from the setting-information-free dept.
Expensive research journal subscriptions could be on the way out, if the Wellcome Trust has its way. The moneybags UK research foundation has published a report favoring free, so-called open access, journals over those that charge a fee for access. The report reviewed the activities of research institutions that received funding from the trust. It found that it is cheaper, and thus a better use of grants, to place papers in freely available journals.
Meanwhile, the trust feels it's not getting enough bang for its bucks from hybrid publications. These hybrids charge scientists a decent wedge of cash to publish their work, charge people for journal subscriptions, and offer access to individual articles for free. In other words, the foundation would rather scientists submit their work to open-access journals, which are cheaper than hybrids in terms of publication and subscription costs. "We find that hybrid open access continues to be significantly more expensive than fully open access journals, and that as a whole, the level of service provided by hybrid publishers is poor and is not delivering what we are paying for," the trust said.
Jason Schmitt was working at Atlantic Records when the online site Napster disrupted the music industry by making copyrighted songs freely available. Now, the communications and media researcher at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, is pushing for a similar disruption of academic publishing with Paywall, a documentary about the open-access movement that debuts today in a Washington, D.C., theater. "I don't think that it's right that for-profit publishers can make 35%–40% profit margins. The content is provided for them for free by academics," Schmitt, who produced the film, says.
The documentary explores the impact of Sci-Hub, a website that provides pirated versions of paywalled papers for free online, and interviews academics and publishing figures. Schmitt says many large publishers refused to go on camera—although representatives from Science and Nature did—and he is not impressed that several have begun publishing some open-access journals. "Elsevier is as much to open access as McDonald's fast food is to healthy," he says.
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Attendees of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute meeting debated whether or not science journals should publish the text of peer reviews, or even require peer reviewers to publicly sign their paper critiques:
Scientific journals should start routinely publishing the text of peer reviews for each paper they accept, said attendees at a meeting last week of scientists, academic publishers, and funding organizations. But there was little consensus on whether reviewers should have to publicly sign their critiques, which traditionally are accessible only to editors and authors.
The meeting—hosted by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) here, and sponsored by HHMI; ASAPbio, a group that promotes the use of life sciences preprints; and the London-based Wellcome Trust—drew more than 100 participants interested in catalyzing efforts to improve the vetting of manuscripts and exploring ways to open up what many called an excessively opaque and slow system of peer review. The crowd heard presentations and held small group discussions on an array of issues. One hot topic: whether journals should publish the analyses of submitted papers written by peer reviewers.
Publishing the reviews would advance training and understanding about how the peer-review system works, many speakers argued. Some noted that the evaluations sometimes contain insights that can prompt scientists to think about their field in new ways. And the reviews can serve as models for early career researchers, demonstrating how to write thorough evaluations. "We saw huge benefits to [publishing reviews] that outweigh the risks," said Sue Biggins, a genetics researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, summarizing one discussion.
But attendees also highlighted potential problems. For example, someone could cherry pick critical comments on clinical research studies that are involved in litigation or public controversy, potentially skewing perceptions of the studies. A possible solution? Scientists should work to "make the public understand that [peer review] is a fault-finding process and that criticism is part of and expected in that process," said Veronique Kiermer, executive editor of the PLOS suite of journals, based in San Francisco, California.
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