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Editorial In ACM On Open Access Publishing In Computer Science 60

call -151 writes "An editorial appearing in the ACM notices complains about the effects of the Elsevier boycott particularly with respect to academics refusing to do unpaid review for for-profit journals, particularly the extortionate Elsevier journals. Mathematician Tim Gowers's post gave energy to this about a year ago and recently he reflected on progress in several directions, including developing new arXIv overlay journals. Not disclosed in the ACM editorial is that the author serves on three Elsevier editorial boards; I take it that his complaining about the difficulty of finding referees is an indication that the boycott is having some good effect. Open access issues in academic publishing have been discussed on Slashdot before and it's a good sign that the broader issue has been getting good exposure, including a reasonable White House directive in response to a strong petition effort."
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Editorial In ACM On Open Access Publishing In Computer Science

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  • Two cheers for Gowers' and his band of academics. Make the buggers pay.
  • I decline too (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @08:26PM (#43041069) Homepage

    Since last year or so, I've declined to review for any journal that isn't open access. I don't review less than before; like many academics I get more requests for this kind of thing than I have time to accept. I simply make a point of accepting review assignments only from open access journals, and I write that as my reason for declining reviews.

    • Re:I decline too (Score:5, Interesting)

      by call -151 ( 230520 ) * on Thursday February 28, 2013 @09:40PM (#43041607) Homepage

      Well done! Since you are already doing this, have you thought about signing the Cost of Knowledge [thecostofknowledge.com] petition if you haven't already done? In theory, this will prevent at least Elsevier editors from asking you to review in the first place and hopefully help establish more momentum for change.

      In my experience with declining requests to review, I have commonly mentioned access and/or price as concerns for declining and have found some sympathy with various editors. If this becomes more commonplace, hopefully that will speed change to more reasonable publishing models.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        In theory, this will prevent at least Elsevier editors from asking you to review in the first place

        If the goal is to encourage Elsevier to go the open access route, wouldn't that be slightly counterproductive?

        It's much more disruptive and frustrating to editors to have to send out requests to review papers, only to have them come back saying "sorry, I can't do this because X" than to simply pre-screen the names against a list. The latter is simply a several second, easily automated additional step in the process. The former introduces hassle on the editor (they can't automate parsing the rejection notice

        • If the goal is to encourage Elsevier to go the open access route, wouldn't that be slightly counterproductive?

          Isn't the goal to cause Elsevier to DIAF since they got busted deliberately publishing bogus journals?

      • by JanneM ( 7445 )

        I did sign it already. And to be clear, I don't refuse Elsevier, but any journal that is not open access. On the other hand, if Elsevier, say, would start a single open access journal I would review for that even if they didn't open access any other journal in their line-up.

        I dislike Elsevier as much as the next person. But to me this is not about punishing anybody, but about how to best allocate my limited time. Open access papers benefit a lot more people than closed papers, simply by being accessible to

    • I've taken a further step. I now refuse to review OA articles with excessive article charges. I *will* however review any article posted publicly, at the authors request. And post my review publicly.

      Time to break the current system.

      • by Paul ( 2854449 )
        I agree about the OA-only review stance. However, isn't the idea of a curated journal still better than independently-posted articles of questionable quality? At least, how do I find such articles when looking for related work, or how do I know a given article is reputable? I suppose if it's been reviewed by reputable reviewers, but I'm still a little sceptical of the infrastructure (or lack of it). Having said that, I'm also for “breaking the system” – just not sure how to go about it ye
      • I've got a few questions about how this hypothetical system you hint at might work:

        How could we prevent self-reinforcement? (i.e. authors picking their like-thinkers and friends as reviewers)

        How does a prospective reader know the aproximate strength of an article - keeping track of journal reputations is a pain, keeping track of individual reviewer quality is probably near-impossible

        Could we avoid overwhelming "celebrity" reviewers? It seems that leaders in the field would give up email entirely if every p

      • Of course, I will also review my friends' articles. And will probably approve them. Specially if they are my friends, and know I am the reviewer.

        Part of the importance on being the editorial body who mediates in this is to make the process less subjective.

  • by bware ( 148533 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @08:35PM (#43041125) Homepage

    Articles written in gray type on a white background.

    • Pshaw, that's nothing. Once an editor sent me an article that had body text written in a sans-serif font!

