Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Start-Up Wants To Open Up Science Journals and Eliminate Paywalls

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the get-your-learning-on dept.

Education 74

First time accepted submitter ryanferrell writes "Not even Harvard can afford to subscribe to every academic journal. For scientists at small institutions, lack of access to journals specific to one's narrow field can be painful. Individual articles can cost $30 to $50 each, which is paid out of personal or grant funds. The Boston Globe profiles a start-up that is piloting an 'iTunes' model with Nature Publishing Group and the University of Utah. In the pilot program, researchers pay nothing to download articles and their library foots a smaller bill for a la carte access from the publisher."

cancel ×

74 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Pipe Dream... (4, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 2 years ago | (#41590631)

I can build a web site like this, too! It doesnâ(TM)t mean that the journals I follow will come running to me to abandon their multi-thousand a year subscription fees. The solution is not in the delivery system, itâ(TM)s in the entire mentality of the so-called âoeprofessional journalâ and the need for scientists to pimp themselves within.

And that will not happen any time soon.

Re:Pipe Dream... (3, Insightful)

wealthychef (584778) | about 2 years ago | (#41590977)

Is it possible that if a few brave scientists start publishing to the open source environment, scientists with the street cred to do so without scorn, then others might see the value in it and start pimping themselves to the new venue?

Re:Pipe Dream... (5, Interesting)

Phillip2 (203612) | about 2 years ago | (#41594091)

Many scientists do. As well as the expensive options like PLoS, there are many who just publish on their own blogs, or use tools like arxiv. At the moment, though, the credit structures don't acknowledge the cheap options, so we have to pay for the more expensive process, whether before or after.

Scientific publishing is on a knife edge at the moment. There is a lot of flux in the system. I hadn't heard of ReadCube -- there is also Mendeley and Zotero which offer good reference management capabilities. Then, in terms of journals which are, or are about to appear, there is Elife, F1000 Research, PeerJ. Then there is Figshare which is also NPG now. It's quite an interesting time. Some very big names are going to crash (Elsevier is kind of high on that list of possible losses; fingers crossed Springer goes as well).

The risk is, and I think it is a very real risk, is exactly that what this article suggests. We end up with iTunes; a single, dominant publisher who can define the publishing model, control the sytem regardless of the other stakeholders. It has happened in many other areas: google, facebook, amazon are all obvious examples.

I dislike the status quo intently, but this does not mean that replacing will necessarily produce a better result.

Re:Pipe Dream... (1)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#41591021)

If there are open ones and closed ones, I don't see why there can't be something in the middle.

What middle? (5, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41591287)

There is nothing in the middle, because technology has already rendered the journal publishing industry obsolete. It is like asking about the middle ground between cars and horses -- which is ridiculous and pointless red flag laws.

The real answer is to get rid of the journal publishing industry entirely. We do not need them. Copyright does nothing to promote scientific research these days, and journal publishers just hide human knowledge behind a wall of copyrights. Journal publishers rarely compensate the scientists who review articles, and sometimes they do not even compensate the editors.

Of course, journals also have names, which scientists can use to impress people. "I published in Nature" sounds impressive, and people simply assume that your work must have been "a cut above" work that was published elsewhere. After all, who has time to read so much as the abstract of an article, when you can stop at the name of the journal (and it's not as though anyone publishes the same article in 10 different journals, making only superficial tweaks to their work, right?)?

Let's not keep our minds so open that our brains fall out. The journal publishing industry is an obsolete industry, riding on nothing but its good name and an anachronistic method of promoting the spread of human knowledge for the benefit of society.

Re:What middle? (0)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#41591703)

It is like asking about the middle ground between cars and horses -- which is ridiculous and pointless red flag laws.

You mean like bicycles, atv's, tractors, and motorcycles? ;)

Kidding aside, I still don't see why a middle ground between free and ridiculously-high-paywall is dead from the start.

Re:What middle? (4, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41591791)

Kidding aside, I still don't see why a middle ground between free and ridiculously-high-paywall is dead from the start.

You can think of it this way: the fewer restrictions there are on reading journal articles, the more scientific research that can be done. So free (libre and gratis) articles maximize the benefit to researchers, who are the very people writing those articles.

Now, prior to the Internet, such a thing could not have happened, because one of the major restrictions on journal access was the ability of researchers to actually obtain copies of the journals -- without a global copying machine like the Internet, they had to rely on people who had industrial copying equipment, which was expensive to operate. Back then, copyrights made a lot of sense for scientific publishing, because they helped to monetize the publishing industry that was making articles available to researchers.

These days, most researchers have enough equipment in their pockets to make copies of articles available to the world. So the intrinsic restrictions on obtaining articles are now gone; copyright is no longer helping to reduce restrictions, but it has actually become the most significant restriction on reading articles. Since researchers are not paid via copyrights on their articles, and since the reviewers and editors of journals are often not paid for their work, there is little reason left for us to continue to pay anyone just to read scientific articles.

So, while copyrights will keep journals alive, and will likely keep "middle of the road" approaches alive, in terms of actually benefiting society by promoting the progress of scientific research, there is only one good way to proceed: free availability of articles, via the Internet.

Re:What middle? (1)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#41592033)

You don't have to recite the "free is better" rhetoric for me, I'm already familiar. I was (repeatedly) asking why a middle ground won't work... because that was the original assertion. Nobody asked about "greatest social benefit".

But now it seems now you've concluded that it could, or even does work?

So, while copyrights will keep journals alive, and will likely keep "middle of the road" approaches alive

If you weren't interested in addressing the question and just wanted a platform to shout from, you should know that you're preaching to the choir, and you're just thread-jacking.

