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The Exploitative Economics of Academic Publishing

Soulskill posted about 3 months ago | from the all-about-the-benjamins dept.

Businesses 72

v3rgEz sends this piece from the Boston Globe: "Taxpayers in the United States spend $139 billion a year on scientific research, yet much of this research is inaccessible not only to the public, but also to other scientists. This is the consequence of an exploitative scientific journal system that rewards academic publishers while punishing taxpayers, scientists, and universities. Fortunately, cheap open-access alternatives are not only possible, but already beginning to take root, as this article explores in-depth: 'Why is it so expensive to publish in these open-access journals? According to the journals, these fees defray their publication and operating costs. However, this argument is undermined by the existence of open-access journals that charge authors nothing and have negligible operating costs. One prominent example is the Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR), one of the top publications in the field of machine learning. JMLR has a similar editorial process to many other journals, with a volunteer editorial board and an automated system for managing the peer-review process. Unlike many closed-access publishers, it does not take any advertising. MIT provides the web server for hosting JMLR, which would otherwise cost around $15 per year. The biggest expense is paying for a tax accountant to deal with paperwork so JMLR can maintain its tax-exempt status. Altogether, the total cost of running JMLR since it was founded in 2000 is estimated to be less than $7,000, or $6.50 per article published. This proves that cheap open-access publishing is possible.'"

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72 comments

Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (4, Funny)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 3 months ago | (#46934075)

Shouldn't machine learning experts be able to get their systems to learn the tax code and so replace the accountants?

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934135)

They need to learn math first. There is no way their web server will only cost $15 year. There are a ton of costs that MIT pays for that the Journal isn't accounting for.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934211)

See http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/pamphlet/2012/03/06/an-efficient-journal/ The $15 is for the domain name. For the web servers, the university is going to have web servers anyway, so the question isn't how much it costs to maintain servers per year but how much more it costs to the university to host the journal on those webservers compared to not hosting those journals on those same webservers.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (2)

retchdog (1319261) | about 3 months ago | (#46934213)

oh, shut up. the $15 quote comes from the stupid article, not from the machine learning people.

the web hosting costs, at most, another few thousand bucks, so it's still peanuts. a single institutional subscription to a commercial journal can cost about that much.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934301)

It's not peanuts. You need to add in office space. Salaries for your full time staff you'll need, Secretaries, IT personal, HR People. Once you have all that, your accountant is going to cost more than $7000 a year since they need to handle payroll etc... You'll need to lawyers on retainer to handle legal issue. You need to pay for an ISP enough bandwidth. In short there is a ton of infrastructure and support that MIT is providing for free that takes to run a journal. And that's assuming you just do digital only. If you start suing printing presses your need to hirer type setters and before you start yelling latex. Printing presses don't use latex.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934527)

> Salaries for your full time staff you'll need, Secretaries, IT personal, HR People.

Thinking you need a full fucking org just to run a low-volume file host and peer review coordination email scripts may represent everything that's wrong with business and academia.

Also, is Secretary even a job any more? Did you just step out of 1963?

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934655)

You incorrectly assume it's low volume.

Yes secretary is still a job. Our physics department has three of them.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46935003)

Compared to the shit I've worked with [100M+ active users every day], scaling to the volume a journal pushes on a heavy day is *nothing*.

You don't need to reinvent the web service wheel and you don't need to spend a pile of money hosting data. Academia may be on the bleeding edge of research, but you guys seem to be decades out of touch on everything else, especially operations.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46935429)

Your data doesn't need to be archived for the rest of existence like a scientific journal does.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46935583)

I'm willing to bet that printing up the proceedings and storing them at Iron Mountain costs a fraction of what a publisher costs to put out a journal or conference.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46936011)

Archive.org is more than happy to slurp up copies of any data it can find, and attempt to preserve it forever. I trust them to protect it more competently than a closed access journal as well.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46936127)

Attempt is not good enough.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46936831)

> Attempt is not good enough.

Too bad, it's all we *can* do. There's no perfect backup, period.
Most of the ancient texts that still exist only exist because the work was copied and distributed far and wide geographically, not because they were put under the protection of the Library of Alexandria for safe keeping.