      • by dkf ( 304284 )

        Pshaw, that's nothing. Once an editor sent me an article that had body text written in a sans-serif font!

        Think on this: article written with Word using Comic Sans throughout. Or an article where the text is missing entirely. (Yes, I've seen that. It was at least easy to reject with a clear conscience!)

  • Good! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2013 @08:47PM (#43041217)

    Let them die.

    For-profit journals need to die, and we need to support cheap/free open-access journals so that publically-funded academic research stops being locked up by money-grubbing middlemen.

    Elsevier should be boycotted until it withers and dies. The world will be a better place.

    • For-profit journals need to die, and we need to support cheap/free open-access journals

      There is no reason that a for-profit journal cannot be open-access. There are plenty of for-profit magazines that publish their articles for free on the web, so a scientific journal could do the same. There is also no reason that a non-profit journal couldn't be closed to public access.

    • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @11:39PM (#43042385) Homepage

      So if the journal dies, does it take all of his archives with it?

      I've gone on record on a lot of forums in support of open access (hell, I even managed to throw an AGU election last year after I read the society's response to last year's call for comments that led to the OMB memo that got released last week as it pissed me off so much).

      But the problem is that some of the publishers have built themselves a pyramid scheme ... they've siphoned too much money out of the system (Elsevier has been paying ~$1.40 in dividends these last few years ... about ~3.5% of their value), and they rely on people shelling out $30+ to read some 20 year old article to pay for their continuing operations, rather than stashing their page fees away as an endowment to pay for preservation of the documents.

      So, when the companies do go backrupt ... will the papers fall into the public domain? Maybe, if it was a society journal, and they had a contract that didn't completely take advantage of them. More likely, however, is that it'll go up for auction ... and some other big publisher who still has money will take it over, and try to find some other way to 'extract value' from their 'new investment'.

      Elsevier should be boycotted (I'm doing it myself), but so they listen and open the stuff up *before* they die.

      Look, if they *really* add value by peer reviewing, charge for the peer reviewing -- make people pay to submit in the first place (rather than authors fees, downloading fees, etc.) But if they did that, they couldn't claim how 'exclusive' they are with the ratio of papers they reject.

  • Good old days (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wiredlogic ( 135348 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @08:49PM (#43041229)

    Sounds like things are slowly creeping back to the way they were in the good old days before print journals existed and scientific papers were freely distributed among colleagues. Only now your colleagues can be the entire world.

    • Not quite the good old days. Back then there was usually a bit more thought and revision put into something before the effort of setting the type and hiring the engravers. Now it's as easy as pasting one's first draft into a slashdot comment - and we all know how well thought out and revised those are ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    There may be significant room for improvement in the current academic/scientific publishing system.
    Currently the review process is hidden/controlled by the publishers.
    This is good in that they can line up reviews.
    It's bad in that it's a closed system serving the publisher's profit needs.
    The motive for the publisher to do good work is indirect in that in good publications may have a wider subscriber base.

  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @09:18PM (#43041463) Homepage Journal

    When someone pointed out that the Op/Ed author is on the Board, the author missed the point, and said, "Yeah, I could resign, but why?".

    He missed the point that "HEY!! I'M ON THE BOARD. MY OPINION MAY BE BIASED!!!"

    • The conflict of interest explains why his arguments were so weak. But I already disagreed before I knew that part. Boycotting Elsevier is boycotting your colleagues? Oh really? And, science should be separate from politics. Yeah, sure, Mom and apple pie. But let's not apply that standard selectively.

      Good to see that no one else bought it either, but then I expected as much. Researchers ought to be among the toughest people to fool with bad logic. I don't think he missed the point. Instead, I thin

  • by call -151 ( 230520 ) * on Thursday February 28, 2013 @09:36PM (#43041587) Homepage

    For those not familiar with the arXiv, it is a preprint server service that is free (expenses footed by multiple institutions around the world, notably Cornell University in the USA.) Researchers upload their preprints generally about the time that they submit the article for consideration for publication at a typical (eg. primarily dead-tree) journal. The article will be considered, accepted, rejected, modified etc. by the journal, which has generally asked other academics to review it (for free, motivated by a sense of community, typically) and then sometimes the author makes changes and gives the final version to the journal. They may or may not update the arXiv posting to reflect the changes (typos, revisions, serious issues) that have been made in response to the reviewing process. In any case, most of the people actually interested in the result will have long seen the arXiv posting long before the journal publication happens, so the journal is principally playing the role of a validator about importance, significance, originality, correctness, etc. rather than dissemination, for those who submit their work to the arXiv.

