Pay to Be Recommended at Academia.edu?


We’ve discussed issues with Academia.edu here before. Now there’s a new development. A number of academics have been receiving messages like the following:

Hi Dr. ________,
My name is Adnan, I’m the Product Director here at Academia. I noticed you had received a few recommendations on your papers. Would you be open to paying a small fee to submit any upcoming papers to our board of editors to be considered for recommendation? You’d only be charged if your paper was recommended. If it does get recommended then you’ll see the natural boost in viewership and downloads that recommended papers get. Would love to hear your thoughts
Best,
Adnan

As one correspondent on this matter, James Wilberding, said: “Needless to say, this sounds very dodgy and throws a questionable light on all of the statistics on academia.edu.”

I poked around the academia.edu website and did not see any notice of this new initiative, not even on its “recommended papers” question page. Do any readers know more? Should we start taking “recommended” to mean “written by someone willing and able to pay academia.edu to say ‘recommended'”?

UPDATE: As Richard Zach notes in a comment below, PhilPapers is one option for posting your research online. Samir Chopra of Brookyln College (CUNY) suggests we take a look at CUNY Academic Works as a good model for an alternative.
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Dani Wenner
5 years ago

On its face this is troubling. That said, before we all start piling on Academia, are we certain that this email came from a bona fide Academia employee, and isn’t just the newest academic phishing scam?Report

Charles Pence
5 years ago

1) Yes, this is a real Academia employee. You can see him not-really-explaining things on Twitter: https://twitter.com/thememorious/status/692537172398858240
2) The recommendation system *had,* in the past, not been a pay-to-play system. Certain folks (myself included) were approached to be editors, and all they wanted you to do was recommend a couple articles a month. The idea was that you could signal-boost a paper you thought was really good, and nothing more.

I’m really hoping they walk this back, as I like what they’ve done to make research more accessible online. But the tone-deafness in the Twitter thread I linked above is pretty shocking.Report

David Sobel
David Sobel
5 years ago

I want to point out that even if this is really from Academia.edu, still they seem to have some standards as they did not offer to recommend my stuff for love or money.Report

Sophie
Sophie
Reply to  David Sobel
5 years ago

Probably because you’re too fancy to be a good mark, Dave Sobel. Report

Catherine Kemp
Catherine Kemp
5 years ago

Time now to take an inventory of everything left unmonetized in academic life, just for the record, before it all disappears and we forget what it was like.Report

Dave Ripley
5 years ago

Wait, you mean academia.edu isn’t really a benevolent player in online research distribution? I, for one, am astonished. Report

Manolo Martínez
Reply to  Dave Ripley
5 years ago

Dave, I think they mean that we should look for alternatives. There are many benevolent players in online research distribution. For two examples I’m familiar with, the [PhilSci archive](http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/) or, as mentioned below, PhilPapers.Report

Max
Max
5 years ago

Academia has other, in my view unwelcome, practices: For example, (1) only academia members can (now) download papers. And (2) academia has the practice of adding papers to people’s pages without their knowledge, so that it looks like they have posted them there. When someone tries to download such a paper, they are told that it has not been uploaded and are given an option to send a message to the person, asking them to upload it. (When I started getting such messages and found out about the practice, I closed my account.) I hope people start changing to other, noncommercial, or at least fully open sites.Report

Richard Price
5 years ago

I’m the founder of Academia.edu, and I can add some context. The idea Adnan was pitching was a crazy idea. Academia.edu team members contact our users a few times a week to discuss new ideas and get their input. Adnan has had hundreds of discussions with academics over email, on the phone, and in person about ideas for new features. Most of those ideas were never implemented, but some ideas, such as the successful Sessions and Recommendations features, came about because of the conversations started by Adnan and other people here. Early on in the life of new ideas they can seem a bit crazy. In order to find the non-crazy aspects, we start these conversations in private.

Many people in science and the humanities are wondering – what is the right way to fund publication and peer-review? Are there any crazy ideas that might turn out to be great new ways to do things? The old subscription journals have the major downside of paywalls. In response to this, many journals are now open access. Publication and peer-review are covered by article processing charges (called APCs), mainly coming from research grants. This idea seemed crazy 15 years ago, but is now the preferred model for many research agencies and foundations.

