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Open Source The Almighty Buck Science

Why Is Science Behind a Paywall? 210

Posted by Soulskill
from the because-we-are-not-a-smart-species dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Priceonomics blog has a post that looks into how so much of our scientific knowledge came to be gated by current publishing models. 'The most famous of these providers is Elsevier. It is a behemoth. Every year it publishes 250,000 articles in 2,000 journals. Its 2012 revenues reached $2.7 billion. Its profits of over $1 billion account for 45% of the Reed Elsevier Group — its parent company which is the 495th largest company in the world in terms of market capitalization. Companies like Elsevier developed in the 1960s and 1970s. They bought academic journals from the non-profits and academic societies that ran them, successfully betting that they could raise prices without losing customers. Today just three publishers, Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, account for roughly 42% of all articles published in the $19 billion plus academic publishing market for science, technology, engineering, and medical topics. University libraries account for 80% of their customers.' The article also explain how moving to open access journals would help, but says it's just one step in a more significant transformation scientific research needs to undergo. It points to the open source software community as a place from which researchers should take their cues."
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Why Is Science Behind a Paywall?

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  • It has value, so someone wants to profit from it.

    One could as easily ask "why are Hollywood Movies behind a paywall", or "why is food behind a paywall at my grocery store".

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 10, 2013 @05:26PM (#43689327)

      Well that's all well and good, except that most universities around the world are publicly funded in part by taxes. So your taxes pay for the research, and then you have to pay once more to be able to look at the results. If you had to have your credit card details ready when you made a 911 call, you might start to wonder what your tax dollars are actually being used for....

      • by pepty (1976012)
        All of the NIH funded research is available after 1 year. So you don't have to pay once more if you are willing to wait.

        I think university libraries (the principal customers for these publishers) will be the ones who successfully force a transition to either open access or cheap-access publications; budgets are too tight for them to be able to afford to keep supporting the current model.

      • Well, the universities are (partially) funded by taxes, but most research-producing profs teach at or near the same rate as non-researching profs (typically 3/4 teaching load is considered the ideal situation), so the taxpayers are getting their money's-worth - actually, when you figure in how many graduate students teach for a fraction of what profs are paid, research-producing profs and their groups are actually a better value.

        Now, research is rarely funded by the university itself, about 90-95% of resear

      • by tsa (15680)

        Don't forget that the scientists also have to pay a hefty sum per page (usually around US$100,-) to publish their stuff. And then the publishers still have the nerve to ask the scientists to do most of the formatting for them too.

        • If only they let me do the typesetting... I usually submit beautifully typeset documents, and some idiot editor retypes the math into word and it comes out fugly. They also add mistakes to our manuscripts.

          I have nothing in principle against outsourcing, but it has not improved the quality of the editorial process at Elsevier...

      • Basically, we value the laborer not at all, and we give all value to those who 0wn others.

        So the grad student who did the work, basically will maybe profit, a little; the directing prof who basically gets the funding profits a lot; the university football team profits tons; the contracting companies profit even more; and Elsevier profits even more.

        Meanwhile, the grad student may be able to access his own work in twenty years. Maybe.

        The key to being an 0wn3r society, is that you have to reassign 0wn3rship f

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ...and when it is free it's value is even greater. duh.

    • by femtobyte (710429) on Friday May 10, 2013 @05:28PM (#43689341)

      Key difference: food is not produced by non-profit farmers, who would love to give their food away for free to everyone in the world if only the grocery stores allowed it. Nor do the people who write scientific journal articles expect to earn royalties for every copy read. Scientists want their work to be read and shared *without the motive of earning a single penny per copy distributed.*

      • by Jamu (852752) on Friday May 10, 2013 @05:32PM (#43689399)
        Does it even qualify as scientific knowledge if it's not freely available for peer review?
        • by Mitreya (579078)

          Does it even qualify as scientific knowledge if it's not freely available for peer review?

          Uhm... yes?
          The peer in peer-reviewed refers to the experts from the same domain who are qualified to review your work. Not to the general population.