    Different disciplines have different levels of participation in the arXiv; high-energy physics and many areas of math generally have broad participation, whereas computer science, statistics, and other areas in math have lower overall levels and different publishing culture.

    What the Epijournals [episciences.org] are a project to have the validation process be similar, but not to bother with the actually having a (primarily dead-tree) journal. Rather, they will be overlays to the arXiv so the hosting and logistical expenses are all already sorted out. There are multiple free electronic journals, but the costs associated with archiving, etc. are generally either borne from "page charges" to authors, various institutional support options, or private generosity. See for example the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics [combinatorics.org] a long-standing top journal in combinatorics. With the hosting on the arXiv, this should remove one of the barriers to entry for new journals.

    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      Very informative.

      There are multiple free electronic journals, but the costs associated with archiving, etc. are generally either borne from "page charges" to authors, various institutional support options, or private generosity.

      One wonders about the actual costs involved in hosting electronic journals. Is the volume that high that this is a serious issue?

      You can finding hosting companies for under $100/year (including an SSL cert) which will supply a mountain of storage and bandwidth.
      Documents simply aren't that big, 6 to 10 meg seems about the maximum size, and the volume is probably low. It would seem charging authors would serve primarily to keep the junk science quacks at bay.

      It would see to me that website m

      • by call -151 ( 230520 ) * on Thursday February 28, 2013 @11:02PM (#43042125) Homepage

        It's not the bandwidth expenses; there is a staff and moderation and a great deal of effort to make it as useful as it it.

        There is a very competent staff and a good description of the arXiv expenses in their FAQ [arxiv.org]. Cornell has been trying to get other institutions to contribute as well; everyone agrees the arXiv is amazingly useful and hopefully the expense will be shared across many institutions. Current institutional contributors are listed here [cornell.edu] already, to the tune of under $3k/year each institution. The Simons Foundation has given a good amount of money towards expenses as well, $50k/year.

        Their operating costs are laid out transparently in this document [cornell.edu] and come to about $800k a year, with Cornell contributing $300k a year presently. There are 3 full-time-equivalent staff positions which make up most of that. The hosting expenses are about $80k a year presently it seems.

        • by icebike ( 68054 )

          80k for hosting?

          Tell me you forgot a decimal point!

          8k would be overkill!

          • by call -151 ( 230520 ) * on Thursday February 28, 2013 @11:33PM (#43042357) Homepage

            I did misread what is there; $80k/year is the total for direct expenses. Those include "Server costs" $41,700/year, and "Network bandwidth & telephony" of $1550/year and the rest is staff computers, staff travel, and advisory board travel. I have no idea about hosting costs in general. My experience with the arXiv has been that they are very cost-efficient compared to many academic institutions. They do have millions of downloads and some of those articles are hundreds of pages long. I suspect they are quite cautious when it comes to secure archiving and so on, but I don't know much about that.

            It is interesting to compare those institutions that have paid the $3000: here [cornell.edu] with the heaviest users listed here [arxiv.org] and see where the gaps are.

          • by dkf ( 304284 )

            80k for hosting?

            Tell me you forgot a decimal point!

            8k would be overkill!

            Quite apart from the fact that the actual hosting costs are only about half that, you have to bear in mind that long-term archives have more costs than cheap-ass hosting. In particular, they've got to keep multiple copies of everything on multiple sites so that if some disaster hits they don't lose everything. If it was just about keeping one copy online as cheap as possible, the scientists would just put it on their personal webpage and maybe put another in Dropbox.

            Archival isn't cheap! Work out for yourse

            • My journals use CLOCKKS or LOCKKS. Basically, their long term digital preservation plan is to have libraries underwrite them.

              In practice, journals going bust is the best thing that could happen in many cases. The content would become free, without fear
              of prosecution.

