Archive for the Open Access Category

Scholarly publishers and their high profits

Posted in Open Access on March 25, 2014 by telescoper


Lest we forget the Great Academic Publishing Ripoff…



Originally posted on Alex Holcombe's blog:

I recently published the below chart to document the outrageous profit margins of scholarly publishers in the sciences.

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.35.26 PM

This post is to provide the sources for the numbers in the chart.

The Woolworths number comes from their website, where they write “As a group, Woolworths Limited makes less than seven cents in the dollar before we then pay interest and tax”.

The Rio Tinto figure of 23% is based on the operating profit they report divided by the consolidated sales revenue in their 2011 financial summary.

Apple’s profit of 35% is based on these numbers, dividing their operating income for the year ending September 2012 of 55.2 billion by the revenue for the same period of 156.5 billion.

The 34% number for Springer comes from Heather Morrison’s PhD thesis, in which she writes that “Springer’s Science + Business Media (2010) reported a return on sales (operating profit)…

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Research Hive on Open Access

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on March 21, 2014 by telescoper

Near the end of a week that has been both exciting and exhausting, I had the opportunity to take part in a seminar on Open Access publishing. I agreed to do this last year sometime, and only remembered that it was today because I got an email reminder a couple of days ago! Anyway it was nice to have an excuse to visit the iconic Library of the University of Sussex for this event.

Fortunately, as things turned out, I had plenty of topical material to draw on for inspiration and spent some time discussion the possibilities of community peer review with reference with what’s been happening with BICEP2. Here’s me in the middle of the talk on that very subject showing the Live Discussion Facebook page:


I shared the bill with Rupert Gatti from Open House Press which publishes mainly in the Arts and Humanities area; generally speaking these disciplines are a long way behind astrophysics in terms of their readiness for the age of Open Access but I think change across all academia is inevitable.

For those of you interested I realize that an update on the Open Journal For Astrophysics is long overdue. I’ve just been too busy with other things to devote much time to it. I do hope to have further news very soon…

BICEP2, Social Media and Open Science

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on March 20, 2014 by telescoper

I’ve been finding it a bit difficult to keep up with all the BICEP2 excitement in between all the other things I’ve had to do this week but at least the blog has been generating some interest and there’s no sign of that abating yet.  In fact, according to the wordpress elves, today is the busiest day I’ve ever had on In the Dark - and it’s not even 6pm yet!

I realize that I’ve posted several items on B-modes without ever showing a picture of what they look like, so here you go, an image of the B-mode polarization seen by the BICEP2 experiment:


When the BICEP2 team announced that  a “major astrophysics discovery” would be announced this Monday I have to admit that I was quite a bit uncomfortable about the way things were being done. I’ve never been keen on “Science by Press Release” and when it became clear that the press conference would be announcing results that hadn’t yet been peer-reviewed my concerns deepened.

However, the BICEP2 team immediately made available not only the “discovery” paper but also the data products, so people with sufficient expertise (and time) could try to unpick the content. This is fully in the spirit of open science and I applaud them for it. Indeed one could argue that putting everything out in the open the way they have is ensuring that that their work is being peer-reviewed in the open by the entire cosmological community not secretly and by one or two anonymous individuals. The more I think about it the more convinced I am becoming that this is a better way of doing peer review than the traditional method, although before I decide that for sure I’d like to know whether the BICEP2 actually does stand up!

One of the particularly interesting developments in this case is the role social media are playing in the BICEP2 story. A Facebook Group was set up in advance of Monday’s announcement and live discussion started immediately the press conference started. The group now has well over 700 members, including many eminent cosmologists. And me. There’s a very healthy scientific discussion going on there which may well prove to be a model of how such things happen in the future. Is this a sign of a major change in the way science is done, the use of digital technology allowing science to break free from the shackles placed on it by traditional publication processes? Maybe.

Anyway, no time to write any more. I just remembered I have to participate in a seminar on Open Access publishing and I have to start thinking about what I’m going to say!

P.S. The Vernal Equinox happened at 16.:57 GMT today, so welcome to Spring!

Tutorial 27: how to publish an open-access paper in a paywalled journal

Posted in Open Access on January 22, 2014 by telescoper


Some tips on how to get your paper published open-access despite a publisher’s paywall. Personally, I think you should go direct to Step 5…

Originally posted on Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week:

I got in a conversation recently with a friend who is about to have his first paper published. It’s been through review and is now accepted at a well-respected old-school journal owned by a legacy publisher. It’s not an open-access journal, and he asked my advice on how he could make the paper open access.

We had a fruitful discussion, and we agreed that I’d write up the conclusions for this blog.

First, you can pay the publisher to open-access your paper. That’s a legitimate option at “hybrid OA” journals, which by this point is pretty much all paywalled journals. But even when the journal invites it, that’s not always possible. In this case, my friend has no institutional funds available, and really isn’t in a position to bung the publisher $3000 out of his own pocket.