        • by meta-monkey (321000) on Friday May 10, 2013 @06:23PM (#43689879) Journal

          I think you might mean "attempts to reproduce." "Peer review" occurs before the paper is published. The author submits the paper to the journal or conference, the editor of the publication sends copies of the paper to experts in the field (generally other researchers who have already been accepted to the journal/conference), and those experts, peers of the author, review the paper and make recommendations. After reading the feedback from the reviewers, the editor may choose to reject the paper, publish the paper, or ask the author for revisions.

          • by gl4ss (559668)

            yes, but is it scientific when the size of peer review is artificially limited?

            • by Pseudonym (62607)

              Limited to people who are experts in the field and know what they're doing? I'm going to go with a qualified "yes".

            • by meta-monkey (321000) on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:50PM (#43691215) Journal

              Well, no, that's always been the way peer review works. You do work, submit it to a journal, and the journal has to decide whether to publish it or not. The editor can't possibly be as expert in every aspect of the field as people actively researching it, not only because everything is super specialized below the grain of the journal (i.e., you may be the editor of "The Journal of Bird Research," but you can't expect to be equally expert on ostrich mating and parrot evolution), but also because by definition, publishable papers containing new research contain things you haven't been able to know before. Also, you need independent active experts to review the paper to look for errors or quackery and to judge whether or not the research is relevant or compelling. So, peer review has nothing to do with whether a journal is freely available or behind a paywall. Even a freely published journal would still employ peer review in deciding which papers to publish and which papers to reject.

              This article is about what happens after the publication. Whether the journal is freely available, or whether you have to pay to read it. Again, I think you're getting mixed up between "peer review" (part of the editorial process that helps determine which papers a journal decides to publish) and the manner in which papers are available after publication (freely available for download and distribute, or locked behind a paywall).

              Papers being behind a paywall doesn't hurt the scientific validity of the papers published. Really, the problem is that it's rent-seeking dickishness on the part of the publishers.

              In grad school I worked at a research laboratory and was co-author on a few papers. I was also a peer reviewer for a few. Really, they were sent to my faculty advisor, and he farmed out the work to the grad students. This wasn't a bad thing...of course he reviewed our reviews before sending them on, and we learned about the process and I did my part as a member of the scientific community. But yeah, papers containing the research we did at a public land grant University (meaning facilities paid for by public tax dollars) and under tax-funded grants from the National Science Foundation and the NSA, peer-reviewed for free by other researches like ourselves and accepted for publication are now locked behind paywalls. I actually can't download and read papers that have my name on them as co-author (assuming I didn't keep original copies).

              • I think it is a good thing that grad students review papers rather than the profs: they are less politically motivated, and closer to the experimental reality.

                Also, they don't yet know the people from whom they are reviewing the papers, and therefore have a more neutral stance.

      • by Necroman (61604)

        Scientist also like to be able to continue doing their research, so they make at least some money. Do you expect these scientists work for free. How do you expect them to pay for equipment and other resources needed to do their work.

        • by femtobyte (710429) on Friday May 10, 2013 @05:57PM (#43689657)

          I expect them to be paid the same way they already have been and are paid, which doesn't involve a cent coming from sales of their research articles. The for-profit journals don't funnel those billions of revenues back to scientists; they take them *away* from the scientific community (and into the pockets of profiteering investors). Replacing for-profit publishers with non-profit university and professional associations puts more money (and, more importantly, access to knowledge) back in the hands of scientists, without taking a single thing away from any scientist's paycheck.

          • by Obfuscant (592200)

            Replacing for-profit publishers with non-profit university and professional associations puts more money (and, more importantly, access to knowledge) back in the hands of scientists,

            Creating "non-profit" university publishers will cost every taxpayer more money, because the people that will have to be hired to do this work will not be doing it for free, and instead of being paid for indirectly by grants (which can be taxpayer or private), they'll be on the taxpayer payroll.

            Association publishers will simply move the costs to the association members. The cost of belonging to some professional organizations is wacky already. IEEE is $185 a year, for which you get Spectrum and continual

            • by femtobyte (710429) on Friday May 10, 2013 @07:24PM (#43690431)

              Creating "non-profit" university publishers will cost every taxpayer more money, because the people that will have to be hired to do this work will not be doing it for free, and instead of being paid for indirectly by grants (which can be taxpayer or private), they'll be on the taxpayer payroll.

