The Price Is Wrong

February 10th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, references, regulating research | 77 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday February 10, 2007
The Guardian

There are some things which are so self-evidently right and good that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could disagree with you. The “open access” academic journal movement is one of those things. It’s a no-brainer. Academic literature should be freely available: developing countries need access; part time tinkering thinkers like you deserve full access; journalists and the public can benefit; and most importantly of all, you’ve already paid for much of this stuff with your taxes, they are important new ideas from humanity, and morally, you are entitled to them.

But with old school academic journals, unless you have an institutional subscription, you have to pay to read them. Here’s a not-so-fun example: an article called “Impediments to promoting access to global knowledge in sub-Saharan Africa”, about how difficult it is to get access to medical literature in developing countries, and how lack of access to knowledge represents a barrier to economic development and a further advantage for the rich West.

Get your credit card ready, this single study costs $25 plus tax to read.

Two online, open access publishing organizations have led the fight against the absurdity: one is PLOS, from a Californian campaigning perspective, and the other is Biomed Central, run as a money making empire (relax, there is nothing wrong with making money from publishing). They both give readers access for free, but they’ve not had an easy time of it.

Firstly, they can’t get journalists to directly link to their studies. I suspect newspapers like to fantasise that they are mediators between specialist tricky knowledge and the wider public, but I wouldn’t be so flattering. In fact, if you have access to the original journals, you can see just how rubbish things can get.

Last year the Times had a piece on paroxetine and suicide risk. The opening line was: “ONE of Britain’s most widely prescribed antidepressants has been linked to a seven-fold increase in suicide attempts.” Complete and utter nonsense. Totally factually incorrect. The study was published in an open access journal, to which the paper did not link, online or in print, but you can go and read the journal article for yourself, and see if you can spot their error (clue: the placebo group was smaller than the treatment group).

I couldn’t write this column without my institutional login. Between medical jobs with academic affiliations I’ve had to hustle logins from friends. There are times when I’ve had to use the London Underground as a way of transporting information into my brain instead of the internet. Even in the 20th century this would have been ridiculous.

And a lot of this stuff is really interesting. You totally missed out if you didn’t read the recent “medicalisation and disease mongering” special issue of PLOS Medicine. Richard Smith’s article on drug companies and medical journals is cracking. Pay for his book, if you like books, but this is all free. In fact, I would say that plenty of academic journal “commentary” articles are a lot more interesting than intellectual glossies like Prospect that sit in your loo.

But meanwhile, the old school pay-for-access journals are so worried about OA that they’ve hired Eric Dezenhall, the famous American “Pitbull of PR”, and author of “Nail ’em: Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses“, to aggressively promote their interests, and undermine OA.

And these closed journals are hardly the kind of people whose pockets you’d want to line. Reed-Elsevier, for example, is one of the largest academic journal publishers in the world – they even own the Lancet – and they are the same company that runs the DSEI international arms fair in London, selling vile weapons to murderous regimes for cash profit extracted from very real suffering and pain, in countries you will never visit on holiday.

These people do not deserve our charity, and I will be very pleased to see you outside DSEI later this year, 300th copper from the left: because when you’re so wrong you need police, security, wire fences, and the pitbull of PR to defend you, then you know you’re in trouble.

[I’d have liked to have written more about this, looking at self archiving vs OA journals etc, as two emailers have pointed out]

You can hear me talk (somewhat incoherently) about this at a colloquium on open access at the royal college of physicians, here:

The Richard Smith talk at the same event is particularly entertaining.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

77 Responses

  1. jackpt said,

    February 10, 2007 at 2:35 am

    Hear, hear, also check out the following:

    There has also been something of a movement towards open access in mathematics for some time. DMTCS is one that seems to crop up a lot.

  2. pseudomonas said,

    February 10, 2007 at 3:28 am

    May I plug “Petition for guaranteed public access to publicly-funded research results” – here?

  3. stever said,

    February 10, 2007 at 8:36 am

    brilliant stuff Ben. Nice one.

  4. PK said,

    February 10, 2007 at 8:59 am

    Physics is doing quite well on this front. Not only do we have the “New Journal of Physics”, which is run jointly by the British Institute of Physics and the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, but we also have the “archive” or “arXiv” online where authors can publish preprints of their papers. This is not refereed (with sometimes hilarious consequences) but almost everybody puts their papers in this online repository. Moreover, most journals now actively promote putting your paper on the archive before publishing. It has sped up dissemination tremendously.

    New Journal of Physics is not a charity, and something has to pay the bills. In this case, the authors pay publication charges of £500. By refereeing their papers you earn vouchers that you can use towards these charges, so they also solve the problem of how to motivate the referees (this is a big deal: popular journals really suffer from slow and sloppy refereeing).

    Finally, I must say that I do not mind professional societies using the publication side of their organisation to rake in the money, because ultimately they are non-profit organisations, and all the money they make is put back into the society at large in the form of conferences, etc. It is the Elseviers and Kluwers that I personally avoid, because they suck the academic community dry on behalf of their shareholders.

  5. dr_k said,

    February 10, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Ben – The arguments in favour of open access publishing are difficult to counter. But there’s reasons to be worried about its possible unintended consequences. One approach to open access (and I think this is true of Biomed Central, but I’m too lazy to check) is to move from a “reader pays” model a “researcher pays”. This means it will be much easier for those with large research funds to publish their work than those with limited funds (including researchers in developing countries). PK’s point is also important. Open Access could seriously harm professional societies. For example, the Experimental Psychology Society in the UK generates most of its income from its published journal and uses a lot of this money to run its conferences and workships and to provide scholarships and to support postgraduate research. I don’t know what the society’s official view is, but I can see open acess being a threat to these activities.

  6. Evil Kao Chiu said,

    February 10, 2007 at 10:37 am

    I don’t think it is “so self-evidently right and good that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could disagree with you”. Partly ‘cos I’m going to do so…

    It’s the economics of the thing, as covered by dr_k above. The question is this: given that production and distribution of research costs money, from where should that money come?

    It’s exactly the same issue as the high cost of pharmaceuticals. Once one strips out the childish angst of the anti-corporate movement the fact remains that stuff isn’t made for free; nobody will give you stuff if they don’t have an incentive so to do.

    It is “self-evidently right” that open access would be a public good. Arguably therefore, the public should decide if they fancy paying for it through the usual channel – i.e. general taxation. If the public doesn’t want to pay, whether because there are other public goods they have prioritized or they just feel over-taxed this year, I don’t think it becomes the responsibility of private individuals and companies to donate the fruits of their labour disproportionately to other’s contribution.

    You otherwise end up being dragged into the BBC economics alternate universe where everything that would be nice if it were free should be paid for by the manufacturer, who should be ashamed of themselves for trying to make a profit, because it would be nice if it were free. It didn’t work too well in the USSR or China and won’t work anywhere else either.

  7. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 10, 2007 at 11:02 am

    “the public should decide if they fancy paying for it through the usual channel – i.e. general taxation” etc etc

    the general public already do pay for the journals, public and grant funded bodies like universities and colleges pay the submission and reader/subscription fees for old school closed access journals. the editorial work and content is done by academics. so given that the general public already pay for them, it seem sensible to me that they should also be able to read them.

    your bbc comments are very confused, i think perhaps you dont understand the fee structure and policy for OA journals. BMC makes a profit. OA journals charge the submitter. many big univs have a blanket arrangement for those fees. if anyone says they can’t pay the submission fee, they say so, and it is simply waived. the submission fee is no barrier to publication.

  8. Mojo said,

    February 10, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Robert Maxwell’s empire was founded on the profits of academic publishing.

    Apparently, he was delighted to discover that the contributors didn’t want paying.

  9. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 10, 2007 at 11:59 am

    This is a subject quite close to my heart as BioMed Central just published one of my papers, but nearly charged me 750 quid plus VAT for the privilege. Which isn’t a lot by some people’s standards, but when you’re a fourth-year PhD student with no grant left of your own, in a very recently-formed research group, it’s a lot of instant noodles.

    BMC cunningly gave all the UK universities free memberships when they started up, thus waiving the article fees, but many of those universities didn’t renew for many of the BMC journals when the memberships lapsed. I’m all in favour of open access though, so we lobbied the university until they pre-paid for a few more submissions.

    The one thing that does rankle about BMC is that they charge a fee, and carry advertising on their site, but then they are a company, as you say Ben, and not a charity.

    “if anyone says they can’t pay the submission fee, they say so, and it is simply waived” — this isn’t true if you are from a recognised, well-funded institution in a rich country though. We originally asked for a waiver on the grounds of having no grant — and because we submitted an earlier incarnation of the paper, which was rejected, before our membership lapsed — and they turned us down.

    However, they do waive the fee for researchers from developing countries — take note dr_k, this runs contrary to one of your objections. Although it seems a bit odd that it’s an arbitrary cut-off based on GDP rather than a more realistic sliding scale.

    Next time, maybe PLoS, just to see what the difference is like.


    PS didn’t realise Reed Elsevier were behind DSEI, thanks for that. Makes me feel less bad about not buying New Scientist any more.

  10. amoebic vodka said,

    February 10, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    And Elsevier’s online access subscription prices for institutions are ridiculously expensive. So expensive that Cambridge University could not afford to pay it for two years (it took that long to negotiate the price to something they could afford). It’s so expensive that some of the most well funded academic institutions and research institutes cannot afford it either. They’ve have to cancel their subscriptions to other, smaller, journals because you just cannot do without access to journals with such high impact factors.

    Then there’s the problem that funding bodies are very strict about what the grant money can be spent on. Money for salaries can’t be used for consumables, money for consumables can’t be used for equipment…so until the grant money has an amount set aside for publishing costs, many researchers can’t pay to publish.

  11. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 10, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    A few years ago the Canadian Medical Journal ( debated whether internet access should be via member subscriptions/ paid access only. The legacy of the senior editorial team at the time (Dr. John Hoey and senior deputy editor Anne Marie Todkill, later wrongly vilified by the CMA and summararily dismissed for failing to toe the CMA party line on other issues) was that CMAJ remained open access.

    I thanked them at that time for their altruism in making some good stuff available free- then of course, I promote said articles when quoting evidence based practice to persuade others of the direction to follow – a good example is the excellent (and readable) piece by Jeejeebhoy on SBS – not the easiest topic for dietitians and docs to get their head around.

    Contrast that with the BMJ/ NEJM and selected open access articles or full articles available long after the paper is published, which means I too have to furtively access hospital sites and passwords derived from academic colleagues to cheat the system.

    There are ways and means of finding full text journal articles, which wastes my time that could be spend doing other patient-things, but i get them eventually. Google scholar often throws up whole papers if you put the paper title in its entirety.

    Knowledge IS power, so the journal ‘impact factor’ and more accurate, factual advice to the public from healthcare professionals able to access the articles behind the media stories in real time would go a long way to dismissing the inaccuracies and scaremongering that fuels the industry by those who care to exploit the public. Open access would promote said journal to the masses as a journal of authority, and take care of previous concerns expressed by journal editors (such as the excellent Richard Smith) that press releases often bear no relation to the conclusions of the paper itself. Open access would let us decide.

  12. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 10, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Evil Kao Chiu — are you aware that in the USA, which is typically much further away from ‘BBC economics’ than the UK — any fruits of tax-funded research must be made available for free to the public, by law?

    Not just the American public, either. Once a researcher at the NLM sent me a printout of a recent paper he’d published, because he was legally obliged to (and happy to), even though he couldn’t actually send me the PDF or a link to it because of the copyright restrictions of the journal he’d published it in…


  13. reasonableman said,

    February 10, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Ben, what exactly are you encouraging? Currently open access provides papers to the public for free by charging the author. This creates various (relatively subtle) issues. Are you supporting this in particular? Do you envisage a completely free process?

    This was disussed in the Jan’ 07 issue of physicsworld which is the Institute of Physics periodical. There was a for and against commentry and in the spirit of balance I’ll sum the against.

    Right to knowledge: I think most people would agree people have more of a right to clean water, shelter and food than the latest academic knowledge. Yet you have to pay for these.

    It may encourage publishing in cheaper, less thorough journals.

    Countries with high scientific output have to spend thier money overseas to get it published. Eg; most high quality European work is published in US journals.

    The main reservation is this is an unproved method, a more cautious approach may be more suitable than a blanket move to OA.

    Finally, I may be wrong on this point but can’t any UK citizen go to the British Libary and view anything published in the UK, free of charge? Admittidly that is a finite resource, however it does mean the knowledge is freely accesible.

  14. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 10, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    There is another argument in favour of OA publishing from the academics’ point of view, which is that the more people who can quickly access and read your article without leaving their seats, the more people will potentially find it useful, and the more citations it ought to be able to attract.

    My first article is freely available on the intarweb and has been cited 5 or 6 times in a year and a half, not bad for a paper given at an obscure workshop with about 20 people in the audience who are all working on completely different things.


  15. RS said,

    February 10, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    Many funding bodies, most notably the Wellcome Trust, as well as Universities (e.g. Cambridge and Oxford) already cover publishing costs – which are a small percentage of the costs of doing a study:

    I guess the tension is between difficulty publishing versus difficulty accessing studies. Since biomedical science is expensive and concentrated in rich Western institutions lready, while the results are applicable throughout the world, I think I’d fall down on the open access model – if you really want to publish something £750 isn’t going to stop you.

  16. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 10, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    RS: wellcome will also, i think, insist that the articles resulting from any work they fund is available by open access, either OA archive (slightly clunkier) or OA journal.

  17. RS said,

    February 10, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    An interesting corollary of the for-profit open access model is that as long as studies meet certain basic standards (to maintain their reputation) they don’t focus on article quality (for impact factor) but article volume (since they aren’t limited as conventional print journals are) – but because the articles are easier to access they still seem to maintain pretty good citation rates.

  18. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 10, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    RS, article length is another factor with OA journals vs print journals too. The sheer number of figures and tables in the BMC article I linked to would exceed the page limit in some print journals, let alone the text too.


  19. RS said,

    February 10, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    One of the limitations of some stuff in Nature is that it is pretty much impossible to tell what they actually did.

  20. meio said,

    February 10, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks for the making that point in the main stream media about journal
    access.  As a marine biologist who publishes in these journals and needs them
    to do my job, I’m getting increasingly pissed off with the way the big
    publishers run the show.  First of all I do all the work, I deliver them a
    manuscript that is all but ready to print (or turn into a pdf) especially as
    I write most of my papers in Latex.  Do I get paid for this? No.  I
    peer-review papers for a number of journals.  Do I get paid for this? No.  
    What exactly do the publishing houses do to earn the money they charge for
    online access?  I can’t figure it out and I’ve got a PhD.  Cambridge
    University Press has come up with a new weeze.  They will offer open-access
    to certain papers.  If the author or his/her institution coughs up £1500!!!  
    That incidentally is nearly 2 months salary for me as a post-doc down here in
    So what can we do?  Publish in open-access journals. Sounds easy, but you have
    to fight institutional inertia.  I would willingly publish in an open-access
    journal but my professors wont.  Why? Because they get a bonus based on the
    number of publications they get out each year and the impact-factors (which
    are bull-shit by the way) of the journals the publish in.  Do I get a share
    of this bonus?  No.  The university I work for brags long and hard about how
    it is one of the top universities in South America nee the world!  How many
    journals relevant to my discipline do I have access to?  Six!
    Currently the only solution to this is to trade pdfs and passwords.  When the
    table of contents come out I fire off a few email’s asking for pdf and about
    70% of requests are successful and of course I send people pdfs of my papers
    when asked.  The only other thing we can do is lobby our
    professional societies to take their journals titles away from the big
    publishers and publish them ourselves online (not difficult or expensive).    

  21. Bob O'H said,

    February 10, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Another couple of points worth mentioning:

    1. Some journals (e.g. the Royal Society) are open access after a time-lag. Given the reader-pays model, I think this is the best we can hope for, and I wish more journals would do this (e.g. arrange for JSTOR to be open access).

    2. You can’t get away from the costs issue, and reader-pays or writer-pays both have problems. Even in rich countries, there will be scientists who don’t have grant money to pay for their articles. I guess the good thing about the rise of open access is that it gives us a range of options for payment: if we want to, we can submit to an OA journal, or we can go down the more traditional route. And some journals (e.g.PNAS) allow both options.

    3. Getting papers is easy: just email the author. It’s certainly no big issue for me to attach a pdf and hit reply. It might be a bit different if you want something older, of course.


  22. Pish-Tush! said,

    February 10, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Pseudomonas, I went and signed that petition but it demands ‘position’ and ‘affiliation’. I’m just an ordinary ‘bench serf’ in the labs of a ‘big pharma’ company so I signed as ‘Individual’ in both cases; I hope that it works! As to this whole question, Ben, it really stinks that they rip off everybody like this! More power to your elbow!

  23. Jennifer Rohn said,

    February 10, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Ben, I agree with you in large part, and am a strong supporter of open access, but as a Journals Manager at a society STM peer-reviewed publishing outfit, I feel bound to correct two misconceptions in one of your posts:

    (1) “The editorial work and content is done by academics. So given that the general public already pay for them, it seem sensible to me that they should also be able to read them.”

    Behind nearly academic editorial board and referee pool (including those on open-access journals like BioMed Central, where I used to work) is an army of paid editorial assistants without whose coaxing, cajoling, begging, pestering, and stalking, to say nothing of hours of tedious administration, all journals would grind to a halt. There are a few rare exceptions, but usually academic board members work only a few hours a week, whereas most journals need anywhere for one to five full-time equivalents in editorial staff. Those interesting commentary pieces you mention are typically commissioned by hardworking in-house editors who travel the world’s conferences seeking them out. And there is a whole raft of added-value work by paid employees necessary to tidy up and disseminate that information – the web team behind the online submission system, the copyeditors and subs, the production editors, subscription, fulfilment departments, printers and distributors. None of this is free, and without cash from somewhere, it just isn’t going to happen. Yes, the taxpayers pay for the research, but someone also has to pay for its publication.

    For those who think this layer of added-value isn’t necessary, a mere profit-making exercise, I could share with you hundreds of anecdotes about all the scientific errors that have been averted by alert editorial and production staff, to say nothing of the frauds and plagiarisms. Also, many of the papers that come in are written so poorly that they are nearly incomprehensible – the in-house editors are doing far more than just correcting typos. They are freeing a clear message from a chaotic jumble.

    (2) “BMC makes a profit.”

    Not yet, it doesn’t.

    (3) And to correct a misconception of RS, BioMed Central is interested in quality, not quantity. This is why a large number of papers are rejected, and they have decent impact factors (Genome Biology debuted at 9.71, for example; and most of BMC’s journals have higher impact factors and rejection rates than the traditional subscriber-pays niche journals I preside over). Publishers know that journals will only flourish if the authors perceive they are of high quality – nobody can make a profit if the journal publishes crap. And authors don’t tend to cite crap, no matter how open access it is.

  24. RS said,

    February 10, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    JR, an editor I know on BMC tells me that contrary to your assertion he is pushing to reduce the rejection rate precisely because they are not limited by dead tree edition costs, making their money per paper, so impact factor is not so important to them (because no one has to pay to read it they don’t have to be convinced that the journal is worth X pounds before they read it).

  25. amoebic vodka said,

    February 10, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Re Jennifer Rohn’s comment — I’m not sure Ben was arguing that journals don’t have running costs. His point was that now academic institutions pay for subscriptions, but not to publish and with open access they pay to publish, but not for subscriptions.

    I think I’d fall down on the open access model – if you really want to publish something £750 isn’t going to stop you.

    It is if you haven’t got any money to pay for it because it is ring-fenced for other types of expenses. Or if your grant has run out – most papers are written after the grant period is over (by scientists no-longer getting paid as their fixed term contract is also over). Most grants don’t cover the full cost of the research any more, never mind additional costs like paying to publish.

  26. rob said,

    February 10, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    Ben – one thing that is an issue with Open Access is that it requires publication charges. The flip side of giving everyone the ability to read the journals is that it restricts the people who are able to publish in them. This means that scientists from poorer countries (or just ones without grants) can’t make a name for themselves by publishing in respected international journals because they can’t afford the publication charges.

    I don’t think there is a ‘one size fits all’ solution for the whole of science. My field (astronomy) has 4 major journals, one of these is free, one is free to most people, and two (the US journals) that charge ~$100 per page to publish (and still charge people to read them). However, virtually all papers (as noted above for physics) are also placed on the ArXiv preprint server, so people can read them for free (as long as they don’t mind missing out on high-resolution graphics and animations).

    The danger of the open-access movement is that libraries will stop subscribing to these journals (none of which are owned by multinationals) and that large charges will thus be placed on those wishing to publish. That money simply isn’t there for many astronomers, so they will no longer be able to publish in the major journals.

    I can see that open-access makes sense in Medicine, where it is important that people can check the accuracy of the journals and where large numbers of professionals aren’t going to be associated with academic institutions, but for other branches of science, particularly where research is carried out on very limited funds, I feel that free publication outweighs free access.

  27. petersuber said,

    February 10, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Many of the comments in this thread have said that all OA journals charge publication fees to be paid by authors or their sponsors. But in fact only a *minority* of OA journals charge fees. For details, see my article on No-fee open-access journals (November 2006).

    Peter Suber

  28. rambaut said,

    February 10, 2007 at 8:12 pm

    A couple of other points:

    1) Many journals that are not open-access also charge ‘page charges’.
    2) Some journals that are not open-access allow the authors to retain copyright so that they can distribute a copies of the paper (in non-typeset form) or submit them to open access repositories,
    3) The government pays a subscription to the PLoS journals which mean that UK researchers pay about half the normal cost.
    4) Papers are reviewed by PLoS journals without asking about payment. If the paper is accepted and the author doesn’t have grant support, the fees can be waived.

    Andrew Rambaut

  29. Dr Aust said,

    February 10, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Agree with a lot of what is written above -open access SOUNDS like a no brainer, and hardly anyone would not agree that the profits Elsevier in particular make on scientific publishing are ridiculous, but there are definite problems with the open-access model.

    First problem: someone still has to pay. The comment Amoebic Vodka makes in #25 about the money still having to be found is a real problem. Big Univs in the UK may be rich (though they would dispute it), but I can tell you flat out that they do not give us -their employees – money for this kind of thing, nor are they likely to. If you ask for “research money from Univ funds” the standard line is “piss off – we already spent it to pay YOU”. The current “business model” usually expects all the costs of doing research – bar typically a token grand or so a year – to come out of external grants, and as #25 says, the delays inherent in the process mean you may not have one when you come to publish the paper describing the work. Having been in this situation myself, I can tell you that if I go to the Department Head and ask for £ 750 to publish a paper I will get laughed out of the room. The idea of earning “publishing cost credits” credits by referee-ing papers might tackle this to an extent, but it is not a trivial problem in the current climate.

    A second problem is the one of learned scientific societies that make the money to fund their activities by running a journal. As a fairly senior member of a learned society I can tell you that full open access is predicted to take out about two-thirds of all our income. A financial hit like that that would inevitably mean a massive cut-back on things like grants to young scientists, scientific exchange programmes, education programmes etc etc, as well as increased annual subscriptions and increased charges for conferences.

    When some of the bioscience learned societies pointed out to Mark Walport of the Wellcome Trust that the learned societies would be significant losers out of Open Access, his response was reportedly something clsoe to “learned societies? you’re not my problem”. This strikes me as a bizarre attitude from a major UK research charity because, as well as doing a lot of useful activities, the learned societies are effectively the main professional associations and identities of UK scientists, and the main voices of the scientific communities.

    There are compromise positions. As someone else said above, many journals only limit subscription access for the first year after the paper comes out – after that it is online free access to everyone. If all journals made their back-archive free online a year after publication that would be open access for most purposes. Even six months embargo would almost certainly be enough to keep the system running at lower profit margins.

    So to sum up – yes the publishers have generated rather large profits, and yes the barring access to published publically-funded work seems a no-brainer, but it is not quite that simple.

  30. Jut said,

    February 10, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    I understand there is a reluctance to provide open access to research due to the economics involved, but why the hell is research which is funded by the taxpayer not free for the tax payer to view?

  31. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 10, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    X money is required to run the admin side of journals: that money is currently provided by academics paying fees to publish (often) and to read (your library pays it, and a lot of it). much of this is public money, but still only certain people can have access to read the journals.

    under open access, X money is still paid – much of it public money again – but only at the publication stage, and with the clear advantage that everyone can read the journals. if the time comes when closed access journals cease to exist in large number then institutions will save money by not having to pay huge fees to read them.

    learned societies may indeed have to find new backdoor ways of generating revenue as a cost of the switch to OA, but actually, people quite like having some print journals, for the loo, or the train, and the ones people are most likely to have personal subscriptions to (in my experience) are the ones of their own professional society, so they may actually be the pay-to-read journals to survive.

  32. Robert Carnegie said,

    February 11, 2007 at 1:51 am

    The modern baseline is simply publishing on a personal Web site, which is nearly free for everyone concerned. Professional journal standards, however obtained, just refine the product. A conscientious scientist has to do the actual work in any case. (The non-conscientious scientist does just enough to get tenure and then plays Sudoku all day for the rest of his career.)

  33. nhsgal said,

    February 11, 2007 at 6:05 am

    Hi Ben

    how about the Cochrane Library – funded by the NHS and other governments but published commercially by Wiley Interscience!

  34. nhsgal said,

    February 11, 2007 at 6:08 am

    one more thing. NHS R&D grant holders can include the cost of publishing an article

  35. Evil Kao Chiu said,

    February 11, 2007 at 9:03 am

    So much for open access – weirdly, I posted a comment after lunch yesterday and now it isn’t here.

    Is it ‘cos I is not agreeable?

  36. Evil Kao Chiu said,

    February 11, 2007 at 9:08 am

    Of course, it’s more likely that my office’s firewall is disagreeable… In another blow to the OA movement, my local library’s website also appears to have just been blacklisted. Because after all, Holborn library and Ben Goldacre are clearly trying to take down the world with their insidious online presence.

  37. PK said,

    February 11, 2007 at 10:36 am

    All the published research is already free for the taxpayer. Go to the British Library. You can’t expect a comfortable arrangement —like online access from your armchair— over and above nominal access just because you pay a pittance towards research in your taxes.

    Personally, I believe the future is in online repositories where registered members can post their papers, and which has added functionality in terms of a comment section (again for registered members). Think of it as the ArXiv meets a weblog. The comments can be anonymous, so you have a built in public refereeing process. When papers accumulate a certain amount of (positive) comments, they can be “endorsed” by the repository and count towards the author’s publication list in refereed journals.

  38. amoebic vodka said,

    February 11, 2007 at 11:11 am

    So, as students don’t get any grant money and are already leeching off other people’s grants to get their experiments done, how are they supposed to pay to publish? Especially as, like postdocs, most of them will submit their final paper after they’ve left their job.

  39. Jennifer Rohn said,

    February 11, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Amoebic and others, I agree that researchers shouldn’t have to pay for publication, whether traditional page charges or open-access fees, but I maintain that the loss of added value imparted by formal publication would lead to a reduction in quality of the scientific record, and a system should be put in place to fund this or a related process, whether from the government or funding bodies.

    RS (comment 24), BMC has over sixty titles, so I accept that some, including your friends’, might be pushing volume, but this is not necessarily common. When I was an in-house editor at BMC, the journal I worked on had a rejection rate of 97% and published only 6-8 research papers a year. I was also involved in the decision making of some of the less stringent sister journals, and the average rejection rates (40-60%) were the same as the traditional titles I work on now.

    Ironically, being a traditional print journal can force you to reduce quality, as I discovered when I moved to society journals. Most authors and academic editors are not aware of the annual page budget: a set number of pages that has to be filled precisely. When submissions are down, the editorial team are sometimes are forced to ring up the editorial board and ask them to lower their rejection rates (i.e. relax their standard of rigor) for a time so that the pipeline remains robust. Whereas BMC has no page budget – they can publish as much or as little as they like. In this model, editorial rigor is divorced from submission rates, which is much less arbitrary – you can choose your desired level of stringency without having to worry about filling the pages. Hence a journal publishing only 6 papers a year, of extremely high quality, is perfectly feasible. So to say that the open access/author pays model leads automatically to a reduction in quality is just not true.

  40. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 11, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    “All the published research is already free for the taxpayer. Go to the British Library. You can’t expect a comfortable arrangement —like online access from your armchair— over and above nominal access just because you pay a pittance towards research in your taxes.”

    dude, let’s not forget that in the case of medical research, people give over their bodies to researchers as experimental biological material when they agree to be participants in trials. that’s as well as their taxes. there is an implicit ethical aspect to this transaction: they give over their bodies on the understanding that they will be contributing to the sum total of human knowledge for all, and everything we can do to improve their access and sense of ownership is not just right but also practically sensible in a machiavellian kind of way, if you want more participation in research..

  41. PK said,

    February 11, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Ben, I don’t buy that argument for one second: Those people are largely non-specialists who probably don’t know where to start looking for the published material in the first place, let alone appreciate the subtleties and jargon of the primary literature. An ethical researcher would compile a report for non-specialists that is to be circulated among the participants of the trial (although I wouldn’t be surprised if this is never done in practice). Getting such a report in the mail (or even email) generates a much greater sense of ownership than being left to figure this all out for yourself. And even if such non-specialist reports are not written, nothing prevents the researchers to send around a pre- or reprint of the research paper.

  42. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 11, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    PK: i wasnt suggesting it is specifically important to get the information on a particular trial to the participants in it, i was suggesting that it is better for engagement with science and participation in research in general that trials are openly available.

    your question of whether people would know how to find that info or what to do with is it is a separate and very interesting one. however, research being “hidden from view” or “in the hands of experts” carries its own significant attendant dangers. it fosters a sense for example that science is about arbitrary didactic truth statements from “experts” rather than opinions on data with methods and results to be assessed and critiqued.

    putting “the paper” at the centre of discussions about a piece of science is crucial, making it accessible is a key part of that. it would also make it more difficult for people to make claims about research with apparent authority in the absence of published data eg Arpad Pusztai and GM food, or Krigsman and his endlessly reported claims about his still unpublished MMR research.

  43. PK said,

    February 11, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Ben, I agree with your view that science is an ongoing debate, rather than the pontification of experts. For that reason I am in fact in favour of open-access journals (keeping in mind complications wrt professional societies). However, I was merely pointing out that the argument based on taxpayer’s rights is flawed (as are in fact most arguments based on taxpayer’s rights).

  44. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 11, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Re. the learned societies issue, there are other models that work. The Assoc. for Computational Linguistics for example run several large, high-profile conferences each year, and to attend these (speaking or watching) you have to be a member. So if you’re not already, you can sign up for a year when registering for the conference.

    But then you get a year’s worth (four issues) of their journal free anyway. This makes institutional subs less important as so many of the people in the field will have attended at least one of the conferences. There’s very, very few other people in my college doing comp. ling. so it’s handy for people like me.

    The journal is closed-access, but the conference proceedings are all published free on the web (and regarded quite highly in the field) so in a sense you get the best of both worlds — you can ‘pay to publish’ in the proceedings via your required membership, or you can target the journal, at no cost, knowing that it reaches most of your audience.

    It seems to have worked as they’ve been going 40-odd years… I’d be interested to hear what other alternative models work in other fields.


  45. amoebic vodka said,

    February 11, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Jennifer Rohn, I wasn’t arguing that paying somewhere along the line by someone is unreasonable. Or that journals don’t add more value to the papers they publish than their impact factor.

    Considering that academic papers are written by and read by people who aren’t native English speakers, proofreading and editing are vital to not create a barrier to people with English as a second or even third language. And taking into account my limited experience working with sub-editors for a well known student newspaper, even students doing English degrees sometimes need extensive editing to make their articles comprehensible.

    But, for a pay-to-publish system to work as the only way to get a paper published, the funding bodies need to include costs for it in their grants and there needs to be a system in place to let people publish after their grant and/or contract has run out.

  46. RS said,

    February 11, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    “When I was an in-house editor at BMC, the journal I worked on had a rejection rate of 97% and published only 6-8 research papers a year.”

    That is just crazy – what was your rationale for such a high rejection rate and such a low publication rate? What was the business model?

    “to say that the open access/author pays model leads automatically to a reduction in quality is just not true.”

    I didn’t say that – I said that for profit open access does not need to focus so much on impact factor because (a) their revenue streams are not based on paper sales, and (b) they get high citation rates through being open access. This doesn’t mean the articles are low quality, just that the same concerns don’t apply regarding a need for highly cited articles to maintain sales – all that matters is that articles are read, which doesn’t necessarily imply a high impact factor (if there are also lots of articles that are read less).

  47. wewillfixit said,

    February 11, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    PK – lets not forget that not everyone lives near enough to the British Library (either London or Boston Spa) to just pop in and do some research.

  48. Jennifer Rohn said,

    February 12, 2007 at 7:54 am

    RS, is there evidence that people cite terrible papers just because they can access them easily? I’ve not seen that study – though would like to if you can get your hands on it. As a former author myself I would rather cite a higher quality, closed access paper that I’ve asked the author to email me rather than a bad one that I can get myself.

    In the author pays model, revenue streams are based solely on how many people submit. Many authors are highly sensitive to prestige and don’t submit to journals where most of the papers are terrible – so I stand by my original statement that it is not in a journal’s best interest to accept everything that comes in no matter how bad, even if they have to turn away some fees. If the journal is perceived as publishing crap, other authors won’t want their name associated with it. So OA journals are slaves to the impact factor as much as any other — bad impact factor, not enough submissions, not enough money authors, no journal.

    BMC is a special case – they have a large stable so less successful (or more selective) titles can be supported by more successful titles. I can assure you that they were biting their nails when the impact factors were due out – and submissions would rise when those numbers turned out to be high.

    Amoeba, I agree with you that the funding bodies should re-jig everything to support this so authors don’t have to pay!

  49. Agema said,

    February 12, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Open access is an attractive idea. However, I do have certain issues with it.

    Firstly, there is the matter of who pays. I’m willing to bet your average research corporation, from pharmaceuticals to engineering, subscribes to journals to some degree. Consequently, they are helping fund publications. With open access, they won’t anymore (beyond some academic research funded by business) and the whole burden shifts onto charities and the public purse. That’s more strain on our finances.

    It’s also possible for the average academic to get round a subscription shortage. My university is small and has a limited range of titles available, but I have friends in larger and wealthier universities who can get me articles and email them to me if I ask.

    The issue of buying your papers is also tricky. If impact factors remain, then you could end up with a situation where good papers cannot afford to enter top-rank journals. Papers in lower rank journals can get overlooked or looked down on, thereby creating a hierarchy of wealth where wealthier research ensures better publications. (Alternatively, impact factors may effectively disappear altogether, as valuable work must go to a journal it can afford, and hence top rank journals could miss out on the papers they need to maintain ranking if they overcharge.) You can also bet that the average developing world academic has much less money to spare on publications than the average developed world academic, so are they not disadvantaged anyway? I’m willing to bet journals will not accept papers from, say, Bangladesh for a lower price than, say, France.

    Offhand, I can remember that the prices for the luxury – or in the case of our paper necessity – of having colour diagrams in a journal I sent a paper to was several thousand dollars. Now that’s no small sum. Bearing in mind that journal is financially backed by subscription fees, I can only dread what the costs would rise to if publishing authors were to bear the whole brunt of the financial cost. It’s easy enough to say that the funding bodies can cover it. I’m sure they can. But that means less research funded. Universities saved from their subscription costs are also unlikely to plough that money back into helping publish (or our miserable salaries for that matter.)

  50. ckeene said,

    February 12, 2007 at 11:22 am

    I want to make two points:
    First Dr_k said “Open Access could seriously harm professional societies. For example, the Experimental Psychology Society in the UK generates most of its income from its published journal and uses a lot of this money to run its conferences and workships and to provide scholarships and to support postgraduate research.”

    This is a common issue. But at the end of the day the societies have subsidised the cost of one thing (conferences and workshops) by over charging for another (journals). They had their reasons, but this could never last for ever. Societies will need to find other funding, and perhaps reduced their spending, but simply trying to stop open access because of this is not right.

    Secondly, lets remember Many journal publishers are charging far more than the cost of production, and they are charging Universities. If open access requires the author to pay, then on the whole it will be the University that pays. But the cost of paying for all published articles from authors at a University will almost certainly be less than the cost of all the journals it currently subscribes to.
    Another point, the core of publishing journals is peer review. This, on the whole, is not paid for by the journal publisher (academics do it for free). The cost of a journal is the price of admin, copy editing, and proofing articles, running the website and printing the paper version. With technology it is possible to reduce these costs (ie there is free software to help with the admin of journals, sending articles to academics for peer review and handling feedback), and it is not to hard to imaging that academics (or their department) could check and format their own work. Publishing only online requires less formatting rules (margins etc) than publishing in print. ie The cost of producing a journal goes down as we move away from publishers and traditional publication processes.

  51. stevejones123 said,

    February 12, 2007 at 11:28 am

    The problem lies with the fact there needs to be a model for paying for the peer review process. Even if the academic side of that is covered by probono work, there is still all the work of the facilitators. As there is nothing to stop you printing your own dead tree version, the costs of university presses can be severely curtailed by getting rid of this part of their Empire.

    Perhaps the solution lies in public or university funding, for all the professional associations and UPs.

  52. MattC said,

    February 12, 2007 at 11:31 am

    RS asked:
    “That is just crazy – what was your rationale for such a high rejection rate and such a low publication rate? What was the business model?” re Jenny Rohn’s comment that
    “When I was an in-house editor at BMC, the journal I worked on had a rejection rate of 97% and published only 6-8 research papers a year.”

    The answer here is that the flagship journal concerned Journal of Biology does not exist in isolation – it is associated with BioMed Central’s other, more specialist titles, such as the BMC-series. Much of the research rejected by J Biol on the grounds that it is not spectacularly ground-breaking, is nevertheless scientifically valid and significant. In many cases, rejected authors take up the option to have their research considered by one of BioMed Central’s more specialist titles.

    Genome Biology (Impact Factor 9.71) similarly ‘deflects’ many of the research submissions it receives to its more specialist sister titles.

    In this way, an open access publisher can have both highly selective and somewhat less selective (though still high quality) titles, while maintaining sound overall economics.

    Re: Agema’s comment that

    “having colour diagrams in a journal I sent a paper to was several thousand dollars. Now that’s no small sum. Bearing in mind that journal is financially backed by subscription fees, I can only dread what the costs would rise to if publishing authors were to bear the whole brunt of the financial cost.”

    One of the ironies of the current situation is indeed that many authors submitting to traditional subscription-only journals are already paying thousands of dollars in color figure charges – significantly more, in fact, than is needed to cover the entire cost of publication, if managed efficiently and online .

    BioMed Central is seeing open access online journals in highly visual fields such as developmental and cell biology really take off, since authors in those fields are tired of paying fees to cover the cost of printing color figures when in practice almost everyone is going to view their article online. Compared to those color figure charges, open access publication charges in the $1500 range seem pretty attractive.

  53. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 12, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    Agema @ 49:

    “I’m willing to bet journals will not accept papers from, say, Bangladesh for a lower price than, say, France.”

    I don’t know about other publishers but BMC don’t charge at all for developing countries with low GDPs. We have discussed this above.

    In fact, Bangladeshi researchers don’t have to pay at all. But there is a rather abrupt cut-off of all benefits if their GDP slips over US$100bn.

    “Offhand, I can remember that the prices for the luxury – or in the case of our paper necessity – of having colour diagrams in a journal I sent a paper to was several thousand dollars. Now that’s no small sum. Bearing in mind that journal is financially backed by subscription fees, I can only dread what the costs would rise to if publishing authors were to bear the whole brunt of the financial cost.”

    OA journals are all online-only, as far as I know, and thus don’t charge extra for colours or large figures!! Lack of dead tree consumption makes this much more feasible.

    ckeene @ 50:

    “it is not to hard to imaging that academics (or their department) could check and format their own work”

    Err, we do already.

    Every article I’ve submitted for a printed publication has had to be proof-read, formatted and basically press-ready.

    Ironically though, BMC do lots of reformatting in-house; the version you submit (and which is published as a provisional PDF if accepted) looks completely different to the final version produced by their editorial team. They could save a lot of time and money by having authors submit a ready-for-‘press’ version from the start, no idea why they don’t do this.


  54. fish_eyed_sam said,

    February 12, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    I am in the process of setting up an open access journal in my field (not its first, but the first in its own particular niche).

    While the issue of covering running costs is important, it may surprise readers to know that it isn’t always essential. David J Solomon set up an open access journal (Medical Education Online) in 1996 and writes here about his experiences: This article is of interest to anyone wanting to know more about open access journals.

    While it is extremely hard (as I am finding out) for an individual to set up such a journal, it is certainly within the reach of interested groups. Those who participate and don’t get paid can often benefit in other ways such as networking, exposure to the latest research, understanding the breadth of the field etc, as well as being able to make a genuine contribution towards research.

    However, the central issue seems to be money: first the assumption that it is absolutely essential (the case above falsifies that); second that large publishers, while fulfilling an important role, have their shareholders as their primary concern. In almost any other endeavour, content contributors (authors, reviewers) get paid. We don’t, and yet we are faced with increasing costs of access. We just want to know where the money is going because a lot of researchers are getting very annoyed with how this system operates. The large publishers are going to have to change their model or they will be out-evolved by smaller and more efficient organisations.

  55. RS said,

    February 12, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    “In this way, an open access publisher can have both highly selective and somewhat less selective (though still high quality) titles, while maintaining sound overall economics.”

    Ah, but then the journal isn’t really an 8 paper high selectivity journal but a sort of meta-journal with a “really good article” section.

  56. Dr Aust said,

    February 12, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    Jennifer Rohn wrote:

    “RS, is there evidence that people cite terrible papers just because they can access them easily? I’ve not seen that study – though would like to if you can get your hands on it. As a former author myself I would rather cite a higher quality, closed access paper that I’ve asked the author to email me rather than a bad one that I can get myself.”

    People will always cite the “big” papers – the ones in the high-impact journals – regardless of access, because those are the papers important enough to actually slog over to the print library and photocopy.

    I think what RS says is true for citing REVIEW references. Suppose I am writing a paper and I want a review ref for a statement like “similar phenomena are also seen in somewhat analogous systems such as peripheral neurones [ref]”.

    If there are two reviews I could cite, one I can get full-text access to from my desk, and another that entails a trot to the library and a hunt around, it will be the full online access one that gets cited every time.

  57. amoebic vodka said,

    February 12, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    As the job criteria for any academic research post seems to be total up the impact factor of the journal for each paper on the applicant’s CV and hire the person with the highest score, impact factors are a big deal.

    Mmm…there’s one of those science formula news stories in there somewhere.

  58. Grandpont said,

    February 13, 2007 at 12:47 am

    It’s worth stepping back a bit and taking a broader view. First, I see little evidence that the old journal model is dysfunctional – apart from the case of developing countries where special measures are used – access to articles has not inhibited research, unlike many other factors. Second, free access to output destroys the economic basis of article supply and removes competitive pressures to innovate and improve. Third, undeserving corporate entities – pharmaceutical companies let’s say – gain highly valued data at no cost.

    I agree that the public have a right to benefit from the research for which their taxes have paid, but that neither needs to be free nor unmediated. I contend that a patient talking to a doctor who has paid to read The Lancet or the BMJ or the NEJM gets on average more from his or her consultation than that same patient attempting to read the self-same papers him or herself.

    The fundamental issue is that scientific research and hence publications has risen exponentially in the 60 years, and library budgets have been more or less flat. That gap is systemic, but has been quite well-addressed by web access in the conventional model, because the article supply market is competitive.

    I also catch a whiff of US xenophobia about this. Groups like the staggeringly well-funded National Institutes of Health seem to be upset that the world’s major journal publishers – outside important US societies – are European – Elsevier, Springer, Blackwell, Taylor & Francis – with just Wiley representing the US. Throw in some Soros billions and you have a not-for-profit sector that can take on all comers and disrupt a previously efficient and effective market, all in a high moral tone.

  59. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 13, 2007 at 1:11 am

    Amoebic — I was discussing that with a colleague the other day. In this age of online publication, Google Scholar, ISI etc., we were wondering how long it will be before people start showing actual citation counts per paper on their CVs?

    I reckon it might still be as a bit, well, cheeky, until enough people do it and it becomes the norm. After all, popular journals publish really duff papers surprisingly often, and sometimes a really obscure publication can make it big.


  60. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 13, 2007 at 8:19 am

    Grandpont: “Second, free access to output destroys the economic basis of article supply and removes competitive pressures to innovate and improve.”

    As a researcher, how is there any less pressure on me to innovate and improve because people don’t have to pay to see my papers? I can’t for the life of me see how you got to that conclusion. If anything, the (theoretically) faster publication pipeline of online journals cranks up the pressure.


  61. tomrees said,

    February 13, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Personally, I don’t see what the controversy is. There are several models for paying for publishing – subscription, advertising, pay-to-publish, and government/society grant. All have different pros and cons, as outlined in the discussion above. There is, no doubt, a place for all of them in some shape or form.

    The pay-to-publish model is not a panacea – for a start, it gives industry a tremendous advantage over struggling third-world researchers (and I’m one of those evil medical writers you may have heard about, so I know whereof I speak!).

    One of the benefits of the subscription model is that the power is in the hands of the readership – the journal will aim to publish a selected number of papers of the greatest importance, because readers won’t pay to wade through mountains of flannel and third-rate research. There are a lot of downsides too, but at the end of the day subscription journals will only survive if they provide a service worth paying for – if you don’t think they’re worth it, then don’t subscribe!

    There is a case to be made that govt-funded research should only be published in open-access journals. After all, one way or another the government pays (either paying to publish, or paying for subscriptions. But in this case the target of your ire should be the funding bodies, not the nasty publishing industry.

    So the real controversy, as far as I can make out from Ben’s article in the Grauniad, is that the publishing industry has hired a PR agency to make its case. Whoop de do! Imagine that – a company hiring a PR agency to handle its public relations!

    If the pay-to-publish model worked out to be more profitable, then the publishers would take to it like ducks. The problem is that a lot of the criticism is naive and ill-informed – hence the need for them to make their case, before we all rush to judgement.

  62. Dr Aust said,

    February 13, 2007 at 11:21 am

    Andrew Clegg wrote:

    “Amoebic — I was discussing that with a colleague the other day. In this age of online publication, Google Scholar, ISI etc., we were wondering how long it will be before people start showing actual citation counts per paper on their CVs?”

    Have you come across the h-index, Andrew?

    At least one influential FRS I know has argued (in print) that this should be part of whatever metric assessment replaces the RAE, and our Head of Dept was going around about 6 months ago asking everyone if they knew what their h-index was.

    The phrase “Hall of Mirrors” springs to mind for some reason.

  63. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 13, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Strangely enough, I came across that yesterday after posting.

    ‘The phrase “Hall of Mirrors” springs to mind for some reason.’