Re:What middle? (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41592065)

In the long run, copyrights on scientific research are going to either die or become irrelevant, that's why. That is all that the middle of the road approach has going for it.

Re:What middle? (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41592371)

In the long run, copyrights on scientific research are going to either die or become irrelevant, that's why. That is all that the middle of the road approach has going for it.

If all these pay walls do is provide funding to keep the pay wall afloat, then yes there is no point to them.

On the other hand:
Does Dr. Joe Researcher make any money selling papers? Do the institutions that employ Dr. Joe?
Does any of the money flow back to the source of funding?

Re:What middle? (3, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41592801)

Does Dr. Joe Researcher make any money selling papers?

Not directly; a researcher might make money by advancing his career, which a well-padded resume might help with, which publishing in top name journals accomplishes. But that is a pretty big stretch, and there is no reason that a resume could not be padded in another system where the papers cannot be copyrighted (or simply are not). Note also that researchers in my own field, where papers are almost always available at no cost, still pad their resumes.

Do the institutions that employ Dr. Joe?

That is even more tenuous. Institutions with researchers that have well-padded resumes do tend to bring in more grant money, because those researchers are more likely to get grants. Again, in my field, people get lots of grant money, despite the fact that their published papers can be downloaded at no cost.

Does any of the money flow back to the source of funding?

Only in the sense that the money I spent on coffee this past week will eventually find its way there.

Re:What middle? (1)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about 2 years ago | (#41592477)

So if you're right (which is highly speculative), then it's a progressive idea that should do well, and will usher in a coming era of truly open access.

If you're wrong, it's a reasonable middle-ground approach, analogous to iTunes (as they suggest), somewhere between a napster and pressed albums at high prices.

I guess we've cleared that up...

Re:What middle? (1)

ultranova (717540) | about 2 years ago | (#41596759)

I was (repeatedly) asking why a middle ground won't work... because that was the original assertion.

Middle ground doesn't work because if there's any kinds of restrictions whatsoever on access, whoever controls those restrictions is making money off them, and has every incentive to make them stricter to increase their income. It's the same thing that happened with copyrights.

Also, if what is basically a parasite - the journal - allows for "middle ground", it risks giving credibility to the idea that it's actually completely unnecessary. A parasitic entity can survive as long as it keeps a stranglehold on the field its feeding from; give any slack, and people might start demanding even more, and before long completely dislodge it. It's the same problem every tyranny faces: once people get the idea that it's possible to defeat the tyrant, rebellions spread like wildfire.

Re:What middle? (1)

GLMDesigns (2044134) | about 2 years ago | (#41599161)

I think you hit it on the head. Up until the 1990s it was difficult to have mass distribution of articles. Now it is easy. The university pays the academic's salary (often through tax dollars) who then writes the article for free. The articles are reviewed (and edited) for free and then published. Back in the day printing small runs of scholarly journals was very expensive. It still is expensive to print and distribute small runs of dead-tree journals. On the other hand distributing on-line journals costs close to nothing. Academic journals are prohibitively expense. This can be done by academics without outside help - publish and review articles and place them on line.

Re:What middle? (1)

ax_42 (470562) | about 2 years ago | (#41594225)

Of course, journals also have names, which scientists can use to impress people. "I published in Nature" sounds impressive, and people simply assume that your work must have been "a cut above" work that was published elsewhere. After all, who has time to read so much as the abstract of an article, when you can stop at the name of the journal (and it's not as though anyone publishes the same article in 10 different journals, making only superficial tweaks to their work, right?)?

And that name / reputation is what makes this whole rotten system so hard to break. Nature has a monopoly on a very scarce good, their own name, because if you published in Nature, your career is made (and your ability to publish lame crap in future is substantially enhanced, as you can ride on your reputation for years.

The journal publishing industry is an obsolete industry, riding on nothing but its good name and an anachronistic method of promoting the spread of human knowledge for the benefit of society.

Agreed, and in addition it is heavily biased towards the incumbents (the publishers, and those who benefit from having made a name for themselves by publishing in the incumbent journals). Don't even get me started on the fact that the publishing system is single-blind only (author doesn't know who the reviewers are, reviewers know who the authors are and have been proven to show bias), the taxpayer pays for everything multiple times (subscriptions + open access fees + often salaries of the researchers), fraud and bias in the review process (hmmmm, interesting paper I've been asked to review here -- I'll just hold up its publication, redo the experiment and publish first), etc, etc.

Unfortunately, it is built to be broken in its current form -- any constructive ideas (based on proper economic incentives within the system) on how to break the industry gladly accepted.

i-tunes model ? (1)

stephanruby (542433) | about 2 years ago | (#41591123)

I thought the 'i-tunes' business model was all about building your own os and your own hardware platform, so you could have a large captive audience and shut out competitors.

In any case, I doubt that "paying less" is the argument they used to bring in their current publisher on-board. They probably sold it to them saying: "You guys could make a lot more money short-term wise, if you stopped offering your unlimited access subscriptions and switched to a metered approach. Since the researchers reading your articles are not even the ones who see the bill, that means they'll probably just keep on reading as if they still have an unlimited subscription -- thus inflating the bills for libraries to ten times the amount that they usually pay."

Re:i-tunes model ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41593479)

Probably more like would you rather have potential readers at 100 institutions or 1000? The i-tunes model would hold little appeal for Harvard and its peers, but just might for Haverford and other liberal arts institutions that only have a few researchers that would use any given specialized journal.

Re:Pipe Dream... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 2 years ago | (#41591303)

It is changing already. Younger generations of scientists see the value in submitting to open journals. However, the older generations control how tenures and grants are awarded of course, and they don't see as much value in it. They value journal name as a fast way to tell the value of an article. So it's not really in the younger generation's interests to value open access over impact factor, sadly. Wouldn't want to get passed over for a tenure track position because you took a stand. And besides, most journals worth getting access to already go open access after a while.

