Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Yeah, they really are that bad

Here's a story from Nature about the perfectly honest, respectable steps that big academic publishers are taking to fight the open access menace. God forbid that you, the taxpayer, should get to look at the results of studies that you funded without paying a stiff fee!

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PR's Pit Bull Takes On Open Access

Journal publishers lock horns with free-information movement.

Jim Giles
[reprinted here gleefully and without permission--ed.]

The author of
Nail 'Em! Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses is not the kind of figure normally associated with the relatively sedate world of scientific publishing. Besides writing the odd novel, Eric Dezenhall has made a name for himself helping companies and celebrities protect their reputations, working for example with Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron chief now serving a 24-year jail term for fraud.

Although Dezenhall declines to comment on Skilling and his other clients, his firm, Dezenhall Resources, was also reported by
Business Week to have used money from oil giant ExxonMobil to criticize the environmental group Greenpeace. "He's the pit bull of public relations," says Kevin McCauley, an editor at the magazine O'Dwyer's PR Report.

Now,
Nature has learned, a group of big scientific publishers has hired the pit bull to take on the free-information movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available. Some traditional journals, which depend on subscription charges, say that open-access journals and public databases of scientific papers such as the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) PubMed Central, threaten their livelihoods.

From e-mails passed to
Nature, it seems Dezenhall spoke to employees from Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society at a meeting arranged last July by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). A follow-up message in which Dezenhall suggests a strategy for the publishers provides some insight into the approach they are considering taking.

The consultant advised them to focus on simple messages, such as "Public access equals government censorship".
[uh...right. Of course.] He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and "paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles".

Dezenhall also recommended joining forces with groups that may be ideologically opposed to government-mandated projects such as PubMed Central, including organizations that have angered scientists. One suggestion was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington DC, which has used oil-industry money to promote sceptical views on climate change. Dezenhall estimated his fee for the campaign at $300,000-500,000.

In an enthusiastic e-mail sent to colleagues after the meeting, Susan Spilka, Wiley's director of corporate communications, said Dezenhall explained that publishers had acted too defensively on the free-information issue and worried too much about making precise statements. Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn't matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: "Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate".
[Read that part again. These are the people we're paying to publish our research!?]

Officials at the AAP would not comment to
Nature on the details of their work with Dezenhall, or the money involved, but acknowledged that they had met him and subsequently contracted his firm to work on the issue.

"We're like any firm under siege," says Barbara Meredith, a vice-president at the organization. "It's common to hire a PR firm when you're under siege." She says the AAP needs to counter messages from groups such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS), an open-access publisher and prominent advocate of free access to information. PLoS's publicity budget stretches to television advertisements produced by North Woods Advertising of Minneapolis, a firm best known for its role in the unexpected election of former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura to the governorship of Minnesota.

The publishers' link with Dezenhall reflects how seriously they are taking recent developments on access to information. Minutes of a 2006 AAP meeting sent to
Nature show that particular attention is being paid to PubMed Central. Since 2005, the NIH has asked all researchers that it funds to send copies of accepted papers to the archive, but only a small percentage actually do. Congress is expected to consider a bill later this year that would make submission compulsory.

Brian Crawford, a senior vice-president at the American Chemical Society and a member of the AAP executive chair, says that Dezenhall's suggestions have been refined and that the publishers have not to his knowledge sought to work with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. On the censorship message, he adds: "When any government or funding agency houses and disseminates for public consumption only the work it itself funds, that constitutes a form of selection and self-promotion of that entity's interests."

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Vomit.

If you can explain to me how this sentence isn't pretty close to the core of everything integrity and free enquiry ought to oppose, then go drown yourself. Seriously. Because you're as big a liar as these evil fuckers:

Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn't matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: "Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate".

Oh, yeah, the last thing you'd want to do is defend your case on its merits. Which, if anyone was being honest, boil down to, "We've been bilking you suckers for decades with our monopoly on publishing and now that we've got some competition we're being exposed as the whiny money-grubbing pussies we are. And instead of coming up with some kind of justification for our continued existence we'll start a smear campaign."

What really torques me off is the blatant dishonesty. Big publishing = peer review. Right. Cuz none of the open access journals offer that. But then it doesn't matter to them if they're right. According to them, as long as they can get us on the defensive, it doesn't matter if we can discredit their statements.

Doesn't matter to who, assholes?

