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Is Open Access Socialized Science?

:: Rudy Baum is Editor-in-Chief of Chemical & Engineering News. In v82 n38 p7, 20 Sept 2004, he comments on the open access model, and is not in favour of it:

As I've written on this page in the past, one important consequence of electronic publishing is to shift primary responsibility for maintaining the archive of STM literature from libraries to publishers. I know that publishers like the American Chemical Society are committed to maintaining the archive of material they publish. Maintaining an archive, however, costs money. It is not hard to imagine a scenario in which some publishers, their revenues squeezed at least in part by loss of subscriptions as a result of open-access policies, decide to cut costs by turning off access to their archives. The material, they would rationalize, is posted on government websites.
The editorial has provoked responses on CHMINF-L:

David Goodman:

I call the attention of the members of the list to the views of the editor-in-chief of C&E News: http://pubs.acs.org/cen/editor/8238edit.html

This undisguised red-baiting is apparently the best argument that Mr. Baum can offer against OA.

Robert Buntrock:
David, I think you're falling into the Cold War trap of equating socialism/socialized whatever with communism/Reds. Not the same thing 'tall. You must admit that you and other promoters of the "Commons" of OA are indeed advocating socialized publishing and archiving. Some of the arguments made by the NIH proposal could seem anachronistic, especially in the current social/political context.

Apparently, Rudy Baum does consider this a good exposition of the other side
of the discussion and asks readers to make their own choices. If you disagree, don't revert to arguably inadequate or inaccurate labels -- his points should be debated/refuted one by one. If you've already done that, e.g. at the Philadelphia ACS meeting, please make that available for our perusal.

Steve Heller:
Hmm, at least he didn't write that OA gives aid and comfort to terrorists, insurgents in Iraq, and al Qaeda. Or is the editorial for next week?
Randy Ward:
Personally, I have sympathy for some of our society publishers. According to our usage statistics and what we're paying for journals, it's clear we're getting far better "value" (if you want to commoditize information) from people like the ACS than from publishers such as Elsevier (for example).

One of my colleagues put together some spreadsheets that list rankings, usage, cost-per-usage, subscription costs, etc. for all our chemistry journals. These spreadsheets make it pretty clear that we are getting much lower cost-per-usage for much higher ranked journals (at least at BYU) from the ACS journals versus Elsevier journals (for example).

I'd kind of hate to see (perhaps more benevolent) publishing societies get squashed by the open-access movement, when they are not the ones causing the problem. I know something has to be done though. I can't help but think that the system wasn't broken for decades till the several commercial publishers came to the forefront of aggressive marketing. I don't know if its possible to return to past times, but I do know I am in full support of societies and universities which take back the task of publishing which they traditionally performed.

Just some thoughts.

David Goodman:
Dear Randy,

We need not fear for the ACS. Once it accepts that it must come to terms with first green and then gold OA, it will do very well. It will cost no more to publish "paid on behalf of the author". It should not matter to the society who pays it: it now must subsidizes subscriptions for some institutions and countries; it will then need to subsidze some authors.

It is exactly the higher cost commercial publishers who will have difficulty, if they cannot learn to publish more efficiently.

Alan Engel:
Rudy Baum himself reverted to an inadequate and inaccurate label - and rather thickly at that. Note the title of the editorial. The entire purpose of his editorial was to apply that inadequate and inaccurate label. David was correct in calling that duck a duck.

Baum's editorial was a hypocritical, sand-in-your-face attempt to divert attention from arguments based on the merits of the issue. The hypocracy is in the fact that most of the content in ACS journals arises from government-funded science. It is also in the fact that ACS' partners in STN are a governmental agency (JST) and a government-funded non-profit (FIZ). Baum reverted to a polarizing label that simply cannot be applied here for the sole purpose of politically charging the discussion and quashing rational debate.

While I am not knowledgeable enough to address the major issues involving Open Access, there is one aspect that I find very attractive. This is the opportunity for information entrepreneurship that arises from the available of free or low-cost streams of material. The availability of free and low-cost patent information has given rise to a flourishing cottage industry and Open Access should do the same for other STM areas. The STM market dwarfs the patent information market $7.3 billion to $300 million so the effect on entrepreneurship should be similarly larger. If I were not totally immersed in patent information, I would seriously look at the opportunities in OA. (Speculation on political motive: Could the Bush Administration be seeking a way to 'correct' the broken STM market without reverting to more aggressive anti-trust measures?)

