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Policy

Adequate Thought On Open Access

July 29, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 30

“Open-Access Teamwork Takes Off” (C&EN, June 10, page 24) is, in many respects, more interesting for what it does not say about this subject. The article notes that federal agencies will partner with publishers and librarians. Where are the scientists and scientific societies?

Indeed, a significant fraction of the scientific literature is published by not-for-profit science, mathematics, and science education societies. Publications often represent the core activity of these organizations. Journal pricing by scientific societies is a fraction of that of for-profit publishers. Journal publishing is not free. It requires spending for hardware, software, management of peer review, editorial work, long-term database maintenance, and printing. The important question is, who pays: authors, users, or a third party (institutions or government)?

Without careful consideration of the impact of open-access publishing on scientific societies, serious damage to both science and science education may result. Scientific societies have been publishing professional journals for more than 100 years. Net revenues from publications fund a variety of science education and public outreach activities. These activities—for example, maintenance of archived papers in the scientific literature—could be lost along with services that support the scientific community.

The open-access plan for scientific publishing seems to be that authors will pay publication fees on the order of $1,500 to $2,000 per paper. Where will scientists get that money? Will funding agencies increase grants by some 2 to 4% to cover publication fees? The alternative may be to cut publications and/or students.

An embargo period of 18 to 24 months has been identified as the necessary period before research published in scientific society journals moves to open-access archives. An inadequate embargo period clearly will result in not-for-profit journal collapse.

Copyright issues have also not been addressed. Simplistic open access will lead to impairment of the research enterprise that drives our economy. Scientists are the authors and prime users of the scientific literature. Their needs should be paramount.

Gordon L. Nelson
President, Council of Scientific Society Presidents
Melbourne, Fla.

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