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Current Scientific Publishing Methods Problematic

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the accurate-problem-bad-analysis dept.

Science 154

A recent examination of current scientific publishing methods shows that they are problematic at best, treating the entire process like an economic system, with publishers as bidders at an auction, authors as sellers, and the community at large as consumers. "The authors then go on to discuss a variety of economic terms that they think apply to publishing, but the quality of the analogies varies quite a bit. It's easy to accept that the limited number of high-profile publishers act as an oligarchy and that they add value through branding. Some of the other links are significantly more tenuous. The authors argue that scientific research suffers from an uncertain valuation, but this would require that the consumers — the scientists — can't accurately judge what's significant. "

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Huh? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25357881)

What is wrong with the free market? When has it ever failed us?

Re:Huh? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358041)

When have we ever had free markets?

It is tough to have a free market when there is a monopoly on the issuance of money controlled by a private cartel.

If the America people ever allow private banks to control the issuance of their currencies, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all their prosperity until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.

Thomas Jefferson

Re:Huh? (0, Offtopic)

Singularitarian2048 (1068276) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358227)

Why would someone mod this Troll? This was just a good reply to a comment that has been modded up. It's a grave mistake to blame either the Great Depression or the current financial crisis on the free market.

Re:Huh? (3, Insightful)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358801)

I don't get it. To prevent a free market from growing into a cartel, there has to be an independant agency to (at the very least) verify the truthfulness of the marketing of items. That strives against the idea that the market is free because there is an agent restricting trade by verifying facts. Will someone explain to me how a market can be truely free and not devolve into a conglomeration of companies screwing the populous out of their money through treatury and customer lock-in?

Re:Huh? (1)

thedonger (1317951) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358971)

Free market, government regulation, companies screwing the people, companies bought by government, revolution, repeat. Always repeat.

Re:Huh? (1)

Pearson (953531) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359953)

Free market, government regulation, companies screwing the people, companies bought by government, revolution, repeat. Always repeat.

I thought the companies bought the government, not the other way round (recent bailout bit aside).

Re:Huh? (1)

UnderCoverPenguin (1001627) | more than 5 years ago | (#25361105)

I thought the companies bought the government, not the other way round (recent bailout bit aside)

And the bailout is return on investment

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25359251)

Keep in mind free-market ideology assumes that all parties, on the whole, have equal access to the same information. So free market does not = lack of transparency or regulatory body to insure said transparency. There are very good reasons for the illegality of insider trading.

Re:Huh? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359319)

That strives against the idea that the market is free because there is an agent restricting trade by verifying facts.

Just set up another agency to check that the first agency isn't being overzealous or *gasp* dishonest. Problem solved.

Do I have to do all the thinking round here?

Re:Huh? (1)

Markspark (969445) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360701)

Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - or Who watches the watchers?

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25361027)

I dunno. Coastguard?

History check (5, Informative)

DanOrc451 (1302609) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359085)

I love Thomas Jefferson as much as the next American, but there are certain things you listen to him on and some things you don't. Civil liberties, the scope of government, certainly. The economy.... not so much.

Jefferson wanted us to farm our way to victory. Here's some primary source stuff [historytools.org] on the subject for your edification/amusement.

Just because he's a founding father doesn't make him a visionary on everything. See also: slavery.

Re:Huh? (1)

Tom (822) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360305)

When have we ever had free markets?

Ever since they were inventend.

Oh, you meant like in the real world?

Well, that's the trouble with textbook inventions: They don't translate 1:1 into the real world any more than mathematics does. Or have you ever seen an actual Bell Curve or met a Pythagoras Theorem for dinner?

"Free Market" is an abstraction, simplification, model of description, whatever you want to name it. Expecting to encounter an actual one in the real world is delusional.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358081)

The every one time you can cite where free markets failed, I can cite ten times where government regulation failed.

Re:Huh? (1, Insightful)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358169)

And there's a good chance government intervention was involved in the market failure.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358809)

I'm sure that snake oil salesmen would say the same thing when the sheriff shows up and interferes with their free market. But in this case the sheriff was asleep and the free market got into trouble all on its own.

They were selling bundles of "no income, no job, no asset" loans as "low risk"! That's selling snake oil as the financial equivalent of viagra. It's pretty hard to blame government for this, except for the *lack* of intervention earlier to stop such an obviously fraudulent practice. The free market could have handled it just fine IF the banks bundling this stuff up had been honest about the risks involved. They weren't legally forced to do so, so they kept on selling this junk as gold.

Re:Huh? (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359089)

You're ignoring the government's implicit (now explicit) backing of fannie mae/freddy mac which enabled more risk taking and distorted the market. Alan Greenspan testified to that effect in 2004/2005. You're also ignoring the part about the government (Bush, Clinton, and congress) encouraging more loans to low income/minority/subprime borrowers.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25360767)

As far as the Clinton legislation you're addressing all it did was remove the banks ability to discriminate based on location. So before the legislation and individual making $100,000 a year and living in a poor area might not be able to get the same loan as someone making $100,000 a year in a good area. It had zero affect on the subprime lending mes.

Re:Huh? (1)

ardle (523599) | more than 5 years ago | (#25361313)

And who owns the government?
Can anybody give a vaild citation for the report I heard somewhere that fannie mae/freddy mac were "almost forced" into buying a load of bad loans in the run-up to their being nationalised?
I hadn't heard of them two weeks ago, so I'm open to being accuesd of throwing oil on the fire here ;-)
So ordinary citizens have ended up paying for a government scheme designed to benefit ordinary citizens, with some of the money going towards corporate expenses.
There aren't many areas of public interest that businesses can pull out of without damaging their own interests in the process, thankfully. For example, if transport services shut down, how would people get to work? If there weren't pension funds, why would share prices have to rise?

