Category Archives: Open access

Das Ende von Open Medicine: Idealismus alleine reicht auf Dauer nicht

Nach 7 Jahren mit 31 Ausgaben schliesst das kanadische Journal Open Medicine. Das Journal entstand 2007 nach Streitigkeiten des Editorial Boards zur inhaltlichen Unabhängigkeit des Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, CMAJ.

Im Editorial der letzten Ausgabe erwähnen die Herausgeberinnen die fehlende finanzielle Nachhaltigkeit als Hauptgrund.

Had we a crystal ball in 2006, what would we have done differently? There is no question that financial sustainability has been foremost in our minds. Although we have attempted to pay modest stipends for journal operations, neither our scientific editors nor our editors-in chief have been compensated, and most of our administrative and production staff have volunteered much of their time. For fear of turning away authors, we delayed instituting publication charges until quite late in the game. As researchers, we struggled to be good fundraisers, communication specialists, information technology and web developers, and public relations experts. As busy doctors, we struggled…

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Why open-access publication should be nonprofit

Haspelmath M (2013) Why open-access publication should be nonprofit — a view from the field of theoretical language science. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 7:57. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00057

Why open-access publication should be nonprofit—a view from the field of theoretical language science

Martin Haspelmath
Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany

Many of my fellow theoretical linguistics researchers have not noticed the momentous changes in the world of science publication yet. When confronted with the idea that publication costs should be covered by author fees (“author processing charges,” or APCs), they often react with disbelief and indignation.

But the signs of inefficiency of the old subscription-based system are just as clear in my field as elsewhere, so I see no reasonable alternative to Gold open access (i.e., freely accessible electronic publications on the publisher’s website). Green open access is inefficient because of the duplication of efforts, and subscription is inefficient because it is very difficult to predict for an institution to what extent its members will want to use a journal or book. Moreover, the subscription-based model is even worse for scholars with low budgets: While a low-budget scholar can at least read the richer scholars’ works on the APC-based open access model, not even that is possible on the traditional model, and usually one can publish in prestigious places only if one knows the relevant literature.

But is APC-based publication of scientific results by profit-oriented companies (such as Holtzbrinck, the parent company of Nature Publishing Group, the parent company of Frontiers) a good alternative to subscription? Clearly, the old author-pays model removes a major inefficiency of the subscription-based system, because the authors know that they want to publish, whereas the subscribers only suspect that they want to use the publications. According to Stuart Shieber, an open-access expert and theoretical linguist at Harvard University, subscription-based publication can lead to market dysfunction (unreasonably high publication prices) because science journals are not competitive goods: If you subscribe to one science journal, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need another one (see Shieber, 2013). But from the author’s perspective, Shieber says, they are competitive goods: You just need to publish in one journal, and you can choose the cheapest one.

Shieber’s article is very sophisticated from an economics perspective, but it completely leaves aside a crucial component of scientific publication that I will argue leads to market dysfunction also with the APC-based open-access model: Scientific publications serve both to disseminate research results and to build careers of scientists. The success of a scientist (and of groups of scientists) is routinely measured by the place of publication of the work. When evaluating a scientist, the evaluators not only look at the amount of research output and the amount of citations, but also at the place of publication. Moreover, when deciding what to cite, scientists routinely privilege papers published in more prestigious journals and books published in more prestigious imprints. Thus, to be a successful scientist, one needs to publish in the same places as other successful scientists. Thus, journals and imprints have a significance for science that goes far beyond the purpose of dissemination of research results. The latter can nowadays be achieved much more easily, by archives such as, or by publishing in one’s personal blog, or on The primary purpose of peer review is actually peer selection: One needs to make a special effort to present one’s results in such a way that one’s peers recognize their value. It is only in this way that one’s research is likely to have an impact on others. Being selected for publication in a particular place (journal or book imprint) means being successful.

One could imagine alternative models of establishing scientific credentials, e.g., by a rating system similar to the one found in online bookshops, but discussing these is beyond the scope of this note. The big advantage of anonymous peer review and selection that I see for my own field is that it gives younger scholars the chance to become more widely visible even without traveling to many conferences. In the following, I assume that peer selection of publications will be the prevalent mode of establishing scientific credentials also in the future.

