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Free Scientific Journals

michael posted more than 9 years ago | from the new-and-improved dept.

Education 29

RichiH writes "Most of you have probably heard that science journals are getting more and more expensive. In hard numbers, 215% increase in price over the last fifteen years. What proves a major problem for libraries and interested individuals is great for the publishers. Reed Elsevier, with about 1700 scientific magazines the leading publisher, had a profit margin of 33.8% in 2003. With most research which is published, the taxpayers get the bill while the publishers get the money. So now for the good news: People are starting to fight this. Creative Commons is a good way, for example. Additionally, there are several magazines available which are based on a author-pays basis. If this sounds like a strange idea, think again. If Cell prints an article by you, you are charged $1000 for the first and $250 for each additional graphic you include. And this is for a reader-pays magazine! With PLoS Biology, the author pays $1500 for the whole article and the reader gets the magazine for free on the internet. Biomed Central lists 100 free magazines while the Directory of Open Access Journals lists an amazing 1425. I for one considered getting the $160 a year print subscription of PLoS just Because."

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Peer Review (5, Interesting)

the darn (624240) | more than 9 years ago | (#11502985)

The free flow of information is all well and good, but the important service provided by most print journals is that they subject submissions to (supposedly) rigorous peer review. IANAS, but I imagine that such review might take some $ to accomplish. Will a researcher-pays system be inclined to look as closely at the articles submitted by its primary cash source?

Re:Peer Review (4, Insightful)

Dr. GeneMachine (720233) | more than 9 years ago | (#11503121)

So the distribution of manuscripts to reviewers is worth a >30% margin? FYI, the reviewers themselves are not paid by regular journals and will not be paid by free journals. So the standard of peer review can be maintained without a problem. Additionally, it is not uncommon for regular journals that the authors have to pay for the publication of their articles. The $1500 for PLoS is well in the normal price range for article publication.

I consider this a good development. The business model for scientific publishers is deeply flawed. Consider: The public pays for research done at a university. The public pays for the publication of this article in a scientific journal. And then - the public pays again a ridiculously high price, so that the universities can subscribe to this journals. This simply ain't right. To complete the sad story, even the copyright of the article does not stay with the researcher who published it, but is transferred to the publisher.

Re:Peer Review (3, Interesting)

zangdesign (462534) | more than 9 years ago | (#11503461)

The only problem is that the public is still paying to publish the article. I seriously doubt that scientists are coughing up their own moolah for this.

It seems to me the best solution is the one where the scientific journal is paying the researcher, much as any other magazine would pay a journalist.

Re:Peer Review (4, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 9 years ago | (#11503672)

It seems to me the best solution is the one where the scientific journal is paying the researcher

I would suspect that this would just result in an increase of the cost of the journal. It's just a shell game hiding the cost of the publication of these journals.

Scientific journals are a funny business. The circulations of the journals is very small, but the information in them can be very important in the long run. Clearly there is an external economy not accounted for in the direct economics. When that occurs the usual solution is to go outside the traditional economic models and get some sort of government regulatory involvement. That seems to be happening in an indirect manner now, with a distortion in the whole process of excess profits to the publisher. Some people are trying to do an end run around the existing process, but the very important tradition of peer review is threatened by this.

It is not going to be easy to come up with alternative to the current system.

Re:Peer Review (1)

4of12 (97621) | more than 9 years ago | (#11540159)

It is not going to be easy to come up with alternative to the current system.

No, but I suspect there will be even greater pressure to use a web based system of publishing as Google begins to make available searches into various library collections of paper archive journals.

One of the hidden economic transactions in today's publishing world has to do with academic laurels related to publishing volume and publishing quality.

If I publish in a a free webjournal my CV doesn't look as impressive as if I publish the same article in Journal that Published Lord Rayleigh. My chances for tenure and raises are related to those journal publications.

I suspect the valuable names of those journals will serve as collection points for web repositories. Already most of the journals distribute downloadable PDF's of articles with a subscription anyway. If the subscription price came down, that would be a likely scenario.

Re:Peer Review (3, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 9 years ago | (#11503837)

It seems to me the best solution is the one where the scientific journal is paying the researcher, much as any other magazine would pay a journalist.

Yeah, but somebody has to pay for the operation! A journal can charge authors, charge for online access, charge for paper copies, or all of the above. You can't simultaneously eliminate or slash all of those things!

Re:Peer Review (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11548487)

I am an (overworked, underpaid) editor who handles scientific journals, and what you said is true. Somebody has to pay, because it ain't cheap. As it is, half of the journals I handle are not even breaking even.

