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April 24, 2012 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these providers now approaches $3.75M. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices. These journals therefore claim an ever-increasing share of our overall collection budget. Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles. Harvard's Faculty Advisory Council asks Harvard's faculty to change how they publish. posted by Toekneesan (80 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well done
posted by Plemer at 3:58 PM on April 24, 2012


Good. The more push-back, the better.
posted by Forktine at 4:05 PM on April 24, 2012


Posted as a link in this thread from today
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:09 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just don't know how you solve the problem of "the big journal" which is everyone's goal to individually publish to.
posted by smackfu at 4:09 PM on April 24, 2012


What journal is worth $40K/year?
posted by karlos at 4:20 PM on April 24, 2012


I'm still support citing the rot13 of the journal titles for titles owned by Elsevier.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:20 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Incentives are misaligned right now. It suits the institutions if everyone publishes open access, but it suits individual academics, especially those early in their careers, to publish in the most prestigious or important platforms, whatever those happen to be. People won't submit to open access journals until they become the most important in their field. But they won't become important until people submit to them. There is positive feedback entrenching the most important journals, the system has to be violently forced to a new state. Boycotts and pressure from the large institutions and faculty associations are the only way I see this happening, so this story is great to see.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:23 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


smackfu: "I just don't know how you solve the problem of "the big journal" which is everyone's goal to individually publish to."

Stop publishing to them, estabilish non-profit alternatives, and publish to those instead? I don't understand why this wasn't the de facto standard from the start.
posted by mullingitover at 4:23 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


karlos: What journal is worth $40K/year?

You mean, which one is asking for (and getting) $40k/year. If it was worth $40k/year, no one would make a fuss.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:31 PM on April 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Harvard also announced this week that it is open-access releasing the metadata for tens of millions of items in the library catalog. It's nice to have some good library-related news coming out about us for a change.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:35 PM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


The revolution continues apace. The groundwork has been laid and now the revolt is truly underway. The recommendations outlined in the bulletin linked above should be considered best-practices for anyone who publishes academic research. Especially this:

2. Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access (F).

The more people do this, the easier it becomes for people to follow. It creates a positive-feedback loop that is already beginning to snowball. We are now at the beginning of the middle of the revolution in academic publishing.
posted by Scientist at 4:36 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Guardian credits a blog post by Cambridge mathematician Tim Gowers and the related petition against Elsevier specifically (who have been discussed here before) as the start of the current move towards a different journal system.

And the headline for the Guardian article linked below the fold is incomplete. Harvard University says it can't afford journal publishers' prices doesn't quite say the same thing as The Harvard Library can no longer afford the escalating cost of journals, now up to around $3.5m a year. One could scoff at the title, thinking that even Harvard is having to cut back in these tough economic times. That is not quite the case - the escalating price of journals are outpacing any reasonable increase in costs.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:43 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not to mention that they charge the researchers for what they publish. Like $500 a graph in some journals. They bill you to write, they bill you to read. Leaches.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:44 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


mullingitover: Stop publishing to them, estabilish non-profit alternatives, and publish to those instead? I don't understand why this wasn't the de facto standard from the start.

I could imagine at some point, it was more efficient for companies to dedicate themselves to collecting, peer-reviewing, and distributing journals. Travel time was a significant lag in the process. With the internet, universities can collaborate in real-time, streaming immense amounts of data. Managing an international journal is now trivial.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:47 PM on April 24, 2012


From my discussions with a university librarian who is trying to wrangle rights access for a variety of journals, there is significant concern for lost revenue with "open" publications. To that, the University of Minnesota University Libraries have a page on Open Access Business Models (cross-posted from the earlier thread on open textbooks).
posted by filthy light thief at 4:50 PM on April 24, 2012


smackfu: "I just don't know how you solve the problem of "the big journal" which is everyone's goal to individually publish to."

There are a lot of features to that, which come with the bugs. For example, for someone who is unable to judge the appropriateness of the conclusions in a report of a study from the results and methods, a report published in JAMA absolutely should carry a lot more weight than conclusions published in Medical Hypotheses.

People who cannot read a scientific paper are everywhere; they are deans and presidents of our universities, our tenure and hiring committees answer to them, they vote, we vote for them, they are hired by the people we vote for to write policy, they have questions about their health, a depressing many of them are doctors, they teach in our schools, they write research papers for class, they write research papers for companies, they run our companies, and they are loud on television, on radio, in print, and on the internet.