Re:Huh? (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 5 years ago | (#25361369)

*cough*
Airlines
*cough*
Stock Market
*cough*
Financial Sector/Economy
*cough*

You seem to be batting 1000.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25360745)

That sounds like a funny game. Do you count every time some monopoly or cartel abused its power and had to be restrained by the government as a failure of free market? So lets get started with the USA:

http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/cases.html

Re: Clear example of a failure of "market" (4, Informative)

bob_herrick (784633) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360411)

What is wrong with the free market? When has it ever failed us?

A softball question. One simple example of the failure of the market is the apparent inability of science publishers, particularly in the pharma area, to publish so-called negative results or to spin negative results as if they are postive. In epidemiology and in pharmacology, negative results are at least as important as postive ones ("first, do no harm"). Yet, the greater economic forces of pharmaceutical sales (and nutricutical sales, and outright woo sales) incent the supression, or simple failure to publish, of such findings in pernicious ways. Check out Ben Goldacre's site (and buy his book while you are there) [badscience.net] . Tucked away among various rants against, among other things, media coverage of medicine, you will find several discussions about this very phenomonon, and why it is so incredibly bad.

Vickrey Auctions (2, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#25357983)

A recent examination of current scientific publishing methods show that it is problematic at best. Treating the entire process like an economic system, with publishers as bidders at an auction, authors as sellers, and the community at large as consumers.

Agreed. I think we need to switch this whole process to Vickrey Auctions [wikipedia.org] . Then you can explain to the authors of the papers that they will receive $75 for their paper instead of $100 because whoever bid $100 was gaming the system. Why is it suddenly so popular to turn everything possible into an auction system with 75 different flavors of said auction system?

Re:Vickrey Auctions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25359277)

But the authors pay to publish their papers, not the other way around!

Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1, Interesting)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358019)

I have this fantasy of writing a program which makes some big combinatorial breakthrough and from time to time to motivate myself I imagine what I might do with such a thing should I actually bumble into creating it.

I looked at scientific journals, and I honestly can't see much of an incentive to appear there. I mean sure, you might get published and that's got some merit, but it seems to me that these journals don't really make a lot of money for the scientists who write the articles. Does Science or Nature pay its writers? It can't be that much, even if they did. So what's the point?

From the scientist's perspective, if they have pure research, then, they can put it on a web site, such as the university web site or even their own, and just skip the b.s. Or, they can sell it. Either option is better to achieve the altruistic or commercial ends of the scientist than being in a magazine.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (4, Funny)

Intron (870560) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358079)

That's exactly why I gave up writing scientific papers and now rob gas stations.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358483)

Robin Hood? Is that you?

After you're done with the gas stations you can go for the financial institutions and congressmen. Be sure to kill a few for good measure.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (4, Funny)

martinw89 (1229324) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358619)

Robin Hood? Is that you?

No, he's just robbin' the 'hood. Easy mistake to make.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358781)

That little joke of yours was very sublime!

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (3, Informative)

martinw89 (1229324) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358905)

Thanks, I thought it up after smoking two joints.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (2, Informative)

Sarutobi (1135167) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358117)

No, scientists do not get paid for the papers they write by the journals. Their reputation though is almost solely built upon their published work. Also, universities often give a bonus if a certain number of publications is written during a year. Same with government grants.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (2, Insightful)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359591)

No, scientists do not get paid for the papers they write by the journals. Their reputation though is almost solely built upon their published work. Also, universities often give a bonus if a certain number of publications is written during a year. Same with government grants.

And you don't get tenure if you don't have a good publishing record for your papers, with yourself as a lead for a few, and co-author for some of your earlier work.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358119)

Publishing in "good" journals gives you more merit, that's it. You can tell somebody you published 100 papers on your private website, or you can tell them you published 100 in Nature. Guess what impresses them more?

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358195)

Information wants to be free. Why should authors expect to get paid for their paper? They should just have wealthy people "sponsor" their art/science like was done in Roman times. This wasy they are paid for the work that goes into the paper only. At least that's what the last year or so of reading Slashdot has told me.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358451)

They should give their papers away for free and make money by selling audio versions on CD. Which they should also give away for free. But they can make money by selling coffee cups and tshirts.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (4, Insightful)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358697)

Information doesn't want anything.
YOU want information to be free.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25361449)

Wrong.

The adage expresses an Essentialist [wikipedia.org] sentiment. Fire _reaches_ for the sky. Water _seeks_ the lowest level.

In this personification, "information WANTS to be free", there is a warning and deep truth (that any intelligence worker understands) - the tendancy of information to move, as to entropy, towards the greatest degree of freedom. In other words, human desires aside, whether you want it, or I want it, any restriction on the flow of information is imperfect and temporary at best.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359593)

Information wants to be free. Why should authors expect to get paid for their paper? They should just have wealthy people "sponsor" their art/science like was done in Roman times. This wasy they are paid for the work that goes into the paper only. At least that's what the last year or so of reading Slashdot has told me.

You're trying to make a point about how silly it would be if what you said is true, aiming to make fun of the prevailing attitude toward piracy on /.

Amusingly, though, what you said already is true. Authors don't get money for papers. Instead, their income comes from wealthy people and organizations who "sponsor" their art or science. This way they are only paid for the work that goes into the paper.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (5, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358239)

No, authors don't get paid to appear in journals like Science and Nature. In fact, in most cases the author pays a fee for the space in the journal. It's a total racket.

