WTF? The University of California sides with publishers against the public

The University of California system spends nearly $40 million every year to buy access to academic journals, even though many of the articles are written, reviewed, and edited by UC professors. So you’d think the cash-strapped UC system would leap to back any effort to undermine the absurd science publishing system.

You’d think. But you’d be wrong.

Assemblymember Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) introduced a bill – The California Taxpayer Access to Publicly Funded Research Act (AB 609) – that would require recipients of state-funded research grants to make copies of their work freely available through the California State Library within six months of their initial publication.

Although I think that the six month embargo is unnecessary – there’s no reason not to make publicly funded works immediately freely available – I sent in a letter supporting the bill, as it establishes the state’s interest in ensuring public access to taxpayer funded research.

Hearings into the bill were scheduled for last week, but were delayed so that the bill could be modified in order to earn the support of the University of California – the flagship higher education system in the state, and the host of millions of dollars in state-funded research.

When I first heard this I was excited. “Finally,” I thought, “UC is stepping up to the plate and taking a strong stance in support of open access.” Then I read the letter UC had sent.

Adrian Diaz, the University of California’s Legislative Director, wrote that UC was “supportive of the legislation’s intent” but would only support it if the embargo period were extended to one year, and if its own grant programs were exempted from the bill’s requirements.

I was dumbfounded.

Here is Diaz’s rationale for extending the embargo:

The University recommends that the bill’s six month publication embargo period be amended to conform to federal public access policies. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy and the recent public access policy direction to federal agencies from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) both permit a twelve month embargo period for  published manuscripts. We believe that consistency between the different public access policies to which our researchers must comply will help avoid confusion and promote compliance with the law. A twelve month embargo period will also allow publishers, including small publishers and scholarly societies, to meet their needs for revenue while ensuring long-term public access to published research. UC believes that a twelve month embargo period will facilitate publication in leading scholarly journals, which may reject manuscripts for which the permissible embargo is only six months.

This is nothing short of insane.

When the White House issued its “public access” policy a few months ago, in which they directed Federal agencies to make works they fund available to the public within 12 months, I argued that open access supporters should not celebrate because this was going to establish a year long delay as the law of the land. And here is the first evidence that I was right.

But it is even more troubling that a university whose libraries are facing budget cuts every year while they try to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of journal subscriptions would cite publishers’ need for revenue as their guiding principle when judging policies related to scholarly publishing.

How can Diaz DEFEND this system?? A system in which universities fork over billions of dollars of public money every year in order to buy back access to papers researchers gave to publishers for free? A system that is bankrupting our libraries? A system that denies people access to research their tax dollars paid for?

What is wrong with the University? Is it so married to the status quo that it can not see that it is being immeasurably harmed by it? Is it so out of touch with its public mission that it reflexively sides with the establishment even when it means unambiguously thwarting a public good?

For decades universities have sat idly by doing nothing while the serials crisis loomed. They have been silent as immense change has come to scholarly publishing. And now, when they finally speak up, this is what they say?

THIS is why we can’t have nice things.


I sent the following letter to Mr. Diaz and other UC officials:

Adrian Diaz
Legislative Director
Office of State and Governmental Relations
1130 K Street, Suite 340
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Mr. Diaz,

I am writing in regards to your letter of April 12th sent to the Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee regarding AB 609, The California Taxpayer Access to Publicly Funded Research Act.

Your letter expresses support for the legislation’s intent, but conditions UC support for the bill on a lengthening of the embargo period from six months to one year. I urge you to reconsider this position.

You write that a longer delay is necessary to “allow publishers to meet their needs for revenue”, yet this is true only for publishers that use a subscription-based business model that is outdated and no longer serves the interests of the research community or the public that funds it.

Journals that fund their operations through subscriptions have no choice but to restrict access to the content to subscribers. Thus the business model is fundamentally incompatible with what should be the goal of public research funders and public institutions of higher learning: to make the results of taxpayer funded research freely and immediately available to the public.

