Authors versus publishers

September 30, 2011

You don’t need to read this. You can read Scott Aaronson’s Review of The Access Principle and Tim O’Reilly’s Piracy is Progressive Taxation and connect the blindingly obvious dots.

OTOH, Aaronson and O’Reilly wrote their pieces for the same reason I’m writing this one: some things are not blinding obvious to everyone. And sometimes the situation makes me mad enough to take a swing. So here goes.

Duty Versus Selfishness

Aaronson writes, “the most important idea in the The Access Principle is that scholars have a duty to make their work available, not only to their colleagues, but ideally to anyone who wants it.”

Now, I agree with this, totally; it’s basically the underpinning for the entire OA movement. But you don’t need to invoke a sense of duty to encourage researchers to make their work universally available. In fact, you don’t need to invoke any higher motive at all. Pure selfishness will do.

Here’s the deal: if you’re a publishing scientist, then once a paper is out the door the only ways in which you should care about it are (1) hoping it’s not discredited, and (2) hoping that it is read as widely as possible. Most of the formulae used to calculate impact factors, the H-index, and so on, don’t pay any attention to whether the citation is coming from inside your field or not (though a few are field-specific). And if you can get a group of bird feather biomechanists or insect development people interested in your work, at a minimum you’ll have a new citation cash cow, and possibly opportunities for collaboration.

Crucially, you want students to be able to get hold of your papers, because those students  are going to be tomorrow’s publishing scientists, and if you hook ’em early you’ll have another source of inflowing citations, potential collaborations, and possibly fawningly positive peer reviews (remember, we’re temporarily setting aside higher motives). But students are very good at maximizing return for effort invested (or, as some would have it, “lazy”), and if they find Dr. O. Penn Akzess’s papers before they find yours–or if they are able download her papers for free while yours are locked behind a paywall–you get nothing.

It’s not just students, though, or people in other fields. One of your colleagues might be working on a manuscript at home, and he needs a boilerplate citation on wasp-farming in a particular paragraph. He has your 2007 paper on insect husbandry in mind, but after a brief search it turns out that the PDF is on the computer in his office, and he can’t get access to the online version without going through some complicated process involving proxy servers and other such folderol. But, hey, look, there’s Dr. Akzess’s (2008) paper on alternative agriculture on PLoS ONE, which will serve just fine for this non-critical citation. Guess who gets cited, and who gets zip?

And if you’re in academia, getting and keeping a job means that your work needs to be well-regarded in a way that the administrative bean-counters can understand (i.e., cited, or the subject of high-profile publicity).

So even if you’re a completely selfish bastard who cares about nothing other than ruthless self-advancement, it’s to your advantage to have all of your work immediately available to anyone who wants it with a minimum of hassle. You may also have other, higher motives for desiring the same outcome, but it’s all the same in the end: the primary interest of authors is to have their work read by others. As many others as possible, with a minimum of fuss.

You’re Not Helping

The primary interest of non-OA publishers is to get paid. Forget whatever crap they put in their brochures and mission statements about serving the broader community and performing a vital service for science. They’re all businesses, almost all corporations, they have an ardent desire and a legal mandate to maximize profits, and their PR departments will say anything at all to help that happen, even outright lies.

Non-OA publishers get paid by subscribers and the unfortunates who actually pony up $30 per article online (because they haven’t read Tutorial 9, don’t have a public library nearby for ILL, or absolutely must have the PDF right this minute and have no other options). In other words, they don’t want anyone to be able to read your work who hasn’t paid. Now that the problem of publishing has been solved, and infinitely many zero-cost perfect copies can be immediately distributed worldwide for free, one of the primary goals of non-OA publishers is to prevent people from reading your work. Their “publishing” your work isn’t helping you, it’s hurting you. Their imprimatur might look nice on your CV or be a source of bragging rights among your colleagues, and you might decide that the value of the imprimatur is greater than the value of having your work easily available to most of the rest of the planet. But the publisher isn’t helping you get your work read any more widely than you could on your own.* All you need for that is a PDF and an internet connection (a blog helps, and that’s free, too).

* I know that a zillion people have access to Nature ‘n Science. And the number of them outside your narrow field who will actually read your paper on wasp farming is probably comparable to the number of N&S papers on buckytubes and hadrons that you actually read: zilch. Many more people who actually care about your field will read your N&S paper after one of their friends with access sends it to them, but those that are actually going to read it under those circumstances wouldn’t care if it was published in The Journal of Small, Boring Fossils. And if it was in The OA JSBF, they wouldn’t have to bug their friends for copies.