The reputation of a journal has value. Anyone looking at a paper in Science or Nature knows that at least three people who know a lot about science thought that the paper was pretty damn significant.* Similarly, anyone looking at a paper from an issue like Proceedings Of the Academy of Toothologists should at least know to be wary before infusing their teeth with the healing power of phenol. Likewise, journalists who read about the discovery of microbes on asteroids in the Journal of Cosmology should hopefully remember what happened the last three times they did that.

The value of the reputation of a journal keeps them honest, which keeps us able to trust them.

*Only one of those three necessarily knew a lot about the discipline specifically and so folks who are wise to this also take the particularly groundbreaking papers with a grain of salt.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:50 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stop publishing to them, estabilish non-profit alternatives, and publish to those instead? I don't understand why this wasn't the de facto standard from the start.

Doing so would have effectively required getting into the printing business and out of the $subject business. If you're Crelle, it makes a whole lot of sense to get a publisher to agree to print the thing and sell subscriptions. This is something Crelle presumably knew nothing about and he presumably had enough work to do running the journal. (I use Crelle's Journal as an example only because it was a one-man show at first.)

For what it's worth, my complex analysis book came out of a one-man publisher and cost $18. He had retired and started a publishing company. I'm honestly not sure it produced another book.
posted by hoyland at 4:53 PM on April 24, 2012


Bravo, for once, Harvard.
posted by spitbull at 4:57 PM on April 24, 2012


The idea of Harvard crying poverty is so offensive I can barely remember they're on the side of the angels here.
posted by gerryblog at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is this the same Harvard with a >30 billion dollar endowment?
posted by Grimgrin at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


mullingitover: “Stop publishing to them, estabilish non-profit alternatives, and publish to those instead? I don't understand why this wasn't the de facto standard from the start.

hoyland: “Doing so would have effectively required getting into the printing business and out of the $subject business.”

It's 2012. Everyone is in the printing business. You do realize that 95% of these $40,000 fees aren't for printed copies of anything, right? They're for electronic access. Nobody goes to the library and photocopies journals any more, and Elsevier would rather they didn't anyway; if libraries have paper copies, they have them permanently, whereas Elsevier can charge annually for access to articles it published ten years ago.

And what overhead is involved in putting an article on the internet nowadays? The only issue would be creating a site that had some trust and some peer review behind it. That's still something that can be done for a few hundred dollars, no more.

“For what it's worth, my complex analysis book came out of a one-man publisher and cost $18. He had retired and started a publishing company. I'm honestly not sure it produced another book.”

But we're not talking about printing books. We're talking about electronically distributing periodicals.
posted by koeselitz at 5:19 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm at a college with a teeny tiny endowment and I'm delighted Harvard is saying "we can't afford this." I say it all the time, but it doesn't matter. If I don't pay those crazy prices, publishers don't care one bit. If Harvard says it's too much money, people notice.

Bravo.
posted by bfister at 5:20 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Harvard led the way in the 2008-09 hiring freeze, hopefully they can lead the way in this as well.
posted by sudasana at 5:26 PM on April 24, 2012


Is this the same Harvard with a >30 billion dollar endowment?

Harvard's endowment, hell any college's endowment, isn't a slush pile of money that can be spent willy-nilly on any old thing. The vast majority of endowment is donated with conditions (funding faculty lines, scholarships based on need, scholarships based on merit, operating funds for the museum, operating funds for the library, sponsoring annual seminars, etc.)
posted by plastic_animals at 5:26 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, but Harvard's endowment is pretty different from any other college's endowment by any standard. I've heard that at least several billion of that is not donated with conditions at all. So they have several billion to play with there – not small change. There is no university with the power that Harvard has to spend money on what they want.
posted by koeselitz at 5:28 PM on April 24, 2012


You know what kind of annoys me about all of this. Harvard also has a university press. Why isn't the majority of what it's publishing available open access? Why? Because it's also profitable. Harvard needs to put its money where its mouth is. Harvard needs to fully subsidize the open distribution of the content its own press creates. It can and should still make that content available for sale, when it's a physical thing, or they add significant value to the content, using things like curation, but all of it should also be free. And why isn't it trying to publish more of its own faculty? Answer those questions and you have a good start on fixing this access problem.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:28 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


There is no university with the power that Harvard has to spend money on what they want.