Fortunately, there is an alternative.

In 2001 I co-founded the Public Library of Science (PLOS), a San Francisco based non-profit publisher of scientific and medical journals that has pioneered “open access” – a business model in which the costs of publishing are covered by research funders, but the finished product immediately freely available. PLOS is a thriving company with a diverse portfolio in biology and medicine, including the world’s largest biomedical research journal, PLOS ONE, which will publish in excess of 25,000 articles in 2013.

PLOS’s success has led to an explosion of open access publishers, including several California startups, as well as new imprints from commercial publishers and scientific societies. And a few months ago the three largest private biomedical research funders in the world – the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US, the Wellcome Trust in the UK and the Max Planck Institute in Germany – collaborated to launch a high-profile open access journal called eLife.

In calling for the embargo period in AB 609 to be extended, the University of California is taking the position that subscription based publishing is in need of protection, even though there is a clear, California based alternative that would achieve the public access to taxpayer funded research you say you support.

Subscription based publishers – both commercial and non-profit – have long been thorns in the side of the UC library system, demanding ever increasing and unjustifiable fees – last year it was close to $40m – to provide faculty and students with access to publications that should and could have been made freely available. I urge you to speak with cash strapped librarians at any of the UC campuses – who every year are forced to cut subscriptions to important journals they are no longer able to afford – if subscription based publishers should be viewed as allies of the University of California in need of legislative protection.

The people of the state of California have every right to immediate free access to the results of taxpayer funded research, and the University of California should be urging the legislature to strengthen the public access provisions in AB 609.

I hope you will reconsider your position on this matter. I would be happy to discuss this issue with you or any of your staff.

Michael B. Eisen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Genetics, Genomics and Development
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
University of California, Berkeley

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  1. Joan Lowenstein
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Mike, I usually don’t like to be anecdotal with policy discussions, but now this policy has hit me in the face like a cream pie, so I must. I have a somewhat rare form of breast cancer and my doctor, one of the leading researchers in the field, has advised me about what kind of treatment I should have. I’m not a scientist, but sit on one of the University of Michgan IRBs, so I know how to read scientific articles and looked up some of the recent research on my treatment, which is a matter of controversy. I found some articles for free but the editorial written in the NEJM by my own doctor is only available by subscription — and it’s from 2011! Of course, my doctor or my husband (also a doctor at UM) can get me that editorial but that’s beside the point. So, I’m one of those non-academic-scientist citizens who needs information quickly but can’t get it. If you ever need help convincing people, I’m in.

  2. Dave Webb
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I’m an academic researcher and I’m willing to admit that I’m split on this issue. I feel that issues of information access where people’s health and even their lives are at stake are a completely separate issue from general access to other forms of published information and data. The problem is, I don’t know how the access to this data can be provided with zero cost, and still maintain the quality of the published research.

    On the one hand, I understand the idea that the public ultimately funds research, but at the same time, I also understand the need for academic publishers to generate *some* income (I’m willing to accept the argument that they are often making more profit than necessary though). The increasingly popular alternative model is, of course, open access publishing. The problem I see with it though derives from the fact that in this alternative authors pay for publishing. In and of itself, this isn’t a concern; the real concern with this approach is the inevitable erosion of the peer-review process ( and hence the quality of the published research) as publishers intentionally or unintentionally lower their standards in order to accept more money from more and more authors. In this model, it is most likely that everybody loses.

    So I agree that it is best that publishers charge for the services they provide; the editing and production, the distribution, and the archiving (apologies if I’ve omitted something here). It is not a reasonable perspective for the public to claim that they’ve paid for the *published* results of research – in fact, they most certainly have not. They’ve supported the research itself, and the writing of that research, but they have *not* paid for everything that the publisher provides – publishers do not receive any tax payer dollars to publish research (there may be exceptions here, but I am not familiar with any in my field).

