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Free Scientific Journals 29

RichiH writes "Most of you have probably heard that science journals are getting more and more expensive. In hard numbers, 215% increase in price over the last fifteen years. What proves a major problem for libraries and interested individuals is great for the publishers. Reed Elsevier, with about 1700 scientific magazines the leading publisher, had a profit margin of 33.8% in 2003. With most research which is published, the taxpayers get the bill while the publishers get the money. So now for the good news: People are starting to fight this. Creative Commons is a good way, for example. Additionally, there are several magazines available which are based on a author-pays basis. If this sounds like a strange idea, think again. If Cell prints an article by you, you are charged $1000 for the first and $250 for each additional graphic you include. And this is for a reader-pays magazine! With PLoS Biology, the author pays $1500 for the whole article and the reader gets the magazine for free on the internet. Biomed Central lists 100 free magazines while the Directory of Open Access Journals lists an amazing 1425. I for one considered getting the $160 a year print subscription of PLoS just Because."
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Free Scientific Journals

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  • Peer Review (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the darn ( 624240 ) on Friday January 28, 2005 @10:28AM (#11502985) Homepage
    The free flow of information is all well and good, but the important service provided by most print journals is that they subject submissions to (supposedly) rigorous peer review. IANAS, but I imagine that such review might take some $ to accomplish. Will a researcher-pays system be inclined to look as closely at the articles submitted by its primary cash source?
    • Re:Peer Review (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dr. GeneMachine ( 720233 ) on Friday January 28, 2005 @10:41AM (#11503121)
      So the distribution of manuscripts to reviewers is worth a >30% margin? FYI, the reviewers themselves are not paid by regular journals and will not be paid by free journals. So the standard of peer review can be maintained without a problem. Additionally, it is not uncommon for regular journals that the authors have to pay for the publication of their articles. The $1500 for PLoS is well in the normal price range for article publication.

      I consider this a good development. The business model for scientific publishers is deeply flawed. Consider: The public pays for research done at a university. The public pays for the publication of this article in a scientific journal. And then - the public pays again a ridiculously high price, so that the universities can subscribe to this journals. This simply ain't right. To complete the sad story, even the copyright of the article does not stay with the researcher who published it, but is transferred to the publisher.

      • Re:Peer Review (Score:4, Interesting)

        by zangdesign ( 462534 ) on Friday January 28, 2005 @11:13AM (#11503461) Journal
        The only problem is that the public is still paying to publish the article. I seriously doubt that scientists are coughing up their own moolah for this.

        It seems to me the best solution is the one where the scientific journal is paying the researcher, much as any other magazine would pay a journalist.
        • Re:Peer Review (Score:5, Insightful)

          by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Friday January 28, 2005 @11:35AM (#11503672)
          It seems to me the best solution is the one where the scientific journal is paying the researcher

          I would suspect that this would just result in an increase of the cost of the journal. It's just a shell game hiding the cost of the publication of these journals.

          Scientific journals are a funny business. The circulations of the journals is very small, but the information in them can be very important in the long run. Clearly there is an external economy not accounted for in the direct economics. When that occurs the usual solution is to go outside the traditional economic models and get some sort of government regulatory involvement. That seems to be happening in an indirect manner now, with a distortion in the whole process of excess profits to the publisher. Some people are trying to do an end run around the existing process, but the very important tradition of peer review is threatened by this.

          It is not going to be easy to come up with alternative to the current system.

          • It is not going to be easy to come up with alternative to the current system.

            No, but I suspect there will be even greater pressure to use a web based system of publishing as Google begins to make available searches into various library collections of paper archive journals.

            One of the hidden economic transactions in today's publishing world has to do with academic laurels related to publishing volume and publishing quality.

            If I publish in a a free webjournal my CV doesn't look as impressive as if I publ

        • Re:Peer Review (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Otter ( 3800 ) on Friday January 28, 2005 @11:52AM (#11503837) Journal
          It seems to me the best solution is the one where the scientific journal is paying the researcher, much as any other magazine would pay a journalist.

          Yeah, but somebody has to pay for the operation! A journal can charge authors, charge for online access, charge for paper copies, or all of the above. You can't simultaneously eliminate or slash all of those things!

        • I'm probably missing your point. It seems to me that a scheme like that would mean that psychology journals could be all but given away and journals in high energy physics would cost around a million dollars a copy! Please refine/explain what you mean by "scientific journal is paying the researcher".

          Also, just how evil is it that the public pays to publish research results that the public paid for in the first place...what exceptions would there be [leaving DoD out of this for the moment] to the notion
      • Many of the journal-published articles I need are provided by the author on his or her web page, so there are at least some journals which don't demand exclusive distribution rights.