I don't think it's fair the researcher pays because many labs have little budget; a subscriber like a university is more likely to have the funds. I don't see an easy way out as well -- we go round and round this topic during editorial meetings -- but consider: the high costs comes from copyediting, typesetting and printing. Especially printing and *especially* color printing.

So, if you, as a reader, do not mind a more homely look (i.e. not professionally edited and typeset), and you don't need high quality paper with glossy covers, then journals prices would (theoretically) go down. *grins*

Better yet, go with electronic journals. Printing is expensive and contributes an estimated 60% of the total cost, and that's assuming the journal has only a few color pages.

Re:Peer Review (1)

museumpeace (735109) | more than 9 years ago | (#11510933)

I'm probably missing your point. It seems to me that a scheme like that would mean that psychology journals could be all but given away and journals in high energy physics would cost around a million dollars a copy! Please refine/explain what you mean by "scientific journal is paying the researcher".

Also, just how evil is it that the public pays to publish research results that the public paid for in the first place...what exceptions would there be [leaving DoD out of this for the moment] to the notion that publicly funded research is presumed to have some potential benefit to the tax paying public? And, having paid for salaries and equipment to get the research done, why not also pay to have the results disseminated? I put it this way to support one very important distinction: Tax money spent for research should be spent once, spent wisely and not to enrich anyone. Publication should simply be viewed as part of the research. the research is done to high standards with controls and validation steps and the publication should be done to high standards too, including readability and acceptance by review boards much as the research grants were reviewed and accepted. For this we don't even NEED scientific journals! The era when journal publication in a prestigious magazine like Science or Nature was how the public [that could even read such reportage] came to know the results of scientific work IS OVER!. So what are these journals for? They are tokens that professors need in order to get tenure for one thing.

Re:Peer Review (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 9 years ago | (#11505617)

Many of the journal-published articles I need are provided by the author on his or her web page, so there are at least some journals which don't demand exclusive distribution rights.

Really, the only way around exorbitant fees being socked to underfunded researchers is for researchers en masse to stop working within the publishers' system and to start establishing truly free journals. That is, journals with volunteer peer review, both in organizational staff and reviewing faculty; and free Internet distribution with universities placing copies in their libraries via just-in-time publishing. (Or even by holding only electronic copies locally, in their library, and allowing university-affiliated people to access articles via the network.)

Re:Peer Review (1)

Frumious Wombat (845680) | more than 9 years ago | (#11505445)

The bigger problem in the researcher pays to publish system is that you could easily blow most of a small research budget just publishing results, rather than generating them. If you want the cost to institutions of journals to drop, the cheapest solution is drop everything by Reed-Elsevier, which tend to be low-circulation, low-impact, journals. One could probably also argue that as the Gov't is already paying for a good deal of research, then it might as well shoulder the cost of publishing some of it. An institution or consortium of institutions would submit proposals to host a journal (as is now done for the National Lab management contracts), the most scientifically qualified would end up as the editors and be paid a stipend for running the journal, then the actual journal would be published on the servers from one of the national labs. In this system, all that's changed is that the middle-man of a commercial publisher has been cut out, and the excess profits they would have earned can instead be used for more server space or another journal or two.

+Peer Review - Advertising - paper = online best (1)

museumpeace (735109) | more than 9 years ago | (#11508336)

And /. subjects articles to MASSIVE though not noticeably rigorous mob review [though some /.ers are actually peers especially in the Developers, Books, BSD, Linux and IT sections.] and even though its unevenly informed, the /. moderation is definitely an improvement over the take it or leave it one way flow of information in print journalism. The /. commenters don't get paid much [I'm still waiting for my check.] and are generally worth it but since their sheer numbers probably prop up /. ad revenue [if they make any?], I'd say there are even models where getting reviewed online could be cash positive for the publisher.
I have been letting my journal subscriptions lapse and taking the [sometimes much cheaper] online-only format [Nature and SciAm at the moment] for reasons other than just cost:[1] my office is drowning in paper, magazines pile up everywhere and I am out of time for recyling and space for archiving. [2] I can search the downloaded forms of the journals. [3] I can burn two years worth to a single CD still searchable and immeasurably tidier than my paper pile.
Peer Review is important. In Science News [a subscription I may keep], The articles summarize important journal articles and conference presentations [presumablly already peer reviewed by the time they reach that stage] and then S.N authors hit their rollodexes for [sometimes dissenting] assessments of the story from persons NOT involed in its publication but expert in the topic...With little time to read and new stuff flooding in, its so valuable to not have that reader-at-the-mercy-of-the-author sensation you get with most news media treatments [and some industry-supported or advertising supported "journals"]
Surely, the times [and the Globes and the Mirrors and the Chronicles] they are a changin'. I can't afford more than 3 or 4 subscripions on my own and am just lucky to work where there is a world class technical library. If nothing else, the opening of the scientific publishing monopoly should be access for millions of readers and researchers who would otherwise have to sit out some of the great battles that now rage at the frontiers of knowledge.
Did I say Massive? the meter has stuck at 17 comments all during my longwinded typing...well, here's 18...are the rest of you guys on the wrong site too?

