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Education The Media Science

Univ. of California Faculty May Boycott Nature Publisher 277

Posted by timothy
from the what-market-will-bear-is-an-empirical-question dept.
Marian the Librarian writes "Nature Publishing Group (NPG), which publishes the prestigious journal Nature along with 67 affiliated journals, has proposed a 400% increase in the price of its license to the University of California. UC is poised to just say no to exorbitant price gouging. If UC walks, the faculty are willing to stage a boycott; they could, potentially, decline to submit papers to NPG journals, decline to review for them and resign from their editorial boards."
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Univ. of California Faculty May Boycott Nature Publisher

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  • meh 'em (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:31PM (#32516462)

    Sigh, it is relatively amusing.. old medium effectively slashing its throat

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:33PM (#32516484)
    I wish people would stop quoting large percent increases. They get the math wrong more often than not, so it is hard to tell what is intended.

    The current average cost for the Nature group's journals is $4,465; under the 2011 pricing scheme, that would rise to more than $17,000 per journal, according to the California Digital Library.

    The new price is about four times higher than the old price, a 300% increase, not a 400% increase.

  • seems reasonable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:35PM (#32516516)

    It's becoming increasingly anachronistic that a for-profit company should: 1) get their main product (the papers, in this case) produced for free by third parties who are not given any cut of the revenues; 2) have much of the intellectual work of reviewing and editing the papers also done for free by third parties; and then 3) lock up the result behind a paywall to maximize revenues, which go to people who had comparatively minor roles in actually producing the product being sold.

    Perhaps if more academics did this sort of thing [infotoday.com] things would change.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:37PM (#32516542) Journal
    Step 1. Scientists do research(paid for largely by a mixture of tax money, and skimming from undergrads)

    Step 2. Scientists write paper, submit to journal.

    Step 3. Journal has other scientists(paid for by their respective universities) peer review paper for free.

    Step 4. If journal decides to publish, they frequently demand copyright on paper.

    Step 5. University library shells out nontrivial dead presidents so that scientists can read the papers they and their colleagues wrote.

    They poison parasites, right?
  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:39PM (#32516562)

    Depends on what area you're in. In machine learning / AI (my area), having a paper in Nature gives you huge cred with some audiences, but will get you extra scrutiny from other audiences, because there's a big trend of people with relatively crappy ML research gussying it up with some sexy applications (usually bio-related) and then publishing it in a general-readership science journal like Nature or Science in order to avoid the kind of scrutiny it'd get if they tried to publish in an actual ML or Statistics journal.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @06:08PM (#32516936)

    It is like insurance prices.

    $75 for a test that costs you $750.

    Which is the real price? The price 99% pay ($75) or the 'rack rate' that the public pays?

    Rather than have a big national health care plan Obama should have just required that the uninsured could not be required to pay more than 25% over what the least expensive insurance company rate was.

    Seriously, one of my gf's had a $5 charge for a "full rate $580" test recently. Just crazy.

  • car show analogy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @06:13PM (#32517004) Journal

    Scientific publishing is worse than car shows. Most car shows, participants pay, and the spectators get in for free. Which always seemed backwards to me. Sports games are the other way around. The audience pays the players. Except for vanity publishing, authors of fiction generally get paid for their efforts. But car shows are weird that way. Participants enter car shows to show off their rides. They want to show off so badly they'll pay to do it.

    So it is with scientific publishing. Researchers don't just want to show off, they have to, to keep their jobs. These scumbag publishers take advantage of that situation to take work for nothing, and act like the researchers should be grateful not to be charged a fee. You might think they add some value with editing and reviewing, but no, they farm all that work out to other researchers-- and pay them nothing for that either. And then the publishers turn around and gouge the spectators too.

    There's some serious dislocation in values here. Let's kick Nature where it hurts. They very badly need reminding who is really providing the material. Actually, forget that. Just kill Nature. I had already decided long ago to never again publish in a closed journal. PLoS is where I'll be sending my work.

