Open access or nothing.
Elsevier, on the other hand, will cease to exist if they stop charging. Their main purpose - their business model - is to charge for access to their journals. This business model is no longer necessary, and these companies will eventually die.
(1) It is a step in the right direction, and it's a step that is small enough for more people to take. Why does thecostofknowledge.com have over 2000 names after a week, while research without walls has under 500 after several months?
I think the difference is that thecost is a focused effort that asks less from researchers. Perhaps this would / will be easier when there are more well-regarded journals using an acceptable publishing standard.
(2) I had an interesting discussion with rms about the core problem with for-profit academic publishers. He made some excellent points arguing in favor of what he called "redistributable publishing" (which we could also call "free-to-copy publishing" ?) The argument is that some definitions of "open access" do not ensure the right of any individual to pass on articles, and, as we can see with software and other electronic data, this right can make a huge difference. So, from that perspective, some aspects of open access could be said to not go far enough.
I would love to see as much access and freedom as possible for any research produced by people who want it to be free. I think the best way to do this involves a bit of understanding and pacing for those whose careers depend on how they handle this move.
Being a scientist myself, I am in favor of open access, but I also think that affordable access is the next best thing. I am not compromising on this, if a publishing house that published low cost journals supported RWA, I would boycott them, too. There is no reason to be militant, though. Once open access becomes standard, people will demand it more easily. Note that one reason for Gowers's public declaration was to make this "socially acceptable". Unfortunately, it is not yet so.
Perhaps the whole landscape can be changed in one move, and we should shoot for the stars, but this has to be done by the scientists, and generally speaking they are busy doing science. An easier goal is much more realistic.
This being said, I would also like to add that I think there is an opportunity here for a startup. Just like PG et al's Viaweb, perhaps someone can come up with a store that allows a board of directors to leave a journal and setup shop easily?
Also, as I mentioned elsewhere, academics in Biology and Machine Learning have revolted against pay journals and made their own authoritative, high-quality open access journals. The model has been proved. The path has been cleared. Now all you have to do is walk it.
> "but this has to be done by the scientists, and generally speaking they are busy doing science."
God forbid reshaping the scientific process to make use of the singular most important technology of the last 50 years take any time away from some scientist's work - which is mostly conservative, incremental and only useful for advancing his tenure application, anyways.
And we're not even talking yet about the wealth of legacy articles locked behind paygates. Someone, or some legislation, needs to set them free.
I'm a member of the ACM and the IEEE, and a lot of other people are; it doesn't seem to me that the modest dues are significantly hindering progress in the field. If, due to some unexplained fortune, the ACM and IEEE were to drop their paywalls tomorrow, and grant free access to all, how much would really change?
I think desire to have everything free is a fantasy of the open source community. Not everything can be run like open source software project. Sometimes people need to get paid.
I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of how academic journals are structured and managed. The editing, typesetting, handling of communications and such are all done by the academics themselves. And those academics are not paid by the journals.
In short the publishing houses do sod all, and get paid a lot of money for doing sod all.
The editors, most of whom are minimally paid and do it for prestige. I.e., the same people who currently do it.
...who's gonna edit,
Unpaid referees/editors, the same people who currently do it.
Authors, the same people who currently do it:
Readers, the same people who currently do it. Or are you imagining that there is some pressing need for physical journals to be printed and delivered to libraries?
The only thing Elsevier does is archival and distribution. Editing and typesetting is done by the authors themselves, who provide camera-ready copies. I do not believe the publishers ever get involved in managing mail. The reviewing of paper is done for free by academics. It is coordinated by an academic on the editoral board of the paper. Even these editors mostly work for free or for some small compensation.
While Elsevier do provide some service (archival and distribution), their service is in absolutely no relation to the cost. The difficult parts of the business are already done by unpaid volunteers.
This is the second time that Elsevier et al. have tried to kill PubMed Central. I hope that this is a turning point in the OA movement.
"What publishers charge for is the distribution system. We identify emerging areas of research and support them by establishing journals. We pay editors who build a distinguished brand that is set apart from 27,000 other journals. We identify peer reviewers.
And we invest a lot in infrastructure, the tags and metadata attached to each article that makes it discoverable by other researchers through search engines, and that links papers together through citations and subject matter. All of that has changed the way research is done today and makes it more efficient. That's the added value that we bring.
There's been a lot of discussion of this on science blogs lately, and I do think the momentum is picking up (though it's easier for us physicists than it is for people in biology and medicine). But while Elsevier really does seem to be worse than most academic publishers, the whole system needs to evolve. One proposal that I like is John Baez's idea of independent "referee boards", described here:
Of course, given that the RWA is really trying to keep a system that charges the public twice for research they've already paid... but anyhow, that's a rationale.
Knowledge has an incredibly large impact on the possibility of the betterment of human life, be it individually or socially. It is better for everyone if knowledge is more widely available, those who run businesses involved with its distribution included.