Thousands of AI Researchers Are Boycotting the New Nature Journal

June 5, 2018 - 3 minutes read

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When did science become so political? Between applying for government grants for research, paying journals so university students can read published science papers, and inter-departmental politics surrounding tenure, there is no shortage of politics in scientific research.

Nature is the world’s most cited journal. The London-based publishing group’s addition of machine learning (ML) into their line-up of more than 50 dedicated science journals shouldn’t come as a surprise. But the reception it’s been receiving may be an unpleasant shock.

A Potential Obstacle to Innovation

Artificial intelligence (AI) researchers won’t let tradition spoil their now-community-standard of free sharing; as a result, thousands of AI researchers recently started a boycott of Nature. Their reason? Nature‘s machine learning magazine, called Nature Machine Intelligence, operates on a closed-access publishing model that many AI and ML experts don’t see the benefits of.

ML is still young, and it’s growing rapidly. Researchers need to share their findings with their colleagues in third-world countries, like Uganda, China, and India, and these countries cannot afford $3,000-per-paper fees to keep their papers public.

For years now, ML academics have shared, improved, and peer-reviewed each others’ work without an official journal. The Internet has a big part to do with this: self-publishing scientific work online is free and more easily accessible than an official journal. AI and ML experts argue that the taxpayers already fund their research; why should the taxpayer have to pay once more to read the results of this publicly-funded research?

Adapting With the Times

One of the major benefits that scientific subscription-based journals have is their brand name and strong history in academia. Researchers across the world know what an honor it is to be accepted for publication in Nature. But is Nature taking advantage of this well-known fact? And how could Nature survive if all academics decided to boycott all Nature publications since science publications need a constant supply of new papers to stay in business?

Right now, more than 3,000 researchers have publicly signed a statement in which they refuse to submit, review, or edit articles in Nature Machine Learning. As we continue developing AI and ML, science publications like Nature should start moving towards better solutions for researchers and the public alike. They need to strike a balance between their protocols and the current open-source era that has helped disruptive technologies such as AI flourish. Otherwise, they may find themselves being disrupted soon!

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