Is it immoral to hide your research behind a paywall?

January 25, 2013

As noted a few days ago, I recently had an article published on the Guardian site entitled Hiding your research behind a paywall is immoral. The reaction to that article was fascinating, exhilarating and distressing in fairly equal parts. Fascinating because it generated a fertile stream of 156 comments, most of them substantial. Exhilarating because of some very positive responses. And distressing because some people who I like and respect absolutely hated it.

Those people’s main objections were nicely summed up by a response piece by Chris Chambers, published a few days later on the same site: Those who publish research behind paywalls are victims not perpetrators. It’s a good, measured article, and I highly recommend it — not least because it’s apparent that while Chris thinks my tactics are all off, he makes it clear that he shares the goal of universal open access and further significant reform in scholarly communications.

So I’d like to clarify a couple of points that I didn’t make clearly enough in the original articles (but which I addressed in two separate comments on Chris’s article); and then I want to throw the floor open to see if we can hack through the more difficult issues that it raises.

A clarification

Chris wrote:

Do scientists who follow accepted publishing practices deserve to be labelled “immoral”, as Taylor claims?

The intention of my original article was not to say that the individuals who allow their work to go behind paywalls are immoral people, but that the act it itself immoral. If that feels like a fine distinction, it’s not. For a variety of pragmatic reasons, essentially moral people commit immortal acts all the time. At the trivial end of the scale, something as insignificant as not bothering to sort the recycling; at the other end, while no-one would claim dropping atomic bombs on civilian populations is an essentially moral act, many people would accept that in the context of WWII, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were justified or even necessary. (And please: no-one cite this as “Mike says publishing behind a paywall is exactly like nuking civilians”!)

So my goal in the original piece was not to castigate individuals as immoral people, but to push us all into deliberately thinking through the moral implications of our publication choices — decisions that all too many scientists still make without thought for the accessibility or otherwise of their work. I stand by my original assertion that it’s immoral to accept public funding to do research, then hide the fruits of that research from the public that paid for it. But that doesn’t mean that I am “labelling” anyone. My apologies if that distinction wasn’t clear.

To summarise the intent of my article: the decision of where to publish is a moral one. Please, all you moral people out there, make a moral choice.

The curse of  journal prestige

And so we come to the vexed subject of journal rank. First of all, it’s encouraging to see that most people seem to agree at least that the effects of journal rank are A Bad Thing — that judging scientists by what journals they have published in is at best corner cutting, if not outright dereliction. This is not controversial any more, if it ever was: the ridiculous experience of PLOS Medicine as they  negotiated (yes, negotiated) their initial impact factor tells you all you need to know about such metrics.

As Chris wrote in his article:

In many (if not most) fields, the journals in which we publish are judged to be an indicator of professional quality. […] Science is bad at being scientific: the actual quality takes second place to the perception of quality, which is so strong that journal rank creates its own biosphere.

The problem here seem to be one of wrenching an entire community out of a delusion at once. Because the things I hear over and over again are: 1. “Of course, I personally would never judge a paper by what journal it’s in, or judge a scientist by what journals her papers are in”. And 2. “I need to get my papers in glamourous journals so that people will judge me well”. Everyone is worried about being judged by the very criterion that they insist they would never judge by.

I don’t pretend to have a solution to this absurd circle. Well, I do: we should all just stop it. But I don’t have a strategy for reaching that solution. One thing that is infuriating to see is that even when the REF and the Wellcome Trust so very explicitly say “We don’t care what journal your work is in”, researchers continue to disbelieve them. I would love to hear constructive thoughts on what can be done about this.

One useful contribution would for more assessment exercises, funding bodes and recruitment programs to explicitly state that they will be assessing the quality of work, not the reputation of the place where it’s published.

Who is going to make change happen?

And so we come to another disturbing circle. Chris wrote:

[Publishing only in OA journals] amounts to sacrificing career opportunities (promotions, grants, research time) for the good of the cause. […] Beyond the considerations of self-preservation, scientists are impelled to protect and support younger researchers under their wings.

I accept that there is truth in this — at least, more than I did when I wrote the original article. (That’s largely due to an email exchange behind the scenes with someone who is welcome to identify himself or herself if he or she wishes; otherwise I’ll preserve anonymity.)

But here’s what worries me about it. I hear researchers at all stages of their careers finding reasons to keep feeding paywalls. Early career researchers say “Well, I’m just getting started, I have to establish my reputation first”. People who are running their own labs say “I have to aim for prestige, for the sake of my students”. Long-established senior figures are in most cases still sceptical of this new-fangled open access thing (and indeed of anything not printed on paper).

So where is the change going to come from?

I must say it warms my heart when I read clear declarations from young researchers. Yesterday Erin McKiernan tweeted:

I wanted to cheer. And Scott Weingart commented on my original article:

Enough idealistic students like us, and maybe something will actually change, rather than just having us all live in a self-perpetuating system which we all know is flawed but are too worried about our careers to do anything about.

These are good people. I hope with all my heart that they get the careers their principled stands deserve.

Now what?

We’re in a very strange situation now. As Scott points out, none of us wants to propagate the current situation, where where you publish counts as well as — or even more than — what you publish. Yet we conspire to keep the circle unbroken. Chris’s article says that people who publish behind paywalls are victics rather than perpetrators; but if they are victims, then who are they victims of? The very same system that they are part of. They are both victims and perpetrators.

Folks, we as an academic community are doing this to ourselves.

How can we stop it?


50 Responses to “Is it immoral to hide your research behind a paywall?”

  1. Morality, as always, is a subjective concept. You understand this, but it should help to provide a definition, a line between moral/immoral, rather than provide a pair of extremes.

  2. brembs Says:

    See an example on how top journals hype their findings from my field:
    Sadly, that’s what clever authors do. All such behavior is easily rationalized, it’s what the current system demands.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hmm, maybe we need to take a step and write Is it immoral to hype your findings?.

  4. Paul Barrett Says:

    Hi Mike,

    Apologies for the following – it’s going to be a long tedious read. As background for those that don’t know me, I say this as a tenured, mid-career researcher with experience of publishing >100 papers and of editing >500 papers (for JVP, Palaeontology, Biology Letters and other venues) and of reviewing >200. So I have some knowledge of this both as a career academic and with someone closely associated with academic publishing.