  • Other resignations (Score:5, Informative)

    by call -151 ( 230520 ) * on Thursday February 28, 2013 @10:02PM (#43041767) Homepage

    I did find that other prominent people are resigning from Elsevier boards; here's a senior researcher in malaria [malariaworld.org] resigned from an editorial board on the life-sciences side. His motivation was particularly strong- he is working in malaria research, and the idea that people who could benefit from the research may well be not able to pay for the paywall is abhorrent. But I think the same rationale applies to all of science- why keep research from people who cannot pay for it?

    In other Elsevier news, I found some more journal shenanigans described here [wordpress.com] which include both rigging the reviews to be sock-puppet reviews and getting into their editorial board systems, resulting in yet more retractions.

  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Thursday February 28, 2013 @10:30PM (#43041967)

    First, the man complaining about politicising the issue has a clear conflict of interest, and his editorial is on a site that requires registration with review to even post an anonymous comment.

    The revelation that there are people *outside* normal academia that desperately want access to valuable, and high quality materials, if for no other reason than self-education, and that those people have opinions that are worthy of being heard appears to be a completely alien concept to him, and his publisher.

    Throw into that, that he fails to understand why elsevier specifically gets so much bad press that there is a boycott focusing on them specifically further paints a bullseye on just how deeply his head is stuck in the echo chamber. (Nevermind that the issue has been politicised by same said publisher first and foremost already, by pushing for legislation to blockade grant money to academics using open access journals, which is what started the whole shitstorm to begin with, as was pointed out to him in the "registered users only" comments section of his blog post. )

    Add in the naivete' about his intrinsic biases, and the whole post becomes overwhelmingly amusing to an outsider like myself.

    • Heck, Elsevier generally remains hostile/ignorant to the idea that there are people *inside* "normal academia that desperately want access to valuable, and high quality materials, if for no other reason than self-education, and that those people have opinions that are worthy of being heard." No, neither I (out-of-pocket) nor my research group can afford $85 single reprint fees to gamble on whether potentially interesting title/abstract papers are relevant to our research. Tracking down references from other

      • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday March 01, 2013 @01:18AM (#43042825)

        I don't doubt that you can't. There is this prevaling (and completely false) notion that academics, scientists, and researchers are rolling in taxpayer money, and can afford to pay high, high prices.

        The truth of the matter is that quality research requires riggorous conditions, and quality equipment and premises, and those things aren't cheap. Academics, scientists, and professional researchers (outside of tenured university profs putting their names on student papers to increase their publishing scores while basially doing nothing themselves) are actually so close to dead ass broke most of the time just trying to keep their research labs open and producing papers that are worth a shit that the notion is absurd!

        Up until the recent mass exodus over their cardinal sin of trying to blockade grant money, they held a priviledged position of being a prestigious publisher, (despite all the shennanigans), and it was taboo not to publish through them or another paid publisher, if you wanted your research to actually be read, discussed, and reviewed. Now, however, the proverbial final straw has been laid on the camel's back, and enough reputable scientists and academics have created open access alternatives that the taboo is gone, and their 'prestige' is no longer worth the abuse, and could even be considered 'infamy' for many of the unscrupulous tactics it has undertaken concerning sockpuppet reviews, false publications, and outright academically dishonest tactics. I dare say, it is more taboo now TO use elsevier than not to!

        I don't know how many times I have wanted to look at more meaty things than just an abstract on a number of life science and organic chemistry papers, only to be bitchslapped by elsevier's twitching and upturned palm grasping wildly at my wallet, and even in some cases, refusing to even LET me buy unless I owned a library, or were a published researcher.

        I yearn for an internet where I can surf pubmed, or similarly searchable catalog, and you know-- actually GET the damned paper without submitting to a rectal examination and a total cashectomy, and without being treated like second class trash. Last I checked, initiative to LEARN was a VIRTUE! The "you must be this big to ride" bullshit in academic publishing is horrendously intolerable, especially in light of the fact that many genuine researchers don't even meet the mark!

        seriously, shit like this is unbelievably destructive to academia. What kind of message does it send to valuable and hungry minds when they get told flat out that they just aren't good enough to even READ the current research, just because they aren't members of some arbitrarily priviledged demograhic? How many people that WOULD have made contributions walk away disgusted each day, and become embittered, and closed to knowledge by this? And for what? The personal greed of the publishers? Publishing companies are supposed to SERVE academic discourse. NOT the other fucking way around!

