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Start-Up Wants To Open Up Science Journals and Eliminate Paywalls 74

First time accepted submitter ryanferrell writes "Not even Harvard can afford to subscribe to every academic journal. For scientists at small institutions, lack of access to journals specific to one's narrow field can be painful. Individual articles can cost $30 to $50 each, which is paid out of personal or grant funds. The Boston Globe profiles a start-up that is piloting an 'iTunes' model with Nature Publishing Group and the University of Utah. In the pilot program, researchers pay nothing to download articles and their library foots a smaller bill for a la carte access from the publisher."
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Start-Up Wants To Open Up Science Journals and Eliminate Paywalls

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  • Pipe Dream... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Monday October 08, 2012 @05:34PM (#41590631)

    I can build a web site like this, too! It doesnâ(TM)t mean that the journals I follow will come running to me to abandon their multi-thousand a year subscription fees. The solution is not in the delivery system, itâ(TM)s in the entire mentality of the so-called âoeprofessional journalâ and the need for scientists to pimp themselves within.

    And that will not happen any time soon.

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Monday October 08, 2012 @05:56PM (#41590835) Homepage

    The superficial problem is that universities can't afford to subscribe to all the journals that are out there. The ultimate source of this problem is that there are too many fourth-rate universities trying to pretend that they're research universities, and too many people trying to make it in academia in proportion to the number of available permanent jobs doing research. These people have a heavy incentive to publish lots of papers. If some of those papers happen to be important and influential in their field, that's good too, but the primary commandment is just to publish a ton of articles. This is what they have to do in order to get tenure. In many cases, they're in a department at a lower-tier state school that isn't really research oriented at all. Tenured faculty in their department aren't even doing research, just teaching. But the school wants to be just like the research-oriented universities (UC, Ivy Leage, etc.), so they make research a criterion for teaching. The school can afford to do this, because they have 300 applicants for every tenure-track job. All of this creates an overwhelming incentive for huge numbers of people to do research that is probably correct but utterly unimportant, and will never be cited in another paper. These useless papers have to be published somewhere. That's why all the low-impact-factor journals exist.

    The only solution I can imagine is that we could create not just a full set of high-quality free journals in all academic disciplines but also a full spectrum of medium- and low-impact free journals as well. Kind of depressing, but it seems to be what junior faculty need.

    Labtiva's approach doesn't make a lot of sense to me as a way of tackling the problem. The problem they describe is that research libraries can't afford to subscribe to all the low-impact journals. Low-impact journals are crap. They're low-impact. Their papers hardly ever get cited. For that reason, the market for $0.99 downloads of their papers will be too small to matter; nobody wants to read these papers.

    I teach at a community college, so I don't have access to journals. It would be great if I could get specific articles from high-quality journals for $0.99 a copy. But the publishers of those journals have no incentive to sell the articles for $0.99 rather than $30. If they did that, it would just encourage libraries to cut their subscriptions. As it is, some researchers will pay $30 for a specific article out of their grant money, and the journal will pull in a pile of money for doing almost nothing.

  • Re:Pipe Dream... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wealthychef ( 584778 ) on Monday October 08, 2012 @06:09PM (#41590977)
    Is it possible that if a few brave scientists start publishing to the open source environment, scientists with the street cred to do so without scorn, then others might see the value in it and start pimping themselves to the new venue?
  • What middle? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday October 08, 2012 @06:47PM (#41591287)
    There is nothing in the middle, because technology has already rendered the journal publishing industry obsolete. It is like asking about the middle ground between cars and horses -- which is ridiculous and pointless red flag laws.

    The real answer is to get rid of the journal publishing industry entirely. We do not need them. Copyright does nothing to promote scientific research these days, and journal publishers just hide human knowledge behind a wall of copyrights. Journal publishers rarely compensate the scientists who review articles, and sometimes they do not even compensate the editors.

    Of course, journals also have names, which scientists can use to impress people. "I published in Nature" sounds impressive, and people simply assume that your work must have been "a cut above" work that was published elsewhere. After all, who has time to read so much as the abstract of an article, when you can stop at the name of the journal (and it's not as though anyone publishes the same article in 10 different journals, making only superficial tweaks to their work, right?)?

    Let's not keep our minds so open that our brains fall out. The journal publishing industry is an obsolete industry, riding on nothing but its good name and an anachronistic method of promoting the spread of human knowledge for the benefit of society.
  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:27PM (#41591585)
    The problem is that "an original work of your own" might not be possible for someone who has never accessed the knowledge in the library. The right answer is for the library to be funded as a public good, so that anyone has a right to make unlimited copies of any research stored in the library for whatever purpose they want, as long as they do not misrepresent modifications they made to the work (think of creative commons licensing). Research is already funded as a public good in most civilized nations (NSF grants, NIH grants, etc.), and the results of that research should also be considered a public good.
  • Re:What middle? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday October 08, 2012 @07:55PM (#41591791)

    Kidding aside, I still don't see why a middle ground between free and ridiculously-high-paywall is dead from the start.

    You can think of it this way: the fewer restrictions there are on reading journal articles, the more scientific research that can be done. So free (libre and gratis) articles maximize the benefit to researchers, who are the very people writing those articles.

    Now, prior to the Internet, such a thing could not have happened, because one of the major restrictions on journal access was the ability of researchers to actually obtain copies of the journals -- without a global copying machine like the Internet, they had to rely on people who had industrial copying equipment, which was expensive to operate. Back then, copyrights made a lot of sense for scientific publishing, because they helped to monetize the publishing industry that was making articles available to researchers.

    These days, most researchers have enough equipment in their pockets to make copies of articles available to the world. So the intrinsic restrictions on obtaining articles are now gone; copyright is no longer helping to reduce restrictions, but it has actually become the most significant restriction on reading articles. Since researchers are not paid via copyrights on their articles, and since the reviewers and editors of journals are often not paid for their work, there is little reason left for us to continue to pay anyone just to read scientific articles.

    So, while copyrights will keep journals alive, and will likely keep "middle of the road" approaches alive, in terms of actually benefiting society by promoting the progress of scientific research, there is only one good way to proceed: free availability of articles, via the Internet.

  • Re:What middle? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday October 08, 2012 @10:18PM (#41592801)

    Does Dr. Joe Researcher make any money selling papers?

    Not directly; a researcher might make money by advancing his career, which a well-padded resume might help with, which publishing in top name journals accomplishes. But that is a pretty big stretch, and there is no reason that a resume could not be padded in another system where the papers cannot be copyrighted (or simply are not). Note also that researchers in my own field, where papers are almost always available at no cost, still pad their resumes.

    Do the institutions that employ Dr. Joe?

    That is even more tenuous. Institutions with researchers that have well-padded resumes do tend to bring in more grant money, because those researchers are more likely to get grants. Again, in my field, people get lots of grant money, despite the fact that their published papers can be downloaded at no cost.

    Does any of the money flow back to the source of funding?

    Only in the sense that the money I spent on coffee this past week will eventually find its way there.

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