At the risk of being a bit of an asshole myself, I think (I hope) these guys are bringing a big knife to a gunfight. Academics have their faults (good Lord hallelujah preach it brother Matt but that's a post for another time), but in general we're trained to think critically and not jump on bandwagons just because some velvety asshole comes up with a slogan like "Public access equals government censorship". The same tactics that sell Happy Meals and big plastic "Hummers" are not going to work in this arena.

Nice play, Big Publishing. I'm sure this will drive scientists to your banner by the thousands.

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By the way, if you're not in academia you may not be aware of how big publishing companies have been gouging your tax-paying ass. Go here and read about one scientist's battle to take back a journal from the corporate dickholes. And go here to find about the open access movement, which exists to make research results available to everyone, everywhere, for free.

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14 Comments:

Blogger Mike Taylor said...

From the article: "Public access equals government censorship".

Uh ... what?

I know you already dealt with this in your post, but but. I think this statement represents a wholly new direction in the history of rhetoric. The approach here seems to be that you just blandly state something that is clearly the very opposite of the truth, and assume people are so dumb, careless and/or mentally anaesthetised that they'll simply accept it. So apart from anything else, this assertion represents a display of astonishing contempt for its audience.

3:13 AM  
Anonymous dinogami said...

Well, one thing that isn't very widely known is that the "open-access" stuff (e.g., PLoS journals) are in no way "free!" Whereas standard journals do depend on subscriptions to (a) generate revenue, and, much more importantly to we publishing authors, (b) be able to offer very low (or no) page charges for papers of typical length, PLoS journals, for example, charge $2500 per article to the authors in order to publish the paper (I think there is a clause in there that would allow that to be waived in certain cases, but waivers almost certainly aren't the norm!). My perception is that this is necessary for the same reason that a standard journal charges a subscription fee -- how the heck else are they supposed to pay for the actual publication of their journal? I simply can't begrudge them that, although I do think that many journals (especially Elsevier's) are extraordinarily exorbitant. The only real alternative I can think of is to have governments fund all such publications (which they do for all their own publications, anyway, using tax and other revenue, so we end up paying for them indirectly anyway), but that's not reasonable, especially considering that some governments (ahem) would probably opt to only publish those things that would agree with their own internal viewpoints -- true censorship!

In the end, the whole argument is meaningless -- both ultimately cost the authors something, whether it's directly (via page charges or other fees) or indirectly (e.g., library subscription costs are passed along to institutions and covered in other ways, such as tuition costs, student fees, bookstore price mark-ups, etc.). In this respect, they are simply two different solutions to the same problem; the only real difference is the difficulty in getting a hold of the final product (which is much easier with the open-access solution). Quibbles are valid about subscription fees, however, but I think it would be more difficult to combat actual publication costs given the people and equipment required...unless you want to out-source it all to India or Mexico. 8-P

At any rate, it's a bit odd to hear about this from the Bezerkely end of things given that PaleoBios still isn't available electronically...

8:35 AM  
Blogger Mike Taylor said...

Hi, dinogami. The problem here is that the word "free" has two meanings. The point of open access journals is to be free as in freedom; you're complaining that they're not free as in zero-cost.

That's a legitimate complaint in some senses -- heck, I am not wild about paying money for the privilege of giving my work away -- but the result of the PLoS model is dramatically, radically different.

The key result of the PLoS model is that the work is available to everyone. Think about that. Not just staff at rich universities that can afford subscriptions, but students in little backwater universies; would-be researchers at universities in little backwater countries; for that matter, people with no academic affiliation at all, but who are interested amateurs.

That's would be very different from the paid subscription model -- even if it weren't for the grotesque numbers involved in how the subscriber model is implemented right now, with the 300% markups to the do-nothing publisher.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the fee for publishing in PLoS Biology is generally for those who have grants that can pay. I've heard that its quite easy for students and others to get the waiver and/or pay only partial costs. Also, some university libraries are willing to contribute to publication costs for an author at their institution because its still cheaper than for them to subscribe to a non-open access journal.

Dinogami said:

"At any rate, it's a bit odd to hear about this from the Bezerkely end of things given that
PaleoBios still isn't available electronically..."

This comment is a bit of a low blow if you ask me. First off, Matt doesn't speak for the university or the museum, he's just blogging as an individual - how can you accuse either institution via his comments?

Second, PaleoBios is a small journal - it don't have the resources of a larger (for-profit) journal. But if you'll notice, the journal has really reasonable subscription rates ($22 per year!). PaleoBios also freely allow authors to post PDFs of their articles on their website etc., so in that sense the journal is not trying to stifle dissemination of research.

