Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

JAS adopts hybrid model, with editor dissenting

In March, the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) converted the Journal of Animal Science (JAS) to a hybrid OA journal.  In the March issue of the ASAS Newsletter, Larry Reynolds, editor of JAS, explains why ASAS made this decision and why he is not happy about it.  Excerpt:

...[T]he ASAS Board recently approved a policy for the Journal of Animal Science (JAS) to give authors the option of releasing their accepted manuscript for “open access” (OA) as soon as it is published. This option will cost $1,750 for members and $2,000 for nonmembers and will be in lieu of page charges....

The JAS is not an OA publisher because for the first 12 months after publication we restrict access to our content, or at least the full content of our articles, to only those who have a subscription. After that, access is open to anyone. So why give authors the [immediate] OA option? Essentially, as best we can tell, OA in some form is going to happen, and this option allows authors to publish their articles using OA if they want or are required to....

That OA is here to stay seems clear. For example, the 2 major funders of biomedical research in Europe already have implemented OA as an official policy [the Wellcome Trust and the European Research Council]....

So what does this mean for JAS and other society-based, not-for-profit publishers in the long-term? If required by granting agencies, it is certain that full OA (that is, immediate release of content at publication) will cause a significant change in scientific publishing, which I believe will be detrimental to the entire research enterprise, primarily because it will shift away from a “subscriber pays” to an “author pays” model. This will likely have negative consequences because currently the main income for JAS and most other non-OA journals is subscriptions from institutional members such as libraries as well as individuals. To replace this lost income, journals will move from page charges, which are currently approximately $500 to $600 at JAS for ASAS members, to author fees, which are currently approximately $2,500 or more for many OA journals.

Thus, although we have implemented a new policy to allow authors to choose OA, I am not a proponent because I believe the negative impacts of OA will far outweigh the positives. Not only will full OA change the scientific publishing business model, but “author pays” will likely decrease the ability of scientists from developing countries, or from disciplines that have little or no extramural support, like mathematics, to publish their work (see [John Ewing article October 2004]). In addition, “author pays” will likely mean fewer operating funds for the actual work. Lastly, because the public has no idea how to read, interpret, or put published science into context, immediate public access will lead to sensationalized use, or misuse, of science.

Because we can’t know the full impact of OA, I believe the best we can do for now is to position ourselves to be able to support publication costs in the face of lost income from subscriptions. The new policy is a painless way to begin this process. In addition, if we can maintain the option of not releasing our content for at least 6 months, we may be able to avoid the much higher author costs that will no doubt result if the funding agencies mandate full OA.

Comment.  I don't have time for another multi-point response to a multi-point misunderstanding of OA.  But here's a concise substitute.  Reynolds erroneously assumes that all OA journals charge author-side fees (when most don't); that all author-side fees are paid by authors out of pocket (when most aren't); that the conversion of subscription journals to OA, whether voluntary or involuntary, won't free up subscription funds to pay for the OA alternative (when it will); that mandated or high-volume OA archiving will force subscription journals to convert to OA (when this hasn't happened in physics, the field with the highest levels and longest history of OA archiving); that the primary beneficiaries of OA are lay readers (when they are researchers without subscriptions); and that lay readers must be protected from scientific knowledge for the good of us all (good grief).