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The Lairds of Learning
August 30, 2011 5:00 AM   Subscribe


 
publish or perish
posted by flyinghamster at 5:08 AM on August 30, 2011


I don't have enough invectives for JSTOR and Elsevier.
posted by oonh at 5:10 AM on August 30, 2011 [23 favorites]


amen.
posted by jb at 5:12 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the 7:00 AM edition of this post? But my professor says I need the 7:10 edition!
posted by box at 5:13 AM on August 30, 2011 [77 favorites]


Oh good lord, yes. Maybe I don't understand the industry and there's a hidden cost, but losing the free, degree attached connection to the journal banks is the thing I'll miss most about finishing being a student. Especially when the extra six months of your degree are being used by someone in the 'tween times (can you find this paper for me?!) to get stuff because they're already working on a project for a Phd that needs the papers but there's no way to enter them into the system until the project is done, because it's part of getting them their Phd funding.
posted by Phalene at 5:13 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


In addition to this, Elsevier mock their authors by offering special souvenirs to commemorate your publication.
posted by erdferkel at 5:14 AM on August 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


The National Institutes of Health in the US oblige anyone taking their grants to put their papers in an open-access archive

More of this kind of thing, please.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:14 AM on August 30, 2011 [38 favorites]


I'd subscribe to the RSS feed, but it costs twenty thousand dollars a year.
posted by box at 5:15 AM on August 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


good luck publishing a study on this.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 5:16 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


laity!
posted by Bovine Love at 5:23 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


PLoS FTW.
posted by The White Hat at 5:24 AM on August 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning.

Another term for it is validation for academics. Nothing is stopping any academic from posting her research results on the world wide web and leaving space for public comments. Publication, peer-review, and distribution is available to everyone at no cost to anyone.

But then she wouldn't have the imprimatur of a well-known "peer-reviewed" journal to add to her CV to show to the world how clever she is.

Validation is source of the problem, the publishers only exploit this.
posted by three blind mice at 5:24 AM on August 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


Cool story bro.

Peer-review isn't about being clever.
posted by oddman at 5:27 AM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Institutions could solve this problem for themselves by requiring all publications for tenure and promotion review to be published open-access, and requiring open-access peer review as part of ladder faculty's service obligations.

Hard to see why the government ought to intervene when the victims can, but decline, to help themselves.
posted by MattD at 5:27 AM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


> Another term for it is validation for academics. Nothing is stopping any academic from posting her research results on the world wide web and leaving space for public comments.
> But then she wouldn't have the imprimatur of a well-known "peer-reviewed" journal to add to her CV to show to the world how clever she is.

The ideal (in the short-term) solution would be to do both - make it publicly available and submit it to journals. Unfortunately many of the peer-reviewed journals do not allow you to do this.

Scott Aaronson had a great rant about this, loosely disguised as a review of The Access Principle
posted by DRMacIver at 5:28 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"You can start reading open-access journals, but you can’t stop reading the closed ones."
Yes. This and more. He really nails it.

As an academic, I've got my hands full. My topic in mind, I know what I've got to do. Finding the relevant information gets easier, but it's still a job. Reading it all is a HUGE endeavor. It requires understanding, analyzing, note-taking, re-reading, summarizing, synthesizing and incorporating it all into the stuff I'm working on. By that time, 'the stuff I'm working on' seems a bit too close and a bit too distant at once.

But you tell me that I've got to pay $30 for that article I desperately need? Just to get to the easy reading part? $70 for that dissertation that lays the ground for where I want to go? £2 every time I want to look at the key text that was shipped up from London? I can't even take it out of the library or copy more than 20 pages!

Sheesh, I don't even have income. It's mindboggling how this is all supposed to work.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:35 AM on August 30, 2011 [21 favorites]


Institutions could solve this problem for themselves by requiring all publications for tenure and promotion review to be published open-access, and requiring open-access peer review as part of ladder faculty's service obligations.

Hard to see why the government ought to intervene when the victims can, but decline, to help themselves.


you're obviously not working in the UK. Here academics have to demonstrate that they have published in the journals with the highest possible impact factor as a key element of the Government's mechanism for determining who gets future research funding. This responsibility is then passed on to the individual academics. Thus career development - and quite simply the right to go on being a researcher - is inextricably linked to publishing in the closed access journals.
posted by biffa at 5:43 AM on August 30, 2011 [16 favorites]


Related: Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity, currently supported by these signatories.

Just for fun: Yesterday in introducing David Mermin for a colloquium, Paul Ginsparg, who developed and implemented arXiv.org based on David Mermin's proposal, said that Mermin called arXiv.org "string theorists' greatest contribution to science."
posted by bread-eater at 5:44 AM on August 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


It's mindboggling how this is all supposed to work.

You get hired by an institution. You sweat blood scraping together grants. The institution says "gimme!" and claws back 30-40% of the grant money. Your library then provides access to about half the journals you need. Simple.
posted by bonehead at 5:44 AM on August 30, 2011 [19 favorites]


From the hilarious souvenirs page erdferkel links to:
Language editing

Add professional English editing to your manuscript within 4 business days.

starts at $210
They charge for editing? Sorry, "adding editing"?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:44 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nothing is stopping any academic from posting her research results on the world wide web and leaving space for public comments

You are nominally correct, but the effort is huge. I was involved in a project to build an online peer reviewed resource for publishing 19c English criticism. The technical hurdles are manageable but the social and institutional challenges are astonishing even though it is in everyone's interest to wrestle away the control from traditional publishers. I'm not a scholar, but my layman description is that the untenured have the most to gain from online publishing but they rely on the esteem of the tenured, who find the traditional publisher less offensive.

While nothing is technically preventing self publishing, socially it requires a group of tenured heavy hitters in a field to commit to making it work for the benefit of the younger generation of scholars. They need to volunteer to peer review a body of work that has no established merit and giver their imprimatur to a project that is unlike anything they may have worked on before. It is a worthy undertaking.
posted by dgran at 5:46 AM on August 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


Sorry, "adding editing"?

I'll have mine on the side, thanks.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:46 AM on August 30, 2011


But then she wouldn't have the imprimatur of a well-known "peer-reviewed" journal to add to her CV to show to the world how clever she is.

The problem with this argument is that peer review is essentially free. At least in the fields that I'm familiar with, reviewers work as volunteers. The actual costs associated with distributing a journal are the costs of typesetting, copyediting and printing — plus the publisher's substantial profit margin. But the idea that mind-bogglingly high subscription fees are what makes peer review possible is just nonsense.

(You could make a case that tenure is what makes peer review possible. People volunteer as reviewers because "service to the field" also looks good on a CV. It'll be interesting to see whether peer review can stay free if adjunctification continues.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:46 AM on August 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


Add professional English editing to your manuscript within 4 business days.

I listen to the Nature podcast, and they have ads for the same service. I like to give them the benefit of the doubt, and hope it's targeted towards researchers whose first language isn't English. Maybe.
posted by Jimbob at 5:47 AM on August 30, 2011


Academic articles : publishers :: music : record companies, with no Napster in sight?
posted by yoHighness at 5:47 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


with no Napster in sight?

I have, on occasion, been contacted by researchers who are after a paper of mine but don't have access to the journal. I send them a copy. Shhh, don't tell!
posted by Jimbob at 5:50 AM on August 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


Oh hell yes. Open source now!
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:51 AM on August 30, 2011


with no Napster in sight?

You don't just pay to buy the articles, you often pay to publish too. About half of the journals still have per page charges, particularly for supplemental material. I just put a paper in yesterday that will cost me 500-800 euro.
posted by bonehead at 5:52 AM on August 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I don't have enough invectives torches or pitchforks for JSTOR and Elsevier.

