Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An unsustainable profit model at the expense of researchers

Mark Montague, Scientific publishing in need of a fix soon, The California Tech, November 12, 2007.  (Thanks to George Porter.)  Excerpt:

...This week Congress is contributing to a shake up by requiring free public access (in PubMed Central) to all research funded by the National Institutes of Health within a year of its initial publication.

While this specific bill will have a direct impact on the many researchers at Caltech who receive NIH funding, there are larger questions --which a recent panel and online forums at Caltech have discussed-- of what the future of scientific publishing should look like. While some of this is the natural adaptation of new media, a great deal of it is driven by increasing awareness of serious problems.

The fundamental cost of getting the research results of one scientist to the appropriate academic peers has fallen dramatically. In many regards, the exorbitant costs of journals are no longer justified by needs, but are maintained only by tradition and a strategic hoarding of copyrights by the publishing companies to create an artificial economy of scarcity. The journals may provide editorial and archival contributions, but those are not really tied to the business model at all.

Publishers do provide an important, and perhaps even vital, contribution to the process of science —they coordinate peer review. There are certainly those who argue that this alone is worth supporting the current model, because the ability of academia to produce validated scientific results depends on it. In some ways, there is no clear answer: the conservative “stick with what works” approach is often prudent, but the progressive “embrace new technologies and ideas” attitude is also part of the tradition of researchers.

The current trend is not stable, though. Academic publishing is a lucrative business, and the numbers of journals and their total costs to universities is on the rise. Some figures suggest that the increasing price of journal subscriptions for universities is unsustainable at the current rate of increase....

The bottom line is that the scientific publishing industry, despite claims by lobbyists that the status quo is vital to the scientific endeavor, is actually on an unsustainable course of maintaining the lucrative profit model of a bygone era at the expense of the researchers and funding agencies that it originally came into being to serve....

Update. See the comments by Dana Roth.