Let’s figure out how the non-OA publishers are “helping” you.

  • Printing, binding, and shipping hard copies of your work to those academic libraries that can afford their outrageous prices. Analysis: so Twen-Cen. Wake up and smell the internet. That tree you’re reading could be out there sequestering carbon. Not helping.
  • Putting your work online behind their paywall. Analysis: great, they’ve made it available to subscribers, who already had it, and a handful of unfortunates who couldn’t or wouldn’t get it any other way (Tutorial 9, ILL, etc.)–and keeping everyone else out. Not helping.
  • Giving you a PDF to freely distribute to colleagues who write to ask for it. Analysis: It’s 2011. Providing the author with a PDF of their own work isn’t a service, it’s a utility: the only time you should even have to think about this is when it’s not working. Making PDFs is actually easier and vastly cheaper than making print copies–OpenOffice does it natively, for free–so if your favorite journal isn’t doing it, go elsewhere until they extract their heads from their backsides. Anyway, this is something you can do for yourself with the accepted manuscript. Not helping, in any way that you couldn’t help yourself.
  • Giving you a limited number of PDF reprints. No, really, you read that right. Here’s how the Geological Society words it: “We are pleased to provide you with 20 free electronic reprints of your recently published paper to distribute as you wish.” The idea apparently being that you can send the PDF to colleagues, but only 20 times (19, I guess, if you want to keep one for yourself). The words simply don’t make any sense. It’s as if the session moderator told you were allowed to use vowel sounds in your talk, but you couldn’t use any one more than 20 times. You might go along with it just for the humor potential, but you, the moderator, and the audience would all know that it was a highly artificial game, whose strictures you could step outside of at any moment. (The tragedy of academic publishing is that the players have been tricked into thinking that they are pawns.) Not helping, or even making sense.
  • Stopping bad people from pirating your content, by tracking down unauthorized copies. Yes, there is a “service” for this (thanks to Andy Farke for the heads up). But wait–in case you’re waiting for Neuron #2 to catch up with Neuron #1, as an author you care about getting your work read, not about piracy. As O’Reilly said, “being well-enough known to be pirated would be a crowning achievement.” What Attributor and other similar services are actually good for is checking to see whether you’ve been undermining the publishers’ blockade by posting copies of your own work outside their paywall (hey, over here!). That would be good for you–perfect, in fact–but bad for them. I don’t know if publishers are actually going to start cracking down on authors who do this (see also: victories, Pyrrhic)–that might deserve a post of its own. I do know that this “service” of detecting copyright infringement is directly opposed to your interests as an author (if it’s just plagiarism you’re worried about, Google has been around for a while). It’s ironic that the only commercial publisher I’ve heard of threatening to use this service has been caught illicitly duplicating its own articles (schadenfreudelicious!). Not helping.
  • Stopping bad people from getting your content, by blocking interlibrary loan. That’s right–for-profit academic publishers are now fighting ILL. Yeah, because faculty and students at small institutions and interested laypeople are such a huge threat to their multi-billion-dollar businesses. Analysis: not just not helping, this is straight up a-hole behavior.

I guess that leaves:

  • Typesetting your manuscript and making a nice-looking PDF. Yep, there’s no way you’d ever be able to master that on your own. Oh wait. Physicists and mathematicians–you know, those alleged brainheads with no stylistic sensibility–have been doing this for themselves for ages with LaTeX. Yes, biologists and earth scientists, prior to submission. If the rest of us just got on board, we could pull the last creaking support out from the Jenga tower of piled-high feces that is for-profit academic publishing. Now, you may whine that you don’t want to have to waste time formatting your own manuscript, but if you’ve actually submitted anything to a journal, ever, you’ve had to spend time formatting your own manuscript to fit whatever arbitrary submission format the journal wanted. You could have spent that time making it look like something other than a reject from Microsoft Word 101. Not helping, in any way that you couldn’t help yourself.

Naming Names

Through new corporate masters Taylor & Francis, the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology will now you let you make your article Open Access for a mere $3250. You should feel flattered–your article is as valuable to them as 25 fully-paid regular memberships in the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology ($130 a pop at the time of this writing). Each regular membership brings a year’s subscription to JVP, which is running upwards of 1200 pages a year. Probably 1500 pages soon, if it’s not there already. The annual page count of JVP is about 100 times the length of a long-ish article (most articles are shorter), and Taylor & Francis want 25 times that amount, so the OA deal is basically charging you for the equivalent of 2500 hundred people reading your work. Er, except that 25 regular memberships in SVP would pay for all kinds of genuinely valuable work that the society does–students grants, public education, support for legislation to protect fossil resources–whereas AFAICT buying the Open Access deal through Taylor & Francis only supports Taylor & Francis (someone please correct me if I’m wrong).