FTFY.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:54 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's hard to convince folks to publish open-source when being awarded grants often hinges on an authors impact factor.

I dropped out of the postdoc->lecturer->professor career path. And I've never been happier. Mainly because the pressure to publish would have broke me.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 5:55 AM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Just checked to see if there was a piratelibrary.org, and it seems one guy tried released a few into the wild...

http://www.maximumpc.com/article/news/man_posts_torrent_18592_academic_papers
When you think of BitTorrent, you probably think of movies, music, and games being shared illicitly. Well, one man by the name of Greg Maxwell is turning all of that on its head by uploading a cache of 18,592 scientific papers to the torrent site The Pirate Bay. This is, according to Maxwell, a protest against the prosecution of programmer Aaron Swartz for theft of data.

Stallman's short story Right to Read does seem to barely qualify as fiction...
posted by titus-g at 5:58 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think it's just the ultimate case of "brand loyalty" that makes things so difficult to change - Nature and Science are never going to stop being the pinnacle journals. Same with other journals in specific fields. That said, there are some open-access journals with a huge amount of credibility now - people in my field are extremely chuffed when they get published in PLoS Biology.
posted by Jimbob at 6:02 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thank the deity of your choice for Google Scholar. It's not perfect, but it's a great start.
posted by quidividi at 6:02 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


The link was excellent. Thank you for it.

I would like to offer additional reading (both of which I enjoyed):

Knowledge and Money by Rodger Geiger
Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion by Daniel S. Greenberg
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 6:08 AM on August 30, 2011


I'm sure the editors of Intelligent Design Quarterly will happily step-in to provide affordable peer-review and publication.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:10 AM on August 30, 2011


Google Scholar doesn't actually host anything. It indexes papers that other people have made available.

Many of those papers are behind paywalls. The ones that are freely available, it's usually because the author made an effort to make them freely available — and was lucky enough not to have the publisher tell them "no."
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:10 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's not perfect, but it's a great start.

To build on nebulawindphone....

Well, the problem is that Google Scholar doesn't provide access; it just tells you stuff exists. You might be able to find it online, or you can probably get it through Interlibrary Loan. So, Google Scholar is a finding aid. Sadly, compared to real indexes, it's not a very good finding aide. Sure, you can do your keyword search, look at results, and pretend you've actually done some research, but, really, if you are not taking things above a Freshmen level, why bother? An index like ScifinderScholar is horribly expensive, but it does what it is supposed to. Anyone relying on Google Scholar for anything than casual supplementary research is a fool.

The problem, of course, is that researchers and scholars whined for online access, and, for their sins, they were given it. They signed away the duty of providing access to their work to commercial publishers, who, sensing a cash cow, jumped on it. Now, we don't have the money to buy the indexes, which are actually added value, because of the expense of electronic access, which aren't.

And electronic access to journal articles has been crippling to the collegial aspects of academia as well, encouraging siloing and provincialism just as administrations and funding agencies want interdisciplinarity... Oh, yay.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:14 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fork over the money, or we kill the knowledge.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:16 AM on August 30, 2011


I should clarify -- I'm not a Luddite. I understand that electronic access to journal articles is probably, on the whole, a good thing. But it has undermined a lot of other, also good things, and we should be considering the costs as well as the benefits.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:22 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Phalene: "losing the free, degree attached connection to the journal banks is the thing I'll miss most about finishing being a student."

This was especially bad for me after law school. I went from having access to Lexis and Westlaw and ICLE to completely cut-off. I lost the ability to intelligently converse with my lawyer friends. New ruling just came down? I probably can't access it. Was Peerless Transportation the really funny taxi-jacking case, or the one with the banana peel on the track track? Can't look it up. Whatever happened with In Re Billski? Beats me!

The worst part is trying to Google these things and being at the mercy of newspaper-type legal reporting, which is about as bad as newspaper-type scientific reporting.

I think the current system of publishing legal opinions in even more insidious than academic publishing, if only because the majority of laws we're supposed to be subject to are locked away behind paywalls that are hundreds or thousands of dollars per month to access. And losing that access felt like I was losing an important sense; or at least being cut off from a vital source of information.

Here's hoping Google does to academic and legal publishing what it did to search. I hear Google Scholar's starting to publish legal cases, now.
posted by Vox Nihili at 6:23 AM on August 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


I have, on occasion, been contacted by researchers who are after a paper of mine but don't have access to the journal. I send them a copy. Shhh, don't tell!
Most journals permit this if you distribute a limited number of copies in a one-on-one basis. As an employee of the U.S. government I cannot assign my copyrights, and so far I've gotten away with posting PDFs of my papers on my personal website. Your mileage certainly may vary. I expect that my work is not high-profile enough to warrant aggressive policing. It's not like I take any steps to actually hide what I'm doing, and Google indexes my site. Now I'm inviting the copyright gods to smite me...
posted by wintermind at 6:24 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nothing is stopping any academic from posting her research results on the world wide web and leaving space for public comments. Publication, peer-review, and distribution is available to everyone at no cost to anyone.

There's a longer answer to this, but in short, public comments on the internet do not, in any imaginable way, equal academic peer review. I mean, you have looked at the comment section on your local newspaper, yes?

So the solution is not as simple as just posting your article on your website. But every academic I know (as well as the administrators who have to write the checks for journal access) loathes many aspects of the current system and would welcome a solution. The trick is that it will need to provide the benefits of the current system (eg peer review, credibility, etc), minus enough of the negatives to make it worthwhile.
posted by Forktine at 6:26 AM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Previously. Previously.

Also, psst I got them articles if you need em son, whatcha need, whatcha need? Jay-sto, ebskeezie, ohVee, check me out home boy.
posted by cashman at 6:29 AM on August 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


It looks to me like the writing is on the wall for the traditional publishers and so they're cashing out: being as profit-taking as possible before the whole system comes falling down. Right now they still have everyone by the short hairs, but then we start to see things like PLoS start to gain traction and real science is being published there and, well, how can they compete with free, especially when the only value they have any experience in adding is dead tree transport. So they're frantically beating the almost-dead horse to try and get a few last steps out of it before it collapses completely.

Of course they'll still be milking the copyrights of what they've previously published for-freaking-ever but once scholars stop relying on them for advancement there's not much they can do any longer. They'll be simply standing in front of a shelf of mouldering books with a shotgun and a cash register.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:29 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


> There's a longer answer to this, but in short, public comments on the internet do not, in any imaginable way, equal academic peer review. I mean, you have looked at the comment section on your local newspaper, yes?

I don't know. From reports of people suffering peer review it sounds like the chances of having read the article are pretty similar.
posted by DRMacIver at 6:30 AM on August 30, 2011


This may be one area where legal academia has it correct. Legal journals, often published by an independent student organization of a law school, are very reasonably priced. For example, a one-year (eight issue) subscription to Harvard Law Review costs a mere $55.

Also, since student run journals are the primary form of peer review in legal academia, narcissist law professors must beg second and third year law students to get their "brilliant" article published. Yep, this is one area where legal academia has it right.
posted by Mr. X at 6:32 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The actual costs associated with distributing a journal are the costs of typesetting, copyediting and printing — plus the publisher's substantial profit margin.

I've typeset most of my journal papers myself, using a LaTeX document class provided by the publisher.

I've copy-edited most of my own journal papers. Most publishers stopped copy-editing years ago.

What's "printing"?
posted by erniepan at 6:34 AM on August 30, 2011 [20 favorites]


"Nothing is stopping any academic from posting her research results on the world wide web and leaving space for public comments."

You're right, there is nothing physically stopping me or any other academic researcher from doing that. But there is sure a helluva lot of valid reasons why one really shouldn't. Maybe I'm seeing this with a victimy doom and gloom, but I really think the people at the bottom of this heap aren't going to turn the whole thing over. We need advocates.

