Field of Science

Editorializing on Open Access

I've agreed to write a 250-word contribution about open access scientific publishing, for our Faculty of Science magazine.  I think the main readership is science alumni.  Below are some stream-of-consciousness ideas I might incorporate:
  • The internet is opening up science to public view.
  •  Publishing and critical review by other experts is the core of science.  Nothing we do in the lab matters until it's publicly available for evaluation.
  • Papers are published in journals, where they must first pass evaluation by peer reviewers.  
  • One function of journals has been to carry out peer review, and the other to physically publish and distribute the approved papers by mailing out issues of the journal.  
  • We don't need to change peer review, just the publication process.
  • Open access has nothing to do with peer review.
  • Access to these issues was by subscription, with research libraries paying very high rates (discount subscriptions, still very expensive, are available but typically only held by researchers working in that field).
  • Before the internet, each additional reader added a direct cost, as papers had to be physically printed and distributed.  With online-only publication, the costs are largely independent of readership.
  • The taxpayer pays for most scientific research, and they should be able to see what we've done with their money.
  • Journalists need open access to research papers.
  • The subscription-based publication system scientists are used to is itself relatively new.
  • Publishing research for profit probably won't go away completely, because both publishers and scientists have vested interests (profits and prestige respectively) that are independent of the intellectual purpose of scientific publication. 
The above is just a partial list of factoids, and it's already almost 250 words!   I need to cut it down and find a theme that makes it interesting.  Would my point be that the taxpayers are being bilked?  That scientific progress is being obstructed?  That old-media scientific publishing is a scam and a scandal?  Should I pick a specific journal as an example of how bad things are?  Hmmm, something published by Elsevier?

Examples of pay-per-view access:
  • Science wants $15 for 24 hours of access to a 1992 article on the antibiotic resistance crisis.
  • The Lancet wants $31.50 for 24 hours of access to a 2001 article on antibiotic resistance in biofilms.
  • The journal of the American Medical Association wants $30
  • J Bact (ASM) wants $20, but only for articles less than a year old.
  • Journal of Clinical Oncology wants $22 for access to an article on chemotherapy resistance.
  • Cancer Treatment Reviews (Elsevier) has no purchase option for single articles.  Nor does Gastroenterology.  Nor Diabetes Research. Nor Neurobiology of Aging.
  • Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology $41.95
  • Obesity $32
  • Physics Letters A:  $31.50
  • Physics Review Letters:  $25
  • Wiley won't even tell you the price until you register with them.
  • Journal of Electron Microscopy:  (OUP) $42.48
  • Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology $113  (for 7 pages)
  • Nature $18;  Nature Physics:  $32.
  • and Genome Research (Karger) $38, or $26.50 with an 'Pay-per-View account (for a paper from 1992!).
Got it!  "Pay-per-view isn't just for Porn"

Oops. UBC isn't very keen on having 'porn' in the title, so I'll change it to 'sports' and mention porn in the text.

Annual Reviews pay-per-view is inconsistent.  Many articles appear to be freely available, but a 1997 one from Ann Rev Medicine costs $20 for 24-hr access, or 99¢ from a site I'd never heard of called 'DeepDyve.  ARM says DeepDyve is "the largest online rental service for scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly research articles."  I just checked it out; it deserves its own post.


    1. Rosie:
      First let me say I'm glad you were asked (and happy you've agreed) to write on OA. More needs to be said about it and you come right to the top of a list of folks I'd pick to do that.

      In one of your 'factoids' you suggest:
      "Nothing we do in the lab matters until it's publicly available for evaluation."
      While I agree that publications matter, I consider "nothing" too strong a word in that sentence. Surely there are negative results that you and your team learn from; method development efforts that backfire but ultimately lead to better efforts. And the teaching/learning that occurs in the lab (grad students, post-docs, and even the PI learning from her students) are capacity building activities that have very real value and so I think matter very much.

      But back to the OA discussion. I look at the internet as a change agent on many communication fronts. Scientific communication is not spared. As communication media evolve the older paradigms will have to change. As responsible members of society I think it at least partly our duty to help shepard the change in a thoughtful and responsible manner. Thanks for all you do on that front.

    2. 250 words isn't a lot. We definitely seem to be in a transition period between the old way and a new way. One thing I would love love love to see is a section linked to published papers allowing comments/discussion by scientists in the field.

    3. Be Sure Not To Conflate Green Open Access Self-Archiving and Gold Open Access Journal-Publishing

      Whatever you say in 250 words, please don't propagate the most common and widespread error about OA: OA is not synonymous with (Gold) OA publishing. The other way to provide OA is through (Green) OA self-archiving (by authors, of the peer-reviewed final drafts of their own articles, immediately upon acceptance for publication).

      The big difference is that Gold OA depends on publishers and will be very slow (if ever) in coming on its own. In contrast, Green OA depends only on researchers, and can be (and is being) mandated by researchers' institutions and funders.

      Stevan Harnad


    Markup Key:
    - <b>bold</b> = bold
    - <i>italic</i> = italic
    - <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS