Open Access Publishing

There’s a big debate within the scientific community in general about how and whether to move away from the conventional model of scientific publishing (journals supported by subscriptions paid by libraries, only available to subscribers) to a model where access to the papers in scientific journals is free to all (“Open Access”). The main problem with this is figuring out how to pay for it.

In his latest This Week’s Finds, John Baez gives a link to some information about the Open Access movement. One of the main actors here is SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition). There’s an associated SPARC Open Access Newsletter and a blog, Open Access News.

Inside Higher Ed has a recent article about this, and last week’s Science magazine also has an article. The Science article discusses a new proposal put out by a task force from CERN that can be found here. The CERN task force has gathered a lot of interesting data about the particle physics literature, counting roughly 6000 papers/year, of which about 80% are theoretical. They found that about half of the journals publishing most particle physics papers are willing to move to an open-access model, with a cost per paper of between $1-3000. These included APS and IOP journals, but did not include Elsevier journals like Nuclear Physics B. The APS has announced a program that would make papers in its journals open access at a cost of $975-1300 per paper, and Elsevier has announced something similar at around $3000/paper. The CERN task force proposes raising $6-8 million/year over the next few years to start supporting the half of the journals (not including Elsevier ones) that it has identified as ready for Open Access.

What is being proposed here is basically to give up on what a lot of people have hoped would develop: a model of free journals, whose cost would be small since they would be all-electronic, small enough to be supported by universities and research grants. Instead the idea here is to keep the current journals and their publishers in place, just changing the funding mechanism from library subscriptions to something else, some form that would fund access for all. The CERN task force suggests various sources for funds over the next few years, in a transition period, but doesn’t address the long term funding problem. If you fund these things out of, say, NSF grants, when Congress decides to cut the NSF budget, there’s a serious danger of the plug getting pulled on a field’s entire scientific literature. One popular idea is that researchers themselves should pay the cost. The problem with this is that the bulk of the literature is theory papers, mostly from people who can’t afford this. When there is a mixture of journals that require authors to pay the cost and those that don’t, authors abandon the ones they have to pay for. The Elsevier journals like Nuclear Physics B achieved dominance over the APS journals during the 70s when the APS journals were financed by “page charges” paid by authors, but Nuclear Physics B cost nothing to publish in.

The CERN task force doesn’t seem to me to be providing a viable long-term plan for moving to the kind of open access model they are supporting. It doesn’t address the fundamental problem of keeping a system where physicists hand over the scientific literature to Elsevier, then have to figure out how to buy it back. Even if a willing organization is found that will give $3000/paper to Elsevier, what will keep Elsevier from deciding to keep publishing more papers? What if the organization in question gets tired of this and decides to stop paying?

The CERN report also contains a lot of highly debatable arguments. It claims that the current refereeing process is extremely important, valuable, and must be maintained at all costs, ignoring the fact that virtually everyone accesses papers at the arXiv, not at the journal. It’s true that the refereed version in a journal may be improved and have errors fixed, but authors are generally free to replace the original preprint version by a corrected one on the arXiv. The description given in the report of the “high standards of peer review” doesn’t agree with the reality of what is going on (see the Bogdanov affair). The mathematics literature still has a functional peer-reviewing system and it plays a very important role of keeping the number of incorrect proofs and unreliable results to a minimum, but the particle physics literature is very different. The report does continually make the point that the refereed journal system is crucial to the ways institutions evaluate people and decide whether to hire or promote them, but it doesn’t address the issue of whether this is a good thing.

The report also tries to claim that the advent of LHC data will somehow make the refereed particle physics literature and open access to it much more important. I don’t see this at all. The experimental results from the big LHC detectors will come out only after very careful vetting by the groups themselves, and I don’t see how a referee is likely to have much of a useful role there. If surprising experimental results are found, there will be a frantic battle among theorists to get a preprint out that explains the new data, and everyone will be following this on the arXiv. By the time such papers get through refereeing and are published, few people will still be paying attention to them.

Update: Nature Physics also has a recent article about peer review and open access.

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53 Responses to Open Access Publishing

  1. anonymous says:

    Peter, isn’t the democratic solution is to have an alternative to arXiv, i.e., to have two independent electronic servers with different referees etc?

    This existed in the CERN Document Server up until 8 October 2004, when:

    “The CERN Scientific Information Policy Board (SIPB) closed the CERN CDS EXT preprint series, thus depriving me of preserving my work by posting it on EXT, as I had done with some papers that blacklisting had barred me from posting on arXiv…” – Tony Smith, http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/jouref2.html

    Mainstream string theory and other evidence-lacking orthodoxies survive and indeed flourish just because they acquire dictatorial power to suppress other options by force, i.e., where you have one electronic preprint server with one set of referees, and no alternative. Imagine Lubos Motl or a close friend of his in charge of arXiv, and you see why people are so cautious about attacking the mainstream. Externally-submitted CERN Doc Server papers (accepted up to 2004) now can’t even be revised/updated!

  2. Peter,

    The ArXiv model is orders of magnitude cheaper to run than most of the open access models cited. I doubt that peer review does a lot for physics, but couldn’t it be replaced by an open commentary scheme? Authors could solicit commentary from either known or hidden reviewers. A hidden review panel could probably be managed by an almost entirely automated process. Review comments could be either provided to the author or public.

  3. MathPhys says:

    I think that nowadays when a typical mathematician or physicist does a literature search, they start by searching arXiv. When something relevant is found, they use it.

    The main criteria to verify correctness is whether the author is known, and whether the work is cited in other preprints. I doubt if being published in a printed journal is a criterion at all.

    Even if the preprint is a few years old but unpublished, one thinks “Oh, maybe it was in a conference proceedings”.

  4. D. Eppstein says:

    I don’t know if I’m typical, and my research area is far from physics, but I usually start my literature searches with Google Scholar. ArXiv is a great resource but still does not contain most research in my area, and anyway Google indexes it well along with some other resources such as the ACM Digital Library that cover my area better.

  5. werdna says:

    MathPhys says:

    >I think that nowadays when a typical mathematician or physicist >does a literature search, they start by searching arXiv…The main >criteria to verify correctness is whether the author is known, and >whether the work is cited in other preprints.

    Actually, mathematicians do not verify correctness of results based on the reputation (or lack thereof) of the author(s). Neither do citations matter much to them either. What matters is the correctness of the proof. That’s why the peer review process serves a much more important function for math journals than for other disciplines.

  6. Scott says:

    Thanks, Peter! To me there’s something astounding — and in need of explanation — about the academic community’s spinelessness and timidity on this issue. “Sure, we should experiment with open-access, but obviously we can’t abandon the core idea of donating all our work to Elsevier and then spending a fortune to buy it back.” What is the source of this craven conservatism, among people who in other contexts are (1) trained to question things, (2) generally left-leaning and distrustful of corporations, and (3) finely attuned to the ironic and absurd? I speculated about this in a book review I wrote in April, but didn’t reach a satisfying answer. I’ll be grateful if anyone else has a conjecture.

  7. jeremy says:

    Actually, peer review is important for all areas of scientific research, unless you don’t want to know the correctness of the previous results that you are referring to.

  8. John Baez says:

    Scott writes:

    To me there’s something astounding — and in need of explanation — about the academic community’s spinelessness and timidity on this issue. […] What is the source of this craven conservatism, among people who in other contexts are (1) trained to question things, (2) generally left-leaning and distrustful of corporations, and (3) finely attuned to the ironic and absurd?

    As an academic who has rebelled against the system of academics working without pay for media conglomerates who charge high prices for the resulting journals, the source of the conservatism is obvious.

    Reed-Elsevier, Springer Science+Business Media, and other conglomerates now own many of the most prestigious journals in science. They’ve spent the last half century buying them up.

    “Prestige” may seem like an abstract and subjective concept, but it plays a deadly serious role in the career of any academic. Hiring, promotions and other decisions are based on it.
    If a mathematics department has a choice between hiring two candidates, otherwise equal, one of whom has published a paper in Inventiones Mathematicae, while another has published in Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, everybody knows who will get the job. Every mathematician, that is – for we all know which journal is more “prestigious”.

    So, even as the university library is crying for help, struggling to pay the ever-growing costs of journals run by the big media conglomerates, the science faculty continues to publish in these journals, because their careers depend on it.

    The science faculty also work as editors for these journals, typically for no pay – just for the prestige of being on the editorial board. They also work without pay refereeing articles for these journals. They write papers that appear in volumes published by the same media conglomerates, again just for the prestige of having a paper in a prestigious volume. And, they write books for presses owned by the same conglomerates.

    I find these activities to be a bit more craven, because I haven’t seen people getting hired just because they do these things. But, just as millionaires work their ass off to become billionaires, a lot of the most prestigious scientists engage in these activities to polish their reputations to an ever finer sheen. This is especially true of people who have given up trying to do original research.

    I get lots of invitations to write books and papers for various collections, because people know I can write. These days I almost always turn them down. I’ve learned a key fact: when someone gives me an honor, it’s usually a way to get me to do work for free. I still give lots of talks, because I get free travel out of it, and I really enjoy explaining stuff. But writing review papers for volumes published by prestigious publishers – that’s something I’ve come to really dislike.

    Each time I turn such an offer down, I feel a little ache, because I know I’ll miss out on a little piece of prestige. For example, I could have contributed to the forthcoming “Princeton Companion to Mathematics”. I almost did – what a great opportunity! But I didn’t. I’d rather do whatever the hell I want on a given day – usually thinking about math and physics. I’m in an incredibly lucky position where I can afford to do this; it seems insane not to.

    In short, to understand what’s going on, you have to realize: big companies care about profits, academics care about prestige.

  9. Thanks, John! I agree that prestige is part of the answer — but if it were the whole answer, then wouldn’t we expect academics to agree in principle that the system sucks, even as they vied to publish in the top journals? (Much like they agree in principle that global warming sucks while driving their SUVs.) Yet I have friends who get up at conferences to defend the system, who make arguments like “maybe if we’re nice to Elsevier they’ll give us a 5% discount…” That’s the part I don’t understand: are they trying to reduce cognitive dissonance? Or is it just inertia?

  10. Pingback: Ars Mathematica » Blog Archive » Back from Vacation and Open Access

  11. jeremy says:

    John Baez writes:

    “In short, to understand what’s going on, you have to realize: big companies care about profits, academics care about prestige.”

    Companies, big or small, have to make profits, if only to survive. Academics, however, don’t need to gain prestige by publishing in a prestigious journal, if they can make breakthroughs in their research. Recent work of Perelman on Poincare conjecture would be an excellent example.

  12. M says:

    I do not see any Open Access problem: having papers on arXiv plus a line on SPIRES adding “published on….” already is Open Access.

    The real problem is that it is expensive, because hiring committees and libraries keep traditional journals alive.

    What we would need is not arXiv + Open Access journals, but arXiv + refereeing agencies i.e. somebody who certifies the quality of papers.

    This somebody should be accepted by hiring committees (that already accepted JHEP), not be managed by physicists (just like a typical journal), not spend money in re-typesetting papers (possibly unless for those few authors who have serious problems with grammatics or with LaTeX).

    JHEP retypsetted everything and could not survive as a free journal, was managed by physicists and political battles sometimes distorted even the refereeing process.

  13. amused says:

    Following on from what John Baez wrote above, and providing one possible answer to Scott:
    In theoretical hep these days, people working in the dominant area don’t have much need for publishing in prestigious journals – their
    standing, job prospects etc are determined by the opinions of the senior influential people in their area on the papers they put on the archives. On the other hand, for people outside the dominant area, especially those from obscure backgrounds and without the “right connections”, the possibility of publishing in a prestigious journal is practically the only way to gain some visability and the possibility of a research career. I owe my own career to date, tenuous as it is, to the existence of such journals and am therefore not much inclined to say that the system sucks. More objectively, well-run “prestigious” journals have an important role to play in research communities by providing objective “quality stamps” in the midst of all the political/sociological stuff. Private publishers who have been able to maintain such journals over longer periods deserve some respect and appreciation for this, regardless of what one might think of their pricing policies.

  14. Gebar says:

    You need a new model –or rather an extension of the present one. This will seem utopic, of course, but it is not unfeasible.

    First you have to have some kind of “committee” who will actually try to find solutions and implement them. For example, sparc. The more prestigious, the better.

    Academic publication has two main players. Arxiv and the “prestigious” journals. Arxiv could and perhaps should be extended (see rumors of “censorship” of papers that do not agree with its administrators’ beliefs).

    Ideally, it could be extended through a partnership with a big player in the open access field. The committee could talk with Creative Commons, Internet Archive, OurMedia, Wikipedia, and Google, to provide servers and bandwidth.

    Any of them would be interested, I think, in participating in such a project. Right now, I, as an individual, can publish anything I want for free in OurMedia or the Internet Archive, with the material retained there indefinitely.

    The printed part covered by the “prestigious” journals is much more important. Only electronic access through solutions such as arxiv is not enough to overthrow the present paradigm and mindset. You need also printed journals with a physical presence in the libraries that will gradually “push aside” the existing exorbitantly priced ones.

    For this you will need a partnership with a self-publishing company (e.g. lulu.com). The cost of self publishing a black & white 100 pages book through lulu is $6.53, plus shipping, which is extra and obviously varies by area, but is not unreasonable. So what is this $3000/paper published in a journal, when the editorial board and referees all work for free?

    Amazon also has a self publishing program. It is more expensive, but again this is a matter of negotiations. Amazon undoubtedly would like to be associated with such a prestigious project, as would any company.

    With such a model, you could charge libraries reasonable amounts, and be even able to pay the editorial board and the referees. And you could sell subscriptions too, again with reasonable prices.

    So you set up this partnership with the self-publishing company, you get the prestigious editors and referees from the prestigious journals to work on the open access journals too, and then gradually only on the open access journals, you persist in this, and you may have something.

    You just need important papers from important people to get published in your open access journals, and the rest will take care of itself. This is not so difficult. People with established reputations will not have much resistance in publishing in open access journals, and if they do, the rest will follow.

    Well, I did say that it will seem utopic. However, it only seems so, it isn’t. You can’t do open access with the old closed bureaucratic mindset. You need to get into the project players with the new open mindset.

    That said, I know it is quite improbable for something like this to actually happen. And this despite the fact that you, the academics who participate in these science blogs, plus your interested friends and acquaintances, could get together, review a number of worthy papers from arxiv, and have a printed journal out by the end of the month.

    You already do this when you post in your blogs links to arxiv papers you consider important. The step from that to have these papers printed in a journal of good print quality is trivial. You could even start by publishing Pelerman’s papers. You can’t get more prestigious than that.

  15. Peter Erwin says:

    For what it’s worth, paying for journal publication is somewhat the norm within astrophysics, and has been for years (pre-dating the whole “open access” dicussion). Three of the four top journals have “page charges” (slightly more than $100 per page); these are sometimes paid by authors’ institutions, and sometimes by the authors out of their grants (this is a standard budget item in grant proposals, like money for attending conferences). The two US-based journals, which always have page charges[*], do not suffer relative to the British journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, which has no page charges.

    (These are in addition to institutional subscriptions.)

    [*] The European journal Astronomy and Astrophysics has a system where “sponsoring countries” contribute yearly sums, in return for which all scientists from those countries can avoid the page charges.