    So, publishers need to generate income to maintain the services they provide. Do they need to enforce a 6 month or 12 month embargo? Not an easy question. I expect that perhaps some do, and perhaps some don’t. Perhaps the law ought to address the amount of profit and use it as a guide to permit but regulate embargoes. If a publisher is making >x profit: no embargo, but <x profit permits the publisher to enforce an embargo period of a length prorated by their profit margin (or lack of profit).

    The crux of the issue here has to be the quality of the research – there is *absolutely no point* in discussing access to published data if the issue of the quality of that data is not the primary concern. There's no point in making research available to the general public if that research is going to be degraded to the quality of crap. In an ideal world, free access to high quality research would of course be the desirable ideal, but this is not a perfect world; we have to deal with the balance of quality vs. cost. The quality assurance system facilitated by the publisher has a cost beyond the research and writing itself, *beyond what is paid for by taxpayer dollars*, and that needs to be paid for somehow.

    • Posted April 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Like Diaz, you seem to be assuming that the only way to fund publishing is through subscriptions. But this is not the case – PLOS has proven that a fee-for-service “open access” business model allows publishers to recover their costs – and some profit – while making all of its contents freely available. And now eLife is operating with a different model in which funding agencies fully subsidize a journal’s expenses, again allowing the contents to be made freely available. The only reason we still allow subscription based publishers to impose any kind of embargo is that the research community – including universities like UC – are too narrowminded to recognize that the issue is not whether there should be 6 month or 12 month embargoes, but rather that we should entirely abandon the subscription model.

      • Dave Webb
        Posted April 21, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        The PLOS example that you’ve introduced actually works against your case, since in my field they are already being criticized for poor choices and questionable quality control in publishing – I personally know of academics that have resorted to PLOS after being rejected by other publishers. More importantly though, you’ve completely ignored the central issue that I raised, which is that public funds for research cover the research and writing costs, but do not pay the costs of the publishers, and that a “self-publishing” model where authors pay for publishing is doomed to failure. The irony is not lost on me that you refer to the academe as being narrow minded, while you in turn ignore the crux of the issue.

        Perhaps other business models will be successful in replacing the current model, but many academics share my trepidation regarding dismantling an existing model that works to protect the integrity of research.

        There is another issue here as well that few people are talking about, and that is the issue of academic language. Will the general public eventually become part of the target audience for authors; how will this affect the compendious academic style and ultimately the output?

        There is a growing, but poorly informed, socialist attitude that what the general public wants must be what’s best for everybody – history has repeated shown this to rarely be the case though. Academic research is expensive. Publishing and archiving academic research is also expensive. Why should anyone expect that the output of all this should somehow *not* be expensive. The public access argument sounds more and more like a child crying about life being unfair, rather than accepting that there are real costs and inequalities in life.

        • GM
          Posted April 22, 2013 at 1:29 am | Permalink

          I have also seen papers in PLoS ONE that should have never made it past peer review. But I have also seen an even larger number of high-quality papers that should have gone to a more “prestigious” place, but for whatever reason ended up in PLoS ONE. And, more importantly, I have seen a lot of papers that should never have been published (often for exactly the same reasons) in the Cell and Nature fleet of journals. Heterogeneity in quality in PLoS ONE was expected though, given the way the journal was set up, and it does not invalidate the idea. Also, the other PLoS journals, which are much more selective, don’t seem to have that problem.

