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Radical open-access plan could spell end to journal subscriptions (nature.com)
509 points by sohkamyung 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments



I find it funny that this article, or even the HN comments at the moment of me writing this one, do not mention SciHub. It's effectively the most radical open-access plan for science paper nowadays after all.

SciHub is the original reason why open-access plans like this one have a chance of working at all. The authors of this paper simply announce that the SciHub approach has won and it's time to stop pretending otherwise and break the status quo of modern science publishing.


While sci-hub undoubtedly plays a role here, in my field the arXiv is really what has obviated the necessity of journal subscriptions. Essentially all math papers, in both the preprint and post-review form, can be found on the arXiv. I would also emphasize that, with regard to decisions involving journal subscriptions and access, authors generally have very little power. As a researcher, if you have the grant money, you can pay to make your work open access; alternatively, you can restrict yourself to only open access journals (which in some fields, could come at significant opportunity cost).


arXiv is a very important entity here, correct. It performs a different role though.

arXiv positions itself in a place before the journals in the food chain; anyone can upload a paper there, including authors who submit to journals, but all of these papers are "preliminary", as in, "before journal edits". It's questionable if journal edits actually bring any value, but nonetheless, their status is that they're going to be "likely different in some way" than whatever journals publish.

SciHub allows free access to the "final" pieces of work, even if they're equivalent (or even equal) to the "non-final" ones available on arXiv. That's a big mental difference.


>> Essentially all math papers, in both the preprint and post-review form, can be found on the arXiv.


Still, that's just one field. Sci-Hub covers everything. It's an equal opportunity provider.


Probably worth mentioning Andrej Karpathy's http://arxiv-sanity.com as the flood of papers to read keeps growing


Most journals still publish a list of titles in the open, so you can 'follow' influential journals, and read the relevant articles on the arxiv.


Google Scholar scrapes arXiv and coalesces the results with journal updates, i.e. it will show the entry for a new journal article with a clearly visible [PDF on arXiv] link when this is available. Google Scholar also scrapes institutional repos (at universities etc.).


Google Scholar is a service to humanity. However, I do wonder: how comprehensive is it?


is there a similar site for physics papers (getting real tired of the usual new special snowflake melting in the spotlight physics aggregators)

also interested in such sites for optics, engineering (or throw whatever at me what you got!)


ArXiv does physics too. At least for particle physics, it's all there.


I thought this was universal knowledge. I'm not requesting another ArXiv, but a site providing a similar quality selection of papers


Why isn't functionality like this in Google Scholar yet?


Scholar isn't a 'sexy' thing to work on at Google. I'm surprised it still exists, frankly. Google products that aren't career-builders tend to languish.


SciHub is not open access based on the usual meaning of the term. SciHub doesn't give you reuse rights, or any rights at all.

> By "open access" to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Open_Access_Initiativ...


Then again, isn't that always the case when a system is rotten but those in power have no incentives to change, and eventually said change is accomplished through a form of civil disobedience?


I'm taking a look at SciHub based on your suggestion. I see that they have journals for various biology related fields.

I decided to take a look at the biotechnology journal https://scihub.org/ajbms/current-issue/

However, it seems the current issue is July 2017? Is it not updated frequently?

Thank you.


SciHub started long after the move towards open access was underway. The campaign, and ongoing incremental steps by funding agencies, has been going on for 15 years.


Yes, and SciHub single-handedly achieved more for the cause that all those other efforts did for the past 20 years. People working on those efforts admit it:

http://sci-hub.tw/http://doi.org/10.1002/leap.1116


Doesn't SciHub source its articles from journals though?


Great step forward IF the Open Access fee is rationalized. Take for example, Nature Communications - which only publishes OA. The OA fee for one article is €3,850! [0]. Why should tax payers pay two times - to conduct the research, to access the research - to access the research which they fund? Specially, when most of the work is done by the researchers themselves. And before someone talks about journal costs etc. I have been a reviewer for different journals and conferences for many years now. I haven't received a single penny for peer reviews. I highly doubt hosting a PDF on a server takes € 3,850.

[0] https://www.nature.com/ncomms/about/article-processing-charg...


I think the solution isn't to change the publishers it's to let them go bankrupt. In my experience in Computer Science most papers are at conferences and if those simply focused on the conference itself and maybe a website linking to the arxiv versions of the accepted papers there simply wouldn't be a need for any other publishing. As it stands 99% of the burden is on the scientific community anyway, that leaves publishers with abysmal editing and extortion.


I agree but to be fair the editing done by journals does provide some value: Most researchers, in most fields outside of mathematics, physics and computer science, have rudimentary editing skills at best. Many very good biologists I know outright refuse to learn LaTeX, decrying it as a waste of time. Of course this isn’t an insurmountable problem but at least for now there’s a clear demand that journals fill; take a look at manuscripts submitted to bioRxiv. The average quality is a lot worse than CS conference papers or arxiv submissions — not just in terms of text layout and formatting but also for rudimentary language editing etc.


