If it is behind a paywall, find another journal.

Story: Hiding your research behind a paywall is immoralTotal Replies: 9
Author Content

Jan 20, 2013
2:43 AM EDT
For over 40 years, I have been a mycological taxonomist of the macrofungi. In Australia they are a rarish breed, you can just about count the total number on the fingers of one hand. I and my colleagues can identify the mushrooms and toadstools of the bushland and such an ability turns out to be very useful in forestry, poisonings, recycling, heavy metal detection and even bio-detection of industrial pollution.

Right......On many occasions I have investigated genera and families of these organisms, collated known information and found that there are a number of new species from my own field work. I would then write a paper and submit it to a journal. That paper was refereed at no cost by volunteers and as far as I am concerned, I never expected or received one cent from its publication, nor do I ever want it. My satisfaction comes from a job that I believe/hope has been well done, and also from the fact that the information was or will be widely published - the wider the better. Believe me, these papers come in for some savage criticism if the work has not been less than perfect.

The whole thing though, is that my intention is to share and disseminate my research findings that others may build upon what I have found......and if there are errors, correct them and publish the updates. It's how scientific research publication works as far as I am concerned. The greater the number of people who read the paper, the more effective it will be. If it is hidden from colleagues, why publish at all ??? Until I encountered JSTOR during my researches, I had no idea that any organisation had the power to damage the protocols of research publication in the way that JSTOR and MIT have done. It reeks of the saying: "Greed is good." I thoroughly agree with the final summation of the article:

Quoting: Publishing behind paywalls is immoral. More than that, it's oxymoronic: if it's behind a paywall, it hasn't been published. We have to stop doing it, now and for always.

It took me 26 years of slow and intermittent external study to gain my PhD. I am extremely proud of the fact that I actually got there....I now use my knowledge to provide information to others through papers, and I certainly do not want anything I have discovered locked away behind a paywall so that others are unable to use what I have found. And on this occasion, I am concerned enough about this blight on American research to sign myself off as a fellow research scientist rather than my usual LXer pen-name.

Dr A. M. Young

Jan 20, 2013
6:04 AM EDT
Why then through another journal ? Why not on a web/blog site that you manage ? We must also recognize that publishing companies run for profit, and publishing through them means that you lose your rights on the work that you have done over many years for not a single penny. I think that article writers are entitled to royalties for their work published through this channel. They run for profit, it is so true that they must always publish, anything that can be written, even crap, we do find publications that are baseless, just the writers' eloquence and desire to be known or need for a long curriculum. Most scientific publications won't change the way we work on a daily basis. Up to 15-20 years ago, there was no effective way to share knowledge. We no longer need journals for that nowadays.

Jan 20, 2013
7:30 AM EDT
@nmset......Your suggestion opens another very nasty can of worms. There are extremely rigid and rigorous protocols in the world of taxonomy, all of which revolve around the validity of publishing a new species. As far as I am aware, the concept of a web/blog does not appear in any of those protocols. A new species must be published in a recognised journal and more than 50 copies must be disseminated. That's just for starters.

In any event, the journals that I am mostly involved in, make their "profits/overheads" from selling subscriptions to major libraries. And I am sorry, but I must disagree......we need those journals even more these days.Those papers and their material are crucial to ongoing research. Usually, they are disseminated as hard copy to the libraries, but many of them are now also using a web based dissemination as well.

Over 20 years ago, these journals were the ONLY way information was disseminated and there are huge amounts of information locked away in these archives. And permit me to disagree with you very loudly: those printed journals were extremely effective in reaching those that needed the information. In any event, one can go to a huge library, find the journal and scan through it to find the particular information or article that you want. If the journal has been placed on the Web, then that's great too. I have no difficulty with a nominal sum for a paper that is stored on a server......it pays for the original cost of scanning and the maintenance of the database.....but hundreds of dollars to retrieve a single publication which may be only 2-3 pages long is just not a good idea.

One last thing nmset, for the past 40 years, my life has been spent in research and also searching journals. Until you have that sort of experience and understand just how much information is in these past research archives and the effects of paywalls on retrieving that information, then may I suggest you tread very warily on your comments.

Jan 20, 2013
7:51 AM EDT
I am still not at ease with that schema : person A works, group Z makes money, and person A just has a tap on his shoulder 'good citizen'. Not for me, just my point of view.

Jan 20, 2013
8:16 AM EDT
@nmset........Surely ......and understood. Please accept my assurance that I am not attempting to be patronising to you or "superior" in any way. If I have been, I apologise. Moreover, if the web is what you have grown up with and are used to using, then that's what you understand and are comfortable with. However, in the field of pure research, the web is extremely dangerous as an unquestioned guide.

Because of my age(yeah, I'm nearly 70) I stand as a "bridge" between two very different cultures, and I am concerned that the rush to the digital universe and all it offers, may in turn discard some very important "babies with the bathwater that it throws out".