  16. ObsessiveMathsFreak says:

    The report also tries to claim that the advent of LHC data will somehow make the refereed particle physics literature and open access to it much more important.

    What is it with all the appeals to authority of the LHC? It’s not even finished, but every second argument in the theoretical physics blogosphere and beyond seems to add in that; “LHC will probably confirm/disprove/support/question this theory/argument/viewpoint”.

    It’s only a particle accelerator, albiet an extremely big one.

  17. Gina says:

    While the prices of commercial journal is often too high and scientists should play a role in pushing towards lower prices, I would be very cautious to try to move to an entirely different system where everything is controlled and run by scientists and/or based on publically-financed infra-structure.

    On another matter, I would like to suggest to Peter to devote a special post on the “not even wrong” blog to allow for comments, questions, reviews, critiques, and perhaps a discussion on his book “not even wrong”.

  18. Sailor Moon says:

    And where does the funding for arXiv.org come from? The discretionary budget of a library with a frozen (shrinking if you account for inflation) budget. It competes with armies of librarians in public services, an undisciplined program of one-off digital libraries, armies of public services librarians, a content-management system implementation undertaken for political reasons, and competition with Project Euclid, an essentially for-profit effort in math publishing.

    The future isn’t bright.

  19. TheGraduate says:

    In order to have open access I think the following changes are key:

    1. All professors should be paid for their work: I think that professors working for free introduces economic inefficiencies because it makes it difficult to access the true cost of printing the journal.

    2. Specific institutions should offer temporary contracts to have their journals managed by the companies in the private sector and the institutions should then offer their journals to the public for free.

    The competition is necessary to keep prices down. Without competition, the prices would inevitably rise. By having specific institutions offer this service, it also allows variation eg. governments, universities.

    I think it is essentially impossible to offer something to the public for free without having a benefactor.

  20. Juan R. says:

    Academia would focus on the true issue: optimization of the publishing process, developing a solid scientific language for publishing (LaTeX is not) being learned by young scientists and enginners at University. Any other approach is in my opinion –and history is proving me- a waste of time. If you do not reduce publishing costs, them translating them from readers to authors (PloS approach) or to mixed grants/funds/fees approaches or to ‘free’ systems (e.g. ArXiV) will not work as time has proved in many ocassions:

    – PloS is economically unsustainable and currently they are losing a lot of money and survives thanks to millionary funding from third philantrophy bodies.

    – ArXiv model has failures with administration, peer-review and is only working for simple publication process (PDF articles served online) in theoretical disciplines. It does not work for other disciplines. ArXiv-like approach fiasco in chemistry is well-known, i.e. the fiasco of the chemical preprint server: CPS.

    – About SPARC. I find interesting they omit to say the free PloS journal cited in its site relies on $13 millions philanthropic grants and that charge $2,500 to authors. A look to SPARC membership dues is also interesting.

    – Etc.

    There is also a myth about that electronic journals are of small cost. Well, PDF versions of printed articles are cheap but that is not all one needs. In disciplines as chemistry publishing is something more than a PDF article of a theoretical work. Moreover, the myth of low cost vanishes with full electronic journals doing use of advanced web technologies: semantic web, XML specific scientific languages for datuments, databases…

    In my opinion, there is another myth on private publishers being too expensive –that myth was base of finantial failure of PLoS and related approaches-. Well I have purchased 10 pages article from 80s on APS journals (official body for physicists) at $25 and 3 pages 2006 articles on ACS (official body for chemists) journals at $25 (the online version). Both APS and ACS are non-profit official bodies and publishs their own journals. Still $8,3 per page for a recent article or $2,5 per page for a 20 years old article are very expensive rates. This indicates that excesive profit from private publishers is not all of the problem, is it? Note: i agree that profit rates of Elsevier, Nature, and other private publishers could be lower and journals less expensive.

    Another point of disagreement is in the double attitude of academia. At the one hand, they critize expensive journals and claim for open or free approaches but when publishing most of people choses a highly respected journal (i.e. those usually at $30 per article) because their colleagues give it more prestige and posibilities for a career. Would not prestige be offered in basis to quality of works instead where they were published?

    Baez said:

    I’ve learned a key fact: when someone gives me an honor, it’s usually a way to get me to do work for free. I still give lots of talks, because I get free travel out of it, and I really enjoy explaining stuff. But writing review papers for volumes published by prestigious publishers – that’s something I’ve come to really dislike.

    I buy each word of this!

    jeremy Said:

    Companies, big or small, have to make profits, if only to survive. Academics, however, don’t need to gain prestige by publishing in a prestigious journal, if they can make breakthroughs in their research. Recent work of Perelman on Poincare conjecture would be an excellent example.

    You are right, but in some countries (e.g. Spain) position in Academia follows strict buroucratic (stupid?) rules. You receive many points for publishing in journals of class A, and little points for journals of class B, and C. After all points are computed for the committe and you can obtain a career or not.

    Gebar said:

    For this you will need a partnership with a self-publishing company (e.g. lulu.com). The cost of self publishing a black & white 100 pages book through lulu is $6.53, plus shipping, which is extra and obviously varies by area, but is not unreasonable. So what is this $3000/paper published in a journal, when the editorial board and referees all work for free?

