Archive for March 19, 2013

Academic Publishing – added cost is not added value

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , on March 19, 2013 by telescoper

I was having a quick plough through the evidence submitted to the recent House of Lords enquiry into Open Access and found the following interesting exchange relating to the arXiv. The italics in the response by Steven Hall, Managing Director of the Institute of Physics Publishing company, to the question from Lord Rees of Ludlow, are mine:

Q44 Lord Rees of Ludlow: We know that things are discipline-dependent, even within the physical sciences. I have a question for Mr Hall, really. In physics and space science, as you know, there is a well­organised archive and repository, which is used by almost all of the community. It would seem that that has coexisted with journals to a surprising extent.I wonder if you would like to comment on that as an example.

Steven Hall: Yes, thank you for the opportunity. When I speed-read the pile of submissions on the train last night I noticed at least three references to the success of the arXiv and its lack of impact on physics publishing. There are a number of myths about the arXiv and it would be good to deal with those here. First, it does not at all cover all of physics. There are certain sub-disciplines where there are very high levels of deposit in the arXiv; there are others where there is none whatsoever. To come back to your point, even within a discipline like physics there are real differences of approach. The other thing about the arXiv is that it is essentially a workflow tool. Much of physics is highly collaborative. Physicists will deposit early versions of their paper so that they can be looked at by their colleagues. It is a means for physicists to distribute to their immediate peers those early results of their research. It is a sharing tool. Most of the content of the archive is pre-print, though. It is not accepted manuscripts; it is not works that have gone through peer review. My own company’s policy there is the author can do whatever he or she likes with the pre-print, before we have added any value to it. We take a different view once we have added some value to it. The arXiv cannot be compared directly to, say, typical institutional depositories, which might have lots of accepted manuscripts in them. It coexists with formal publishing. The vast majority of physicists who use the arXiv would say that it is complementary to formal publication.

Lord Rees of Ludlow: Formal publication gives the accreditation, but I think most read the arXiv and would like to see it extended to other fields. It seems to be a rather good model, which, one would hope, would extend a bit more to other areas of science.

It will come as no surprise to hear that I’m right behind Martin Rees in his praise for the arXiv; the comments about it by Steven Hall are notable only for their irrelevance. Extending the arXiv to cover other branches of physics, and indeed other disciplines, would be much less expensive for the research community than the model he favours. I’d say that the arXiv needn’t be viewed as complementary to formal publication but that the arXiv gives us a way to make formal publication entirely redundant.  It’s only a small step to turn that potential into reality, which is why IOPP wishes to dismiss it.

Steven Hall has repeatedly argued that Gold Open Access is best, which I suppose it is if you’re a publisher interested in making easy money rather than a scientist wanting to disseminate your work in inexpensive and timely a fashion as possible. However, I was struck by the totally misleading phrase in italics relating to “added value”. IOPP does not add value to research publications, it merely adds cost. Any value that is added derives from peer review, which in most case costs nothing at all and can in any case be done independently of any publisher.

I’m afraid this is yet another example of publishers putting their own profits before the needs of researchers. The fact that IOPP’s profits also support the activities of the Institute of Physics is beside the point. I hope that before long the IOP remembers what it is actually for and changes its modus operandi to support the community it purports to serve, rather than exploiting it. The days of the traditional publisher are numbered in any case, and the IOP along with the other learned societies will have to find a way of surviving that doesn’t rely on income from the academic journal racket.