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Open court

March 22, 2004 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 82, ISSUE 12

Your Editor's Page "The Open-Access Myth" is disappointingly negative (C&EN, Feb. 23, page 3).

Idealism and economic reality often collide. There is a place for both, and real change emerges from a cycle in which ideals are tempered by financial constraints, then modified, yes, compromising, but without loss of purpose. Your editorial loses faith before it starts out. Faith in what? In our science, a wonderful system for creating reliable knowledge, a process critically dependent on a shared commitment to tell others what we do and on widely accessible publication and archiving. The availability of ideas and discoveries, at least in some library within reach (and now on the Web, extending that reach), makes our creative enterprise work.

Your Editor's Page lacks vision; to me it sounds like the automotive industry in its days of fighting catalytic converters. You give us a litany of everything economically wrong with the idea of open access and the Public Library of Science implementation. Sure, it's an unproven idea, but that's hardly bad, in either chemistry or a rapidly changing (from the point of view of Internet access to information) world. Instead of fault-finding, I would recommend that we start with the ideal of open access: It's at the heart of what we do. And try to think of a way to make it work.

Roald Hoffmann
Ithaca, N.Y.

"The Open-Access Myth" is important reading, and complements the positions of both ACS and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Peter Gregory, RSC's director of publishing, explains what open archive initiatives could mean, both to scientific research and to learned societies, in an editorial in the final issue of Chemistry in Britain [39, 33 (2003)]. Some important points are listed below:

◾ The charitable activities of many society publishers in the U.K. (and presumably the rest of the world) would not be possible without income from their publishing activities.

◾ Should authors have to cover the cost of the submissions that are rejected, since this is a fairly substantial cost?

◾ Industrial authors are few, and industrial readers are many. Should academic authors subsidize industrial research and information acquisition?

◾ Who is really excluded in the current 'reader pays' system? Users in the poorest countries generally have free access, and users in countries such as Russia, Australia, and Israel and large organizations such as those in India, China, California, and Ohio have comprehensive access to RSC publications through centrally paid consortium deals.

Gregory's concerns mirror those of ACS President Charles P. Casey, who, in his "Message from the President" (C&EN, Jan. 5, page 2), states: "At least partially in response to the high cost of commercial journals, a second trend calling for 'open access' publishing has developed. It calls for Internet publishing to make journals free for all to read. ... Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn.) has proposed legislation that would require free access to publication of federally supported research. This would effectively remove copyright protection for ACS and other scientific journals. It would bias the publishing system toward the open-access model and would fatally damage publications of scientific societies. ACS has taken a strong position against the Sabo bill because the legislation would destroy ACS's ability to fulfill its mission of providing high-quality chemical publications at a reasonable cost."

In discussing the open-access question, I agree with Casey that "the solution to soaring library costs does not lie with open-access publishing but rather with electronic journals from scientific societies that are made available at reasonable costs. The solution will also require scientists to exert pressure on commercial publishers. The time has come for chemists who are editors or editorial board members of commercial journals to use their considerable influence to strongly urge publishers to greatly reduce their prices. I believe it is also time for chemists to consider whether they will continue to support exorbitantly priced commercial journals by serving as editors, editorial board members, authors, and referees!"

In this regard, please compare the 2003 cost-per-page data for inorganic/organometallic chemistry journals, which surely is indicative of the source of current funding problems in research libraries. (The numbers are listed as comparable print plus site-wide electronic access; VCH-GDC = Wiley-VCH, S-V = Springer-Verlag, Els = Elsevier.)

Inorg. Chem. (ACS): $0.29
Organometallics (ACS): $0.43
Dalton Transactions (RSC): $0.52
Eur. J. Inorg. Chem. (VCH-GDC): $0.65
J. Biol. Inorg. Chem. (S-V): $0.95
Inorg. Chim. Acta (Els): $1.90
J. Organomet. Chem. (Els): $2.04
Polyhedron (Els): $2.17

Dana L. Roth
Pasadena, Calif.

I appreciate the editorial discussing open access to scientific literature. While I agree that it is human nature to want something for nothing, it is equally worth noting that ACS and other publishers of scientific papers exacerbate the divide among the information haves and have-nots by the electronic distibution paradigms currently in vogue.

For example, on my shelf are several copies of Accounts of Chemical Research from a time two decades ago when I personally subscribed to that journal. Upon ending my subscription, my old editions did not disappear. On the other hand, the ACS Journals Archives warns that "archives subscriptions are applicable only for titles to which a member holds a corresponding current Web Edition subscription."

How unfortunate that such a worthy resource is underutilized, thanks to this policy. A more rational alternative would be to provide everything freely, after a reasonable embargo period. Libraries and individuals would still pay for current information, only available by subscription, while older materials would be available to all readers. All of us--current, past, and, dare we hope, future subscribers--could all be served while preserving the income flow that is needed to offset the cost of publishing quality journals.

Irvin Levy
Wenham, Mass.



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