You have to realize that none of the people involved with running PaleoBios get paid extra to work on it - it is an extra duty on top of regular jobs. Running a website for the journal like large journals do (e.g. BioOne, Ingenta, BioMedCentral) is out of the question given the size PaleoBios.

Don't despair though - the journal is currently working on putting all of the articles from PaleoBios online as searchable PDFs. This will take some time, but should be done in a few months. All articles older than five years will be free to the public.

Randy

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot to add that there are open access journals of the sort that Dinogami craves, such as Palaeontologia Electronica.

Also, the BioMedCentral open access journals do have a charge, but on the journal's website it says: "Generally, if the submitting author's institution is a BioMed Central member the cost of the article processing charge is covered by the membership, and no further charge is payable. In the case of authors whose institutions are supporter members of BioMed Central, however, a discounted article processing charge is payable by the author. We offer a £30 discount for manuscripts formatted with EndNote 5 (or later versions) or Reference Manager 10. We routinely waive charges for authors from low-income countries." Its not perfect - but better than submitting to Elsevier.

Randy

11:21 AM  
Anonymous dinogami said...

To address Mike's & Randy's excellent comments:

The point of open access journals is to be free as in freedom; you're complaining that they're not free as in zero-cost.

Well, yes, I see your point -- but even journals in university libraries are, technically, accessible to anyone. I have not yet encountered a university library that barred non-student/non-faculty or -staff from entering and looking at or copying its holdings. Such libraries may well exist, but I haven't encountered them. In some places, there is something of a rigamarole to get in -- having to hand over a driver's license or other ID for the duration of a visit, for example -- and typically stuff cannot be checked out, but it's still accessible, even for copying (though copying in most libraries is exorbitant, too!) or scanning. Sure, ease of access is better with open-access journals, but it's not as if other journals are inaccessible! Similarly (and I think you and I have had this discussion before), I don't know how fair it is to call some Chinese or Russian journals "inaccessible" -- very, very hard to get a hold of in many cases, to be sure (I know of a few that have no holdings at all listed in WorldCat's 9000+ library catalog), but to me "inaccessible" means more of "cannot be accessed by any means." One might have to get on a plane and fly to the publisher's facility to get it, but that's still possible, albeit expensive and, er, overkill. So really, here, I think we're talking about degrees of ease of access, rather than "accessible" vs. "inaccessible."

The key result of the PLoS model is that the work is available to everyone.

Again, I agree, but perceive it more as an improved degree of freedom -- one may not, for example, have to drive several hours to get to a subscribing institution, but just 'cuz a place is far away doesn't mean it's inaccessible -- just requires some additional resources to get to.

My understanding is that the fee for publishing in PLoS Biology is generally for those who have grants that can pay. I've heard that its quite easy for students and others to get the waiver and/or pay only partial costs.

This is good news -- I wasn't aware of this!

This comment is a bit of a low blow if you ask me. First off, Matt doesn't speak for the university or the museum, he's just blogging as an individual - how can you accuse either institution via his comments?

I realized in retrospect that this comment of mine probably came across as smarmy, but it certainly wasn't intended as such -- more of a gentle tease! No offense was intended in any way to Matt, Randy, PaleoBios, or anyone else at Berkeley -- PaleoBios is a terrific little journal that has published some great and interesting papers. I was teasing more of the fact that Matt was lamenting (and rightfully so!) the fact that some scientists have the gall to debate the value of open-access when his own institution's publication isn't open-access. That's all -- just a jab at the irony of the situation, not at the journal itself or anyone involved with it! My library doesn't subscribe to it, but I've never had a problem getting a hold of any papers from it that I want, usually directly from the author or, occasionally (for really old stuff), via ILL. I'm glad to hear about its relatively low subscription cost, too, though -- something for me to recommend to our little library as it grows (or my own shelf space, should it also decide to spontaneously grow)!

PaleoBios also freely allow authors to post PDFs of their articles on their website etc., so in that sense the journal is not trying to stifle dissemination of research.

This is certainly a model I applaud, and wish ALL other journals would emulate!

You have to realize that none of the people involved with running PaleoBios get paid extra to work on it - it is an extra duty on top of regular jobs. Running a website for the journal like large journals do (e.g. BioOne, Ingenta, BioMedCentral) is out of the question given the size PaleoBios.