But there's also no university with the power that Harvard has to influence other universities to change their practices.
posted by escabeche at 5:29 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just don't know how you solve the problem of "the big journal" which is everyone's goal to individually publish to.

One of the reasons everyone wants to publish there is that everyone wants to get tenured faculty positions. To have a University making the recommendations in the linked memo implies that they will also be changing how they value publications in these super-expensive journals when considering tenure. When this happens, the influence of these journals will flow somewhere else quickly.

Also, Harvard haters gonna hate Harvard, I guess.
posted by snofoam at 5:32 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Scientists of the World UNITE! Stop publishing in prestigious journals. You have nothing to lose but any hope of tenure!
posted by Chekhovian at 5:37 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The real question I imagine their faculty are asking themselves is: Will I get tenure if I'm not publishing high profile papers in expensive journals? That's a scary unknown. Management (i.e. Harvard's President or another suitable big shot) would probably need to step in and provide assurances to make this work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:37 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


At this point I'd think a smart candidate for tenure would be able to use the open access argument to their advantage in discussing where their work has appeared.

So they have several billion to play with there – not small change.

It's kind of strange to suggest Harvard shouldn't be among those leading the charge against parasitic vampires in academic publishing because it has enough money to pay off the parasitic vampires.
posted by mediareport at 5:39 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


escabeche: “But there's also no university with the power that Harvard has to influence other universities to change their practices.”

Exactly – especially so in this case. As others have said here, now any faculty in any university can say: "well, if Harvard can't afford it, then why should we try?"
posted by koeselitz at 5:40 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


mediareport: “It's kind of strange to suggest Harvard shouldn't be among those leading the charge against parasitic vampires in academic publishing because it has enough money to pay off the parasitic vampires.”

No – sorry, I have not been very clear. I absolutely think Harvard would be best dumping every Elsevier journal they have in the river Charles and telling them to stuff it. I also know that Harvard has a lot of money; but while I have ideas about where I think that money should go, Elsevier is emphatically not one of those places. It's awesome to see the Faculty Advisory Council taking this step, and I hope the ball keeps rolling.
posted by koeselitz at 5:42 PM on April 24, 2012


At this point I'd think a smart candidate for tenure would be able to use the open access argument to their advantage in discussing where their work has appeared.

I'm not sure open access journals are yet as credible or high profile as the paid journals, at least for the field I'm in. Can you explain how this would work?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:43 PM on April 24, 2012


Management (i.e. Harvard's President or another suitable big shot) would probably need to step in and provide assurances to make this work.

Given the points in the memo, it's almost impossible not to assume this already, though. It says things like "move prestige to open access" and "If on the editorial board of a journal involved...consider resigning." It's not just saying that they are too expensive, it also lists a bunch of concrete steps to stop publishing and supporting these journals and move both content and prestige elsewhere.

I would also guess that guidelines for and advice about making tenure are things that are addressed internally. Or if they do want to make a public statement about that aspect, it doesn't really make sense to put it in the same memo.
posted by snofoam at 5:46 PM on April 24, 2012


The idea of Harvard crying poverty is so offensive I can barely remember they're on the side of the angels here.

Harvard the monolithic entity in everyone's minds is not the same as Harvard's library system, which has been under significant budgetary stress.

What if various Schools organized around their disciplines to create online journals? The Harvard Educational Review is student-run and edited; surely with modern technology there could be cross-insitutution editorial boards? Add discussion forums, and suddenly you're fostering an online scholarly community. Scholarly Journal 2.0. Hrm...I might actually float this idea to a few of my profs.

They cut off our library access the day after Commencement. I am going to miss the various libraries and journal access so very, very much.
posted by smirkette at 5:48 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The real question I imagine their faculty are asking themselves is: Will I get tenure if I'm not publishing high profile papers in expensive journals?

But a lot of Harvard's faculty is tenured, and not just tenured but leaders in their fields. Tenured people like me (even those of us not at Harvard) can, and do, decline to publish in expensive journals.
posted by escabeche at 5:58 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just don't know how you solve the problem of "the big journal" which is everyone's goal to individually publish to.