    This highlights another of myths between academics. I managed a printed bulletin for chemists some years ago -Galicia química for the official body of chemists in Galicia (Spain)- the real cost was not in printing and distribution (we optimize size and shape for printing costs and weight for minimizing distribution charges). The real cost was in administrative and meta-publishing costs. Therein today you buy a 10 pages PDF article by $30 today on a non-profit ACS journal. Elsevier for instance has developed their own XML language for its internal publishing workflow. Even reusing available standards –e.g. MathML for mathematics from W3C, character encodings from Unicode- they still were forced to develop extensions to the official MathML spec for special needs on its journals and continue working with the Elsevier matrix for encoding because Unicode does not cover all of academia publishing –this will change when STIX project for scientific and enginnering fonts was finished-.

    Suggestion: The ‘open’ or ‘free access’ initiative would also address the problem of books and monographs. They are very, very expensive doing scientific data was only accesible to rich scientists (or scientists in a rich University). How could someone at some humble University pay more than 1000 euros -more than $1270- for a specialized handbook on molecular physics and quantum chemistry from Whiley?

    Juan R.

    Center for CANONICAL |SCIENCE)

  21. LDM says:

    The mathematics literature still has a functional peer-reviewing system and it plays a very important role of keeping the number of incorrect proofs and unreliable results to a minimum, but the particle physics literature is very different.

    For example, the classification of finite simple groups (alluded to in NEW by the way), completed in the 80’s, required ten thousand journal pages. Some of the papers were so dense it is probable that they were read only by the author himself and the referee.

    Would anyone believe this classification if it was based on pages only in the axXiv?
    Probably not.

  22. TheGraduate says:

    LDM:

    It seems to me we probably shouldn’t believe it if it was only read by two people. Wouldn’t you agree?

  23. LDM says:

    TheGraduate:

    I understand your point and it is a good one.

    For me, it is more interesting to consider if such a proof could have been done using the arXiv as a means of publication…before we get rid of the journals, let’s first be aware of and have a clear understanding of what they have accomplished.

  24. TheGraduate says:

    LDM:

    I don’t think open access and peer reviewing are mutually exclusive. For instance, one could have a review system where reviewers have rankings and a paper derives a reliability rating from the generally esteem in which a reviewer is held.

    In order to control the reviewing process, one might require that only AMS members can review AMS approved journals or something like that.

    There is really no reason that open access has to mean a completely anarchic process.

    Incidentally, I think it’s important to pay reviewers for their work.

  25. D R Lunsford says:

    I used to spend countless hours pouring over the journal stacks in my library, while an undergraduate. I spent more time in the library than in class. Every now and then I’d come across a fascinating idea that was far off the mainstream but intrinsically interesting. Such papers have no chance on the arxiv. Open access is worthless if a battery of censors with an explicit agenda circumvents it. I still think I am the only person to have an already peer-reviewed and published paper censored from the arxiv. I have three more and a fourth underway which are IMO at least interesting. I dare not send them to the arxiv. Is this openness? If so it is a strange definition.

    -drl

  26. Alejandro Rivero says:

    but couldn’t it be replaced by an open commentary scheme? Authors could solicit commentary from either known or hidden reviewers.

    Hey, this is an idea. The soon to be abandoned physcomments site was accused of SPAM because for every paper in hep-th* he asked two persons to comment about. Of course every referee request from every refereed journal is SPAM according the definition “spam=unsolicited email”. But it could be diffferent if the Author is asked to write, or at least to sign with his email address, his own cover letter, which in turn is to be sent to two anonymous referees who can shoose about CCing back to the author or sending directly to the journal.

  27. RingZero says:

    >Academics, however, don’t need to gain prestige by
    >publishing in a prestigious journal, if they can make
    >breakthroughs in their research. Recent work of Perelman on
    >Poincare conjecture would be an excellent example.

    The problem is that not only breakthroughs like Perelman’s
    are important. In fact, those are rare and far apart.
    Incremental progress and consolidation of acquired knowledge
    is enormously important and, in time, is what leads to
    breakthroughs.

    In fact, the progress that has been made in particle physics
    over the last 15 years is mostly incremental: a truly
    impressive mass of theoretical and experimental results that
    sets the stage for the next large breakthrough.

    But the merits of incremental work are to some extent more
    debatable and open to subjective, and even “political,”
    criticism. There’s where the seal of approval of a leading
    journal enters the game.

  28. TheGraduate says:

    D R Lunsford:

    There is always the internet. I think the issue is really not censorship at all. We are in an age where we can always find information if the author wants to make it available.

    I think the issue is really information that can not be accessed.

    When something is published by a journal, it obtains the seal of approval of that particular publisher. It is this seal of approval that we care about …

    The price of this seal of approval is the information now can not be accessed by those of us too poor to obtain it.

    I think we are in an age where it is within our grasp to overcome this disadvantage. Youtube, Wikipedia and descendants of Napster are proving this over and over everyday.

    I would hope there would be a sort of large system where all papers could be found but those that had not been reviewed by a respected reviewer could be filtered out IF AND ONLY IF the searcher wanted them filtered out.

