George Monbiot: “Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist”
August 30, 2011
A quick note to let you all know that George Monbiot’s piece Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist has been published in The Guardian, one of the four respected “broadsheet” national daily newspapers of the UK. (It was online yesterday, and is in today’s print edition.)
A few key quotes:
“Of all corporate scams, the racket they run is most urgently in need of referral to the competition authorities.”
“Academic publishers get their articles, their peer reviewing (vetting by other researchers) and even much of their editing for free. The material they publish was commissioned and funded not by them but by us, through government research grants and academic stipends. But to see it, we must pay again, and through the nose.”
“Perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the biggest crooks ever to have preyed upon the people of this country – Robert Maxwell – made much of his money through academic publishing.”
“What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism.”
I encourage you to read the whole thing.
None of this will be news to long-time SV-POW! readers: we’ve talked more than once about the scandalous prices of academic publications and what can be done about it (and many relevant articles are linked from the Shiny Digital Future page). What’s new is that this is being discussed in the pages of major mainstream media.
As Scott Aaronson wrote in an article that we’ve cited many times, “What’s missing at this point is mostly anger — a justified response to being asked to donate our time, not to Amnesty International or the Sierra Club, but to the likes of Kluwer and Elsevier.”
So I think I ought to actually do something. It’s not as though I have a lot of influence, but there is one area where I stop rolling over. Like all publishing academics, I spend a not insignificant proportion of my time peer-reviewing articles for journals. From now on, I plan to stop freely volunteering expertise and labour to non-open journals. When I’m asked to review a manuscript, I’ll reply saying that I’ll be happy to do it for free if the final published version is going to open-access (as it will be at, say, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, PLoS ONE or Palaeontologia Electronica); but that if it’s going to be paywalled, I am available at a reasonable consultancy rate of say £100 per hour.
That seems wholly reasonable to me: if they’re going to be selling the results of my work for profit — which they are perfectly entitled to do — then they can invest in the work that is going to bring them the profit.
I urge you to do the same. If you do, please mention it in the comments.
(If a fair few of us do this, then we will also be in a position to send an open letter to the for-profit publishers, and to publicise it. We might just help contribute to the momentum.)
Update (two days later)
There are some excellent letters in today’s Guardian, in response to the Monbiot piece. Five letters, not one of them attempting a defence of the current broken system.