Perhaps editing could then be a product sold to the researcher, rather than a reason to yield publishing rights to a single journal.


> Perhaps editing could then be a product sold to the researcher, rather than a reason to yield publishing rights to a single journal.

That's exactly what's happening with Open Access Journals: they charge the authors to finance editing and other editorial processes, and distribute papers for free and with liberal licenses.


by yielding publishing rights to a journal the journal gets to collect small bits of money from lots of people, the bearable cost of editing for any researcher would be quite a bit smaller, effectively for these publishers selling editing as a service is a no-go.


Many researchers at the moment happily pay APCs (=Open Access article processing charges) in the several thousands of dollars — this is way more than is required as a minimal cost of editing. In fact, you can easily hire a freelance editor to work on your paper for less. If the process becomes minimally streamlined it could be made very affordable: at the moment, a lot of the work of a journal editor is (intentionally, as well as due to inertia) due to the utter lack of streamlining.


I'm not surprised if their actual costs are in the range of thousands of dollars, because they typically have horrible typesetting workflows that take your nice LaTeX, mangle it into QuarkXPress and give you a PDF for proofreading with tens or hundreds of annoying small errors. Which you have to find and point out, and then they fix every single one manually in their horrible software.

It's not the cost of a value-adding service, but the cost of having a huge technical debt that nobody has bothered paying down on.


thanks, didn't know that.


It would solve the "i'm not going to learn latex because I consider it a waste of time" argument as it would save you tons of money.


I never understand this argument. I wish I could have all of the hours back I spent trying to fix inscrutable things in word processing documents.


what they are saying is that it would be a personal decision, like choosing what to drink, some home-made tea or a coke from the vending machine. you choose if you edit yourself, or spend part of your paycheck to delegate the task


Word processors take a long time to learn to use well, with the time invested paying back much lower dividends than learning to use (La)TeX well. That is what I meant.


I fully agree learning (La)TeX is superior of "word processors" which is a bit of a glorified name for invisible markup, it is seldom a good idea to dumb down on the user.

I misread your "I never understand this argument." as not understanding what consp wrote, "this" was a bit ambiguous, and I originally thought you meant "I'm the scientist, let me do science instead of communicating clearly what I did and observed" but now I see "this" referred to the argument consp quoted. So we are both agreeing with him. Add to that that I was confusing a sibling comment with what consp wrote. :)


That's not my experience.

At least one publisher, despite claiming to 'accept LaTeX', appears to just copy-and-paste from the pdf output into Adobe InDesign and manages to introduce tonnes of new errors, which then I have to have substantial time to fix (for free, again). [And usually I don't manage to catch everything.]


> Most researchers, in most fields outside of mathematics, physics and computer science, have rudimentary editing skills at best.

Why exclude those fields? I would argue that poor editing skills are fairly widespread, regardless of domain.


Those fields are excluded because authors in those fields are quick to use LaTeX which encourages good editing, or at least makes papers look professional, not because they are better at copyediting or at writing English.

Copyediting is still badly needed, but that's typically foisted upon a grad student; the journals don't contribute much as far as I can tell.


> In my experience in Computer Science most papers are at conferences and if those simply focused on the conference itself and maybe a website linking to the arxiv versions of the accepted papers there simply wouldn't be a need for any other publishing.

Actually some conferences come with "publishing fees" in the form of "if you want to publish at our conf of course you'll have to present here, which means you'll buy a ticket, which is veeeeery expensive".


From my limited experience math/comp-sci paper drafts tend to be available for free. Totally not the case for e.g. neurology sadly.


Yes, the papers themselves are usually easy to find for free. The code and data, though, not so much.


This seems orthogonal to the topic under discussion though. I don't believe GP was saying the publications are perfect.


No, but codifying access requirements might be the right opportunity to require code/data sharing. After all, some research is next to useless without it and the public paid for the code as much as the paper.


The value from journals isn't so much in editing as it is curating.


Nature (so I expect Nature Communications as well) has paid editors AFAIK, but more importantly the charge is only paid by successful papers. I can't find the NC acceptance rate but for Nature it's in the region of 4-5% IIRC.

That means all successful papers are paying for any costs incurred for the review (editor or peer) of 20.

You can look at non-profit journals like the PLOS journals, they still have charges in the region of $1600-3000.

disclaimer - work in the field for Digital Science, which is part of Holtzbrinck


...but the reviewers don't see a penny. It is all just to organize the reviews. All that activity the journals do prior to publication can probably be streamlined and solved a lot more efficiently by some computer program/social platform.

If reviewers were paid you would have a better point IMO.


There is a cost to doing this though, that's the point. Who gets the money is in many ways not relevant to the central point. You are not paying for a single paper to be reviewed. You're paying for all of the rejected ones too. The high APCs of even non-profit publishers is a key point to show that costs end up being quite high.

> All that activity the journals do prior to publication can probably be streamlined and solved a lot more efficiently

It's a huge industry though, and so saving money can translate to huge profit increases. While not competitive like other marketplaces are, I'm sure these places like money and so have their own drive to cut costs. You can't just throw technology or "social platform" at a problem and hope costs go down.