              As opposed to the taxpayer paying for all those things *plus* massive private profits by having private publishers do this? This will *save* the taxpayer money, because the taxpayer is *already* paying for all of Elsevier's work *and* profit margins.

              IEEE is $185 a year, for which you get Spectrum and continual offers of life insurance. ACM is a more reasonable $99. ACS is $151.

              Oooh, newspaper delivery prices! If $185 is "wacky" on your engineer's salary, you should consider looking for employers better able to use your skills than being a McDonald's fry chef. And, given my university's library budget for covering Elsevier's extortion costs, I'm (or, my research group) is already losing *way* more than $200 per person in journal costs.

              Whether you like it or not, the professional publishers do provide a service that isn't free, so paying them for that service isn't unreasonable.

              Paying for the actual costs of providing said services is reasonable. But Elsevier also gets this thing called "profit," where they rake in a billion dollars *more* than they need to pay for every single one of their own costs. They also arrange to provide services to maximize *profit,* rather than *services* --- at the expense of article availability to researchers. I suspect that, without the costs related to building elaborately paywalled restricted access archives, one could distribute Elsevier's content completely freely for a lot less than it costs to run Elsevier's profiteering operation.

              If you want free journal articles, perhaps you should write the author and get a preprint?

              Because maybe the author is dead, or might have better things to do than deal with personally handling the distribution of articles that a journal should be responsible for? If individual authors are supposed to handle archiving and distributing their own articles, then what are university libraries paying Elsevier's archive access extortion fees for?

              • by Obfuscant (592200)

                As opposed to the taxpayer paying for all those things *plus* massive private profits by having private publishers do this?

                You missed the point that not all grants are tax-funded. Corporations also provide grants to do research, as do private foundations.

                Oooh, newspaper delivery prices!

                Except there is no newspaper. There's a monthly magazine. How many magazines do you think would survive if they charged $185 per year? And I cannot think of a single newspaper I would subscribe to for $185/year, so "newspaper delivery prices" is a useless comparison.

                If $185 is "wacky" on your engineer's salary,

                How does the fact that the cost is much larger than the value have anything to do with the level of one's sala

                • by femtobyte (710429) on Friday May 10, 2013 @10:18PM (#43691769)

                  You missed the point that not all grants are tax-funded. Corporations also provide grants to do research, as do private foundations.

                  (a) what fraction is this in most fields? In particle physics (my own area), I've never seen any privately funded research --- but we're stuck with Elsevier journals.
                  (b) regardless, why should private grants paying extra for Elsevier's profits be any better? Wouldn't a private granter be happier paying less for non-profit journal systems, too?

                  Except there is no newspaper. There's a monthly magazine.

                  OK; you don't see the value in professional organizations. Others do --- including value beyond delivering magazines to our door, such as organizing conferences, scholarships, promoting research, even *providing journals better for the progress of science than profiteering schmucks.*

                  That's how capitalism works. People who risk money get to profit when the risk pays off.

                  And, when you lock in a monopoly position (such as is granted through exclusive intellectual property rights to journal articles), you can hoover up mega profits! Some of us don't think Capitalism is a good idea even in the *best* of cases, but this is the very *worst* of Capitalism --- the hideous face of monopolistic moneygrubbing.

                  The "extortion" fees are because they are making it more convenient for you to get the information, a service which costs real money.

                  Elsevier's profit margins are *absolute proof* that these services could be provided for at least 30% lower cost. With charges that range into hundreds of thousands of dollars per year per institution for hosting a few tens of thousands of PDF pages of archive material, do you seriously think this couldn't be done ***way*** cheaper (such as at the rates consistently provided by non-profit journals, which are often ~10% of Elsevier's fees for similar services)?

    • by cheesybagel (670288) on Friday May 10, 2013 @05:28PM (#43689345)

      Totally different. Most of the effort here is actually done by people who do not get paid. This includes both the authors and the reviewers.

    • RTFA, and try to understand that what appears to be your assumption, that scientific articles are commodities like movies or groceries, is not supported by history.