The benefit to the author is that he can put the paper in his CV. The more big name journals you publish in, the more likely it is that you'll get grant funding and that all important tenure. It's publish or perish out there.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (4, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358841)

Of course we could all just publish stuff [timecube.com] on the Internet.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (3, Interesting)

jstott (212041) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359915)

The benefit to the author is that he can put the paper in his CV. The more big name journals you publish in, the more likely it is that you'll get grant funding and that all important tenure.

It's also more likely that someone will actually read your paper if it's in a big wide-circulation journal (e.g., Nature) instead of a hard-to-find low-circulation journal. This is particularly true for papers outside your own specialization where you won't necessarily have heard of them at a recent conference. The publication volume is just overwhelming — if you're going to stay current, you need someone else to filter most of the junk for you, and that's the service which selective journals like "Nature" (and review articles) ultimately provide.

-JS

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1)

crush (19364) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360225)

ditto with PNAS etc, and you pay more for color diagrams per page.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (3, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358321)

You don't make money from scientific publications. (On the contrary, you typically pay page charges.) You benefit because no one is going to give you a job or research funding if all you produce is a bunch of self-published manuscripts on your website.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358627)

You don't make money from scientific publications. (On the contrary, you typically pay page charges.) You benefit because no one is going to give you a job or research funding if all you produce is a bunch of self-published manuscripts on your website.

You don't make money from going to school. (On the contrary, you typically pay class charges.) You benefit because no one is going to give you a job or research funding if all you produce is a list of degrees you've given yourself.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359981)

This is a very good analogy. The only problem is that after a while, people care less about your degree (though in some fields, it might still matter to an extent). Publishing in highly visible, peer-reviewed is critical to getting funding and keeping an academic career.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25360633)

So how much do the universities get as kickbacks for preferentially hiring and tenuring the scientists who pay to be published in the big journals?

What?! Nothing?! If the goggle-eyed tower-scrimshanders ever want to run their scams more than one level deep, they might want to study the monkeys with the MBAs on the other side of campus.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (5, Informative)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358343)

I looked at scientific journals, and I honestly can't see much of an incentive to appear there. I mean sure, you might get published and that's got some merit...

Some merit? In many academic institutions, number of papers published in respectable journals is the preferred metric of performance, and will affect your promotion and the status/funding of your institution.

YMMV depending on the level of enlightenment and subject area of your institution - there are, of course, other aspects which can and should count - but number of papers is the "gold standard" and the safe bet.

If this were a scientific paper, I'd back that up with some references (but my institution definitely doesn't recognise /. karma and mod points, so I can't be arsed).

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359043)

Some merit? In many academic institutions, number of papers published in respectable journals is the preferred metric of performance, and will affect your promotion and the status/funding of your institution.

Don't you think this policy is madness? Essentially we are evaluating scientists more by their typing speed than how much they can think about deep problems.

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359345)

No. You evaluate them by the content of the paper and the science behind it, not the method of which they typed the journal.

Well, in theory... (3, Interesting)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359651)

If its a reputable journal, the evaluators assume that the articles have been thoroughly peer reviewed , and the quality can be taken as read.

The big assessment exercises (such as the 5-yearly RAE in the UK which determines the research ranking of universities) have to "assess" a metric shedload of papers - so they're not going to spend too much time on each one!

Of course, the reliability of this assumption is legendary [theregister.co.uk] .

Publishing does help scientists... (4, Insightful)

xplenumx (703804) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358527)

I looked at scientific journals, and I honestly can't see much of an incentive to appear there.

Having a high publication helps a graduate student land a good post-doctoral opportunity. As a post-doc, you'll need a good publication record (Nature, Science, Cell) if you want to land a good faculty position at a top university (tenure track). A scientist that can semi-regularly publish in the top journals will have an easier time earning grants (without such, they wouldn't be able to run a lab). Without a good publication record, a junior faculty won't get tenure (the review is typically 5-7 years for the biological sciences post hire). Publications - no, make that publications in good journals - is everything.

From the scientist's perspective, if they have pure research, then, they can put it on a web site, such as the university web site or even their own, and just skip the b.s.

Any yahoo can post on a website. The reasoning behind scientific journals is that the science is peer reviewed before being accepted. While not everything published on Nature, Science or Cell is top quality work (politics does play a role), the signal to noise ratio is much higher than say, International Immunology. The science presented in the top journals usually has a much higher impact factor than the 'lower' journals; i.e A paper published in Nature Immunology or Nature Medicine typically has a much broader impact on the field than, say, a paper published in Journal of Immunology. That's not to say that the JI paper is worse than the Nat. Imm. or Nat. Med. paper - it's not. Just that the JI paper will likely be much more narrow in scope.

Re:Publishing does help scientists... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25359401)

You make is seem so objective. As a scientist I can honestly say that publishing has become a racket. It used to be you sent a little postcard and received a copy of the article from the scientist who had published it. Now they want you to buy the damn thing on line or subscribe to that journal for hundreds if not thousands a year.

Peer review is often no more than an attempt to stifle other peoples work. At one time science was brought to the people..may be that's why we are such an scientifically illiterate nation! We still put all the articles in Ivory Tower Journals that few people in the mainstream read.

Finally the politics of publishing is worse than you think furthermore, many journals it's not about how good the work is but whether you can adapt it to their "publishing format."