  29. Energex42 says:

    I think a viable model can be a non-profit foundation run journal system. A donation from a famous person can get this thing started, then a break-even fee would be paid from the academic subscribers to keep it running.

  30. drl: Would you mind linking to the published paper of yours that was rejected from the arXiv? I think that, because of the arXiv’s central role in disseminating science, the moderators ought to avoid doing anything that even looks like censorship, even if it means the rest of us need to scan the titles of a lot of bad or irrelevant papers. So I’d be curious to see what it is that they rejected.

  31. Gebar says:

    This highlights another of myths between academics. I managed a printed bulletin for chemists some years ago -Galicia química for the official body of chemists in Galicia (Spain)- the real cost was not in printing and distribution (we optimize size and shape for printing costs and weight for minimizing distribution charges). The real cost was in administrative and meta-publishing costs.

    That’s exactly what I mean when I say that you cannot do open access with a bureaucratic mindset. You let your “partner” (Amazon, or Lulu, or whoever) handle the administrative and meta-publishing costs, because they have already in place the infrastracture to do it.

    Managing your subscriptions could be as simple as logging into your journal administration account in Amazon and clicking a few buttons so that the last issue of your journal will be sent to a list of recepients, in the same way you order a book to be sent to a friend.

    The subscriptions could also be sold be Amazon, as well as individual issues. I can bet you they will cost a ridiculously small fraction of these hair raising prices charged by elzevier and sparc.

    Any big publishing house would jump at the opportunity to partner with a formal body of academics who want to set up such a project. However, it only makes sense to go with a company that already functions according to the open access model, so that you control the material instead of the publishing house. Else you will end up with the same situation you have today.

    Here’s a challenge. Propose ten important papers and get permission from their authors to be published. Anyone of you could set up an account in lulu or some other such publisher, set up the issue, and have it sent to the authors or anyone else who wants it. The price again would be ridiculous.

    The only thing missing to make this viable is a respected group of people who will manage this, and a respected editorial board and group of referees, perhaps the same people who now slave away for Elzevier.

  32. John Baez says:

    Scott Aaronson writes:

    Thanks, John! I agree that prestige is part of the answer — but if it were the whole answer, then wouldn’t we expect academics to agree in principle that the system sucks, even as they vied to publish in the top journals?

    Hi, Scott!

    That’s a good question. I spend a fair amount of time trying to teach people about the the problems with the system. Academics who read my stuff usually do agree that this system sucks. If they’re idealistic enough, they even stop publishing in evil journals. Others agree “in principle” but feel their careers can’t afford that much idealism.

    But the people who are being most directly injured are not the academics – it’s the librarians. They’re the ones who have to keep cancelling journal subscriptions or buying fewer books in order to hang onto subscriptions to the “prestigious” journals. If you talk to them, you’ll find they’re livid.

    You might say the academics are being hurt by a system where they do lots of work for free while big companies make money off their labor. This is true – but I think most academics value the prestige they get from association with prestigious journals more than the money they might earn.

    (There’s something so nice about seeing your name on the front cover of a famous journal, right there with the bigshots in your field. It’s like seeing a bronze bust of yourself. The feeling itself is worth thousands of dollars, even apart from the useful connections and influence such a position gets you.)

    So, I think most academics see the problems as abstract, until their favorite journals get cancelled when the libraries can’t afford them anymore – or until they notice that their libraries can’t afford to buy many books anymore.

  33. John Baez says:

    Jeremy writes:

    John Baez writes:

    “In short, to understand what’s going on, you have to realize: big companies care about profits, academics care about prestige.”

    Companies, big or small, have to make profits, if only to survive. Academics, however, don’t need to gain prestige by publishing in a prestigious journal, if they can make breakthroughs in their research. Recent work of Perelman on Poincare conjecture would be an excellent example.

    Academics need prestige to survive – that’s how we get jobs, and that’s how we get promotions. Yes, we can get this prestige by making breakthroughs like proving the Poincare conjecture – gee, why didn’t I think of doing that? But, most of us don’t make such breakthroughs.

    So, most academics will do whatever they can to collect scraps of prestige: giving talks at conferences, organizing conferences, serving on advisory boards, publishing in prestigious journals, publishing books at prestigious presses, etcetera.

    If you want to see all these scraps of prestige lined up neatly and organized, just look at job applications. Anyone on hiring committees will know what I mean.

    In short: to get an academic to do something, just dangle a bit of prestige in front of him. Companies aren’t dumb: they know this.

  34. TheGraduate says:

    My feeling is that the publishers aren’t really offering anything special when it comes to journals so economics dictates that prices have to fall. Academia is sort of a communist universe (lifetime jobs, free work) so maybe that’s why it is taking so long for the journals to drop in price.

    For instance, I am sure Wikipedia is affecting encyclopedia sales and Wikipedia is written by random people.

  35. Florifulgurator says:

    So, why not opening a prestigious free electronic journal with a prestigious editorial board like Inventiones Mathematicae, and the main server (feeding the mirrors and printers) at some prestigious institute?