          It would seem to me that the argument that open access erodes peer review only applies to the “for-profit, author pays” model. In such cases there is indeed a natural tendency to lower standards to get more papers in and in turn generate more revenue. All the predatory OA journals are perfect illustrations of this problem. But it does not have to be that way – if funding agencies would pick up the costs of publishing, similar to the way eLife is right now, then everything can be fully open access and the profit motive would be removed from the system. Note that PLoS had no other option than the “author pays” model as it had to finance itself somehow and show that open access can work – there wasn’t any funding agency willing to back up such an initiative at the time. But if it would indeed cost less than a billion to run the system in such a way while 9 billion are paid to publishers now, it seems to be really a no-brainer to me. For that to happen, a very strong opposition will have to be overcome though. Also, I have seen people propose conspiracy theories that universities themselves don’t want open access because it is a short step from mandatory open access to replacing Bayh-Dole with a system in which open access to all intellectual property generated with federal money is mandated. I don’t know how much truth there is in this, but it does indeed look like universities are not on the side of open access, which makes absolutely no sense for all the reasons explained multiple times on this blog.

          • Dave Webb
            Posted April 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

            I’m not convinced that the best way to go is the model where funding agencies cover the cost of publishing. First, I don’t see that this lessens the burden on the tax payer, since a lot of funding comes from government agencies. Second, it’s still a pay-to-publish model that can easily erode quality output in favour of accepting more papers to generate more profit – it doesn’t matter whether the author pays or some agency pays.

            Naturally, I can’t speak for the academe in general, but I expect the general reluctance of universities to support different open access models is based primarily on concern for quality output.

            It would be nice if the general public were a bit more trusting of the academe to decide what it feels is best for the academe.

          • Posted April 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

            “It would be nice if the general public were a bit more trusting of the academe to decide what it feels is best for the academe.”

            Part of the problem is that academe is a bit splintered on this issue.

            Many physicists know I don’t don’t trust any of the biology lit, period. It’s too fragmented, there’s no clear “working journal”, and no clear “starting point” for the field like classical mechanics is for physics. (And, yes, they usually have…words to say about their own little clubs, heh.) I usually start them off with genetics & work into structural biochemistry, followed by cellular macromolecular structure & morphology- it’s not the ‘historical’ way, but it is slightly more logical.

            Biology is not very well defined atm, and this is reflected in its journals. I think it’s getting to the point where it will consolidate itself into a concrete system of journals like the ACS and APS have. (I have some issues with how ACS does things, but on the whole they tend to provide reliable articles & independent evaluations of both students & PIs.)

    • Posted April 22, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      Dear Dave,

      I’m not sure I understand your argument here. At least in my field (computer science) none of the quality control you discus is paid for by the publishers. The reviewers are volunteers; the editors are volunteers, the program committee members are volunteers, the conference chairs are volunteers. Everything truly expensive is being “donated” by volunteers. For any given volunteer, either such service is understood to be part of our job in which case it’s ultimately paid for by whoever funds our research (usually the public), or it’s a truly uncompensated gift. Either way, it’s _not_ paid for by the publisher. The publishers’ paid staff provide some logistical support, and may do some superficial copy editing. Those are good things, but have almost nothing to do with the fundamental quality of the papers.

      The publishers do provide some other valuable services, notably archiving papers, and some organizations (e.g. the ACM) use publishing revenue to subsidize worthwhile but non-revenue-generating activities. Those are good things, but they’re incidental to the quality of the papers produced.


      • Dave Webb
        Posted April 23, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

        Hello Eric,
        Perhaps it’s a result of sloppy writing on my part (I tend to partake in these discussions on a mobile device while in transit), but I did state that “publishers charge for the services they provide; the editing and production, the distribution, and the archiving”. Yes, in my field as well, the quality issue is a direct result of peer volunteers; in this respect, as you say, it’s mostly a logistical role that’s played by the publisher. Recall that I also said that I accept that many publishers are making more profit than necessary. Regardless though, this model works to maintain quality, something I fear may be lost if we are too eager to abandon it before we’re sure we have something better in place.

        • Dell Anderson
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          Not sure I understand the rebuttal – Eric Anderson’s (no relation) points are on target. The true expense of human study research (for example) to the best of my knowledge is the protocol setup and IRB, recruitment of subjects, study implementation, auditing and related expenses, and the (volunteer) peer review process.

          What does the publisher contribute to this process that could not be largely eliminated by technology (online publishing)?