This reminds me of a recent graduate discussion group I attended about academic journals. The panel of professors was asked a question about co-authoring on journals. There were very strong opinions shared about the ethics of graduate student advisors insisting to be named/co-authored on papers resulting from their students' dissertation topics. This was a controversy that wasn't even on the radar to most of the 100+ student attendees. To the rest, it was a painful reminder of something personally experienced. For me, well I was shocked, but really grateful to hear about it. Especially knowing that a person like this professor was vocal and fighting the fight. All I can really do is support it, but I can't fight it directly. Not yet. Not until I get into a stronger position. Which unfortunately includes going down the broken road.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:38 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


A meta-previously to add to cashman's second previous previously.

Wonder if it's reading metafilter at age 14 that lead him to his life of ersatz crime...
posted by titus-g at 6:39 AM on August 30, 2011


Erniepan — We're on the same side! I'm not defending the journal pricing model. Just the opposite: I'm pointing out that the only essential service they provide is something that we already do for free. (And you're right that a lot of of the inessential shit, like typesetting, is also done for free these days. All the more reason to throw the bastards out and switch over to open access journals.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:41 AM on August 30, 2011


Anyone relying on Google Scholar for anything than casual supplementary research is a fool.

Just as a footnote, high school students here are encouraged to use Google Scholar when choosing a topic for their science fair experiment proposals. I think the intent with Google Scholar is more to teach them how to conduct searches in academic publications than to really go into depth with their sources.
posted by misha at 6:43 AM on August 30, 2011


I think the intent with Google Scholar is more to teach them how to conduct searches in academic publications than to really go into depth with their sources.

Perhaps, but it's a little like teaching kids to cook by letting them assemble burgers at McDonalds.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:46 AM on August 30, 2011


Don't forget, companies like Elsevier provide a valuable service in vetting the credentials and quality of the research they publish. Or maybe knot. Oh but all those bundled journals they foist on libraries are useful, aren't they?

Academic publishing is not just a racket, it's a poorly managed one.
posted by Nelson at 7:00 AM on August 30, 2011


The National Institutes of Health in the US oblige anyone taking their grants to put their papers in an open-access archive

shutterbun - More of this kind of thing, please.


There are actually a few other bodies that do this. From memory, Cancer Research UK and The Wellcome Trust both insist on the same thing, although I think they do grant the journal a few months' exclusivity before going public domain. As far as I can tell, everyone wants to do this at least in principle but only a handful of influential players have the clout to negotiate an agreement with the publishers.

Some journals do offer individual researcher the choice to make their publication freely available, but it costs another few $thousand on top of the page charges (low high $tens or low $hundreds/page) and colour fees (several $hundred/page) involved in an ordinary publication. Most researchers like the idea of openness in principle, but would rather spend the cash on actually doing research.
posted by metaBugs at 7:01 AM on August 30, 2011


Google Scholar is GENIUS! Did you know that if you have a university affiliation, you can set your scholar preferences to your university? From that point forward, any search results have a link to the right of the entry to an insta-download of the PDF (IF your university affiliation has access to that journal).
posted by iamkimiam at 7:01 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


er, by journal, I meant article.

And the thing about it is, it makes it SUPER easy to find and download articles. No clicking through a million library portals, only to find out that you don't have access.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:03 AM on August 30, 2011


For some reason, my field, computer graphics, seems to be one of the most progressive on this front. The majority of papers are available on people's webpages soon after publication. I think computer graphics researchers have been used to putting supplemental material, such as movies and images, up on the web since they had the opportunity. Because of that and with the help of PubMed and the NIH open access policy, I find that the majority of papers I want to read are available with minimal problems. And I use Google Scholar and PubMed to find everything that doesn't come from references.
posted by demiurge at 7:03 AM on August 30, 2011


- Peer-review isn't about being clever.

- So the solution is not as simple as just posting your article on your website.

- Here academics have to demonstrate that they have published in the journals with the highest possible impact factor as a key element of the Government's mechanism for determining who gets future research funding.

- There's a longer answer to this, but in short, public comments on the internet do not, in any imaginable way, equal academic peer review.

- You're right, there is nothing physically stopping me or any other academic researcher from doing that. But there is sure a helluva lot of valid reasons why one really shouldn't.


So what I get from these comments is that the publishers DO in fact add significant value to the process.

So where's the problem exactly? Books and journals that add value cost money. Someone has to pay. Does it not makes sense that those who consume these articles pay the freight?
posted by three blind mice at 7:10 AM on August 30, 2011


Anyone relying on Google Scholar for anything than casual supplementary research is a fool.

Perhaps this is discipline specific. Google / scholar seems to do a pretty good job of indexing citations for me (albeit with a high false positive rate).
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:11 AM on August 30, 2011


Yeah that's right...I remember a couple years ago when I was in the STM annual meeting and we all started talking about how we were going to hack the cell phone of some murdered teenager so we could corner the market in Fats and Lipids Journals. Oh yeah, then there was that time that we blew up a paper mill in India and killed or maimed like 12,000 people and then skipped town and fought tooth and nail for two decades to avoid paying any damages. Ohhh and holy shit the best time...the BEST TIME OF ALL....was when we started giving out low cost loans for journal access to people we knew couldn't actually afford to pay the loans back and then we re-packages those loans and sold them all over the world and then all of a sudden all those PhD candidates with low-APR, nothing down access to Journal Of Polymer Science defaulted and we brought down the entire world financial market!! WOOOOOOOOOO DAWG! Good times.

Oh wait...no, maybe my favorite one was when we decided to move all of our journal production from Seattle to South Carolina just to spite the labor unions. Yeah, that was definitely my favorite.
posted by spicynuts at 7:13 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


The for-pay search engines are still better than GScholar, IMO. I use both almost daily and there's really no comparison. GS doesn't seem to pick up keywords (a sui generis tagging system that many journals have required for decades). It doesn't seem to understand DOIs. Further, it doesn't do citation and reference chains very well. Which papers has this journal referenced? Which future works refer to it? What other papers have the authors published? Basic questions for lit searches, for example.

SCOPUS, for example, can do all that, and stuff like rank by IF, search by affiliation, search by co-author, etc... Reference exporting directly to Zotero, etc.. is a huge time saver too.

GS is neat, but it's not at the level yet of being a primary tool, especially if one has access to the specialist alternatives, I find.
posted by bonehead at 7:15 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Nothing is stopping any academic from posting her research results on the world wide web and leaving space for public comments."

Well, not if you want an actual career. While the stories I've heard about the peer review process make me think that the level of discourse involved is not often above Someone Is Wrong On the Internet level, without the imprimatur of peer review on your article = no tenure, no career advancement. Plus, there are other issues. One of the big topics of concern in my field currently (history) is the effect that open access is/will have on book publishing (books are far more important than articles in my field). My university, along with many others, is moving towards having open access of completed dissertations and theses, something that sounds great on an abstract level. But people that I know who've had their dissertations available this way are now having problems getting book contracts -- university presses are saying, "why should we go through the process of putting out your book when people can just get the dissertation for free?" (The answer, of course: most dissertations are terrible and barely readable, and your book manuscript should be significantly different from its dissertation version.)

As for me, I am thinking very strongly about getting out of academia, but then I would lose my JSTOR access, which is crucial to my actual (non-academic) job.
posted by heurtebise at 7:15 AM on August 30, 2011


Books and journals that add value cost money.

It's almost all network effect and very little added value. Aside from the tippy-top the actual work done by journals is nearly identical; it's just that everybody "knows" that the top ones are supposed to be the top and volunteer to review for them / submit articles.

