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Ask HN: Why aren't scientific journals free on the web?
45 points by clyfe on Dec 5, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments
Asking $ for them seems contrary to their purpose doesn't it?

And post links if you know any freebies as in:




In physics and math, a lot of the the intellectual/ academic "action" (a combination of the sharing of results + acclamation by peers (for tenure and promotion)) has moved to preprint servers, specifically http://arxiv.org. Instead of the closed peer review process, what happens is that your scientific peers either start citing you publically or they rip you to shreds publically -- just as good for judging a result as three anonymous (and usually old and set in their ways) reviewers.

This move really pisses off the big publishing houses/ copyright owners like Wiley, but whenever they blather about anonymous peer review what they are really saying is "we make a lot of money off this process -- don't take it away".

The problem with systems like arxiv -- and the reason why all academics don't go there in droves -- is that acedemia promotes people and the govt gives grants based on a formula: sum(journal_prestige .* number_articles). Take away the current system and there is no way to evaluate anybody.

What about via their intellectual merit, you ask? You can prove things in the experimental sciences and math, but in the humanities and the social "sciences" (ack!), there is no objective criteria for evaluating whether a potential hire is either "good" or "not so good" except the above formula. What makes it worse, is that in the social sciences, nobody ever reads papers unless their advisor or one of their advisor's friends wrote it, so if you are on a hiring committee outside your field, you don't know shit about most potential hires (except sum(prestige .* count))

As for the cost -- the internet makes it basically free -- all you have to do is host a bunch of pdf's and have a search function. Fairly trivial for a linux enabled programmer in a university. It is the sociology of it all that prevents the move to open articles.

One of the contradictions, though, to the evaluation argument above is that academics increase in value with each citation, so it hurts an academic to put barriers in front of her papers. Academics almost NEVER make royalties, btw.

(The linked article makes many of the same points.)

A lot of hot academics just put pdf's of their articles on their personal website anyway.

Suggesting that the cost of organizing, judging, critiquing, and hosting those papers is basically free is not supported. http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2010/11/the-economic-cas... This nice article by ars does quick job of pulling together those costs. Also, just slapping a search engine on a whole bunch of articles exists in Google Scholar, but that hasn't revolutionized anything. It is nice that one can see where all the copies of an article exist, but it is still missing je ne sais quoi.

I guess I was assuming that the product wouldn't be the same as old school publishing, just free; rather I was assuming more like the articles published on arxiv. In this latter case, the layout editing etc is absorbed with the producer and their administrative staff at the university, with the hopes that their article will have a big impact.

The problem is that arxiv-style publishing cannot replace peer-reviewed work in academia. Peer review isn't just something the big publishers are pushing- it's an integral part of academia. Without reputation, a journal doesn't get read- and reputation in academia necessitates peer review.

OTOH, layout is pretty replaceable. Publishers guard their layout guides pretty seriously (lol!), but I'm not sure typesetting services are so important now that most universities- even liberal arts unis- have at least one resident LaTeX guru.

I disagree (respectfully).

I actually think traditional peer review (2-4 anonymous editors, generally old-boys in their field) is really, really broken. Arxiv and the like functions just fine without it because you get peer reviewed in the open by everyone; if you matter, people subscribe to your papers and try to poke holes in them or start citing them. Also, if you have a new theory that challenges the old guard it won't make it into the journals; with open discussion, if you can back up your crackpot theories with data and theorems they get accepted. (Remember that the "ether" was an obvious truth in the late 1800's in physics; this is a worse problem in the non-hard "sciences" like sociology.)

I think the "peer review" offered by traditional academic publishing process sucks, and the sooner we get away from it the better. The old style peer review USED to work in that it kept complete garbage out of the printed journals that got sent around.

I heard a story the other day about a paper trying to make it into CHI, a big conference in human-computer interaction. In CS and its subfields, conferences like CHI tend to be more important than journals (or so I've heard). Anyway, the paper was rejected by reviewers, and the rebuttal wasn't enough to make it into the conference.

The paper was stellar, and the author knew it, so he persisted, reasoning that the paper was just too far-reaching for his reviewers. He applied to a portion of the conference called alt.chi, where highly externally reviewed papers can be accepted into the conference, despite being turned down by the review proper. He was able to garner 38 positive named reviews - a shoo-in - and was entered into the conference.