Replace Library of Alexandria with Iron Mountain to see where this potentially goes on the long scale of human history.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (0)

pepty (1976012) | about 3 months ago | (#46935859)

How responsible are you for the content created/viewed by your 100M users? The hosting part scales cheaply. Advertisement, (no, it's not just adsense), herding peer reviewers, corresponding with authors, and -gasp- actually reading their articles before deciding to accept them takes actual time, technical knowledge of the field, and people skills. A journal may even employ actual journalists. And none of that work scales with volume. Some journals, like Arxiv, manage to provide a great resource without those functions, but the bulk of the journals that dispose of them are on Beall's list of sleazy predatory publishers. Have a look at an issue of a PLOS journal. Then look at their masthead.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46935991)

> Advertisement

Why is this a complex problem? If you keep overhead low adsense may be more than adequate (assuming google doesn't scam you).

> herding peer reviewers, corresponding with authors, and -gasp- actually reading their articles before deciding to accept them takes actual time, technical knowledge of the field, and people skills

As far as I know most, if not all, of the core functions of peer review are done on a quid pro quo basis by academics under the existing system.

> A journal may even employ actual journalists.

Why? That sounds more like a function of a news organization, and just added overhead if your goal is quality peer reviewed papers.

> Some journals, like Arxiv, manage to provide a great resource without those functions

So instead of looking at Arxiv and modeling new open access journals after it (since it works), you just give up?

You're so used to being scammed and enslaved by middlemen you don't even realize they're dispensible - and everyone not able to spend thousands of dollars a year on journal access loses because of it. Either that or you are one of the middlemen.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (1)

pepty (1976012) | about 3 months ago | (#46940575)

If you haven't done so before, read a few actual journals. The big ones like Nature or Science do employ journalists - because yes, there really is news in science, and thank god they do because science coverage in the lay press is pretty abysmal. Then there are ads. People involved with ads are generating revenue for the journal well above whatever it costs to employ them and well above what the journal would make just using a platform like adsense - otherwise the journal would get rid of them and just use adsense. They decrease the costs that otherwise have to be passed on to subscribers.

As far as I know most, if not all, of the core functions of peer review are done on a quid pro quo basis by academics under the existing system.

No argument there, but note you said core functions. The editors (and their admin assistant) have to contact potential peer reviewers, cajole the slow ones into returning their comments somewhere near the deadline, cajole the unreasonable ones into toning down their reviews, cajole the authors of the manuscript to make the suggested edits as opposed to just yelling extended commentaries on the parentage of the peer reviewers, and then get the peer reviewers to accept the edits (by the deadline). Some of these people are direct competitors or have axes to grind with each other. Some of them are prima donnas, overwhelmed by their other responsibilities, or just incompetent when it comes to these particular responsibilities. Yes, it's in their own best interests (to varying degrees) to zip through the process with no fuss, supervision or babying, but you could say the same about almost any volunteer or work organization, almost all of which require someone to provide supervision and babying to cut through all of the crap.

Arxiv, by the way, avoids these problems by doing away with pre publication peer review, and instead has readers comment after the manuscripts are posted.

The people who work on journals are not the reason journals are expensive; journal production, even with 5-15 FTEs per masthead are cheap to produce. Journals are expensive because of the position publishers like Elsevier and ACS hold in the marketplace: folks working in science have to have access to some of their products in order to do their jobs, so Elsevier and ACS force libraries to subscribe to bundles of their products at insane markups. That's the big way they make revenue. Don't blame The History Channel or even HBO for your $180 per month cable bill, blame Comcast.

Out of curiosity - how much could you charge your 100M users if all of them needed your product to do their jobs, no one else was selling your product, and most of them had their subscriptions subsidized by their workplaces? Would that price bear much relation to your own costs?

Between reputable open access journals and open access requirements from funding bodies the situation will eventually get better, but it won't happen overnight.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (1)

retchdog (1319261) | about 3 months ago | (#46942279)

Nature and Science are usually called "magazines" by academics. They are periodicals for a general scientifically-educated audience, and they publish research which is highly mature and influential, or of "sexy" general interest, or both. You are correct that their publishing dynamics are different, and they (probably) shouldn't be made open-access. However, the word "journal" usually refers to technical field-specific journals like, oh, say, the one being discussed in the article, JMLR. These journals make up well over 95% of academic publishing. Once you've proven yourself in the field, you might write a general audience article in Nature.