    I am in favour of OA – I think it is right that publicly funded research should be accessible. However, Mike (and other ardent supporters of OA) frequently, but probably accidentally, conflates this issue with the issue of instant access to published research. Many OA advocates not only want research to be open, but available immediately. The latter goal is not always possible for pragmatic reasons – the most pragmatic of these is cost. Researchers generally do not get enough funds from either their institutions or external grants to pay the fees necessary for Gold OA. This varies between fields and between researchers, depending on luck, nuances of funding philosophy, etc. My most productive year to date saw me involved in publishing 21 papers in a single year as either first or coauthor (usually with my students or postdocs, or some long-term collaborators). Finding the funding to publish all of these Gold OA would have been impossible (we’d be talking a substantial bill). Also, many of these would have been unsuitable in terms of length/format for some OA publications (at the time we’re talking about). However, it is possible to be fully OA at almost zero cost by posting preprints. I am all in favour of the latter, though I have to admit to not having been able to do this in full (some of my preprints are available thanks to coauthors with more time having posted them on etc.). This is something I need to work on and that I am trying to encourage in my institution. However, this means that you don’t get instant access – there is a wait of a few months to a year before this doesn’t infringe the publisher’s copyright. So it’s fully OA, but not fast. It is the most cost effective way of providing OA in the current market if you are not lucky enough to hold money to pay the fees charged for OA. Ironically, given the current government push to OA, until recently it was very difficult to obtain grants to pay for it (several of my earlier grant applications had this cost removed – my current NERC grant seems to have retained them).

    As for immorality – publishing in a journal that has a solely OA model is not immoral. We are not hiding research by publishing it! We’d be hiding it by not publishing it. Even if not possible to obtain the results of that research by instant download it would be possible to obtain almost all of it for free – it just requires more effort than clicking a mouse. The most vociferous OA advocates are generally those who spend their time searching the literature by downloading PDFs. It’s thus easily forgotten that we have libraries. Most libraries that take the relevant periodicals are in institutions and you can register to go and sit in a library for free and read as many papers as you like. The Whenever you want (at least when the library is open! Librarians have lives too). The research is therefore accessible for free -its open. It just takes effort, like almost anything else. So access is possible for those willing to get it. Yes, some people don’t live near libraries – I sympathise – but this is was photocopiers and postal services are for. Most institutional libraries do offer this as a service (though I admit you’d pay for photocopying). Also, you could contact the authors directly to ask for a reprint or PDF. Most authors are narcissistic enough to want others to read and cite their research and will happily provide and share the information. This is zero cost to the enquirer (and easy – everyone now has email – used to do this by post when I were a lad). When I did my PhD in the mid 1990s very few articles were available as pdfs. I had to go to libraries. A lot. I like libraries, though these days I generally download most of the articles I read (though my library website). The OA community needs to realise that they are conflating a need for simply wanting a paper now, whenever they want, is not the same as making sure papers are available for free to those that pay for it. There are other traditional routes to sharing this information for free, as well as the preprint model I mention earlier. There has been a definite shift in what we regard as scholarly skills, from being able to track a paper down in a library to assuming it doesn’t exist if it doesn’t appear in the first 10 hits of a Google search. I find when I referee papers by younger researchers they have a genuinely reduced awareness of the older literature as a result of this. In terms of the UK community – anyone could read all publicly-funded research for free if they took the time to register with a university library or write to the people who’s research they want to read.

    Is it moral to parasitize OA journals that give waivers? Very few (if any – I have yet to meet someone who’s paid) palaeontologists pay the fees at PLoS One – they parasitize the biomedical workers that do pay. Hardly a moral choice to slipstream other people who pay for their papers? Although I have to admit to being a parasite in this way, I at east reduce the parasite load by deciding not to try and get all of my research published in this way. Acta Pal. Polonica is paid for by the Polish taxpayer – are people from other countries who pay no fees to the journal giving the Polish taxpayer something they really value? If we asked the man or woman on the Warsaw tram what they thought about this, they might resent some of their money paying for a journal that only a small proportion of the population is interested in. If throwing terms like immoral around you have to make sure that your own practices are whiter than white first. Parasitism is not moral. What you’re really after is a version of Gold OA where nobody pays, which isn’t economically feasible.

    Regarding journal rankings – this is a consequence of history, prestige and perception. I don’t see an easy solution to what is a genuine issue. Measuring the quality of a paper is equally intangible. Who says what is good or not? Judgements change through time, with ideas that were once ground-breaking proved wrong or speculative ideas widely dismissed becoming dogma. High numbers of citations can reflect people saying a paper is bonkers rather than brilliant. There are adjustments that have to be made for the half-life of a paper, the size of the field (who decides on that?), etc. ‘Quality’ is a subjective measure, however you decide to measure it and I don’t think there will ever be a simple universally agreed standard for this. A balance needs to be struck between pragmatism and idealism. It’s worth bearing in mind that there might be a real ‘quality’ filter in some prestigious journals. I am many of my colleagues will admit to giving tougher reviews to such papers than those in specialist journals as it’s felt that to ‘deserve’ to be there they should be really good, whereas some leniency comes in with lower-ranking journals.

    Early career scientists are no more at risk now than I was when a newly minted PhD student. The job market sucked then too – science is consistently underfunded and there are only a limited number of jobs. Encouraging people to avoid ‘prestigious’ journals in favour of only OA will have a tangible effect on the chances of them getting hired, because of the embedded perceptions of what journal rankings mean and also because measuring candidates is genuinely difficult when you haven’t already seen their track record, impact of their careers, and the impressions they make on their peers. Interview committees in my experience first assess if the candidate has the necessary skills and qualifications for the job. If they pass this, the available pool is judged on which candidates have the clearest established track record and greatest future potential. We can only measure this by seeing the ambition of where their work has been published so far and getting an idea of their drive, motivation and competencies through interviews and references. There’s no quantifiable part to this. A principled stand for OA is likely to result in a publications list that looks lack-lustre in comparison with someone with no such compunction. It is used as one criterion in assessing excellence along with many other things. It’s immoral in my view to encourage early career researchers to avoid journals that are regarded as at the top of their fields (especially given my earlier rant about what access to publications actually entails other than instant downloads).

  5. Hi Mike,

    [For the benefit of those who have no idea of who I am or where I am coming from, I am going to follow Paul Barrett’s lead & point out that I am an early-career researcher with 6 years postdoctoral experience and >60 published papers who has recently successfully negotiated the very tough job market & found a permanent academic position. I am definitely pro-OA – I am an academic editor at PLOS ONE, for example, editing >40 submissions there in the last 12 months. Mike invited me to comment here because I have been one of the most vociferous public critics of his Guardian article].

    I actually really don’t feel like I need to say a lot. Chris Chambers already summed up my feelings almost perfectly in his absolutely excellent response to your article. I do however want to expand on one point. In your article you suggested that choosing to publish all your work OA rather than attempting to get papers accepted by high-profile journals non-OA such as Nature, Science, PNAS and the like would not damage your career. This statement made me very angry, because as pretty much any postdoc or tenured researcher in the UK (and most of the EU; I am not going to speak for the USA) knows, this is wrong. Flat wrong. In fact, it’s so wrong that I view it as dangerous to the careers of young scientists, and unless it is being made from a position of genuine ignorance as to the real situation in the academic job market then to me this statement looks immoral and even has the reek of disinformation for political reasons.

