Monday, April 14, 2008

Scare tactics by publishing companies

As I have been describing in this blog, publishing companies are afraid of open-access journals and other open-access bills being considered by Congress. One of their arguments is that open access will harm the peer review process.

Such undue government intervention in scholarly publishing poses inherent risks and problems, including:

  • Threats to the economic viability of journals and the independent system of peer review
  • The potential for introducing selective bias into the scientific record

"Open access" does not equal "no peer review." That is one of the distortions that the publishing companies use to scare Congress into killing reasonable bills that allow taxpayer-funded research to be accessed for free.

In fact, the highest ranked journal in the atmospheric sciences in terms of impact factor is Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, published online only by the European Geosciences Union. The journal has a unique peer review process. You submit the paper, and after an initial assessment of quality by an editor, gets posted online for all to read and comment upon nonanonymously. At the same time, anonymous peer reviewers assess the manuscript. After a specified time, the author then must respond to all comments, anonymous and nonanonymous. The manuscripts at ACP eventually get published or rejected, as we do. Page charges are smaller than the AMS (covering web hosting, etc.), rejection rates are only 16%, and there is no cost to access the article. Therefore, the author pays all charges. The readers pay nothing to read the article. This is why open access is so popular among scientists. How many articles would you be able to read online if you didn't have to pay? I know I would read a lot more.

The AMS sits somewhere in between big publishers and open access. The articles are restricted to subscribers for five years, after that, they are free to everyone. That, in my opinion, isn't a bad option. Some journals will allow their otherwise restricted articles to be open access. For an extra $1000 or so in page charges, authors can make their published article free to everyone, not just journal subscribers.

Although I am not a total fan of e-publishing for some contexts, open access is one thing I cheer loudly for. As a fan of science, so should you.


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