On one hand, this is a great story about how the academic community can build processes that correct for conservative or short-sighted peer review. OTO, though, it's interesting to note that if he hadn't had 38 positive named reviews (or some n less than 38, but considered very strong), he wouldn't have been accepted. This is because, historically, named review is messed up- no one would negatively review his paper and attach his or her name. I can't talk too much about the details of arXiv, but I do know that in a named review system, it's easy to both a) discourage negative commentary, and b) discourage younger or less experienced reviewers, who are especially afraid of hurting their reputation against more experienced colleagues.

Don't get me wrong- I do think that more open systems can replace the current peer review- but I also believe that double-blind reviews and sometimes the intervention of an editor are important for a coercion-free process. They also make it easier to cut the information clutter- instead of following individual researchers, I can follow a few peer-reviewed outlets I trust.

EDIT: I guess a big part of my point is that while it doesn't need to be traditional peer review, some of the aspects of traditional peer review process need to be maintained in the community.

You make an important point, but public named negative reviews are common in the field of writing fiction. Then apparently, the social setup that writers live in is different from the academic setup where public negative reviews may have "political" consequences for your career.

Any comments on that? Is there something that the academic world can borrow from the writers' world to remove the discouraging influences you mention? I haven't thought through this since I don't know much about a writer's world.

I agree that peer review greatly improves academic publishing, because criticism always accelerates intellectual development. But it doesn't have to take the form practiced by contemporary journals. This recent NASA publication[1] is a good example of how the old system can break down, and how peer review can occur outside that system anyway.[2] It's actually already possible for people to publish that way today. PLoSOne is one facility for this. Unfortunately, there is so much momentum behind the old system that outlets like PLoSOne are seen as dumping grounds for papers which weren't accepted by conventional journals.

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21127214

[2] http://rrresearch.blogspot.com/2010/12/arsenic-associated-ba...

>just slapping a search engine on a whole bunch of articles exists in Google Scholar, but that hasn't revolutionized anything

That could be because it was around a long time before Google [Scholar].

When I used to do patent searches we used terminal based services including searches of journals (either abstract or fulltext). I'm guessing these were pre-WWW dial-in services.

> ... acedemia promotes people and the govt gives grants based on a formula: sum(journal_prestige .* number_articles). Take away the current system and there is no way to evaluate anybody.

Neal Stephenson made a similar argument with respect to the arts in his answer to the second question in this interview with slashdot:


Yes, it's a long answer; it is Stephenson after all.

Removing barriers to increase citation count, h-index, etc is the primary argument for open access from an author's perspective. I went to a talk at Georgia Tech on open access recently, put on by the library, and they harped really hard on this. Removing barriers can even increase the reputation of a research institution with more highly cited faculty.

What you're looking for are called "Open Access" journals. There are a few lists on the web, such as http://www.doaj.org/ . There has been a big push recently for Open Access to scientific data, especially NIH funded studies. I don't know how this is for NSF funded work though. PLoS is the poster child of this movement, but others have been around for longer, such as the BioMed Central (BMC) family of journals.

There are a lot of costs involved in the process of producing a scientific journal: printing, editing, hosting PDFs/supplemental data, etc... These are not insignificant costs. Usually the costs of this are split between the submitter and the subscriber (hence why sometimes articles include a disclaimer that they are an advertisement). Open Access journals will force these costs over to the submitter completely, leaving access to the articles free.

Let's look at these costs a little bit, and whether they still apply with the internet --

Printing: No need to have printed journals at all ever again. If a library wants an archive they can do it on their local hp and bind it. Free.

Reviewing: Done by volunteers. Free.

Editing: Done in the reviewing process, plus journals don't "work with" authors helping them to craft their paragraphs. There is an editor who might say "this is unreadable, resubmit", but that's all. Free or darn close.

Creating PDF's or publishable documents: This now happens on the researchers desk, and is basically free once you buy office software. There are plenty of people in a university to prep an article to be really, really pretty if you bother to print it out. Free.

Hosting PDF's and data: Universities have enough leftover computers and FTE's that they can do this without charging an account. Free.

So what is the cost to an open journal? The fact that it is going to inevitably do to the academic journal business what craigslist did to the newspaper classified business....

Sorry, time marches on.

> Sorry, time marches on.

Quality always costs. I think that open access journals are net cheaper than their print counterparts, but it will always cost money to produce a good journal. Look at the PLoS group. They are the closest we have to a top-tier online-only journal and they produce a high quality journal with an excellent impact score. However, it still costs $2900 to get an article published (if it's accepted) in PLoS Biology. Why? Because that's their costs.

