Saturday, January 27, 2007

A tale of two professional societies

The Nature story on science journal publishers' recent dance with an aggressive PR 'pit bull' is picked up by the Scientific American, which has a detailed report on open access publishing. I found it interesting that there is such a huge contrast between the views of the American Chemical Society (publisher of over 30 journals) and those of the American Physiological Society (publisher of 14 journals).

First, the American Chemical Society:

These efforts [that would require any published paper derived from U.S.-government-backed research to be published online within six months] have been dubbed "socialized science," by Rudy Baum, editor in chief of the American Chemical Society's (ACS) Chemical and Engineering News. "Open access, in fact, equates with socialized science," he wrote in a 2004 editorial. "I find it incredible that a Republican Administration would institute a policy that will have the long-term effect of shifting responsibility for communicating scientific research and maintaining the archive of science, technology, and medical (STM) literature from the private sector to the federal government."

In fact, the ACS paid lobbying firm Hicks Partners LLC at least $100,000 in 2005 to try to persuade congressional members, NIH, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that a "PubChem Project" would be a bad idea, according to public lobbying disclosures, and paid an additional $180,000 to the Wexler & Walker Public Policy Association to promote the "use of commercial database." It also spent a chunk of its 2005 $280,000 internal lobbying budget as well as part of its $270,000 lobbying budget last year to push the issue, according to disclosure documents.

Now, the American Physiological Society:

... Martin Frank, executive director of the Amercian Physiological Society (APS), which publishes 14 journals, including the American Journal of Physiology since 1898, [says] "We consider ourselves a delayed open access journal."

The APS makes all of its content free after 12 months or asks authors to pay for immediate free publication online, an opportunity 18 percent of authors have taken, Frank says. Frank also leads the Washington D.C. Principles for Free Access to Science group, a coalition of not-for-profit publishers advocating such a middle way. "The author pays business model has yet to be demonstrated to be viable," he notes. "Something can only be eclipsed if something else has been demonstrated that is better than it."

"I agree with public access, but it doesn't have to be immediate," he adds. "If it's immediate, it has to be paid for."


  1. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    And there's the more familiar (to me) APS, the American Physical Society, which doesn't do open access but has for years allowed authors to post their manuscripts to In fact, other journals like Nature allows it too.

    I tend to agree that the sustainability of open access has not been proven (PLoS is reportedly very far from breaking even and is digging heavily into their startup grants), and I raise my eyebrows a bit at paying USD 1500 to publish my own research. If all journals went open-source, we all paid USD 1500 or more for all our papers, and libraries no longer paid a penny for journal subscriptions, would it be a net saving? Take IISc, which has (let's say 1000) faculty members: if each one published 5 papers a year, and each paper cost USD 1500, the net cost of publishing would be about Rs 34 crores. I believe that would dwarf the current library budget.

    (I just did that calculation in 5 seconds. maybe a refined version would be the subject of a blog post in its own right)

    Rather than fight the ACS or boycott it, authors who desire open access could simply upload the final versions of their papers to (opening a new subject archive there if necessary).

    Many people also put their manuscripts on their home pages. The internet is a great enabler.

  2. Abi said...

    Rahul: PLoS may not be the best model; public-domain-after-n-months certainly is. And, I agree, so is the arXiv-preprint model. [Some journals do not allow the final -- corrected -- version to be posted on arXiv, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they back off on this one.]

    While the 'author pays' model is bad for producers of papers, it's definitely in the interest of consumers [students, journalists, amateur scientists, cash-strapped colleges ...].