Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Traditional publishing hurts scientific (i.e., human) progress

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This issue is heating up as publishers work harder to rob the public treasury, in effect: by staking claims to work paid for through taxpayer money. Michael Elsen has an excellent article on the general problem in Wired:

A battle that has raged for over a decade between advocates of open science and publishers of traditional scientific journals is coming to a head.

Eighty five percent of published papers remain locked behind subscription pay walls, accessible only to those affiliated with universities and other large research institutions. But new journals that make everything they publish freely available are growing rapidly. And government efforts to make the results of all publicly funded scientific and medical research accessible to everyone are expanding, despite industry-backed legislative efforts to end them.

Backed into a corner, traditional publishers have launched a public relations campaign of sorts, attempting to justify their business practices by highlighting the value they add by overseeing peer review and editorial selection. Charging for access to their content, they argue, is the only way they can recoup their costs.

This argument resonates with many interested parties. Most scientists value peer review, believing it protects and improves the papers they publish and read. They also place great stock in the sorting of papers into journals organized on the basis of audience and importance, which plays a major role in determining who succeeds in science. The public, in turn, values peer review, believing it determines which scientific results they can trust.

Never mind that publishers are on shaky ground when they take credit for peer review, as reviewers and many editors volunteer their time.

The real problem with the “value added” argument is that value is a net proposition. To calculate the actual impact of traditional scientific publishing, whatever value peer review adds must be balanced against the value lost by continuing to use a subscription based business model to pay for it.

The most obvious cost is financial. Science, technology and medical publishers take in close to $10 billion every year (pdf). Some of this goes to pay editorial and production staff and to fund essential publishing processes. But a lot of money is wasted marketing journals to subscribers and managing access, and there are tremendous inefficiencies in maintaining over 10,000 distinct titles in an era of electronic dissemination.

Subscription journals are also monopolies. . .

Continue reading. And at University of North Carolina, they’re debating the issue as reported by Sabrina Richards in The Scientist:

The committee on copyright at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is debating whether to require faculty members to deposit their work in open-access respositories. Funds already exist through UNC’s Health Sciences Library to help faculty members who want to publish in free journals.

“If you aspire to do what the University mission says and spread a wealth of knowledge to the citizens of North Carolina and, as much as possible, the world, then you should consider open access and make it a top priority,” committee member Paul Jones told The Daily Tar Heel, although he acknowledged certain disadvantages to the open-access model, like a more limited selection of journals.

UNC isn’t the first to consider such a move. A variety of institutions, including Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, Dartmouth College, and Columbia University, have signed the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity (COPE), thus promising to establish long-term funding strategies to underwrite publication fees necessary to support open-access journals. In another model, Princeton University authorizes faculty members to post papers in open-access repositories, and push back against publishers who ask faculty to sign exclusive copyright contracts.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2012 at 8:44 am

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