Well, I feel pretty convinced that in 10 years the world has thrown technology at this problem and that costs has gone down and that the publishing industry is dead; whether or not you say you "can" do so or not.


Although reviewers don't get paid editions don't just organize reviews. They select high impact papers, copy edit papers, typeset and also have some writers for summary stuff at the front of the magazine. Probably more I'm not thinking of. Is it worth it, who knows.

Source: published in Nature and Science.


The context of my comment was specifically that it was said that the one accepted paper had to pay for the cost of all the rejected ones. Is all the things you say (editing, typesetting) done prior to review? It wasn't done on the papers I have reviewed...


Their point isn't really diminished by you claiming easy efficiency gains using "some computer program/social platform".


What does "rationalized" mean? Highly respected open access publishers like PLoS charge similar fees https://www.plos.org/publication-fees - maybe that's just what it costs to run a journal? If not, PLoS must be some ridiculously profitable scam.


Why a scam? And why only PLOS but none of the other commercial publishers?

But yes, the (well known) profit margins of some of these publishers are quite simply obscene.


PLoS is a non-profit with publishing fees up to $3000, so I think their point is that high costs are not simply profit but that there is a large cost involved.


This is a misunderstanding: “non-profit” does not mean that an organisation can’t earn money. It means the company cannot be sold, and all profits have to be reinvested (rather than e.g. paid out to shareholders). And PLOS, like for-profit publishers, has in the past had very large profit margins (and has been criticised for this, e.g. [1]).

[1]: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2015/09/29/plosone-hikes...


> It means the company cannot be sold, and all profits have to be reinvested

Right, so the incoming money is spent on the company itself - so should represent the long term running costs, surely.

> And PLOS, like for-profit publishers, has in the past had very large profit margins (and has been criticised for this, e.g. [1]).

I'm not sure I'd say those are extreme, $5M on $50M in revenue. Even if you removed that you would still have APCs of ~$1450-2700 which I don't think would change the original point.


> PLoS is a non-profit with publishing fees up to $3000, so I think their point is that high costs are not simply profit

“Non-profit” does not mean an organization does not earn profits. It means that it is not a vehicle for returning profits to particular stakeholders (owners, shareholders, LLC members, etc.)


And I'd add that it's also not particular proof of efficiency. Non-profits can be amazingly effective at using money to further their missions. They can also be enormous boondoggles.


I think it's disingenuous to say the cost is just hosting a PDF, but even that can be challenging for those without any IT background.

I think these science funders should make some grants available to build some high quality digital tools for fields outside of CS to make journal creation and maintenance easier.


This is a fantastic step forward, and the most drastic of measures I've seen so far. The most important part, in my opinion, is the exclusion of hybrid journals, which do not help at all in the transition to open access other than extract even more public money.

Other important steps:

- Abolishing copyright transfers

- No more embargo periods

- A cap on publication fees ("Article Processing Charges")


With regard to copyright transfer agreements, I have found one publisher willing to publish an article I retain copyright of. I asked at a conference. I have not yet published in a journal, as I am not willing to transfer copyright and find conferences acceptable, but when I do, this will be how. Then they won't be able to stop me from publishing the final version of the paper on a preprint site (for free access), and I still get the benefits of my research being in a journal.


Perhaps you could assign rights to the FSF. I'm not sure if they're prepared for that kind of battle, but my gut indicates they might be in a better place than the rest.

And, they have 35 years of history showing they wouldn't sell your content under the bus.


This is the closest I've seen to people attacking the problem at its root. Academics need grants to survive, and they will go after them even if it means being forced to publish in a lower-tier journal. Over time the lower-tier journals gain more status since the high-dollar grant chasing academics start publishing high quality research in them. The paywalled journals ideally subsequently either diminish in quality, lowering the incentive to publish there or switch to an open-access model.


It's about time. Currently governments fund most of the research, and then constantly have to pay exorbitant fees for every copy of the resulting work. This will also have a tremendous positive effect for the public, Who currently do not have easy access to the work that they're paying for, and in many cases the only stuff they can easily get is quackery or old things. The only thing this is bad for is the Publishers who do not want to adjust to the internet.


I don't understand the "bar publishing in 85% of journals" part; presumably they mean "exclusively".

That actually means that papers (and research data hopefully?!) can be published for the people who bought the research to be able to legally access it; but journals have opportunity to prove their added value still. And if they do add value, the market can provide a price for it.

So non-OA journals can still curate, review, typeset, index, etc., just not lock the publicly funded research itself away.


Researchers funded by the participating funds are not allowed to publish in journals that do not make all of their research freely available, which indeed excludes many a popular journal today - unless they change their business model, which this plan appears to aim for.


You can require all footpaths to be mapped, and make those maps publicly accessible (for free), without having to make it illegal to sell a footpath map.

That means the public can find all the footpaths, but if someone creates an innovative map, or a useful compendium they can still sell that.