Now crucially, the association of place of publication with prestige means that the market for APC-based journals does NOT provide for competition after all: I cannot simply submit my paper to a cheaper journal if the cheaper journal has much less prestige and will lead to much fewer citations of the article. I will quite likely submit my paper to the best journal in my subfield even if this means that I will pay higher APCs (as long as my budget still allows it). Publishers will be able to price their journals according to their prestige, not according to their services. But in the 21st century, the prestige of a journal is primarily the result of the work of the scientists who publish in it, who serve as editors and as reviewers, and not the result of the publisher’s efforts. If I publish an excellent piece of research in a journal, or if I write a careful review of a submitted manuscript, I thereby enhance the prestige of this journal, and I thereby contribute to making the journal more expensive for future submitters. The publishers will reap the benefits of my excellent and conscientious work, because they can charge more without improving their services. This situation is clearly undesirable for science.

Journal and book publication has become very simple and cheap as a result of technological developments: One just needs typesetting, hosting and web presentation, as well as perhaps some kind of print-on-demand service (for open-access books). This can be done very easily without major investments, and as a result, journal publication in the less wealthy countries has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. For example, the Brazilian platform hosts over 1000 journals that are freely accessible and do not charge any author fees.

Of course, even nowadays journal and book publication does not come for free, and somebody has to pay for it. But in order to have a functioning market with reasonable prices, one needs real competition. My research institution can replace its cleaning company by another one, or it can buy its computers and printers from different companies if we are dissatisfied with the services and products. But we cannot simply replace journals and imprints, because we use these to build our careers and to measure our success.

A functioning model would be one where the scientists own the journal titles and book imprints, and where they choose typesetters, webdesign companies, and hosting companies that can be easily replaced by others if the prices are not right. Just as basic science itself is not a profit-oriented activity, publication of scientific results would not be a profit-oriented activity. APCs could be charged by the nonprofit organizations of the scientists (universities, scientific libraries, scholarly associations), but these would not increase as a result of excellent and high-impact work being published by the journals and imprints. On the contrary, since universities and scholarly associations derive their prestige in part from their publications, it is to be expected that the best work will be published without any APCs: These nonprofit organizations would benefit from their prestigious journals and imprints, so it would make sense for them to subsidize them in much the same way as they are subsidizing non-profit-oriented basic research itself.

The alternative model, where APCs are charged by profit-oriented publishers, has another serious drawback: It creates a strong incentive to create journals and book imprints that function like “vanity presses,” allowing authors to publish their low-quality work without significant risk of rejection. Vanity presses have long existed in the regular book market, and they have not been a problem because no public money went into them. Of course, everyone should be free to publish their bad novels or low-quality scientific articles if they desire. However, when it comes to scientific publications, the idea is that the APCs are covered by grants for scientific research, i.e., mostly by public money that would otherwise go into science. In the traditional system, grant holders are free to publish the results of their research wherever they want—but there used to be a limited set of possibilities, and scientific vanity publishers hardly existed. But nowadays increasingly, grant agencies are trying to impose the restriction that the publication should be open access—and with the for-profit approach, there is an unlimited set of possibilities. Anyone can easily found a new journal and offer publication for APCs, simply claiming that it is peer-reviewed. For example, I recently heard of two Chinese companies that are publishing a large number of open-access journals, some of them in my field of linguistics: Wuhan-based SCIRP (, over 250 journals) and Beijing-based MDPI (, over 120 journals). The business model here is to start a large number of new journals and to hope that some of them will succeed and bring profit. For example, MDPI’s journal Languages does not even have an editor yet. This is of course reminiscent of the business model of spam e-mail, and in fact, some observers have warned of the danger of “predatory journals.” In particular, Jeffrey Beal noted in a Nature column in 2012 that there are hundreds of journals with this business model, and he writes:

The competition for author fees among fraudulent publishers is a serious threat to the future of science communication. To compete in a crowded market, legitimate open-access publishers are being forced to promise shorter submission-to-publication times; this weakens the peer-review process, which takes time to do properly. To tackle the problem, scholars must resist the temptation to publish quickly and easily… (Beall, 2012)

But the problem with Beall’s argumentation is that it is difficult to say in what sense the business model of “predatory” publishers is “fraudulent.” They are just exploiting a new niche that has been created by the notion that authors should pay for publication by profit-oriented companies. Clearly, given the current system, where not only quality, but also quantity of publication counts, scholars have an incentive to publish “quickly and easily.” Moral exhortations to “resist the temptation” will not make this problem go away.