That's not the only problem. And it's not the hardest problem. A much harder problem is, what about the decades of research already locked up in Elsevier journals? Many journals are not even distributed as print anymore. They aren't physically stored in libraries as much anymore for simple space considerations of never ending accumulaiton. Journal subscriptions are now more valuable for the online access. Researchers typically cite dozens of papers and require online tools to access those papers for reading and even to compile the citations. Cancel subscriptions and you lose access to existing literature. Quite often in the natural sciences, at least, a problem might be studied, then ignored for twenty years, then picked back up, with all the previous literature cited again. You don't just start all new journals one day that refer back to nothing, even if you could get everyone to publish to new open journals. There's the quandary of continued online access to the accumulated body of prior work.
posted by 3.2.3 at 6:13 PM on April 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Harvard's endowment, hell any college's endowment, isn't a slush pile of money that can be spent willy-nilly on any old thing.

Pity the billionaires! Truly, they have it hardest! As sudasana already pointed out, arguments like this have been instrumental in allowing even the richest institutions to impose a new austerity regime on their workers. We need better arguments so that we can discriminate between cutting off parasitical profiteers like Elsevier and allowing billionaire institutions to plead poverty when faculty and staff ask for things like job security, livable wages, and benefits.
posted by RogerB at 6:13 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


But a lot of Harvard's faculty is tenured

A bit over half (56.6%) are outside tenure track. Only 6 institutions of the 59 or so listed had worse rates. Granted, this is a small subsample of the population of "large" research institutions (don't know how they defined "large").
posted by smirkette at 6:17 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


A demand for open access publication should be part of every grant award that uses taxpayers money.
posted by francesca too at 6:24 PM on April 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure open access journals are yet as credible or high profile as the paid journals, at least for the field I'm in.

I'm not sure what field you're in but PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine have pretty high Impact Factors and there are other open journals that are competitive as well. PLoS One accepts submissions from all disciplines and has a solid Impact Factor despite a 70% acceptance rate. All this is putting aside whether Impact Factor is an appropriate metric of course.
posted by euphorb at 6:40 PM on April 24, 2012


hoyland: “Doing so would have effectively required getting into the printing business and out of the $subject business.”

It's 2012. Everyone is in the printing business. You do realize that 95% of these $40,000 fees aren't for printed copies of anything, right? They're for electronic access. Nobody goes to the library and photocopies journals any more, and Elsevier would rather they didn't anyway; if libraries have paper copies, they have them permanently, whereas Elsevier can charge annually for access to articles it published ten years ago.


I was addressing the current situation arose, not whether we could strike out on our own now. (Which is, I assume, how the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics came about.)

Just to be obstinate, I do actually have go to the library and photocopy articles sometimes. Some fairly big name journals haven't scanned stuff further back than 15 years. (Let's not even mention the article I'm going to interlibrary loan shortly because the library has neither a paper nor electronic copy. I think they stopped subscribing to the journal and then got electronic access to a few back issues (fewer than they have on paper) forced on them by Elsevier in some packaging.)
posted by hoyland at 7:07 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I work at a small liberal arts college with the need for some expensive specialist publications and I'm very excited about this. The fact that Harvard has a huge endowment doesn't mean it's okay for the publishers to continue, year after year, to force their libraries and all of us to pay increasingly huge amounts for licenses-- not owning, in many cases!-- but temporary access. Yes, it would be great if this were adopted across their publishing branches too, which charge a great deal and often come with restrictive sharing agreements. It is really hard to get researchers the information they need, especially for eprints and foreign journals, even with unlimited ILL funds. I'm for anything that heightens awareness of open access depositories, or that shames, even a little, Elsevier and the other big name publishing houses. Or anything that raises the awareness of just how expensive this is among our students and faculty. I value the archiving, the metadata, the citation information, and the historic structure of many journals, and yes, I do think they have monetary value. But 3.75 million dollars a year, even for a Harvard or Stanford?
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:20 PM on April 24, 2012


smackfu: "I just don't know how you solve the problem of "the big journal" which is everyone's goal to individually publish to."
It's a big problem, but the way to solve that is to submit the good papers to open access journals. That's the whole point of PLoS (Public Library of Science). But in order to get good papers, they need more prestige, and in order to get more prestige they need good papers.

But it's not an impossible situation, if enough people are fed up, they'll switch.

The key, though should be the professors who are already tenured. If they already heave tenure, then they don't have to worry about getting it. Of course they're usually collaborating with grad students and the like, so I guess that's not so simple.