They're not making it illegal to sell a footpath map, they're just disallowing you from paying a footpath map seller for giving your map away for free. Instead, you have to give them to people who are already giving away maps for free.


It depends on how you read part of the EU statement, but there's a note about not accepting "the hybrid approach". If this refers to hybrid journals, then that would be the barring of publishing in large numbers of journals.


So if commercial services can add something -- on top of full, open disclosure of research findings -- they're going to make that unlawful? That seems strange: what does the public gain from that?


No. There can still be commercial services, commercial for-profit publishing, etc. What they're saying is that simply they don't want to publish findings in subscription journals.

> what does the public gain from that?

The public and researchers gain permanent access to the research output regardless of which publisher, what deals are in place, where they are or whether their library has a current subscription. It allows researchers to do work analysing the content itself too as they'll then have a licence to do so (useful if you want to analyse, say, 10M papers). Research output reported in the news will be available for any interested party

The downside is that instead of publishing for free and then the readers paying, the payment model will be flipped to upfront payment for services and then free access.


Been a while since I left academia, but certainly at the time this would open the door wide for atrocious publication fees as long as quantitative productivity ranking based on Science Citation Index was upheld.

Since the publication fee is covered as direct costs in research grants reimbursed at 100% by the funding authorities, there is no incentive for writers to be price conscious while at the same time being strong-armed to publish in those journals or lose their job.


That's mostly still the case, and they're hoping to mitigate that by capping publication fees. I do think a change in incentive structures, where you need to publish with certain journals to advance your career ("pay to promote"), is still needed though.


I'm curious, can anyone update me on the related problem of whether it is still the case that failing studies are rarely published so there's a potential for duplication and misreading of significance--because if 101 studies are run and publish the one time it hit p 0.01 you got what would be expected by chance.

Are the structural problems inherent in publish-or-perish mitigated in any way yet?


Yes, that is still the case, and while a problem, it's a different one than the problem of restricted access to research.


In the meantime Germany and Sweden are having fun with Elsevier: https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/universities-in-g...


Its a little confusing because the declaration of the initiative says that the "hybrid" model is not acceptable yet just before that it says that they will pay open access fees up to a specific capped amount throughout Europe. Which one is it?

In any case, some disciplines in life sciences pay the fee to commercial publishers in order to avoid their own internal politics. Open access publishers can have their own problems with politics and transparency which are at this time masked because everyone publishes in high-impact third party commercial publishers. It is a little more difficult to trust the publication record as a proxy for value when you know that e.g. connections have played a part in it.


Paying for OA is not hybrid.

Hybrid usually refers to journals that have some OA and some non-OA content.

However, I'm not sure if the initiative is talking about not publishing in hybrid journals at all, or that publishing non-oa followed by later paying for OA is not acceptable.

> In any case, some disciplines in life sciences pay the fee to commercial publishers in order to avoid their internal politics. Open access publishers can have their own problems with politics and transparency which are at this time masked because everyone publishes in third party commercial publishers.

I'm not sure if I understand right, but there's no distinction between OA publishers and commercial publishers. OA really just refers to the rights of the final paper, not whether the publisher turns a profit.


OK that makes sense, but that's a tiny distinction. Paying for open access used to be optional (like in Cell) now becomes mandatory (like in Cell Reports). The scientist still pays a hefty fee ($5000) to publish a paper. It's probably more economical for the Funding bodies to pay the OA fee rather than paying the subscriptions, but it still foots a bill.

> I'm not sure if I understand right

I was making a point about how impact factors are used as proxy for value in life sciences. Because life scientists have done that, they are now dependent on a model in which a third party (the commercial publishers) is judging their work. Going fully open access means the journals will more or less have the same impact factor, because the strong incentive to work towards increasing it (more paid subscriptions) has gone away. So , at least in life sciences, academics will have to learn to evaluate the work of each other more openly, something that other disciplines have achieved long ago (e.g CS, math , physics).


> OK that makes sense, but that's a tiny distinction.

It's potentially the largest part IMO. That would dramatically change the landscape as all research output from EU funding could simply never appear in certain journals rather than requiring that journals add an OA option. Major journals would need to switch from closed/hybrid to full OA, and soon.

> The scientist still pays a hefty fee ($5000) to publish a paper. It's probably more economical for the Funding bodies to pay the OA fee rather than paying the subscriptions, but it still foots a bill.

Yes, it's a shift in who pays - it's not a claim that the EU will now forbid paying for publishing. They are however (as now a customer with enormous weight) saying they'll cap the APCs.

> Going fully open access means the journals will more or less have the same impact factor,

I don't see that being at all true, I'm not sure why you'd expect that.

> because the strong incentive to work towards increasing it (more paid subscriptions) has gone away

The incentive is still to get researchers to publish in the journal, arguably the desire to be more restrictive may increase.


[These days I'm entirely industrial, but I used to be an academic working in this space. I am extremely biased.]

This is the EU – and their allies at places like the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust – negotiating with tanks in public (and not before time, in my personal view).

