Particle physics volunteers to be fleeced….
I heard the news yesterday that a body called the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) has arranged a deal whereby virtually all articles in particle physics will be available for free on journal websites. The deal will mean that authors will not have to pay thousands of dollars up-front in “article processing charges” in order to have their work available via Open Access media.
So far so good, you’re probably thinking. But read a little bit more about it and it becomes absolutely clear that SCOAP3 has walked straight into a trap laid by the academic publishers with whom it brokered the agreement. The principal deterrent to authors publishing via the “Gold” Open Access model has been that they would have to pay up-front fees, potentially around $2000 for each paper. Any sensible researcher would rather spend $2000 supporting their research than lining the profits of greedy publishers, so would probably opt for a “green” mode instead. Indeed many particle physicists already do this, putting their work on the arxiv where it is available for free anyway.
The publishing industry realises that most authors would simply bypass it and go for self-publication if they could, so it is naturally very keen on deals like this. What actually happens in the SCOAP3 agreement is that an author’s institution pays fees directly to the publisher. According to Nature News:
The consortium will pay the contracts from an annual budget of €10 million, which is funded not by authors or research grants, but by pledges from more than a thousand libraries, funding agencies and research consortia across the world. In effect, existing journal subscription fees are being repurposed to provide the open-access funds.
And there’s the rub. “Existing journal subscription fees” are already extortionately high, and out of all proportion to the actual cost of disseminating scientific knowledge. Authors may think that they’re not paying for Open Access under the new agreement, but in fact they are. It’s just a bit less direct. Their grants will continue to be top-sliced to pay for the SCOAP3 arrangement and, since science budgets are unlikely to rise for the foreseeable future, that means the cash available for actually doing research will fall. This agreement is very good for the publishers, but very bad for science.
The average cost for Open Access publication in Physics Review D. under the new scheme will be $1900 per paper. Ouch! And how does the publisher justify this cost? “To maintain revenue levels…”. I rest my case.
More of the is going to happen in the UK, where £10M is being set aside from existing Research Council budgets, nominally to “pay for the transition to Open Access” but actually in order to maintain profit levels at the big academic publishing houses. Much of that £10M will no doubt disappear in deals like the one brokered by SCOAP3. And that means continuing high profits for the publishers at the expense of falling levels of research funding. The whole thing stinks.
And if as an author you decide that you have a moral objection to being scammed in this way, under the SCOAP3 agreement you now have no way out. Even if you bypass the arrangement and just publish on the arXiv, the publishers will get their money directly anyway. You have to admit it’s a clever sting, but I’m still surprised the particle physics community has fallen for it.
This development convinced me even more that the research community has to take matters into its own hands, and organize its own publication strategy. Traditional journals are already virtually redundant and I confidently predict they will die a natural death in just a few years, but while they linger on their publishers will continue to fleece the academic community as long as they can. The sooner we put a stop to it the better.Follow @telescoper