It’s an outrageous ripoff in either case.

You might feel that the OA fee at Taylor & Francis is a bit high, given that PLoS ONE only charges $1350 and gives you unlimited pages and unlimited high-resolution color figures. Wait, let me shout that for those hard of reading: UNLIMITED PAGES and UNLIMITED HIGH-RESOLUTION COLOR FIGURES. That’s what an organization can do when it decides to serve authors and readers instead of shareholders. And we might even expect that the OA publication fee at PLoS ONE is a bit inflated, since it represents “bulk, cheap publishing of lower quality papers to subsidize [a] handful of high-quality flagship journals“–totally unlike what the Nature Publishing Group is doing with Scientific Reports. (Curious, NPG wants your kidneys in exchange for actual science, but they’ll let you read about the evils of PLoS for free.) As long as I’m here, I might as well note that the OA publication fee at NPG’s Scientific Reports is $1700 ($1700 – $1350 = shareholder cut, I’ll wager). Not sure why Taylor & Francis needs twice as much as NPG–maybe NPG have something left to learn about corporate greed, after all.

Just as a point of comparison, let’s consider Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. Like JVP and most other journals, they have page charges for long manuscripts, but like JVP and most other journals, those page charges are not a barrier to publication for people who can’t afford to pay. Printed figures are usually black and white but figures in the PDFs–which are what really matters these days, to the vast majority of readers–are in full color, for free. There is a length limit, but it’s high, and they have a sister publication, Palaeontologia Polonica, for those longer works. They offer subscriptions and send hardbound copies to libraries worldwide, but they also make all of their papers available for free online. Heck, they even encourage authors to post PDFs of their own works on their own websites.

What’s wrong with those people!?

Seriously, just giving everything away for free? Not even asking authors to pay a dime to publish shorter papers? How do they stay in business?

Ah, well. There you have it. They’re not in business. APP is published by the Institute of Paleobiology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (so, state supported) and they’re out to make a name for themselves. That means visibility, which means distribution–instantly, everywhere, for free. In other words, their desires are aligned perfectly with those of authors. That’s why they don’t charge for publishing, and that’s why they encourage you to post PDFs of your own papers. What’s good for you is also good for them.

(Preemptive strike: before someone points out that JVP currently has a shorter lag time from submission to publication than APP, let me say two things: the situation was precisely reversed a couple of years ago, and thanks, Taylor & Francis, for having the courtesy to  screw over your authors and readers quickly.)

I don’t know if APP will be able to keep this up forever. I wouldn’t bet against them. Producing the journal can’t be much harder than it was in the decades before they gained their current global prominence, and I imagine that prominence has brought them enough new subscribers to offset the cost (a year’s subscription is 65 Euros, or a little less than $90 as of this writing). If free distribution eventually costs them subscribers, they ought to be able to recoup the loss by cutting or at least curtailing the printing, binding, and shipping of dead trees (although those of us in the West should remember that not all of the world is wired yet).

To recap, a sample of current open access publication fees in journals that handle vertebrate paleontology papers:

  • Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology: $3250
  • Nature Scientific Reports: $1700
  • PLoS ONE: $1350
  • Acta Palaeontologica Polonica: $0

If You’re Not Outraged…

I fully expect that this will piss off some people in the SVP. Which would be excellent. Maybe they’ll get mad enough to explain to me why Taylor & Francis charges twice what Nature Publishing Group does for OA publishing, and more than two and a half times what PLoS does, for a demonstrably inferior product (page limits, no free color figures, etc.). And why their per-article download fees are so egregiously high, and why they charge for electronic access to supplementary data (thanks to Andy again for documenting these lunacies). And all of this on behalf a society whose stated goal is “to advance the science of vertebrate paleontology”. Maybe–just maybe–a critical mass of people in the society will get mad enough to demand a better deal next time around. Or, as long as I’m dreaming, maybe we can find a publisher whose actual behavior is aligned with our ideals (I hear Poland is nice this time of year). As Aaronson said,

Once we’ve mustered a level of anger commensurate with what’s happening, we can then debate what to do next, which journals are overpriced and which aren’t, what qualifies as “open access,” and so on. But the first step is for a critical mass of us to acknowledge that we are being had.

