Open Access is bad, bad, bad

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Open Access is bad, bad, bad. At least so says J??rgen Burchardt, researcher and chairman of “Danske Videnskabsredakt??rer” (Danish Science Editors), about the threat of Open Access on popular science. In the Danish popular science magazine Aktuel Naturvidenskab he calls Open Access “taxpayer-paid ideological experiments” and declares that Open Access will mark the end of popular science when journals and magazines loose their income through direct sale and subscriptions. It is a repetition of his previous writings about general science publishing.

Burchardt is reacting on the Librarian Lobby and their propaganda in a recent Danish report by the Open Access Committee which did not include members from the publishing industry. Burchardt is on the publishing industry side. He has been editor on the Danish scholarly journal Tidsskrift for Arbejdsliv which sells at 175 Danish Kroner per issue. I must admit I never heard of that journal before.

One strong argument for Open Access is that if a taxpayer pay for a scientist then the work of the scientist should be directly accessible to the taxpayer. It’s how it works in the US on a federal level. It means that, e.g., works of NIH and NASA are in the public domain, such as the famous photo Apollo 8 Earthrise.

Properly Open Access licensed science articles may be reused in a number
of ways, e.g., translated, aggregated in course material and included in a
wiki with wikilinks and semantic markup, ??? see an example in my Brede Wiki.

Many of the arguments against Open Access have been countered by Open Access publisher BioMed Central in their (Mis)Leading Open Access Myths (thanks Iain Hrynaszkiewicz for the pointer). These pages argue on the matter in relation to the discussion that has taken place in the United Kingdom.

My own experience in regard to “Myth 2” (Access is not a problem – virtually all [] researchers have access they need): I sometimes find scientific articles difficult to get: I perform research in an interdisciplinary area with ties to medicine and business. Journals in these areas may not always be available from the library at my technical university.

One thing that bothers me with Open Access is: Why do Open Access “Article Processing Charges” have to be so big? (e.g., 1800 Euros) I have published in the electronic journal First Monday and if I was less incompetent I might publish in Journal of Machine Learning Research. Their articles are open accessible and they have no article processing charges. If you want to have the printed books of Journal of Machine Learning Research you pay. One of my latest conference articles is archived in CEUR Workshop Proceedings, ??? openly accessible and with no apparent cost to me (a paid for registering to the conference). One must remember the big costs paid by the author to the publisher also occurs in the ‘ordinary’ subscription publishing model: Fees for color pages and page excess is prevalent and may be quite big.

The Danish librarians have got the Australian Professor John Houghton to make cost-benefit analysis on the publishing models. In the report (Danish summary) he estimates the production cost of a journal article to 125’000 Danish Kroner. Most of that cost is related to the writing. He finds (perhaps not surprising) that the Open Access publishing model is the cheaper. Well perhaps.

The publishing companies have got a lot of extra articles to publish in recent years (I know the journal NeuroImage has grown inches thick now). The modern researchers have word processors, email and Internet-browsers so writing and submitting articles have become way easier. Publishers also need to work on IT-infrastructure to support print and electronic dual-mode publishing and scanning old issues. These issues have probably led to a lot of extra cost for the publishers. Still the criticism is that the cost of subscription for the libraries has risen beyond the cost for the publisher. Back in 2001 Guardian wrote:

Last year the most powerful journal publisher, the Anglo-Dutch firm Reed Elsevier, made a profit of ??252m on a turnover of ??693m in its science and medical business.

A section in the Wikipedia “Elsevier” article also gives some pointers on the controversy. It is really an unfortunate situation researchers, universities and libraries have gotten into, ??? an asymmetric situation that would make an economist cry. Even if Danes opt in on Open Access the libraries still need to subscribe to subscription journals, since Danish researchers rely on access to what other researchers publish. But one would imaging that the threat of Open Access would weigh in when Danish libraries negotiate subscription fees with the multinational subscription-based publishers.