The centre of the argument is in life sciences, because that's where the most money is, because all of the physical scientists read arXiV anyway, and because the scholarly societies, led by the American Physical Society, have managed to hang on and are notably less rapacious than Holzbrinck and Elsevier.

Nature/Holzbrinck/Digital Science are arguing the other side, because of course they are, who wants to get disrupted? And Nature is their bully pulpit.

A lot of this comes down to the scholarly societies – many of whom are much easier to deal with, a notable exception being the American Chemical Society, who are very hard to deal with because they're led around by the nose by the Chemical Abstracts Service – being displaced by a small number of vehemently commercial big corporates. They know fine well this is a wasting asset and they've been trying to wring as much cash from it as possible, and it's hastened this endgame.


Not sure if I've put in this thread but just to avoid any issues, I work for Digital Science (which is part of Holtzbrinck) though as always only ever speak personally and not for the company.

> This is the EU – and their allies at places like the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust – negotiating with tanks in public (and not before time, in my personal view).

I don't know I'd see it quite like that, far from a negotiating point they seem to be much more simply the customer. They have decided what they want to do with their work and money, it's entirely up to them how to spend it. It's been a while coming, but publishing is a slow industry.

The risk, really, that the publishing industry has been running with for some time is that it relies enormously on submitted work from a relatively small number of funders (and then the funders are often owned by the same government, and in the EU those governments work very closely together). A change in view from those few customers means larger things need to change.

> Nature/Holzbrinck/Digital Science are arguing the other side, because of course they are, who wants to get disrupted? And Nature is their bully pulpit.

Not sure I've seen DS arguing either side in this really. Personally it'll make my work at DS easier the more that's open access and unless I've missed something doesn't really impact any of the major products - I can't see how it'd change Dimensions for example (apart from making it easier to ingest more full text data). I certainly can't see where it would "disrupt" DS. Would be interested to know what you think would be disrupted.

It's a change to the business model of some of the publishing, but while a big change in the industry hardly one that should come as a surprise - and one that there's already a widely used alternative model already in place. It's a much bigger shift given they aren't accepting hybrid journals, but doesn't rule out commercial operation. Seeing what they choose as their cap for the APCs will be interesting.


Not so much DS as Nature. (I know several people who used to be at DS, and they were uniformly all great; DS appeared pretty clearly to be Macmillan-at-the-time's hedge against OA blowing up the conventional journal business, though, from an outside perspective)

It certainly doesn't rule out commercial publishers, but it cuts the knees out from the selling-non-negotiable-bundles-to-university-libraries model the big publishers have been leaning on.


Yes, I think part of the change is likely to be to negotiate yearly fees for no APCs to keep more reliable revenue. It's a big change.

> DS appeared pretty clearly to be Macmillan-at-the-time's hedge against OA blowing up the conventional journal business, though, from an outside perspective)

Yes, I don't know if I'd put it as OA focussed though, rather it's been a hedge about something changing and altering the business model. Never been in the high level meetings that would have seen this discussion though so it's all anyone's guess.


Finally a legal way to find and read and cite publicly funded scientific papers. What a time!


Does anyone know of any open-source arXiv like frameworks that can be self-hosted?



These are great! Thanks for pointing them out!


This is a great idea. Even better if they applied the requirement retroactively.


"As written, Plan S would bar researchers from publishing in 85% of journals, including influential titles such as Nature and Science." - Nature

Conflict of interest with this reporting much?


There is an obvious conflict of interest. However I see nothing wrong with the article. What is written here is a fact. 85% of journals don't match the criteria for Plan S and Nature and Science are definitely influential.

Arguments of both sides are presented, not too much sensationalism, that's better journalism than many so called "independent" newspapers.


Oh, the text is biased. E.g., the word "radical" is not emotion free, it is clearly selected to suggest that this is a bad idea. They also emphasize strongly the number of journals that do not meet this criteria, without noting that changes are absolutely possible. The percentage is so small because of the strong armed resistance of organizations like theirs. We should not expect that an organization used to free money would be happy about losing their exclusive access to hard work that was paid for by the public.


> E.g., the word "radical" is not emotion free, it is clearly selected to suggest that this is a bad idea.

No, it's clearly chosen to suggest it is an extreme break from the status quo practice.


Considering that the article is clearly sympathetic to the idea, I don't really understand how you think this conflict of interest is manifesting itself.


On occasion in its news articles, Nature News has stated that it is editorially independent from the rest of Nature. I don't have a link to that statement, unfortunately, but I have seen it when Nature News has to discuss items that impact Nature publications.

Edit: here's a statement from a 2016 article: Nature’s news and comment team is editorially independent of the publisher’s research editorial teams [1]

[1] https://www.nature.com/news/open-peer-review-finds-more-take...


It's also directly stated in the article under the "Publisher concerns"paragraph": Nature’s news team is editorially independent of its publisher


I missed that. Thanks for pointing that out.


There are alternative ones which are using blockchain technology. I know Pluto project(https://pluto.network) and ScienceRoot project(http://www.scienceroot.com/). It's not exactly same with open-access(they insist a fair rewarding system.)