It’s been a little quiet around here lately. Mike has been slammed with day-job work, Darren is terminally busy as always, and I’m in my fall teaching block so I’ve been too busy to think. But life rolls on and there are announcements that need making. To wit:

– My post on the long nerves of sauropods was chosen as one of ten blog posts for the Science Writer Tip Jar at Not Exactly Rocket Science, back in May. Ed Yong, the NERS mastermind, has this to say:

Throughout the blogosphere, people produce fantastic writing for free. That’s great, but I believe that good writers should get paid for good work. To set an example, I choose ten pieces every month that were written for free and I donate £3 to the author. There are no formal criteria other than I found them unusually interesting, enjoyable and/or important.

It was an honor to be chosen; Ed’s a damn fine writer and has a knack for finding good stuff and pointing people to it. So why am I just blogging about this now, in August? I didn’t cover it at the time because the Science Writer Tip Jar runs on reader donations and I thought it would be a little gross to solicit money for myself. And I didn’t cover it right after because Ed’s been busy, too, and it sorta slipped off the radar for both of us. But at the end of last month he sent me a nice donation by PayPal, and I’m finally making good with the blogging about it.

What will I do with the dough? Inevitably, it will be spent on an epic meal of sushi for Mike and I. We don’t get to see each other very often, so when we do we have a sushipocalypse, and it’s pretty common for us to have ideas worth pursuing and publishing at these events. So ultimately the money will be plowed back into science, albeit indirectly. Thanks, Ed, and keep up the stellar work at NERS.

– Speaking of money, if you’d like to win a pile of it–4500 Euros, in fact–for the paleo paper you published in 2010, and get a nice trip to Spain in the bargain, I suggest you submit to Paleonturology 11, sponsored by Fundacion Dinopolis in Teruel, Spain. I know about this awesomeness because one of my papers won back in 2006, and I got a free trip to Spain in December, 2007 (story here). Winners have included papers by grad students and emeritus professors, on everything from trilobite eyes and bivalve shells to Pliocene hominids and dinosaur gastralia. The entrance form is super-simple and the whole process takes about as much time as it does to read this post. So if you published a paleo paper in the calendar year 2010 and you don’t enter, you’re just being silly. The deadline isn’t until November 15, but there’s no reason not to just sit down and do it right now. The form is somewhere on the Dinopolis website, but if your Spanish is as nonexistent as mine, you may find this PDF handy:  Paleonturology 11 entrance form

– This Friday, August 19, I’ll be on Jurassic CSI, talking about big sauropods. Details, showtimes, and some photos are here. The photo up top, of me with an Apatosaurus pelvis at BYU, is borrowed from there.

That’s all for now; further bulletins as events warrant.

By now you’ve probably heard that the entire UC system is threatening to boycott the Nature Publishing Group over unsustainable business practices.*

First, a few links to get you up to speed.

  • The original letter, which was an in-house UC document that leaked (possibly deliberately, certainly understandably) and then propagated through academia like the proverbial brushfire.
  • Nature Publishing Group’s initial response, which accused the UC of distorting several issues.
  • The UC’s rebuttal, which showed that, in fact, they had not, and that NPG was guilty of far worse distortions.
  • A Chronicle of Higher Education piece that has some very interesting quotes on the UC side.
  • Of all the blogging that has been done on this, the now-infamous Fight Club post seems to be getting the most link-love and discussion, and deservedly so.
  • This post and those that follow at The Book of Trogool have some good analysis and more scrumptious links. Also at ScienceBlogs, Janet Stemwedel considers this from the standpoint of junior researchers who need high-profile pubs to survive, and with her usual thoughtfulness and humanity.

* It doesn’t matter whose side you’re on, it’s pretty clear that a 7% markup every year is not sustainable for academic libraries whose budgets are flat, if they’re lucky, or more likely declining. If it really costs NPG 7% more each year to maintain their web access, then they’re doing something wrong. So who does this serve, other than NPG shareholders?

Some of the more interesting points that have come up in the ensuing discussions:

As noted by Janet Stemwedel, it would be very nice if the UC would issue a statement that good scholarship on the part of faculty will be recognized and rewarded no matter where it’s published. I am wholeheartedly in agreement with that, and am only sad that it took something like this to force the issue out into the open. Good work is good work, and the people who need it will generally find it. A lot of the battle over OA is getting hidebound administrators to stop thinking with their pseudoheads and find non-stupid ways to assess the output of their faculty. It shouldn’t be part of the battle over OA, because impact factors are orthogonal to publication model (and to the quality and lasting value of the work). But we all know that publications in Cell, Nature, and Science are the ticket to grants, promotions, and tenure. PLoS is successfully driving a wedge into this, but the battle is far from over.