Re:Peer Review (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 9 years ago | (#11510559)

Well, peer-review isn't very costly. Nowadays, as a reviewer, you typically get sent the text by email in the same format (the same files) as the writer submitted, minus the name. You read and review, and send your comments back, by email. You don't get paid for doing this; not very expensive in other words.

Besides, as we've all suspected and some studies have shown lately, peer review isn't all that effective as a vetting procedure. Too often a paper will get reviewed based on the author on affiliation as much as on the content (it's often impossible to truly hide the origin), or busy, harried people will dash off a "review" based on a five-minute glance through the abstract and conclusion. The system is certainly in need of an overhaul, and the emergence of a new, parallel model for publishing should open a window of opportunity to do so.

No. (2, Informative)

linoleo (718385) | more than 9 years ago | (#11510992)

IANAS, but I imagine that such review might take some $ to accomplish.

IAAS, and peer review takes zero $ to accomplish. The action editor (who works for love) emails the article (in PDF) to the reviewers (who work for love), who email their reviews back, whereupon the action editor makes the call - publish, revise, or reject. The publishers do not put any money into that system, and have indeed been scamming the public for years.

Establishing a solid reputation, quality control, and peer review process are challenges for any new journal, whether online or not. It can be done though - for instance, the free online Journal of Machine Learning Research [] has within the few years of its existence rocketed to the top of the journal citation reports [] in its field.

Re:Peer Review (1)

RichiH (749257) | more than 9 years ago | (#11527585)

Most of the peer review done is free. Even for reader-pays magazines. Don't ask me why, but it is.

Seems to be working (4, Interesting)

Otter (3800) | more than 9 years ago | (#11503030)

The real barrier to entry is name recognition. A new journal can offer the best services and product out there, but if it doesn't command respect, scientists will take their work elsewhere.

I was skeptical about this new crop of journals, but PLoS seems to be taking off pretty nicely -- I've seen some decent stuff in there. The key seems to be having a critical mass of major players on the board, to command respect and to stock the first year with decent material. (Of course, that means using grad students and postdocs as cannon fodder on yet another front, but, hey, they had their chance to go to law school instead.)

FYI, journals are never, ever referred to as "magazines".

Re:Seems to be working (3, Informative)

chihiro (842974) | more than 9 years ago | (#11503875)

Name recognotion is crucial, which is why PLoS Biology stands a good chance. It has had a pretty high profile in the Biosciences. A number of well respected scientists were instrumental in starting PLoS up, and the editor was poached from a big journal (Nature I think, but I may have misremembered).

The papers I've seen it PLoS Bio so far have been pretty good. Not as 'high profile' as Nature but solid work, and with papers long enough to avoid the 'tabloid' tendency that Nature sometimes has (short papers, exciting results, very little detail)

All power to PLoS, lets hope the other PLoS journals also meet with success.

Re:Seems to be working (1)

merryprankster (591989) | more than 9 years ago | (#11505892)

PLOS did indeed poach well respected editors to launch - one from Cell and several from Nature. These editors are very expensive, so is the glossy (and completely unnecessary print edition) and all the secondary material that they produce (reviews, News and Views style articles etc.)

Even with an 'authors pays' model these guys must be burning cash at quite a rate. As far as I can see a bunch of academics are running the show, and while they have talented editors there seems to be no professional publishing input. The source of their capital is a charitable grant of several million. All is rosy in their garden while they have this money, but when it runs out they could be in big trouble.

I'm all for new ventures but when they are set up with such a dumb business model they deserve to fail.

BioMedCentral on the other hand is genuinely innovative (take a look at the Faculty of 1000), and while it lacks the big name editors and glossy feel of PLOS could possibly emerge as a very interesting alternative.

Re:Seems to be working (1)

chihiro (842974) | more than 9 years ago | (#11521248)

I agree that BioMedCentral is the more innovative journal and deserves to succeed, but sadly the profile of journals is SO central to the way that funding is awarded (and reputation is gained) that I believe that the effort and money that PLoS has put into this is warranted.