You are also severely over estimating the ability of most academics to produce a good, publication ready, PDF. If you're publishing in a journal, there is a set look and feel that must be applied. No matter how good the work is, someone still has to apply the right layouts. I've published in a conference before where what you submit is a camera-ready document, but somehow no one seems to set things up the same way. And good luck getting a biologist to figure out LaTex... that isn't going to happen.

What you're describing seems to be closer to a distributed combination of arXiv and PLoS One, which is where I think we'll end up moving in the future. However, for now, the hosting costs of the organization is not trivial. Even arXiv has started seeking external funding for support.

I'm scared to think of the state of science if open journals are going to do to existing journals what craigslist did to newspapers. Now newspapers are struggling to figure out a way to pay for high-quality reporting in a world without a sustainable revenue model. The result is poorer quality news or news dominated by a few big players.

In science, the journal system has long served as a filter for information. Sure, a purely open access environment would let more people publish quicker, but it would also fill up the scientific record with a lot more noise. And there will always be costs to filtering signal from noise.

You are also severely over estimating the ability of most academics to produce a good, publication ready, PDF. If you're publishing in a journal, there is a set look and feel that must be applied. No matter how good the work is, someone still has to apply the right layouts.

In computer science these days, there are very few journals that do any of this for you. The standard, even for expensive, non-open-access Springer journals, is to require the authors to submit camera-ready PDFs. Maybe that isn't ideal, but the closed-access journals mostly aren't any more full-service than the open-access journals on that front, so it's not clear what the money is buying us as authors. All the publishers provide are Word and LaTeX templates, some formatting instructions, and loud complaints if you get anything wrong.

The only major journals in my area I can think of that do significant in-house professional layout are the IEEE's "magazine-style" journals targeted at a mixed academic/professional audience (they go for a full-color, glossy-magazine look). The IEEE journals that don't fall into that category require authors to submit camera-ready PDFs, though.

See, I'm coming from the biology side, where layouts can be far more complicated. You also have more, shall we say, technical people submitting to CompSci journals. The only camera-ready submission that I've dealt with was for a ACM conference.

I'm so biased that it's almost ludicrous to read my comment, but I'm an editor at an international medical journal, I get paid for it, and I work hard to make it a great publication. Among my responsibilities are that I take care of manuscript workflow and make international (non-english) submissions readable.

I am a dedicated open access fanatic, which is why I'm here (pointed by an oa source), but I think that people like me, in the medicine field, can be easily supported by advertising and medical societies.

I think your analysis is largely right apart from the question of editing, especially considering that clarity is absolutely among the most important values in scientific communication.

> Reviewing: Done by volunteers. Free

Hmmm...work on one's own research in order to generate a paper that can get citations and advance one's career, or take time away from that to review other people's papers for free.

In most academic disciplines reading and critically analysing current research on a particular topic is a fundamental part of generating research papers.

Even startup founders competing in the fast-moving world of business seem to find time to read and give feedback on things that interest them. I don't think a shortage of people willing to review papers is going to be a problem, and if it is, it's a problem that could easily be solved by the prestigious open access journals requiring those submitting papers to set aside time to participate in the peer review process of others' papers

> In most academic disciplines reading and critically analysing current research on a particular topic is a fundamental part of generating research papers

Isn't that generally done by reading new papers that have been published AFTER they have been reviewed?

> I don't think a shortage of people willing to review papers is going to be a problem, and if it is, it's a problem that could easily be solved by the prestigious open access journals requiring those submitting papers to set aside time to participate in the peer review process of others' papers.

I don't think that's a good solution, because I'd rather have the best researchers doing research, rather than reviewing the papers of lesser researchers.

What I think we need to do is recognize that researching and reviewing research are not necessarily done by the best people. For instance there are subjects where I probably could never become a researcher, because I just don't for some reason come up with new ideas in those subjects, but I can understand the new ideas others come up. Hence, I could potentially be a decent reviewer in those subjects.

What could work would be a system where we have reviewer as a separate profession. Researchers submit papers to reviewers who review them and give feedback, and an overall rating which is digitally signed. When a paper is published (by whatever means--open access journal, the researcher's blog, whatever), the signed reviewer ratings can also be included.

Over time, reviewers would develop reputations with readers, and researchers would hire high reputation reviewers to review their papers, allowing the good reviewers to make reviewing their full time job.