Understood -- it's the exact same situation with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin in which I just edited a huge volume and am now on the editorial board for, so I empathize with Randy entirely. The Bulletin isn't available on-line, either, and is similarly a bit too small to be attractive to a larger distributor like the ones you mentioned -- heck, it hasn't even garnered a JCR ranking! -- and indeed I've been bombarded with requests for PDFs of papers from our most recent issue (though I suspect most requests have gone directly to various authors). I'm more than happy to distribute them, of course, and I'm not aware of any policy the series has against authors posting their PDFs on their own sites for distribution. Despite their more effete distributions, small, in-house journal series like PaleoBios and the NMMNH&S Bulletin have the nice advantage of being less expensive for both the publisher and the authors, as well as not imposing page limits (that I'm aware of for PaleoBios, at any rate), which is more than I can say for JVP, for example...but again, I understand the need for such things as cost-saving measures. They're also terrific places for in-house/regional students to cut their teeth, publishing-wise, largely because of the volunteer nature of their staffs (which tend to be more empathetic toward students' developing professionalism, in my experience).

Don't despair though - the journal is currently working on putting all of the articles from PaleoBios online as searchable PDFs. This will take some time, but should be done in a few months. All articles older than five years will be free to the public.

Huzzah! I think the NMMNH&S Bulletin is angling similarly, though probably less than 5 years.

I forgot to add that there are open access journals of the sort that Dinogami craves, such as Palaeontologia Electronica.

Most certainly correct -- it was not ignored intentionally! It just kind of gets lost in the vast sea of non-open-access journals, but of course it is a good model. I suppose, but don't know, that issues of Palaeontologia Electronica and the PLoS journals must also be printed in some hard-copy form and reposited somewhere to satisfy ICZN and probably other organizations' requirements for archiving...this, aside from other costs, is another issue with which open-access journals would have to deal, though since most are already predominantly hard-copy, not much of an issue.

As for BioMed, I have little experience with it and thus don't know who is and isn't a supporting institution, but I agree that their idea is a pretty good one!

12:14 PM  
Blogger Mike Taylor said...

Having grepped around the DML archives, I've only just realised that "dinogami" is Jerry Harris. Hmm, now I regret the condescending tone of my first reply :-)

2:18 PM  
Blogger Dr. Vector said...

You should be okay. As a long-term DMLer, I'm sure Jerry is used to condescension. :-)

Well, this has certainly been lively. Believe me, I'm with ya on the irony vis-a-vis PaleoBios. It's a bigger, more succulent irony steak than you probably appreciate--a lot of Berkeley folks were early and vocal advocates for PLoS.

I shouldn't tell tales out of school, but if one can't air some institutional laundry in the comments section of an obscure blog, then what's the world coming to? The word on the street is that a few years ago someone made some noises about killing off PaleoBios, which has always run at a loss. Apparently run at a loss, that is; turns out UCB gets a big net benefit by swapping PaleoBios for other journals. That saved PaleoBios then, and I suppose that's the major block to having it go open access.

But as Randy pointed out, a year's subscription will set you back less than the cost of a hardback. And as Jerry pointed out, there's no page limit: witness Langer's monster paper on Saturnalia from a couple of years ago. And what I expected Mike to point out, because he's published one paper there and has another one in the pipe, is that the turnaround time is almost absurdly short. I think about six months all told both times I went to the well, and IIRC even less for Mike's first paper.

I will take issue with the statement that the open access vs. commercial publisher thing is meaningless, because we wind up paying either way. It's not meaningless, for a whole bunch of reasons.

1. With open access someone, usually the author, pays once, and that's it. No one else has to pay to see that paper ever. Contrast that with the big commercial publishers charging $20-$30 a pop for nonsubscribers to download PDFs. That's an assrape fee. For a paper that was published a year or more ago, the company has already made all their money back plus their profit margin on subscriptions. Why bilk people further? If they have to charge anything at all, why not follow Apple's lead and make each paper a buck ninety-nine to download? After all, journal subscribers probably pay between one and two dollars per article over the course of a year; why the 2000% markup for everyone else? Now, you may answer that Joe Public is not required to pay the assrape fee to read the paper; he may go to the nearest academic library and find the hardcopy. But...

2. Lack of ease of access is a cost. It just is. And if keeps the science out of the hands of the people who need it--or even want it, no matter how trivial the reason--then it's a problem.

3. Thanks to page limits, we're all too often paying academic publishers twice: once to publish, and again to read.

4. Only really they're getting paid a lot more times, with the download fees and so on. I think the single payment system is just better, although I admit we need to work out the kinks. (The money that libraries currently spend on subscriptions could be used to subsidize that institution's publications in open access journals, for example.)

5. AFAIK, open access journals are nonprofit. Contrast that with the big academic publishers, who apparently use the "Whatever the hell we can squeeze out of you suckers" pricing strategy.