Take Cell for example. A Cell paper has enormous weight and every biologist wants a Cell paper. Does that mean that the best papers always get into Cell? Goodness no! But while Cell's reputation (and impact factor) remain high everyone will try to publish their best work there - its a self sustaining cycle.

Whether or not PLoS's business model is unsustainable I'm not in a position to judge, but for better or worse, if Open Publishing is to succeed it needs to pander to the baser instincts of scientists as well as their idealistic ones. And that means making sure that its impact factor is a great as possible, and thus making a PLoS paper look as good on a CV as possible.

It would be nice to think that the best papers will rise to the top and always have the most positive influence on teh careers of scientists, but sadly this isn't really the case. A dodgy Nature or Cell paper looks better on a CV than a really solid paper elsewhere.

I hope this catches on (1)

Safety Cap (253500) | more than 9 years ago | (#11503758)

I let my Subscription to Geophysics [] lapse because they jacked up the price and reduced benefits (regular membership went from Paper Journal to CD Rom -- getting the paper journal after that required another fee).

They also charge exorbitant fees for authors.

As others point out, though - they are really the only game in town, so what are you going to do.

Free online review system? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11503917)

An online system with reviews and meta reviews, and authentication of the participants, which would have to substantiate their opinions, and have "review points" given on basis of their own papers, applications of their research in industry, etc.
With some help of universities, and all published under some free license.

Re:Free online review system? (1)

museumpeace (735109) | more than 9 years ago | (#11508571)

Sounds crazy but I think something like that has been tried before and though "mob review" by completely random and unqualified commenters is a better description of the result, the scoring system salvages it from pure drivle and flame wars. One other thing: if the reviewers, ultimately a very qualified demographic, were subjected to advertising, those should be "viewers" before whom specialized advertiseres [such as now pollute my Nature copies] would pay dearly to expose their copy...thus chipping in revenue to support a journal that offsets some of what is lost by not selling rediculously expensive hardcopy to libraries.

No one wants to pay.... (2, Interesting)

dickeya (733264) | more than 9 years ago | (#11504153)

My previous job was a university marine research laboratory and I can tell you one thing... these people are very cheap - they have to be. They expect to get many of these journals for free from the University, and of course they should. The school takes a large chunk of the award to cover overhead on facilities, which by the way are falling apart. There has been talk of moving some of the publications to an online format but this was halted by strong resistance. These guys don't want to read on the computer screen, they want to sit at their desk and file the article away in their cramped office space. The journal is a necessity for many in the research field.

Solution! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11505877)

Online Journal+PDF Files+Printer+Paper=More stuff your friendly researcher can cram away never to look at again.

Re:No one wants to pay.... (1)

harley_frog (650488) | more than 9 years ago | (#11506810)

It's not just that no one wants to pay, but also that library budgets (especially for universities) are either stagnating or shrinking while the costs for journals keeps going up. Libraries are then forced with the decision of what subscriptions to cut, but that usually results in a hue and cry being raised by whatever department uses that particular title. And a very peculiar thing is happening at our university (since I can't rightly speak for others), instructors are telling their students to get the articles from the journals and NOT from online sources, even if it is the same article from the same journal. This leaves libraries in a lurch since the only other thing they can cut back spending on is either books or staff. As a librarian myself, I am glad to see science journals being published under things like Creative Commons.

Include cost of peer review in grant? (1)

Shannon Love (705240) | more than 9 years ago | (#11504884)

Perhaps we could free up the articles by explicitly providing funds for the peer review in the original grant. That would remove one of the major impediments to providing free articles.

Of course, we would have to come up with some means of (1) selecting the peers on an ad hoc basis and (2) maintaining the peers anonymity. Both of which are non-trivial task. (1)

i_should_be_working (720372) | more than 9 years ago | (#11507335)

most papers that eventually get accepted to real journals go through here first.

not everybody can afford it (1)

SurG (817697) | more than 9 years ago | (#11510799)

I'm no expert in science publishing business, but I can tell you with certainty that Russian scientists absolutely cannot afford to pay money for the publishing their work. I graduated from the major Russian univerisity, which didn't even have the subsription of major journals like Phys.Rev.B. How do you expect them to pay for publishing? I know people who buy their groceries with money from publishing their articles (this is an exaggeration to a degree, since grants are bigger source of income)

Larger list at the Internet Public Library (2, Informative)

SgtChaireBourne (457691) | more than 9 years ago | (#11511598)

The Internet Public Library has the largest catalog of peer reviewed journals, they're just currently mixed in with all the others [] . (1)

Jizzbug (101250) | more than 9 years ago | (#11511965)
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