Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I have nothing to add to this . . .

Res ipsa loquitur. Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times. Nature publishing group, which puts out 90 academic journals, wants to hike its online access fees for the University of California by 4 times -- costing the already strapped university more than a million bucks a year. They're considering boycotting Nature -- really. But:

[T]he dispute underscores a more far-reaching debate in academia: Whether the old business model of scientific publishing, in which researchers turn their work over to commercial entities for free, then pay through the nose to access it in print or online, hasn't reached the point of ultimate absurdity.

"Why are we paying to read the results of our own research?" asks Patrick O. Brown, a biochemist at Stanford's School of Medicine. In 2000, Brown co-founded the Public Library of Science, or PLoS, which today publishes seven journals on the open access model. That model charges researchers for publication of their accepted papers, but allows them to retain their copyrights and makes their work available to all users for free.

And it's not just us who are paying -- and we can afford it, because our universities pick up the tab. It's the students, of course, whose tuition is higher because the university has to pay for its faculty to be able to read the journals they contribute to.

Subscriptions are a major cost problem for UC, as they are for all public institutions, because of the relentless squeeze on budgets. For the current round of renewals, UC's goal was to cut costs by 15%, which plainly would be exploded if Nature held firm.

Already, because of the rise in fees for scientific and technical journals, "we've had to decrease what we spend on books for the humanities, and that trade-off is very stark," Farley says. "Ultimately it hurts the whole institution."

And of course, the general public cannot afford to read these journals at all, unless people happen to be fortunate enough to live near a university library that allows access to the local community -- which most do not. For science to put up such barriers of exclusivity is a crime against its animating spirit. It has to change.

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