When someone posts an unreviewed paper at arXiv.org, I'd expect that reviewers who have not built up reputations would review it for free, and publish their reviews. I'd expect sites would spring up specifically to host these reviews. It would be through these sites that new reviewers would built up their reputations to where researchers will start to pay them to get reviews.

>Hmmm...work on one's own research in order to generate a paper that can get citations and advance one's career, or take time away from that to review other people's papers for free.

As sibling poster notahacker says reviewing other work in the field is part of your own research effort or I'd warrant you're not doing it right.

(I'm not an academic and have only done undergraduate level study).

What I mean is that making reviews happen is not a cost borne by publishers, thus is not a cost that should be recovered by publishers in the form of subscription fees.

Finding reviewers is hard: Good academics don't like to do it, because it doesn't contribute to promotion; bad academics are happy to do it because for them it does (at XYZ state), but they are at XYZ state for a reason, which means they aren't the best reviewers.

If these costs are forced over to the submitter, the stereotypical "money-ignoring" researcher, those costs will begin the weigh heavily on their shoulders. Without support from their hosting institutions, which means a change in how business is done, those articles might find themselves with small, yet significant price tags. Look at textbooks.

At least for the NIH, they now allow publication costs to be funded in grant applications. Also, many institutions have now set up funds to help offset the open access publication charges.

A fairly detailed (if opinionated) answer to your question is here:


The summary is: (1) academics have historically given away their research and reviewing work for free to (revenue seeking) journals and professional associations to get distribution and prestige, (2) this no longer makes sense with the Internet, and (3) academia, journals, and professional associations are in an awkward transition as a result.

In the meantime, just use Google Scholar and hope that you are reading something important enough that someone has possibly violated copyright and posted a version online without a paywall.

Google Scholar isn't an answer to the free publications question.

Admittedly, the OP is not very clear. There could be at least three questions, based on the headline, the body text question, and the example URLs cited:

(1) "Why are journals not open access?"

(2) "Where can I get free copies of academic articles?"

(3) "What open access journals/preprint servers exist?"

My response attempted to answer (1) and (2) with "most journals/conferences are ultimately not interested in dissemination of research results to the general public" and "Google Scholar, which generally has un-paywalled PDFs from academic web pages," respectively. Other people answer (3) elsewhere in this discussion, with answers like arXiv and PLoS.

If your point is that it is not yet clear economically how academic publishing will work in the future, then, I agree.

Physics and optics journals that you can read without any subscription:

arXiv.org An archive of e-prints maintained by the Cornell University Library.

Optics Express The open-access journal of the Optical Society of America

New Journal of Physics The open-access journal for physics.

Journal of the European Optical Society – Rapid Publications

At the same time there is a new trend in many journals nowadays to give to the authors the options to pay so as to have their articles available free of charge

Their purpose is to make money: they are not there for the sake of helping spread research (although it is an "useful byproduct").

That isn't necessarily true- for example, look into the phenomenon of open-access journals. There are also plenty of non-profit journals that act primarily to spread information, and as peer-reviewed gateways.

Yes, but the question is about the ones that are asking for money. They are always behind for-profit organisations.

I am not sure that is true. If it is true, then they are committing tax fraud since nearly every journal is published by a non-profit foundation or organization.

I'll second the first commenter.

A NPO just needs to reinvest profits towards whatever its mission is...

I work for a non-profit medical association, and there is every bit as much of a concern about turning a profit on our products, its just where the profits end up that is different.

Heck, we're even getting xmas bonuses. 5% Base salary + $1,000.

Nearly every journal? Taylor & Francis, Springer Verlag. They are for-profit. To name just two that popped to my mind.

Non-profit doesn't mean free. Any money made from journals helps support their core missions.

But their main purpose is no longer "to make money".

I did not say that non-profit means free.

Please note that my comment regarding non-profit status is a response to the claim that the purpose of scientific journals "is to make money". If this claim is true, that their purpose is in fact to make money, then they are fraudulently representing themselves to tax authorities when they claim to be non-profit organizations.

I have no direct knowledge of the cost breakdown for organizations that publish journals, but I could see how the journal could be the money maker for the organization that then allowed them to perform other duties (lobbying, education, etc... ).

My only point is that a print publication could still have the purpose of being a "money maker" and the publisher still be a non-profit.

My understanding is that the problem with making scientific journals freely available is usually one of reputation. Reputable journals need strong peer review and editing, which isn't always free. Further, until a journal is reputable, few people want to publish in it.