I recently published with elsevier. I wanted to boycott them, but first of all it wasn't my call where it got published, and second, it was either them or a lower impact factor, and potentially worse for my career. I tried submitting to several higher imact factor journal that weren't elsevier first, but that was just a waste of time.

Re:Pipe Dream... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41591859)

Younger generations of scientists see the value in submitting to open journals.

Really? Not the journals that matter. Clearly you are not at the phd level.

Seriously.

Re:Pipe Dream... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 2 years ago | (#41594917)

Could you be a little clearer in what you mean?

Re:Pipe Dream... (1)

solange23 (2746999) | about 2 years ago | (#41592587)

Same impossible to create a website in this conditions.

Re:Pipe Dream... (2)

jmerlin (1010641) | about 2 years ago | (#41593141)

I don't think it's the journals we have to worry about. All we need to do is to get the actual scholars to contribute their work in a more direct and public manner. From what I've gathered reading about how companies like Elsevier and others have treated authors following the dissolution of The Journal of Algorithms (good job, Knuth et al!), my understanding is that a handful of people get these journals free of charge, but most universities (including those who funded the research found in those journals) have to pay substantially over-priced yearly fees, and not purchase individual magazines but instead are required to purchase large collections of journals, most of which are widely regarded as complete jokes.

Further, these journals, from my understanding, pay authors/universities an utterly insulting royalty. The only reason authors submit their works to these journals is because everyone already buys them so it guarantees publicity and looks good on paper, and being a year-long endeavor, this makes actual research incredibly inefficient (leading to researchers just creating mailing lists and keeping each other informed about their research). I think we, the collective internet, have demonstrated that we can provide a better platform for this in every regard. With an open peer review, and instant publication to millions of people, with potential prices per-article (reasonable, like $.50, not $30) going primarily towards the authors and reviewers, we can do better.

I don't like the solution in TFA. I think it's a tiny step, maybe even just a shuffle, in the right direction, if at all. It reads very much like these two are just trying to take over the entire industry by placing themselves at the very top of this massive money machine as the middle men, much like Apple did with iTunes and the App Store, rather than actually solving the underlying problems. They argue "with better accessibility, the same model will work, and we can even drive down prices by being a little less greedy than Elsevier." Nonsense. We neither need nor want a middle man. Much research funded by tax dollars should be made publicly available at no cost, and the rest should be available at a reasonable cost to EVERYONE, not just other researchers. And if you completely cut away the operating costs of middle men and walled gardens, the prices could be astonishingly low but still maintain very good supplemental returns for Universities and all contributors. This proposed "solution" should be rejected for the very same reasons the existing publishers are being rejected.

Re:Pipe Dream... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41593551)

The thing overlooked in the push to throw out the publishing parasites is copy-editing - the referees' primary mission is to evaluate the relevance and accuracy of the paper. Some catch minor errors and good ones can suggest changes that substantially improve the final paper, but, particularly when both the author and referee are non-native speakers, simple errors can fall through the cracks. It is not easy to find people whose scientific knowledge is sufficient enough to allow them to correct errors without distorting the meaning. Journals also help stratify research - is it relevant to the broader science, physics, high-energy physics, or some subspecialty thereof? The best journals often have longer review times to allow for greater revision because the greater readership justifies more editing time. Until Siri or Watson is sufficiently advanced to do the copy-editing, some fee is necessary, be it from authors (the bio-sciences model) or readership (mathematics), to cover these costs. Even were this free, the idea of different journals selecting papers for different readerships makes sense to help fellow researchers determine which of the hundreds of new articles each month would be helpful to read.

Re:Pipe Dream... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41596415)

Personally I would love to have unobstructed access to the best papers.
Although how many more events like bubble fusion would pop up? How much would science be led into false logic?

Usually the more expensive a paper is, the better the vetting, thus the less of your time/energy wasted.
Don't get trapped like a raccoon by shiny stuff in the water.

You'll get what you pay for.

If the articles are that expensive (1)

CBravo (35450) | about 2 years ago | (#41590681)

If the articles remain that expensive the academia end up where newspapers are now... Minimalized.

Re:If the articles are that expensive (2)

Aardpig (622459) | about 2 years ago | (#41590769)

Newspapers are minimalised because of the plethora of free news sources online. The same can't be said of peer-reviewed scientific papers. So, I think your analogy is flawed.

Re:If the articles are that expensive (0)

ThorGod (456163) | about 2 years ago | (#41590903)

His is the kind of false analogy that sounds plausible so long as you don't analyse it at all.

Scientific journals *are* science. There really isn't a cheap substitute for peer review. Consider the source of peer reviewed articles: scientists! Their labor and expertise are, by definition, not cheap!

Re:If the articles are that expensive (2)

tragedy (27079) | about 2 years ago | (#41591079)

But the scientists producing the research and the institutions employing them are, as far as I can tell, seldom (never?) compensated by scientific journals for articles. Peer review is done by scientists, not the journals themselves. The journals just publish. It seems that scientists are more likely to have to pay to be published than the other way around.

Re:If the articles are that expensive (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#41591201)

Academic publishing is obscenely, ridiculously profitable, because the scammers who publish the journals use sharp sales and marketing tactics, jack up prices for universities until the pips squeak, and yet happily accept free labour for editing journals, moderation, peer review, whatnot.

Academic journals enjoy net margins in excesss of 45%. That's extremely high. Clearly, the market is broken somehow, because if the barriers to entry in this market were not so high, the profits wouldn't be quite so outrageous.

