Enough is Enough, Academic Journals!

27 01 2012


Slashdot Reports:

“The academic publisher Elsevier has attracted controversy for its high prices, the practice of bundling journals for sale to libraries and its support for legislation such as SOPA and the Research Works Act. Fields medal-winning mathematician Tim Gowers decided to go public with a blog post describing how he’ll no longer have anything to do with Elsevier journals, and suggesting that a public website where mathematicians and scientists could register their support for an Elsevier boycott would further the cause. Such a website now exists, with hundreds of academics signing-up so far. John Baez has a nice write-up of the problem and possible solutions.”

I’m not sure how much traction this will really have, but it may bring to light the fact that the academic journal business model is severely overdue for a revamp.  Frankly, it is absurd to charge $30-50 for a 3 page article, which, if you are not working in a large academic center, you have little access to otherwise.   Let alone the fact that the articles were submitted to them basically for free.

It is frustrating to watch history repeat itself constantly, and it is hard to not conclude that media corporations are fueled solely by greed.  We all want to make money; I get it.  I can also see how it might be easier to cling to an outdated business model rather than to innovate to keep pace with technology and the evolving needs of the customer.  Unfortunately, that is no excuse.

I am desperately hoping that what happened with Apple and music (and most recently, textbooks) and Amazon and leisure books will happen with academic journals.  In my opinion, revamping their business models has saved their respective industries.  My fear, however, is that academic journals will remain greedy and obstinate like newspapers and the movie studios who clearly just don’t get it.

While Gowers’ heart is in the right place, gaining real momentum may prove daunting.  Perhaps the only real way to light a fire under the collective rears of the publishers would be to get the support of major academic institutions, but this also may prove daunting for reasons any physician could readily guess.

Call me weird, but I think that potentially life-saving information should be open-sourced, otherwise one could go as far as to conclude that the academic journal co’s are putting prices on the heads of patients (I of course wouldn’t go that far, but one could I suppose…).  Also, I’d venture a guess that most doctors would innately choose to share information over holding it hostage for cash (aka I’d like to think that we are more Woznian than Jobsian).

I know I am not the only physician that thinks this way- a notable exception to this disturbing trend is The Journal of Pathology Informatics.  I don’t need to go on about what a quality journal this is, as anyone that reads this blog is surely familiar with it, but it is worth mentioning, that they get it right-  perhaps the best angle of attack should be to take back our articles and start distributing them ourselves. You don’t need a third party to peer review, publish and distribute your findings anymore.  Articles can be emailed for proofing and peer review and then published online for free.  Like YouTube did for musicians, you don’t need the backing of a mega-corporation to get the word out anymore.

Once we professionals as a whole realize this and become comfortable with the concept, the game is over, and if the publishers don’t get on-board and start updating their practices, they will be left in the dust.  My advice to them is to offer pdf articles for $1.99/article in a single, curated “store” because it is certainly more than the $0.00 they will get when we stop submitting articles to them.

Link to the Elsevier boycott page: http://thecostofknowledge.com/





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