Re:Publishing does help scientists... (2, Interesting)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359659)

You make is seem so objective. As a scientist I can honestly say that publishing has become a racket. It used to be you sent a little postcard and received a copy of the article from the scientist who had published it. Now they want you to buy the damn thing on line or subscribe to that journal for hundreds if not thousands a year.

Peer review is often no more than an attempt to stifle other peoples work. At one time science was brought to the people..may be that's why we are such an scientifically illiterate nation! We still put all the articles in Ivory Tower Journals that few people in the mainstream read.

Finally the politics of publishing is worse than you think furthermore, many journals it's not about how good the work is but whether you can adapt it to their "publishing format."

Your postcard method will still work 100% of the time. Every scientist will be delighted to email you a pdf of his requested paper. However, the new "racket" system, though incredibly expensive, does give new options for much more efficient distribution. Yes, the price is a major problem, but it didn't supplant the old system.

Re:Publishing does help scientists... (2, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359669)

t one time science was brought to the people.. may be that's why we are such an scientifically illiterate nation!

Not really, most people out there would struggle to understand even the abstract of a proper[1] scientific paper.

Basics first. There are people out there who don't understand evolution. There are people out there who think catalysts are a loophole [slashdot.org] in the laws of thermodynamics.

Obligatory car analogy: making all the roads good enough for F1 cars[2] won't help if all the other cars are Ladas.

[1] as in aimed at other scientists.
[2] for US readers: like Indy cars but the steering works in both directions.

Re:Publishing does help scientists... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25360717)

I have thought for a long time that the concept of digitally signing documents (such as PGP/GPG allows) would eventually replace the traditional peer review/publication process.

If no one will sign off on your paper, then it has no value. If respected colleagues will sign off on it, then it gains value.

No publishers are needed.

-JKD

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1)

MrBippers (1091791) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358903)

Scientific papers are peer reviewed. The idea is by having other people look over the work and critique it, only papers meeting a certain standard are accepted. Any work published to a scientists own website has not undergone this review process and from the view of the scientific community is unvalidated.

As far as making money goes, the scientific community works a little differently. Scientists aren't looking for compensation from journals like Nature or Science. The goal of a scientists is to have their work cited. Bigger journals have a higher impact factor (the average # of times your article is cited). The more citations you have for your published works, the more funding you will get. The more funding you bring in, the more your institution will pay you (or better chance of tenure).

Re:Doesn't seem to help scientists... (1)

mikael (484) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359597)

With the high-profile institutions, it's a case of "publish or perish". If you don't publish papers, you don't get track-tenure (a job-for-life).

I'd say a job for life is a fairly good incentive to keep publishing papers.

And if you make a really groundbreaking discovery (like DNA or a cure for a disease or a new algorithm), your name goes down in history.

Plus, there's the fun of going to conventions and conferences - seeing the latest hardware and applications. With genetics and biology, it always seems the case that what would have filled an entire room five years ago, will now be a desktop unit.

Publishers as Middlemen? (3, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358021)

publishers as bidders at an auction, authors as sellers, and the community at large as consumers

Hmmm, there's some term I'm thinking of that deals with people in the middle of the source and the destination that take money for acting as men in the middle when they're not doing anything or providing any service except being in the middle of the transaction. Also, it's beneficial to the sellers & the consumers to eliminate these people. I think they're called 'rich greedy bastards.'

Seriously, hosting a document for me to view doesn't cost $100/mo. so why are you trying to charge me that? I know it's primarily physics but if any other field wanted to pull their heads out of their asses, they would leave the journals to the professors and start up something like arxiv [arxiv.org] for the rest of humanity that can't afford an outrageous premium!

Re:Publishers as Middlemen? (4, Insightful)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358165)

Seriously, hosting a document for me to view doesn't cost $100/mo. so why are you trying to charge me that?

So they don't devalue the print versions, which is where they make all their cash.

Re:Publishers as Middlemen? (3, Interesting)

xplenumx (703804) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358715)

I'm not convinced that this is true. The only people (besides the library) that receive print publications receive them as a part of their professional membership fees (or as part of a training grant). Most scientists, myself included, simply rely on the email TOC (which we receive much sooner than the hard copy) or go to the websites directly. I suspect that most journals 'make their cash' from institutional subscriptions, professional fees (in the case of Blood), and/or publishing fees.

Re:Publishers as Middlemen? (1)

goose-incarnated (1145029) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359359)

Seriously, hosting a document for me to view doesn't cost $100/mo. so why are you trying to charge me that?

So they don't devalue the print versions, which is where they make all their cash.

Nice try, try this instead - "so they can still do review (peer as well) - checking for quality comes at a price"

Unless, of course, you want the serious articles mixed in with the perpetual motion machine descriptions...

Re:Publishers as Middlemen? (2, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358301)

Thankfully, the NIH has seen the light and now requires that all papers funded by NIH grants are deposited in the open access PubMed Central [nih.gov] . So now biologists can get in on the open access fun.

Re:Publishers as Middlemen? (4, Informative)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358525)

No. Follow the first link in the linked story (here, I'll save you the trouble [arstechnica.com] .) It is precisely about the legislation being proposed which would ELMINATE OR STRONGLY RESRICT that acess, being lobbied for by the publishers (using the (poor) arguments in today's linked article.)

Re:Publishers as Middlemen? (4, Insightful)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358305)

Amen to that! It looks like the best "value added" this pro-publisher piece could come up with was "We add value through branding".

Scientific journal publishers are surviving on one thing alone: inertia. And while it makes me sad to see the RIAA try to pull culture with it to its grave, it makes me *furious* to see these groups trying to pull science down with them.