For example, PLoS came on almost overnight and operate on a direct charge-the-scientist model rather than charge-the-reader.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:15 AM on August 30, 2011


The main value that publishers add is:
  1. coordinating reviewers (who are unpaid)
  2. archiving the work
Depending on the journal, they do some publication design by laying out the articles.

I would love to see a breakdown of revenue and costs for a major glamor journal like Nature or Science.
posted by demiurge at 7:17 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I fear that the system won't crumble down until academic authorities start rewarding openness by including it in the evaluation of individual scientific performance.
posted by elgilito at 7:18 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Academic publishers never copy-edit because nobody understands the text. Coauthors and unpaid Referees copy-edit. Academic publishers never coordinate the referees because only the unpaid editors know how to find them. If academic publishers typeset mathematics, they're taking well typeset latex and retypesetting it in latex, introducing errors the authors must correct. Academic publishers literally do nothing of value, given the internet and ebook readers.

Yes, academics institutions should require their faculty to provide their published articles on free preprint servers, like arxiv.org. Academic publishers have generally caved to author's demands to use free preprint servers.

Yet, there are also too many copyrights already controlled by the publishers, meaning we require legal intervention. We could for-example void all the existing stock in academic publishers and issue new stock to academic societies. Or we might simply reduce copyright to it's original 14 year term, or less.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:36 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't find any of these papers on pirate bay!
posted by clavdivs at 7:38 AM on August 30, 2011


While nothing is technically preventing self publishing, socially it requires a group of tenured heavy hitters in a field to commit to making it work for the benefit of the younger generation of scholars
and
I fear that the system won't crumble down until academic authorities start rewarding openness by including it in the evaluation of individual scientific performance.

Just repeat this over and over again. This is a social problem--not a technical one. In the cases when heavy hitters, like the NIH, like Harvard, have made changes to support open-access publishing, people start publishing in open-access journals. But until T&P decisions are made primarily on the basis of openness, rather than on the basis of being published in specific "prestige" journals, the publishers will continue to screw us from both ends.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:42 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


The main value that publishers add is:

1. coordinating reviewers (who are unpaid)
2. archiving the work


You're missing the most important one:

3. BRAND VALUE

There seems, strangely enough, to be some difference between having your scientific paper published by Popular Mechanics or by Nature.
posted by three blind mice at 7:43 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Coauthors and unpaid Referees copy-edit.

Well, kind of. I will generally point out if the prose is terrible, but after an R&R this is the authors' problem, IMO.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:54 AM on August 30, 2011


Who controls the British crown?
Who keeps the metric system down?
We do! We do!
Who leaves Atlantis off the maps?
Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
We do! We do!
Who holds back the electric car?
Who makes Steve Gutenberg a star?
We do! We do!
Who robs cave fish of their sight?
Who rigs every Oscar night?
We do! We do!
posted by blue_beetle at 7:54 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can't speak for Nature or Science, but in the Humanities, a volunteer editor is responsible for coordinating 1) coordinating reviewers (who are unpaid). Often the editor has an editorial assistant, who is paid by the editor's host institution, perhaps through a graduate stipend, perhaps through a TA course release. The editor gets to count editing as a big part of their "service" requirement in promotion and merit pay considerations (when the economy even allows merit pay increases to keep pace with inflation), and sometimes will get a course release for it from an understanding university administration, who believes there is prestige generated from having one of their own edit an important journal.

The publisher incurs none of these costs, but instead externalizes them and lets some other academic institution front them.
posted by hank_14 at 8:03 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hard to see why the government ought to intervene when the victims can, but decline, to help themselves.

One of the arguments in the piece was that access to the valuable information is limited by publishers who profit from research supported by government money. I'd count among the victims in that case people who are paying for the research through taxes but denied the benefits that would flow from the free circulation of the resulting information. Government intervention is already part of the system.
posted by layceepee at 8:04 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]




You don't just pay to buy the articles, you often pay to publish too. About half of the journals still have per page charges, particularly for supplemental material. I just put a paper in yesterday that will cost me 500-800 euro.


I started to write short fiction during my MA as a hobby, because its publishing industry looked less punishing. Which is a joke, if you know anything about short fiction markets.

Like a lot of people I've known, the problems with academia kept me away and my participation largely ended with my MA, although I still do my own reading and follow a critical journal or two. I know that the industry doesn't miss us... but it really is kind of tragic and frustrating that you can be so interested in something, and yet see no space to practice it due to major structural problems.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:06 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with this argument is that peer review is essentially free. At least in the fields that I'm familiar with, reviewers work as volunteers. The actual costs associated with distributing a journal are the costs of typesetting, copyediting and printing — plus the publisher's substantial profit margin. But the idea that mind-bogglingly high subscription fees are what makes peer review possible is just nonsense.

This is very true. My BF is a scientist and my background is in economics, so it boggles me when I see him burning the midnight oil to review a paper, since he is getting paid zero dollars an hour.
posted by melissam at 8:08 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


*jumps up and down with church fan in hand*

PREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEACH!
posted by liza at 8:13 AM on August 30, 2011


Now if we can keep having these posts every few months, I won't accidentally go get a phd or something.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:15 AM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


I often get the feeling that the journal scene is part of the technocracy. Many, many times I go looking for some very formal information about something I'm interested in and run smack into the wall of silence (for the laity) that is academia. I'll get hints as to what paper to go to, etc., but the paper is either hidden behind a very thick paywall or typically not available on-line, direct sale, at all; i.e. I won't even find the paper short of joining a big bunch of services, etc.

Those paywalls are not benefiting the authors of the papers (they aren't getting a cut AFAIK) nor the research; they are purely a wall put up by the publisher. One would *think* that the authors would like to disseminate their research beyond a very narrow slice in journal-reading academia, but the evidence doesn't support that. Either their hands are tied extremely tightly, or they are participating in the an unconscious conspiracy to keep the work "in the family".
posted by Bovine Love at 8:18 AM on August 30, 2011


The main value that publishers add is:

1. coordinating reviewers (who are unpaid)


Don't forget that the journal editors are volunteers too! If you think reviewers have a lot to do, you should see what a journal editors workload is like. Getting chosen to edit a major journal is a very mixed blessing. I have a friend that edits an 4.0 IF journal, mid-rank. He puts in a minimum of 12 hours a week, sometimes as much a fulltime job. He's never been paid. He does have an editorial assitant at the publisher though.

Science publishers have a pretty nice gig. They get publication-ready high-quality content which, more often than not, they get to charge their authors for. But hey, at least we don't have to buy reprints anymore.
posted by bonehead at 8:23 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]




But you tell me that I've got to pay $30 for that article I desperately need? Just to get to the easy reading part? $70 for that dissertation that lays the ground for where I want to go? £2 every time I want to look at the key text that was shipped up from London? I can't even take it out of the library or copy more than 20 pages!

Sheesh, I don't even have income. It's mindboggling how this is all supposed to work.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:35 AM on August 30



I'm curious if you've actually paid full price (out of pocket) for an article, ever? I've been quite privileged in the fact that every academic institution I've been in (including my current one) has provided me with exhaustive access. But over the years I have always been obliged to help anyone with a request for a pdf. In my younger days I even shared my URL proxy (back then security was very lax).

If the article you seek is recent, you can always email the author and ask for a copy. If the author does post a copy on their website, Google scholar will most likely pick it up (sometimes it's the faster way to go even if you have institutional access because it would involve fewer clicks).
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 8:23 AM on August 30, 2011


The burgeoning discussion of academic "production metrics" in Texas has raised a lot of eyebrows - but of course, people neglect to consider that they already exist - in the form of publication extortion. Much the same way that people against "socialized medicine" neglect to realize that they already pay for it through cost shifting.

Though the idea of a production metric is immediately and obviously odious, an unintended consequence may be that the "publish or perish" paradigm is pushed closer to irrelevancy.