I don't think that all academic publishing companies are evil. But some of them definitely are. And all of them, evil or not, are threatened by open access. The status quo is shot, and eventually they are all going to have to change or die. I don't know what they need to do. (If I was an officer of an academic publishing company, I'd be cashing out my stock. Open access is like music downloading + the moral high ground.) So far all I've seen from the commercial publishers is pissing and moaning, name-calling, lots of heads in the sand and middle fingers in the air. This sort of shit is not going to save them. It is going to hasten their demise.

Back over to you.

Matt

12:47 AM  
Blogger Mike Taylor said...

Matt, you're right on all scores of course. The next thing I expect to see is the owners of non-OA journals complaining that the impact factors of their OA competitors are "artificially inflated" just because anyone who wants to cite articles from OA can get and read them.

I didn't want to big up PaleoBios as a venue too much on here because it all felt a bit incestuous ... but for the record (assuming someone other than the four of us plus Darren ever reads this) it's a great journal to deal with, and super-fast. The diplodocoid taxonomy paper went from submission to publication in 111 days flat (i.e. well under four months) which I guess is pretty much unheard of. This is largely due to the quick and consciencious work of the editor (Randy), the reviewers (Matt and Jerry), and my co-author (Darren) ... well, you see what I mean about it being incestuous :-)

3:00 AM  
Anonymous dinogami said...

WARNING: LONG "SPIRITED DISCUSSION" FOLLOWS...

You should be okay. As a long-term DMLer, I'm sure Jerry is used to condescension. :-)

Hey, I don't have to take that here! I can go ANYwhere and get this kind of abuse!

The word on the street is that a few years ago someone made some noises about killing off PaleoBios, which has always run at a loss. Apparently run at a loss,
that is; turns out UCB gets a big net benefit by swapping PaleoBios for other journals. That saved PaleoBios then, and I suppose that's the major block to having it go open access.


Very interesting! Glad it was saved that way, actually! But yes, of course the bottom line (= $$$) is invariably the biggest concern in a capitalism-driven industry.

I will take issue with the statement that the open access vs. commercial publisher thing is meaningless, because we wind up paying either way. It's not
meaningless, for a whole bunch of reasons.
1. With open access someone, usually the author, pays once, and that's it. No one else has to pay to see that paper ever.


Well, that's not entirely true. The scientists doing the publishing are shelling out money to do so from grants (usually); government grants (the bulk of them) are funded by taxpayer money, so in a roundabout way, people are paying for them (and, of course, this is why they should be allowed to see such papers as result from public-money-funded grants! The problem there is that the public-funded grant money ends up in the hands of a private corporation and there are no laws of which I am aware that specifies that such organizations must altruistically capitulate to the public nature of the funding). It's just the same kind of "invisible" payment as applies to, say, the building of infrastructure, or military security. We don't write checks directly to the researchers (or the publishers) -- it instead goes
through any number of middlemen -- so we tend to think we're not paying for it...as if the money magically appeared from nowhere. (Hey, that's an idea...I
wonder if anyone has ever been caught funding their research via counterfeiting...?) Even when funding isn't from a grant, or is from a grant from a private
institution, the money still came from SOMEwhere, and even in the case of donations, the donor got their money from some source that ultimately will boil down to
profits from some company, and they get profits by selling stuff to us consumers.

Contrast that with the big commercial publishers charging $20-$30 a pop for nonsubscribers to download PDFs. That's an assrape fee.

Now this I agree with wholeheartedly! I never meant to imply that the various and sundry corporations aren't bolstering their own wallets by bilking the poor consumers this way, and I agree that these fees are outrageously high! (It would be interesting to see their justification for fees like that...) And yes, in this sense, a consumer has to pay twice to see the paper -- once through whatever cycle of spending & transferring took their hard-earned money and ultimately gave it to the researcher to write the bloody thing, and again to get it and read it. I agree -- this is the part that is a problem. But as I mentioned before, it is also
possible to (a) write to the author(s) and ask for a reprint/PDF, which costs only either a stamp and writing supplies or an Internet connection, or (b) get to a subscribing library and copy it there, which costs gas money and perhaps some copying fees. It's still accessible...just a bit more expensive (and time-consuming) than being able to download it for free (which still might cost for the Internet connection).

For a paper that was published a year or more ago, the company has already made all their money back plus their profit margin on subscriptions. Why bilk people
further? If they have to charge anything at all, why not follow Apple's lead and make each paper a buck ninety-nine to download?