        I fully understand the need for sanitization on publications. I don't want to read "scholarly articles" on how baby jesus loves me, or on how to build purpetual motion/overunity devices, or other crackpottery anymore than any other serious and earnest reader would, but when that review is already done for free as part of the academic community, and not done by the publisher, what sensible explanation is there for that service to be charged for by said publisher?

        Seriously, I have some very brainy hobbies that often require more detailed information than simple factoids like boiling points, vapor pressure, and the like for chemical substances, and which would greatly benefit from reading papers on things like rates of dissolution of alkaline earth ions in different kinds of molten silicate glasses, and how temperature and atmosphere type might impact those, or how different metalurgical compositions behave under novel conditions, and the like. I would spend a lot less time and resources trying to conduct experiments that have already been performed under far

        • Sorry to rant like that, but as an outsider to the academic debate, voices like mine are usually never heard, and treated like they don't exist.

          Don't apologize. Speaking as an academic insider, I think it was a fine rant, and one that should be heard far and wide.

  • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Friday March 01, 2013 @01:05AM (#43042775) Homepage

    I'm a member and yet they're totally untransparent about how the digital library works and what limits exist for downloading from it.

    I've been trying to download several sets of conference proceedings—a couple thousand articles (two conferences, less than 10 years each)—to do some analysis on them for a research project.

    Trying to play the good guy, I asked how they'd prefer me to do this and/or whether they could supply a better means for obtaining these.
    "Manually" was the only answer I got.
    So I did. Click, click, click in my browser. Incredibly labor intensive.
    Before I was even 10 percent done, an hour in, I got blocked and a warning email.
    Asked again.
    "Manually" was the answer that came back again.
    I said I was doing it manually; asked what daily limits (files, bandwidth, whatever) they'd prefer I stay under.
    "Manually" was the terse and non-sequitur answer.

    Basically, this is emblematic. I am a paying member. I have legitimate access under terms of service. I'm a researcher. I have a narrow and well-defined need and purpose for downloading a narrow and well-defined set of articles. And I'm already doing it fscking manually.

    I am unable to find out how to get them without running afoul of some hidden threshold, and unable to find out what this threshold is so as to stay under it. It won't make me stop trying to assemble the conference proceedings I need, but it may cause me to stop paying for ACM membership next year.

    As an academic, I also have access to many of the same repositories as do others. But the Aaron Swartz case and my own experience with the ACM (who I've previously been fond of) tells me that the current academic publishing model is inherently antagonistic toward openness. It is not just about practical constraints to encourage production and discourage abuse; it is about ensuring that knowledge is a black box only available to the anointed, with rules and properties only available to the anointed. It is about restricting access for reasons other than mundane, practical ones, and about ensuring that even the nature of the restrictions is hidden so that ideological "threats" to the system can be dealt with arbitrarily, which wouldn't be possible with open rules.

    It's time to publish on open systems and let peer review happen in the open as well. And I say this as someone that is published in journals and that sat as managing editor for a Springer journal for some time.

    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      And I'm already doing it fscking manually.

      No you're not! You're using a computer! You've got to download stuff off their system manually! As in no computer used at all.

      (I'm almost tempted to suggest farming the work out with Amazon Mechanical Turk except then there'd be the hassle of getting past their paywall. What a bunch of incompetent jerks.)

    • The ACM is pretty terrible on this front and compares very poorly to other professional societies, for example the American Mathematics Society. AMS has more reasonable fees, much more reasonable copyright assignment for their journals, charges less for their journals, does not have some difficult-to-use online journal system, and in fact their modestly-priced journals and books effectively subsidize the rest of their operations. The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics is also good by all these

  • Maintaining scarcity is a direct way to control the supply-side of the price v. supply curve. This is reason enough for companies like Elsevier to maintain a paywall. But there are other ways -- academic reputation has value as well, so it can be leveraged to help maintain the scarcity. It is conceivable that companies like Elsevier will begin to demand NDAs from submitters. Submitters will be faced with the choice of accepting the NDA in order to be published in a mainstream journal, or rejecting it and
  • In my field (cryptography) and, as far I know, CS in general there is no problem with open-access. All the major conferences and journals allow you to put copies of your articles on your own personal page (or something like eprint.iacr.org) and literally 100% of people opt to do this. I have never wanted to read an article and not been able to find it on one of the authors sites or on a preprint server. Google Scholar will even do all the work for you and find copies of articles wherever they are posted

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.