In order to prevent scholars from publishing their work in less than fully respectable venues, science funders will have to set up a new control system that monitors journal publishers and that prevents grant holders from using grant money to publish in these journals. It is difficult to see how this can be done efficiently and without unduly restricting the freedom of scientists. In any event, it will cost money that would be saved if publication costs were carried by the publishers (universities, libraries, scholarly associations), rather than by the authors.

Another argument that Shieber (2013) cites against toll-access publication is that traditional publishers typically use price bundling, so that canceling individual journal subscriptions does not significantly reduce the costs of the libraries. But is this different in the for-profit open-access model? Not at all: Once open-access publication becomes the norm, for-profit publishers will introduce price bundling for APCs: If your institution enters into an agreement with the publisher, you will pay only EUR 500 for publishing your paper instead of the usual EUR 1000. There are already signs that this is happening: In January 2013, De Gruyter and the Max Planck Society came to an agreement about open-access publication of Max Planck books by De Gruyter (see

To summarize, the major argument for open access is that toll access is inefficient because there can be no functioning market (Shieber, 2013) and because it is difficult for subscribers to predict their needs. How should open-access publication be funded? One common funding option is by public funds, i.e., publication is funded in the same way in which science is funded. The other major funding option is by for-profit companies, on the basis of APCs. The major argument against for-profit companies is again that there can be no functioning market: Scientific publications not only serve to disseminate research findings, but they also build scientific prestige and reputation. Thus, they should be owned by scientists and their institutions, not by companies whose main purpose is to make money. If scientific work is published by for-profit companies, they make money from the reputation that is built up by publicly-funded scientific work. This means that scientific work should be published by nonprofit organizations—those very organizations that are engaged in doing science. This is in fact the traditional model of the 19th century, when it was primarily the scholarly societies and academies that published scientific works. It turns out that this is also the best model for the future.


Beall, J. (2012). Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature 489, 179. doi: 10.1038/489179a

Pubmed Abstract | Pubmed Full Text | CrossRef Full Text

Shieber, S. (2013). Why Open Access is Better for Scholarly Societies. Available online at:

Whither Science Publishing?

[from The Scientist, August 1, 2012]

Whither Science Publishing?

Bob Grant

As we stand on the brink of a new scientific age, how researchers should best communicate their findings and innovations is hotly debated in the publishing trenches.

[…] Over the intervening centuries, academic publishing has morphed into a sprawling international industry that, on the one hand, rakes in revenues of more than $19 billion in its scientific, technical, and medical segment alone, according to one 2008 analysis (Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, 9, ISSN 1704-8532, 2008). On the other hand, a constellation of open-access (OA) publishers, producing nearly 8,000 OA journals (according to statistics kept by the Directory of Open Access Journals) has grown up, paralleling the rise of the Internet as the primary mode of gathering, communicating, and sharing information both inside and outside the scientific community.

Today, researchers stand on the brink of a new age in scholarly publishing. Never before has science been so inundated with new findings, or have technical advances generated such mountains of data. Innovations sprout from labs the world over as humanity’s understanding of our universe grows. But that growth is only as robust as the system used to share disparate bits of knowledge, test and challenge reported advances, and remotely collaborate in scientific efforts. To keep up with the blistering pace of scientific and technological advances, publishers are getting creative. In recent years, new concepts such as post-publication peer review, all-scientist editorial teams, lifetime publishing privilege fees, and funder-supported open access have entered the publishing consciousness.

But open access and other newer publishing modalities are still dwarfed by the traditional subscription-based model. Will open access eventually become the dominant mode of publishing science? Are there unseen challenges that await such a dramatic shift? Are there ways to improve the traditional system of peer review, a practice introduced nearly 350 years ago to vet articles published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society?

The Scientist asked these questions and more of publishers, researchers, information scientists, and others to get a sense of where scientific publishing stands today, and where it’s going.