    • by zlogic (892404) on Friday May 10, 2013 @05:43PM (#43689509) Homepage

      Authors are paid next to nothing. I've published a paper by Springer which is currently selling for $40 for a download. Guess how much I got paid? $0 (and even had to sign a huge contract detailing the terms of my $0 compensation).
      Scientists publish papers because they need credit, references, public claims on their discoveries etc. Big-name scientists may actually earn something if they negotiate it.
      The only reason I see the publishers get such a huge compensation is that they have to review papers (probably hire scientists from similar fields) and deal with the incoming stream of bullshit articles.

      • by Americano (920576)

        It's really not "huge compensation" until they've scaled their organization to thousands of employees around the world, publishing thousands of journals & tens of thousands of books. On a per-unit basis, their profits are pretty modest.

        250,000 articles, 2.7 bn in revenues, of which 1 bn is profit - that means each article generates $10,800 in revenue, which means there's a breakdown of $4000 in 'profit' from each article, and $6,800 in 'expenses,' assuming all revenues come from publication activities.

        • by whoever57 (658626) on Friday May 10, 2013 @06:27PM (#43689919) Journal
          Your argument make the incorrect assumption that an open-access approach would have the same costs that a closed-access model has. Much of Elsevier's costs are directly attributable to their sales model and would vanish in an open-access world.
          • by Americano (920576)

            Which costs do you imagine will disappear?

            They still have to accept submissions, evaluate them, farm them out for review, decide which to accept, publish them, and then make them available in perpetuity.

            I find it doubtful that any of these costs would be reduced in any substantial fashion by a transition to open access publication. In fact, it's likely that "easy, free, open access" to 250,000 articles per year would require them to invest in significant upgrades of their infrastructure, with attendant sta

            • by whoever57 (658626) on Friday May 10, 2013 @07:06PM (#43690283) Journal

              They still have to accept submissions, evaluate them, farm them out for review, decide which to accept, publish them, and then make them available in perpetuity.

              But they don't do the evaluation and decisions on which to publish. That is done by unpaid reviewers and editors.

              it's likely that "easy, free, open access" to 250,000 articles per year would require them to invest in significant upgrades of their infrastructure,

              Much of their infrastructure is related to payment processing and restricted document delivery. None of that would be required in an open-access model. In addition, some of their costs are attributable to printing physical copies of articles, which would not happen in an open-access model (or could be done by a third party for payment).

              • by the gnat (153162)

                Much of their infrastructure is related to payment processing and restricted document delivery.

                There is also a relatively huge overhead from the production costs of a dead tree journal, which few of the audience will even see at this point. (I can't remember the time I actually picked up a copy of Journal of Molecular Biology - I just download PDFs onto my iPad.) They have an entire staff whose job it is to reformat your Word document, arrange figures, etc. Some journals even charge a "color fee" if you

        • by pepty (1976012) on Friday May 10, 2013 @06:34PM (#43689987)

          1. Done:

          http://publicaccess.nih.gov/ [nih.gov]

          2. Done:

          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ [nih.gov]

          (if you discount the value of immediate access to research, that is)

          • by Americano (920576)

            The letdown that I see to PMC is that it is mandated ONLY for NIH-funded research, and allows for a delay of up to 12 months.

            It seems that PMC also relies on the journals it is archiving to handle the review process for papers - managing this is probably a significant expense that the journals must still spend, and recoup somehow. I'd be interested to see what portion of the 30-some billion dollar NIH budget goes to operation of the PMC and affiliated programs, and what portion of the full publishing proce

        • by Raenex (947668)

          It's really not "huge compensation" until they've scaled their organization to thousands of employees around the world, publishing thousands of journals & tens of thousands of books.

          You are backing up the argument made in the article, which is that they jacked up prices and profit margins by becoming a big player in an inelastic market:

          "Companies like Elsevier developed in the 1960s and 1970s. They bought academic journals from the non-profits and academic societies that ran them, successfully betting that they could raise prices without losing customers. Today just three publishers, Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, account for roughly 42% of all articles published in the $19 billion plus

    • Do the authors get royalties?
      • by femtobyte (710429) on Friday May 10, 2013 @06:13PM (#43689795)

        Not for journal articles. For whole textbooks, a small pittance --- nothing remotely profitable compared to the thousands of hours that go into preparing such a text. The person I know who got an advanced graduate level text published through a major publisher earned ~$1 in royalties per copy, for a book that sold for $160 (and would, optimistically, sell a few thousand copies). He joined in with the lab's gray market overseas purchase (for about half the US price), because he sure as heck wasn't making any extra from the publisher's extortion. Only a few of the most common freshman introductory texts --- that will sell zillions of copies --- might be profitable; anything more advanced (that actually draws on the researcher's own particular area of expertise to advance a field) is done at a loss by the author --- typically only after getting tenure, since time spent writing a textbook isn't adding to annual publication counts.

