Friday, March 29, 2013


Let's face it: pay-to-view scientific publishing is dead, even though its zombie corpse is still staggering around, thrashing around aimlessly.

There's another article in Nature about open access (and at least this one isn't hidden behind a paywall). Actually, it's not that bad, and certainly doesn't seem to be agitating shamelessly in the way that some past articles appeared to be. Among the open access publishers they discuss, there is however one notable absentee: the entire EGU family of journals is conspicuous by its absence. Of course this is only one publishing house operating in a particular field of research, but it's a very big one, and within that area, certainly ACP, BG, CP and probably TC (I don't really know the latter) are important within their fields. It may be worth emphasising that as well as being economically viable (indeed comfortably profitable), the costs of the EGU journals are extremely low, often lower than the publication charges imposed by paywalled journals even before you consider what they are raking in through subscription fees. That makes the excuses of for-profit publishers hard to take seriously. What are they actually adding for their fees?

Although I recently pointed to some dodgy papers in EGU journals, I don't think they are any worse than the AGU or other publishers who use a paywall paradigm - rather, my concern is that I expect them to be better, given the open review and opportunity for additional unsolicited comments. But even Nature, with it's $30-40,000 of investment in every paper, manages to come up with its share of stuff that is known to be wrong before the ink is dry. One nice feature of the EGU system is that you can see the reviews, and in the cases I mentioned, it seems that the problem (if there is one) is that the eds are bending over backwards to be generous towards papers that have been roundly rubbished in review. It is important to maintain some sort of standards, if reviewers are going to be expected to donate their time and energy. It might be useful to see the second and subsequent rounds of reviews, and I'm not sure why this bit is kept secret.

Incidentally, something I have been agitating for over recent years has recently come to pass: there is now a "subscribe to comments" button on each discussion page! So if you spot an interesting manuscript under review, you can easily keep an eye on what the reviewers are saying. I hope this will lead to an increase in non-invited comments. There are also RSS feeds for both the discussion and final publication phases of the journals.

Of course, Nature aren't stupid, and while trying to defend their cash cow for as long as possible, are also increasingly buying in to the open access model. It's just a matter of time. If they can persuade either authors, or funding bodies, that they add up to $40,000 of value to every paper they publish, then maybe they get their money in other ways, and good luck to them. It's time to stop gouging readers who have already paid for the research with their taxes.

1 comment:

EliRabett said...

The most disappointing thing that has happened is that AGU has sold out to Wiley-Blackwell