Unless of course, publication in said journals is part of the metric.
posted by Xoebe at 8:24 AM on August 30, 2011


This is very true. My BF is a scientist and my background is in economics, so it boggles me when I see him burning the midnight oil to review a paper, since he is getting paid zero dollars an hour.

This surprises me, too. I've refused more than I've done, mostly due to time and sometimes due to expertise (I like to give well informed comments if I'm going to give them), yet I see post-docs really struggling through reviewing aspects of papers that they just don't know enough about. It's nice to be able to put reviewer or associate editor on a CV, but not that nice.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:27 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the article you seek is recent, you can always email the author and ask for a copy.

This is what keeps the system going. I'm more than happy to mail out PDFs to students or anyone else that asks for them. We have a policy of "cost recovery" for printed matter, but fortunatly email and electronic copies don't appear on the balance sheets anywhere. I'm breaking all kinds of IP laws, but who cares?
posted by bonehead at 8:30 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am an open-science advocate (in addition to my primary research I work on an NSF funded initiative to make the underlying data and workflows also accessible to everyone). Outside of academic/tenure politics, it's a no-brainer to me to make all products of your search available to the community at large.

From my limited experience alone I can say that papers I've published (either in open-access journal s or the open section of a closed access journal) get read more and cited more.

In Steve Johnson's book "Where good ideas come from", he repeatedly makes the point that ideas need to constantly be having sex with other ideas for new and innovative ones to come up. This is so very true.
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 8:32 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's hard to convince folks to publish open-source when being awarded grants often hinges on an authors impact factor.

posted by Homemade Interossiter at 5:55 AM on August 30


True. As someone without tenure, this is a big consideration when I submit an article. However not all open-access journals have shit impact factors. PLOS Biology for example has a really high impact factor. My institution is also part of COPE so they cover my page charges if I publish there.
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 8:40 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a tax on education, a stifling of the public mind. It appears to contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that “everyone has the right freely to … share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

Yes, yes! This is a violation of basic human rights, do you hear! We need a goverment inquiry into this! We need new laws! We need the courts to be involved! BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS INCLUDE AFFORDABLE* ACCESS TO PEER-REVIEWED SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE. If you're not seeing that in the UNDHR, you're just not reading closely enough.

*Definition of affordability to be determined at a future date by a bureaucratic mechanism which I shall think up later on. I shall under no circumstances risk my own money by starting up a business to compete with these existing publishers.
posted by Dasein at 9:01 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


We need a goverment inquiry into this! We need new laws! We need the courts to be involved!

I don't know if "need" is the right word, but until/unless institutions and researchers organize in order to force the publishers to change or so they can act in concert to replace the system entirely, government action that mandated access be privileged over rent seeking would, in fact, be a good thing.

Even if there is change going forward, government intervention to free access to the past hundred or so years of knowledge that has been locked up by these publishers would also make the world a better place. Somehow--call me crazy--I find increasing human knowledge to be more imporant than protecting business models.
posted by jsturgill at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


This really depends on what one means by "academic publishing." There are text books, university presses (each with their own economic model, from pure for-profit to 100% non-profit) and so on.

It also depends on what country we are talking about. Just as the equivalent 4-year college stuff changes a lot from country to country, so does the presses associated with those colleges.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:21 AM on August 30, 2011


It's weird to me that people are showing up to defend the absurd local maximum academic publishing has arrived at. This is just a straightforward case of an unregulated natural monopoly. If you can defend it, you can defend anything.

Here's the deal. Suppose everyone were to submit their research to a publication chosen at random, with no publication having any reputation. Some publications would inevitably feature more impressive results, and those would become required reading, and therefore receive more submissions, and therefore gain prestige, and therefore receive more weight in considering tenure grants, and so on and so on, until it was mandatory to submit to those publications and to purchase access to them regardless of the price. Any exclusive publishing system necessarily implies the emergence of monopoly journals that academics must submit to in order to succeed in their fields, and therefore that their colleagues must likewise pay to read. (They are "monopolies" in the technical sense that they can raise prices above cost without losing market share to competing goods.)

Now at this point there are two choices. If the publishing system is in private, for-profit hands, it will take advantage of its monopoly position to charge prices far above the cost of its services, and capture money that would otherwise be used, for example, for doing science. That's what a monopoly does. Or if the government, or a union of the researchers themselves, recognizes the monopoly problem, it can enforce prices based on the cost of providing the service.

It would be obvious what to do in any field, but it's particularly obvious in a field that works for the public good, and that is funded so heavily by public grants. Good luck, you guys.
posted by Honorable John at 9:24 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't think we need new laws. We need promotion and tenure committees to credit publication in journals like PLOS. We need incentives to publish in PLOS and the like over Nature and Science. We need resources like X-archive and PUBMED, that both archive and support good searching. We need a DOI system thats more open to self publishing. We need more government initiatives like the NIH ones. We need (non-US) governments to stop copyrighting everything in sight. We need to take back some of the "non-profit" societies from their professional management. I'm looking at you ACS---one of the biggest offenders in milking the publishing mill (JACS, etc..) and the indexing services (CA) for every last dime. There's lots we can do without new laws.
posted by bonehead at 9:25 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am currently revising an article for publication in an Elsevier journal. I have the option to make the article available publicly, without any paywall, for perpetuity, for a mere $3000. (This is my recollection of the offer made to me. I don't have $3000 lying around to spend on such a thing, so clearly I'm not going that route, and I may not be getting the subtleties right.)

On the other hand, Elsevier does grant me the right to post a preprint version of my paper to a preprint server, e.g. ArXive. This can only be the version I submitted to Elsevier, before Elsevier contributed any "added value" through peer review. Reviewers, of course, are not compensated for their time. But Elsevier gets to control the distribution of the revisions that I make as a result of the reviewer's labor because Elsevier provided the service of sending my work to the reviewers and returning the reviewer's comments to me. (Elsevier's Author Rights.)
posted by BrashTech at 10:04 AM on August 30, 2011


"I'm curious if you've actually paid full price (out of pocket) for an article, ever?"

Articles, no. And for the reason you stated...I can get them through somebody else who has access, which undermines the system of course, but it would be RIDICULOUS to actually PAY for an article that a fellow student can get for me (and which I should be able to have access to anyway).

Bound dissertations, however, yes, I have paid for more than one. And they aren't cheap. But when you email somebody who has written the perfect dissertation that you absolutely must read and they tell you 'no' because of their agreement with the publisher, well you're stuck. So I jump through hoops, pay ~$70 plus shipping, and wait for it to arrive to my country from where-the-f-ever.

Ditto for texts that are limited copy and must be shipped up to my institution. I pay £2 to see it and however much it costs in copies, of which I can only make 20.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:09 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the other problems, at least from hearing my librarian girlfriend talk, is that faculty members don't spend their own money for access — it comes out of the library's budget. So they have no incentive to not demand the pricey journals from their obscure subfields, despite the fact that frequently those aren't the best journals or require elaborate bundling to get, which decreases the overall utility that the library is able to provide — faculty don't see the cuts in other resources as related to their requirements, and the most frequent response to "We can only afford one of these" is "I need both."
posted by klangklangston at 10:17 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Someone's gotta pay for all this shit. The literature has expanded exponentially to accommodate all the papers published and it costs money. I think going to exclusively online publishing is one way to save money on paper, printing, and postage, not to mention storage costs. Archival copies could be stored in a few secure locations. Microcharging could provide revenue. In any event, the whole thing needs to be rethought.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:22 AM on August 30, 2011


klang, as I am at a smaller institution, when I asked my library to get the pricy premier journal in my subfield and was told "hahahahahaha no." Which was reasonable.