I wish ReadCube all the best. I would love to know why so many smart people are around to publish in journals, yet haven't yet figured out a way to break the power of the publishing cartels.

Re:If the articles are that expensive (1)

sjames (1099) | about 2 years ago | (#41591421)

The journals do NOT pay for peer review.

Re:If the articles are that expensive (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41592409)

The journals do NOT pay for peer review.

I was just going to ask that.

Wouldn't you have to be peer reviewed just to get into the journals?

Do peer reviewers ever get paid? And if so by who? Wouldn't paying for a review taint the review?

Reviewers aren't paid. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41592733)

Scientists love tearing apart each other's work (for free). The only ones getting paid work for the publisher.

Re:If the articles are that expensive (1)

CBravo (35450) | about 2 years ago | (#41593715)

If you want to sell something you need a product and a market. The market might find a (lesser) substitute for expensive information. Regardless of the product.

I've read enough papers in my life but in general I'm just looking for 'the good idea' with reasonable argumentation. Some peer-replies are welcome have a stupidity filter. For the rest they are just long pieces of paper I have to go through.

I guess they will be replaced by blogs or Q&A-pages (like serverside/stackoverflow).

Not academia (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41591469)

Academic researchers are not the ones who will be minimalized, because journals are not what matter for researchers. I know this, because I am a graduate research assistant who has published work. Now, this varies by field, but:
  1. My papers are on my website and anyone can download them.
  2. Even if for some reason I could not publish my papers on my personal webpage, I have a mountain of source code that I can publish. What do you think the world cares more about?
  3. I receive numerous emails about my work, from other researchers who are doing similar things. Those email exchanges are just as informative as the papers themselves, and I could probably touch them up a bit and create something for public consumption if I had to.
  4. If journal publishers all went bankrupt, I, like most in my field, would be relieved to be free from them. Those who would worry would be thinking about their resumes, not about the end of their profession.

In other words, we do not need journals anymore. We have the Internet, and the only reason we haven't yet stopped publishing in journals is that we need to keep padding our resumes (publish or perish and all that nonsense).

Ouch! (1)

xkr (786629) | about 2 years ago | (#41590705)

The journal publishers are in a world of hurt. So are Universities and faculty. They all want to get behind *something,* they just don't know what. Perhaps these guys have a good enough model and a critical mass of backers (one big publisher -- hundreds of journals, and a big University) to build some momentum.

Re:Ouch! (0)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#41590807)

Oh, the journal publishers are *hurting*. Because for the greedy c**ts, 45% margins simply aren't enough.

I hope Obama wins a second term, and takes aim at the academic publishing racket.

of course Harvard can't afford it (4, Informative)

csumpi (2258986) | about 2 years ago | (#41590809)

Since their endowment recently slipped to $30.7 billion. [bostonglobe.com]

Or is it possible that they are simply not interested in subscribing to everything?

Re:of course Harvard can't afford it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41591895)

Or is it possible that they are simply not interested in subscribing to everything?

You're being too polite. Some journals are downright crap that primarily exist as an expensive vanity press for 4th rate researchers to pad their publication count.

perverse incentives from publish or perish (5, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | about 2 years ago | (#41590835)

The superficial problem is that universities can't afford to subscribe to all the journals that are out there. The ultimate source of this problem is that there are too many fourth-rate universities trying to pretend that they're research universities, and too many people trying to make it in academia in proportion to the number of available permanent jobs doing research. These people have a heavy incentive to publish lots of papers. If some of those papers happen to be important and influential in their field, that's good too, but the primary commandment is just to publish a ton of articles. This is what they have to do in order to get tenure. In many cases, they're in a department at a lower-tier state school that isn't really research oriented at all. Tenured faculty in their department aren't even doing research, just teaching. But the school wants to be just like the research-oriented universities (UC, Ivy Leage, etc.), so they make research a criterion for teaching. The school can afford to do this, because they have 300 applicants for every tenure-track job. All of this creates an overwhelming incentive for huge numbers of people to do research that is probably correct but utterly unimportant, and will never be cited in another paper. These useless papers have to be published somewhere. That's why all the low-impact-factor journals exist.

The only solution I can imagine is that we could create not just a full set of high-quality free journals in all academic disciplines but also a full spectrum of medium- and low-impact free journals as well. Kind of depressing, but it seems to be what junior faculty need.

Labtiva's approach doesn't make a lot of sense to me as a way of tackling the problem. The problem they describe is that research libraries can't afford to subscribe to all the low-impact journals. Low-impact journals are crap. They're low-impact. Their papers hardly ever get cited. For that reason, the market for $0.99 downloads of their papers will be too small to matter; nobody wants to read these papers.

I teach at a community college, so I don't have access to journals. It would be great if I could get specific articles from high-quality journals for $0.99 a copy. But the publishers of those journals have no incentive to sell the articles for $0.99 rather than $30. If they did that, it would just encourage libraries to cut their subscriptions. As it is, some researchers will pay $30 for a specific article out of their grant money, and the journal will pull in a pile of money for doing almost nothing.

Re:perverse incentives from publish or perish (1)

melikamp (631205) | about 2 years ago | (#41591973)

At least in USA, there should be a non-profit online library already containing all research papers for free, or for a nominal sum (like $1/year for full individual access, $1000/year for a university, just enough to pay for hosting). This is because fair use makes an explicit exceptions for scholarship, research and classroom teaching, including multiple copies for classroom use, and research articles are not ever used for anything else. They really aren't. Just reading one is "research".

Any lawyers out there? Am I just dreaming or is it something that has a chance of going to the court and winning?