I agree with the first two sentences here completely, and I think a number of journals (Elsevier doesn't seem to be one of them, unfortunately) that is making older stuff more freely available...but yeah, it's a painfully slow process. I think the corporations are too addicted to money to let go easily of income...kind of like a crack addict, sadly. I disagree with the last sentence only because I think Apple is a god-awful corporation to emulate -- Jobs is a greedy, selfish bastard (and his
company likewise) and I will not willingly give my money to him, ever. (This is a whole 'nother conversation, though!)

2. Lack of ease of access is a cost. It just is.

As above, I agree -- the cost of gas, copying, etc. that it takes to get to a paper at a subscribing institution IS a cost, even if it's a small one (and it often isn't). InterLibrary Loan is also a cost -- I dunno about at other institutions (I've never asked), but here, getting a hold of a copy of a paper from outside Utah costs the school $30-some-odd. I don't pay that fee directly; the school does, and the school gets its money from tuition & student fees and from the state (which, in turn, gets it from my tax money, so in a way, I am paying for it...just not directly). But even open-access journals incur a cost SOMEwhere along the line...my
school provides me with a "free" Internet access with which to download the paper, but as before, this fee comes from the school's income, which, in some small part, ultimately comes back to me (and every other tax-paying Utah denizen) -- to my property taxes, state income taxes, sales taxes, etc. It just doesn't strike one
as a "cost" because it isn't taken directly from my wallet or checkbook. It's just, ultimately, less expensive than ILLing a copy (which is of inferior quality, anyway) or driving up to, say, BYU or the U of U to copy it from their library (which I have also done).

3. Thanks to page limits, we're all too often paying academic publishers twice: once to publish, and again to read.

Well, at least journals seem to have the common sense to give authors copies of their own stuff for free (and, sometimes, a copy of the issue the paper is in), so at least they don't have to pay to read their OWN stuff...! I think it was George Olshevsky who once stated that he out-and-out refused to ever publish in a journal because he would never pay to do so. I can actually kind of see his point, but of course that particular attitude is detrimental to a paleontological insider trying to make a career of it!

4. Only really they're getting paid a lot more times, with the download fees and so on. I think the single payment system is just better, although I admit we need to work out the kinks. (The money that libraries currently spend on subscriptions could be used to subsidize that institution's publications in open access journals, for example.)

The only problem with this model, though, is that by doing so, the publisher would be reducing their net income and would jack their prices up accordingly to
compensate. Vicious circle.

5. AFAIK, open access journals are nonprofit. Contrast that with the big academic publishers, who apparently use the "Whatever the hell we can squeeze out of
you suckers" pricing strategy.
I don't think that all academic publishing companies are evil. But some of them definitely are. And all of them, evil or not, are threatened by open access...


I'm not trying to defend the publishing industry. They're actually a symptom of larger issues inherent to capitalism. Capitalism allows individuals and corporations to make profits and allows competition to drive the market. Do we temper capitalism with laws that dictate that certain items -- like publicly-funded research papers -- are not subject to these rules? If we allow those, why not other things? Where does the line get drawn, and who gets to draw it? When does American capitalism
become more like, say, Chinese capitalism? Or outright communism (do whatever is best for the people and equalize everything and everyone)? I liken the situation
to what I think would happen if, say, someone invented Star Trek-style transporters. I think everyone agrees these would be absolutely fabulous -- travel would become instantaneous (imagine writing a paper, trying to find some detail of a vertebra of, say, _Klamelisaurus_, getting out of your chair, walking to the transporter, beaming to China, looking at it, then beaming back to your office to continue writing!), allowing productivity to skyrocket. In short, it would be phenomenally beneficial. Should it therefore be free? Certainly car, airline, and moving companies would do everything in their power to prevent it -- more likely than not, they'd lobby and use other political means to ensure that the cost of beaming would be exorbitant (definitely at first, but probably for a long while afterward, too), just as oil companies do everything in their power to make sure alternative fuel sources are more expensive than their own petroleum products. Is this right (= moral, ethical, any other synonym)? It sure is a great pipedream that the inventing company would say "We're making this fabulous technology free to everyone!," but it's not realistic...and it's not realistic because of capitalism -- the money it cost to pay people and buy supplies to manufacture the technology has to come from SOMEwhere. Are they to bankrupt themselves and fire all their employees in order to make something really great available to everyone for free? (One could ask the same of drug companies
-- not that their fees aren't also outrageous, but discovering and manufacturing drugs does have very high costs associated with it!) (And there are all sorts
of other consequences of the ability of the same technology to be able to rearrange molcules of anything into anything else -- no need for money, gold, diamonds, etc....)

