New at Times Higher Education: “Open, moral and pragmatic”

March 8, 2012

In the middle of February, Times Higher Education ran a piece by Elsevier boycott originator Tim Gowers, entitled Occupy publishing.  A week ago, they published a letter in response, written by Elsevier Senior VP David Clark, under the title If it ain’t broke, don’t bin it, in which he argued that “there is little merit in throwing away a system that works in favour of one that has not even been developed yet”.

Seeing the current journal system, with its arbitrary barriers, economic inefficiencies and distorted perspective on impact, described as “a system that works” was more than I could bear.  So I sent a letter in response, and it’s published in today’s issue as Open, moral and pragmatic.

Space limitations of THE letters meant that I was only able to address one aspect — the economics.  Based on numbers in their own annual report, I show that the cost of each article that Elsevier makes available to subscribers is twelve times the cost of each article that PLoS makes available to the world.  And since Elsevier’s 200,000 articles per year are about a seventh of the total global output, the money paid to Elsevier alone would easily pay for every single paper to be published as open access.  Easily.

No doubt there are errors in some of the numbers, which are necessarily estimates; and the calculation is overly simplistic.  But even allowing for that, there is plenty enough slop in the figures that the conclusion stands.  If we stopped paying Elsevier subscriptions alone — we can keep Wiley, Springer and the rest — the money we save would pay for all our work to be available to the whole world, with hundreds of millions of pounds left over to fund more research.

Worried about the lack of jobs in palaeontology?  Concerned that universities are reducing the number of tenure-track positions?  Disturbed by the elimination of curators and preparators from museums?  We need to cut the inefficient, profiteering publishers out of the loop.

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