        • by the gnat (153162)

          Only a few of the most common freshman introductory texts --- that will sell zillions of copies --- might be profitable

          The author of one of the most popular college organic chemistry textbooks drives a red Ferrari - definitely the exception to the rule, however. Most of the time the payoff is largely just to the ego (which most tenured professors have no shortage of).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Working on my own distro of Viagra. I hacked in some cough drop medication and now I have a stiff neck.

    • Journal subscription fees (and scientific publishing business models) have nearly nothing to do with pharmaceutical research and safety/effectiveness testing costs. Troll harder, please.
  • The free arxiv.org servers hold most of science behind these paywalls, at least in physics and astronomy. It would be interesting to see if there is a difference in citation rank between paywalled papers on arxiv, and those that are not (and, thus, frequently unobtainable without payment).

    • Outside of physics, we have PLoS ONE. Unlike arXiv, the lack of editing basically ensures that the only stuff that ends up there is crap. Wet-lab science loves prestige. (There are also frequently exclusivity contracts involved.)

  • by craighansen (744648) on Friday May 10, 2013 @05:36PM (#43689443)

    I recently attempted to purchase multiple textbooks for a donation to a teacher offering a non-profit course, and was blocked from purchasing new textbooks because, according to Amazon.com, multiple purchases of a single book are forbidden by the publisher. Amazon.com had plenty of copies available, they just weren't allowed to sell them to me.

    I contacted Elsevier on their website, and they were unavailing.

    My response was to purchase used copies instead, for which the teacher was very grateful, but I had wanted to do better for her.

    The end result was zero direct revenue.

  • Because it costs money? Now if it was publicly funded, even partially, the results should be public.

  • false choices (Score:2, Insightful)

    by roman_mir (125474)

    FTFA:

    Scientistsâ(TM) work follows a consistent pattern. They apply for grants, perform their research, and publish the results in a journal. The process is so routine it almost seems inevitable. But what if itâ(TM)s not the best way to do science?

    - yeah, that's a false choice.

    Private companies do science [slashdot.org] all the time [nytimes.com] because they need [bit-tech.net] to push their knowledge forward to stay competitive [cisco.com].

    By the way, who is preventing any scientist from publishing his papers anyway he or she likes at all? Who is standing in their way just throwing the stuff on some free Internet site, like, I don't know this [wikipedia.org] or even this silly [4chan.org] site?

    • by the gnat (153162)

      Private companies do science [slashdot.org] all the time [nytimes.com] because they need [bit-tech.net] to push their knowledge forward to stay competitive [cisco.com].

      You're missing the rather large distinction between basic and applied research. Most companies do science with the explicit goal of advancing products to the market, and are very reluctant to spend time and money on anything that doesn't have a clear route to commercialization. (I'm not saying this as a put-down: their job is to make money,

  • FTA:

    However, current scientific culture makes it hard to switch.
    A history of publication in prestigious journals is a prerequisite to every step on the career ladder of a scientist. Every paper submitted to a new, unproven OA journal is one that could have been published in heavyweights like Science or Nature. And even if a tenured or idealistic professor is willing to sacrifice in the name of science, what about their PhD students and co-authors for whom publication in a prestigious journal could mean everything?

    No one wants to be published by a no-name, and no one wants to let down their team mates by not trying for the most prestigious publishers. The big publishers have established a level of recognition, and since even scientists can be lazy and pass judgement on brand recognition alone, the fear of possibly being ignored because you didn't put 100% into self-promotion takes over.