    In your article you linked to a blog by Michael Eisen in which he claims that high-impact publications are not necessary to make a career in science. However, in the same article he writes:

    Before I explain, I should note that my comments will deal exclusively with science in the United States. We have, mercifully, not followed the incredibly misguided policies used in many European and Asian countries which use formula that explicitly include impact factor to allocate jobs and money.

    It is simply a statement of fact that university hiring committees look at the journals in which applicants have published as a way to determine shortlists, favouring high-impact journals or journals of perceived high quality with strong reputations and strongly favouring interdisciplinary journals such as Nature and Science. I’ve seen several times that universities explicitly ask applicants to supply the impact factors for every single publication on their CV. This may not be an ideal situation, but it is understandable because for an average position in palaeontology a department might get 50–100 applications. For a more general job in Earth Sciences there could be 200 or more applicants. How can they possibly begin to actually read and assess the work of all of these applicants given that academics have no time to start with?

    I have a list of 10 people who I know got permanent research-orientated university positions in palaeontology in the UK last year (I can’t make this public because some have not been made public by the hired individuals themselves yet, but the number was announced at the Palass meeting in Dublin so this is relatively widespread knowledge). That’s an amazingly large number for one year in the UK, and the bump in hires is because of the REF, which explicitly says impact factor is not important. However, 9 out of those 10 had at least one paper in Nature, Science or PNAS, 7 had at least paper in Nature or Science, and most had more than one paper in these journals. The REF might claim not to care about impact factors and journal reputation, but it is incontrovertible that British universities do when they hire people. Most people inside UK universities that I have talked to say that journal reputation is being considered by departments when preparing their REF submissions, and this has been documented by various articles in The Guardian and THS. This might change over the next few years, but by telling students that publishing OA has no potential negative consequences for their careers you are gambling with their careers and livelihoods.

    Ultimately, students should be encouraged to publish OA where possible, but pragmatically they also need to publish in high-impact journals such as Nature, Science, PNAS, Proceedings B and so on when the opportunity arises. As supervisors and mentors we have a moral obligation to try and help our students build successful careers in an incredibly competitive field. They are the future of our science. As Chris Chambers said in his article: “it is futile to expect scientists to act like true believers, sacrificing their own livelihoods – and those of their protégés – on the altar of open access.

  6. Heteromeles Says:

    I’m looking at this as a former academic who still does a lot of environmental work, so my level of sympathy is fairly low. Personally, I’m beginning to love the horrified looks I get when tell researchers I performed some bit of research and gave it away, because (shock, horror) it *needed* to be done, funding or not.

    I suspect that two converging waves will change the way articles are published, and that the change will appear very sudden, although it will take years to build up.

    The first part is that scientists don’t physically need the publishers any more. Any group of scientists can get together, form a review committee, hire a editor, and publish a high quality journal, online or in paper. When you pay to publish, you’re paying for reputation, little else, and some large companies are profiteering off your quest for prestige. This a political issue, not a physical issue, when you are paying for prestige rather than physical distribution. While I’m the last to deny that political problems are easy to solve, I do know that they can get solved very quickly when the pressures become great enough.

    The second part is that academic scientists really do have to be concerned about irrelevancy. Many skills that used to require a highly trained, paid researcher can now be performed by volunteers or very cheaply. This is something I do, because in the conservation arena I work in, some work has to be done, whether anyone is willing to pay for it or not.

    Irrelevancy matters. If your work is hidden behind a paywall to increase its prestige, your work can easily become irrelevant if no one cares to pay to read it. It’s also getting cheaper and cheaper for the rest of us not to care, because we can either work around the lack or find the information elsewhere. In this regard, scientists are no different than musicians or writers whose work is streamed free on the internet, except that most writers or musicians are trying to make a living from their art, while scientists are using a very old-fashioned patronage model to pay their way.

    If and when scientists decide that relevancy is an important part of prestige, it will be very easy to find alternative ways to get your work out and get it recognized by your peers. Those mechanisms exist already. That’s why I think that, if paywalls come down (a political problem) they will crumble rapidly.

  7. David Marjanović Says:

    Interesting. When I read the bit about high-IF publications not being necessary for a career, I thought that was extrapolated from the UK situation, with the US being much tougher and France being worse still; looks like I was wrong. I apologise for having spread this misinformation for years.

    Note to people who don’t know me: this is not sarcasm. I’m at the beginning of my career (this is my first postdoc period), I’ve never lived in the UK, I’ve never applied for a job or other position there, and I’ve only once submitted a paper to a journal based there.

    To apply for positions in France, I was told to put the IF of each of my publications into my CV, and the French university & museum system explicitly requires this (the IFs of your top or most recent [I forgot] 3 publications are required fields in the web form). On the other hand, I was told by someone else not to do this for other places because it makes it look like I’m trying too hard.


    My coauthor and I plan to submit one of the manuscripts we’re working on to PLoS Biology if we end up saying enough about heterochrony in it; if not, or if PLoS Biology rejects it, we’ll submit it to PLoS ONE. Idealism is a factor in this, but so is the fact that my grant (Humboldt Foundation!) is high enough that I can easily afford the page charges (and wouldn’t need the waiver that PLoS ONE offers). The third factor is that my coauthor is fine with the stupid numbered references that the PLoS journals require, saying it’s very little work to number one’s references. The fourth one, last but not least, is the impact factor: PLoS Biology had one of almost 13 in 2009, surpassing the highest I’ve ever had (Systematic Biology had 10 in 2006 or 2007; my paper came out in 2007), and PLoS ONE still has about 4, which is around 4 times as high as most journals in our field.


    Libraries only go so far. In Austria, France and Germany, nobody seems to have access to the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, evidently because it’s so stupidly expensive that institutions decide they simply can’t afford it. (…The funding for scientific libraries is also stupidly low, but that’s another story.)


    The ideal would be APP-style journals, but global ones, not ones associated with something as silly as a country. Of course, that’s not gonna happen anytime soon.

  8. Andy Farke Says:

    I figured this is a good point to jump in behind the comments from Richard and Paul. In the interests of full disclosure, I am an early-career researcher nearly five years into a permanent position as curator at a small paleontological museum. I am also an open access/open science advocate, serving as a volunteer editor for PLOS ONE and PeerJ as well as blogging on the PLOS network of blogs. I have published a number of papers in OA and non-OA venues. In terms of publishing pressures, I am exceptionally fortunate in my current position. There is no pressure from my institution to publish in journals with ever-higher impact factors, and we can generally get funding for most things we want to do (often via private donors). That said, we do not have many of the resources (facilities, staff, or library) of an NHM or USNM or even the cash-strapped FMNH. All opinions here are my own.

    First, note that I fall into the “make it all OA, but a short embargo is OK” category. Mike and I would probably disagree on that point, but I accept that there are pragmatic reasons to allow this. Specifically, if a publisher does not charge OA fees, I do not mind them implementing a short (~6 month) embargo to recoup costs via subscriptions. If they’ll give me eventual OA for free, I do not begrudge them making ends meet by selling immediate access at a _reasonable_ price ($37/pdf is not reasonable, btw).