    I guess we need to wait for that till the old pre-internet big names have died out and leave space for 21st-century-ready internet literates…

  36. Moshe says:

    John, I am with Scott on this (I think), that is, I just don’t get it, including the prestige part. For example if the editorial board of “Topology” that just resigned got together and established the free-access electronic journal \tilde{topology} or topology’ or something, which would be now the prestigous journal? I’d like to think an academic community would look beyond brand names and such when attaching prestige to publications, for example by quantifying it using “impact index” or other such criteria.

  37. Juan R. says:

    Gebar,

    Let me doubt that partners like Amazon or Lulu have the infrastracture to do it. I already wrote a bit about technical details above.

    Here’s a challenge. Propose ten important papers and get permission from their authors to be published. Anyone of you could set up an account in lulu or some other such publisher, set up the issue, and have it sent to the authors or anyone else who wants it. The price again would be ridiculous.

    Well, the true is that we talk with Google Scholar people and even they can offer just a small subset of search and indexing capability needed (e.g. nothing at level of CAS functionality). The Googlebot directly indexes PDF files and extract metadata to databases, but it is limited since work in PDF files. Yes, pdf files is everything in ArXiv but is not in other disciplines where c3d and csm files or cif
    databases are needed.

    It is true that high cost of journals is an issue, but i think that academicians are losing the main point. In fact, all alternatives i know to the standard model either provide just a subset of functionality (e.g. online journals managed by academicians via web server) or failed in other disciplines (e.g. fiasco of ArXiv in chemistry) or are economically not viable (e.g. academicians abandoned Elsevier because was too expensive -they claimed- and funded PloS are losing a lot of money even when soliciting $2500 fees for each article).

    Juan R.

    Center for CANONICAL |SCIENCE)

  38. Ken Muldrew says:

    It may be worth keeping in mind that this discussion extends beyond theoretical research. The vast majority of scientific papers communicate experimental results (vast is too small a word!). The utility of experimental results, even rather trivial, incremental results, lasts for decades (centuries, even). This is especially true in fields like biology and medicine where there are no theoretical structures that can be used to figure out what the result of some experiment ought to be. Refereeing is essential for experimental papers to ensure that enough methodological details are provided for the experiments to be repeated, as well as for technical issues. This refereeing is done by scientists, without charge, and run under the auspices of scientific societies (also run by scientists and paid for by scientists). Archiving, though, involves print journals and library subscriptions. And high quality archiving with widespread distribution is essential to the scientific enterprise.

    My point is that there is more to this than just prestige; a scientist is a member of a community that has extended temporal boundaries. One can do work that extends something done by a scientist who died a century ago, but only if you know the details of what that person did so long ago. The integrity and honesty of scientific work is currently maintained through the journals and this has to be retained. For experimental work, something like the arXiv is sort of a bridge between conference talks and publications; a new phenomenon that doesn’t replace the old ways but rather adds to them, like email as it relates to phone conversations and page-written letters.

    I think we can solve the archiving problem through the interaction of scientific societies with librarians (and possibly the creation of some new organizations who have a passion for the integrity of information, much as those who join scientific societies have a passion for learning the nature of things). But this solution will probably take the form of a phase change, and few can afford to submit to a process that doesn’t happen very quickly. For those commenters who disparage scientists for their lack of spine, it’s actually a pretty big deal to lose your livelihood and your career. By the time you put maybe 10 or 12 years of university study, 4 years of post-doc, a bunch more years as a semi-faculty ghost before finally getting hired, you have quite a bit invested in your career. Getting to this point means that you have a bunch of ideas and projects that you want to get done to share with the scientific community that you belong to. It’s just not very tempting to stuff it all and become a martyr to the cause at a point where it’s not clear how effective your effort might be. Because if you don’t keep pumping out the papers in decent journals, you’re down the road.

  39. Chris W. says:

    Ken,

    This recent Wall Street Journal article is relevant to your comment about access to experimental results, as well as the general concern with open access, although the focus here is on a shorter time horizon:

    Gates Won’t Fund AIDS Researchers Unless They Pool Data
    (WSJ, 7/20/2006)

    There’s no guarantee these particular grants, or the Gates foundation’s efforts in general, will lead to a working vaccine. But since fragmented vaccine efforts have yet to protect a single human from the pandemic that rages out of control in many regions, some supporters argue it’s time for a new approach. Grant recipients and outside observers were unsure whether data-sharing requirements of the grants could pose potential legal or patent conflicts with Mr. Gates’s vow to respect intellectual property. Foundation officials said this week researchers would still be free to commercialize their discoveries, but they must develop access plans for people in the developing world.

    . . . . . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . . . . .

    There are four major goals to be funded by the grants: vaccines that spark neutralizing antibodies to block initial infection by HIV; vaccines that make stronger T-cell response to kill infected cells; creation of standard criteria to measure success or failure; and a new, secure Web site for sharing all the data in real time.

    “Whether in academics or industry, scientists want to protect intellectual property. … With the alliance, the shift is to say: ‘No, the large enterprise is more important than the position I keep by holding my data close,'” says Steve Self, a biostatistician at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, which is lead investigator of a $30.1 million grant to create new adjuvants, ingredients that boost a vaccine’s power. Dr. Self got a $10 million grant to create a secure central data repository to be named Atlas.