So instead of having paper or electronic access, if I want to read an article I make an ILL request and wait 2 weeks for crappy B&W scans made by some work study student who can't keep the pages straight (which, honestly, when I scan stuff I can't really do either!) and who doesn't notice that the color figure they're scanning is completely uninterpretable in grayscale.
posted by BrashTech at 10:26 AM on August 30, 2011


If this is a racket, and I believe it is, it is a racket several governments are directly involved in. During the last decade, we have seen a huge shift towards "quantity of publications in major journals" as the determining parameter of "quality of research". Now this shift can only be driven by governments (as in fact it is through grants), because neither excellent researchers nor excellent institutions have any interest in shifting the definition of excellency.
This is not to say that the important journals aren't important. They are. But a lot of significant research and innovation takes place in environments outside of the radar of these journals.
I am starting up a new big (privately funded) cross-disciplinary project, and the qualitative dissonance between what I can find by searching through journals and what I can find through extended networks is scary. The journal search uncovers scores of mediocre scholars publishing banalities. The network-approach has led me to amazing people - some of them very well-known - who are struggling to survive, because their research takes time, and cannot be put out in yearly articles.
Before, that was not a big issue. A university employed a great theoretical physicist, and though he never published a line, he inspired generations of practically oriented people who would then win Nobel prizes and get on with their lives. No one would question the contribution of the first guy. Heck, the university might even have a few crazy people employed, because you never know what crazy people might come up with....
Now, tenure is dependent on peer-reviewed publication and citation indexes, because academic management is dominated by economics, and for this, there is an easy solution: you build your own peer-reviewed publication and a citation-circle to go with it. The only thing you really need is networking skills, and a basic command of the main theories and the jargon of your field. The big academic publishers will do everything they can to accommodate you - after all, it's their business.
For everyone, except the elite scholar, this is a win-win. For government officials it is great to see measurable results. The same goes for university administrations and librarians, who have just invented a new job. For a number of scholars, this is heaven. No more struggling with knowledge - now you can manage entirely with your social skills - "like" this guy, "ignore" this other guy. You've already trained that on facebook.

Now, I know far too much about all this to be posting here. This is why I am anonymous on the internets. But I have to say something else. 15 years ago, when I entered this course of existence, I really, really longed and fought for more transparent routes to tenure. As a woman, I had to do everything backwards and on high heels, and even my wonderful mentor tried to get me to trash my internationally oriented research for something which would fit better into the local environment. Excluding women and international knowledge are both bad for the standard of research. At the time, a bibliometric, quantitative approach seemed reasonable to me. I'd heard of citation circles within the social sciences, but in my field, that seemed impossible.
Just to say, a lot of evil stuff comes from good intentions.
posted by mumimor at 10:34 AM on August 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


This problem isn't constrained to the Big Name Journals, it permeates research. The root cause of this disease is the flow of large grants (100k+ a year each) to individual researchers. Companies; be they chemical, publishing, biotech, or analysis, will charge you considerably more than they require to return a tidy profit. They can do this because the government is guaranteeing that their customers will have the money. The same government that is not guaranteeing that price gouging is absent from a vital part of society.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:41 AM on August 30, 2011


This also really hurts journalism. You can normally get a copy of a particular paper from the researcher, which is sort-of good enough for news stories of the "scientists create glowing penguin" type, but beyond that you're generally excluded from primary sources. Actually reading the research around a new topic you're covering? Good luck. Perhaps in the far-off days of monthly magazines and being able to spend a week on an article, you could take a trip to a library and hang out there for an afternoon, but that's not where we are now.

I tried, for quite a long time, to work out how to get access to J-STOR. I'm still not quite able to believe that it is effectively forbidden to journalists, and it makes me genuinely and reliably angry that such a stupendously counter-intuitive, culturally barbarous state of affairs exists.
posted by Devonian at 11:02 AM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Agreed with other posters that the root cause of the problem is the publish or perish system - as far as I can tell (not having the personal experience of long history yet), publication requirements for securing a decent academic job in the first place, promotion, tenure, grants, etc. just keep getting higher and higher. Not only does this leave academics and academic libraries susceptible to what is effectively price gouging by academic publishers who have near monopoly control on the industry, it also leads to hastier, less considered, more poorly written articles, and more junk science ("no, we can wait to do more tests to see if our results on green jelly beans are reproducible in different settings - publish this now, and add that to the future work section!"). This has negative effects for everyone: academics; the general public who are inundated with eg. incremental reports on new medical findings that news outlets tend to report on sensationally rather than wait for a more comprehensive article that collects and reviews a bunch of these incremental findings to glean actual knowledge from them, and who are left without the benefit of experts taking the time to actual communicate their knowledge accurately and clearly to the general public because that is not an activity that they get rewarded for and they have no time for stuff they don't get rewarded for; the state of human knowledge as a whole when the focus is on quantity rather than depth of understanding.

Yet, if you are funding some academic research, you'd like to have some way of knowing that your money is well-spent, no? Who wants to pay individual academics to just do their thing without outside pressure to produce regularly timed results that can be demonstrated to be of value to the granting agency? Well, until recently, the Canadian Tri-Council funding agencies from what I hear - the NSERC Discovery Grant program historically seems to have been pretty good at developing a strong overall culture of scientific research in Canada across all universities, not just at a few star ones. The focus is increasingly on achieving specific applicable results from each individual grant, however, rather than considering the overall effects and benefits of a granting policy as a whole. And the major measurement of this is quantity of publications, combined with some "prestige" or impact factor of the journals that the grant applicant is published in (because people, understandably, complained when this system was first put in place and only quantity of publications was considered; but we haven't managed to move on to better ways of assessing quality and actual impact of research yet - perhaps because it can take many years (eg. 50-500 in math) before all the ramifications and potential applications are completely understood).

Likewise, if you are a university (especially a prestigious one or one that would like to be prestigious), wouldn't you want to get just the best stars possible working at your institution? Who wants to hire just average academics, and pay them to do just average research? This same sort of pointwise concern in hiring, tenure, and promotion considerations as in grant award considerations also contributes to the emergent negative effects on the broader system.

In short, the state of the academic publishing industry is just a symptom of a much deeper, and more serious, problem with how we allocate resources for research and knowledge creation. I could tie this in to other recent posts about capitalism versus other economic systems, but my basic point is that the incentive structure is broken: the rewards are all for pointwise and short-term achievement, with no concern for long-term and overall or emergent effects.
posted by eviemath at 11:11 AM on August 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


The same goes for university administrations and librarians, who have just invented a new job.

I'm assuming you're talking about positions like Electronic Resources Librarian (or Serials Librarians/Acquisitions Librarians/whatever)? Pretty sure they'd be happy to go back to what they were doing before they jumped onto that track (reference, acquisitions, cataloging, etc) or jump into a new track (outreach, assessment, embedded, etc.).

Dealing with library vendors and publishers all day is no fun. Also no fun is tracking down vendors which won't take our money and then cut off our access because we haven't paid our bills (!), telling 150+ vendors what our new IP address range is every time the university does something nifty with the campus computer network, figuring out why our link resolvers and OpenURL resources aren't working for a specific resource, keeping track of vendors who change license agreements mid-stream, negotiating with vendors and our consortium to limit cost increases for those all important journals that faculty must have, writing several hundred thousand dollar checks to one vendor, and working with the campus general counsel to create a license that will satisfy the state's byzantine requirement but will still be ok'd by the publisher's counsel.

So, yes, I think open access is a great idea and would love to facilitate a move away from Spring, Wiley, and those fuckers Elsevier. Libraries are encouraging open access all the time, not least of which is by serving as the campus repository for open access materials, holding forums where faculty learn which publishers the library recommends for open access, refusing to negotiate with publishers who won't grant faculty open access rights, and more. The problem is, not every library has the clout to do that (as noted in the comments already).