    Second, I would like to see a culture in paleontology where posting preprints is just something we do as part of our research protocol. Yes, it adds a few minutes of extra work (generally minimal–no more than an hour of time, in my experience), but it is worth it. We paleontologists have adapted to many additions in the research process over the years–such as repositing specimens and fieldnotes properly, doing phylogenetic analyses before making evolutionary statements, etc. Surely we can post preprints as part of doing science right (and encourage journals that don’t explicitly allow preprints to do so ASAP).

    I would like to specifically address Paul’s statement on usage of libraries and other alternatives to instant open access. I sympathize and agree in principle (Google has indeed made many folks lazy), but must inject my own perspective on the issue. I hear the call of “Just use ILL” or “Just write the author” again and again, almost always from folks who rarely have to do this. As a bit of background, my institution has a pretty good reprint library plus access to JSTOR, and my colleagues and I have personal subscriptions to Nature, Science, JVP, J Paleo, etc. However, this covers only a portion of the literature (no Palaeontology, no J Sys Palaeo, no Naturwissenschaften, no PNAS, no Cretaceous Research, no PPP, no Proc B, etc.). I spend a fair bit of time writing and waiting for reprints (assuming the authors are alive or accessible; for some reason Charles Sternberg doesn’t answer my emails). I get about a 90-95% success rate; paleontologists are usually good about responding, those in other fields are not always so kind (a real problem when trying to do integrative work). I will also trundle off to the local university library on occasion, or contact a friend or colleague who has a paper. So, the end result is that I can cobble together most of the papers I need. But, it slows me down. This is not something that affects just me, however. It means it might take an extra few days to finish a review for a journal (if I want to be thorough and fair to authors and editors), or a few more days to get a manuscript back to a colleague, or an extra few weeks to write that big review chapter, or that I just won’t ever bother reading a paper that looks somewhat interesting from the abstract but isn’t immediately available via a link. In a few cases I’ve even forked over the cash to buy a PDF, if there was a particularly pressing deadline and the author was unresponsive or local libraries didn’t carry the journal. The frustrating thing here is that it doesn’t have to be this way–the stuff is digitized, just not quickly accessible in an affordable fashion to those outside major institutions. Please don’t take this as whining about my situation–I have many advantages in my position (complete freedom of research, kick-ass collection, town with many colleagues nearby, new research lab on the way in a few months), but I just wanted to make more concrete what limited library access is like in this day and age. I suspect many paleontologists overestimate the library resources available to their colleagues. [as an aside, I grew up with ILL and reprint requests–I have a very treasured letter from John Ostrom sent when I was about 12 years old, complete with photocopy of his latest paper on Triceratops. That meant a lot to a kid who grew up in a rural area with the nearest university library 45 miles away. Sadly, ILL is no longer free in many places, and becoming less cheap all of the time, at least in the US]

    Re: PLOS ONE fee waivers, I have always paid at least partial page charges (either out of a research slush fund or from my own pockets). Perhaps I am in a minority, but I view this as a contribution to the greater good. If I can afford to drop $5 on a beer at SVP, I can afford to put aside a little money for OA.

    I also agree with those commenters (including Paul and Richard) who have stated that it is not necessarily in a young researcher’s best interest to pursue OA-only venues. As has been stated succinctly by others, some funding agencies and universities in some countries flat-out look at journals in deciding who to hire and fire. That said, young investigators _can_ at least push their work to more OA-friendly venues. This may not necessarily mean immediate, gold OA (as the issue is usually presented), but perhaps favoring those high-profile publications that allow OA after a short embargo (e.g., favoring PNAS over Nature). This is an acceptable compromise in my book. That said, it is also up to senior researchers to help change the climate.

  9. Richard has said almost exactly what I wanted to say – but has put it far better than I could really. I am a PhD student, and I am working towards a career in academia. I am very much in favour of OA, but I also agree entirely with Richard’s comment:

    “Ultimately, students should be encouraged to publish OA where possible, but pragmatically they also need to publish in high-impact journals such as Nature, Science, PNAS, Proceedings B and so on when the opportunity arises.”

    If my plans for my PhD work out (I’m developing a new method for extracting atmospheric data from satellite images) I may, possibly, have something that might be Science or Nature worthy. Given how much attention hiring committees seem to pay to papers in journals like Science and Nature, and also the top journals in my field (such as Remote Sensing of Environment) – I would be very foolish not to publish in them. Yes, I know PLOS One has a higher impact factor than Remote Sensing of Environment (at least it did last time I checked), but people in my field will respect RSE as a high-ranked place for good remote-sensing papers, and they won’t think that for PLOS One. Given that this is likely to significantly affect whether I’ll get a job or not – and therefore (and I don’t think I’m unusual in this) when my wife and I will be able to afford to buy a house, when we will be able to afford for her to take time off to have children etc. Would one Science/Nature paper make a huge amount of difference? Well, I don’t know – maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t – but should I choose not to publish one and risk it? Unfortunately (and I really mean that, unfortunately) not.

  10. Full disclosure; government paleontologist (Utah , state gov.)and old fart with 75 pubs ect. ect. Previous life after Ph. D. in not profit, suspect organization (Dinamation Int’l Society), based in a small town in western Colorado. Nearest dinosaur library, other than mine, 2.5 hr drive to Dinosaur Nat. Monument and nearest full service research library 5 hour drive away. Interlibrary loan (usually as thermal FAXes) available from small college library 20 min. away that did get Science & Nature.

    Most of my career has been hamstrung in the pursuit of the literature as I tried to conduct research on the truly fabulous geology and paleontology in my backyard. As the only Ph. D. paleontologist for over 200 miles (300 km) in any direction for many years I was buried in an embarrassment of fossil and geological riches. At work, I practically had armed guards on my phone and to any visiting scientist I must have seemed like someone stranded on a desert island. The advent of the internet was way to slow and I was always a few years behind the latest technology. Pdfs arrived after I took this job and arrived in the big city. Interesting to speculate, where I would be today, given better access to published research in a more mainstream job during the first decade of my professional career.

    Thus, I have strong views on the accessability of published research. As a government scientist, I really do believe my job is to disseminate my research as widely to the public as possible. I’m not judged on impact factor relative to advancement, but a paper in Nature will bring some recognition from those upstairs, but most have no clue. Therefore I try and get my stuff published open access. Unfortunately the state will not pay to get research published as we have had in house publications for decades and now all research coming out of here is open access (even our geological maps with GIS databases).

    And finally thanks to Pdfs, the internet, and being a somewhat established old fart in this profession. I am generally aware of most significant research as it is published and only occassionally have to beg. I feel for all of you that are not as well positioned in the pipeline for the research in your area of interest, but I cannot see things progressing further toward the democratization of knowledge. The publishing ecosystem is in a state of flux and it will be interesting and I believe, in the final analysis, positive, when everything shakes out.