In complement to the Nature's article: The FNS/SNF (Swiss national science foundation) explains on its website the reason for not signing it (yet): http://www.snf.ch/en/researchinFocus/newsroom/Pages/news-180...


"We have a different plan and we're sticking to it" is not much of an explanation.

(I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist of it.)


To be fair, it's more like "we committed ourselves to a different plan to other stakeholders, and we're sticking to it until we have convened with those stakeholders whether they're OK with us joining this plan".


This could be great for replication studies, as they are really hard to publish under the current model.


This is not about publishing itself, but about access to published articles. Journals will keep wanting to maintain prestige and be picky, so guess which studies are not going to be accepted.


Aaron Schwartz is like "wait, what was I on trial for again?"


Does anyone else find this ironic that this article is published in Nature, a subscription journal?


The solution here is easy and obvious. The Nobel Committee should adopt a rule saying that any research first published in a pay-walled journal will not be considered in evaluating a candidate for any of the Nobel prizes.

That would stop publication in a day. Or less.


Thank Goodness. I've been advocating for funders to insist on open publication of results (and more) for over a decade: https://pdfernhout.net/open-letter-to-grantmakers-and-donors... "Foundations, other grantmaking agencies handling public tax-exempt dollars, and charitable donors need to consider the implications for their grantmaking or donation policies if they use a now obsolete charitable model of subsidizing proprietary publishing and proprietary research. In order to improve the effectiveness and collaborativeness of the non-profit sector overall, it is suggested these grantmaking organizations and donors move to requiring grantees to make any resulting copyrighted digital materials freely available on the internet, including free licenses granting the right for others to make and redistribute new derivative works without further permission. It is also suggested patents resulting from charitably subsidized research research also be made freely available for general use. The alternative of allowing charitable dollars to result in proprietary copyrights and proprietary patents is corrupting the non-profit sector as it results in a conflict of interest between a non-profit's primary mission of helping humanity through freely sharing knowledge (made possible at little cost by the internet) and a desire to maximize short term revenues through charging licensing fees for access to patents and copyrights. In essence, with the change of publishing and communication economics made possible by the wide spread use of the internet, tax-exempt non-profits have become, perhaps unwittingly, caught up in a new form of "self-dealing", and it is up to donors and grantmakers (and eventually lawmakers) to prevent this by requiring free licensing of results as a condition of their grants and donations."

Longer version: https://pdfernhout.net/on-funding-digital-public-works.html

Related pledge for organizations: https://pdfernhout.net/pledge-to-only-fund-and-create-free-w... "Our organization, ______, pledges to our our stakeholders and the people of the world that from this date forward, ________, whenever we use charitable or public dollars to fund or create any new content, software, or any other sort of copyrightable or patentable materials intended for public distribution and public use (or substantially modify existing public content), we will ensure those works will be distributed to the public under free/libre licenses. Free/libre licenses means those who receive the works have the freedom to use, run, copy, study, change, improve, redistribute, and/or distribute modified versions of the works without paying additional fees or obtaining additional permissions."


"Rent-seekers could lose their privilege and everyone else could win indirectly."


How is this radical. People who have invested in knowledge (e.g. via taxes) should be able to access that knowledge, i.e. reap the benefits of their investment. There is nothing radical here.

Sure, I get that this is radical in the sense that some leeches' industry will dry up. That's a good thing but it puzzles me how we got in this situation in the first place.


That's great, and definitely better than paywalls, but how are we going to fund the work of good reviewers?


reviewers are not paid by the publisher in the current system either

basically:

  - authors pay to publish their work
  - readers pay to read the articles
  - reviewers review pro-bono
now you are thinking "well where the hell goes the money" and you are in the same situation as 99% of scientists


It is actually quite time-consuming to do the editorial tasks of a journal:

* Ensure that the content of a submission meets minimal guidelines for submission.

* Figure out who appropriate reviewers might be. This means figuring out which research areas are relevant, filtering out reviewers who might have conflicts of interest (same institution, previous advisor/advisee relationship, recent collaboration, etc.). You also need to ensure that you load balance reviews across reviewers.

* Appropriately double-blind the submission so that the reviewers don't know who submitted the paper, and the authors don't know who reviewed the paper. You are now an intermediary for all of this communication.

* Make a judgement call of which papers will be accepted for publishing.

* You need to facilitate necessary edits from the authors to get it ready to publish.

* Convert paper formats, supplementary data, etc. for uploading. Basically all the editing tasks that you probably thought was the only thing on this list.

* Oh, and reviewers and authors are likely professors who are horribly oversubscribed in terms of their time, so you need to play babysitter to make sure that the tasks actually get done in a reasonable manner.

When you consider how few papers actually get published, and just how much administrative work is required to publish a paper, costing hundreds or thousands of dollars to publish a paper is not unreasonable.


Scientific Journals make 36% margin[0].

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/27/profitable-b...


Put another way, that means that if you eliminated all profit from costs, you'd cut the price by only a third (not to a third). That's still hundreds-to-thousands of dollars per article.


