</span> Scientific and medical journal publisher

Hindawi is a publisher of peer-reviewed, open access, scientific journals currently active in scientific, technical, and medical (STM) literature. It was founded in 1997 in Cairo, Egypt, but purchased in 2021 by John Wiley & Sons, a publishing company based in the United States. The company has its headquarters in London, an office in Cairo, and a virtual office address in New York City.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Open science</span> Generally available scientific research

Open science is the movement to make scientific research and its dissemination accessible to all levels of society, amateur or professional. Open science is transparent and accessible knowledge that is shared and developed through collaborative networks. It encompasses practices such as publishing open research, campaigning for open access, encouraging scientists to practice open-notebook science, broader dissemination and engagement in science and generally making it easier to publish, access and communicate scientific knowledge.

Scholarly communication involves the creation, publication, dissemination and discovery of academic research, primarily in peer-reviewed journals and books. It is “the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use." This primarily involves the publication of peer-reviewed academic journals, books and conference papers.

MDPI is a publisher of open access scientific journals. Founded by Shu-Kun Lin as a chemical sample archive, it now publishes over 390 peer-reviewed, open access journals. MDPI is among the largest publishers in the world in terms of journal article output, and is the largest publisher of open access articles.

Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP) is a predatory academic publisher of open-access electronic journals, conference proceedings, and scientific anthologies that are considered to be of questionable quality. As of December 2014, it offered 244 English-language open-access journals in the areas of science, technology, business, economy, and medicine.

Scholarly peer review or academic peer review is the process of having a draft version of a researcher's methods and findings reviewed by experts in the same field. Peer review is widely used for helping the academic publisher decide whether the work should be accepted, considered acceptable with revisions, or rejected for official publication in an academic journal, a monograph or in the proceedings of an academic conference. If the identities of authors are not revealed to each other, the procedure is called dual-anonymous peer review.

Academic journal publishing reform is the advocacy for changes in the way academic journals are created and distributed in the age of the Internet and the advent of electronic publishing. Since the rise of the Internet, people have organized campaigns to change the relationships among and between academic authors, their traditional distributors and their readership. Most of the discussion has centered on taking advantage of benefits offered by the Internet's capacity for widespread distribution of reading material.

Frontiers Media SA is a publisher of peer-reviewed, open access, scientific journals currently active in science, technology, and medicine. It was founded in 2007 by Kamila and Henry Markram. Frontiers is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, with other offices in London, Madrid, Seattle and Brussels. In 2022, Frontiers employed more than 1,400 people, across 14 countries. All Frontiers journals are published under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Predatory publishing</span> Fraudulent business model for scientific publications

Predatory publishing, also write-only publishing or deceptive publishing, is an exploitative academic publishing business model that involves charging publication fees to authors without checking articles for quality and legitimacy, and without providing editorial and publishing services that legitimate academic journals provide, whether open access or not. The phenomenon of "open access predatory publishers" was first noticed by Jeffrey Beall, when he described "publishers that are ready to publish any article for payment". However, criticisms about the label "predatory" have been raised. A lengthy review of the controversy started by Beall appears in The Journal of Academic Librarianship.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Who's Afraid of Peer Review?</span> Science article by John Bohannon

"Who's Afraid of Peer Review?" is an article written by Science correspondent John Bohannon that describes his investigation of peer review among fee-charging open-access journals. Between January and August 2013, Bohannon submitted fake scientific papers to 304 journals owned by fee-charging open access publishers. The papers, writes Bohannon, "were designed with such grave and obvious scientific flaws that they should have been rejected immediately by editors and peer reviewers", but 60% of the journals accepted them. The article and associated data were published in the 4 October 2013 issue of Science as open access.

An article processing charge (APC), also known as a publication fee, is a fee which is sometimes charged to authors. Most commonly, it is involved in making a work available as open access (OA), in either a full OA journal or in a hybrid journal. This fee may be paid by the author, the author's institution, or their research funder. Sometimes, publication fees are also involved in traditional journals or for paywalled content. Some publishers waive the fee in cases of hardship or geographic location, but this is not a widespread practice. An article processing charge does not guarantee that the author retains copyright to the work, or that it will be made available under a Creative Commons license.


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