  11. I largely echo the sentiments of Andy Farke on this (and those of many others here). A couple of thoughts that I would like to see weighed in on here by my peers (most of whom have published a lot more than me. Seriously I need to get my act together):


    Some journals now offer OA options. For example, the OA fee for PNAS is quite reasonable, and consider that a reasonable compromise (i.e. publish in PNAS, pay for the immediate OA). However, it is still “feeding the beast”. Most of the journals with an OA option still make most of their revenue from pay wall structures. I feel less torn about those that have an embargo period but ultimately provide all articles as OA (as Andy discussed), but some are all or nothing. Are we ignoring our duties as scientists when we go to such venues, even if we pay OA costs?


    Just as a thought experiment: might we also make the argument that we, as professional scientists, are derelict in our duties when publishing ‘popular’ science articles and books, which are effectively behind pay walls as well (readers must buy the issues, the books, or a subscription)?

  12. I don’t have much to add to the excellent points by Chris Chambers, Paul and Richard and Andy and others above or in the reply to Mike’s original post that got people upset, and will try to keep my comments brief (OK, I failed), but I’ve been too quiet (mostly) due to other pressing demands on my time.

    I’m a tenured professor in the UK and have published ~70 papers in a diversity of journals in the fields of biomechanics and evolution/palaeontology. More about that here, with free pdfs of almost everything (which I think every scientist can and should do; I’ve been doing so since ~2001):

    I’ve also trained >20 people at the PhD/postdoc level, detailed here if you want that kind of context:

    I am an assoc editor of the fully OA journal PeerJ, the green OA journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B (widely considered a prestigious journal, handling papers now that 10 yrs ago would have made it into Nature– a different story!), and the tiny OA journal ISRN Evol Biol. I used to be an Elsevier assoc editor at J Theor Biol but gave that up in 2012 out of need for a change and desire to move away from publishing models I did not favour as much.

    Since ~2001, I’ve moved gradually into publishing more and more in Green/Gold OA journals. But I still publish in other journals; I have quite a few papers in Nature, Science, etc. These journals are harder to get into than ever, so a lot of my work that might have gone there 10 yrs ago now goes into OA journals of various kinds, or other journals. It is a complex decision-making process that I can’t succinctly summarize here. This is the way I think most people end up doing it — by their own choice and criteria (and current feasibilities)– rather than changing their mind because they have been called immoral, which I think will lead to them just tuning out and dismissing such charges as naive, with a strong risk of inadvertently harming the OA movement. There is no black/white morality here; it is a messy playing field, especially as different fields/career paths will have different values, pressures, and practices.

    In my experience in 2 quite different fields, OA has grown in popularity over the last 10 yrs– quite swiftly, as cultural changes go. I feel this is still a generational issue that is likely to take 10+ years to fully resolve, but OA is going to become more and more common, judging from the current trajectory and *especially* shifting policy, which is what most powerfully guides what academic scientists actually do. However, at conferences or other social occasions, except for sometimes the vocal minority, OA is not a pressing issue that is on everyone’s tongues. Funding, jobs, and the normal stresses of academia are the practical issues (aside from the truly scientific) that are the major topics of beertime discussion. I think it is important for OA advocates to keep in mind that this is still a minority movement, although it is growing healthily.

    A danger that worries me is that charismatic, passionate, vocal and principled but sometimes poorly informed non-academic researchers in the OA movement will convince those determined to follow a traditional academic career route (which I think everyone acknowledges is diminishing relative to other routes, although I’d love to see the best, latest statistics on this) to put their careers at risk in the name of OA. While it’s essential to have non-traditional researchers as part of the OA movement, as it is in any other dynamic in science, they need to be sensitive to career differences and pressures when giving advice that they are trying to push on others on paths different to their own career path. My job is to give advice to people that currently are on the traditional academic path (some do change, but we have a high rate of people from our lab that do stay on that path)

    As a mentor of researchers, I agree with so many of the points made above about the pressures on young researchers to “aim high” for journals widely considered prestigious. Indeed, from my many discussions with people sitting on grant panels and fellowship committees as well as sitting on job interview panels myself, this is still the case in the UK/EU and I’d argue it is still very similar in the USA (where I did my PhD and postdoc; I’m originally American).

    For example: I’ve been told, straight-faced, by numerous panel members that applicants for major postdoctoral fellowships who do not have 1+ Nature/Science/Cell/whatever paper(s) on their CV have their applications go in the bin, end of story. And I tell people this story when they come to me for advice on where to publish their best work or where to go for funding– if they don’t have some high profile papers, unless they are amazing in some other way, I tell them not to waste their time applying for major fellowships and seek other routes (e.g. as a named postdoc on a grant app). Now I am not saying that the status quo is right or wrong, it just is the way the culture is right now. But I do feel it is shifting away from that, gradually. Evaluation of quality of researchers is, as Paul notes above, incredibly subjective– and probably always will be, because we are human and subjective, and many things are intangible despite our urge to quantify and classify. But given the pressures to evaluate quickly that Paul notes, we need “rules of thumb” and right now high profile papers is one of them, very very commonly throughout many fields of science.

    Hence I echo the comments above that, flat out, in many fields right now, publishing in less prestigious journals by choice would be terrible advice for a young researcher’s career. I think the accusations of immorality being slung around casually do not help. There is a reality that people work in, and it is a cultural reality driven both by tradition and by policy, and these things change slowly. It is the job of senior academics like me to be aware of the current milieu and give what we feel is the best advice to those currently slogging it out in the intense competition of that milieu. And it is also our job to listen to other voices in the broader community, because it is not just academics that drive cultural trends that influence academics (and society).

    While we need to keep the pressure on if we want more OA, we need to work together on that. Divisiveness will not forge a way forward. The struggle should continue, traditional academics and all others together, against predatory publishing, speaking with and being aware of government/other policy, working with OA journals, leading by example where one can, and giving sound advice to current young researchers that is based on current realities– of course, keeping current trends in mind, too.

    That’s enough of a rant for now; gotta go. Nice to see an interesting discussion here with many good points by all.

  13. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    Paul Barrett’s view of libraries’ usefulness is no longer true in at least some parts of the US. When I was in highschool, my dad would take me to the University of Washington’s natural history library (the only place in the state that has most paleo journals) and we’d photocopy thousands of pages. Since then, they’ve stopped subscribing to most paleo journals in physical form, and now only allow students to log in to their computers to read the digital versions. Even if they do have the physical journal, you can now only pay by putting cash on a proprietary card and using that in the copiers.

  14. Andy Farke Says:

    @Mickey – is it possible for a casual visitor to print or copy the electronic journals? Or are they only allowed to view them on the terminal? Can a non-university visitor even log in to the terminals?

  15. Mike Taylor Says:

    WOW, folks, amazing comments on here. Many thanks to you all for thoughtful, detailed contributions. I regret not having time to reply properly tonight — a combination of day-job gone crazy and folk club have taken priority. But the conversation is going fine without me, so no damage done :-)

    Keep ’em coming!