No, it'd only cost so much if the alternative did the same thing, and that would be a foolish thing to do. It costs a lot of money to restrict access to information: you have to print lots of paper, use digital rights management (DRM), have an army of people to negotiate and manage expensive contracts with libraries, and so on. You may want to write and maintain special search engines. You also have to employ an army of lawyers to sue anyone and everyone who has the temerity to share scientific research (even though the publisher didn't pay for the research to be done in the first place), as well as try to track down those evil people who dare share publicly-funded scientific work.

An open access journal doesn't have to do any of that. They have to have some editors do final editing (who get paid), a website where they post the article, and they'll probably pay a CDN (so the website doesn't even need to be very fast). If they're smart they'll create a static (generated) website, which is extraordinarily cheap to maintain today. They don't need to create paper copies - if someone wants a paper copy, that individual can print it. They don't need to worry about the massive overhead of digital rights management (DRM) systems, because they don't need them. They don't need to negotiate expensive contracts with libraries (they still have to negotiate small contracts for editing and such, but small dollar amounts are easier to manage). Normal search engines can use their data directly, so they don't need their own search engine. You don't need an army of lawyers to punish the sharing of scientific results that were paid for by society; you don't even need to track down those people who were sharing scientific results. An open access journal needs reviewers, but they are already volunteers, so that wouldn't change.

For-profit publishing requires a tremendous amount of overhead that provides no value to society. Publishers do it because they can do all that and still make a giant profit, and they can just pass all those costs on to society.


More than that probably. At 36% margins you don’t really have to worry about cost efficiency - there’s probably a lot of cost savings to be had hiding behind all that free cash flowing around (and if that 36% margin disappears, it won’t take long for the CFO to find them).


The kind of work you describe though is small, compared to the effort the scientists have to put to conform with the journal's author guidelines [about the detailed formatting of the paper and the figures etc], and the amount of time it takes to the reviewers to review the paper. Authors often suggest the reviewers themselves - but even if they don't the editor just goes through the list of people who have published on the same subject in their journal before - that doesnt sound that hard or time consuming. Double-blindness is not even a concern in the age of computers. Their judgement call is usually made by the reviewers, and their role is limited to cases that are on the fence, and even then it's more of a roll of a dice . They often do a lousy job at keeping with deadlines - you ll sometimes have to nudge them to get some progress. Babysitting is the wrong term, given that reviewers are generally more qualified scientists than the editor. But yeah when you expect to get free work, you have to do a bit hustling for it.

I m not saying it doesnt cost some amount, but for high impact journals a lot of the cost goes to publicity work, which in the end benefits the status of the paper but not science.


Many of those jobs are done by the same academics as authors and reviewers who also work pro bono or for very little money as well.


It goes to funding distribution models that can't deliver unicorns, rainbows, OR puppies to your doorstep. See the following quote from William Gunn, Communications head at Elsevier.

  When one user argued that people in rare-disease 
  families “shouldn’t have to jump through additional 
  hoops to access information,” Gunn responded, “Yes, 
  everyone should have rainbows, unicorns, & puppies 
  delivered to their doorstep by volunteers. Y’all keep 
  wishing for that, I’ll keep working on producing the 
  best knowledge and distributing it as best we can.”

https://slate.com/technology/2018/08/who-gets-to-read-the-re...


Elsevier's profit was almost a billion pounds in 2017. They are the last people to complain about margins or cost/benefits.


They post a profit or about 33% according to others in this thread. This means they still have ~2 billion pounds in actual operating costs. Not that I support the current model, but that work still needs to be done, and it seems naive to expect it to be done for free / substantially less.

I wonder how far the 'fee per published article' gets to covering bare costs for e.g. the journal Nature.


I highly doubt most of the operating costs come from the journals. Considering there are far more people working for other publications in the Elsevier company. Usually the publications with high turnaround have low profit or break even, and I do not think the journals are among those and actually raise the profit margin substantially.

But then, I can't back this up with numbers as they do not publish specifics...


Elsevier is full of nonsense, and this self-serving quote from William Gunn is just another example. You might find this article of interest: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/27/profitable-b...

Per that article: "According to its 2013 financials Elsevier had a higher percentage of profit than Apple, Inc."

There's no need to "distribute by volunteers". We have something called the Internet - put the articles on a website, click, and you're done. Indeed, for the most part publishing on paper is a mistake - what we need is the electrons, not paper. Editors aren't free, but they don't cost the money that Elsevier and others charge. Reviews are done by volunteers, almost without exception, so there's no need to pay publishers for review.

For-profit scientific publishers provided an important service in the 1950s. It's not the 1950s any more, and they don't provide any valuable services any more. All the real services - namely the scientific work - are paid by others, and so those others should reap the rewards.


I know it seems superficial, but the usage of the word "y'all" makes Elsevier lose a lot of credibility in my mind.


I would have a very hard time not looking him dead in the eye, saying "F* you", and spitting in his coffee.

When "best we can" obviously means "best (for us as) we can (scam the marks for)", you are a parasite.