Here's how the dynamics is really working. In the old days, being a professor was a highly elite, prestigious job, the draw of which was that you would be, at least hopefully, free of all real-world distractions except teaching. In those days, it would have been unimaginable to ask a fellow professor to help with plebeian shit like minor editing and web-hosting. These days, professors deal with a lot more real-world bullshit anyway. We won't get into why, or whether that's a good thing, but one of the upshots of this is that they are much more willing to cooperate on infrastructure, and get rid of the overvalued middleman.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (1)

pepty (1976012) | about 3 months ago | (#46935649)

If you are a publisher you will have to have all of those positions filled - but their costs will be shared between dozens and dozens of journals. A relatively high impact journal's staff can amount to the named editors (who may or may not be paid a salary), one or two copy editors, plus an admin assistant. A junk journal ditches the copy editors and doesn't pay the named editors.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (1)

retchdog (1319261) | about 3 months ago | (#46944227)

You're completely clueless. HR People? Are you kidding me? The only reason an organization like Elsevier needs HR is to hire the middlemen who aren't actually working anyway. Once you get rid of that entire wing in one fell swoop, there is no more need for HR. Works out rather nicely.

And why do you need typesetters or hardcopy journals? This isn't Newsweek here; the actual users of these journals don't care about pretty graphics beyond what they and their peers plot themselves. Again, since that stuff was there for marketing purposes, you don't actually need it anymore once you move away from the current marketing-based system.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (3, Funny)

xfade551 (2627499) | about 3 months ago | (#46934637)

You're assuming you can teach a machine to learn tax code, which is filled with loopholes, circular reasoning, contradictions, and logical fallacies.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 3 months ago | (#46934981)

A good algorithm would be able to optimize the solution using the loopholes and logical fallacies, making you rich.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (1)

mitzoe (2531020) | about 3 months ago | (#46941635)

Just like Superman III.

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46935029)

Why not? A tax return for every working man, woman and dependent with the U.S. tax code at something like 7.5 million lines, "That sounds exactly like the thinking of a machine to me!"

Oh, you jest, but ... (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | about 3 months ago | (#46935673)

I saw a talk once by someone at a meeting years ago in which they said that they were trying to get politicians to use specific phrases and sentance constructs so they could more easily parse what the hell the tax code is actually supposed to be.

(I think it was the IDCC in Chicago, which looking at the program suggests it was Kate Zwaard, US Gov't Printing Office, but it might've been at an ASIS&T meeting around that same time, or an ISO/TC 37 meeting, as all of 'em could've covered issues in parsing semantics)

Re:Journal of Machine Learning Research (JMLR) (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 3 months ago | (#46938075)

Shouldn't machine learning experts be able to get their systems to learn the tax code and so replace the accountants?

Machines work with logic. That rules out the tax code.

And much better than others (1)

lorinc (2470890) | about 3 months ago | (#46934117)

JMLR is a fantastic journal, with high quality papers, high quality reviews, and completely open. The dream of many come true. I've always wondered why the idea did not spread to other fields.

If someone is willing to start a Journal of Computer Vision Research based on the same principles, count me in. I'll be happy to do editing/reviewing for such journal instead of well known IEEE/Elsevier/Springer journals.

Re:And much better than others (3, Informative)

docmordin (2654319) | about 3 months ago | (#46934249)

As an academic, part of the problem with starting wonderful open journals and conferences is the fact that there are very few incentives for us to spend our time to build up the reputation of the publication. Although being editor-in-chief or associate editor of a journal is nice to have for a tenure review, some universities weight it less than the number of publications produced, the prestige of the publication venue, how many students you have advised, how much grant money has been brought to the university, and how much publicity your work has received. Since so many of my colleagues are focused on maximizing these metrics, they have very little time for much else when starting their careers. Moreover, even when they have tenure, they still have to chase grant money to sponsor all of the students in their labs; when I was in graduate school, my adviser seemed to be flying around every two or three weeks to meet with program managers to get even more money.

Another item of note is that it is much easier to get support to start a conference if you align yourself with one of the major academic publishers, e.g., IEEE or Springer. Provided you can meet your attendance quota, these publishers provide much of the infrastructure and initial funding to host such events.

Re:And much better than others (1)

EvanED (569694) | about 3 months ago | (#46934579)

In addition to what the other reply said: chicken and egg.

Professors on tenure track want publications in highly-rated conferences and journals. Professors who have tenure want their students to get publications in highly-rated conferences and journals. So when they have a good paper, they want to submit to them.