More than one commenter has noted that there is probably some schadenfreude going on here, as faculty who feel like they are under the gun to publish in high-rejection-rate journals get to fight back a little, and as faculty who are being forced to take pay cuts, furloughs, etc., get to shift their anger from university-internal targets to a visible and little-loved external enemy. I think both hypotheses are accurate, and I suppose that it is not 100% fair for NPG to get pasted with more hate than they have coming, but I don’t really care, because the level of hate they have legitimately earned is already extremely high. In some of the online discussions about the future of newspapers–or rather, the lack of a future for newspapers–someone, somewhere, made the point that when you gouge people for decades, you shouldn’t be surprised when they stand aside and refuse to rescue you as you crash and burn. To my massive irritation, I can’t find that quote right now, but it’s exactly appropriate here. A lot of faculty wouldn’t pee in Nature‘s mouth if its teeth were on fire–and now they may get the chance to withhold that pee.

I’ve seen a few comments to the effect that the proposed boycott would never come to pass because the UC could not get junior faculty, who need those CNS pubs, to play ball. I wouldn’t bet that way. In my experience, junior faculty are far more likely to be attuned to the injustices of the high-stakes, for-profit journal world, and thus the ones most likely to understand what is actually at stake, and to have little sympathy for an outfit that they see as an unsympathetic career gatekeeper. If there is faculty resistance, I expect it to come from tenured folks who’ve benefited from having an inside track at Nature. (I know, I know, everyone from Nature on down claims that the “inside track” is a myth, but does anyone actually believe that?)

Many have noted Keith Yamamoto’s SDFy comments at the end of the Chronicle article: “In many ways it doesn’t matter where the work’s published, because scientists will be able to find it”. All I have to add here is “Hell yeah!” and “Bang on!”

Second sacral vertebra (FMNH PR 2209) of Rapetosaurus krausei. A, articulated centrum, neural arch, and left sacral rib in anterior view; B, articulated centrum, neural arch, and left sacral rib in posterior view; C, articulated vertebra in right lateral view; D, centrum in dorsal view, anterior towards top; E, centrum in ventral view, anterior towards top. Abbreviations: naf, neural arch facet; pfo, pneumatic foramen; posl, postspinal lamina; pozg, postzygapophysis; prsl, prespinal lamina; przg, prezygapophysis; srf, sacral rib facet. Scale bar equals 3 cm.  (Curry Rogers 2009:fig. 23)

For my part, I’d like to point out something that I have not seen widely discussed, but which seems like it ought to be. A not-for-profit organization–like, say, PLoS–has to maintain its infrastructure, pay its employees, and deliver a service. A corporation has all of those demands, plus the mandate to make a profit. So people can whine all they want that open access publishers still have to charge to do the same work as commercial publishers and that the work will cost about the same, but at the end of the day the commercial publisher is in business to make a profit, and PLoS is in business to make science. Absolutely, we should stop letting commercial publishers sell our own fat asses back to us. We should definitely stop paying any for-profit publisher to line its shareholders’ pockets at our expense. Screw them and the horse they rode in on; that is our freakin’ horse.

UPDATE (from Matt): I also bring good news … and bad news.

The good news is that the entire dinosaur issue of Anatomical Record is open access after all. So this post is mainly of historical interest now, and you should get on over to the page for this issue and download all the free dinosaurian goodness.

The bad news is that the representatives from Wiley never told anyone any of this when inquiries were made two weeks ago–if they had, this particular teacup could have stayed storm-free–and that they apparently still want institutions to pay $575 for a single Open Access issue of the journal. Whether those moves are predatory or just clueless, they are not earning Wiley any friends.

—————-

I bring good news … and bad news.

Good news! Tom Holtz reported in a message to the Dinosaur Mailing List that there is new issue of The Anatomical Record out that is concerned entirely with dinosaurs!  The online table of contents shows that there’s lots of good stuff.

Bad news! It’s not open access.

Good news! You can buy access to the articles.

Bad news! The price of the articles is NOT STATED.  That’s right, folks: you have to register with Wiley InterScience before they will EVEN TELL YOU THE PRICE!  Way to go, Wiley!  THAT’s the way to make sure important research is widely disseminated!