… continue reading at The Scientist

TU Munich cancels subscriptions to Elsevier journals


Elsevier-Zeitschriften, 2.5.2012

Aufgrund unzumutbarer Kosten und Bezugsbedingungen hat das Direktorium des Zentrums Mathematik beschlossen, alle abonnierten Elsevier-Zeitschriften ab 2013 abzubestellen.

Because of unsustainable subscription prices and conditions, the board of directors of the mathematics department has voted to cancel all of its subscriptions to Elsevier journals by 2013.


Harvard Faculty Advisory Council Memorandum on Journal Pricing

[from Harvard Library News]
Major Periodical Subscriptions Cannot Be Sustained

To: Faculty Members in all Schools, Faculties, and Units
From: The Faculty Advisory Council
Date: April 17, 2012
RE: Periodical Subscriptions

We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.

Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these providers now approaches $3.75M. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires. Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices. These journals therefore claim an ever-increasing share of our overall collection budget. Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles.

The Library has never received anything close to full reimbursement for these expenditures from overhead collected by the University on grant and research funds.

The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership,  reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised.

It is untenable for contracts with at least two major providers to continue on the basis identical with past agreements. Costs are now prohibitive. Moreover, some providers bundle many journals as one subscription, with major, high-use journals bundled in with journals consulted far less frequently. Since the Library now must change its subscriptions and since faculty and graduate students are chief users, please consider the following options open to faculty and students (F) and the Library (L), state other options you think viable, and communicate your views:

1. Make sure that all of your own papers are accessible by submitting them to DASH in accordance with the faculty-initiated open-access policies (F).

2. Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access (F).

3. If on the editorial board of a journal involved, determine if it can be published as open access material, or independently from publishers that practice pricing described above. If not, consider resigning (F).

4. Contact professional organizations to raise these issues (F).

5. Encourage professional associations to take control of scholarly literature in their field or shift the management of their e-journals to library-friendly organizations (F).

6. Encourage colleagues to consider and to discuss these or other options (F).

7. Sign contracts that unbundle subscriptions and concentrate on higher-use journals (L).

8. Move journals to a sustainable pay per use system, (L).

9. Insist on subscription contracts in which the terms can be made public (L).

See coverage:
Chronicle of Higher Education
Inside Higher Education
The Atlantic

‘Predatory’ Online Journals Lure Scholars Who Are Eager to Publish

An article by Michael Stanford in The Chronicle of Higher Education on questionable Open Access publishers like OMICS, who has become infamous for how it recruits editorial board members.

Such abuse is becoming more prevalent, Mr. Beall said. On his blog Scholarly Open Access, he keeps a running list of what he calls “predatory” open-access publishers. Mr. Beall said he uncovers one new predatory journal or publishing company about every week, and his list now totals more than 50 publishers and individual journals.

Mr. Beall defines a “predatory” publisher as one whose main goal is to generate profits rather than promote academic scholarship. Such publishers, he said, “add little value to scholarship, pay little attention to digital preservation, and operate using fly-by-night, unsustainable business models.”

OMICS has earned Beall’s “predatory” distinction, along with other open-access publishers like Insight Knowledge, Knowledgia Scientific, and InTech. Also on the list is Bentham Open, which attracted attention in 2009 when it accepted for publication a nonsensical article that had been written by a computer program and submitted by a graduate student who questioned the journal’s claims of peer review.

The Cost of Knowledge: Elsevier drops support for the Research Works Act

The media echo of protesting researchers (“Cost of Knowledge”) eventually led to a phenomenal success: after Elsevier dropped its support for the Research Works Act, the bill’s co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives declared the legislation dead.

Tagged ,

Academic publishers have become the enemies of science

A good summary of the debate and possible implications of the new US Research Works Act (RWA) by guest author Mike Taylor was published in The Guardian, 2012-01-16.

I also liked a comment suggesting to “send off your work to a presitgious, peer-review journal which has paywalls. Have your article peer-reviewed and accepted for publication. Withdraw it from the journal, and post it online yourself along with the acceptance letter. That way you get free dissemination of your work along with a rubber-stamp saying it has been peer-reviewed.”