The second option is to write to the journal saying that you select the…

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Elsevier’s Confidentiality Clauses

Posted in Open Access with tags , on December 22, 2013 by telescoper

I came across this a little while ago (here, where the context is explained in more detail). It comes from a conference about the future of scientific publishing, and features David Tempest of Elsevier responding to a question from Dr Stephen Curry.

I hadn’t realised before this question that Elsevier not only charges eye-wateringly expensive subscription rates for its journals but also often requires institutional libraries to sign a confidentiality clause under which they are forbidden from revealing how much the subscription costs. Here Mr Tempest attempts to explain this policy:

So there you have it. If people actually knew what other people were being charged there’s a danger that prices would be driven relentlessly downward. Shocking.

You have to feel some sympathy for Elsevier, struggling along on a profit margin of a mere 36%. It must be so difficult for them to make ends meet…

Elsevier is taking down papers from

Posted in Open Access with tags , on December 12, 2013 by telescoper


Yet another example of an academic publisher (Elsevier) acting in a manner clearly detrimental to research.

Originally posted on Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week:

Lots of researchers post PDFs of their own papers on their own web-sites. It’s always been so, because even though technically it’s in breach of the copyright transfer agreements that we blithely sign, everyone knows it’s right and proper. Preventing people from making their own work available would be insane, and the publisher that did it would be committing a PR gaffe of huge proportions.

Enter Elsevier, stage left. Bioinformatician Guy Leonard is just one of several people to have mentioned on Twitter this morning that took down their papers in response to a notice from Elsevier. Here’s a screengrab of the notification:


And here is the text (largely so search-engines can index it):

Hi Guy

Unfortunately, we had to remove your paper, Resolving the question of trypanosome monophyly: a comparative genomics approach using whole genome data sets with low taxon sampling, due to a take-down notice from…

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Boycott Nature and Science!

Posted in Open Access, Science Politics with tags , , , , on December 11, 2013 by telescoper

On Tuesday Randy Schekman, joint winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine hit out at academic publishers for the way the most “prestigious” journals (specifically Cell, Nature and Science) publish only the “flashiest” research.  I see his announcement as part of a groundswell of opinion that scientists are being increasingly pressured to worry more about the impact factors of the journals they publish in than about the actual science that they do. Cynics have been quick to point out that his statements have emerged only after he received the Nobel Prize, and that it’s difficult for younger researchers who have to build their careers in a world to break free from the metrics that are strangling many disciplines. I feel, as do some of my colleagues (such as Garret Cotter of Oxford University), that it’s time for established researchers to make a stand and turn away from those publishers that we feel are having a negative impact on science and instead go for alternative modes of publication that are in better keeping with the spirit of open science.

In future, therefore, I’ll be boycotting Nature and Science (I don’t publish in Cell anyway) and I call upon my colleagues to do likewise. Here’s a nice logo (courtesy of Garrett Cotter) that you might find useful should you wish to support the boycott.


ps. For the record I should point out that during my career I have published four papers in Nature and one in Science.

The Open Journal for Astrophysics is Open for Test Submissions!

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , on November 17, 2013 by telescoper

Just a quick announcement that we’re stepping up the testing phase of the Open Journal for Astrophysics and would really appreciate it if astrophysicists and cosmologists out there would help us out by submitting papers for us to run through our swish new refereeing system.

Just to remind you The Open Journal for Astrophysics is completely free both for submission and for access; there are no Author Processing Charges and no subscription payments. All papers will be fully peer-reviewed using a system which is, as far as I’m concerned, far better than any professional astrophysical journal currently offers. All this is provided free by members of the astrophysics community as a service to the astrophysics community.

I know that many will be nervous about submitting the results of their research to such a new venture, but I hope there will be plenty among you who agree with me that the only way we can rid ourselves of the enormous and unnecessary financial burdens placed on us by the academic publishing industry is by proving that we can do the job better by ourselves without their intervention.

The project has changed a little since I suggest the idea last year, but the submission procedure is basically that which I originally envisaged. All you have to do is submit your paper to the arXiv and let us know its reference when this has been accomplished. Our software will then pick up the arXiv posting automatically and put it into our refereeing pipeline.

In future we will have our own latex template to produce a distinctive style for papers, but this is not needed for the testing phase so feel free to use any latex style you wish for your submission.

For the time being the OJFA website and associated repositories are not publicly available, but that’s just so we can test it thoroughly before it goes fully live, probably early in the new year; at that point all the papers passing peer review during the test phase will be published. I’m really excited about the forthcoming launch which will, I hope, generate quite a lot of publicity about the whole issue of open access publishing.

If anyone has any questions about this please feel free to ask via the comments box. Also please pass this on via twitter, etc. The more, and the more varied, papers we get to handle over the next couple of months the quicker we can get on with the revolution! So what are you waiting for? Let’s have your papers!