Good news! B tH wrote to ask the publisher for a price, and got a reply, which he shared in another Dinosaur Mailing List message:

Bad news! This is the reply (which I can’t format better, thanks to totally unnecessary limitations in WordPress):

Date: Mon, 31 Aug 2009 12:48:21 -0700 (PDT)

From: B tH <soylentgreenistrex@yahoo.com>

To: dinosaur@usc.edu

Subject: re: special all-dino issue

I wrote to ask them how much ordering this singl issue was – they wanted to know if I was ordering for an institution or myself. This is the price they quoted me to buy and read it at night with a flashlight under the blankey – and I am totally serious:

$575.00 US

That’s right, five HUNDRED and seventy-five buckeroos.   I assured them they were quite mad, and have to face the fact I won’t get to see it.   Waaah.

Good news! B tH realised that Wiley had quoted him the institutional rate and wrote to clarify.  The exchange is documented in yet another Dinosaur Mailing List message.

Bad news! This is the exchange:

Sent: Monday, August 31, 2009 6:07 PM

To: cs-journals@wiley.com

Subject: RE: wanting to purchase an issue of the magazine [pfCase:1078353,

pfTicket:10108736]

Um, I think you’ve made an error.

Five-Hundred and Seventy-Five dollars for an issue of a magazine?  ??

==============

From: <cs-journals@wiley.com>

Dear __________

The Anatomical Record, Volume 292, Issue 9

Thank you for your email.

As we do not have Individual rates for this title, hence the Institutional single issue rate was quoted instead.

Please provide us with a billing and shipping address if you require a proforma invoice for this order and I will happy to assist you.

Kind Regards,

Jacqueline Choong

Customer Services Advisor

Journal Customer Services for John Wiley & Sons

Good news! The revolution is coming, and things like this can only bring it on.  And Wiley’s InterScience department are a bunch of mindless jerks who will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

Yes, Wiley’s behaviour here is totally absurd and absolutely unethical.  No, Wiley didn’t themselves write the articles that they want to charge FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE FREAKIN’ DOLLARS for.  Neither did they pay the authors to do so.  Do you know how it comes to be that Wiley are the owners of these articles, and thus in a position to extort for access?  Happily, the reason is right here in the Instructions to Authors:

MISCELLANEOUS

[…]

Upon acceptance of an article for publication, the author will be asked to sign a Copyright Transfer Agreement transferring rights to the publisher, who reserves copyright.

Yes, it’s as simple as that.  Like all of us do most times we submit a manuscript, the authors just signed away the ownership of their work.  Just like that.  Work that was funded, if at all, by public funds, just handed over to a grossly exploitative for-profit commercial enterprise that — quite clearly, from the exchanges above — has no interest whatsoever in the advancement or dissemination of science.

Folks, we have got to stop doing this.  I can (just) stomach handing copyright of my work over to professional societies such as the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (required for the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology) or the Palaeontological Association (required for Palaeontology) [although frankly there is absolutely no good reason for these journals to make that requirement].  But I will NOT give my work to these parasitic commercial publishers, and I strongly urge you not to, either.  We should all of us be supporting open-access journals where possible; and failing that, at least those published by non-profit organisations.  I am not going to be propping up Elsevier, Wiley and the rest with any of my stuff.

Deep in our heart, we all — Wiley included — know that non-open academic publishing is dead, even if the corpse is still blundering around trying to eat our brains.  This sort of extortion (I mean the FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE FREAKIN’ DOLLARS kind) is death throes.  It’s probably going to get messier before the stakes are finally driven through the hearts of the bloodsuckers.  But take heart: morning is coming, and they will all turn to dust.

And finally …

More Good news! I give you NHM 46869, the holotype of Chondrosteosaurus gigas Owen 1876, a badly eroded cervical centrum from some kind of sauropod, in right lateral view:

NHM 46869, holotype of Chondrosteosaurus gigas, a cervical centrum, in right lateral view.

NHM 46869, holotype of Chondrosteosaurus gigas, a cervical centrum, in right lateral view.

This is the mate of NHM 46870, a specimen that we have already given way too much coverage, and which has sometimes been considered the cotype along with 46869.  Unlike its mate, it has not been sliced down the middle, and is — for what it’s worth — “complete” (i.e. not actually complete at all).