Academic publishers have become the enemies of science

The US Research Works Act would allow publishers to line their pockets by locking publicly funded research behind paywalls

This is the moment academic publishers gave up all pretence of being on the side of scientists. Their rhetoric has traditionally been of partnering with scientists, but the truth is that for some time now scientific publishers have been anti-science and anti-publication. The Research Works Act, introduced in the US Congress on 16 December, amounts to a declaration of war by the publishers.

The USA’s main funding agency for health-related research is the National Institutes of Health, with a $30bn annual budget. The NIH has a public access policy that says taxpayer-funded research must be freely accessible online. This means that members of the public, having paid once to have the research done, don’t have to pay for it again when they read it – a wholly reasonable policy, and one with enormous humanitarian implications because it means the results of medical research are made freely available around the world.

A similar policy is now being adopted in the UK. On page 76 of the policy document Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth the government states that it is “committed to ensuring that publicly funded research should be accessible free of charge”. All of this is great for the progress of science, which has always been based on the free flow of ideas, the sharing of data, and standing on the shoulders of giants.

But what’s good for science isn’t necessarily good for science publishers, whose interests have drifted far out of alignment with ours. Under the old model, publishers become the owners of the papers they publish, holding the copyright and selling copies around the world – a useful service in pre-internet days. But now that it’s a trivial undertaking to make a paper globally available, there is no reason why scientists need yield copyright to publishers.

[…] view full text at The Guardian

If passed, the Research Works Act (RWA) would prohibit the NIH’s public access policy and anything similar enacted by other federal agencies, locking publicly funded research behind paywalls. The result would be an ethical disaster: preventable deaths in developing countries, and an incalculable loss for science in the USA and worldwide. The only winners would be publishing corporations such as Elsevier (£724m profits on revenues of £2b in 2010 – an astounding 36% of revenue taken as profit).

Since Elsevier’s obscene additional profits would be drained from America to the company’s base in the Netherlands if this bill were enacted, what kind of American politician would support it? The RWA is co-sponsored by Darrell Issa (Republican, California) and Carolyn B. Maloney (Democrat, New York). In the 2012 election cycle, Elsevier and its senior executives made 31 donations to representatives: of these, two went to Issa and 12 to Maloney, including the largest individual contribution.

[…] view full text at The Guardian

The bottom line for scientists is that many publishers have now made themselves our enemies instead of the allies they once were. Elsevier’s business does not make money by publishing our work, but by doing the exact opposite: restricting access to it. We must not be complicit in their newest attempt to cripple the progress of science.

Dr Mike Taylor is a research associate at the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol




Berichte aus dem Open-Access-Krieg

Der neue US-Gesetzesentwurf des Research Work Act, welches darauf abzielt, Open-Access-Mandate zu verhindern bzw. abzuschaffen in Blogs wie und archivalia.

Gesetze wie dieses sind Lobby-Arbeit der kommerziellen Verlage ‘vom Feinsten’! In Deutschland läuft das ähnlich und heisst dann Heidelberger Erklärung

Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research

[Gargouri Y, Hajjem C, Larivière V, Gingras Y, Carr L, et al. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLoS ONE 5(10): e13636. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013636]

Articles whose authors have supplemented subscription-based access to the publisher’s version by self-archiving their own final draft to make it accessible free for all on the web (“Open Access”, OA) are cited significantly more than articles in the same journal and year that have not been made OA. Some have suggested that this “OA Advantage” may not be causal but just a self-selection bias, because authors preferentially make higher-quality articles OA. To test this we compared self-selective self-archiving with mandatory self-archiving for a sample of 27,197 articles published 2002–2006 in 1,984 journals.

Methdology/Principal Findings
The OA Advantage proved just as high for both. Logistic regression analysis showed that the advantage is independent of other correlates of citations (article age; journal impact factor; number of co-authors, references or pages; field; article type; or country) and highest for the most highly cited articles. The OA Advantage is real, independent and causal, but skewed. Its size is indeed correlated with quality, just as citations themselves are (the top 20% of articles receive about 80% of all citations).

The OA advantage is greater for the more citable articles, not because of a quality bias from authors self-selecting what to make OA, but because of a quality advantage, from users self-selecting what to use and cite, freed by OA from the constraints of selective accessibility to subscribers only. It is hoped that these findings will help motivate the adoption of OA self-archiving mandates by universities, research institutions and research funders.

[continue at PLoS One]