Another option is to try to evaluate papers individually, rather then based on the journal they're in. People in science ought to try to widely review new papers that come out in open access journals, then actively promote the good ones so that people know about them and can cite them

Like it or not, Harvard tends to have a lot of the top people in their fields

Also, bitching about how harvard has a lot of money is moronic. Obviously they have enough cash to pay for this stuff. But harvard pushing this is going to have a huge benefit on institutions that have a lot less cash.
posted by delmoi at 7:37 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


This kind of bullshit with academic publishing doesn't just hurt libraries and Universities, it can have massive detrimental consequences for entire disciplines. 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.1

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.

I've got a challenge for anyone who thinks that the system is still functional that I've posted before, which got close, but not quite to the answer. If you can find a copy of the publication I'm about to describe and send it to me, you have my word that I'll Paypal you $50. It is one of the most seminal studies on phage therapy, done in Tblisi after WWII using phage against dysentery on more than tens of thousands of children where they used one side of a street as a control for the other side. A gorgeous publication, 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.

1Oh so ironically, 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.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:42 PM on April 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


"A demand for open access publication should be part of every grant award that uses taxpayers money."

Um, everyone here realises that "open access" journals are not free to publish in, right?
posted by docgonzo at 7:52 PM on April 24, 2012


Viz: To provide open access, PLoS journals use a business model in which our expenses — including those of peer review, journal production, and online hosting and archiving — are recovered in part by charging a publication fee to the authors or research sponsors for each article they publish.

Our 2011-2012 prices, which have not been raised since August 2009 (for manuscripts submitted on or after August 3, 2009), are as follows:

PLoS Biology US$2900
PLoS Medicine US$2900
PLoS Computational Biology US$2250
PLoS Genetics US$2250
PLoS Pathogens US$2250
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases US$2250
PLoS ONE US$1350

posted by docgonzo at 7:55 PM on April 24, 2012


I'm not sure open access journals are yet as credible or high profile as the paid journals, at least for the field I'm in. Can you explain how this would work?

No, honestly, I can't in any depth. But there are fields where open access seems to be taking root, and I can imagine that even in fields which have been slow to develop open access publication routes, a smart candidate would emphasize that the reason her/his work is only appearing in smaller, "lower profile" publications is that s/he has committed to the idea of supporting open access journals as a principled stance to help bring about a more open academic future for everyone.

*shrug*

Might not work, might be pollyannish. But it does seem more worth trying than not trying at all.
posted by mediareport at 8:15 PM on April 24, 2012


Um, everyone here realises that "open access" journals are not free to publish in, right?

One step at a time. At least they're not charging for publication *and* charging for access. Work on the first part will come later, I'm sure, once the vampires' stranglehold on so many fields has been broken.
posted by mediareport at 8:17 PM on April 24, 2012


One step at a time.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I am all in favour of open access and making scientific research more accessible. I just wanted to be sure people understood that what open access is doing is shifting journal revenue from subscribers to authors (or, more accurately, the author's funders.)
posted by docgonzo at 8:25 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


How can a journal exist if it has no income from either authors or subscribers? Where does it's income come from?
posted by plastic_animals at 8:32 PM on April 24, 2012


plastic_animals: "How can a journal exist if it has no income from either authors or subscribers? Where does it's income come from?"

Why does a journal need income? They're already not in the habit of paying authors or peer reviewers, and the actual cost of publishing a journal is approaching zero. So, really, why is income necessary here?
posted by koeselitz at 8:34 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Um, everyone here realises that "open access" journals are not free to publish in, right?

Philosophers' Imprint is an open-access journal and it is free to publish in.
posted by kenko at 8:37 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


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.1
---
In many scientific fields there seems to be an increasing lack of appreciation of the early literature around which the field has grown. As a consequence, junior scientists entering a field, who might be unaware of some of the work of the early pioneers, risk wasting a great deal of time and money asking scientific questions that are baseless or have already been answered.

To read this article in full you may need to log in, make a payment or gain access through a site license (see right).
hahaha
posted by delmoi at 9:15 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


"A demand for open access publication should be part of every grant award that uses taxpayers money."

Um, everyone here realises that "open access" journals are not free to publish in, right?
Soo... what's wrong with using some of that taxpayer money to pay the publication fee? The money is essentially going to pay for the review and hosting. If you have to spend money to do the research, what's wrong spending a small portion of that to get it reviewed, in order to make ensure it means high standards?