  • by JanneM (7445) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @06:19PM (#32517092) Homepage

    I'm no fan of the price gouging publishers are engaging in, but really - Elsevier publishes fake journals by the hundreds [slashdot.org] and there's not a peep from university or faculty. Thomson Reuters sues an open source competitor [slashdot.org] for just having a filter that can read Endnote files and the reaction is zero. But now it's about money and suddenly they're all up in arms with boycotts and protests...

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @06:25PM (#32517164)
    Capitalism requires informed consumers. Most companies work very hard to prevent their consumers from being informed. "Private" negotiations for random discounts off inflated MSRP is very anti-capitalistic. A law requiring full disclosure of every customer's price would be fought by almost everyone that claims to be for the Free Market, but in fact would be helping enforce the Free Market. But then, there is a desire by those people to have the Free Market regulated by those who directly benefit by violating it (they want to have the corporations police themselves and if you don't like it, shop elsewhere, even when there is no where else to shop). But having government regulation enforcing the Free Market, while required for a Free Market, is somehow a violation of the Free Market.

    But imagine the row when every price for every seat on an airplane is known. Or when you go to the doctor and he tells you that the average price for that test is $142.5 and your price is $750 (as 90% get it for $75 and 10% get it for $750). Or car dealerships, which are staunchly anti-Free Market have to actually tell other customers what they actually charged for cars. But, an informed consumer is *required* for the Free Market. And as long as people get the idea in their heads that negotiation is good because they are smarter than the average guy, the USA will stay as far away from a capitalistic free market as possible.
  • by Guppy (12314) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @06:56PM (#32517558)

    Most car shows, participants pay, and the spectators get in for free. Which always seemed backwards to me.

    Interpretation: The spectators are not the customer. They are the product being sold.

  • Re:From TFA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bowling Moses (591924) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @07:31PM (#32517956) Journal
    "However, the problem is that Nature is a leader in scientific publishing..."

    Thankfully the University of California system includes a number of elite universities: UCLA, UC Berkeley, UCSF, UCSD, and UC Davis all come to mind as usually ranking in the top 50 schools in the country. Others in the UC system are pretty well ranked. It's too many top programs cranking out research to piss off, even for NPG. TFA states that over the last six years the UC system has published ~5,300 articles in the 67 journals, with 638 in Nature alone. Nature publishes around about 16-17 research papers per weekly issue, so in the last six years the UC system is responsible for roughly one paper in eight in Nature! Nature is in a never-ending pissing contest with Science over status of top journal. If the faculty at these universities really do tell Nature to fuck off and they stop submitting and reviewing articles and resign from the editorial boards, there will be bad hit taken in journal rankings. Those journal rankings do mean something, generally you try for the highest ranked journal you think you can get accepted by. Death spiral is hyperbole, but it's easy to see a threat since all universities are cutting subscriptions because of cost, and low ranked journals go first. NPG must really bet that the UC faculty won't hold together. Normally that'd be a safe bet since getting a handful of professors to be in the same damn room at the same damn time can take weeks of effort to pull off (familiar to all graduate students trying to get a committee meeting set up). This time with California's budget crisis, NPG might be wrong.
  • Re:From TFA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sumdumass (711423) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @07:56PM (#32518160) Journal

    However, the problem is that Nature is a leader in scientific publishing, so if they succeed in quadrupling their prices, many other scientific journals will do the same.

    I'm not so sure that free market principles wouldn't jump in and sort of squash their leader position.

    Think about this, they increase their price, UC school systems takes another journal and makes it home, the new home gets all of UC's published work, then they become one of the top as others schools attempt to mimic them.

    Any other scientific journal could just as easily compete for this position. The buying power behind California's University system as well as the exposure to students who will be the next leaders using the materials, is huge. I think it may be so huge that UC has the power to basically appoint Nature's replacement as a leader in scientific publishing within 5-10 years.

  • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @08:36PM (#32518522) Homepage Journal

    1) get their main product (the papers, in this case) produced for free by third parties who are not given any cut of the revenues; 2) have much of the intellectual work of reviewing and editing the papers also done for free by third parties; and then 3) lock up the result behind a paywall to maximize revenues, which go to people who had comparatively minor roles in actually producing the product being sold.

    Does it strike you that this is a pretty good description of a commercial Linux distribution?

    Bruce

  • by Vellmont (569020) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @09:27PM (#32518888)


    Capitalism requires informed consumers.

    Capitalism requires NOTHING of the kind. You're imposing some value system onto capitalism that in no ways is part of capitalism.

    Mind you, I don't disagree. I think informed consumers leads to a better world. But what you're describing has really nothing to do with capitalism or "free markets (which don't actually exist). You're talking about a value system, which is what capitalism and "free markets" utterly lack.

    As I read in someone's sig line here. the purest expression of business without regulation is the mafia.

  • by clarkkent09 (1104833) * on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @09:37PM (#32518956)
    You are wrong and so are those who modded you up. Free market does not require full disclosure of every price everybody pays, why should it? All that matters is that a willing buyer meets a willing seller and that the transaction is entirely voluntary on both sides. You are completely misunderstanding the free market if you think that it requires corporations to regulate themselves against their interests. On the contrary, the corporations and everybody else will ("should" doesn't come into it) act entirely in their own self interest and that's ok. They are "regulated" by the pressure from customers, competitors, shareholders and tort laws. There is hardly any area of human activity where the historical evidence is as clear cut as in the case of the harm that excessive government control does to an economy and yet people still scream for more and more regulation all the time.
  • Re:meh 'em (Score:3, Insightful)

    by clarkkent09 (1104833) * on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @09:41PM (#32518968)
    they're gouging the shit out of students

    They are gouging the shit out of taxpayers is more like it. The students in public universities only pay a fraction of the true cost. Taxpayers are the ones who should be complaining, the students should shut up and be grateful.
  • Re:meh 'em (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @09:56PM (#32519066)

    Ah yes, thinking like this is the problem. Short term instead of long term. California had the best education in the world for a long time, now it hovers close to the bottom of the US. The US isn't one of the best centres of education anymore. Please, run for office. Your ideas will surely get you elected.

  • by zerojoker (812874) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @10:15PM (#32519210)
    all theoretical free-market models make certain assumption: 1) The participants act rationally and 2) the cost of information is free.
    If you take out these assumptions than the free-market model is theoretical on a weak basis, and, scientifically, not "better" or "worse" than fascism or communism or whatever.

    Think of this: If you have two types of orange juice, one is cheaper and high on dioxins due to improper processing of the manufacturer and one is more expensive. Otherwise they are mostly the same. Is it rationally to buy the poisend one?
  • by sonamchauhan (587356) <sonamcNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @11:30PM (#32519674) Journal

    It does. :)

    So, delving deeper into the analogy, the next best thing for scientific publishers is to offer 'support'.

    Maybe, in the form of an electronic forum where the author and reviewers of the paper can collaborate and respond to comments and requests for information to its subscribers.

  • by Boawk (525582) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @11:57PM (#32519812)
    I recently took issue with an editorial in Nature, and ran some numbers on the country of origin of the articles they publish. In 2008, 59% of the articles originated from the US. The UK, the journal's home, came in second at 9% of the articles. Most (but not quite all) of the articles tallied were peer-reviewed research articles. If you accept that Nature publishes world-class research, these numbers suggest that the U.S. is generating the vast majority of quality research. Assuming a high correlation between the quality of research produced by an academic institution and the quality of the education provided there, then yes, the US is the best center of university level education.
  • by T Murphy (1054674) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @12:04AM (#32519844) Journal
    The "everybody wins" free market scenario doesn't hold so well with asymmetric information. I could tell someone they'll die of polio in the next 24 hours unless they take my magic pill, and if they believe me I've got a willing buyer despite the fact that he gains nothing (assuming he doesn't gain a bit of wisdom when he learns better of it). Similar things can happen in the medical field- they have all the information and usually you don't have time to do your research, so you often have to blindly trust them.