  • Impact Factor (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tstrunk (2562139) on Friday May 10, 2013 @05:50PM (#43689587)

    The only reason scientists publish in journals behind paywalls is because they need the "Impact Factor" of the journal to put the publication on their CV so they can get better jobs and / or recognition among their peers. It's a vicious circle and one that science needs to leave

    A few scientists organized an Elsevier boycott last year http://science.slashdot.org/story/12/01/27/1322234/scientists-organize-elsevier-boycott [slashdot.org] and I had an idea back then, which I copy and paste here:
    """
    My solution for this would be a public network of papers, where everybody can publish, read and ‘sign’ those papers. If you agree with a paper, you put your signature under it and the worth of this paper goes up. As your ‘worth’ goes up your signature also gains in weight, when signing other papers. Every paper gets a comment section, where reviews can be written and errors pointed out.

    If a well known professor therefore signs your work, others will catch up to it. A ‘good’ paper will gain in publicity quickly due to being sent around a lot. One would also need to include a system of diminishing returns, as to avoid groups signing only their own papers. Ironing out these points of abuse will be the hardest part of this system.

    The specification above only consists of four to five sentences and yet I would call it much more stable and open than the currently completely anonymous reviewing system.
    """

    • by Gordo_1 (256312)

      So basically a Facebook 'like' button for scientific papers? Hmmm, not a bad idea.

    • Its not just the scientists. Laboratories are judged (and to some extent funded) based on the total impact of their publications. You get there with a few easy steps:

      1) public decides that funding science is good
      2). lots of organizations compete for limited funding
      3). Public needs to decide how to allocate funding and needs a metric for measuring the performance of these organizations
      4) Public decides that peer review is a good metric
      5) Important publications are sent to the journals that have other import

      • by tstrunk (2562139)

        To the previous poster - the problem with non-anonymous reviews is the risk of "trading" good reviews, retaliation etc if the reviewers are known. Scientists are people, as easily tempted to misbehavior as any other group.

        I completely agree. As money is involved, the system will be gamed a lot. However you are not competing with a perfect system. You are competing with a completely flawed system, where misbehaviour is the norm and being published in the big magazines happens a) because your science is actually good (system works) or b) you have a bigshot name and can therefore already push articles over the initial review wall (system failed). Now this is all under wraps and nobody can see it (and it makes me look like a con

        • Your scheme has merit. Its complicated though, in a lot of fields there are only a very small number of experts who are qualified to review a paper, and you would need some way to get the "right" people doing the reviews. A paper with a provocative title like Kip Thorne's "Wormholes, Time Machines and the Weak Energy Condition" is likely to attract a hoard of people who are in no way qualified to evaluate the work. We see the same effect on Slashdot where a very technical article will be referenced and ther

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      I like it. Science and its review done in plain sight; the closed groups might be handled via the comments section.

      The people who won't like this are those who don't know how science works, who can't see the end of their nose 'cuz it's stuck up the ass end of a perverted sense of prestige, who just happen all too often to be the people who run places and make endowments.

      This may also help with otherwise lost, unpopular, or seemingly screwy papers; there will at least be a place where they can be found. Ev

  • $19 billion plus academic publishing market for science, technology, engineering, and medical topics
    University libraries account for 80% of their customers.

    So what you're saying is that since the income of a typical university is 25% to 50% from tuition (and you can bet your ass that they justify the cost as providing access to students), that college students collectivly paid somewhere in the ballpark of $5 billion dollars to these companies.

    Now... I'm all for helping out my fellows, and collective bargaining seems to bring down prices, but when I don't want what's being bargained for it kinda screws me over. As someone with an engineering degree who never ne

  • Worse than a paywall is the preposterous but ever more popular meme that lots of science should be secret so that terrorists can't get a hold of it and do blah blah blah. It is pure horseshit, but it will almost certainly gain enough political currency to be put into practice. For those of you foolish enough to take the contrary position, please note that scientific information has always been easily available in academic libraries. Making it secret would change the way science has been done for about 2 cen
    • pure unadulterated horseshit

      We are living in a golden scientific age, in the 50 odd years I've been walking the planet mankind's knowledge of the universe around him has exploded like no other time in history. Sure some powerful economic groups such as the coal industry would like to keep certain results hidden from the public but corporate anti-science propaganda is nothing new and nobody in the west is lobbying to shut the whole thing down for fear of terrorism. The journal model may seem antiquated and expensive in an age of insta

  • Elsevier sucks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir Holo (531007) on Friday May 10, 2013 @06:07PM (#43689747)
    It is tough to determine where to publish... It is in part the responsibility of the young publisher (scientist) to know the reputation of the journal(s) to which s/he publishes. Although there has indeed been a flood of brand-new and un-pedigreed online-only journals, it is really up to the researcher to decide where to publish. Indeed, there have existed for many years "vanity journals," and conference-"proceedings" journals, to which aspiring assistant Profs. can contribute, but which have impact factors of less than one.