Scientist do the writing, the editing, the peer-review, the *typesetting*... and then turn over the rights to their work for the privledge of paying up to $3,000 per seat to access it. When disseminating information was expensive, this made sense, but now... not so much. But like produces of shiny plastic discs, they'll pervert the laws for years to come to try to buy a few more years of life.

Re:Publishers as Middlemen? (2, Insightful)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358395)

Publishers serve as "unbiased" (yeah I know that's debatable) forums for peer review of scientific journalism and create centralized repositories that make finding articles a lot easier. They are hardly a middle man that adds no value. With that said, charging unsubscribed users $29 for a single four to six page article before they can even know if it will be useful is outrageous.

Re:Publishers as Middlemen? (2, Interesting)

nasor (690345) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360103)

1. The actual peer review is done by other scientists for free, not by the publishers.

2. Most publications actually require the author to suggest who should peer review it, so the publisher usually doesn't even have to work to figure out who should review what.

Re:Publishers as Middlemen? (2, Informative)

Convector (897502) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358567)

I agree those kind of fees are ridiculous. With a bit more effort, you can often work around that. Most scientists will post their own papers to a personal website for free (The copyright agreement with the publisher typically allows this). If the author has no such site, they will still provide the paper in response to an email request. The authors want you to read their work, and don't care if you pay for it or not, since they see none of the money in any case. What I think is truly wretched is that most publishers charge the authors AND the readers for the publication.

Re:Publishers as Middlemen? (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358893)

If you are fortunate enough to live in a big city, your public library will probably grant you access to a lot of scientific literature for free. The New York City public library carries various journals, although there is one specific branch where those may be accessed.

Really though, I agree with you. The general public, beyond big cities, should have unfettered access to scientific literature.

New biz model for ebay? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358103)

No, but seriously. They have an auction site with nothing to sell... what's not to like?

They should know better than this (4, Insightful)

slashdotlurker (1113853) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358187)

There are things that you can run like a business, and there are things that you cannot. Without meaning to be political about it, look at what 8 years of running the country like a business with an MBA at the top has got us.
I have not read the article. If the summary is accurate reflection of the authors' point about this, then it is at once misguided, and foolhardy. The purpose of business in a modern capitalist economy is to produce goods at low prices that the consumers can afford, generate enough profit to please the shareholders and to set aside enough money to do research to develop the goods and services to increase these profits and consumer good down the road. Sure, businesses cannot be left alone to do what they wish and government regulations limit unchecked profit-mongering, but the primary purpose of businesses is to establish a market share and earn profit for the shareholders.
Contrast this with the purpose of scientific research. The purpose varies from gaining a more accurate understanding of physical, chemical and biological phenomena to leveraging these phenomena into processes and contraptions that improve the quality of human life (where you lie on this spectrum depends on how pure/fundamental or applied your area of research is). The only shareholders in this process are the authors of scientific work, and their reward varies from just scientific renown to funding for future research or even commercialization of the fruits of their research. However, to achieve the most progress, scientific research tends to be 'open source', in the sense that anyone capable of understanding, and with financial resources to buy access to the journals (if the work is not presented in the growing number of free journals online) can read not only what was done, but also how it was done (something commercial concerns never reveal).
Of course, scientific journals are often run like a business (at least successful and well-renowned ones), but to extend these ideas to the actual business of carrying out research is utterly misguided. The goals of business (from a businessman's pov) and science (from a scientist's pov) are very different. The authors might as well apply these ideas to conduct of a military for all the relevance it has.
There are a host of other objections to such treatment as well, but I will pause here as people know what they are.

Re:They should know better than this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25359487)

look at what 8 years of running the country like a business with an MBA at the top has got us

8 years? I almost fell off my chair laughing. You must have meant to say "8 years on top of the 100+ in which the US government has expanded in both revenue and power over the people".

Let's call a spade a spade here: Bush and his cronies are only the latest in a long, long line of crooks determined to expand the business of government for their own benefit. The US government of today absolutely dwarfs the US government of 100 years ago, both in revenue and power over the people, and the vast majority of that expansion happend before Bush's time.

If government wasn't run like a business over this entire period, then how in the world did they accomplish this near-exponential growth? By sitting around doing nothing? Of course not. They used every trick in the book of crooked business to achieve it.

Re:They should know better than this (2, Informative)

Kintanon (65528) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360327)

Do any of you idiots who say this actually know the root cause of the current financial implosion?
It's a damned housing bill from the early 90s (Clinton years) which forced lenders to offer mortgages to lower income minorities whether they could afford those mortgages or not. That compulsion spawned huge growth in the housing market and an entire industry built around buying and selling those mortgages and the associated real-estate as well as cashing in on the inflated housing prices caused by the increased demand.
When those low income people suddenly couldn't afford to pay for their federally mandated loans anymore the bottom dropped out of everything.
So don't blame economists, or the free market, or running the country like a business for any of this shit. Blame the entitlement minded idiots that insisted that "greedy" banks give loans to people who couldn't afford them.

Community Reinvestment Act. Suck it bitches.
Relevant text is from the 1992 legislative changes. Enjoy.

Sounds like they need a cms and acls (3, Insightful)

einer (459199) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358215)

Why don't they just start their own wiki? I would find a great deal of value in a wiki moderated by a team of reputable scientists that published their findings to the great peer review workflow.

Re:Sounds like they need a cms and acls (1)

tylerni7 (944579) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358453)

How would you decide if they were reputable?
You could check the number of published articles they have...
Oh wait.

