This week’s ‘read is not so long. In fact, it should take just about 6 minutes, according to Medium. So set aside a few minutes during this long weekend to take a look at this open letter from 21 scholars, addressing the tricky relationship between learned societies and for-profit publishers. One of the authors is UVA faculty member, and co-founder of the Center for Open Science, Brian Nosek.
As background, you should know that over the last few weeks, word has gotten out that the Trump Administration is considering revising executive branch policy to require immediate free access to the scientific articles that result from federal funding, eliminating the 12 month embargo that currently applies. That embargo is a result of lobbying by publishers to ensure they can continue to charge monopoly prices for scholarship in the crucial months after its initial publication. When these publishers got wind of the possible elimination of embargoes, they sent a ridiculous letter to the administration, full of Trumpy tropes, to register their horror. Advocates for open access have responded with their own arguments and stories, using “#OAintheUSA” to tag their work on social media.
Lobbying to protect monopoly power is standard stuff for profit-seeking corporations (and even some so-called “non-profit” publishers, ahem), but what gave many of us hives was the presence of many learned/scholarly societies as signatories of the letter alongside the Association of American Publishers and its big academic vendor members.
Nosek and his co-authors ask and answer the key question,
why would learned societies purporting to represent researchers sign on? One reason is that some scholarly societies have come to depend on the lucrative business of journal publishing to subsidize their operations. In the case of one of the signatories, the American Psychological Association, publishing income accounts for ~80% of their revenue. Such learned societies face a dilemma: Their stated mission is to support scholarship, but the funds to do it come from a publishing system that has worked against scholarly values for more than three decades. We are saddened that these societies have decided to side with the publishers against the public interest.
How has the publishing system worked against scholarly values? Well, generally:
Researchers today are caught like fish in a net of slow, overpriced, unethical and dysfunctional publishing practices. Trapped by academic employment rules, funding arrangements and copyright laws, we have long tried unsuccessfully to wrest control of scholarship from corporate publishers.
As a result of this harm to researchers, the public is harmed, as well:
The public suffers twice: First they are overcharged to read the results of science they themselves funded. Second, the system designed to protect publishers’ profits ends up slowing down scientific progress and lowering the quality of published research in myriad ways. For example, new chemical compounds could be identified much faster and more easily if the scientific literature was not balkanized and protected by publisher embargoes, preventing the information in the articles from being automatically aggregated. Such inefficiencies are bad for science and bad for the public. They benefit only the publishers, and yet they remain in place.
The full letter merits your time - and it will only take 6 minutes!
Have a great weekend.