Of course, OA need not be - and should not be - the only approach to fixing the broken STM market. There may be better approaches, but don't look to ACS to suggest them.

Robert Buntrock:
Alan, you may think that the title of Rudy Baum's editorial, "Socialized Science" is inadequate and inaccurate, but IMHO it did not seem to be political or particularly polarizing. David's label as "red-baiting" was, IMHO, polarizing and politicizing. Although no fan of the "dismal science", I submit that socialism, like capitalism, is an economic issue, not necessarily political (like democracy vs. communism).

Baum didn't divert attention from the arguments pro (or con) for OA, but he does ask that we as participants in the system weigh all aspects ("be careful for what you ask ..." He's calling for further debate -- give him (et al.) one.

Incidentally, am I so old (maybe so!) that I'm the only one who remembers page charges assessed to publish, in ACS Journals at least. They were abandoned about 20 years ago. As I recall, they ran up to ca. $100/published page -- a far cry from the $3000/article mentioned for OA (for short articles at least).

David Goodman:
I seem to need to give a further explanation.

The thoroughly political nature of Baum's piece is shown when he expressed his surprise that the OA move would take place during a Republican administration. I therefore read his references to socialism in the same light, as a politico-economic system he dislikes--and dislikes to the extent that he considers anything that socialists would support to be by that very fact bad policy.

He would do better to consider why so many congressmen of all parties voted for the bill. I doubt a single one of them thinks it leads to socialism. I doubt a single one of them thinks that it will lead to more government control over science than it already has. If Mr. Baum thinks this control already excessive, and wishes to argue that the political influence on grant funding is too great, I would agree with him.

I am quite aware of what is generally meant by socialism and by communism. Using either as a pejoratative label is within the meaning of "Red-baiting."

I would certainly deny that OA would necessarily lead to government controlled scientific publishing, which is what Robert Buntrock seems to consider socialism. I think it would much more likely to result in the liberation of the commercial and society publishers and the libraries from the unaffordable journal prices caused by positive feedback, with the consequent loss of other publishing opportunities. It should thus lead to a new and innovative blossoming of free enterprise in this field--a field whose low cost of entry makes it particularly appropriate..
Victoria Mitchell:
I've been refraining from commenting on this, and I have nothing to say about socialism or not-socialism. But I read the editorial by Mr. Baum, and I was particularly struck by the following:

"It's especially hard to understand because access to the STM literature is more open today than it ever has been: Anyone can do a search of the literature and obtain papers that interest them, so long as they are willing to pay a reasonable fee for access to the material. "

My jaw dropped when I read this, and I said to myself : What world is this guy living in?

"Anyone can do a search of the literature"? True, perhaps if you're talking about PubMed/Medline, but not if you're talking about Chem Abstracts. Like many other "public" institutions, we dropped Chem Abstracts in print as soon as we got SciFinder Scholar, because we could not afford to pay for both. Yet SciFinder Scholar is ONLY available to currently registered students, faculty and staff. Walk-in public users can no longer search the current Chemical Abstracts literature at our library and probably not anywhere else in our state. Further, at what is supposedly a research library, because of CAS' outrageous pricing, we have not yet been able to afford more than ONE (1) seat to SciFinder Scholar, severely limiting the access of even students and researchers to literature searching.

And then there's "so long as they are willing to pay a reasonable fee for access to the material" -- what does he consider reasonable? As subscriptions are priced out of the range of library budgets, is it reasonable to expect someone making minimum wage to pay $30 or more for every article he or she wants to read?

I, too, have my doubts about "open access" and how it's all going to play out. But what Mr. Baum does not address is just plain affordable access -- forget about free. Nor does he address the fact that the current model of scientific publishing is no longer working, and that free market economics do not apply to STM publishing. He states that the ACS is committed to maintaining the archive of their published material, but he does not say anything about how they're charging for it (the ACS archive is something else we have not been able to afford, and I think their policy of making you continue to pay or lose access to everything you've already paid for is completely heinous.) He notes that it is expensive to maintain an electronic archive -- yet other society publishers are doing it without charging the way that ACS is. Nor does he admit the possibility that there are other possible hosts for open access archives than either the private sector or the U.S. government. Admittedly, it's a short column and he could not possibly address all of these issues in it. However, the statements I
quoted above seem to come from someone who is living in a nice, cozy, privileged world where he has access to all the scientific literature he could possibly want, but it seems doubtful he has any clue about what's going on out here in our world.

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