Right, but we have the internet now. The costs of publication and journal subscription greatly exceed the costs of digital distribution.


> on producing the best knowledge

at best he s publishing it


To give an idea of how much pro-bono review costs the rest of the system: A thorough review of a journal article takes 6-12 hours. If the paper develops novel theory it is more likely to take ~ 24 hours to understand and check properly.

The average return on 1 hour of grant writing for a PI or experience staff researcher is ~ $300, averaged over the year. One 10-hour review therefore has ≥ $3000 opportunity cost to my lab.

Looking at the opportunity cost to my funders due to spending time on a review instead of on research, funders presumably believe that research is at least as valuable as the how much they pay to support it. At the rates I'm familiar with, the opportunity cost to them is therefore at least $800 for a 10 hour review. Worse, a portion of every grant from the NIH or NSF is filtered through the university system as "indirect costs" and paid to the publishers as journal subscription fees. (The amount paid in subscription fees is hidden behind NDAs.)

There are 2-3 reviewers per paper, and a paper may be rejected and resubmitted 2-4 times. Reviews don't follow a paper between resubmissions—the whole process starts again from square one with new reviewers. So multiply the per-reviewer costs above by somewhere between 2 and 12 to get the total cost.

One could counter that review generates similar value as other research activities. I doubt this. The cost-benefit tradeoffs involved in review strongly incentivize cutting corners or delegating the task to inexperienced workers, which lessens the average review quality. The median review is a list of gut reaction bullet points rather than an evidence-based critique. This promotes an adversarial relationship between reviewers and authors. Of course there are many idealistic people who fully commit to the process anyway, but the system as a whole is costly and wasteful.

(All of this is based on my experience doing academic biomedical research in the US. It is probably laughably wrong for other fields or other countries.)


its no different in europe since people are publishing in the same journals. And its not rare to see egregious or unprofessional behaviour.


Yea reviewers are not paid. Publishers basically get to have their cake AND eat it too.


Most reviewers (at least from my experience in maths and physics) don't get paid.


Computer Science too don't get paid from my experience either.


Preparing papers for publication requires a non-negligible amount of not-fun work. Someone has to proofread the paper, verify compliance with the journal's house style guide, manage the interactions with reviewers, etc.

For high impact journals, it may be possible to find enough volunteer editors who are willing to accept compensation solely in the form of a line of their CV. Less prestigious journals need to provide additional incentives to editors, and cash has a proven track record of motivating people.

Perhaps academic publishers collect to much rent from their pseudo-monopolies on specific publishing niches, but it is difficult to escape the basic economics of publishing.


I just don't get this. I was involved in a conference committee this year (CS is published in conferences), and as far as I know everyone from the general chair on down was a volunteer. There were some costs like conference space for the program committee meeting that had to be covered via the cost of admission to the conference, but in a journal presumably even those would not exist since you don't need reviewers to meet in person.

As far as I know, the only ongoing costs for the publisher (not immediately recouped via conference admission) would be running their own website and providing downloads. These hardly seem like massive expenses to me.

I don't see any fundamental reason why the model in CS couldn't work for other disciplines even if you don't want to adopt conferences; people are willing to step up and do the work, so why is so much money going to the middle men?


> why is so much money going to the middle men?

Because the middle men like getting free money, and it's not other people's jobs to fix the problem. If you're an academic, your job is to produce papers that get published, not fix the publishing system. If you're a library, your job is to make materials available to patrons, not fix the publishing industry. In contrast: If you're a for-profit publisher, your job is to maximize profit, which means minimize your costs and maximize your income.

What's changed is that the costs are now so steep, and the value provided by publishers is so little, that it's become painfully obvious that scientific journal publishers don't provide value compared to the rent fees they charge everyone else.


> so why is so much money going to the middle men?

Because the scientific community hasn't put forth an alternative.


> Preparing papers for publication requires a non-negligible amount of not-fun work. Someone has to proofread the paper

Many journal publishers do not even provide proofreading or editor services any more. The author is expected to do all that on his own, and then provide camera-ready output. In the case of for-profit publishers, about the only thing that they provide is the actual printing and distribution, not anything editing-related, and so you can imagine their profit margins.

> Less prestigious journals need to provide additional incentives to editors, and cash has a proven track record of motivating people.

Again, at least in my own field all of our journals, regardless of prestige, are produced on the part of volunteer labor. Where are you that people are being paid to serve as editors or reviewers?


> Preparing papers for publication requires a non-negligible amount of not-fun work. Someone has to proofread the paper, verify compliance with the journal's house style guide, manage the interactions with reviewers, etc. For high impact journals, it may be possible to find enough volunteer editors who are willing to accept compensation solely in the form of a line of their CV.

It's true that there are some editorial costs, but most open access journals have a one-time editorial cost that cover this. Since it's one-time, the total costs to society are far, far less. Currently governments pay hundreds of thousands of times to access each article (via library subscriptions), instead of paying once to have it published. And since the public is paying for this research, it makes sense that the public should get the result.




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