Re:perverse incentives from publish or perish (1)

ultranova (717540) | about 2 years ago | (#41597051)

At least in USA, there should be a non-profit online library already containing all research papers for free, or for a nominal sum (like $1/year for full individual access, $1000/year for a university, just enough to pay for hosting).

That's some pretty expensive hosting for a bunch of text files. How about simply upload a monthly digest of PDFs to the Pirate Bay? A typical desktop should be enough to do seeding.

Re:perverse incentives from publish or perish (1)

melikamp (631205) | about 2 years ago | (#41597199)

This is a tiny fraction of the current subscription price, and is affordable by anyone. And it would buy a lot more than blobs on TPB: it would pay for a fast Web front-end where you could search the entire collection of all research works ever published. I suppose the budget would be comparable to that of Wikipedia, something like a few million USD per year. USA's 1000 richest universities could completely cover the cost, passing it to the students if need be at less than $1/year. The more interesting question is whether my legal theory holds any water.

Re:perverse incentives from publish or perish (1)

fearofcarpet (654438) | about 2 years ago | (#41594765)

The superficial problem is that universities can't afford to subscribe to all the journals that are out there. The ultimate source of this problem is that there are too many fourth-rate universities trying to pretend that they're research universities, and too many people trying to make it in academia in proportion to the number of available permanent jobs doing research. These people have a heavy incentive to publish lots of papers. If some of those papers happen to be important and influential in their field, that's good too, but the primary commandment is just to publish a ton of articles. This is what they have to do in order to get tenure. In many cases, they're in a department at a lower-tier state school that isn't really research oriented at all. Tenured faculty in their department aren't even doing research, just teaching. But the school wants to be just like the research-oriented universities (UC, Ivy Leage, etc.), so they make research a criterion for teaching. The school can afford to do this, because they have 300 applicants for every tenure-track job. All of this creates an overwhelming incentive for huge numbers of people to do research that is probably correct but utterly unimportant, and will never be cited in another paper. These useless papers have to be published somewhere. That's why all the low-impact-factor journals exist.

The only solution I can imagine is that we could create not just a full set of high-quality free journals in all academic disciplines but also a full spectrum of medium- and low-impact free journals as well. Kind of depressing, but it seems to be what junior faculty need.

Labtiva's approach doesn't make a lot of sense to me as a way of tackling the problem. The problem they describe is that research libraries can't afford to subscribe to all the low-impact journals. Low-impact journals are crap. They're low-impact. Their papers hardly ever get cited. For that reason, the market for $0.99 downloads of their papers will be too small to matter; nobody wants to read these papers.

I teach at a community college, so I don't have access to journals. It would be great if I could get specific articles from high-quality journals for $0.99 a copy. But the publishers of those journals have no incentive to sell the articles for $0.99 rather than $30. If they did that, it would just encourage libraries to cut their subscriptions. As it is, some researchers will pay $30 for a specific article out of their grant money, and the journal will pull in a pile of money for doing almost nothing.

I agree with much of what you say, but I would like to provide a little context and put things into perspective a bit for the non-academic-scientists on Slashdot. First, tenure doesn't typically swing on the number of papers; what matters more than anything is how well-known you are, and that comes from citations and talks. You can publish one paper a year in Science for five years, give two big talks, and voila; tenure. You can also crank out 10 papers a year in the "Journal of Who Gives a Crap" and give multiple talks a year at various "World Congresses on Something" in China and be denied tenure.

Colleges and universities in the fourth tier and below know very well that they cannot expect their faculty to compete with first-tier schools; their teaching burdens are too high, they lack facilities, and their students aren't as "good" (read: ambitious). They may require some research, but usually it's on the order of one paper a year, and educational journals are encouraged. Granted, there are a lot of upstart, open-access journals that prey on nervous junior faculty that think that any publication is better than no publication.

And low-impact journals are not all crap. Some are, sure, but many are low-impact because they are specialized journals. In fact, a lot of lower-impact journals are harder to publish in than the higher-impact journals from the same publisher, because the referees are experts in some microscopic aspect of your paper and they will reject a paper rather than suggest "it be published in a more specialized journal." High impact journals are just more interesting to a broader audience, which often means that the results are new and exciting, but just as often means that a famous professor dressed up some non-results and rammed it through a couple of star-struck referees and a gullible editor. Given enough keynote and plenary lectures, a sprinkle of self-citation, and *poof* the paper garners citations, which drives up the impact factor of the journal, which provides a positive incentive for editors to accept more papers from that author.

Pipe dreams != eventual reality (2)

Kittenman (971447) | about 2 years ago | (#41590893)

I'd like to cure cancer, bring peace to the middle east, end child poverty and provide free, clean power to all and sundry. All I need now is a start-up. (Or a political party).

plos.org (4, Informative)

rueger (210566) | about 2 years ago | (#41590897)

One of the few sites/blogs, whose RSS feed I actually follow closely. Good solid science, and very accessible. [plos.org]

Our mission is to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication. Every article that we publish is open-access - freely available online for anyone to use. Sharing research encourages progress, from protecting the biodiversity of our planet to finding more effective treatments for diseases such as cancer.
The Public Library of Science (PLOS) applies the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY) to works we publish (read the human-readable summary or the full license legal code). Under this license, authors retain ownership of the copyright for their content, but allow anyone to download, reuse, reprint, modify, distribute, and/or copy the content as long as the original authors and source are cited. No permission is required from the authors or the publishers.

love this idea (1)

ThorGod (456163) | about 2 years ago | (#41590931)

I would gladly pay a yearly stipend for an "all I can handle" subscription to academic, peer reviewed articles.

The question is...how many people are like me? I don't know...