  16. […] A very informative post with many good comments, but we liked this comment the most. […]

  17. Says:

    “As a mentor of researchers, I agree with so many of the points made above about the pressures on young researchers to “aim high” for journals widely considered prestigious. Indeed, from my many discussions with people sitting on grant panels and fellowship committees as well as sitting on job interview panels myself, this is still the case in the UK/EU and I’d argue it is still very similar in the USA (where I did my PhD and postdoc; I’m originally American).

    For example: I’ve been told, straight-faced, by numerous panel members that applicants for major postdoctoral fellowships who do not have 1+ Nature/Science/Cell/whatever paper(s) on their CV have their applications go in the bin, end of story. And I tell people this story when they come to me for advice on where to publish their best work or where to go for funding– if they don’t have some high profile papers, unless they are amazing in some other way, I tell them not to waste their time applying for major fellowships and seek other routes (e.g. as a named postdoc on a grant app). ”

    Academia, at present, is controlled by old farts, or the members of the boomer generation. These old farts set the rules, decide who gets the share of the pie, and essentially the largest part of the pie goes to them. For example, the boomer generation did not have to do five post-docs to get faculty position, and only reason young people have to do so is because the boomers sit in the committees, and boomers set the rules about who gets the grant and who does not. They feel very powerful at present, and much of the power comes from their numerical superiority.

    However, academics of boomer generation are going to fight two far stronger forces in coming years
    [check the rest of the response here]

  18. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    Andy- As I recall, you need to use your UW login to even use the computers, so not even an alumnus like me can do it.

  19. LeeB Says:

    It appears that the changes in access to journals in libraries may be worldwide.
    The same kind of thing that Mickey Mortimer mentions has also happened in N.Z over the last few decades.
    The local university library went from getting paper journals that anyone could walk into the library and read (and copy) to getting a wider range of electronic journals that only current members of the university could access.
    If anyone else wants access to these they would have to pay the university library a large fee annually to become a member.

    And the local museum used to have it’s journals on stacks that people could browse; it has now shifted its journals into a room where the public do not have access; you have to know what article you wish to access and fill in a paper form to request it, a librarian then goes and retrieves it for you.

    Bring on open access.


  20. some asshole Says:

    A further problem in the digital age mentioned by Mickey – many institutions rely on their limited digital access to journals and foolish administrators have made poorly informed decisions to throw away their physical journal collections because they perceive it as being available online for students, not realizing that most university subs only cover the past decade or decade in a half, therefore this information is regrettably locked down.

    I think being able to mail PDFs as an author or post on your own preprints is nice, but it is a half solution. Who will continue to curate and make your work available when you’re dead?

  21. […] is a lively discussion going on right now in various forums on the incentives for scientists to publish their work in this venue or […]

  22. Michael Richmond Says: writes:

    “For example, the boomer generation did not have to do five post-docs to get faculty position, and only reason young people have to do so is because the boomers sit in the committees, and boomers set the rules about who gets the grant and who does not.”

    Actually, one of the reasons that young people have to do five post-docs is because the current generation of people in academic positions is creating many new Ph.D. scientists, as John of the Freezers indicates; yet the number of academic positions is not rising nearly as fast.

    Until the young people can figure out how to double the number of academic positions in their fields, they will continue to settle for post-doctoral position after post-doctoral position, as they wait for their competition to give up and leave the job pool.

  23. Can somebody please call Everybody here is do sure that you have to have a Science, Nature or Cell paper to get a fellowship/job/tenure because “somebody told them so”. So scientific of y’all. How about somebody look at some actual data? I have. I will post more details on my blog when I get a moment, but the basic things I have found are:

    1) I looked at new hires in the top 10 biology departments in the US. All had recent assistant professor hires who had not published Science, Nature or Cell papers prior to getting their jobs. A fair number of new hires published their postdoctoral work in OA journals.

    2) I looked at recent awardees of several major postdoctoral fellowship programs, and again, while there were certainly many people with SNC papers, in all cases there were exceptions.

    3) I looked at two prominent young investigator awards, and, surprise surprise, there were a fair number of awardees without glamour mag publications (including one whose work was published in PLoS ONE).

    So let’s cut out the “somebody told me” crap. Whether people said it or not, it’s simply not true. Is there a correlation between getting jobs and fellowships and SNC publications? Yes. Of course. Because, first of all, everybody believes it’s essential and works hard to get their papers there. And the same basic criteria for cutting edge science are used by the editors of these journals as are used in hiring/fellowship decisions. So there would be a correlation even if there were no causal relationship.

    Do I think it helps to have glamour mag publications if all else is equal? Yes. It probably does a little.

    But anyone who says you HAVE to have a glamour mag publication to succeed in science is completely full of shit.

  24. MRR Says:

    So I’m a tenured Professor in Switzerland; I have also held a tenured position in France before.

    First, I got my present position without any paper of my own in a big journal. At the time (mid-2000s) I did get some grant reviews which specifically noted my presence as 40th or so among 60 or so in a Nature genome paper.

    Second, my experience in hiring committees (mostly in Switzerland) is that big journals are a plus to notice an application, but far from the only nor the determining factor. Note that usually when you hire someone you want to be very careful, chose well, for it can have very large consequences for your department. Also, you try to fill the committee with people who know the field, thus know many of the applicants at least by reputation (e.g., saw them talk, reviewed their papers, etc.).

    But, third, my experience is that these big journals can be very relevant to obtaining certain types of funding. The situation here is very different. Funding is not a long term commitment, but in many cases you want to take a low risk strategy which maximizes your chances of being acknowledged in a shiny sexy paper in a big journal with nice press releases.

    Now the problem is that this funding plays an important role in your career progression, directly as a criterion in the search committees, and indirectly ’cause you need money to do science.

    The big papers can also play a role in other decisions which will indirectly impact your chances of getting a good job, such as conference invitations and the like.

    So what do I do? First, I try to help OA by editing at PLOS One, accepting to review for OA journals in priority, etc. I boycott Elsevier but not all non-OA journals, because I still want to support some important society or community journals. Second, I try to publish only OA. But the decision on the place to submit is always a dialogue with my students and postdocs. If they insisted to submit to a more prestigious OA venue, I would probably yield: their careers are on the line, not mine. Luckily, I don’t perform much prestigious research anyway. ;-)

  25. Says:

    “But, third, my experience is that these big journals can be very relevant to obtaining certain types of funding. The situation here is very different. Funding is not a long term commitment, but in many cases you want to take a low risk strategy which maximizes your chances of being acknowledged in a shiny sexy paper in a big journal with nice press releases.”

    Funding is a function of the collective opinions of members of grant panel. Once half or even 1/3rd of grant panel has researchers catching open-access bug, the trend will change and I do not think we are far away from that point. We saw the change in mindset among physicists in 90s. When I was a PhD student in 90s, I had to work very hard to convince my professor to post our paper at arxiv.