          Sadly, Joan Lowenstein’s story is far more typical than we might wish and a strong argument to be done with locking up public research behind private publisher moats. The public paid for the study and by implication, the results. The minimal services offered by the publishers are billed at extortionist rates and therefore may be more efficiently provided by other technological means (witness wikipedia crowdsourcing as just one example of separating the wheat from the chaff).

  3. Karl Koscher
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Given the federal government’s 12 month policy, it may be impossible to get publishers to accept shorter embargo periods, which might lead to a decreased publication count and thus a lower perception of a program’s quality. This might impact the UC’s chances at various grants and put them under even more financial strain. I think the solution is to push for shorter periods at the federal level.

    • Posted April 21, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      This is a total red herring. Publishers are going to take content from UC no matter what embargo period they impose because a tremendous amount of outstanding science is done here.

      • Siddhartha Gadgil
        Posted April 21, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        That is exactly the point. The only way to change the system is for those with huge academic prestige, like the UC system, to take on publishers.

        • Posted April 23, 2013 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          Exactly. UC should lead on this issue – which they are not doing in any way.

  4. Posted April 21, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I would personally just love to know *exactly* what the operating costs are for life sciences journals, along with an itemized list of how publishing and subscription fees are spent.

    To re-post/paraphrase a comment I made on another website last week: I have been saying for a while now that some info- SOME- must be free for the good of the population. Like taxpayer funded medical studies. Other info– like engineering a better car engine, or whatever– gets out faster & more reliably with subscription access. That info is hardly required for the health of the population, and is patentable & therefore needs a secure and reliable expert peer reviewed process. And it’s usually all in tech language in any case, so is not of interest to a “layperson” audience.

    I also think journals need to start having fully transparent budgets. There is much talk about “re-couping the cost of publishing” without telling the taxpayers and the authors & readers of scientific literature how much publishing costs, and why these costs are necessary.

    How high can overhead be nowadays? This will assuredly depend upon the field. However, medical discoveries simply must be made immediately free and open after peer review for the good of the public’s health. I think the public would be more than willing to pay for this.

    • Posted April 21, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Elsevier talks all the time about recouping their costs, yet reports profit margins of 30-40% on their STM journals. These numbers are typical for the industry.

      I would actually have no intrinsic problem with them profiting at that level if the cost of this profit wasn’t denying the vast majority of people on the planet access to their content.

      I don’t know what their actual costs are, but I am confident that we could publish all 1.5m articles that appear annually in the STM field for a lot less than the $9b we current spend on subscription to these journals. I think a few hundred million is more like it.

      • Posted April 21, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        I just had an interesting discussion with a physicist about how any profit margins for a company over 10 to 15% are a pretty good sign of a bubble- or of a captive market/monopoly.

        “I would actually have no intrinsic problem with them profiting at that level if the cost of this profit wasn’t denying the vast majority of people on the planet access to their content. ”

        Nor do I. We still need typesetters and, for some fields, dedicated Editors. These people deserve salaries, and shareholders deserve a nice, linear return on their investment. I’m sure there are other associated costs, and I don’t mind shelling out a bit of money for good, credible work. But, as you imply, I suspect they are over-charging just a tab (\sarcasm).

        It’s when profits go exponential and are not properly re-invested into infrastructure that I get worried. Bacteria undergo exponential growth phases as well, given optimal conditions. A good scientist knows when to turn the temp down on the incubator so they stop rapidly dividing- to prevent them from eating up all the nutrients & killing themselves…..

        • Posted April 21, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          Yup. Subscription based scholarly publishing is a monopoly – there is only one vendor for any particular paper, and they are not fungible – and has monopolistic pricing as a result.

          • Posted April 21, 2013 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

            Not true! I encourage you to submit your next paper to my new journal, Al Natural. We even use Nature’s CSS stylesheets and PDF templates, and spell “color” with a u!