On another note, as alluded to above, there is a way to get easy access to library content through Google Scholar. Load Google Scholar, click on Scholar Preferences in the top right, scroll down the page to where it says Library Links, and enter the name of your campus (or large public) library. Et voila, all the Google Scholar results which you can access through your library will be appropriately linked. Please spread the word, while, yes, still double-checking the nifty indexes for what Google misses.

Finally, those libraries and campuses which do have some clout have been working for change in the open access world. See the University of California's eScholarship repository for one very large, influential example.
posted by librarylis at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


...and it makes me genuinely and reliably angry that such a stupendously counter-intuitive, culturally barbarous state of affairs exists.

Welcome (back) to the state of feudalism.!
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:31 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


My institution spent a couple of years preparing to set up an electronic repository using Digital Commons. One tool that fits in with where this discussion has gone is SHERPA/RoMEO -- they have compiled publisher copyright policies and outlines of author rights for self-archiving.
posted by cgk at 11:33 AM on August 30, 2011


Librarylis - I hear what you are saying, and from personal experience (not hard data) I'd say 95% of librarians are like you. But the remaining 5% are often managers or people in information management research, and as such have proportionally during saner hours, I realize the corruption is of the power-sort). For some reason, Norway leads the way in this. Within the EU, there is talk about the "Norwegian model" of research management. My local research libraries are great, and in my daily work, I don't have any problems (importantly: neither do my students), but if I travel to the next town, there it is.
posted by mumimor at 11:37 AM on August 30, 2011


Ups something went lost there. Anyway, the point is I am not hating on librarians, but worrying about a very small subset of librarians who seem to have very proudly embraced their new status as the ignorant doorkeepers of academia.
posted by mumimor at 11:40 AM on August 30, 2011


This seems a lot like the recording industry, in the way that it's a business that's in an uncomfortable transition between physical copies that require large amounts of money and effort to produce and distribute, and digital copies which require nominal amounts of money and effort to produce and distribute.

A lot of money is wrapped up in the old way, which means it has a lot of money defending it against new systems that would cut out much of the middleman (or source the middleman tasks to computer algorithms and crowds of volunteers).

I mean, you have people writing articles with public funds for public good, you have people reviewing articles as part of a dedication to their field, and you have a group of people who want open access to those materials, and you have the technology in place to draw all concerned parties together. You have everything in place where, conceivably, a new system could be constructed, but there just seems to be too much inertia holding that back.
posted by codacorolla at 11:44 AM on August 30, 2011


The root cause of this disease is the flow of large grants (100k+ a year each) to individual researchers.

What does this have to do with publishing, though? Libraries, not individual researchers, purchase publication subscriptions. (Some of the library's funds do very indirectly come from these grants, but that's because a not insignificant percentage of grant money ends up going to the institution in the form of overhead.)
posted by en forme de poire at 12:04 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Several years ago, I and some friends were approached by a toxicologist (who did a lot of work with African toxicologists) to help him do some trial work for a website that would publish preliminary findings in biological science. The idea was that you would not be making research claims, only reporting early findings, the sort of thing you see in some of the newsletters, but free and open-source.

We each asked scientists of our acquaintance what they thought of this; most were circumspect, but my brother (who works for the DoA) was blunt (probably because we're family): He said it would be career suicide to publish preliminary results anywhere but in anointed newsletters.
posted by lodurr at 12:07 PM on August 30, 2011


... and this doesn't even begin to address the total racket that is the textbook industry. (Seriously, do you need a totally new textbook on an established area of higher math every 2 years?)
posted by lodurr at 12:08 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


The minds of tenured faculty are changed one grave at a time.
posted by benzenedream at 12:09 PM on August 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


free preprint servers, like arxiv.org

Just to clarify, arxiv is not free. I know that what you meant is that it's free to use, but it costs Cornell c. 500K p.a. to host and maintain. How to pay for such things when most researchers don't even think about it is one of the reasons why we've landed in this problem. I'd love to see a revival of publishing by learned societies as one step towards changing this. The problem is that journal publishers now have a tremendous lock through backfiles (more important in some fields; somewhat important in all) and domain-specific, commented indexes (no, Google has not solved this).

The least that purchasers and contributors can do is learn the value of their contributions and their power as purchasers by haggling a little.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:17 PM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't have enough invectives for JSTOR and Elsevier.


You should reserve the majority of them for Elsevier. JSTOR are the good guys, relatively speaking.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 12:27 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Honestly, the days of overpaying for locked-down journal articles may be numbered. I came across a citation at today (I work in a field closely related to academia), that essentially said that more and more journals are switching to an open access model.
posted by asnider at 12:50 PM on August 30, 2011


In lieu of a substantive comment, I'll just leave this here in the hopes of sharing some bitter laughter.
posted by stet at 1:20 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even the little quirks of academic publishing can have massive detrimental consequences for research. You know how publishers create artificial 'added value' by making older papers more expensive to libraries so that, theoretically, newer supposedly more relevant papers can be cheaper? Not only does this mean that the early reviews that can actually introduce you to a science don't exist anymore for most readers, it has ripped my specific discipline in half.*

I work in bacteriophage biology where in the fifties and sixties phage biologists like Max Delbrück, Jim Watson, Salvador Luria, Alfred Hershey, and their students created genetics, molecular biology, protein biochemistry and bioengineering but as their graduate students went into these new fields they left their professors to mostly retire in the 70s. This means that, though the discipline began to be reborn twenty years ago, a significant amount of the research on the cutting edge was done in the 60s. If you have ever needed to find a paper published before even just 10 years ago, you would understand how this could be a problem.

I've seen sizable work duplicated, work straight up stolen from the 70s in one case, and have myself spent 4 months laying the groundwork for something I wanted to do before just two papers (that were both nearly impossible to find and then impossible to acquire) told me everything I needed. Hell, a lot of the old work is just better, better in every way.** The fact that I come from a lab that is run by someone who was a grad student in the 60s makes me a lot more valuable than it should because I have had access to what is essentially an oral tradition of who did what when that young researchers can't find written down anywhere.***

*Oh so beautifully, the paper is not open access, if you would like a copy, so that you can better contribute to this academic discussion which we are having of course, just MeMail me your email address and I'll send you a PDF.

**There are also techniques from back then that are largely lost, most for good reasons (2D TLC is a special kind of hell), but a lot because people just didn't have someone to learn them from.

***If you want a fun exercise see if you can find one of the most seminal studies on phage therapy done in Tblisi after WWII using phage against dysentery on more than 30,000 children where they used one side of a street as a control for the other side. A beautiful study, it found a 3.8 reduction in dysentery incidence in the treated group and convinced the Soviet Union of phage efficacy, leading to its adoption as a standard of care. I'll be impressed if you can tell me what language its in.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:06 PM on August 30, 2011 [20 favorites]


Sticking to only the most recent research seems lazy, and undergraduate.
Not that I have anything against being lazy or an undergrad, I've been both of those things.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:13 PM on August 30, 2011


I don't have enough invectives for JSTOR and Elsevier.

What GeorgeBeckham said.

Moreover, JSTOR (and much else besides) is readily available at the Boston Public Library, so for you, it should be easy. Pity the yokels far from Cambridge.

Anyway, if the colleges can charge the way they do, is it any surprise that their fellow travellers should do the same?
posted by IndigoJones at 2:34 PM on August 30, 2011




This is, according to Maxwell, a protest against the prosecution of programmer Aaron Swartz for theft of data.

More on Swartz: ‘Free Culture’ Advocate May Pay High Price

A prime aim of the growing Surveillance State
posted by homunculus at 2:41 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's telling that the only people to defend the journal publishers in this thread have done so through hyperbole, misplaced sarcasm and straw-man arguments so silly that they are impossible to distinguish from deliberate trolling.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:47 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Haven't looked at all the links in the thread so sorry if this is a repeat, but the Economist wrote about this recently. Apparently Elsevier is trying to add some value to their offering so universities will think twice about cancelling their bundle subscriptions.
posted by falameufilho at 4:12 PM on August 30, 2011


***If you want a fun exercise see if you can find one of the most seminal studies on phage therapy done in Tblisi after WWII using phage against dysentery on more than 30,000 children where they used one side of a street as a control for the other side. A beautiful study, it found a 3.8 reduction in dysentery incidence in the treated group and convinced the Soviet Union of phage efficacy, leading to its adoption as a standard of care. I'll be impressed if you can tell me what language its in.

Babalova, E. G., Katsitadze, K. T., Sakvaredidze, L. A. & 10 other authors (1968). Preventive value of dried dysentery bacteriophage. Zh Mikrobiol Epidemiol Immunobiol 2, 143–145.

Originally in Russian. I found it using only your hints (I'm not a biologist of any kind) in about three minutes using Google Scholar. Is your point that the article itself is hard to find? It doesn't seem to be easily available online, but it was published in 1968.
posted by The Tensor at 4:17 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


This may be one area where legal academia has it correct. Legal journals, often published by an independent student organization of a law school, are very reasonably priced. For example, a one-year (eight issue) subscription to Harvard Law Review costs a mere $55.

It's possible that law reviews are so cheap because they're utterly useless to practicing lawyers. It's actually something of a minor scandal in the legal field: unless you happen to be arguing a particularly sexy constitutional law issue, a law review is going to be about as useful as a sociology journal.
posted by gd779 at 5:55 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Babalova, E. G., Katsitadze, K. T., Sakvaredidze, L. A. & 10 other authors (1968). Preventive value of dried dysentery bacteriophage. Zh Mikrobiol Epidemiol Immunobiol 2, 143–145.

Originally in Russian. I found it using only your hints (I'm not a biologist of any kind) in about three minutes using Google Scholar. Is your point that the article itself is hard to find? It doesn't seem to be easily available online, but it was published in 1968.
"

Very close! That is a review article that discusses the results of this study as well as several others, including follow up ones with 20,000 and 5,000 children. The right answer would definitely be in that article as well as a few others.

posted by Blasdelb at 9:58 PM on August 30, 2011


These publishers enjoy a captive market of customers who pay ridiculous sums for subscriptions. They get free (or even paid-for) content, editing, review and near-camera-ready typesetting.

So why is their margin only in the range of 40%? I would have thought it would be in the hundreds of percent. On what do they spend all that money? Their expense statements must be magnificently padded.
posted by vanar sena at 2:14 AM on August 31, 2011


Great topic and brilliant discussion. I've blogged on the outrage of academic publishers' license to print money myself, but for the purposes of this discussion it's important to think about why publishing has been left to private (profit-making) companies in the first place.

And I think that means thinking about why academics don't want to do it. Academics want a comfortable research environment that allows them to get on with their work. They want a comfortable office, but don't want to be concerned with building maintenance; they want a comfortable salary, but don't want to think about department budgets. Likewise, they want a system for publicising their research without having to set up publishing institutions and worrying about how to set up sophisticated websites, cross-referencing systems, or type-setting; and they want to be able to quickly identify the value of an article among the thousands on any particular topic, without expending their precious time reading it. The only thing they care about is whether it works well enough that they don't have to think about it.

There's no reason academics couldn't set up their own journals and do a better job. (I've actually set up one in my field on a budget of a few hundred euros for a simple website. It's doing quite well and is tremendous fun.) But it's not where academics' comparative advantage lies, and so they are happy to outsource it. The question of whether this essential piece of academic infrastructure should be run on private profit seeking or public good principles is therefore a political debate that needs to be driven by those who are most concerned with it, like libraries, journalists, and lay-academics. Not academia itself.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 4:34 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I think that means thinking about why academics don't want to do it.

I think this is a very tempting story about the corporatization of the university, but I'm not sure it's true. In most cases, the growth of the administrative supplement to faculty self-governance has been forced on academics who, though harried by all that work, are also power-hungry enough to do it. The forces that have produced this "professionalization" of various administrative tasks have been donors, boards, and Presidents who exercise a steady push towards non-autonomous governance of the university while capturing most of the financial benefits for themselves.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:20 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


PLOS Biology for example has a really high impact factor.

My wife was just told to not publish in PLOS because the UK REF reviewers are skeptical about its high impact factor. Basically, older established researchers, who will be the ones on the REF committee don't like it.
posted by srboisvert at 8:07 AM on August 31, 2011


Thankfully tenure committees in North America do tend to look highly upon PLOS Biology. PLOS Biology is very selective compared to PLOS One (and I think you are confusing the two).
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 10:26 AM on August 31, 2011


The most valuable economic insight I've gained from MetaFilter is "Rentiers gonna seek rents".
posted by benito.strauss at 11:18 AM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, in the USA PLoS Biology has a very good reputation, though it seems to be a little field-dependent still (a lot of people in genetics/genomics really like it, for instance, but my friend in crystallography says it's not really on their radar the way Nature/Science/Cell are).
posted by en forme de poire at 11:26 AM on August 31, 2011


There are good reasons for ignoring impact factor when ranking journals, try eigenfactor instead. It appears their eigenfactor per dollar rankings are currently down though.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:12 PM on August 31, 2011


The Library: Three Jeremiads
December 23, 2010
Robert Darnton


Reviews this issue eloquently, without Monbiot's awkward metaphors.
posted by ovvl at 7:07 PM on August 31, 2011


Likewise, they want a system for publicising their research without having to set up publishing institutions and worrying about how to set up sophisticated websites, cross-referencing systems, or type-setting; and they want to be able to quickly identify the value of an article among the thousands on any particular topic, without expending their precious time reading it. The only thing they care about is whether it works well enough that they don't have to think about it.

This seems a bit unfair really. Most of us were not trained in setting up websites or cross-referencing systems; I know people who can still just barely manage to deal with their email. At one point, at least in my discipline, our scholarly societies did handle the publishing of the journals under their names, but they were often also being heavily subsidized by the editors' institutions. When that money started drying up, the societies turned to publishing companies. it was not the best decision, but I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time to some people.

Plus, when we're expected to publish more and more every year, how are we also supposed to find the time to also run all of these journals? Especially when doing so will get you nowhere when tenure times comes around. And who pays for all of this? I can only imagine the look on my department budget officer's face were I to ask her for the dollar equivalent of a "few hundred euros" to go start an online journal.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:50 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are good reasons for ignoring impact factor when ranking journals, try eigenfactor instead. It appears their eigenfactor per dollar rankings are currently down though.

It's funny, PLoS ONE kind of breaks the Eigenfactor rankings. For the uninitiated, Eigenfactor is Google's PageRank applied to the academic literature, so if you end up in a particular journal a lot by following citations, that journal's going to have a high EF. If you sort by Eigenfactor, P1 is #25 out of all journals. To give you an idea, journals #1-3 are Nature, PNAS, and Science.

If you sort by Article Influence, which is EF normalized by the number of papers a journal cranks out, P1 barely cracks the top 500. (Granted, that's out of 8000 journals indexed by ISI, so it's still in the top 6%. Jesus Christ there are a lot of journals.)

The one other journal I could easily find with such a big swing was the Journal of Biological Chemistry. It's #5 overall by Eigenfactor (!) but #386 by AI. Not coincidentally, I think, their stated aim of printing "all the news that's fit to print" is sort of P1-esque.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:17 AM on September 4, 2011


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