  26. I don’t think anyone is truly claiming that if you do not have a high-profile/impact publication or two, you will not “succeed”. The difference of opinion such as that of Michael Eisen above is more about how much it will boost your odds; nothing, a little, or a lot. That will vary depending on the field, the cohort of competitors, random factors, etc. It’s all a probability game, and I don’t think anyone is arguing that the only factor that matters is high-profile papers, but a lot of people would agree it can help (a little maybe, a lot maybe; it depends).

    I don’t think anyone can look at a CV and predict precisely what level of “success” (whatever the metric of that is) a person will have in the future. Reputation, likeability, teaching experience, who left the room at a critical moment during the committee meeting to use the bathroom and thus didn’t speak up… these things all matter.

    This is not a simple issue, and I doubt anyone knows the real answer (Eisen provides some anecdotes; I don’t know how representative they are of the global scientific community). When advising someone on a course of action about publications, one generally takes all the case-specific evidence into account to tailor that advice to the person and the current milieu. Every supervisor is probably going to give rather different advice based on how they weigh all the evidence; we’re like stock market analysts (at best?).

    Wise, independent students won’t take a course of action just based on 1 person’s opinion, and will look into things themselves, just like a wise stock investor gets to know the stock market ins and outs… but how many students do this? I don’t know, but good supervisors will give advice and push their students to think for themselves, too, although there is only so much time in one day so sometimes you have to rely on rules of thumb or just trust people.

  27. Steve Brusatte Says:

    This is a very interesting discussion, and one that is very relevant for all of us early career researchers. Cheers to Mike for another provocative and passionate post, and to everyone for the stream of comments. It’s a bit unusual for me to chime into a blog discussion, and Richard, Paul, Andy, and John have already made many excellent points that I can only agree with enthusiastically. But there are a few things I’d like to add, given that I’ve recently been through the job search gauntlet in both the US and the UK.

    I am one of the 10 new UK paleontology hires that Richard mentions. I was extremely fortunate to land a job in Edinburgh, which I’ll start next week. For the past two years I applied furiously for just about every permanent geology, biology, or paleontology position in the US and the UK (I am American, did my PhD in the US, but did my Master’s in Britain, and my wife is British). I won’t say how many applications I put in, but let’s just say that my success rate was in the very, very low single digits.

    It’s bad out there. Science funding is getting cut left and right. There is less grant money and many universities (at least in the US) are slashing faculty, or at least the types of positions that paleontologists can apply for. And there are far too many graduate students left to fight over the remaining scraps. These are all bigger problems that can be debated another day, but for the time being, this means that the competition for jobs (and grants) is intense.

    Publishing in high-impact but not open-access (or at least Gold OA) journals like Science, Nature, and PNAS is a huge feather in the cap of a young researcher, and one of many things that can set them apart in the eyes of a hiring committee that is trying to make sense of what are often hundreds of applications for the same job. This is especially true of many recent jobs in the UK, like my new position, which is a university-wide fellowship and not a paleontology-specific lectureship. In my case, I interviewed with a whole range of other earth scientists, studying everything from volcanology to planetary geology. I know that my publication record helped me tremendously.

    The US system is a bit different. I interviewed for some jobs in the US and my publication record did seem to be less important, at least compared to the UK interviews I went through. But it’s still important in the US. I had many folks on hiring committees tell me that they specifically called me in for an interview, or put me on a long short list, because I had a few high-impact papers. This is why Michael Eisen’s comments are so concerning to me. This isn’t just “somebody told me” hearsay. This is the reality of what job applicants are going through right now, on the ground, in the real world. Nobody is saying that you MUST have a Science or Nature paper to get a job in the US, but just that it greatly helps. You’re setting up a straw man by arguing that “you don’t need to have a Science or Nature paper to get a job.” We’re talking probabilities, not certainties. And when there are hundreds of people competing for a single job (or grant), and we have families relying on us, and mortgages and debts to pay, we want to up our probabilities.

    I have published quite a bit in OA journals and am doing so much more often now. I review papers constantly for PLoS ONE and Acta Pal Polonica, and other OA journals. I love open access and believe strongly, as do Mike and most people commenting, that scientific research should be easily accessible and research funded by taxpayer money should be freely available. And I can see the obvious growth of OA journals over the past half decade. This is where science is going, and that’s a good thing. But there will be bumps in the road, and it won’t happen overnight. And that’s why it is so dangerous to make younger researchers feel “immoral” for submitting papers to Nature or Science or PNAS. We don’t yet live in the ideal academic world that many of us long for, so many students will get left behind if they take the pro-OA/anti-paywall movement to the extreme, and become “true believers” who are unwilling to even try publishing in the most prestigious journals.

    Mike, you’re a friend of mine and somebody I really like and respect, so I don’t say this lightly. I admire all you have done for the open access movement. You’ve become the voice of something important. But when it comes to the realities of young researchers trying to make it in academia, I don’t think you really know what it’s like. You haven’t had to fight for an academic position. You don’t work in academia. It’s a messy world out there and we have to find a way to be both idealistic and pragmatic, without sacrificing the careers of young researchers that have already given so much—often going into debt, putting their personal lives on hold, moving every few years, putting incredible strain on their families—in the chase for that elusive academic job.

    Cheers again to Mike and everyone for this very enjoyable conversation.

  28. Says:

    PLOS is a well-managed journal that brought open-access to the biological community. On the other hand, PLOS CEO worked for seven years at a high position of Golden West bank, which later merged with failed bank Wachovia. Those seven years happen to be 2000-2007, the biggest period of subprime business.

    If you do not know anything about Golden West, it and IndyMac were the worst of the worst in subprime lending, and had very big roles in wrecking the US economy. Both bank failed, and had to be bailed out and merged with other big banks to hide their losses and unethical lending.

    Most of you scientists do not have research funds, because the US and UK governments bailed out bankers in 2008 and then decided to cut down research funding to ‘reduce deficit’. If you scientists want to be ignorant about the outside world and their impact on science budget, that is fine. If you consider those factors, you will come to the conclusion that it is equally immoral to publish with PLOS, unless they come clean about the role of their CEO in Golden West’s business.

  29. Says:

    If you want to learn more about World Savings/Golden West/Wachovia, please watch this SNL video.

  30. Matt Wedel Says:, you are about half a millimeter from getting spammed out of this thread. Keep it on point and spare us the conspiracy theories or you’re out.

    Everyone else: thank you, sincerely, for the earnest and civil discussion. Let’s keep it rolling.

  31. Says:

    My apologies to you Matt.

    With due respect, if you kindly point out which part of my comment was considered ‘conspiracy theory’, that would be very helpful.

  32. Matt Wedel Says:

    Here’s the deal: PLoS is a non-profit organization. Personally I don’t care if the CEO is barbequing kittens over flaming piles of rare zoological monographs and wiping his mouth with the US Constitution; he’s not funnelling any taxpayer money to corporate shareholders, so as long as he doesn’t do anything to hold up the progress of OA, what he does on his own time is his business. The idea that we should not publish in PLoS journals because of what the CEO did at his old job is not one we are going to entertain more than once.