The prof or grad student isn't directly paying the costs of closed journals, so why would they take the risk of submitting their best work to a journal that at best is untested when they think they can get it into one that is highly-respected?

For people to submit good papers to it, the open-access journal needs to be well-respected; to be well-respected it needs to publish good, impactful papers; to publish good, impactful papers people need to submit said papers to it.

Probably we'll get there one day as the quality of papers submitted to open-access journals gradually increase (because while there is little incentive to submit to them, many people will consider little to not be zero), but it'll take time.

Next (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934147)

My father-in-law is a retired mechanic, he fixes our cars much much cheaper than any commercial service centre. This obviously means commercial centres are rip-offs.

It turns out when you dont pay for staff, dont pay for buildings, dont pay taxes etc etc you can do a job cheaper.

DUH!

Re:Next (2)

retchdog (1319261) | about 3 months ago | (#46934239)

the thing is, that the for-profit journals don't pay most of their staff either, and actually they've tricked the 'buildings' (=universities) into paying them through ridiculous subscription fees.

Re:Next (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934305)

Academics aren't paid for writing those papers by the journals, the reviewers are also unpaid, the members of the editorial board, the academic editors aren't paid either (the technical editor is paid but he's an employee of the journal and not a member of the editorial board anyway). The journals no longer employ professional typesetters and proofreaders. They outsourced it all to the lowest bidder in India or China, and the typesetting and proofreading is abysmal, the published papers have more typos than the preprints.

Erroneous opening statement (4, Interesting)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 3 months ago | (#46934151)

Taxpayers in the United States spend $139 billion a year on scientific research, yet much of this research is inaccessible not only to the public

The largest - by dollar amount - government funding agency is The National Institutes of Health (NIH) [nih.gov] . For some time now they have required that research they fund is published in publicly-accessible ways [nih.gov] . This means that all new grants they have handed out have been required to make their published results viewable by anyone, from anywhere.

Similarly, the National Science Foundation (NSF) [nsf.gov] is planning to go the same way very soon [nsf.gov] .

So while the for-profit publishing model is generally bad, it is being chipped away at. And with each passing year, more of what taxpayers fund is made publicly accessible immediately; we are already at the point where only the oldest and longest-running NIH grants (and there aren't many left as very few grants go more than 5 years) are exempt from this policy.

Re:Erroneous opening statement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934313)

Very informative, but where is the error? Are you saying because NIH grants produce "much" of the scientific research, leaving only "some" of it inaccessible?

Re:Erroneous opening statement (1)

darnkitten (1533263) | about 3 months ago | (#46934359)

The UK requires that that publication be publicly accessible if it receives public funding.

Re:Erroneous opening statement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934561)

When are we going to see a GPL for open access papers? The way it goes at the moment, public funding is about handing research over to private enterprise for free. We don't see any of that private enterprise research contributed back to the public domain. This needs correcting.

Re:Erroneous opening statement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934731)

We don't see any of that private enterprise research contributed back to the public domain.

This is false. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Erroneous opening statement (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46935165)

Reminds me of Roy Scheider in 2010 as Heywood Floyd ... "Just because our governments are behaving like asses doesn't mean we have to! We are supposed to be scientists not politicians.. How Fast!?!"

Interestingly also the point was brought up in one of my favorite books "Chance and Chaos" by David Ruelle, that "Not all of those who pose as scientists work hard, of course. Many stopped working a long time ago; others have never started.But for those who really play the game, rather than fool around and pretend, the game is hard, painful, strenuous and exhausting. If the fruit of this labor, the result of this exertion is met with arrogance and disdain, then tragedy may follow." - preface to the story of Austrian Physicist, Ludwig Boltzman and the circumstances leading up to his suicide.

Re:Erroneous opening statement (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46935531)

There is boilerplate language in R&D contracts and grants across the government for open access to papers. I know that's been standard language in DoD contracts for a long time. That doesn't mean it happens. There is no benefit to a government program manager for enforcing public rights. There are many penalties. Unless a clear stand is taken from the top (like with NIH), the low level "bureaucrats" in charge of enforcement are at the mercy of immense political pressure to ignore little things like public IP ownership, data ownership and equipment ownership (all standard for a very long time).

Outside of a few lawyers specialized in government contracts, very few people understand what's really included in grants and contracts.

It's been standard for a long time for the government to claim "unlimited data rights" as well as require grantees to have a "qualified data management plan." What happens when we start enforcing that?

Generally, just like anyone else paying for sponsored research, the government expects to own IP generated via taxpayer dollars (really). What happens when one of these agencies realizes that universities have been cutting the government out of IP licensing deals?

Perhaps most interesting is that it is illegal for anyone in the government to give ownership of capital equipment directly or indirectly to a private party. All R&D capital equipment is technically placed in "custodial custody" with the researchers. It should be made available to any other party at the government's request and can not be listed as an asset in grant and contract proposals. What happens when small businesses start challenging the illegal use of government funded capital equipment to obtain government grants by universities?

Will any of this ever happen, or will we just ignore it and continue on as we have?

and there's some errors here, too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46939225)

The above isn't very accurate in terms of what the Government actually does..
1) for any research funded by the government that is performed by an educational institution, the Bayh-Dole act makes the IP and/or data the property of the institution, and the government has a fully paid, non-exclusive license to use the IP and/or data for government purposes. So the causal citizen does NOT get rights, but another government project does.
2) My experience with NASA property is that they actually spend too much time and money tracking government assets spread far and wide. Since the government doesn't depreciate equipment values, there's lots of *junk* equipment out there being carried on the books at full acquisition cost from 20 years ago. And the process to "excess" that equipment is fairly clunky, so a lot of times, it's easier just to hang onto than get rid of it. That said, my experience has been that hunting through the list for useful gear actually works fairly well.

3) Unlimited data rights doesn't guarantee that the data is in a usable form. Researcher generates report as pdf file with some graphs, delivers it to the government. "data rights" does NOT mean every scrap, jot, and tittle generated in the course of the work. It means "deliverables called out in the contract/grant". If I grind out some preliminary analyses using Matlab to guide future work on the contract, I'm under no obligation to deliver the data I used, unless that's called out. For the data I do deliver, yes, the government has unlimited data rights. Most government contracts don't specify the format or usability of that data. So I give you a pile of raw data collected from lab instruments, because I don't have budget to go and build a nifty retrieval engine, or provide translators to your preferred data form. What I will provide is whatever documentation I've developed on the format of that data.

But recognize that for the vast majority of government research, the final product is only the final report.

Re:Erroneous opening statement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46936561)

"Taxpayers in the United States spend $139 billion a year on scientific research,"

But no, there's no money Climate Research people keep claiming.

Explotative? (0)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 3 months ago | (#46934331)

Aren't scientists able to publish their work wherever they want? They choose to publish it in academic journals because, whatever downsides (loss of copyright), the value that the journals provide it is worth it to them. Otherwise they wouldn't do it and would simply publish it on a website or something. Same as recording artists complaining that labels give them only 5% of the sales while at the same time queuing up and begging labels to take them on.

Re:Explotative? (3, Insightful)

gwolf (26339) | about 3 months ago | (#46934369)

Not precisely.

Yes, they are free. But the scientific world revolves around the notion of the different metrics to your work. And it's not only prestige: Often, your income level will be determined mainly by the impact factor of the magazines you publish in.

But... Guess who dictates the values for said impact factors in the international indexes?

Of course! The publishers of closed sciencie magazines.

Re:Explotative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934473)

But... Guess who dictates the values for said impact factors in the international indexes?

Other scientists who do or don't cite the published works?

Re:Explotative? (1)

fractoid (1076465) | about 3 months ago | (#46937341)

Of course, it only counts if the paper that cites them is published in a magazine with a high impact factor.

Re:Explotative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46939029)

Of course, it only counts if the paper that cites them is published in a magazine with a high impact factor.

No, not at all. Not even a little bit. Where in the world are you getting this misinformation?

Re:Explotative? (2)

chihowa (366380) | about 3 months ago | (#46935315)

Impact factor is determined by the average number of citations a contribution to a journal gets. They aren't dictated by the publishers.

There are sleazy things that publishers can do to boost their impact factor, and it's not really the best metric to use anyway, but it's not subjective or made-up like you imply.

Journals do a little more.... (2)

or-switch (1118153) | about 3 months ago | (#46934335)

I largely agree that journals charge far too much for subscriptions but they do provide value added. Latex is great for physics and math, but provides little help to biologists. Frankly, after writing grants, doing the work, analyzing it, writing it up, and defending it at conferences, I feel I don't have a lot of time left over to play with margins and get the typesetting and hyperlinked references all working. The layout work actually is valuable. Yes, new tech makes it easier, but there's still the research to do. Additionally, some journals have staff that help with the review process. Peer review is done by people busy with other things who often miss a lot, espeically well executed fraud. Many of the biology-related publishers perform text and image analysis of submitted articles to look for evidence of fraud. They find duplications, square edges where square edges are never found (introduced through deletions), etc. Not EVERY journal falls into ALL of the stereotypes, and Elsevier is by far the worst offender. I also find it funny when people blast open access journals for having page charges to authors as if this is a new affront. Virtually all journals (at least in the biochem/biology space) have HUGE page charges and often charge hundreds of dollars extra for each color figure. A lot of color ISN'T used to save money. When the Public Library of Science opened in 2003 they got blasted because they had a flat $1500 publishing charge and then it was free open access from there. That charge was less than half that charged by other journals for just the base price. Publishing WELL includes editorials, perspective, handling fraud and retractions, etc., and keeping the legacy data available in supplements available to modern computers. I suppose this COULD be done by a volunteer army by it's important enough to pay to have it done well. These are the archives of our knowledge. This may look cheap and easy to the IT crowd but other disciplines don't fall so easily into having 1 server at MIT and some volunteers. It doesn't and shouldn't be as expensive and bound up in copyright as it is (PLoS lets me keep the copyright and it's so nice not to have to ask for permission to use my own figures) but there is probably a happy middle ground as is already been explored by more and more open access journals.

Re:Journals do a little more.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934679)

I see that you don't like formatting text. Damn.

Re:Journals do a little more.... (1)

or-switch (1118153) | about 3 months ago | (#46934939)

I love technology but don't post to Slashdot much. I didn't realize you have to use HTML formatting to get a carriage return, as opposed to it publishing like it looks on screen. Biologists use Word sometimes. You can make fun of my ignorance all you want but we also discovered something interesting about obesity signaling this morning. It won't be easily understood when I publish it if it's not formatted properly. I sure wish there was a way to pay someone to do that for me.....it's ok not to be able to do everything 100% on your own...there's a bigger picture that needs attending to.

Re:Journals do a little more.... (2)

m00sh (2538182) | about 3 months ago | (#46935589)

I feel I don't have a lot of time left over to play with margins and get the typesetting and hyperlinked references all working. The layout work actually is valuable. Yes, new tech makes it easier, but there's still the research to do.

Really? Type-setting can be learned in half an hour. When you submit you PhD dissertation, you have to typeset it to the specs of the graduate school and nobody helps you. So, most PhDs already know how to typeset.

Additionally, some journals have staff that help with the review process. Peer review is done by people busy with other things who often miss a lot, espeically well executed fraud. Many of the biology-related publishers perform text and image analysis of submitted articles to look for evidence of fraud. They find duplications, square edges where square edges are never found (introduced through deletions), etc.

Again, this is easily done with html forms and there are plenty of fraud checking software out there.

I suppose this COULD be done by a volunteer army by it's important enough to pay to have it done well. These are the archives of our knowledge. This may look cheap and easy to the IT crowd but other disciplines don't fall so easily into having 1 server at MIT and some volunteers. It doesn't and shouldn't be as expensive and bound up in copyright as it is (PLoS lets me keep the copyright and it's so nice not to have to ask for permission to use my own figures) but there is probably a happy middle ground as is already been explored by more and more open access journals.

Volunteer army? A company hosting thousands of websites with 99.99% availability doesn't need even need an army to do the job. Just a small group of people can do it. Every university has websites to run and popping a few extra websites for journals and a few gigabytes of data is drop in the ocean. There are open journal systems [wikipedia.org] that is open source software for hosting a journal. If you really wanted, you could get an open journal up and running tomorrow.

The problem is that people like you find crazy notions to justify these journals and prices. The real barrier isn't technology or time savings or whatnot, it is simply organization. If you got a few dozen people on an open journal committee in your field, you could easily start an open journal. It would be free and the information would be available to anyone online. The problem is that people will say I'm too busy to take part in a journal and just want to do research and someone should else should take care of that.

Re:Journals do a little more.... (2)

williamhb (758070) | about 3 months ago | (#46935939)

Frankly, after writing grants, doing the work, analyzing it, writing it up, and defending it at conferences, I feel I don't have a lot of time left over to play with margins and get the typesetting and hyperlinked references all working. The layout work actually is valuable.

I have to disagree with this. Journals and conferences increasingly allow the author to make a "pre-print" (a PDF as submitted, without the publisher's layout work) publicly available, to meet open access requirements. When reading conference papers that I might wish to cite, I find there is very little advantage in reading the publisher's laid-out version over reading the author's pre-print. The layout might look fancy and attractive, but unlike regular publishing and journalism, science publishing is not driven by the glossiness and beauty of the printing -- it's driven by us just needing the content to know what our colleagues and competitors have done so we can cite them.

Publiation costs (1)

JanneM (7445) | about 3 months ago | (#46934447)

It's worth noting that while many open access journals charge for publication, so do many closed access journals. I can't find the link now, but a comparison a few years ago found that the average cost was actually higher across closed journals than open access ones. And of course, they "double-dip" by also charging libraries and readers high fees for carrying the journals.

Re:Publiation costs (1)

or-switch (1118153) | about 3 months ago | (#46934953)

It's true. When PLOS first came out it was $1500 and article flat rate. They got blasted in the popular press for this. The article i published there was originally slated for the Journal of Biological Chemistry. If we didn't use any color it would've been $4,000 and in color it would've gone to nearly $6,000. PLOS was cheap, colorful, and it's still free to read online and I've never had to get copyright permissions to use those figures. I still have the copyright technically.

Re: Publiation costs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46936023)

Just published a paper in Molecular Systems Biology , an open access journal . Charge was 2995 euro, which is $4000 USD. Not cheap!!

Journals need disruption (1)

presidenteloco (659168) | about 3 months ago | (#46934453)

Someone needs to create a platform which uncouples the discrete services that academic publishing houses do for authors:

1) Organized peer review process - a platform can automate the process of this. Peer recognition can be adequate compensation for some academics to lead the review process (made easier by the automation), and/or a relatively small fee can be charged to authors for freelance review-organizing editors found through a reputation network.

2) Final pre-publication copy editing - a distinct, freelance service (perhaps required to be used, to publish in prestige e-journals).

3) Layout refinement

4) Community/social management of dissemination of and commenting on the publication (mostly or entirely automated).

5) Hardcopy publication (if at all necessary)

every journal is a monopolist (2)

n0w4k (3643913) | about 3 months ago | (#46934709)

The main cause of scientific publishers charging excessive fees is their monopoly. While there are many different scientific publishers, a reader is usually interested in specific articles he cannot find elsewhere (publishing same results in more than one journal is nothing more than plagiarism). This puts university librarians into a weak position since they have to provide access to basically almost all journals publishing useful papers.

With open access publishing, sooner or later we should get some healthy competition. Scientists will be the ones who pay and will have a choice where to publish. Probably journals with high impact factors (yeah, I know...) will be in a comfortable position to charge more. There's not much competition yet (scientists generally don't care/understand that OA=higher visibility) so we will have to wait for lower prices till most articles in major journals become open.

quality (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 3 months ago | (#46934717)

"However, this argument is undermined by the existence of open-access journals that charge authors nothing and have negligible operating costs. "
yes, and they host any bad, bad studies.

I call bullshit (3, Insightful)

msobkow (48369) | about 3 months ago | (#46934759)

$15 a year is barely enough to pay to register a domain. Any decent ISP is going to charge more like $20/month, not $15/year.

Just because MIT can do it for $15/year does not mean that is a reasonable cost for anyone else to expect to get away with.

Re:I call bullshit (2)

the gnat (153162) | about 3 months ago | (#46934879)

It's not even a fair comparison anyway. According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] , "In 2013, PLOS ONE published 31,500 papers." I checked the JMLR website, and they had 121 papers last year. It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that a journal that publishes more than two orders of magnitude more papers has higher operating costs. The other issues are that a) PLoS does not turn away papers on the basis of ability to pay, so institutions that have money are to some degree subsidizing institutions that don't, and b) the editorial process is much more involved. All of the PLoS articles are viewable as web pages, not just PDFs, whereas JMLR looks like they just posted LaTeX-generated PDFs. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's apples vs. oranges. The same goes for PubMed Central.

Aaron Swartz (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46934843)

Public Access to Publicly funded research was what got Aaron Swartz killed. That and a very grabby MIT and a prosecutor turned persecutor. Rat bastards all.

Re:Aaron Swartz (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46935075)

Public Access to Publicly funded research was what got Aaron Swartz killed

Not true at all.

Re:Aaron Swartz (1)

MrBrklyn (4775) | about 3 months ago | (#46935967)

that is about right

Text Books (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46935665)

How about the cost of elementry text books. What a scam that is.

Great idea, need another approach (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about 3 months ago | (#46935815)

Starting a journal is a good idea but will take time to make it a respected, viable option. Why not strike at the heart of the issue and push for copyright reform; say giving academic authors rights to publish their articles on a university or personal page while still letting the journal retain all other rights if they sign over the copyright? Then, all it takes is a good way to search for relevant papers without all the random garbage Google introduces.

JMLR has no status (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46936775)

It's an "oohhh, shiny!!!" magazine, and has no reputable editing or peer review of what it publishes. Kind of like Aaron Swartz's software.

Professional web site, editor/webmaster costs more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46936967)

The model of an all volunteer editorial board does not work for most organizations. You still need a good editor to provide consistency. A webmaster has to maintain the overall content of the web site. The servers hosting web site have to be maintained. Software updated. Site uptime, reliability and performance monitored. Problems alerting 24x7 staff to resolve. Security verified and monitored. This level of service is a lot more than $25 a month unless you have staff to do it for the organization. But the yearly cost is well within the scope of a modest grant.

The other problem is that many professional organizations rely on pay to view revenue to support the organization. The organization needs money to do the things an organization does. Articles are a profit center. If we can figure out how to replace lost funding. . .

A cheaper alternative (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46937241)

Every academic is entitled to his / her own webpage. If you can upload serious pictures of you that make you look respected and important, surely uploading PDFs of your research papers shouldn't be too hard.

Doesn't help the historians (3, Interesting)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 3 months ago | (#46937797)

Case in point:

I wanted to write an article on WWII British airborne radar systems. Found a source, oddly, on the IEEE. Reprint in PDF format is $39.95.

The economic value of this article is a number best represented as zero. The distribution cost is perhaps a few pennies. But they want to charge $40 because that's what they used to charge for a monkey to go and photocopy it and mail it to you, so why change now?

If the article had been 99 cents I would have purchased it no questions asked.

Why should a non-profit give away to the general p (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46941231)

Why should a not-for-profit organization like the IEEE which is mainly funded by memberships, be required to give away their content to you?

If the content has no economic value, why did you want it? Either you wanted to know, learn, or enjoy the content implying it does have value, or you simply wanted to clutter your hard drive with bits, which I think you can find plenty of freely available content (legal or otherwise) out there to do that.

Or in others words, why should my IEEE membership dues be spent funding your research reading, whether for your pleasure or your profit? I don't know if the article you wanted to write was to be sold, or part of your job or a resume building exercise.

The IEEE, the IEEE Computer Society, and ACM are not the bad guys, they do tackle the issues of accessibility and affordability and have discussed these issues for over twenty years long before I joined. They may not be perfect, largely because they still have contracts with external for-profit publishing / printing companies like Springer-Verlag left from when journals were only paper based, but they are migrating to open-access in an increasing number of cases while maintaining a self-sustaining organization that does have real overhead like having editors, and staff; in other words real people doing work to produce that content and maintain its availability.

Yes they do receive government funding, and that money is spent on making resources like digital content and conferences available to students and academics at reasonable cost, as well as grants and scholarships awards. Not that something like 1 dollar per citizen per annum goes far when funding all science and medical research nationally.

Governments own/run the Mint with tax dollars too, that doesn't mean I'm entitled to all the money they print / distribute either. The premise starts with a faulty assumption and goes downhill.

Re:Doesn't help the historians (1)

ax_42 (470562) | about 2 months ago | (#46989681)

Find a buddy at university (or the buddy of a buddy) -- they can often access material like that under the university's general subscriptions (ie no additional cost to you).

Not accessible to scientists? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46938013)

yet much of this research is inaccessible not only to the public, but also to other scientists.

If you are a researcher, you will have access to the journals relevant to you from your institution. If you don't, it is a simple email or phone call to the author to request a copy of the paper you want.

The point is being missed here! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46943215)

I think most everyone has missed the major point here... This is Bullshit! Information should be free. This is precisely why 2014 looks like what 2004 should have looked like and 2001 doesnt look like what 2001 looked like in 2001 a space odyssey. People in general do not have access to information they may need. Isn't this what the internet and the EFF were invented to fix?

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