Monday, August 27, 2007

Elsevier is protecting us. Really.

So, I'm a big proponent of open access publishing. Note the PLoS emblem in the top right corner of my blog. Open access means that the journal either 1) doesn't require subscription fees to access articles. or 2) doesn't require subscription fees to access articles after a certain amount of time has elapsed. It only seems fair. The public funds the vast majority of studies that are published in academic journals, they should have access to them.

All but one of my publications are in open-access journals. I've felt pretty strongly about this for a fairly long time.

How do open-access journals operate in the absence of subscription fees? Well, this is how PLoS operates:

It costs money to produce a peer-reviewed, edited, and formatted article that is ready for online publication, and to host it on a server that is accessible around the clock. Prior to that, a public or private funding agency has already paid a great deal more money for the research to be undertaken in the interest of the public. This real cost of "producing" a paper can be calculated by dividing your laboratory's annual budget by the number of papers published. We ask that—as a small part of the cost of doing the research—the author, institution, or funding agency pays a fee, to help cover the actual cost of the essential final step, the publication. (As it stands, authors now often pay for publication in the form of page or color charges.) Many funding agencies now support this view.
So they charge the people publishing. And really, this is a very small fraction of the cost of doing research.

Well, as you might imagine, companies that make their money off of subscription fees are rather upset by this new model. After all, Elsevier, a large academic publishing outfit, made £196 million (~$394 million US) last year, a 27% operating profit (off of £721 million revenue) made from subscription fees. There is real money at stake here. Just as a note of comparison, the NIH budget for 2006 was approximately $29 billion US. I'm not suggesting all of Elsevier's money is coming from the NIH, but as a comparison, $1.4 billion US spent on journal subscriptions - just to Elsevier - compared to $29 billion of research dollars. This is a significant percentage of the research pot.

So, what is poor, poor Elsevier to do? Hire a PR firm!"
We're like any firm under siege," says Barbara Meredith, a vice-president at the organization [American Association of Publishers] "It's common to hire a PR firm when you're under siege."
Woo! Sounds bad! And what did the PR firm create?


An astroturf organization, made to look like they're watching out for the quality of research. It's a pretty funny website.
Myth:American consumers have a right to free access to articles their tax dollars fund.

American taxpayers do not fund peer reviewed research articles; they fund some of the research that is used in those articles.
Yep, so they should have free access to that work. And British citizens should have free access to British work. And Zimbabweans should have free access to their work. And I'm sure the good citizens of Britain and Zimbabwe won't mind sharing their work with Americans. Do you see where this is going?

Myth 2: Peer review costs publishers nothing - referees do not charge for their work.

Scholarly publishing involves far more than volunteer referees and printing. Non-profit and commercial publishers invest hundreds of millions of dollars every year managing and coordinating the work of millions of authors, editors and reviewers, and vetting millions of submissions through an independent peer review process. Publishers then also assume the responsibility and costs associated with bringing peer reviewed articles to the attention of other scientists and the news media, including the editorial staff that coordinate multiple revisions, extensive proofreading, layout, design, publishing, distributing and archiving of articles.
Yep, so you get scientists to volunteer to do the hard part, then you make a 27% profit laying out the data with pretty fonts. Sounds fair to me!

The stupid part in all this is that this lobbying organization is treating scientists like fools. (Quite clearly). Who do you think is going to read the PRISM materials? Cancer patients? Nope, it's going to be scientists. And it's going to piss us off just enough to finally send a grand F__k you to those publishers who have so insulted our intelligence. Mark my words. This is a lobbying effort that is going to bite Elsevier (and other publishers) in the ass.

Thanks to Tara who reminded me of how pissed off I am about this...


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