    Conference papers are one thing, but "real" publications are another thing entirely. Web-of-Science tries to explicitly avoid such gray-zone publications mentioned in a recent NYT article, and also, many top-tier journals do not consider "publication" in a conference proceedings to supersede, effectively, public dissemination of a work. That is, it doesn't count.

    I can say, from the perspective of an early-career and young CV-builder, that it is very difficult to figure out which journals in one's particular field are preeminent and worthy of submission of good work, but also, which "outlets" are not worthy of disclosure of "new" work or results. To be safe, a lot of us youngsters just stick to APL and JAP, simply because we know that they are (a) reputable with reasonable IFs, and (b) because we know we can get good work published in them. Branching out to other journals is fraught with risks; publication-wise, it is a difficult lottery. But, as the NYT article puts it, and as anyone who has observed, for example, Elsevier's for-profit actions in publishing papers from vanity conferences, one can get just about anything into print, for the right price.

    It is a significant risk, however, to publish in one of the new online-only journals. (What happens if they go bankrupt? Can you legally provide reprints?) The very real risk for anyone publishing in a for-profit online-only journal is, well, will your work be accessible in 10 years? 30 years? You grant a journal copyright when you publish, and in return, well, what do you get? Traditionally, you know that your work is in print in many scientific libraries across the world. But with an online-only and for-profit journal, you are granting them the same rights––are you guaranteed that your work will be accessible to all for the foreseeable future? No, you are not. When IP rights are in private control, they can change hands, at any time, as upon sale.

    Long story short––The existing model of non-profits owning copyrights to half of scientists' work is the standard (odious as that may be), but, a move to for-profit and online-only journals will only exacerbate the situation. Your life's work could end up inaccessible to anyone, if a for-profit enterprise (like Elsevier) decides that making-available of copies of your work is not profitable. Remember, you grant the journal copyright... That is where these online-only, and for-profit journals are headed. This sort of thing has happened over and over again in the past, under copyright, with movies, scripts, musical recordings, etc. Do you want to put science under the same yoke of private ownership of dissemination?

    Ask yourself: Should my work be made available for only 5 years? Or should it be made available in perpetuity to the readers of the journal to which I submit my work? Really, how valuable is your contribution? If in 50 years, there is someone with a question that can be answered by your work, should it not be available? (This is not fantasy. For example, space groups were fully developed 40 years before x-ray diffraction allowed the interpretation of crystal structures of materials based on diffraction-pattern symmetries.)

    Do you want your discoveries either locked up in copyright limbo, or lost in a region of cyberspace gone fallow? No. Science is a progression, and should not be stunted by any potential lack of accessibility, short-term or long.

    That is, OP, just agreeing with you that it's a problem, but one that hasn't found a solution yet.
  • It's even worse (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rhywden (1940872) on Friday May 10, 2013 @06:10PM (#43689771)

    I recently wanted to get access to a single article from a magazine for teachers because I wanted to do something different this time and the name of the article promised an interesting viewpoint.

    However, my school did not subscribe to that magazine and it was an issue from 2004 to boot. So I went to Wiley's website and they offered me the option to buy a time-restricted access to that six(6)-page article. Yeah, you read that right: Shell out money and if you don't download the article as a PDF (which they offer, by the way) you lose access again. Doesn't really make sense but, hey...

    Anyway, put that article into the "cart" and proceeded to the checkout. 40€. For a single article. From a magazine which costs 90€ per year if you subscribe to it as a private person (4 issues a year, 7-8 articles per issue). Where the articles are written by teachers for other teachers.

    So I drove the 20 minutes to my local university after my school day had ended and photocopied the pages for 0.18€.

    Screw those guys.