In the US, all works funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) are required to be made freely available to the public within one (?) year of publication. Given, that's only valid for the field of medicine, but there's been a push for all academic work funded bu the government to get similar treatment.

Extremely relevant - Ars Technica wrote an article on moving to open-access a few days ago. Open access is a movement in academia similar to open source in software, and is becoming more popular in fields like math and computer science.


For the products of funding by NIH, see PubMed - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/

A lot of the paywalls fade away if you access from a computer at a subscribing institution such as a university library.

I live very close to a university whose libraries are open to the public. Quite handy.

I work for a medical association that publishes a top-100 journal (I work on different products, not the journal), and we have ~20 full time staff members internally working on it. Actual delivery of web content is handled by an outside vendor with their own staff. Tack on the declining $ available from advertising, plus ever more onerous pharma restrictions and there is no way that the content could be delivered for free.

I'm surprised PLoS hasn't been mentioned in the thread yet.


High cost of Scientific Journals is largely an artifact of how the journals of various academic societies were digitized.

During the late 90's, the academic societies realized that making their archives internet accessible would be very high value. But 90's era internet economics meant that this would cost several hundred million dollars. But during the late 90's stock market bubble, it was also possible to raise several hundred million dollars.

As a condition for digitizing journal archives, the publishers acquired the copyrights from the academic societies.

This investment has turned out to be extremely profitable. Publishers have been able to charge immense institutional access fees for electronic access to the journals. When I was studying at Upenn, 20% of undergraduate tuition went to paying for institutional access.

The notion of preprint archives have been a somewhat successful work around. This basically creates a free distributable version of the work before the copyright is transfered from the authors to the publisher. Unfortunately, physics and math are the only disciplines that have established the use of preprint archives as a norm.

Because they are a business, and they need the money to survive. As far as I know, advertising isn't common in scientific journals.

You can usually read them for free in most universities, since they are subscribed.

Instead of advertising, many make up for their costs through endowments and charging an author to publish.

Because they can. Peer-review publications are the way people measure the worthiness of academics, so their producers job depend on getting published in prestigious scientific journals, so they put up with it.

The only way this is ever going to chance is if they make the law such that you have to publish in a free to access journal, but since the current mafia has all the money, who do you think has the most lobbyists?

If an open-access journal can become reputable enough, the niche in a field interested in the journal will publish there- period. It doesn't require laws to be passed.

The worthiness of journals, for the purpose of determining how much grant money a publication should count for at least, will be determined by official regulation soon enough if Danish politicians gets their will through.

And woe to any upstart then.

The internet allows for a much more powerful system than the current journal system, much more powerful than even an open journal system.

Some things I'd like to see in a unified online open system:

* Hyperlinking between papers

* Discussion threads for papers

* Collaborative mark ups of papers, so that difficult papers can be communally dissected and fleshed out, or so that students can work through a paper and provide a mark up to ease the reading for other students

* An ongoing wiki for every subfield, detailing current outstanding problems, papers to read to get up to speed, most recent progress, etc, as well as curating accepted knowledge. Wikis should also be able to be marked up by students, so that difficult material can be broken down and fleshed out for the sake of other students.

You've got some great ideas, but some of them are stymied by academic ego. For example, in peer review, reviews are generally unnamed. A discussion thread based system can suffer from what peer review did - people refuse to comment negatively with an attached name.

A great example of moving in this direction is the recent P=NP discussion that happened largely on Dick Lipton's blog (http://rjlipton.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/a-proof-that-p-is-n...).

Many of these suggestions are being attempted in journals like PLoS One (plosone.org) or through groups like Faculty of 1000 (http://f1000.com/) for commenting/discussion. Many journals now have comment fields on their articles, and you'll notice that most of them go empty. All the discussion happens behind closed doors before publication in anonymous peer review. Nobody wants to stake their reputation on something not polished.

edit: I partially take-back my suggestion of Faculty of 1000. Apparently, they are not open to unaffiliated and require a subscription. I like what they're doing, but it shouldn't be so ivory-toweresque.

In the ideal world we would have hypertext as Ted Nelson intended it, but in this world contributing to such a thread does not pay the bills for a scientist. He is financially better of by writing a three page paper that is mostly filler around a valid argument. So, that is what he will do.