How would you propose we deal with the open-access issue if we didn't have the Internet? Was this an issue prior to the mid-1980's or so? Does the invention of
the Internet necessitate that people start getting stuff for free (or, at least, much less cost)? Of course it does do exactly that in some cases...but only in those cases where the Internet has increased the ability of corporations to compete, driving prices down on many things. And I agree with you, Matt, that the publication industry is on the verge of going through the same throes as the music industry has in light of a new (and selective) distribution medium, and I don't know how it will end up dealing with it. I suspect that part of the high cost they charge for a non-subscriber to access an article is mitigated largely by the fact that not many people are going to do it. Apple (or Napster or similar corporations) can get away with $2 music downloads because enough people will get them at that price
for them to still make a profit. It's the same reasoning that books like _Dinosauria 2_ cost $100 and the newest Dean Koontz novel costs $20 -- fewer people will buy the former, so the publisher has to charge more in order to recoup the cost of producing it (and make some profit besides). In other words, the demand drives the price. I don't know ANYone who like forking over $100 for the latest dinosaur book (well, maybe the authors do -- assuming that their contract gives them some
royalties, which I understand is becoming rarer and rarer these days), but we do it so we have the information. Should _Dinosauria 2_ be free and freely accessible to everyone? How would that be done given that it's not an on-line thing?

In the end, we all have to really ask ourselves whether or not we want capitalism and, if so, what kind of capitalistic society we want and how and when it should be tempered altruistically. I don't offer any answers, and even if I could, they'd almost certainly be different from everyone else's based on my own experiences and perceptions. But we have to recognize that the emplacement of restrictions or stipulations, no matter how well-intentioned, is always a very slippery slope (the road to Hell and all that).

I'm also not saying that the publishers should be freely allowed to continue gouging people, or that I in any way agree with the numbers they use...I'm just saying I understand them in the broader context. I'd be as overjoyed as you if they all started making all their content available freely, even if only older stuff. I just don't see how that could be feasibly done given the comparatively low demand for such specialized things.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Mike Taylor said...

Wow -- LOADS of stuff to reply to from Jerry. Maybe I should spend my time more productively (I meant to resolve Wealdon sauropod taxonomy tonight -- poot) but I do feel I need to respond to a few points.

Well, at least journals seem to have the common sense to give authors copies of their own stuff for free (and, sometimes, a copy of the issue the paper is in), so at least they don't have to pay to read their OWN stuff...!

Oh yeah? I've recently been corresponding with a well-known scientist (can't say who without permission but you've all heard of him and read some of his papers). He's recently had a paper published in the Journal of Paleontology. They require him to pay $100 to get a PDF of his own freakin' paper. True. Not only that, but he did as they asked and sent the money in October: he's still waiting for his PDF. So y'all might want to avoid journals controlled by Allen Press.

How would you propose we deal with the open-access issue if we didn't have the Internet? Was this an issue prior to the mid-1980's or so?

No, it wasn't an issue pre-Internet. In those far-off days, publishers actally did something worthwhile for their authors, namely distribution. Now that distribution is a Solved Problem, the only way for them to continue to make money is through an artificialy maintained economy of scarcity. As journals such as PaleoBios demonstrate, in the days of PDFs we simply do not need publishers any more. It's not Blackwell that gives Palaeontology its respectability, it's the editors and reviewers.

Does the invention of the Internet necessitate that people start getting stuff for free (or, at least, much less cost)?

Necessitate, no; not directly. But it certainly enables it, and in a free-market economy that amounts to the same thing. Why? Because in a free economy, all distribution mechanisms compete on price and efficiency, and the cheapest and best wins. All nice and Darwinian. The problem comes when vested interestes (and yes I mean Elsevier and its brethren) very explicitly don't want an even playing field.

That's why I think you're misguided when you argue that we have to recognize that the emplacement of restrictions or stipulations, no matter how well-intentioned, is always a very slippery slope. I don't think anyone here is arguing for a communist arrangement: just good, old-fashioned American capitalism actually working in a market that is not distorted due to being controlled by a cartel.

(All of this, by the way, is an argument about freedom as in zero-price, or at least low price. I am deliberately not bringing in the, to my mind more important, issue of free as in freedom. On the subject of open access, I think all the cards are so stacked that I'm quite happy to argue on another man's territory ... and still whup his sorry ass.)

--

2:38 PM  
Blogger Mike Taylor said...