    Furthermore, you may have noticed that this is a blog about paleontology and scientific publishing, not about banking or the world financial situation. I’m not saying those topics are forever off limits, but when and if they start impacting scientific publishing directly enough to make me care, you’ll know because we’ll start blogging about it. Until then, keep your comments on-point or I’ll delete them. Clear enough?

  33. xbad Says:

    @Micky Mortimer: I believe that many university libraries allow guest access to their journal collection from terminals in the library. This appears to be the case at UW. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has actually had experience using the system what its limitations are.

    While this is nowhere close to the ideal that we all wish for–that anyone can access any of the world’s scientific literature from anywhere–it is not clear that something we once had, namely the ability to obtain copies of journal articles on site, has actually been lost.

  34. Some commentary here. tl;dr: Community, even a closed community, has value and can’t be easily remade.

  35. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    xbad- The page you linked says “Access to all Libraries’ resources and fee-based printing is available in all branches and public service units.” The problem is that if I recall, none of the computers in the Allen Library (where bio and paleo are housed) are public service units. I think there are a ring of public service units around the adjacent Suzzallo Library’s help desk, though these usually had a line of students waiting to use them. And “There is no access to anonymous email sites, such as Hotmail, Yahoo! mail, or Gmail or to most .com Web sites”, so you can’t just email yourself the pdfs anymore. I doubt you could attach a USB drive, since these upload drivers to function. You can print papers for a fee using the Dog Prints Card, but “Dispensers dispense only $5.00 (includes $.20 for card and $4.80 actual value) Dawg Prints cards. Users will have $4.80 to use for copying and printing.” Or you could go across campus to the Communications building and use a check or credit card to purchase a card there. Then you have to add value at the dispensers using $1 or $5 bills too, so you have to leave your public service unit. Which means your pages and search history are lost and you might need to wait to get on a public service unit again when you get back. Note prints and copies cost 12 cents per page.

    So while it may not be impossible for me to get copies of papers from that library, it’s so tedious and expensive that it’s not worth it. And that’s not even including the two hours it takes to get there and back, the gas money for that trip, and the parking fees at the UW.

    But the elephant in the room here is that all of this travel and cost to use physical objects has the purpose of accessing information I COULD get right here at home, where I’m sitting now, and where I do my work. In the old days you had to travel to get to the books, but it doesn’t make sense anymore. Why not allow anyone viewing access to their online collections for free, and charge some amount per megabtye to print or save, which can be payed for via PayPal, MasterCard or Visa? Or just make it an hourly fee regardless of saving or printing. They already allow students to view and save much of the online collection from their homes for free, so a lot of the infrastructure is in place. Then libraries could compete internationally with others in data prices, user interface, etc..

  36. Says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful response, Matt. I understand that you do not care about what PLOS CEO did in the past and that is your personal choice, but you did not explain why you discredited my earlier comments as ‘conspiracy theory’. Everything linked by me about the subprime banking-related background of PLOS CEO were from publicly released data.

    If your leading question is about morality and open-access, why are you threatening to remove information about the person running the biggest open-access journal? Morality is not one-dimensional, and others may have different moral priorities than you.

  37. Matt Wedel Says:

    I understand that you do not care about what PLOS CEO did in the past and that is your personal choice, but you did not explain why you discredited my earlier comments as ‘conspiracy theory’.

    Sorry, I was lazy and used ‘conspiracy theory’ as shorthand for ‘specious argument of the sort I don’t want on the blog’. Even if everything about the PLoS CEO is documented, the argument that we should therefore avoid PLoS is, to me, in the form of a conspiracy theory, in that it attempts to derive concrete behavior based on a causal linkage I just don’t see. If you disagree with that or take umbrage, just hold that thought for a second…

    If your leading question is about morality and open-access, why are you threatening to remove information about the person running the biggest open-access journal? Morality is not one-dimensional, and others may have different moral priorities than you.

    This blog does not equal the internet, and keeping some topics out of our comment thread does not equal censorship. If you’re into that stuff, put it on your own blog. I really, really do not want this otherwise excellent comment thread derailed with stuff that I consider irrelevant, and since it is MY BLOG (and Mike’s, but he agrees with me), the decision about what is and is not relevant is entirely for us to decide, and we don’t owe anyone else a platform to parade their personal hobby horses. So, again: if you disagree, take umbrage, etc., put it on your own blog. I intend for this comment to end this side conversation.

  38. Says:

    “if you disagree, take umbrage, etc.”

    ‘Disagree’ – yes, but ‘take umbrage’ – not at all !!! I have been very passionate about interrelationship between banking bailouts, military spending, SOPA/PIPA, cuts in research funding, open access, etc. since 2005, but I do respect that this is your venue and you are free to choose topics/comments based on your interests. We will take unrelated social discussions to our blog (

    Thank you for having this wonderful place for talking about science.

  39. […] [Background for anyone who's not been following: 1, Hiding your research behind a paywall is immoral. 2, Those who publish research behind paywalls are victims not perpetrators. 3, Is it immoral to hide your research behind a paywall?] […]

  40. some asshole Says:

    “I doubt you could attach a USB drive, since these upload drivers to function. ”


  41. Mickey Mortimer Says:


    The computers only allow a small range of programs (, and every time I’ve used a USB drive, it’s taken a minute to upload drivers before “this device is ready to use” and I can transfer files to/from it. Maybe this isn’t the case with all of them, and maybe the UW’s computers would let them work. I didn’t have a USB drive when I last considered using the library, so it wasn’t an option for me.

  42. Mike Taylor Says:

    Many (most?) USB drives now, quite rightly, work by masquerading as vanilla disks, and don’t require any special drivers of their own. And nor they should. Mickey, the next time you’re at the library, you should take a bunch of different USB drives. I’d be surprised if none of them worked.

    On 29 January 2013 01:22, Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

  43. some asshole Says:

    That has been my experience universally with computers made since like 2000 onward. If they didn’t recognize USB drives being present in their ports, it is not due to driver issues on the part of the individual USB drive, but a problem with the computer itself.

  44. […] got quite a lot of criticism from people I respect a lot”, most of those criticisms are in the comments on this […]

  45. […] behind a journal’s paywall is unacceptable. But as the comments on that Guardian article and on the followup SV-POW! article indicate, there are other pressures on […]

  46. […] to the contrary! See, e.g., this response to Mike Taylor’s editorial, and Mike’s reply.** Presumably, people’s views on this will come down to how confident they are in the […]

  47. […] to come), the childishness of evaluating individuals by journal rank, and the knotty problem of who should take responsibility for fixing our current broken […]

  48. […] we’ve noted here a couple of times before, the REF (Research Excellence Framework) is explicit in disavowing impact factors and other […]

  49. […] 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 wish it […]

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