Open Access Repositories should be based on Subject, not Institution

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , on September 18, 2013 by telescoper

Just when we thought that the powers that be might be starting to see the light on Open Access, round comes another circular from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) that shows that policymakers have an unlimited ability to get things wrong at the most basic level.

The document concerned opens a “Consultation on open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework” by putting forward a number of proposals.

Now it’s depressing enough that the entire document is predicated on the assumption that there will be another Research Excellence Framework, perhaps in 2020. The current REF is such a disaster that one might have hoped somebody up there would have decided that enough is enough. But then we thought that about Research Assessment Exercise in 2008. Even the most pessimistic of us hope that the REF would have a “lighter touch” than the RAE, but as it has turned out it’s many times worse both in the time it has taken to prepare submissions and the ridiculous game-playing and dodgy employment practices that it has encouraged among participation institutions.

I hope there’s still time to drive a stake through the heart of the runaway bureaucracy that keeps imposing this idiocies on us. After all, a new Chief Executive about to take over at HEFCE. Perhaps a new broom will be wielded? I hope against hope.

However, setting all that to one side, I had a look at the proposals for Open Access after 2014 contained in the document. Here is the summary of the proposals:



Why on Earth should the proposals favour national institutional repositories over international subject-based ones? A shining example of the latter is the arXiv which has, for Physics and Astronomy, become the basic resource for researchers around the world; it’s a one-stop shop at which one can access research from all around the world. By contrast, having work in the same field stored over a plethora of institutional repositories will serve no useful purpose at all, because UK research will not  treated in the same way as work from other countries and in any case individual repositoes will lead to an absurd level of duplication of infrastructure and other resources. This requirement is particularly indefensible in Physics and Astronomy, as it would require us to duplicate in (probably inferior) institutional repositories what we already do with the arXiv.

The UK Funding Councils need realize that the solution to many of the challenges of Open Access has already been found. In fact, the European Research Council seems to have acknowledged this and is now directly funding the arXiv. The UK Research Councils should be required to construct similar archives for their disciplines. That shouldn’t be difficult, because all the hard work has already been done. There is a working model.

I’ll be responding to the consultation document in no uncertain terms. The Royal Astronomical Society is also collating responses for a collective submission. We have to resist these, and other proposals such as another REF, which are being foisted on us by people who have no idea what they’re doing and no idea what damage they’re causing.

Seeing Sense on Open Access

Posted in Open Access, Politics, Science Politics with tags , , on September 10, 2013 by telescoper

Just time for a quick post to pass on the news that the Parliamentary Select Committee on Open Access has published its report. A PDF file of the whole thing is available here. I was eagerly anticipating this publication for many reasons, including the fact that this blog (inadvertently) provided evidence to it:

A senior academic wrote on his blog that “the publisher was deliberately and disgracefully misleading the author about the RCUK policy on open access in order to take money from them”. I could go on, but can you convince us otherwise, because if that is the case, this is one of the less helpful pieces of the work that the Government has decided to do?

Anyway, the good news is that the Select Committee has seen sense and produced a report that is very critical of the government’s rush to Gold Open Access. Here are the main conclusions:

92. The Government’s committed and pro-active stance to increasing access to published research findings is admirable, as is its desire to achieve full open access. Gold open access, at scale, is a desirable ultimate goal, and we acknowledge that the recommendations of the Finch Report, and the Government and RCUK’s open access policies were formulated with this end in mind.

93. However, almost without exception, our evidence has pointed to gaps in both the qualitative and quantitative evidence underpinning the Finch Report’s conclusions and recommendations, most significantly a failure to examine the UK’s Green mandates and their efficacy. This has been replicated in the formulation of the Government and RCUK’s open access policies and their mistaken focus on the Gold solution as the primary route to achieving open access at scale in the UK. The major mechanism of transition must be Green open access, specifically through strong immediate self-archiving mandates set by funders and institutions, either as a funding condition or tied to research assessment as appropriate.

94. Given the emphasis the Government has placed on the benefits of open access, the Government should seek a derogation in relation to VAT on e-journals as a matter of urgency.

95. The Minister for Universities and Science and members of the Finch working group are due to meet in September 2013 to assess impact and progress of open access policy. RCUK has said it intends to review its policy in 2014, to assess how developments compare to their expectations, and to meet annually after that. As part of those reviews, both Government and RCUK must fully consider and address the conclusions and recommendations set out in this Report.

Item 93 is pretty strong stuff and I agree with every word of it! I have long believed that the Finch Report, which precipitated the Government’s present policy, was hijacked by vested interests in the academic publishing industry, greatly to the detriment of the academic community. The government needs to reverse its policy, and fast, before more money that should be spent on research and scholarship is wasted on subsidies for greedy publishers. It remains to be seen whether the government has the courage to change course.

UPDATE: See here for a more detailed and considered report by Stephen Curry


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