science politics

You’d be forgiven if after reading the title of this post, you thought scholars have started to revolt against journal rank. Unfortunately, while there is DORA and of course the evidence that journal rank is like homeopathy, most researchers are still fine with ex-scientists rejecting 92% of all submitted articles and charging a grand sum of more than US$30,000 per article that they select on a whim. Never mind the unnecessary delay of science and the agony not only of the rejected authors but also of the reviewers who need to re-review the papers as they trickle down the hierarchy. No, hardly anybody thinks 30k per article is too much, just because some ex-scientist is selecting the work. Regular journals publish at costs of “a few hundred dollars“, so the only justification for the 30k price tag is the selection.

Essentially, almost everybody’s fine with paying 30k per article for a selection process devoid of any evidence that it actually improves anything.

What some authors and colleagues are upset about, is that a new publisher, Apple Academic Press, is selling selected open access papers as books – for around US$100 a pop. Granted, there is a lot to criticize about this particular publisher’s stunt: they repackaged a selection of open access (CC-BY licensed) articles without the knowledge of the authors, they changed some titles and hid the original publisher in the acknowledgment section of the papers and obviously didn’t send the authors complimentary copies. There is no question that this is some really horrible style. However, compared to $30k an article or several hundred each year for a subscription, $100 for a whole book seems like a fair deal. Given that these books seem to cover highly specialized areas, featuring articles that are available for free, one wouldn’t expect they will sell much, so the actual cost per article in each book is miniscule. So essentially, the $100 are only for someone to do the selecting, which is precisely what the ex-scientists at the GlamMagz do to the detriment of science as well as researchers and at much, much higher financial costs to boot.

Balancing what ‘traditional’ publishers do to science and scientists on a daily basis with the listed shortcomings of this new strategy by Apple AP, I can’t help but wonder what people get so upset about? Of course, authors ought to be notified, but if we got upset about everything publishers ought to do, nobody would be able to calm down ever again. Of course, the publisher should show that the papers have been published before, but that info is in the acknowledgments. Moreover, the price is a real bargain, compared to other ‘selection services’ and you don’t even have to pay it as long as you get the list of titles. Anybody who gets upset about such bad style, ought to be ragingly mad at what GlamMag publishers do.

Clearly, to emphasize it again, this new procedure leaves much room for improvement. However, in principle, this is exactly what we want: someone serving as a filter for selecting the most relevant discoveries – but after the publication, not before, when it slows everything down and clogs the system. With more and more of these services, they can compete with each other and develop track records that can be compared. There will be some that cater to the public, others to clinicians or other professional sections of the public, again others will cater to scientists. This is precisely the kind of re-use CC-BY had in mind. Apple AP obviously didn’t win a prize for the most innovative post-publication review system, but it’s a beginning of what open access advocates have been proposing for almost two decades now: open access and wide commercial re-use of publicly funded research to the benefit of the public. Imagine if some whiz kid picked up one of these books from a public library or some other place where it was lying around and developed a new cancer diagnostic!

For sure, nobody needs to be enthusiastic about this particular instance, but every open access proponent should embrace, not condemn these developments, if just for the potential they carry.

UPDATE: after some Twitter discussion, here’s a suggestion for how the execution of this service might be improved: the publisher could just offer the list of titles for sale with a print-on-demand option. If their selection if worth anything, they should find customers willing to pay for it.

Posted on  at 21:50