References

  • Owen, Richard.  1876.  Monograph of the fossil Reptilia of the Wealden and Purbeck formations.  Supplement 7.  Crocodilia (Poikilopleuron), Dinosauria (Chondrosteosaurus),  Palaeontographical Society of London [Monographs], 29:15-93.
This is the reply:
Date: Mon, 31 Aug 2009 12:48:21 -0700 (PDT)
From: B tH <soylentgreenistrex@yahoo.com>
To: dinosaur@usc.edu
Subject: re: special all-dino issue
I wrote to ask them how much ordering this singl issue was – they wanted to know if I was ordering for an institution or myself. This is the price they quoted me to buy and read it at night with a flashlight under the blankey – and I am totally serious:
$575.00 US
That’s right, five HUNDRED and seventy-five buckeroos.   I assured them they were quite mad, and have to face the fact I won’t get to see it.   Waaah.
Good news!  B tH realised that Wiley had quoted him the institutional rate and wrote to clarify.  The exchange is documented in yet another Dinosaur Mailing List message.
Bad news!  This is the exchange:
Sent: Monday, August 31, 2009 6:07 PM
To: cs-journals@wiley.com
Subject: RE: wanting to purchase an issue of the magazine [pfCase:1078353,
pfTicket:10108736]
Um, I think you’ve made an error.
Five-Hundred and Seventy-Five dollars for an issue of a magazine?  ??
==============
==============
From: <cs-journals@wiley.com>
Dear __________
The Anatomical Record, Volume 292, Issue 9
Thank you for your email.
As we do not have Individual rates for this title, hence the Institutional single issue rate was quoted instead.
Please provide us with a billing and shipping address if you require a proforma invoice for this order and I will happy to assist you.
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Isn’t this a beauty?

Alleged "Diplodocus dorsal bone", posterior view

Alleged "Diplodocus dorsal bone", posterior view

What is it, you ask?   We will never know.  A friend of mine pointed me to a forthcoming fossil auction by I. M. Chait, and as I scrolled through all the crappy ornithopod skeletons and suchlike, my eye was caught by this bone, described as a “Diplodocus dorsal bone”, from the Bone Cabin quarry in Wyoming.  “The dorsal bone most likely came from close to the back of the head[?!]”.

Whatever it is, it ain’t Diplodocus: the metapophyses are too low, the intraspinal trough is not deep enough, the diapophyses are too high up, they’re laterally rather than ventrolaterally inclined, the hyposphene is way too big and too triangular, the centrum is subquadrangular rather than ovoid, the centropostzygapophyseal laminae are absent … I could go on.  If you don’t believe me, here is the complete set of Dipodocus carnegii dorsals, from Hatcher (1901: plate VIII): posterior to anterior running from left to right; anterior, posterior and right lateral views from top to bottom.

hatcher1901-plate-xiii-diplodocus-carnegii-dorsals-480px

Hatcher 1901, plate XIII: dorsal vertebrae of Diplodocus carnegii CM 84

Not even close.

So what actually is the for-sale vertebra?  Of course there is only so much you can say from a single photograph, but it looks very much as though this is something new, as yet undescribed.  Unknown to science, in fact.  I say that largely because of the those bizarre dorsolaterally oriented struts which extend from the sides of the neural arch to meet and merge with the diapophyses.  I don’t recall ever having seen anything like that.  In general proportions, too, this vertebra is distinctly odd.

Unknown to science it is, and unknown to science it will remain — if, as seems likely, some rich idiot buys this as a trophy to sit on his cocktail bar.  Hence the righeous fury alluded to in the title: so far as the wider world is concerned, so far as our understanding of Morrison Formation ecological diversity is concerned, so far as our understanding of sauropod disparity is concerned, this vertebra might just as well have stayed in the ground.

Unless.

If anyone reading this blog is a rich benefactor, then just maybe this vert could be rescued: bought by someone who appreciates its scientific significance, and donated to an accredited museum, where it can be properly reposited and scientifically studied.  So if any of you out there have $5000 to spare and fancy a decent chance at getting a sauropod named after you, you know what to do.

I’ve hestitated about publishing this post, because of the danger that it will become sufficiently widely known to push the price up.  The last thing I want is to make more money for the fossil dealers responsible for taking this thing out of the hands of scientists.  But I figured it’s worth the risk.  Let’s hope I’m right.

[To be absolutely clear: I. M. Chait did not solicit me to write this, neither do they even know about it, and I am pretty sure they would not be happy about it if they did.]

Reference

  • Hatcher, Jonathan Bell.  1901.  Diplodocus (Marsh): its osteology, taxonomy and probable habits, with a restoration of the skeleton.  Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum, 1: 1-63 and plates I-XIII.

Update (23 March 2009)

We have heard from an SV-POW! reader who is looking into buying this specimen and donating it to a museum.  Which would be awesome.  (I won’t mention his or her name at this stage until he or she authorises me to do so.)  That being so, please no-one else try the same thing — we last thing we want is for two readers to get into a bidding war!