    Enforced data sharing, Dr. Self predicted, “increases the pace of discovery enormously rather than waiting for the process of writing formal journal articles, waiting for them to be published, and [confirmed] by other labs.” As efforts funded by the Gates grants get under way, other funders must not be lulled into complacency, warns Mitchell Warren, executive director of the New York-based AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, a nonprofit community group. Activists recently have voiced concerns that the National Institutes of Health budget is flat in real terms.

  40. Chris W. says:

    Posted as a test; please feel free to delete after an hour or so.

    (My last comment vanished into thin air…)

  41. Peter Woit says:

    Chris W.,

    Your previous comment ran afoul of the WordPress automated anti-spam software. It is highly suspicious of links in comments. Maybe it also noticed that your comment is getting fairly far away from the topic of the posting…

  42. Chris W. says:

    Can you suggest any guidelines about including links, other than “don’t do it” or “include them at your own risk”?

  43. Peter Woit says:

    Chris,

    Hard to say, the anti-spam feature is called “Akismet”, most of the time it does a remarkably good job, which is why I keep using it. But it does make mistakes, often hard to tell why, except that links are something that make it suspicious (much of the spam consists just of links). It seems to use some proprietary algorithm running on their server, which they don’t divulge. As far as I can tell, it also doesn’t allow any configuration choices, e.g. I can’t whitelist people

  44. Exploited says:

    I do not have a research position, and probably will not have one in the foreseeable future. At the same time, I continue to publish papers in very prestigious peer-reviewed journals, at the top of their range. In this research, I invest most of my waking existence not taken up by my actual paid duties, and I get paid nothing for it.

    In most publishing models, the author gets paid by the publisher, or in royalties, or both. Yet I am expected to provide my work, from which the publisher derives obvious economic benefit, entirely for free. The fact that I collaborate in my own oppression, in order to be taken seriously, probably shows me for the idiot I am. Still, something is wrong with the model. It may have worked better in the past, but for people like me it fails miserably.

  45. jeremy says:

    John Baez writes:

    “So, most academics will do whatever they can to collect scraps of prestige: giving talks at conferences, organizing conferences, serving on advisory boards, publishing in prestigious journals, publishing books at prestigious presses, etcetera.
    If you want to see all these scraps of prestige lined up neatly and organized, just look at job applications. Anyone on hiring committees will know what I mean.
    In short: to get an academic to do something, just dangle a bit of prestige in front of him. Companies aren’t dumb: they know this.”

    The price of the prestigious, and not so prestigious, journals and the prestige sought by academics to advance their careers are two different things. One is created by the publisher, the Companies; the other is the product of the academics. All the prestige collecting activities listed above are in fact have nothing to do with the Companies. It is fair to argue about the sky rocketing journal prices, but it would be unfair to accuse the publishers for dangling “a bit of prestige in front of” academics.

    It is not too difficult to find that although the Companies publish the prestigious journals, but none of the editors and the editorial board members of those journals comes from the Companies. In fact, the Companies do not even have much to say about who should be in the editorial board. It is the academics that serve as the editors of the journal choose other academics as editorial board members. It is also the decision of these people to publish or not publish a submitted paper. In many cases, it is the editors who will do things such as inviting “bigshots” writing review papers and organizing special issues for the journal to make the journal more prestigious. The survival of the academics is also decided by other academics based on the, sometime unspoken, rules by the academics. The real problem is the system. A system created by academics themselves. The Companies, at most, take advantage of the system, but who wouldn’t. We can hardly blame them.

    The price of the journal, as the price of anything else, is controlled by the market. It is a problem that can, and will be, solved by the market force. (Game theory?)

  46. Stinker says:

    If you believe in open access, how come your book is not available for free on the web?

    What’s the difference between commercial journal publishers and commerical book publishers besides that the former don’t pay authors?

  47. woit says:

    Stinker,

    The main problem with commercial scientific journals is the high cost, which can be $1-2 per page. You can buy my book on Amazon for about $18, which is around $.06 per page (and the paperback will be cheaper). If commercial journals were charging $.06 per page, no one at all would be complaining. It’s the very high costs which are causing serious problems for library budgets, causing them to have to cancel journals and not buy books, ending up with journals only being accessible at a small number of wealthy institutions.

    Personally I also find books and journal articles to be quite different in that it often makes sense to read a journal article on line, or print out a copy to look at, but I neither want to have to print out, nor try and read on a computer screen, a 300 page book. For books like mine, the amount publishers charge to produce a well-made printed version seems reasonable. What is more of a problem are technical monographs that are often sold for $100 and up, raising the same kind of problems of affordability and accessiblity as journal articles.

  48. Stinker says:

    Sounds reasonable. I think the main difference is who bears the cost. The buyer of the book presumably wants to buy the book; the temporary instructor laid off because his university finds it more important to maintain a subscription to (insert your favorite crap Elsevier journal here) presumably does not want to maintain that subscription. Which is to say when one submits articles to commercial journals the cost is felt by someone else; when one publishes one’s book on blah-blah it is only the publisher and the buyer who face any costs.

    To put it still another way – a lot of the more expensive commercial journals are closer to vanity presses than a lot of folks like to admit – their quality is low, the barrier to publication is low, and the main reason for submitting to them is to pad one’s CV, which as we all know is very important for the good of humanity (at least a small part of it).

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