    Perhaps it should exclude citations from your mates…

    I know someone who was building an in-house search engine for a pharma company that could rank retrieved papers according to their impact. They discovered that when they excluded citations in papers that shared authors with paper X from the impact calculations for paper X, the rankings became much useful and realistic. Go figure…


  64. Grandpont said,

    February 13, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    Andrew Clegg: my comment that: “Second, free access to output destroys the economic basis of article supply and removes competitive pressures to innovate and improve.” Is about the relationship between buyer and seller (usually instiitutional library and publisher) not about you, as merely the poor sod who both creates and has to read it. If a library is paying heavily for a product they will expect and get – some may disagree – innovative products, good customer service and competitive pricing.

  65. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 13, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    But I don’t see any innovating or improving going on in the world of trad paper journals, just sticking to a business model that’s been basically unchanged for centuries now, with the exception of a few tweaks that they’ve been forced to do by the advent of OA (pre-print PDFs, pay-for-OA options etc.).

    All the innovation — unlimited space for graphics, no charges for colour, space to host supplementary materials alongside the article, reader feedback, transparent (signed) peer review, etc. — seems to be coming from the OA sector.


  66. Dr Aust said,

    February 13, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    “Perhaps it should exclude citations from your mates…”

    The phenomenon has recieved some attention, see:

    Lancet. 2004 Aug 28-Sep 3;364(9436):744. “As we said..” .Sharp D.

    Of course, some people cut out the middle man and cite themselves – a decade ago one group famously wrote a programme called Selfcite to insert references to one’s own work into one’s papers.

    I reckon a good rule of thumb is that if more than 20% of the refs in the paper are to the author’s own work, they are either a field-leading genius or a blinkered egotist, although I suppose they could be both.

    The phenomenon has also been discussed under the grand-sounding German term “Eigenlob” (“self-praise”):

  67. RS said,

    February 13, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    “I reckon a good rule of thumb is that if more than 20% of the refs in the paper are to the author’s own work, they are either a field-leading genius or a blinkered egotist, although I suppose they could be both.”

    If I say Prof. E.T.R anyone know what I’m talking about?

  68. physics bloke said,

    February 13, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    sorry if similar gripes have been made……..BUT…….this has been pissing me off a lot lately.
    i’m doin a phd in the really obscure (that’s sarcasm, btw) area of condensed matter physics and i STILL come across articles and journals that i have to pay for. (elsevier are some one of the worst publishers, not wishing to name names) even though my university library has online journals and i’m a full institute of physics member. you would have thought that someone like the iop would have the clout to make these journals publish free to their members but oh no – apparently not.

    not having published yet myself (keep a look out people!!!) i’m not up on the ins and outs of which journals to submit to etc, but i’m going to try and make sure that when i do publish it’s gonna be to one that people can read and access easily.

    glad i got that off me chest.

  69. Dr Aust said,

    February 13, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    Doesn’t ring any bells, RS, but my bedrock view is that every scientific field has its share of such folk.

    Another tendency which exacerbates “reciprocally citing friends” is the likelihood that those cited will be referee-ing your next grant proposal. This was always seen as one reason American papers in American journals tend to cite disproprotionately American papers in American journals, as those cited will odds-on be the NIH reviewers of their next grant.

  70. RS said,

    February 14, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    At my institution, until relatively recently, I periodically had trouble accessing Nature due to subscription issues!

  71. woodchopper said,

    February 16, 2007 at 9:37 am

    As a PhD student I would like to echo some of the concerns about researcher pays systems. While it would be great to be able to get hold of all the articles for free, I’m supposed to be publishing four over the next two years. I’m not sure it would be possible if I had to pay £500 to $700 each time. It would certainly be impossible for some of my friends based in Africa or South America.

  72. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 16, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    woodchopper — see the discussion above re. exemptions from fee for those from developing countries.

    But, as another PhD student myself, I agree with you that finding the money can be pretty hard or impossible even if you’re from a developed country.

    Fortunately for me, the only journal in my field that was suitable for the paper I’d written is open access, so I used those grounds to lobby the college to pay on my behalf. Basically because it would have been unpublishable otherwise, at least without some pretty serious decimation of the content.


  73. amoebic vodka said,

    February 19, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    As I’d mentioned before, the University of Cambridge couldn’t afford access to Elsivier’s online stuff for a while – and the Trends and Current Opinion review journals are extensively used for undergraduate study in the second and final year (in biological sciences anyway). And if Cambridge can’t afford it, then…well, they aren’t the poorest academic institution in the world 😉

    The open access after 6 months (or 3 months or whatever) would seem to be a compromise that would be good enough for the public (and undergraduates and academics) to access most things, while reducing the burden on researchers to pay to publish. However, would it be any use to someone like Ben, who would really need access to current issues (and the online early articles) to write for a national newspaper? Of course, most science reporting seems to be based on press releases rather than actual journal articles and even for research that is to be published, the press release normally pre-dates the publication date.

    As a reader (consumer??), open access would be great for trying to write a thesis, dissertation or paper at home – no need to go into work/uni because there’s one paper that requires an institutional IP address at 3 am the night before.

  74. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 21, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Amoebic — that’s why Linux is great. The main reason I can work from home all the time is I can just log into my machine at college, run any program on it and have it display on my home PC. No restrictions then on getting into journals as the request is still coming from an academic IP address, and no need to have two copies of all the data and software I use.

    Sounds really impressive until you realise it’s 30-odd-year-old tech that MS and Apple have only recently started catching up with.

    Not that open source software is a reason not to have open access journals, though…


  75. michael hart said,

    February 25, 2007 at 1:41 am

    I’m broadly an OA supporter but with some reservations.

    This may raise some hackles, but with the number of journals/publications rising exponentially, does anyone actually think that paying to publish would be a good thing because it might actually restrict the amount published?

    During my PhD research I often found myself exasperated by the sheer amount of literature on some subjects. Many times I found essentially the same material published by essentially the same authors in several different journals. I presume this may be done cynically to increase the author’s papers-published count (although I understand the publishing difficulties of interdisciplinary research).

    Many academics admit they simply do not have time to keep up with the literature. In order to be able to “see the wood for the trees” shouldn’t a way be found to try and focus on quality instead of quantity?

    If all publishing was free OA and available electronically it would have been easier for me to quickly eliminate the dross and the irrelevant. If I had been paying for literature myself from my own pocket I would have thought much of it poor value for money, yet felt obliged to do it for the sake of academic rigour.

    Finally do people think OA might help contain plagiarism?

  76. Lave said,

    July 27, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    Reasonableman early in the comments said:

    “Right to knowledge: I think most people would agree people have more of a right to clean water, shelter and food than the latest academic knowledge. Yet you have to pay for these.”

    The difference is that whilst water, shelter and food are *finite* commodities, knowledge is anything but.

    The more people know, the more we all know. If you give away water you end up with less water, if you give away knowledge you end up with more.

    Reminds me of an old school hymn about a magic penny….

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