Nothing is stopping anyone from posting PDFs on their own website, or posting to arXiv or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 9:19 PM on April 24, 2012


docgonzo: Um, everyone here realises that "open access" journals are not free to publish in, right?

Regular journals are not free to publish in, at least not all of them. That's right, they get you coming and going.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:31 PM on April 24, 2012


koeselitz: "Why does a journal need income? They're already not in the habit of paying authors or peer reviewers, and the actual cost of publishing a journal is approaching zero. So, really, why is income necessary here?"

The only problem is that the internet is not a panacea that allows the cost of publishing a journal to approach zero, there are still things that cost money.

Large high powered journals cost a lot of money to operate, they pay their editors, they pay for printing, they pay for copy editing, they pay for staff who assist the editors, they pay for staff who manage the peer review, they pay for the billing that they or their parent organization handles, the non-profit ones usually also pay for the more specific and less high powered journals that are built to lose money.

Smaller more niche journals don't have the same kind of expenses, their editors are generally volunteers who are successful enough to have a name but not so successful that being an editor doesn't impact their CV, they generally have printing costs but small scale printing isn't as outrageous as it used to be, and they generally don't pay their reviewers or authors. However, someone still needs to copy edit the amazing ESL work that comes in for proper English, there is so much that is so close to good English you can't really turn it away and not quite good enough to print it. Someone still needs to manage the peer-review process, which can get complicated and often messy fast. Someone still needs to go through the modern equivalent to the process of typesetting the pages, which is not what it used to be but nothing like trivial. Someone also needs to manage the website, deal with spam, handle administrative things like paying for stuff, arrange for advertising from corporations, and the million other little things that need doing.

The kinds of editor's in chief who will lend credibility to a journal already have profoundly busy lives, hell, in order to attract them a journal generally needs to provide paid administrative assistance to help them deal with the purely editorial stuff they need to do. Good luck getting a volunteer editorial board to do this kind of shit either. Professional staff is absolutely necessary, and hiring professionals is and should be expensive.

That money still has to come from somewhere.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:34 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, really, why is income necessary here?

I've never worked for a scientific journal, but I assume, like the magazine I used to edit, that they have a staff - at the very least, copy editors, admin people to keep track of the who-what-when-where of publication schedules, someone to do the layout for printed copies, etc. That shit ain't free.
posted by rtha at 9:35 PM on April 24, 2012


Or what Blasdelb said.
posted by rtha at 9:35 PM on April 24, 2012


I used to work in a university library, and every year there was a dismal meeting to discuss which journals we we would no longer carry, as the yearly price increase was vastly outpacing funding.

Interlibrary loan can only do so much. If Harvard can't pay for all the journals needed by its scholarship, what possible hope does a smaller school have?
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:41 PM on April 24, 2012


The Economist also covered this recently:

An annual subscription to Tetrahedron, a chemistry journal, will cost your university library $20,269; a year of the Journal of Mathematical Sciences will set you back $20,100. In 2011 Elsevier, the biggest academic-journal publisher, made a profit of £768m ($1.2 billion) on revenues of £2.1 billion.
posted by jyorraku at 9:42 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here, you can start your own open journal. Good luck.
posted by thrind at 10:01 PM on April 24, 2012


In the United States, research funded by the National Instutute of Health is mandated to be publically available, and there is currently a bill before Congress to expand that requirement to other departments.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:40 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Blasdelb: I did a bit of googling, and found references to the article you were talking about.
But when looking for the actual article I found that you have posted this challenge before which, kind of proves your point I think.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:06 AM on April 25, 2012


That money still has to come from somewhere.

Sure, and I think charging something reasonable for the journal is fine. That's not what we have now, though. Elsevier and others like it are gouging like mad, and it needs to stop. And the "pay to publish/pay to read" thing definitely needs to stop.

We can work out the rest later.
posted by mediareport at 6:36 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why does a journal need income? They're already not in the habit of paying authors or peer reviewers, and the actual cost of publishing a journal is approaching zero. So, really, why is income necessary here?

They don't even pay editors. My daughter, while a graduate student working on her PhD, was the unpaid editor, for two years, in a prominent journal in her field. Her professor was the unpaid main peer reviewer. There were three peer reviewers who had that unpaid job forever, but the editor job would rotate every two years from one university to the other, from one graduate student to another. She considers that a great experience in learning how to write a good paper.
posted by francesca too at 8:05 AM on April 25, 2012


She considers that a great experience in learning how to write a good paper.