Working past that small problem though, it could be an interesting idea, although for some reason if you don't have to pay outrageous sums of money, like you do for scientific journals, peers will probably have better things to do than fact-check the wiki, so it will probably turn out being just like arvix.

Re:Sounds like they need a cms and acls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358521)

Several wikis are out there to share scientific information (such as openwetware), however as much of what is being published in scientific journals is research that is highly competitive, and these publications form the bases for future funding, it is essential that scientists get credit for their work. Because of this scientists want what they publish to be under their name and without change.
  Biology Direct and some other open access journals are now allowing readers to post comments. Many are also moving towards publishing the peer reviews along with the article.

Re:Sounds like they need a cms and acls (1)

JasonFleischer (620495) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360447)

This exact idea is being developed right now. Take a look at Scholarpedia [scholarpedia.org] . Its a direct extension of scientific publishing in its traditional sense to the wiki world.

Blame Google? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358223)

They could do more to help. At $15-25 a read most scientific papers are beyond the means of ordinary folks. Even if you are at a university or institute that subscribes to some journals the chances of getting what you want if you're casually browsing across disciplines (from which many great creative insights come) is slim.

I think the search engines contribute to this problem because the search algorithms do not take account of availability. Search for any specialist subject and you will see the first 10 pages dominated by links to the gatekeepers of knowledge who offer shallow abstracts and for-pay access. Somewhere after page 10 you will find an obscure link to the actual authors website where you can get the paper.

Google has the technology to rank availability above kissing the publishers asses. I can only assume they choose not to act in the best interests of the community.

 

Re:Blame Google? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25360389)

Have you ever heard of google scholar?

It lists all versions of an article together as one link (with a versions link beside it) - the top hit on the link is the free pdf if one is available and has been spidered by google (else it gives the publisher link).

http://scholar.google.com/ [google.com]

I can see it. (3, Interesting)

Thrackmoor (1274936) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358261)

As a scientist who has published work in a few journals, I know that the process is arcane and fraught with peril. There are publishers who have axes to grind and it sometimes keeps good information out of the scientific discourse. Of course, I can't offer a real solution because all peer-reviewed journals involve humans with all of our attendant weaknesses.

wrong model ? (2, Interesting)

Tom (822) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358593)

The authors then go on to discuss a variety of economic terms that they think apply to publishing

Which is probably the most problematic point.

While even in the current crisis "market models" are still hip, they don't give the answers to all questions. A scientific conclusion that starts with "if X were a market" must question, among all the other validations, the "if" part as well.

And while economy provides interesting theories that are helpful in many cases - just like evolution, it does not fit everywhere. So the very first thing that would've to be established is that the model fits.

In this case, I've not seen enough of that, so any conclusions drawn are meaningless until then.

Re:wrong model ? (1)

mdmkolbe (944892) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360805)

In theory it could be a market. But I think the main problem is it has too many externalities. For example, the primary motive for the author (i.e. a better reputation through publishing) is a classic externality.

In theory that could all be internalized (and I hope they do so in the article), so it's not hopeless. But I agree that there are many traps in doing that internalization.

Did anybody else read that as ... (1)

justinlee37 (993373) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358625)

Current Scientific Method Problematic? For like 2 seconds or so my jaw fell off my face.

pot, meet kettle (3, Interesting)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358643)

Is this serious, or just push back from economists who are upset that a number of papers and editorials have recently appeared in high profile scientific journals questioning the description of economics as science? Allegories, for example, are not scientific.

Scientific social/publishing networks (2, Interesting)

aveng0 (590814) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358733)

I think there are a few websites geared towards solving problems with scientific publications (specifically in the life sciences). I think Labmeeting (labmeeting.com) is one of the earliest websites in this field and already has some good functionality for researchers. As a researcher myself, I know that one of the biggest problems is getting scientists to use new tools. Hopefully, when the right tools comes along we will see some big changes in scientific research methods...

Scientists as Consumers? (1)

sanjacguy (908392) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358751)

One issue brought up in the article is scientists don't know the value of the information they produce. The pieces of information created by scientists can't be divided up into portions of equal value because what is valuable to one scientist is going to be based upon their field of interest and research. The problem is that your "consumer audience" isn't a single market of half a million scientists, it's half a million markets that happen to be made up of scientists.

uncertain valuation (2, Insightful)

Vornzog (409419) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358757)

Instead of claiming that the whole system is broken, just fix the breakdowns in the current system.

The authors argue that scientific research suffers from an uncertain valuation, but this would require that the consumers â" the scientists â" can't accurately judge what's significant.

Any given paper does suffer from 'uncertain valuation', but uncertain doesn't mean the consumers have no clue.

Consider the impact factor of the journal to which the paper was submitted, the reputation of the author, the actual evidence that has been presented in the paper, the fact that the paper has undergone peer review, and what impact the paper would have its claims were to have merit.

In combination, these factors allow better papers to tend to float to the surface. This is fairly typical of a market.

Most fields have decent market regulation built-in, in the form of peer review and independent verification of results.

Politically charged fields (global warming) tend toward unregulated market behavior. Papers are no longer selected based on scientific merit, but instead on hype/scare factor. This makes the value of a paper much more uncertain, and leads to a nasty failure mode (see the current world economy).

There are models that do not have such nasty failure modes (or at least have very different failure modes). Usually, these also fail to produce such good results in the common case.

I dislike the current scientific publishing system because the publishers tend to be paid by both the author and the consumer, and can generally force the author to relinquish copyright. However, the quality of the system seems to me to be far better than this article supposes.

change through consensus (5, Interesting)

diraceq (1336599) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358819)

I'm a grad student in the natural sciences. Some other friends of mine and I started Labmeeting.com [labmeeting.com] because we are so eager to help change the way science gets published.