Side Benefit (1)

edibobb (113989) | about 2 years ago | (#41591005)

A benefit of free academic journals is that the "real" science articles will be available to the masses, and not just those with biased content [bio-complexity.org] . With the advent of cheap electronic publishing, there has been a proliferation of free "peer-reviewed" journals whose purpose is to promote one ideology or another, often confusing science with faith or politics. These journals are rarely read but often cited by those who agree with their ideology.

Re:Side Benefit (2)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#41592519)

Exactly.

You've hit on probably the last desperate justification for a paid peer reviewed journal: Weeding out the web of wackos.

If the Universities at least made sure that the research was in fact done at their university by real honest to god faculty or research staff, and THEN posted the papers on their .EDU domain, you might have a running chance of separating Dr. Joe Krakpot from some real scientist.

But since anyone can put up a web server, muddying the waters with a lot of crap science is going to be an increasing problem, taking hours just to weed the chaff of charlatans from serious science.

Huh? (1)

blind biker (1066130) | about 2 years ago | (#41591061)

This is different from an university library... how?

Sorry, but the only real solution is Open Access journals. And thanks goodness, they're gaining ground. Nature is doing this token gesture because they at least have some intuition on how the gradual but unstoppable move towards Open Access publishing will sweep them away, alongside the other too-greedy-for-their-own-good journal publishers.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41593601)

Open Access sounds great and as an unemployed Ph.D. at the moment, I'm grateful for those who publish that way, but pay-to-publish puts up a barrier to the release of good science conducted by poorly funded researchers and provides an incentive for journals to accept sub-par papers.

Re:Huh? (1)

blind biker (1066130) | about 2 years ago | (#41593815)

Open Access sounds great and as an unemployed Ph.D. at the moment, I'm grateful for those who publish that way, but pay-to-publish puts up a barrier to the release of good science conducted by poorly funded researchers

The great majority (maybe all) OA journals have a policy of waving fees for poorly funded scientists.

and provides an incentive for journals to accept sub-par papers.

That has not been an issue at all, so far - quality has been the same for OpenAccess journal articles.

ReadCube Cost (1)

Joe Torres (939784) | about 2 years ago | (#41591081)

"The library is charged under $6 for articles researchers decide to rent for a limited time and $11 or less (depending on the publication) for articles they buy. Researchers cannot yet print out the articles, and much like with iTunes, they cannot share the content with colleagues."

It is sad that renting articles and not being able to share them with colleagues/students almost seems like a deal compared to the current system. It is sicking to me that the publishing system gets in the way of scientific progress and selectively holds back faculty and students from smaller universities that can't afford access to high-impact journals.

Re:ReadCube Cost (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41591235)

It is sicking to me that the publishing system gets in the way of scientific progress and selectively holds back faculty and students from smaller universities that can't afford access to high-impact journals.

Then do something about it -- refuse to publish in journals that are not universally accessible at no cost. If there are no such resources in your field, create one. Talk to fellow researchers about setting up a system where volunteers review and edit articles, and where articles are hosted on servers at those researchers' institutions. These are not insurmountable problems given today's technology; the real issue is that nobody wants to take on the system as it exists today.

Of course, it would not be the first time that an elitist establishment was successfully taken on:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osteopathic_medicine_in_the_United_States#History [wikipedia.org]

Re:ReadCube Cost (2)

Joe Torres (939784) | about 2 years ago | (#41591591)

Easier said than done. Keep in mind that research articles do not only have one author (at least I haven't seen any recent ones in my field). Assistant professors, graduate students, post-docs, and even tenured professors (with the funding situation these days) do not always have the luxury (guaranteed funding and job opportunities/security) to choose to publish in a lower impact open-access journal even if they preferred to.

Personally, I try to encourage others to favor open-access journals and sometimes make articles available to others that don't have access (other scientists and even non-scientists that are simply interested in primary research). That being said, I think going RMS is a little too extreme at the moment. Thankfully, the quality of open-access journals is improving and power is slipping from the non-free publishers and this is something that they can't stop.

Re:ReadCube Cost (1)

pnot (96038) | about 2 years ago | (#41591959)

I'm having trouble seeing the innovation here. Seems as though the differences from the current model are

(1) Articles cost $11 rather than $30, and
(2) There is a rental option for $6.

So, a reasonable improvement perhaps, but hardly a paradigm shift. It's still paywalled, it's still expensive. Open access seems more promising, despite the well-known obstacles to its universal implementation.

(And personally I'd never use the rental option, but maybe there are people for whom it makes sense.)

Re:ReadCube Cost (1)

pnot (96038) | about 2 years ago | (#41591967)

On closer inspection, I'd never use the purchase option either. "Researchers cannot print out the articles"? Fuck off, ReadCube. Fuck right off.

The APPAA Will Not Stand For This (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41591255)

Obviously, it's only a matter of hours before the Academic Paper Publishers Association of America's hired FBI agents kick in this startup's doors, siezes their web servers, and then has a call center in Florida staffed with $7.50-an-hour temps contacting anyone who visited the startup's web site in the past six months with an offer to settle out of court now for $8,000.

Uh-- clearly someone doesn't understand paywalls (2)

cornicefire (610241) | about 2 years ago | (#41591283)

iTunes is a paywall. If you don't pay,you don't listen to the music. And while the researcher might not be paying out of his or her own pocket, the institutional library is paying and that money comes out of his or her pocket indirectly. The library must be funded by the campus and so that means less money for pay raises. Once again, someone is paying. There is a wall involved.

Copyright - old problem, old solution (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#41591479)

We should just bring back the Library of Alexandria: Full access to the library, must donate one original work of your own. Takes care of all this stupid licensing crap -- just have a central library with a non-exclusive license that says all library patrons have free and full access to read any of the materials at the library, and the right to make a personal copy of the same, free of charge. To become a library patron, simply donate a copy of an original work of your own, subject to the provisions mentioned earlier.