I consider it exploitation.
posted by euphorb at 8:23 AM on April 25, 2012


euphorb: "I consider it exploitation."

I hate to say it but academic service is and needs to be part of the job. At least in theory, Universities pay their instructors not only to teach but also to be leaders in their fields worth learning from. Being able to put 'editor' on her CV means, at least in theory, that she'll get a better job from a better institution that will compensate her better based on the approximate value of her service.

That said, if the journal is non-profit and run well, everything would be working as it should, though if it is for-profit and/or run as an exercise in resource extraction then the exploitation is as much of the community supporting her as herself.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:09 AM on April 25, 2012


I hate to say it but academic service is and needs to be part of the job.

Obviously we disagree at a fundamental level. The key word there is job. This individual is a grad student working on her research, not an employee or unpaid intern. If she is actually working in a "job" then she should be compensated appropriately and subject to all the labor protections that employees working jobs are entitled to.

If she is a graduate student working towards her degree then she should not be spending her time editing manuscripts.
posted by euphorb at 10:59 AM on April 25, 2012


A much harder problem is, what about the decades of research already locked up in Elsevier journals? ... There's the quandary of continued online access to the accumulated body of prior work.

I predict eventually the established solution will be BitTorrent.
posted by Anything at 11:10 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The key word there is job. This individual is a grad student working on her research, not an employee or unpaid intern. If she is actually working in a "job" then she should be compensated appropriately and subject to all the labor protections that employees working jobs are entitled to.

If you're going to start objecting to one kind of exploitation in grad school it would be unfair to ignore all the other forms that are present as well. Its turtles all the way down, really.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:20 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


euphorb: "Obviously we disagree at a fundamental level. The key word there is job. This individual is a grad student working on her research, not an employee or unpaid intern. If she is actually working in a "job" then she should be compensated appropriately and subject to all the labor protections that employees working jobs are entitled to.

If she is a graduate student working towards her degree then she should not be spending her time editing manuscripts.
"

Hold on, what do you think the "job" of an academic is exactly? We are in the business of generating, communicating, teaching, evaluating and managing knowledge. Each of these functions of what an academic is are absolutely essential to the value of each of the other ones. Graduate students arn't, or at least shouldn't be, hired based solely on their ability to produce research but more broadly on their ability to learn how to contribute to the academic community according to their skills and disposition.

Volunteer editorial responsibilities don't pay by the hour any more than research in a lab does,* but that doesn't mean it automatically exploits the volunteer editor any more than research does. Believe me, I'm bitter as hell about how my former adviser's graduate stipend in the sixties was worth more than mine is today despite the growth of the economy, and the hours I pull to stay competitive, but people finding it worthwhile to volunteer for journals is a healthy thing. It means we get more of them.

That isn't to say that Elsevier generating $1.2 billion in profit on revenues of $3.4 billion off of the backs of volunteers isn't exploitative, because it really fucking is, what I am saying is that it exploits the communities that support those volunteers so that Elsevier doesn't have to.

*If you know of a lab that pays graduate students by the hour please tell me so that I can quit everything, sneak in somehow, and retire at thirty.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:27 PM on April 25, 2012


If you know of a lab that pays graduate students by the hour please tell me so that I can quit everything, sneak in somehow, and retire at thirty.

The depressing part is that unemployment in most states pays more than most stipends, so society would actually give you more money to not do what you're doing. But of course unemployment only goes on for 99 weeks or something, whereas grad school keeps going and going and going.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:31 PM on April 25, 2012


As a layperson who likes to get their science on now and again, I hate the journal access there is today. If can find contact information for person that wrote the paper, I can often times ask for copies directly, but that may take weeks or even months, especially in my field of interest where much of it is field research. If I'm trying to quickly verify some information, I have no way of getting access to some Journals, others have costs that are more than I can afford.

Sometimes I can find a student and beg them to get a copy for me. Sometimes a creative enough keyword search turns up a pdf someone through on their website and forgot about, not realizing (or caring) it's open to the world. But most of the time, I can't.

We talk about the dumbing down of the public, but the public isn't allowed into the research paper club. Some are bitter and think its a conspiracy to keep information from their hands. But more often, they just don't know what a real research paper looks like, never exposing them to methods and thought patterns of scientific inquiry (save that 7th grade science class which they TOTALLY weren't paying attention to.). It feels exclusionary and elitest to a lot of non-academics, and I think that's where a lot of science hate comes from.