  5. Posted April 21, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I am a current graduate student at UC Davis and previously spent two years in charge of legislative and external relations for the UCD Graduate Student Association. We spent quite a bit of time working on legislation related to Open Access including several elements of legislation at the Federal level. We’re heartened to see California moving in the right direction on open access.

    I wonder, however, if your outrage might be misplaced. How meaningful is the difference between 6 and 12 months of embargo period. I could admit that in an ideal world, the role of academic journals (curation and dissemination of top-level research) would be funded by some other mechanism than the current subscription-and-advertising model. Alas, at present, no other model exists and journals would likely suffer if they had to compete against freely accessible journals. Given how much research is funded by the State or Federal government (and how much private research is performed under restrictive publication restrictions) it could dramatically affect the publication industry if they had zero embargo period for all publicly funded research.

    Let me be clear, I’m no great friend to the publication industry. Electronic publication is currently a handsomely profitable enterprise for many major publishing groups and the charges most for-profit publishers demand for publishing an article in open-access formats are nothing short of outrageous (many journals charge $3000 or more, supposedly for the editorial work they do. I dare them to actually show an invoice of real services that adds up to $3000).

    The fact that publishers are currently crying wolf over open-access publication does not mean that they are perpetually immune from such harms. In academia, where one’s success as a researcher is primarily measured by the number and impact of publications, many researchers, particularly graduate students, stand to suffer if the publication industry precipitously collapses, reducing the number of available venues for publication. I might prefer to live in a world where the embargo period was six months rather than a year, but I also doubt that the difference between the two is so significant that it deserves our ire. At the end of the day, the loss of value to society from an extra six months of embargo might be worth the value of avoiding an all-out war between publishers and research funders over the terms of open access policies.

    I would also like to note that in a world where many academic research labs have simultaneous funding from both Federal and State sources, the value of harmonized policies regarding publication is not trivial.

    • Posted April 21, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      The role of the government is not to choose winners in business, it is to decide what policies are best its constituents – the taxpayers. In this case, there is zero doubt that the public would benefit from immediate access to the research they fund. The government (both state and Federal) should simply declare that all of their grantees need to make any publications immediately freely available, period – no exceptions, no questions asked. It would then be up to publishers to figure out how to deal with this new reality. There are already dozens of thriving open access publishers – I am sure subscription based publishers would figure it out. The problem right now is that they have no incentive to do so. The subscription based model is incredibly lucrative for them, and the only way it is going to change is if pressure comes from people in a position to force change – namely research institutions and funders.

    • Posted April 21, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      My issue with the embargo, as someone who does clinical brain tumor research (see:, is that even 1 month is OLD NEWS in this field. Trust me. I’ve read stuff in the lit that’s a few months old, only to find a week old article that completely disproves the old hypothesis.

      And a year old? Ancient history.

      Medicine in particular is advancing rapidly as an applied field, as we are just now getting the tech to “see” diseases on a molecular level. This is going to happen a lot: what was cannon two months ago is today a bunk idea, and that’s OK. It should all be kept track of. However, it does a direct disservice to sick people to limit their MD’s access to the new literature.

    • Posted April 22, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink


      I think your concern is a bit misplaced: Unless your field is very different from mine, the financial viability of publishing venues is not the limiting factor. There are more grade-C conferences and journals than you can shake a stick at, with new ones cropping up all the time. What’s in short supply are good venues, meaning ones where your paper will actually get read (and your publication there will carry some weight with employers). And the reason those are limited has nothing to do with the cost of publication; the critical resource is readers’ attention. The reason nobody reads papers in “Bob’s Annals of X” is because we can only read so many papers in a given month, and we choose to empower a small number of journals and conferences to help us identify what’s really worth reading. Publishing companies coming and going won’t change that.

