Giving it both barrels at the Guardian

January 17, 2013

My new article is up at the Guardian. This time, I have taken off the Conciliatory Hat, and I’m saying it how I honestly believe it is: publishing your science behind a paywall is immoral. And the reasons we use to persuade ourselves it’s acceptable really don’t hold up.

Read Choose open access: publishing your science behind a paywall is immoral

Because for all that we rightly talk about the financial efficiencies of open access, when it comes right down to it OA is primarily a moral, or if you prefer idealogical, issue. It’s not really about saving money, though that’s a welcome side-effect. It’s about doing what’s right.

I’m expecting some kick-back on this one. Fire away; I’ll enjoy the discussion.

10 Responses to “Giving it both barrels at the Guardian

  1. some asshole Says:

    For every good article like Mike’s on OA, you can find a bad article:

    Unfortunately Mr. Gapper (@johngapper on twitter) writes for FT which requires a subscription to read its content. Therefore, you can read Mr. Gapper’s article here:

    There really is no excuse any more for opting to publish in paid journals.

    Thanks for shedding light on this Mike.

  2. You’re 80% right – there are still two reasons:

    – publishing in the journal of the palaeontological society of a country that is “underdeveloped”
    – publishing in a very prestigious journal is not necessary, but still a big career boost (idiotically)

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Heinrich argues (as many have before him): “Publishing in a very prestigious journal is not necessary, but still a big career boost.”

    And yet, I really wonder if this is true. As the Michael Eisen blog that I linked in the article says, we could well be confusing correlation with causation. Yes, people who do work judged exciting enough to get into the tabloids do often land good jobs. But what reason do we have to think that the former causes the latter? Isn’t it more likely that they share a common cause, namely that the person in question is a good scientist working on interesting problems?

    Of course what we really need is some kind of controlled study to determine this. Intuition is notoriously unreliable as a guide to this kind of question. But how could we design such an experiment?

  4. Michael Richmond Says:

    I served on a faculty search committee last year. In our case, it was certainly true that publishing in the few prestigious journals was viewed as a plus. Not a big plus, perhaps, but a plus.

    Of course, in my field (astronomy), just about every journal is not open access. Moreover, just about every journal charges $100-$150 per page for the author to publish, on top of the subscription fees we must pay to read the papers later. I guess we are all far behind you paleo-folk in coming up with a sensible system.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    It’s quite surreal to hear an astronomer thinking his field is behind palaeo! Over here, we’re all jealous of you guys because you have arXiv! In effect, then, pretty much everything is open access in your field, no?

    I didn’t know that your journals typically charge $100-$150 in page charges and subscriptions! That seems truly iniquitous. (Also: it’s as cheap to publish a nine-page paper openly with PLOS ONE as closed in one of your journals; and cheaper to publish even a one-pager with PeerJ!)

    Surely in astronomy you must be looking to dump parasitic journals altogether? My understanding is that everyone cites what’s in arXiv anyway, so they don’t contribute much to the progress of actual science — is that right? If so, then the only thing you get for $150 per page plus subscription fee is a rubber-stamp. And that you can, or soon will be able to, get elsewhere.

  6. I know for a fact, directly from people who have done it, that in several institutions in Germany one of the best ways to convince a committee that the candidate you want is the best for the job is to toss a handful of Nature/Science papers by the candidate on the table.

    sucks, hu?

  7. 220mya Says:

    I can tell you for certain that Nature/Science/PNAS papers definitely make a difference in applying for jobs (and I have experienced this from both the applicant and faculty perspective). Thats not to say that such papers are required to get a “good” job (i.e., marquis museum or research university), but they certainly help alot. And they help with tenure & promotion.

  8. Michael Richmond Says:

    It’s true that most astronomers do post their papers on arXiv at some point, either when they submit them to a journal, or when they have been accepted. The former gets the information out to the community as soon as possible, the latter prevents one from having to post a second version after changes made to the referee’s comments (and prevents one from posting a paper with a BIG mistake that the referee caught, too).

    So, yes, in practice, nearly all the papers in astronomy are open-access, because everyone can read them freely on arXiv.

    However, we continue to send our papers to journals as well, in part for the peer review, in part for the prestige, in part for the dead-tree paper copies. I’m not as well connected to the community as many, but all I’ve heard are grumbles about the cost of publishing, not cries to man the barricades and set bayonets.

    If the US federal government continues to dilly-dally, so that the NSF’s real budget for astrophysics continues to fall, the astronomical community might begin to wonder why it continues to send so many $$ to the journals. At the moment, the cost of publishing is a small fraction of the cost of graduate students and post-docs, so perhaps publishing costs are not seen as an important item.

  9. […] noted a few days ago, I recently had an article published on the Guardian site entitled Hiding your research behind a […]

  10. […] job security, and I guess granting bodies. In the comments on this blog, we’ve been told time and time and time again — by people who we like and respect — that, however much we […]

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