The current system of peer review is inefficient, arbitrary, and hidden from public view. We definitely need something new, but, as we said in our talk [blogspot.com] at BioBarCamp a while back, change needs to be gradual enough to preserve consensus.

That's why we're starting by just trying to make research tools that are useful to scientists in their everyday professional lives.

River says,... (1)

MaliciousSmurf (960366) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358857)

This publishing method is problematic. Damn I need to rewatch Firefly.

It's All Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25358861)

Getting publishes is just a further extension of the bullshit that is rampant in "academia".

Your value is based not on what you know or contribute, but on who you rub elbows with and which side of the political fence your "research" can be construed to support.

I long for the days where scientists actually produced something. I'm sick of hearing about study A which shows that X is true, and study B which shows that X is not necessarily true. I'm sick of hearing about a new groundbreaking proof in mathematics, only to later find out that it's for a small, specific set of cases, or that it's just plain wrong. I'm sick of people supporting "peer reviewed" hobnobbing bullshit work, and denouncing anything that isn't. I'm sick of hearing about the scientific "consensus" on global warming, when in fact there is NO consensus, and the vast majority of scientists who are counted in the consensus specifically state their research, data, and conclusions can not be used to verify OR refute global warming. I'm sick of "research" that is politically motivated bullshit that exists only to support a particular ideology, group, or class. I'm sick of scientists in the west being restrained to the point of obsolescence by laws and "ethics" that are merely political. I'm sick of useful research and inventions and ideas being held back due to legal issues, corporate greed, and political bullshit. I'm sick of "science" that has no regard for the scientific method. I'm sick of "scientists" merely massaging inconsistent data from tests sloppily performed by some grad students.

ETC.

Putt's Law (3, Insightful)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 5 years ago | (#25358945)

Due to the publish or perish mindset at universities, scientific authors must be prolific. Putt's Law (good book) lampoons this quite well, roughly akin to an Amway style ponzi scheme. Sharing new knowledge with the larger community is no longer among any of the major motives for cranking out papers. Frankly the system punishes those who would compile and distill the huge number of obtuse and often stupid articles into a useable form for us rank and file engineers. Such useful efforts are not "new and novel", despite what would be a great service for those of us doomed to wade through the stacks and stacks of crap papers written in acadamia-ese.

In my job, a hardware design engineer, I find that most of the modern papers are indecipherable and irrelevant at best. Only occasional gems make it through and actually apply to my day job (of designing state of the art T&M hardware). By contrast, the old journals from the 70's and 80's easily have a 10:1 better signal to noise ratio, despite their dated nature.

Dreadful article--not worth publishing! (3, Interesting)

Ichoran (106539) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359001)

That this article got published in PLOS Medicine is a data point saying that the publication model for PLOS Medicine is flawed. That's about it.

The authors don't bother to back up any of their assertions. If there is a winner effect, for example, the most prestigious journals should have the highest rate of publication of junk results, whereas lower-ranked journals should be more accurate. So, is this true? Did the authors bother to look, or even to think about and discuss it?

Also, does "overpayment" correspond to "poor quality science" or to "only slightly more cool than the rejected paper, on second thought"?

Now, it is more true in the medical sciences that positive results are published that claim to show p0.05, but are one of a dozen similar studies 11 of which have not shown an effect (i.e. overall there was no significant finding). But this recognition has nothing to do with bidding per se; it's not that the journals are picking the high tail of a distribution of value so much as that they're seeking statistical significance without controlling for the number of times that the study was done.

And as the summary says (which is actually better than the research article itself, IMO), there are a number of other problems.

There are certainly ways that one might seek to improve scientific publishing. But this seems almost entirely off target and/or ill-supported to me.

Re:Dreadful article--not worth publishing! (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360139)

Did you look at the originating article Here [plosjournals.org] ? Looks like they are backing up what they are saying. I'm not to fond or familiar with an 'open-access article' as I think it could lead to distorting the facts, but I'll be open minded, for now.

Re:Dreadful article--not worth publishing! (1)

Ichoran (106539) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360563)

Yes, I did, and I didn't see any "backing up". They back up the non-controversial claims they make by citing papers that demonstrated the same thing, but they add basically nothing on their own.

For example, the "Oligopoly" section points gives data on publication in high-profile journals, but the data does not include any metrics that might be relevant to their claims about specific and possibly non-obvious negative effects such as the Winner Effect. They reference herding in economics, and cite a paper on collective thought about molecular cascades, but don't link the collective thought to journal publications specifically as opposed to the sense in the whole field.

The Artificial Scarcity section only references the publication rates at Nature and Science, and doesn't explain why the scarcity is artificial or real (i.e. real competition for attention, which is in scarce supply). They state, for instance, "Low acceptance rates create an illusion of exclusivity based on merit", but do not support that this is an illusion--certainly *something* is exclusive, and if it is *not* merit-based, they ought to show why it is not.

So they certainly cite lots of stuff, it's just that what they cite isn't all that relevant to the most notable claims they make. Thus, I don't see how to distinguish this paper from a statement of opinion.

But I did just realize that this is published as an "essay". Fine--for an essay, the level of rigor is tolerable. (It's not that well-reasoned an essay, even, but it is at least passable.) So that this was published doesn't really reflect badly on PLOS Medicine as I originally claimed. I just don't see why we should believe it.