      If the required non-financial ingredients (good papers, good volunteer editors and reviewers, and an interested audience), are there, I promise someone can make the distribution and archiving work. For example, has offers 770,000 papers, taking on 76,000 new papers per year, with a current operating cost of $400,000 per year. (All numbers rounded from arXiv business model white paper and arXiv FAQ.) That’s an operating cost of $0.52 per paper per year. ArXiv doesn’t do the “gatekeeping” work, but neither do traditional publishers — that’s done by volunteers in either case.


  6. David
    Posted April 23, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    As you say, the role of the government is not to choose winners in business. You prefer an author-pays system, where the incentives are to publish more quantity, others prefer a subscription system, where the incentive is to provide value to the reader. Science could be served by both. However, by putting PLoS forward as “the solution,” you are preferencing one business over another, and in fact undermining your own argument — PLoS requires more university expenditures, not less. The reason to “allow” subscription publishers to have embargoes is to enable them to create a sustainable business in that model. Let readers and researchers decide what works best.

    • Posted April 23, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      I was not putting PLOS forward as the solution. I was pointing out that there is an inconsistency between the stated goals of the policy – to make works freely available to the public – and the actual policy. The discrepancy comes from a flawed assumption – that the only way to fund publishing is subscriptions – which PLOS demonstrates is false.

  7. Michael Rogawski
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Conservatism on the part of librarians is the key factor holding back the transition to universal open access publishing. If librarians collectively developed a plan to transition their budgets from payments for subscription fees to the support of open access publishing fees, the adoption of universal open access would proceed in an orderly fashion. Everyone would benefit.

    The University of California is large enough that its librarians might single-handedly catalyze the transition. A consortium of research university librarians would be even more powerful. This group should develop a process that is deliberate and on a realistic timeline to allow the publishing industry to adapt.

    Librarians by nature seem to be reactive and to shy away from activism. However, they control the budgets and are the only group that really matters. Librarians should recognize that they are perpetuating a system that poorly serves their patrons, poorly serves the larger public, and that is ultimately wasteful of the funds entrusted to them by their institutions. Librarians have a fiduciary responsibility to use their budgets in the most efficient manner. It is time for librarians to act.

    • Andrea
      Posted May 2, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      As a librarian, I would love nothing more than to cancel our ScienceDirect package at $600,000 or so and put that money toward funding author-side publication fees in open access journals. The faculty would go apeshit. Librarians the most vocal advocates for change in the scholarly communication system you will find. I believe it is faculty (and in my experience, particularly faculty in the humanities) who are the most conservative.

    • Posted May 3, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      There are many factors beyond quality, cost, and ethics of open access that go into the rejection of OA by so many in the academy.

      I suspect a large part of this is simple, dumb snobbery. If research was open and available to all, anyone could be a researcher, regardless of academic affiliation. The elite club of affiliation with elite institutions would mean less. LibaryLoon has a great post on how academic libraries are little bastions of Calvinism where only the elect gain salvation (access to JSTOR, Elsevier titles, etc.).

      Last. I have to wonder if this isn’t just a little like “regulatory capture”. Many of our public institutions are corrupted (but in a perfectly legal way) because public officials are wowed by the glamour of money and influence. UC officials (highly-paid) exist in the same social circles and networks as highly paid glamorous folks from Elsevier, Google, etc. etc. No doubt, they see employment in such highly paying commercial enterprises as attractive options, at least in the back of their minds. So why not make policies that keep these folks happy?

  8. Robert Jensen
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    The print ‘prestigous’ Journal’s in autism research, the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (Springer) and Autism UK (Sage) are also open Access journals. The open access fee is $3,500 and the authors retain copyright ownership. Open Access autism related journals such as Molecular Autism and OA-Autism have editors-in-chief who are well known and respected autism researchers who also serve or have served on editorial boards of print journals. Simon Baron-Cohen is the editor-in-chief of Molecular Autism and Manuel Casanovoa is the editor-in-chief of OA-Autism. The diffence is that the OA journals publication fee is half or less than the publication fes demanded of Springer or Sage Journals:

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