Yes, most people don't know how to read a scientific paper, and there are problems that go along with that - however, the benefits to make that information easily and cheaply accessible far outweighs the problems.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2012


"Nothing is stopping anyone from posting PDFs on their own website, or posting to arXiv or whatever."

Only publishers who require that you hand over copyright to your work and then forbid you from using your own stuff. (Most publishers - around 80% - allow you to post versions of your work, but not the finished PDF. Elsevier now also says if your faculty adopt a mandate, you have to negotiate special arrangements for your content since any latitude they give authors at other institutions is rescinded for faculty who get their collective act together.

Is that enough evidence that this system is completely borked and anti-science?
posted by bfister at 1:31 PM on April 25, 2012


When it comes to costs, most labor involved in academic and scientific publishing is donated. Yes, on top of that you can pay editors etc., but you can run a good journal for much less if you don't have to pay CEOs or stockholders.

As an example, an official at the American Anthropological Association told members open access would be too expensive for anthropologist/authors because it costs the association $5,000 to publish an article (using Wiley as their outsourced publisher). Jason Baird Jackson, working with people at Indiana University Libraries started an OA journal that has a similar niche to one of the AAA journals. The cost per article? He guesses it's around 42 cents. That's because in addition to writing, reviewing, and editing (almost always freely donated) office space and some services were donated in kind.

And anyone in the world with an Internet connection can read it.
posted by bfister at 1:38 PM on April 25, 2012


bfister: "As an example, an official at the American Anthropological Association told members open access would be too expensive for anthropologist/authors because it costs the association $5,000 to publish an article (using Wiley as their outsourced publisher). Jason Baird Jackson, working with people at Indiana University Libraries started an OA journal that has a similar niche to one of the AAA journals. The cost per article? He guesses it's around 42 cents. That's because in addition to writing, reviewing, and editing (almost always freely donated) office space and some services were donated in kind."

I am incredibly jealous of whatever niche of Anthropologists have access to this guy whose University is willing to support him in this open access endeavor with the amount of his time and the non-trivial amount of administrative support necessary to pull something like that off, but the cost of all that cannot possibly come out to 42 cents when actually tallied up. I wish my community had someone with access to those kinds of resources when everyone got on board to put together a journal last year, but we didn't and most don't. Also, if the guy is young and tenure track then the journal will hopefully last a while. However, unless he finds another more stable source for that administrative support and compensation for his time the journal will likely die the moment he finds a better position or retires.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:51 PM on April 25, 2012


IIRC a recent study calculated that if scientists were paid for peer review the costs would be ~ $3,500,000,000 per year. It's an insane amount of time, effort, and responsibility (you could be holding someone's career in your hands) that saves publishers a lot of money. The peer review system does have some additional pitfalls that are not directly related to money, e.g. allowing competitors in a cutthroat business to review each other's work leads to a lot of unscrupulous behavior, but I think that this problem is inherent in the system and can't be solved unless you scrap everything. A smaller and more particular problem that I've noticed is the disturbing brevity of many "Materials and Methods" sections in modern publications. Not every journal is guilty, but there are many that do not ensure that the publishing authors deliver detailed descriptions of processes, reagents, etc as part of the manuscript. I suspect that this is due to the proliferation of "kits" and standardized assays allowing authors to say "Follow the manufacturer's instructions.", but when you can't reproduce an assay from a publication it is critical to have every detail about the process and components.

PLOS really has been successful and a lot of universities are making a big stink about subscription costs due to financial realities. Open publishing still is in its infancy, but there is no question that it's going to be the basic blueprint for the future of scientific publishing. Elsevier and co. have pretty much strangled their golden geese. I suspect that it will take another few years before there are noticeable changes simply due to the inertia of the current publishing system, but there already has been substantial progress that is auspicious.

PS It's been said, but it should be emphasized that it is traditional for authors to pay a small sum of money ($1000-$2000 in my field) to help defray publishing costs. This will probably continue to a certain degree for the foreseeable future. Electronic publishing is cheaper than physical publishing, but it is not a zero cost operation. There are still costs associated with editing, layout, advertising, art/figure design, server hosting, etc.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 7:23 AM on April 26, 2012




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