Gosh darn it all to heck -- the dumb Blogger software made my enter my username, password and verification word so many times as I was working on that last message that I ended up just hitting Return to submit, and so it did a Publish instead of a Preview. Which is a shame since I had more to say. Here it comes.

--

My concluding questions are (A) how did we get into this mess where big evil exploitative publishers (or BEEPs for short) own, control, and limit access to so much of our work? And (B) how can we get out of this pit?

I think the answer to (A) is almost entirely historical. As I argued in my previous message, publishers had a real role to play twenty years ago, and so all the presigious journals came under the wings of publishers. (The existence of independent such as PaleoBios is a great thing, smelling simultaneously of Free Markets and Hippie Idealism.) Now here we are in the Internet era, and those publishers still control the journals; and the journals control us because we need them to publish our work so that everyone admires how clever we are and crowds of adoring groups came flocking around us at conferences.

So the situation today is that no-one says "I need to submit my paper to a Blackwell-controlled journal". We say "I'm going to submit to Palaeontology", and it happens that this means falling into the hands of Blackwell.

Right. So how do we escape? Since we are in thrall to the journals and the journals are controlled by the BEEPs, we have two lines of attack if we want to stop feeding the BEEPs with the fruit of our labours. First and simplest, we can stop submitting to journals that are controlled by BEEPs. That means sending a lot more stuff to PaleoBios :-) [Not a bad thing by the way, since its incipient IF would come out higher, and it would become a presigious journal itself.] But in the short term, that's hard to do: we need to be in the big journals as well as PaleoBios for career reasons (in your case) and for the hot chicks (in mine). Still, we could all make a bit more effort to submit to journals whose publishers are not wholly BEEPy.

Second, and here's where it gets really good, is if the journals come out from under the publishers' wings. What does Cretaceous Research actually get out of being published by Elsevier? And couldn't they get the same thing much cheaper elsewhere in this enlightened Internet age?

I think this is seriously worth pursuing. I think that a great deal of what a publisher provides -- basically everything except the physical printing -- could be done by a reasonably simple web-site, which could survive on a pretty small per-journal charge. In particular, hosting PDFs, TOCs, search facilities and suchlike is all very much in the not-rocket-science realm these days. (I know: this is the sort of stuff I do in my day-job.)

Why doesn't that happen? Inertia, I think. it would take someone to fund the creation of the "academic publisher lite" site, and funding is always hard to find in the short term, even when the long-term benefits are clear and huge. I don't really know what to say except that someone should give me a hefty grant to take a six-month sabatical from my day job and build a Tiny Benificient Altruistic Publisher (the opposite of a BEEP). But I don't see that happening.

But some day it will -- it has to, given the vast number of journals currently controlled by BEEPs and the presumably huge number who want something better. So hang on in there.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Dr. Vector said...

Speaking of the journals coming out from under the publishers' wings....

One of the links near the bottom of the post is to an essay by Michael Rosenzweig about he organized the secession of authors and editors from Evolutionary Ecology to Evolutionary Ecology Research. This was in response to soaring prices after EE's publisher, Chapman & Hall, was bought by ITC and eventually by Kluwer. It's a pretty good story.

Jerry, I agree that either way the costs are going to eventually fall on the taxpayer. I just think that right now taxpayers are paying a lot more than they should (by way of inflated library subscription costs and the like) and getting a lot less than they deserve.

As an aside, I am little swayed by the argument that a company has to charge 10X because so few people are buying. Maybe if they only charged X, their customer base would grow to compensate.

I'm not a huge fan of Apple either. And we could argue all day about the fairness or lack thereof in iTunes pricing. My point was that while the RIAA was whining and litigating, Apple made a buttload of money by doing what no-one else had: making a crapload of songs available for next to nothing. I mean, the example is right there. Every wired person in the world gets it. So why can't the academic publishers try to be a little more iTunes and little less RIAA?

Finally, I am all ABOUT capitalism. And one of the things that happens with capitalism is that inferior products die (unless they are propped up by effective marketing or subsidies). Companies that charge you more and deliver less are outcompeted by those that do the reverse. So the coming demise of the big academic publishers doesn't strike me as a threat to capitalism. I think it's capitalism working.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Mike Taylor said...

So the coming demise of the big academic publishers doesn't strike me as a threat to capitalism. I think it's capitalism working.

Exactly. It's what happens when the market is actually free.

Thinking more about the Publisher Lite thing, what would be great would be if the PLoS people started offering to non-expoitatively publish other people's journals as well as their own. I wonder how many would jump ship immediately if that were an option.

12:59 AM  

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