Every year the Fundación Conjunto Paleontológico de Teruel-Dinópolis in Teruel, Spain, gives out the International Award in Palaeontology Research, a.k.a. Paleonturology. ‘Paleonturology’ is a bit of a pun–it’s actually PaleonTurology; Turol is the old Roman name for the area, from which the Turia river, Turiasaurus, and the city and province of Teruel are all derived. (The photo above shows the sun setting over the hills near the Turiasaurus quarry.)

So what’s the deal with the award? You can find full rules and guidelines here, but here’s the short version: any paleontology paper published in the calendar year 2007 is eligible, just send in an application form (1 page) and a few copies of your paper or a PDF by November 15. If you win, you get a prize of 4500 Euros, which in the current economy is roughly a million dollars. You will also be invited to travel to Teruel next December to serve on the jury for Paleonturology 09, and attend a press conference where the book version of your winning paper will be unveiled and the next year’s winner will be announced. Depending on the state of the Paleonturology war chest, your trip may be partly or wholly paid for; all I paid for last year were souvenirs.

Those are merely the on-paper blandishments. If you take the trip to Spain, you’ll also get to:

. . . knock around some gorgeous medieval cities, like the 13th century fortress valley of Albarracin;

. . . hang out with the awesome folks at Dinópolis and other museums–here I am with Francisco “Paco” Gasco of Dinópolis (left) and Senor Maria, who runs a little museum in the village of Galve;

. . . visit incredible fossil quarries and tracksites (yes, that is an IKEA paper tape I have stretched out by the sauropod tracks–I keep one folded up in my wallet, where it takes up less space than a credit card, so I am never without an English/metric yard/meter tape, which is very handy when you work on sauropods),

. . . enjoy amazing food and drink, and be put up at a very nice hotel, probably with a view of a thousand-year-old church/fortress/tower out your window (there are four such towers in Teruel, so your odds are good). I got to go last December, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

In the five years that the award has been given, winners have included grad students, young professionals, mid-career paleontologists, and near-retirees, from Spain, the US, Scotland, and Hungary, writing solo or with coauthors, on Pliocene hominins, clam shell construction, dinosaur gastralia, sauropod pneumaticity, and trilobite eyes. The point is that anyone, of any age, anywhere, writing about any paleontological subject has a chance to win.

To be as direct as possible: if you published a paper in paleontology in 2007 and don’t apply, you’re missing out on the chance of a lifetime.

That said, the recent winners have all had a few things in common. The papers have been about good-sized clades rather than single taxa, they’ve been well-illustrated and with a high general-interest factor (if I do say so myself), they’ve tended to address paleobiological questions, and none of them has been a shorty from one of the ‘high-impact’ journals (although such papers have been submitted). Still, even if your only paper from 2007 is a Nature note on a new Cambrian worm or the foot morphology of Pleistocene dragonflies, you’d be nuts not to submit, for two reasons: this year’s jury may be looking for something different, and yours might be the best paper they get.

Suppose your 2007 paper is on trilobite eyes or sauropod pneumaticity. Submit anyway. I was on the jury for Paleonturology 07, coming off two years of dinosaur papers, and a couple of dinosaur papers made it almost to the final cut. We all agreed that it didn’t matter what the paper was about, the qualities we were looking for were quality of research, broad interest, readability, and good (clear, helpful, aesthetically pleasing) illustrations. The trilobite eye paper won because it excelled in all of those areas, not because it was about trilobites rather than dinosaurs.

Did I mention that the province of Teruel is practically overrun with awesome sauropods? Aragosaurus (1987), Galveosaurus (2005), Turiasaurus (2006), and the newly-described Tastavinsaurus (2008) are just the tip of the iceberg. You will be hearing a LOT more about the Mesozoic biota of Teruel in the next few years. Here’s a dorsal vertebra of Tastavinsaurus, from Canudo et al. (2008:fig. 3).

I almost didn’t apply for Paleonturology 06. I was busy dissertating and it seemed like a long shot. But the application is one page long and I figured it would be stupid not to apply, so on the last possible day I printed it out, made copies of my paper, and dumped it all in the mail (that was back in the dark ages when you had to send paper copies; now you can apply over e-mail). When I think about how great my experience was, and how close I came to not applying, it makes me a little sick. Don’t be a doofus.

Reference

  • Canudo, J. I., Royo-Torres, R., and Cuenca-Bescós, G. 2008. A new sauropod: Tastavinsaurus sanzi gen. et sp. nov. from the Early Cretaceous (Aptian) of Spain. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28(3):712-731.