We think a lot about new and better ways to do peer-review and publishing on Academia. Having a much cheaper APC is one crazy idea we’ve asked our users about.
Report

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Richard Price
5 years ago

Honestly I wouldn’t have that much of a problem with it absent the “you pay only if recommended” clause. There’s no way that can _not_ lead to corruption in the system.

A payment merely to be considered would be a step better than what Adnan proposed.
Report

Richard Price
Reply to  Kris Rhodes
5 years ago

Kris – that is the common way that APCs work. You pay the APC to the journal only if your paper is accepted.

When APC-funded journals got going in the sciences 15 years ago, the criticism was made that they would be financially incentivized to accept poor papers. Those journals argued that if they were to acquire a reputation for publishing poor papers, submissions would dry up.

Since 2000, many reputable APC-funded journals have emerged, e.g. PloS, BiomedCentral, eLife. The Gates Foundation now mandates that all their grantees publish in open access journals. There are some predatory open access journals, but there questionable closed access journals too. Report

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Richard Price
5 years ago

A more professional, less “under-the-table” looking presentation of these ideas, would have been a better approach.

Anyway, I’ll be convinced “pay only on acceptance” doesn’t corrupt the game when the journals you mention have continued producing quality output for a hundred years or so. Or at least, an entire generation of people. These things always start idealistic. But it’s incredible if the downward pressure doesn’t exist, and very surprising if it doesn’t become a dominant force over the course of time.

Why didn’t they want to require payments at submission in the first place? Were they afraid no one would submit or was there something else?Report

Richard Price
Reply to  Kris Rhodes
5 years ago

I’m not convinced about the downward pressure. In the sciences, journals obsess about their impact factor. Their impact factor drives submissions, and tenure and grant decisions are linked to the impact factors of journals that applicants have published in. If the impact factor goes down, submissions disappear. eLife, for example, is entering the market trying to compete with the highest impact factor journals, Nature and Science, and it is doing well. It’s founded by a Nobel prize winner, and backed by the Wellcome Trust.

Scientists, at least, typically submit a paper to several journals in series. They start at the top, Nature etc, and work their way down. The rejection time for a given journal can be quite quick, sometimes just a few days. A submission fee for each journal would make this practice expensive.

I agree about the way the idea was presented. Usually we discuss embyronic ideas in person with users. I think Adnan was trying a different approach here.Report

Dale Miller
Reply to  Richard Price
5 years ago

I generally like Academia. I am an “editor” there (although probably not for much longer, because I don’t meet my quota) and I have gotten good feedback from one of its paper sessions. I have another session going now that I just started. But as it was pitched, this idea does in fact appear pretty crazy. What’s crazy about it is that having a paper on Academia, and even having it recommended there, doesn’t count as publication. Well, I have seen some traditional journals say that they won’t accept papers that have been posted publicly in Academia on the grounds that they have already been published, but no university will give someone academic credit for having a paper recommended on Academia. So people would be paying for next to no benefit; at most, they’d get a few more people to download their draft. You might be in a prime position to create online journals in various fields, already having much of the necessary infrastructure in place. But I think that you’d have to go to the full length of creating named journals “Academia Philosophy,” etc., selecting prominent people to serve as editors, etc. Report

WP
WP
Reply to  Richard Price
5 years ago

Regardless of the intention, what happened was that users were sent soliciting emails nearly identical to the cold call emails sent by predatory publishers. The pay-to-be-recommended model was not presented as a hypothetical, it was presented as what was going to happen. (“If it does get recommended then you’ll see the natural boost in viewership and downloads that recommended papers get.”) Academia.edu made a mistake here, and it seems to have been caused by being significantly out of touch with your audience. Report

Furry Boots
Furry Boots
5 years ago

“Early on in the life of new ideas they can seem a bit crazy.”