An answer [1] from a horse's mouth (Floyd Bloom, former editor of Science magazine, originator of the aphorism, "The gain in the brain lies mainly in the stain"[2]):

MI: Was it clear to you when you started out at as Editor-in-Chief of Science how important the move to electronic publishing was going to be?

FB: When I got to Science, it was quickly explained to me that the price for paper was going up. The price for postage was going up, and I was asked where in the budget did I want to make the cuts in order that we wouldn't be in a deficit. And so it occurred to me, if I was constantly going to be confronted by changes in paper costs and postal rates, which I couldn't control, I would have to find another way to distribute the magazine. And we decided we had to be online quickly.

MI: So the age of electronic publishing really came to fruition while you were at Science. Were there issues that you faced for which you really had to define limits as to how far electronic publishing could go?

FB: Well, PubMed Central [the initiative put forth by the National Library of Medicine to archive and disseminate biomedical research findings] was one of the last issues that I faced, and I think, faced down. It was wrong-headed in its origins. But the concept that people should have access to the scientific literature is of course a good one. Scientists want to have access to research findings so that they can pursue experiments. And when scientists are confronted by a publisher's wall that says you must be a subscriber to get in here, you'd like to find a way to get around it.

But to me, nothing is free. I am aware of the cost of making a prestigious publication. The cost of rejecting 95 percent of all the papers that are submitted makes the accepted ones so valuable. And there's only twenty-four hours in a day, no matter how intense your efforts to keep up with research reports. If I have time to read, I'm going to read in a place where I know that the information has been thoroughly vetted, and so I limit my reading to places where I can trust the judgment of the editors. If everything were free, and everybody could publish everything they want to, anyplace, I'd have no way to know how to sort things out. I certainly don't have time to read through a lot of very provocative assertions that turn out not to be true.

[1] excerpt from http://molinterv.aspetjournals.org/content/1/4/192.full [2] Appel 1996 Ann NY Acad Sci "Classical and Contemporary Histochemical Approaches for Evaluating Central Nervous System Microanatomy"

>I limit my reading to places where I can trust the judgment of the editors.

I have read enough papers that I don't trust any editors. I read based on what I have read of the authors and on what has been recommended by reviewers I trust. If neither is available, I generally read abstracts more or less at random until one catches my attention (usually by being more specific to my needs than most). There have been too many times that groupthink or political correctness has captured journals to trust them too far.

IMHO what we need is more innovation in publishing. May be an open-access model that allows authors to build research projects as daily/weekly updates with room for "dynamic invited open peer-review" would make an interesting experiment.

For Biomed articles, Pubmed (pubmed.gov) offers free access to articles over a year old as of 2008, and sometimes sooner. Also, I often find it handy to google the full article name or the author, as many times authors may have posted a copy on their webpages.

Some are (PLoS (http://www.plos.org), BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/), many small highly specialized journals), but overall many publishers still are similar to magazines.

A few things you may not be aware of in science publishing (at least for my area, biomed):

-The journals argued main role is to peer review research and distribute it. To do so, they engage researchers to act as peer reviewers, who take uncompensated time to do so.

- Journal articles are often noted as "advertisements" because the authors must actually pay for their publication, usually a 1-3K or so. Additional charges for color figures and such. This is not limited to non-profit journals. Some journals have an immediate open access option, which for a higher publication fee, your article can be fully publicly available as soon as its published. Also, NIH grants now allow for some request for publication fees and some universities have programs to aid a research in paying the additional costs of publishing open access immediately.

- With many journals, you must give up your copyright to the material to the journal. So, if you'd like to use a figure you made of your data in another context (grant application, review publication, dissertation, website, book, etc) you have to seek approval from the journal.

- More recently (2008), if you get funding from the NIH, you must deposit a copy of your publication into PubMed Central (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/) within 12 months of publication. Now, 12 months is a ridiculous amount of time in science really, but at least it's progress.

By the way, although universities generally provide "free" access to many journals, they also pay ridiculous amounts of money to offer access to those journals that are not open access.

Science publishing (at least, biomed) is currently going through the same growing pains in the digital era that many paper-based businesses are going through (newspapers, magazines). Their main business is two-fold really, 1) disseminating research and 2) peer-reviewing research. The internet make #1 largely obsolete. They now act primarily as a filter for "interestingness" and as a prestige-meter. There are many arguments that the current model for #2 is highly outdated, but the funding agencies (eg., government) and scientists as whole are generally a pretty conservative crowd that is resistant to change.

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