    I do not trust healthcare in the hands of Congressmen, but I also don't trust it in the hands of capitalists who think "patient" is just a word for "customer easily milked for more cash". Given we will never have a properly functioning free market for healthcare, I would rather use more regulation to compensate for the uneven information.
  • Re:meh 'em (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2010 @12:13AM (#32519896)

    Did you actually read their methodology for coming up with those numbers? FTA:

    Indicator (weighting)
    Academic Peer Review (40%)
    Employer Review (10%)
    Faculty Student Ratio (20%)
    Citations per Faculty (20%)
    International Faculty (5%)
    International Students (5%)

    What part of the above has anything to do with educating students, versus determining a school's perceived self-worth? Also, it seems there is a bias against large schools, but maybe it's just a coincidence that those all suck?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2010 @02:09AM (#32520496)

    all theoretical free-market models make certain assumption: 1) The participants act rationally and 2) the cost of information is free.

    Think of this: If you have two types of orange juice, one is cheaper and high on dioxins due to improper processing of the manufacturer and one is more expensive. Otherwise they are mostly the same. Is it rationally to buy the poisoned one?

    Given that, indeed, this information is know, it depends on the financial capabilities of the customer. Thing is, most people aren't going to know about this, they assume that what they buy isn't toxic. That's why we need regulation, but it's also because we have regulation. However, the fact remains that an unregulated market is going to be a hellhole for the consumer, if only because of all the information gathering you need to do.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Thursday June 10, 2010 @02:25AM (#32520566) Journal
    The US has 5X the population of the UK and 15X the population of Australia. I don't find it at all surpising that the largest developed country in the world would also produce the bulk of the world's high quality academic research.
  • Re:meh 'em (Score:3, Insightful)

    by codeAlDente (1643257) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @02:43AM (#32520662)
    I disagree, pending clarification of your definition of 'slow'. There are still a lot of people who like to read print (in many professions) for the sweet love of not spending ALL day on the computer/microscope. Nature, for many scientists, is like the Wall Street Journal for the business and finance crowd. A lot of people read it, and provides useful, first-hand information that often can't be obtained elsewhere. A lot of academic labs buy it, because they have more money than they need, and if they don't use it all, they lose it. Lots of scientists order the print version of the journal, even though they have access to the electronic version, for which a quasi-separate bureaucratic agency usually pays. Until Depression 2.0 hits, it'll sell. That being said, I wish scientists would rise up and tell Nature to eat a tarball. I like open source for many reasons, and I see no apolitical, scientific reason to publish in a Nature journal if you could publish in PLoS (Public Library of Sciences), PNAS, arXiv, etc. Peer review (both critical and editorial) is generally a key component of good scientific articles, and that's a service that Nature currently outsources very effectively. I recently went to a Q&A presentation with a Nature editor (whom I like), and most people (not me, but mostly professors) were angry. Not because the journal is expensive, but because they use their authority (or "impact factor") is used as an excuse to cost people a lot of time and effort, with little or no justification, and with substantial risk to their reputation and future funding. Some of it was typical academic whining, but there was a lot of substance that went unrefuted. Unnecessary bureacratic inefficiency has really wasted a lot. People walked out. Nature and a few other big publishing houses enjoy an oligopoly on academic publishing, and that could lead to inefficiency. But who knows. Their antitrust solidarity may be the best thing to manage a group of generally disagreeable people, who are plenty inefficient themselves, and get them to produce more research for the good of humanity.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2010 @03:56AM (#32521048)
    Not at all. Now, if they were making all articles available as a big tarball, free for everyone to download, that would have been closer.
  • Re:meh 'em (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2010 @04:23AM (#32521180)

    Just because you couldn't make the grade for university, doesn't mean you should be so bitter.

    Oh, and I'll have fries with that.

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