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Harvard: Journals Too Expensive, Switch To Open Access 178

Posted by Soulskill
from the information-wants-to-be-free dept.
New submitter microcars writes "Harvard recently sent a memo to faculty saying, 'We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called "providers") to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.' The memo goes on to describe the situation in more detail and suggests options to faculty and students for the future that includes submitting articles to open-access journals. If Harvard paves the way with this, how long until other academic bodies follow suit and cut off companies such as Elsevier?"
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Harvard: Journals Too Expensive, Switch To Open Access

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  • Amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:24PM (#39785217)

    Wow, and I thought I'd never see major universities become reasonable and do this in another decade.
    Good news indeed. It's not just money that is at stake, but the integrity of the scientific community.

  • microseconds (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:26PM (#39785249)

    If Harvard paves the way with this, how long until other academic bodies follow suit and cut off companies such as Elsevier?

    As soon as an on-line open-access journal gets the same impact factor as the traditional Elsevier or IEEE journals, the old ones are dead.

  • by GeneralSecretary (1959616) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:28PM (#39785275)
    At a minimum publicly funded research should be available to the public for free. Ideally journals themselves would be replaced with a decentralized Web based system where anyone can publish and peers can freely review all the articles. Academic journals should be replaced with something akin to blogs much as newspapers have.
  • Who pays? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by solanum (80810) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:32PM (#39785347)

    Whilst I would like to see the day where our work (I am a scientist) is all in open access journals, there is still a cost. The author pays the journal instead of the library. The difficulty for authors is that we typically don't have funding for that. Maybe what we need is for our institution libraries to be paying that cost, but then the library doesn't save any money...

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:36PM (#39785399)

    Forget restriction on academia, etc. Science functions best with as many participants as possible sharing as much information as possible. These journals used to only charge a modest fee to cover distribution -- their function in that regard ended in the mid 80s with the introduction of mass communication becoming available to the individual at low cost, and a decade later the internet became a viable method of distribution.

    These journals are counter-productive today; They're causing work duplication on a mass scale because research (that thing where you look up what other people have done about the problem, also known as 'step 2') has become so cost prohibitive it's cheaper (and faster, thanks to a lack of standardization regarding searching) to just move forward with doing it over again. If I were Queen of the establishment of science, I'd send the military in and charge the owners of those businesses with crimes against science and sentence them to 10 years hard labor as assistants to (cough)... undergraduates.

  • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EL_mal0 (777947) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:38PM (#39785427)
    It's not just prestige, it's promotion. In many cases their career and their wallet benefit more from those two papers in the high impact journal than the five in a lower impact one. There are some (sort of) legitimate reasons for this, but on the whole it's BS.
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:39PM (#39785439)

    I couldn't agree more. It's crazy: the author publishes the work without getting paid; there are little to no advertising costs and yet it costs a fortune to access the work. It made sense 20 years ago when the articles were published in small quantities and trucked over to university libraries. But now? The cost of distribution approaces 0.

    It's another example of the internet as a disruptive technology. People who have been making money off of this are going to hold out as long as they can, well past the point that everyone else identifies it as crazy.

  • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:40PM (#39785465)

    Somehow I see Elsevier et al. figuring out some way to sue schools doing this, or their libraries, for breach of contract, restraint of trade, somehow extending copyright from previously published research by professors to their new research publications (or quickly adding exclusivity terms to their contracts to keep professors from submitting to open license publications), etc.

  • Re:Boo hoo Harvard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:45PM (#39785551) Journal

    Harvard, with it's massive endowment, pretends that it cannot afford this? That is utter BS.

    Harvard's Libraries say that they can't afford this(and given the relatively thin slice of the cash that the libraries see, is quite possibly true. Universities aren't unified entities. If anything, they are rather more compartmentalized than corporations(who, for accounting purposes if nothing else, have all sorts of internal distinctions of their own). The Endowment is practically an in-house investment fund, not a petty cash jar that the libraries can get access to easily. There are probably all manner of horribly complex distinctions(some largely accounting fictions, some fairly real(a professor in something biomed who maintains his lab and underlings on grants, say, is practically a tenant rather than an employee)).

    Plus(in a happy confluence of self-interest and altruism) paying for these journals because they can afford it would be a losing choice for Harvard and just about all the other schools:

    Why? Since Harvard is made of money, they really don't want to face the classic "How much does it cost?" "Well, how much do you have in your pockets?" chat with the sales rep. That's an express ticket to paying 50% more per year. Poorer schools don't want to end up paying 'industry standard' rates dictated by what richer schools can afford; but their faculty are also less likely to have the clout to just say "Dear Elsevier, fuck you." without damaging their careers.

    Harvard has the cash and prestige to afford it(if they would just cut their libraries a slightly larger slice, from what my friends associated with the system tell me, the libraries are surprisingly starved given their reputation); but this also means that they have the best chance to draw a line and end the practice, instead...

  • Re:Peer Review (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @02:52PM (#39785701) Journal
    It isn't clear that there will be a significant difference in editorial control:

    With closed access journals, researcher submits paper hoping to improve his CV(sometimes even surrenders copyright). Peers in the field review paper, usually for free/status associated with being a reviewer for a serious journal, Journal turns around and sells the finished work back to the libraries.

    Under the most common 'open' model, the costs of publishing are most commonly moved from the library end to the research end, by having a submission fee for papers that is one part of the cost of research, rather than having library/journal subscription fees as one part of the cost of research. That's the major economic change.

    I'm sure that, in practice, the shakeups surrounding moves from one model to the other will sometimes be accompanied by moves toward tyrannical editorial control or toward broader transparency; but those will really be orthogonal to the funding model.
  • Re:Peer Review (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Grieviant (1598761) * on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:08PM (#39785989)

    With closed access journals, researcher submits paper hoping to improve his CV(sometimes even surrenders copyright). Peers in the field review paper, usually for free/status associated with being a reviewer for a serious journal, Journal turns around and sells the finished work back to the libraries.

    There isn't any status associated with being a reviewer for one of the big journals. By and large, no one outside of the publisher even knows that you do it and it's not really something worth bragging about on a CV. People who legitimately care about their field view it as (a mildly annoying) part of their duty.

  • Nothing is "free" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slew (2918) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:14PM (#39786065)

    ... As a result, currently, pretty much any article *is* freely available to me. But many are not so fortunate — particularly where universities cannot afford to pay access fees, but more so for those who are not affiliated to universities, and who would have to pay considerable fees for access to even individual articles...

    You are paying (at least your university is paying, leaving less money for the university to spend on other things). Often people forget this. So when you are reading through your "free" papers perhaps you might also notice if one of your collegues didn't get a matching grant for their research or that the janitor that doesn't come around to clean your office very much anymore, or there's one less TA for that class... There's always a cost, even if you you aren't paying a cost yourself. The cost may look small when spread out over many folks, but it's isn't zero. On the other hand, dropping a subscription to a journal by a large university to "save" money will cost something on the other side (people employed by the jounal will get fewer raises or lose their jobs). Realistically, journal access is really a fringe benefit to you (not unlike free coffee in a breakroom), but when the cash crunch comes, the fringe benefits are often the first to go.

    What we can hope for is a more equitable system for reviewing, publishing and sharing knowledge, but there's bound to be chaos during any transition, however if our economy turns to a knowledge based (rather than manufacturing based), you might actually see more limits, rather than fewer limits on knowledge distribution going forward (as knowledge becomes more valued as a commodity like raw materials in a manufacturing based economy).

  • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Defenestrar (1773808) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:16PM (#39786121)

    You're missing the point of impact factors. It's merely a representation of the average times any given article from the preceding two years has been cited in the current year. The values change all the time.

    So, we know that if a good paper gets published somewhere that people can find, it gets cited. If good authors (presumably Harvard has some of these) make a concerted effort to move to a different journal other than the typical Journal of discipline subject, then the new journal is going to get a lot of citations over the next two years; raising its impact while the old journal plummets. (Actually, the new journal will skyrocket, and the old one will gradually taper as it is forced to accept less stellar papers to maintain publishing quantities).

    Now where it gets interesting is when the Society of discipline subject, who sold their Journal to the bundle publisher for whatever reason, starts to see their Society's Journal impact dropping (along with some of their revenue). At this point there will either be a call to membership to publish in the main Journal, or a call from membership to retrieve their Journal from the bundle people. This fight will probably go both ways, and different societies will have different end points. The options available will also vary. Some societies will have made a complete sale of their journal and be out of luck, others may be able to renegotiate publishing arrangements. Journals most threatened are those with no society behind it.

    Also, in my experience you can't just trade in five papers for two in the superstar journal realm (e.g. journals with double digit factors like science or nature which are usually around 30). Also, many superstar articles never make it to a general audience journal like Science or Nature. If a scientist really wants to impress someone with their publishing record, then they should report five and ten year impacts of their individual articles - not their neighbors.

  • Cheapskates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:40PM (#39786513)

    Harvard, despite their $32 billion dollar endowment, can't afford library fees? On top of the the 70+% overhead rate they charged my grants? Oh please. This is about many things, but a lack of money isn't it.

    For those not familiar with the subscription process, PLoS (and PhysX, etc.) have free access to the articles because the author has to pay for every article published. I check their website, the rate currently varies from $1300 to $$2900 per article, depending on which journal it's submitted to. Traditional journals, at least in physics (which is where I've published), normally don't have page charges for electronic submissions because they typesetting costs go way down with LaTeX submissions.

    What's really going on is that Harvard is shifting the costs from their libraries on to their researchers. They already have one of the highest grant overheads in the country (did you know that for every $1.00 in grant money a researcher receives, Harvard receives more than $0.70, to pay for things like electricity and library journal subscriptions?), but apparently a $32 billion dollar endowment just isn't good enough...

  • by sfkaplan (1004665) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:43PM (#39786545) Homepage

    It would be a good thing for academia to move away from predatory publishers like Elsevier and Wiley, and conduct all future publication through open access journals. However, even if this wonderful thing happens, those publishers remain a problem. Let's say that Elsevier goes out of business when researchers stop publishing with them and libraries stop ordering their materials. The citation chain still goes through a large number of already existing Elsevier publications. If Elsevier disappears, our heavily limiting copyright laws leave no mechanism to obtain these older papers. Some libraries gave up on paper versions of journals in recent years, so even they have neither duplicates nor access to the papers.

    Part of solving the academic publishing problem needs to include changes to copyright law. Authors should be permitted to provide access to papers that their publisher no longer makes available. Libraries should be allowed to provide access to academic publications whose copyright holders have vanished. There needs to be some mechanism along these lines, or else Elsevier and their ilk will gouge the academic libraries even more severely.

  • Re:microseconds (Score:5, Insightful)

    by openfrog (897716) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:43PM (#39786547)

    If Harvard paves the way with this, how long until other academic bodies follow suit and cut off companies such as Elsevier?

    Coming from Harvard, a university whose endowment funds are twice those of Cambridge and Oxford taken together, this is significant indeed.

    One recent event that may have prompted Harvard to act is a recent blog entry from Thimothy Gower (Gower's Blog), a professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, which prompted a petition to boycot Elsevier, signed as to the time of this writing by 10,172 researchers, and which has done much to raise awareness across disciplines.

    You can read about the petition at The Cost of Knowledge website. Read also the Wikipedia entries on Gower and on The Cost of Knowledge.

  • by Pauli (72610) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:44PM (#39786581)

    Libraries have a mission to disseminate knowledge, and a budget for this purpose (i.e. they are already paying the $40,000 for the journal subscription). They also have a lot of the infrastructure needed for online publishing (high speed network connections, servers, computer programmers). They should cut out the middleman and run competing journals themselves.

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:45PM (#39786587)
    turning the HBR publications such as Harvard Business Review and the many other journals they publish into open access journals? I'd like that, because it means the articles I've written for them I could no give away for free rather than pay a copying fee for each one.
  • by janoc (699997) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @03:57PM (#39786773)
    Switching to Open Access journals is great - except when a major journal asks you to pay 3000 USD (as an author) if you want your article accessible under their Open Access policy. Otherwise it goes behind the expensive subscription/paywall. Guess which option I am going to take if my boss pressures me to publish in a high-impact journal ...

    Yes, it was an Elsevier journal, but this is not specific to them, others do this as well.

    Researchers get stuck between a rock and hard place - we have to publish in high impact journals (otherwise our funding is cut, low impact factor publications don't count), but ideally open access (few high impact journals are Open Access) to save expenses for the library and you can bet that nobody will give me the 3k to pay that extortionist fee above, especially not if I am to publish at least twice a year in such journal. So what am I to do?

    Honestly, this does suck. Wearing my engineering hat, it is next to impossible to pay all the IEEE, ACM, what-not subscriptions I would need to access papers in my field as a private company - that's why there is so much reinventing the wheel and patenting the obvious. We had the ACM and IEEE membership and there was always a journal or a conf that was not covered. With outfits like Elsevier, Taylor & Francis etc. it gets even worse, because the subscriptions are per journal. It is completely impossible situation for a small company to deal with.

  • Re:microseconds (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir_Kurt (92864) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @04:07PM (#39786897)

    I guess you know that the present editors with respected credentials doing all the hard work at the prestigious print journals are -right now- working for free? So you are right. Shouldn't be too hard at all.


  • Re:Amazing (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @04:17PM (#39787071)

    Well, by law the public owns anything that is funded with tax payer money, so really anything with a USDA, NIH, NSF, etc stamp should be available to the public.

  • Re:Amazing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by isilrion (814117) on Tuesday April 24, 2012 @09:11PM (#39790163)

    2) As a reviewer, if I see you published your paper elsewhere, I will immediately reject it. Publishing a paper more than once is called self plagiarism, and it's unethical. The purpose of publishing is to disseminate your research to the community. Publishing your work in more than one journal is counter to that goal because your research is already in the community, and you're taking up space in the journal for research that hasn't yet been published.

    Please tell me that you see the contradiction there. For most journals out there, publishing in only one of them ensures that the paper is not already in the community - it is only available to those who purchased that particular journal. Not to mention translations, which are also considered self plagiarism, and which quite obviously increase the audience of the paper. Taken to the extreme, your attitude makes it hard to even share your work before publishing (I recently had an argument with a conference organiser, because after googling my name and title, they found out that I had given a seminar on that topic... in my own internal research group at my university).

    I do disagree with taking credit more than once for the same research, specially through salami publishing and their ilk, which is a very serious problem. But the so-called "self plagiarism" is no more than an absurd power grab from the publisher, to ensure they keep the monopoly over the distribution of our research, specially in the light of the "taking space" argument (really, it does not make any sense whatsoever. Space where? On the website, where you have nearly unlimited space?). It's a shame that most of the scientific community, like you, have fallen for it. If they really cared about disseminating research, a much more efficient way is to let the authors state "this work was been previously published in so and so journal", rather than accusing them of fraud.

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