  • by WillgasM (1646719) on Friday May 10, 2013 @06:24PM (#43689883) Homepage
    to keep the Mongols at bay, or course.
  • by dlenmn (145080) on Friday May 10, 2013 @06:34PM (#43689995) Homepage

    To be fair, the journal Science is run by a non-profit, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). I think it's still behind a paywall, but I have less problem funding a non-profit that way.

    • by dlenmn (145080)

      Apparently new Science articles are behind a paywall for 1 year; then they available for free (although you have to register with the site).

    • by the gnat (153162)

      To be fair, the journal Science is run by a non-profit, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). I think it's still behind a paywall, but I have less problem funding a non-profit that way.

      There are a lot of other journals like this. I publish frequently in journals published by a specialist academic organization - they are read by everyone in our field, the organization does good work in general (it's truly community-run), and their policies are generally reasonable. But they do sti

  • by twasserman (878174) on Friday May 10, 2013 @06:35PM (#43689999)
    Anyone pursuing an academic career knows that there are certain journals that are considered prestigious. Publishing your papers in such journals (typically those of professional societies and many of those owned by Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley) is an essential part of the academic promotion process. Failure to do so means that you are unlikely to be promoted to a senior tenured rank (e.g., Associate Professor), and is typically the end of your stay at that institution. Publishing in some of the new "fake" journals [blogspot.gr] is worse than useless, even though it pads your resume. Many fields also look down upon conference papers, though that is less of a problem in computer science where there are numerous highly selective and well-regarded academically-oriented conferences, such as the Int'l Conf. on Software Engineering [icse-conferences.org]. Not surprisingly, many of the proceedings for those conferences are published by Elsevier and Springer.

    The whole process, to date, is self-perpetuating, since serving as an Editor or Associate Editor for a prestigious journal also gets you points when you come up for promotion. As noted by others, serving in an editorial capacity or even as a reviewer for these journals is uncompensated. (You might think of it as falling into the same category as contributing voluntarily to an open source project.) The best that one can say for this activity is that it helps build an academic network, making it easier to obtain recommendation letters from senior faculty to include in your promotion case. The best way to disrupt this system in the short-term is for libraries refuse to renew their exorbitantly-priced journal subscriptions. (Money talks.) The high-quality online journals (e.g.,PLoS [plos.org]) have not yet made a significant dent against the biggest academic publishers.

  • Some guy (Aaron something, I think) asked the same questioning and got jailed for 30 years. Don't try to understand how really is the system, it hates that.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:00PM (#43690815)
    Nature, another annoying paywall journal (but very good), had a detailed study about two months ago on the of publishing an article in both print and pure electronic forms. This even assumed reviewers work for free. They included editorial staff, printing, distribution, archiving and all that stuff. Journals recover costs through subscriptions, author charges, and society fundraisers. In one society I am in the annual commercial convention is the largest fundraiser.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday May 10, 2013 @08:03PM (#43690843)
    I used to like to browse the print editions of journals in reserach libraries. These have shrunk by 80% - 90% as many libraries switch to as-much-as-you-can-electronic policy. Plus its difficult to get electronic browsing permissions if you are just a visitor.
    • by Selanit (192811)

      I'm systems librarian at an academic library, and at most places you can get full access if you can use a computer on the university campus. The publishers grant access based on IP ranges, and it only make sense to give them the whole campus range so that faculty can use the databases from their offices. So if you can use a campus computer, you can get the library's digital holdings.

      At my own library, we have a policy of allowing unlimited guest access for library research. If you walk up to the referenc

  • Solution is easy: bring back copyright laws to the original terms. 14 years plus 14 year extension, and only for registered works.

    I don't think a publisher will register each and every of the 250,000 articles, and even if, at least the article would be available after only 14 years. The scientists can still publish with a publisher, the publisher could still sell the articles, but the articles wouldn't be locked away for 200 years (or whatever the copyright terms are currently).

    You wonder if the Mickey Mouse Extension Act of 1998 have any cost to the public? Here you have it.

  • why should we be paying scientists as well?

  • If they would not do everything to publish in those journals from those companies, the companies would have no chance to be evil.

    But backbones are unfortunately rare things among scientists who will do close to anything to get funded and even more to get a high-impact paper published.

Do you suffer painful illumination? -- Isaac Newton, "Optics"

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