Re:Copyright - old problem, old solution (3, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41591585)

The problem is that "an original work of your own" might not be possible for someone who has never accessed the knowledge in the library. The right answer is for the library to be funded as a public good, so that anyone has a right to make unlimited copies of any research stored in the library for whatever purpose they want, as long as they do not misrepresent modifications they made to the work (think of creative commons licensing). Research is already funded as a public good in most civilized nations (NSF grants, NIH grants, etc.), and the results of that research should also be considered a public good.

Re:Copyright - old problem, old solution (2)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#41593291)

The problem is that "an original work of your own" might not be possible for someone who has never accessed the knowledge in the library.

The library was intended as a repository of scientific, academic, and cultural texts of significance. It was never meant to be a free-for-all; It wasn't meant for the teeming masses, but for people who actually had something to contribute. It doesn't take very long anymore these days for anyone, in any scientific or engineering discipline, to come across a novel idea, implimentation, or method. All you have to do is write about it in your own words.

That's not a high bar to clear; And it keeps people who probably have no vested interest in the accuracy or integrity of the information, or people who haven't been trained or educated in the field, from wasting time and resources. There's already a place for the teeming masses to share their own opinions -- it's called the internet, and it's a firehose of continuous crap.

Pardon me for saying, but I'd like to have a place to go where when I walk into the section on evolution, all the work collected there was by people who actually bothered to study it in some kind of detail before adding something. I do not need "Volumes 1--500: The uneducated people's 'proof' of evolution being wrong." If I want that, I'll watch Foxnews!

Re:Copyright - old problem, old solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41593627)

Are there (m)any papers without citations found in journals? If not, how would the unpublished graduate student read the articles necessary to contribute a paper to this repository? The problem with a 'public good' approach is that the public is international in scope - do we make the paywalls national libraries rather than journals now? Do I need to publish in the Chinese repository to access work by Chinese authors? While the internet makes information free, it does not necessarily guarantee that information is coherent or accurate - the accuracy is assured by peer review and the coherency by copy-editing. While the former may be free, the latter generally is not - it requires someone with strong grammar and scientific background - most non-native speaking science professors would be ill-suited for instance.

Re:Copyright - old problem, old solution (1)

ultranova (717540) | about 2 years ago | (#41597471)

The library was intended as a repository of scientific, academic, and cultural texts of significance. It was never meant to be a free-for-all; It wasn't meant for the teeming masses, but for people who actually had something to contribute. It doesn't take very long anymore these days for anyone, in any scientific or engineering discipline, to come across a novel idea, implimentation, or method. All you have to do is write about it in your own words.

Bullshit. For starters, who verifies that the idea really is original - that is, that it's not in the library already? If the answer is "no one", the library becomes nothing but bunch of endless copies of the same low-hanging fruit. And if the answer is not "no one", then it becomes nigh impossible to gain access to the library, because most ideas build on other ideas, so you'd need access to the library to gain access to the library.

Also, you seem to confuse read access - the ability to read works in the library - with write access - the ability to add to them. Do you genuinely have trouble telling them apart, or do you simply wish to deny the "teeming masses" access to information for some reason - for example, because you dream of being their master?

There's already a place for the teeming masses to share their own opinions -- it's called the internet, and it's a firehose of continuous crap.

Apparently.

Pardon me for saying, but I'd like to have a place to go where when I walk into the section on evolution, all the work collected there was by people who actually bothered to study it in some kind of detail before adding something.

I take it that you must be an accomplished biologist then, because by your own standards you'd not be allowed access otherwise.

I do not need "Volumes 1--500: The uneducated people's 'proof' of evolution being wrong." If I want that, I'll watch Foxnews!

It is quite hypocritical to simultaneously look down on people for being uneducated and advocate restrictions for the spread of knowledge.

What about changing it around a little? (1)

The Dancing Panda (1321121) | about 2 years ago | (#41591571)

Why not use copyright a different way to achieve a goal of openness, and still bring in some cash? Have all the articles free to read. Charge money to cite the articles in other academic papers. You'd have to invest in lawyers to go after people that try to screw you (plagiarizing without citation), but everyone gets to read and learn, it creates a barrier to entry for crap papers that mean nothing, and you can keep it cheap enough to not have it be a huge burden on actual researchers.I'm not a copyright lawyer...I don't know that this would work, but it's a decent idea, I think.

Re:What about changing it around a little? (1)

codegen (103601) | about 2 years ago | (#41591793)

Citation is fair use or equivalent in every jurisdiction. No way you are going to get that one through.

I still like free (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41592239)

The Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques [jcgt.org] and The Journal of AI Research [jair.org] are both respectable CS journals that are free for authors and readers. Why can't all science publishing be free? Most of the work is already funded by government grants, so why should anyone have to pay to access it?