I’ve seen arguments against using academia.edu before, but this response to a blatantly unethical move has done the most to make me reconsider using the site. Report

Retired from the fray
Retired from the fray
5 years ago

One idea that apparently isn’t any longer “crazy” as it has been implemented is to suggest that you can “Learn more about your readers with Academia Premium for $9.99 per month”. For that I can, it seems, learn about the comments left by 3 readers this month about why they downloaded something of mine. Worth every penny. Obviously.Report

Peter Alward
Peter Alward
5 years ago

Do people really take Academia seriously as a professional tool (for lack of a better expression)? I always thought it was an automated commercial site akin to ratemyprofessors. But what do I know. Report

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Peter Alward
5 years ago

For a while, from what I can tell, it was starting to seem like people were thinking about beginning to think of it that way. Then this kind of thing happened.Report

Sam Elgin
Sam Elgin
Reply to  Peter Alward
5 years ago

I, for one, take it somewhat seriously. This isn’t to say that I would take it’s recommendations to be authoritative (and I think that their self-promotional study claiming that uploading a paper there increases its citations substantially to be laughably poorly done). That said, I find it a useful tool. There are lots of papers being published. Following the authors I know and respect helps me keep track of the things i’ll find most useful. And, because people often upload early drafts, I no longer have to wait for the papers to get published (which, let’s face it, takes awhile) to find out what’s happening in my area. Of course, I could check everyone’s individual website, but that would take a lot more effort.

I should qualify this by stating that I’m a graduate student, so the fact that I take it ‘seriously’ doesn’t necessarily mean that more established people do or should. And I should say I’m pretty appalled by this latest development. Report

Fool
Fool
Reply to  Sam Elgin
5 years ago

I’m not sure what it would mean to “take it seriously,” but I’ve always found it very useful. It’s a very efficient way to keep track of what people whose work I like are doing; it’s good to get an alert when a junior scholar I’ve never heard of uploads something really closely related to my interests – I’ve made some great connections this way; it allows me to keep track of people in other fields in a way that philpapers necessarily doesn’t, and for that reason it’s been very helpful bringing scholars or research groups to my attention for organizing interdisciplinary conferences or collections.

The problem with the recent developments is that they all seem designed to undermine these uses: if people doing relevant work are going to be hidden from my feed at the expense of people who’ve paid to have their work recommended, I’m going to come across less relevant stuff than otherwise. If uploading papers is going to cost hosting fees, then my feed will be filled with work by well-funded scholars who I already know about, at the expense of the junior or geographically distant people who at the moment I first become aware of through the site. Traffic to my own work might slow down if I don’t keep up with the promotional fees. And so on…

Basically, the site’s rhetoric seems to suggest that they monetize things in order to be able to fund improving the academic utility of what they do, but in practice almost all the monetizing ideas would, for me at least, obstruct what I currently find useful about the site.Report

WP
WP
Reply to  Peter Alward
5 years ago

It’s nice as a LinkedIn-esque social networking site for academics. I agree with the concerns about letting yet another for profit company control access to papers, though. Report

Richard Price
5 years ago

Some more background to this specific idea. We want to start the conversation around how to fund academic publishing when paywall revenues dry up (which I think they will over the coming years). The sciences are switching to an APC-funded model, but that model doesn’t straightforwardly work for non-grant funded people in the humanities. It seems to us that either you figure out a super low-cost APC for humanities publishing ($50 or so) or you have the normal APC (around $1,500), and figure out a way for universities to cover the fee. When Adnan reached out to users, he was probing the first idea.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Richard Price
5 years ago

Thanks for the clarification.

I think you will find that there is precisely zero chance of any grant or department in the humanities covering a $1500 APC, at least for the foreseeable future. So it probably makes sense to focus your efforts on the first idea.Report

Fool
Fool
Reply to  Richard Price
5 years ago

There’s also the “library consortium” model of funding, where libraries save themselves subscription fees in the long run by contributing funds to the running of open access journal infrastructure. See these two very different examples:

http://www.philosophersimprint.org/about.html#description
https://about.openlibhums.org/libraries/

As far as I’m aware, the processing and hosting expenses for both infrastructures are about $500. Split between all the consortium libraries, as in the OLH model, that’s not much at all. Libraries who want to be more selective about what they contribute to and to have some direct influence over the infrastructure can fund a journal each, Phil Imprint style. If every library runs one or two journals on an open access basis, the cost for their faculty to have access to the whole range of disciplinary journals goes down by comparison to the current subscription model. Notionally, all you need is for a critical mass of libraries to start thinking this way.