        Really, the only way around exorbitant fees being socked to underfunded researchers is for researchers en masse to stop working within the publishers' system and to start establishing truly free journals. That is, journals with volunteer peer review, both in organizational staff and reviewing faculty; and free Internet distrib
    • The bigger problem in the researcher pays to publish system is that you could easily blow most of a small research budget just publishing results, rather than generating them. If you want the cost to institutions of journals to drop, the cheapest solution is drop everything by Reed-Elsevier, which tend to be low-circulation, low-impact, journals. One could probably also argue that as the Gov't is already paying for a good deal of research, then it might as well shoulder the cost of publishing some of it.
    • And /. subjects articles to MASSIVE though not noticeably rigorous mob review [though some /.ers are actually peers especially in the Developers, Books, BSD, Linux and IT sections.] and even though its unevenly informed, the /. moderation is definitely an improvement over the take it or leave it one way flow of information in print journalism. The /. commenters don't get paid much [I'm still waiting for my check.] and are generally worth it but since their sheer numbers probably prop up /. ad revenue [if
    • Well, peer-review isn't very costly. Nowadays, as a reviewer, you typically get sent the text by email in the same format (the same files) as the writer submitted, minus the name. You read and review, and send your comments back, by email. You don't get paid for doing this; not very expensive in other words.

      Besides, as we've all suspected and some studies have shown lately, peer review isn't all that effective as a vetting procedure. Too often a paper will get reviewed based on the author on affiliation as
    • No. (Score:3, Informative)

      by linoleo ( 718385 )
      IANAS, but I imagine that such review might take some $ to accomplish.

      IAAS, and peer review takes zero $ to accomplish. The action editor (who works for love) emails the article (in PDF) to the reviewers (who work for love), who email their reviews back, whereupon the action editor makes the call - publish, revise, or reject. The publishers do not put any money into that system, and have indeed been scamming the public for years.

      Establishing a solid reputation, quality control, and peer review process ar
    • Most of the peer review done is free. Even for reader-pays magazines. Don't ask me why, but it is.
  • Seems to be working (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Friday January 28, 2005 @10:33AM (#11503030) Journal
    The real barrier to entry is name recognition. A new journal can offer the best services and product out there, but if it doesn't command respect, scientists will take their work elsewhere.

    I was skeptical about this new crop of journals, but PLoS seems to be taking off pretty nicely -- I've seen some decent stuff in there. The key seems to be having a critical mass of major players on the board, to command respect and to stock the first year with decent material. (Of course, that means using grad students and postdocs as cannon fodder on yet another front, but, hey, they had their chance to go to law school instead.)

    FYI, journals are never, ever referred to as "magazines".

    • by chihiro ( 842974 )
      Name recognotion is crucial, which is why PLoS Biology stands a good chance. It has had a pretty high profile in the Biosciences. A number of well respected scientists were instrumental in starting PLoS up, and the editor was poached from a big journal (Nature I think, but I may have misremembered).

      The papers I've seen it PLoS Bio so far have been pretty good. Not as 'high profile' as Nature but solid work, and with papers long enough to avoid the 'tabloid' tendency that Nature sometimes has (short paper
      • PLOS did indeed poach well respected editors to launch - one from Cell and several from Nature. These editors are very expensive, so is the glossy (and completely unnecessary print edition) and all the secondary material that they produce (reviews, News and Views style articles etc.)

        Even with an 'authors pays' model these guys must be burning cash at quite a rate. As far as I can see a bunch of academics are running the show, and while they have talented editors there seems to be no professional publishin

        • I agree that BioMedCentral is the more innovative journal and deserves to succeed, but sadly the profile of journals is SO central to the way that funding is awarded (and reputation is gained) that I believe that the effort and money that PLoS has put into this is warranted.

          Take Cell for example. A Cell paper has enormous weight and every biologist wants a Cell paper. Does that mean that the best papers always get into Cell? Goodness no! But while Cell's reputation (and impact factor) remain high everyo
  • I let my Subscription to Geophysics [] lapse because they jacked up the price and reduced benefits (regular membership went from Paper Journal to CD Rom -- getting the paper journal after that required another fee).

    They also charge exorbitant fees for authors.

    As others point out, though - they are really the only game in town, so what are you going to do.

  • My previous job was a university marine research laboratory and I can tell you one thing... these people are very cheap - they have to be. They expect to get many of these journals for free from the University, and of course they should. The school takes a large chunk of the award to cover overhead on facilities, which by the way are falling apart. There has been talk of moving some of the publications to an online format but this was halted by strong resistance. These guys don't want to read on the com
    • It's not just that no one wants to pay, but also that library budgets (especially for universities) are either stagnating or shrinking while the costs for journals keeps going up. Libraries are then forced with the decision of what subscriptions to cut, but that usually results in a hue and cry being raised by whatever department uses that particular title. And a very peculiar thing is happening at our university (since I can't rightly speak for others), instructors are telling their students to get the a
  • Perhaps we could free up the articles by explicitly providing funds for the peer review in the original grant. That would remove one of the major impediments to providing free articles.

    Of course, we would have to come up with some means of (1) selecting the peers on an ad hoc basis and (2) maintaining the peers anonymity. Both of which are non-trivial task.
  • most papers that eventually get accepted to real journals go through here first.
  • I'm no expert in science publishing business, but I can tell you with certainty that Russian scientists absolutely cannot afford to pay money for the publishing their work. I graduated from the major Russian univerisity, which didn't even have the subsription of major journals like Phys.Rev.B. How do you expect them to pay for publishing? I know people who buy their groceries with money from publishing their articles (this is an exaggeration to a degree, since grants are bigger source of income)
  • The Internet Public Library has the largest catalog of peer reviewed journals, they're just currently mixed in with all the others [].

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas