Friday, January 06, 2012

YHGTBFKM: Ecological Society of America letter regarding #OpenAccess is disturbing

Wow -- I am really disturbed by the letter the Ecological Society of America (ESA) has written to the White House OSTP in regard to Open Access publishing. (For some background see Dear Representatives Issa and Maloney - Are you kidding me? Stop this bill now #ClosedAccess and Calling on Publishers to Resign from The Association of American Publishers Re Anti-Open Access Stance).

In the letter they make many statements that bother me deeply including:
However, it is important to note that there is a significant difference between research results and peer-reviewed publications.
Really - how are they different exactly?
Publishers such as ESA have a long record of reporting, analyzing and interpreting federally funded research.
OMG - seriously?  Apparently ESA is doing the analyzing and reporting and interpreting.  Not the scientists writing the papers.  But the publisher.  Seriously.  This is completely ridiculous.
It is not appropriate for the federal government to expropriate the additional value publishers add to research results.
They can't be serious.  This is not expropriation in any way.  This is the trying to guarantee that research taxpayers have paid for - that is done by scientists that taxpayers pay the salaries of - is not then published in a way that forces the taxpayers to pay for it again.
Furthermore, subscription revenue helps to support other Society services, including scientific conferences, education programs, and the distribution of science information resources to policymakers and the public.
So now what they are saying is that the government should hand them money via subscription fees so that they can then carry out some services they think are important.  How about this - how about the ESA applies for peer reviewed grants to fund their activities so that these can be reviewed by others.  As it is ESA can do whatever it wants with that money - being fed to it without any peer review - via indirect costs and grant money.
Papers published in ESA journals may therefore be just as relevant in several years as they are today, which means that any potential embargo period will do little to mitigate the financial losses that would result from full open access.
So - the justification here for not making ecological articles available is that they are MORE important over time?  So the taxpayers pays for research that is valuable and because it is valuable over time we should make it less freely available?  Seriously?

And here is the best one:
One way to make taxpayer funded research more visible and accessible to interested members of the public would be to require federally-funded grantees to provide a second version of the research summaries they already prepare, specifically for the lay reader. To aid in online searches, these summaries could also include the source of federal funding institutions and grant numbers. Publishers could also include grant information in paper abstracts which are usually available without a subscription.
That is right, they are suggesting that scientists write a second paper to go with their science papers that would be for the lay reader.  And that these summaries could include grant IDs to help in online searches.  WTF?  So now rather than making the actual scientific papers available they are proposing that scientists write a second paper because lay people would not be able to understand the first paper?  And what about scientists who want to read the papers but are at small institutions?  And never mind that "open access" is not just about money - it is also about "freedom" in the usage of published material.

The ESA has really gone off the deep end on this.  I note - I am in full support of companies and publishers making money.  I am also generally against government regulations.  But this issue is about taxpayers rights, government waste, and the progress of science.  It is simply inexcusable for the government to not use taxpayer money judiciously.

If the government pays for the research, pays for the research supplies, pays the salaries of researchers and peer reviewers, then it is unacceptable that publishers would then limit access to papers and force taxpayers to pay for them again.

The ESA basically is saying "taxpayers should be required to subsidize us".

Or - another way to look at this - ESA is saying: "Taxpayers - we want your money -but you are too stupid to understand what we are doing with it."


Hat tip to Karen Cranston for pointing this out.

Some responses to this post:


  1. I agree on all counts. At first, I took issue primarily with the statement about separate publications for "lay people" (Let's do it, by all means! But let's still make the original, publicly-funded research accessible). I'm uncomfortable with the idea of scientists being gate-keepers of public knowledge, for one; it just further separates us from the public.

    I don't understand why, whenever the revenue argument comes up, journals don't seriously explore the option of author-subsidized open access. I'd really like to see some numbers on how feasible this is-- what would the cost be to authors?

  2. University libraries should get together and create a repository for academic papers. For less than $20 million dollars per year adequate equipment and telecommunications services could be obtained to host these articles for the English-speaking world.

    Learned societies could take over lining up participants for the peer-review process.

    What is happening now, private companies taking ownership of public research, essentially converting publicly paid for knowledge into private intellectual profit, converting it to private profits -- if it isn't illegal it should be.

  3. Jacquelyn, publishers do take subsidies from authors. The government pays for the research to be done, then the government through the author pays to have the research published.

    So they authors do subsidize the process.

    But despite the authors subsidizing the process, and besides peer reviewers subsidizing the process by donating their time, publishers still have readers subsidize their process.

    And what process is it that researchers, peer reviewers, readers and taxpayers are subsidizing?

    The process of making profits. The publishers do little in all of this but make profits.

    And that is my opinion.

  4. You have the same problem with legal information. Publishers have been granted extensive rights to public work product and charge for access. If there is a true value add - such as for organization and electronic presentation - we might contract the services. We should not turn over the keys and essentially give the work product to the publishers in perpetuity.

  5. I get that the economy is tough on scholarly societies. Revenue comes from only a few sources and for many societies, the journal is a big one. Money for memberships and conference travel is also declining nationally, so ESA needs to re-evaluate how they run their business. What they spend on and how they make money. Like *every other business* is doing to meet the challenges of the 21st century. How can they seriously think Congress should step in to protect them versus all the other interests on the other side - getting more research into the hands of more people. Ridiculous. (Speaking for myself here, not my employer)

  6. ESA has noticed people are talking about them, but still don't seem to get the crux of the matter:


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