So author-pays models aren’t the only viable way forward for humanities open-access.
Also, the OLH also seems to be looking for editors in philosophy – https://about.openlibhums.org/researchers/apply-to-become-an-editor/Report

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Richard Price
5 years ago

Look Richard what you’re proposing is basically similar to an idea I’ve been kicking around, and damn you for making money off my idea if it works :), but more seriously, if I have kicked this idea around, and you have kicked it around, there have got to be several others who have as well. I don’t think it’s fundamentally implausible. But people are _jumpy_ about something like this. You’re talking about people’s lifesblood, in a sense.

I don’t know exactly what I’d suggest as an alternative–I suppose being more public about it here in the forum is a good start–but absolutely nothing that looks “under the counter” is going to work. And nothing that looks like a complete work in progress or even worse, just a bare idea. It’s got to be a proposal man. A proposal.

Okay it’s late I need to sign off.

Report

Kate Norlock
Kate Norlock
Reply to  Richard Price
5 years ago

“The sciences are switching to an APC-funded model, but that model doesn’t straightforwardly work for non-grant funded people in the humanities. It seems to us that either you figure out a super low-cost APC for humanities publishing ($50 or so) or you have the normal APC (around $1,500), and figure out a way for universities to cover the fee. ”

The sciences do what’s good for the sciences. It seems to us at Feminist Philosophy Quarterly that the either/or above is a false dilemma. We found that as senior academics, we can also pool the resources of publicly funded open-access platforms and charitably endowed trusts in order to NOT have article processing charges (APCs), of either super low-cost or normal varieties. Individuals don’t have to figure out a way for universities to cover individual authors’ fees if we work on nonprofit solutions like these.Report

Richard Zach
5 years ago

I don’t have a strong opinion about academia.edu, can’t really fault them (a commercial outfit) for trying to make money. If you don’t like that, use an open, non-profit alternative. Philosophy is lucky to have one: http://philpapers.org/Report

Richard Price
Reply to  Richard Zach
5 years ago

I wouldn’t say that only commercial outfits need to make revenue. For-profits and non-profits need to make revenue to cover operations. Report

Richard Zach
Reply to  Richard Price
5 years ago

No question, but there’s a big difference between covering operations and making a profit, which you need to do to satisfy your investors or if you’re hoping to be bought. Not saying that’s bad. Power to you. But if I have a choice between supporting philosophy’s arXiv and the next Mendeley (bought by Elsevier, right?), I’ll give my papers and my money to the former. Of course, it’s not a choice. I can and do both. I like your product. But I like arXiv and PhilPapers more.Report

Kate Norlock
Kate Norlock
Reply to  Richard Price
5 years ago

It is the case that non-profits need to cover operations. It is not necessarily the case that non-profit journals need to do so by making revenue. It is worth aspiring to collaborate on publicly funded and charitably endowed sources to create the sorts of non-profit and open-access journals that we can have, now and in the future. I hope readers of this thread continue to think creatively about alternatives to commercial publishers and to article processing charges.Report

Jenny Saul
Jenny Saul
5 years ago

One of the appealing things about academia.edu is its relative egalitarianism: an unemployed academic, or a student, can have a page of exactly the same sort as an established senior academic. This is a key reason that I was (very recently) willing to join as an editor. I was also excited at the thought of being able to flag up the work of junior colleagues, bringing it to wider attention; and to do the same for work in areas that are marginalised. I thought academia.edu could be a valuable force toward greater equity in the profession. This initiative would be a massive step in the wrong direction, tilting the already unbalanced profession further in the direction of those with financial resources to spare. It’s an outrageously bad idea. Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
5 years ago

Thanks to Fool for mentioning Philosophers’ Imprint — but I should clarify that although we are supported by the University of Michigan Library, they do not provided 100% of our funding. (In fact we will soon have to pay them a minimal per-article fee for producing and hosting our journal.) Our model, which raised howls of protest when we introduced it, is to charge a submission fee rather than a publication fee. A submission fee spreads the costs of our operations over far more authors, so that it can be kept very low ($20). And it recoups some costs of our operation at the point where authors make a unilateral claim on our resources. Claiming the time and attention of two editors, and possibly two referees, should not be cost-free; whereas providing first-rate content, as judged by the editors and referees, should not be penalized. I don’t know whether this model could be adapted to academia.edu. Frankly, I suspect that readers of academia.edu would benefit if authors had to spend a couple of dollars in order to post their work. Report