14.0824 new on WWW: on publishing

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Date: Sun Apr 29 2001 - 02:33:55 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 824.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Ross Scaife <scaife@pop.uky.edu> (210)
             Subject: [STOA] SciAm: Publish Free or Perish

       [2] From: Stevan Harnad <harnad@cogprints.soton.ac.uk> (31)
             Subject: Nature piece on self-archiving today (April 26)

             Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2001 07:05:11 +0100
             From: Ross Scaife <scaife@pop.uky.edu>
             Subject: [STOA] SciAm: Publish Free or Perish

      From Scientific American


    NB: "In the eyes of Michael Eisen, one of the initiators of the Public
    Library of Science initiative, the work that publishers do, however, does
    not justify that they then own the copyrights to the articles. 'We think of
    the publishers as being like a midwife," he says. "They are paid for their
    role, and at the end of the day, they give the baby back to the parents.'"

    Here's the whole article:

    Publish Free or Perish

    Life scientists are urging publishers to grant free access to archived
    research articles

    When a molecular biologist or a biochemist has made a discoveryoften after
    many months or even years of tedious experimentsthey tell the rest of the
    world by publishing their results in a scientific journal. So far, these
    journals have controlled who can read them and who cannotbut maybe not for
    much longer.

    E-mail, Internet discussion groups, electronic databases and pre- or e-print
    servers have already transformed the way scientists openly exchange their
    results. And in the life sciences, researchers are now demanding that their
    work be included in at least one free central electronic archive of
    published literature, challenging the traditional ownership of publishers.
    The demand has sparked widespread discussions among scientists, publishers,
    scientific societies and librarians about the future of scientific
    publishing. The outcome may be nothing short of a revolution in the
    scientific publishing world.

    It all started last fall, when an advocacy group called the Public Library
    of Science distributed an electronic open letter urging scientific
    publishers to hand over all research articles from their journals to public
    online archives for free within six months of publication. To add weight to
    their demands, the authors threatened a boycott starting in September 2001,
    pledging to "publish in, edit or review for, and personally subscribe to,
    only those scholarly and scientific journals" that agreed. As of April 21,
    some 15,817 life scientists from 138 countries had signed the letter, among
    them several Nobel laureates.

    The authors of the letter feel they have every right to make these demands.
    After all, it is the scientists who supply the journals with their
    productsthe manuscriptsfor free. Scientists also help journals by
    reviewing and judging the quality of each others work, a process called
    "peer review," without pay. Publishers, in exchange, edit the articles,
    organize the review process and provide news items and other content.
    Finally, they produce, market and distribute a printed or electronic

    In the eyes of Michael Eisen, one of the initiators of the Public Library of
    Science initiative, the work that publishers do, however, does not justify
    that they then own the copyrights to the articles. "We think of the
    publishers as being like a midwife," he says. "They are paid for their role,
    and at the end of the day, they give the baby back to the parents."

    Publishers argue that unless they own the copyright, they cannot protect
    articles from misuse. And scientific publishing is big business: like other
    scientific societies, the American Association for the Advancement of
    Science (AAAS), for example, finances most of its activities with income
    from its publication, Science magazine. "I think scientists all over would
    be shocked to realize what a phenomenally lucrative business scientific
    publishing can be," Nicholas Cozzarelli, editor-in-chief of the Proceedings
    of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), says. "There are huge
    sums of money to be had in this field."

    Journals Don't Play the Game

    What urged the authors of the open letter into action was the slow progress
    of PubMed Central, a free electronic full-text archive of research articles
    started by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the
    NIH in early 2000. By storing articles in a common format on a single site,
    PubMed Central wants to facilitate sophisticated literature searchesfor
    instance, those restricted to certain parts of a paper, such as the figure
    legends. Ultimately it also wants to link the literature to other online

    PubMed Central asks journals to contribute their articles voluntarily as
    soon as possible after publicationat most after a yeargiving the journals
    time to offer exclusive access to make a profit (studies have shown that the
    demand for research papers decreases sharply after only a few months). But
    so far, only seven journals, including PNAS and a collection of e-journals,
    are participating, and a few additional journals have signed up. Even though
    some journals make their back issues freely available at their own Web
    sites, they are reluctant to give them away elsewhere. "Journals have just
    not wanted to play the game," Eisen says.

    In physics, free electronic archives are old hat. Scientists have been
    submitting their own research papersboth before and after publicationto
    the Los Alamos e-print archive since 1991, without the participation of
    publishers, which simply had to accept the practice. Yet the American
    Physical Society, for example, still sells subscriptions to three journals
    that publish 14,000 research articles a year.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, though, many publishers, threatened with either
    financial losses or a boycott, have been overtly hostile to the open letter.
    A number of scientific societies depend on the income from their journals to
    support their activities. But some scientists liken this system to a tax on
    their papers and think societies should subsidize their activities in other

    Also, some journals worry that outside archives hosting their articles will
    introduce errors into the files, lowering the reliability of the
    information. What if a g (microgram) suddenly becomes a mg (milligram)?
    PubMed Central actually detected errors in some of the papers they were
    given, thereby increasing the overall quality. "The more eyes to look at it
    and fingers trying to work with it, the more things you can find," says
    David Lipman, director of the NCBI.

    On another level, some publishers resent a central, NIH-run archive like
    PubMed Central because they fear that technical failures would affect all
    users at once, and because the government might impose restrictions in the
    future, for example, by ruling not to publish certain kinds of research. On
    the other hand, PubMed, another NIH-managed database that grants free access
    to references and abstracts from 4,300 biomedical journals and links back to
    their Web sites, has been extremely successful and popular among both
    scientists and publishers.

    Moreover, publishers point out that a commercial electronic archive, managed
    by HighWirePress and including nearly 250 journals from many scientific
    disciplines, already exists and that government money is wasted. Unlike
    access to PubMed Central, however, most of the HighWire Press journals are
    not free.

    As a group, commercial publishers appear unsure about the recent
    developments and do not seem to have formulated their policies yet. Elsevier
    Science, Nature Publishing Group (a sister company to Scientific American,
    which is not a peer-reviewed journal), Cell Press and Academic Press
    declined interview requests, and Springer Verlag, as well as Allen Press,
    did not return phone calls. In a written statement, Annette Thomas, managing
    director of the Nature Publishing Group, commented that "many complex issues
    have been raised, and we are currently soliciting feedback from scientists,
    librarians, and other interested parties."

    Charging Authors, Not Readers

    One of the main questions to come from the current controversy is, Who will
    pay for publishing original research articles in the future if subscriptions
    decline? Only a small fraction of the publication costs of a print
    journalsome estimate as little as 10 percentcovers the editorial and peer
    review process. Many journals produce a costly print edition and add news,
    review articles and other valuable information, for which they have to pay.
    To offset their costs, journals derive income largely from subscriptions, as
    well as from advertisements, both in print and online, and reprints.

    But since subscriber numbers may decrease if the access to journal
    information becomes free elsewhere, various publishers are thinking about
    changing their business model: instead of billing readers, they plan to bill
    authors, a practice that is already common in the form of page charges.
    Overall, these submission charges would amount to only a small fraction of a
    scientist's total research costs, they say, and could easily be included in
    research budgets. Libraries, freed from subscription charges, could also
    chip in on behalf of authors at their institutions.

    Publishers would make exceptions for researchers from poor countries to
    ensure that no one is excluded for economic reasons. "We feel it is probably
    a better system to put the charges on the authors than the other way round,"
    says Peter Newark, editorial director at BioMed Central, a commercial
    publisher from the U.K. But steep submission charges could steer
    budget-conscious scientists away from these publications.

    Many libraries seem to be in favor of open access archives like PubMed
    Central. "I think these are important efforts, and the library community is
    very supportive of them," says Joseph Branin, director of the Ohio State
    University libraries. In recent years, rapidly rising subscription rates for
    scientific journals have forced libraries to cancel many titles. Most of
    them now negotiate for electronic access to large sets of journals in
    consortia, giving them greater bargaining power.

    If journal articles became freely available after a while, some libraries
    might stop subscribing to them. But for many scientists, instant access to
    the literature is crucial to keep up with current developments, so libraries
    will probably keep subscribing to the most important titles. "Because its
    available freely over the Internet after the first year of publication does
    not necessarily mean we are going to cancel our subscriptions to those,"
    Branin remarks. Smaller, specialist journals, however, might be in danger of
    going out of business.

    Libraries hope that subscription rates for the first few monthsbefore free
    access takes holdwill come down. But the opposite might be true: if many
    libraries opted out, publishers might try to recover their costs from the
    remaining ones. "And for those institutions, my own surely included, this
    free information could be very expensive indeed," writes Ann Okerson, a
    librarian at Yale University, in a contribution to a Nature Web debate.
    Scientists and libraries in developing countries, which often cannot afford
    subscriptions, would probably benefit most from free electronic archives.

    A Possible Compromise on the Horizon

    Come September, will the scientists who signed the open letter really go
    through with a boycott? Journals depend on their authors, but equally,
    researchers in the life sciencesespecially young investigatorsneed to
    publish in "brand name" journals, such as Cell, Nature and Science, to
    advance their careers. "I cant afford to boycott these journals because my
    career is not established yet," says an assistant professor from a New York
    medical school, who asked to remain unnamed. Nobel Prize winners, on the
    other hand, may find it easier to divert their papers to less established

    One of the practical problems of a boycott would be providing enough
    alternative journals for scientists to publish in. Some are thinking about
    starting their own journals. In mathematics, for example, some editorial
    boards in Europe have already left their commercial publishers and created
    new titles at their own institutions. "They are finding that while it does
    cost money, the costs are actually quite minimal," notes Mary Case of the
    Association of Research Libraries. BioMed Central also offers to provide the
    logistics for scientists who want to start their own journals.

    That said, a possible compromise has recently appeared on the horizon: only
    two weeks ago, PubMed Central announced it would allow participating
    publishers to link back to their own Web sites, rather than insist that they
    display full-text articles on the NIH server. PubMed Central would still
    obtain a full-text copy for search purposes, but they would hide it from
    public view. Many publishers are currently considering this solution. "I
    think lots of publishers will grant free access after a period of time on
    the basis proposed in this compromise," says Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief
    of Science. He also thinks that "under those circumstances, the threat of a
    boycott will vanish."

    But for Eisen and many others, such an arrangement doesn't go far enough.
    Eisen still wants to see free access to alternative archives as well: "I
    remain absolutely convinced that the real future of publishing, five years
    out, is one in which nobody controls the literature."

    Whatever the outcome, the scientific publishing world is in turmoil. Both
    Nature and Science have started e-debates on their Web sites, and
    contributions from many sides are pouring in. "It [the open letter] was not
    an unreasonable proposal," Kennedy comments. "It has gotten a good
    conversation started." In the end, it will probably be the authors who
    decide the issue. As Case puts it, "It is the scientists who are going to
    have to figure out how they want their work to be available."Julia Karow


    The Stoa: A Consortium for Electronic Publication

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             Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2001 07:04:37 +0100
             From: Stevan Harnad <harnad@cogprints.soton.ac.uk>
             Subject: Nature piece on self-archiving today (April 26)

    Today's (April 26) Nature magazine http://www.nature.com/nature/
    contains the following article on the Self-Archiving Initiative:
    (the above is the preprint: official version is at nature.com).

    Nature is also currently running an on-line debate on
    "Future e-access to the primary literature" at:
    This includes the following commentary by me:
    (the above is the preprint: official version is at nature.com).

    Science is also currently running an on-line debate on
    the same topic:

    All interested (and informed) parties are encouraged to
    participate in both debates.

    Stevan Harnad harnad@cogsci.soton.ac.uk
    Professor of Cognitive Science harnad@princeton.edu
    Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
                   Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
    University of Southampton http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
    Highfield, Southampton http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/

    NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
    access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
    American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):


    You may join the list at the site above.

    Discussion can be posted to:


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