I see Open Access as part of the larger notion of the free culture movement. The opposite stance may be characterized by a quotation from John Jarvis, Mangaging Director of Wiley Europe (one of the big
subscription-based publishers) regarding patients reading scientific information:

Without being pejorative or elitist, I think that is an issue that we should think about very, very carefully, because there are very few members of the public, and very few people in this room, who would want to read some of this scientific information, and in fact draw wrong conclusions from it […] Speak to people in the medical profession, and they will say the last thing they want are people who may have illnesses reading this information, marching into surgeries and asking things. We need to be careful with this very, very high-level information.

The free culture movement sails under the Jimmy Wales Wikipedia quotation:
“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” The public should be en
lightened, not roam in darkness. These ideas have been likened to the Folk high school movement.

I also see Open Access as part of Open Science. Open Access of scientific journals is just one part of that issue. Open access to the methods of science and open access to the data is a issue that is being discussed more and more. I often find inadequate texual description present in articles of its experimental setup and its results, e.g., in human brain mapping the result is often a large set of estimates for several 100’000 of measurements in the brain. In journal articles we only get a small table with a few selected measurements reported. Journal articles are simply not suitable to report all the interesting results that comes out of a modern scientific experiment. I believe open science databases is our solution. One of my recent reports describes such as system for personality genetics, where data, computational methods and results are openly available from a Web-based platform. As it was a contribution for the WikiSym 2010 meeting I signed off the copyright to ACM and the article is now published by them. It is available in their digital library. You can purchase the article for 15 American Dollars. Yeah.


4 thoughts on “Open Access is bad, bad, bad

    J??rgen Burchardt said:
    February 24, 2011 at 6:58 am

    My article is about the Green Open Access. This publishing model is non finansed. It is a parasite for the academic world.My journal "Tidsskrift for Arbejdsliv" is the oldest Open Access journal in Denmark – published since 2001 in the Delayed OA. It is a well reputated journal within working life studies.In 2007 its home page had 250.000 unik visitors. I am sorry you was not among them.As a pioneer within Open Access I know the conditions for this publishing model. It is very difficult to have money to the editorial process when idealists are asking for free goods. All the specialised journals in the world will have difficulties. The Golden Open Access is fine in the large all-round areas.

    Henrik said:
    April 3, 2011 at 7:28 am

    >Last year the most powerful journal publisher, the Anglo-Dutch firm Reed Elsevier, made a profit of ??252m on a turnover of ??693m in its science and medical business. I don’t think the customers like to be taken advantage of. See how the users are striking back on the music industry after decades of exploitation of young people with outrageous prices and billionaire musicians.

    Anonymous said:
    April 3, 2011 at 10:26 am

    @HenrikI think that there are differences between the scientific publishing industry and the music industry: 1) A lot of science is paid by tax-payers while they have a problem getting to the results summarized in the articles. 2) Also in some cases you (as a scientist) require access to other specific articles when you write your own article, e.g., for exhaustive reviews, meta-analyses or "ordinary" articles. The same does not apply for music. Music is not paid by the tax-payers. It is usually a person constructing the work whose entire income may depend heavily on the protection provided by the copyright. Furthermore, as a music listener you are not require to buy specific music items. If you think that 150 Danish Kroner is too much for a Lady Gaga CD, you may simple just not buy it and listen to your Pia Raug CD instead (if you own such a one). It is not your right to listen to Lady Gaga without some form of compensation, as it is not your right to get into a Lady Gaga concert without paying.

    Anonymous said:
    April 3, 2011 at 11:14 am

    @J??rgen BurchardtThanks for the clarification. I seems that the problems have now <a href="">gained the attention of Science Minister Charlotte Sahl-Madsen</a>. She seems to be listening to your issues, though I am not sure that the final scheme will be completely satisfactory for you. But hopefully the solution will be not too bad to all involved parties.

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