Not much of a solution (2)

lfp98 (740073) | about 2 years ago | (#41592481)

I don't see how their system makes anything more affordable, and it's outrageously inefficient. When I'm writing a grant or a research article, I might easily look at 20 or 30 articles in a single day. So, that's $120-$180 if I just look at them temporarily or up to $330 if I want to keep them permanently. So I could spend thousands per month just on access to references. Plus, I'll be spending an inordinate amount of time and mental energy on constant decisions of whether to rent, buy or pass up every article I encounter. Usually, I don't know whether an article will be relevant to the specific question I'm trying to answer until I actually look at its data. This system really will be a major impediment to scientific progress, if investigators are regularly ignoring articles that might contain a critical piece of information, just because they wouldn't risk the $6 - not a huge risk of course, but multiply it by hundreds of articles and it adds up quickly. The people particularly hard-hit would be those who for example have just lost their funding, and so have to write grants more or less nonstop but at the same time have no grant support to pay for article access. The best solution in principle is the author-pays model (with allowances for those who truly can't afford to pay). At least with that system you eliminate the infrastructure needed to charge users and maintain the security of paywalls, which is a big part of the expense of electronic publishing. The problem with author-pays is that currently it's just too expensive, a few to several thousand dollars per article, and that has to be brought down. Perhaps with better software and better-informed authors, you wouldn't need all the layout techs and copy editors that put articles into a standard journal format - the authors could do that themselves - at least for low-impact journals that seem to present the biggest problem.

Re:Not much of a solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41593647)

Author-pays works well for grant supported research at Tier I universities and in fields (bio sciences) where grants are the norm. Somehow I doubt this will work as well for those in the humanities or poorer schools where the research is institutionally funded. Realistically, unless Siri or Watson can do the copy-editing for us, even a few hours of that and layout will force fees to remain in the low thousands at a minimum. Paying for professional copy-editors and layout techs is cheaper than the lost time for all researchers to gain these skills - classic division of labor.

Slashdot journals are open to spammers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41592499)

Why not open them to scientists also? After all this is supposed to be a sciencey, techie site. So c'mon, go for it!

cost of articles (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41593679)

Let's not forget that the journals (a majority of them) charge the authors (the researchers, using their NIH government money usually) a huge fee just to publish their own work that was funded probably by government money. After paying this huge fee, which can range between 2000-5000 dollars in the end to get the research paper published, the journal charges other researchers more money to view the article!! Around 30 dollars as has been stated. I think most state schools have access to a majority of the most cited journals like Nature, Cell, JBC, etc. Sometimes I have come across journals I couldn't access without an embargo or without asking for document request, but I never had to pay once. In the end, if you really want the article you email the author an explain the situation and they will usually be kind and send you the PDF. The author may ask you to keep it to yourself and not make further copies etc.

I realize this does not address the burden of cost on the universities, but until legislation is passed to regulate this process, the schools just have to man up and pay for our access.

One-sided advertisement for unknown me-too startup (1)

Wdi (142463) | about 2 years ago | (#41594203)

The article makes no mention of thriving competitors with similar business models which have already been in business for several years.

A post about such a topic omitting any reference to, for example, DeepDyve (www.deepdyve.com) can only be classified as advertisement.

A Solution Looking for a Problem (2)

fearofcarpet (654438) | about 2 years ago | (#41594695)

We (scientists) used to access publications by literally picking up a print copy of a journal and thumbing through it. We learned about researchers and where they were publishing from conferences. In the 1960's you could follow less than a dozen journals and know the entirety of the research in a field as broad as Chemistry. In the past 20 years or so the number of publications exploded; Nature has ~80 publications. Some of that is justifiable, as there are many more researchers in the world and the body of scientific knowledge is simply too large to boil down to broad journals like "The Journal of the American Chemical Society."

With the computerization of publishing, we now have instant access to metrics like our "h-index" or the number of times we've been cited. Journals now publish their "impact factors," which are self-fulfilling prophecies of how likely someone is to cite your work if it is published in that journal. Impact factors track strongly with the breadth of a journal, which means that to publish in a "top-tier" journal you must publish something that is of interest to "the broad readership of this journal." Funding is strongly linked to the aforementioned metrics, so everyone competes to publish in certain journals out of necessity and these journals can charge whatever they want, pay their editors nothing, and send take-down notices when you link to a PDF of your own work.

So, the problem has nothing to do with not being able to access enough journals; this company seems to to think that, if only we could access all of the available literature, life would be great. There are already too damn many journals to keep track of and no good way to search them (sans a few specialized fields of research that allow for things like structure-based searching). Since you still learn about papers and people from conferences, you have to speak at a conference to get anyone to read your paper unless it is in a top-tier journal--and guess how you get invited to a conference? Publishing in top-tier journals. So good research languishes in no-name journals with zero citations, dragging down the h-index of a researcher and making it harder for them to find funding. Which turns these journals into dumping grounds for research that isn't accepted in the top-tier journals; and that is, to a limited degree, just fine. When you do publish in a top-tier journal, you cite your previous work in the no-name journal which, due to the structure of "general interest" journals, often contain more scientific rigor anyway. But there is a limit; beyond a certain threshold for terribleness, journals no longer serve any purpose but to make it more difficult to sift through the mind-boggling amount of published science.

What science publishing needs now is an intelligent way to search the existing content. There is no reason good work should go unnoticed just because it isn't in a top-tier journal (and publishing in those journals is an exercise in politics as much as it is in doing good science), but it does because currently we have no way to learn about it other than by the authors promoting themselves at conferences, which is difficult if you aren't already "known." And creating more journals--free or not--contributes to this most fundamental problem of modern scientific publishing.

This "iTunes" model of access to papers sounds like something that was cooked up by grad students, who have no idea how scientific publishing actually works. And, from TFA, you still can't print or share the material, which instantly makes it useless to most professors who, due to age, routine, and the sheer volume of information they are responsible for, rely heavily on hard copies.

Re:A Solution Looking for a Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41597627)

The problem of too many articles has been noticed and is the reason that some people are experimenting with virtual journals. These are web-based journals which collate interesting papers irrespective of their original journals.

As for the itunes model etc. what it is really addressing is that journals are charging $30 for each article! This is far too much. As a resercher, I often have to look at a tens of articles in order to find one that might be useful to me. So no-one who isn't at a university can do real research without spending a lot of money.

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>