We also only publish positive results (3, Insightful)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 5 years ago | (#25359541)

One of the major problems with scientific journals and the peer review process is that we have a positive bias for publication, in that you are much more likely to be published if your study has positive results than if it has - equally valid so as not to have everybody else keep doing the same thing and failing - negative results.

Half of getting into Science and Nature is politics, not science.

And just TRY to get something published about improved methodology in statistics for genetics studies ... hah! You have to publish in obscure journals or start your own self-publishing annual or biannual workshop and then attach it to a positive study to get it out there.

Does anyone car? (1)

SleptThroughClass (1127287) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360083)

the quality of the analogies varies quite a bit.

Did they try saying how it is like a car?

COI (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#25360577)

From TOA:

A paper that was published in the open access journal PLoS Medicine has now examined scientific publishing using economic concepts and concluded that the way things are done now is inevitably problematic.

Seems a bit of a conflict of interest here. Of course the open-access journals are going to suggest that "the way things are done now" --i.e., traditional journals-- are "oligarchic" and "distort science".

You don't need an economist.... (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#25361513)

... to know which way the wind blows.

You do, however, need a working and publishing scientist, myself among many here, to be able to tell you TFA is wrong in that it's not right enough, and confusing in that it's a ridiculous metaphor being used where facts would suffice. Furthermore, there are more problems in the process than they don't even touch on. One that comes to mind, and certainly should have to an economics viewpoint on the subject, is the effect of research grants on the production of and bias created in science, the effect of prior publications on getting those grants, and the effect of possible future grants to be gained by producing and publishing certain things in certain ways and places.

Another point that fails due to faulty assumption is that science shouldn't be incorrect and should always be correct, this assumption being used to specify in which cases they feel this most likely to occur. We know full well it's not correct. It never is. If it were we'd have had the Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious Truths. Science runs on statistics, with chances of false positives and negatives calculated and presented. Independent replications are required to narrow those margins but can never close them. We produce the best supported educated guesses and then argue over them until we come up with better ideas and tests, ad infinitum. Economics as considered in TFA would assume the same mistaken model that results in the inevitable end point of monopoly when the best possible product is created. No scientist who understands the process would ever try to present themselves as having done so. We operate under the model as presented by John Nash* wherein the best collection of choices are all sub-optimal because this produces the best aggregate result. We do not do so in order to achieve that result, we achieve that result because we know science to be imperfect and thus sub-optimal.

Finally, this appears in a medical journal, where economics is much more a driving force than most other fields. The model presented comes from bias within that field and so is not very generalizable. Other fields would produce equally valid and equally invalid/biased results based on their own models.

Taken out of the economic context, the points raised are well known to the philosophy of science (where from Ph.D. is supposed to be derived), and have been explicated far more deeply and with better generalization throughout the history of the scientific method. These errors are merely compounded and made more relevant to economics when the present publication models are given their present level of import.

* John Nash's writings and conclusions are fairly astounding in their revelations, but are fairly dense. The presentation of his major discovery regarding best aggregate results coming from individually sub-optimal results are very well presented in "A Beautiful Mind" where he tells his friends that the best way for them to all get laid is for none of them to go for the blond, and all go for the brunettes. This is one of the most insightful translations of science to popular media that I've ever seen.

It's a flawed analysis... (2, Insightful)

kocsonya (141716) | more than 5 years ago | (#25361571)

"... treating the entire process like an economic system, with publishers as bidders at an auction, authors as sellers, and the community at large as consumers."

Not really, not at least in biomed papers.
With those the scientist actually *pays* the publisher to print the article. A paper, especially if it contains colour images (microscopic slides, colourful graphs etc) can set you back by several thousand dollars. That's why there's a little disclaimer under each article that states that since the author paid for the publication, the article legally is paid advertisement.

So no, the authors are not sellers. Only the publishers are the sellers, selling article space to the scientists, advertisement space to corporations and the end result back to scientists. The scientists who publish don't even get the complimentary free copy, although as an author, you can ask them to send you the PDF that you sent them in the first place; now this service is free. On the other hand, if you want the whole magazine on your bookshelf, fork out $200 for a single issue.

It is a wonderful business model:

- Get the article from scientist (free)
- Send it to other scientists for peer review (free)
- Accept it and charge the author (income)
- Sell the advertisement space, at least 50% of the mag (income)
- Print the mag (expense)
- Sell the mag *way* above production/distribution cost (income)
- Keep the copyright to every article so that the author can't republish it without paying you (possible income)
- Profit!!!

The Underpants Gnomes had no clue about business...

Plus there are further tricks - if you manage to bribe the execs of some research association so that membership in the assocation also means a compulsory subscription to your periodical, then the customer base is guaranteed. Of course it is usually sold as "we had to increase our membership fee, but now membership also includes a complimentary subscription to magazine X". This of course increases your readership, making your ranking higher among the sci mag list.

Ah, yes. Chances are that the money they take from the scientist is public money from some research grant. Yet the copyright to the article belongs to the publisher, a private organisation that actually has very little to do with scientific research and everything to do with making profit. That's clever! Even better, that when research grants are awarded, they check your publication record. If you published your articles on the Web, that is worth exactly nothing. Publishing a handful of articles in a couple of those high-ranking expensive publications significantly increases your chance to get a grant, so that you can publish some more...

Imagine if the **AA could find a way to implement this! Every musician and actor paying them to be included on a CD or in a film, plus selling ads even smack in the middle of a CD (music stops, someone screams about the advantages of washing powder X, music continues) and making it compulsory that members of any civil organisation buy a certain number of CDs or DVDs every month. Those Hollywood dudes know diddly squat about making profit.

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