Forty years ago, all my information was obtained by library research of articles, and by letters to other scientists. Today, I welcome the use of emails and attached documents, the use of web searches and blogs....but that in no way allows me to discount the extreme importance of these document archives of the past. They were where I did my basic research, not wikipedia. Moreover, the details in those documents are usually far more critical and detailed than anything you can find on the web today. Usually, on the web, you find summations, or someone's critique. To put it bluntly, a summary is utterly useless other than a general indication of what an article is about. The details in the actual published article are often very different. A summary is necessarily coloured by the concepts of the person writing the summary. You MUST go to the source document to find the exact details and concepts of the original author.

And there, nmset, is the real crux of the matter. JSTOR/MIT is putting those source documents behind a paywall. In effect, they are locking away the treasures of the past........for money. Those source documents are often crucial in understanding or building on current knowledge. You cannot depend on wikipedia or blogs. To put it another way, our past literary and scientific treasures are now under threat by organisations that have the same concept as JSTOR/MIT. You may not particularly like Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", or Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream", but would you consider it right for an organisation to take these documents and put them behind a paywall so that no-one can ever get to them again unless they pay hundreds of dollars in licence fees ? Apparently, this is exactly what is being done with all these wonderful literary and scientific treasures of the past. How much do you want to pay for Lincoln's speech beginning "Four Score and seven years........." ? The concept is identical. I'd be very angry at seeing my heritage locked away like that.......and I am equally angry at seeing my scientific heritage (and yours) treated the same way.

Jan 20, 2013
8:55 AM EDT
Well, there's some kind of misunderstanding between you and me.

The JSTOR/MIT behaviour as you stated it is not what I idealize, I totally agree with you on this point.

I think that current and future scientists/researchers should create new channels not based on the previous paradigms of a publisher to whom they GIVE AWAY all rights regarding the kwowledge they are distributing for free. That's how the pubishers can lock it down afterwards. I don't think such communication channels exist yet. An individual blog is clearly not what's authoritative. Perhaps, it's EVERY university or laboratory that should publish their work on their web site. Other uni or labs would be better inclined to trust each other.


Jan 20, 2013
5:45 PM EDT
Ah....now we are really cooking on gas. The term "creative commons" instantly springs to mind. If all scientists (and others) published their material under a creative commons licence so that the material is "owned" by the public in general, then paywalls are impossible. The point is that none of this earlier work was published under such a licence because scientists of those earlier years were never interested in hiding their published work - the creative commons concept that has only really emerged into the light over the past decade. But as a result, these money hungry publishers CAN lock up knowledge quite legally.

However, to round off another aspect, the JSTOR/MIT debacle has also touched off another aspect and a very sad one. A scientific article is always, ALWAYS, peer reviewed before it is published. This means it goes under intense scrutiny from usually 2-5 independent scientists who read the proposed article and then provide their comments, postive or negative, to the intended publisher. The author must then address the negative comments, or it will not be published. In the past, those peers have always been happy to give their time and effort voluntarily without compensation. At least one scientist has now published a letter stating bluntly that he will not review any papers that will be published by a journal/publisher who intends to put the resulting documents behind a paywall. This very insidious paywall effect is undoing over 200 years of a rigorous approach to scientific paper publishing that gave excellent results. Once you introduce paid peer review, you introduce uncertainty as to the quality of that review. This isn't just sad, it's extremely worrying.

It would be nice to think that Aaron saw all the above, but equally, I am sure he didn't. What he did see though, in my opinion, was the undesirability of our joint knowledge heritage being sold and locked away so that only those with the money could gain admittance. It is why I think the paywall concept is so rotten and damaging to the present and future generations.

Post Script: You might also like to check on this item which has just appeared at the top of LXer:


It covers the present problems of using blog publication in the USA........and it's not pretty.

And here is another: http://siftdna.org/swartz_tribute/opinion.html

This particular author hits another note: the paywalls are especially destructive to any researcher in the biological fields, including my own. When writing a new paper in the biological fields, it is not just important that you access past papers, it's critically essential. I have never heard of SIFT, but I have now.

Jan 20, 2013
8:20 PM EDT
It goes well beyond science journals and deep, obscure technical matters. Paywalls are being put up around not only around "science", but around "culture" and even around "history" and our common, society-defining political and historical heritage:

Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream' Video Taken Down On Internet Freedom Day

(that link has been posted to LXer, as well) http://lxer.com/module/newswire/view/179494/index.html

Jan 20, 2013
9:04 PM EDT
I had a look BernardSwiss, and I personally find what happened utterly repugnant as regards the moves to stop publication of a historical treasure such as King's speech. Taken to absurdity, sooner or later someone is going find they are a direct descendent of Plato, Chaucer, Shakespeare, ..........and demand payment.

Let's face it, the USA Congress shifted the copyright goalposts to cater for Disney copyrights and if I recall correctly, even trying to shift some publications out of the public domain and back into copyright........Somebody sooner or later is going to have to foot the bill for this stupidity and greed, and it isn't going to be the politicians or the copyright holders. Additionally, innovation and progress will also suffer - copyrights and patents no longer have the functions that were originally planned they should have......now they are merely elements of commercial competition and most importantly.......greed.

Jan 21, 2013
8:57 AM EDT
> Somebody sooner or later is going to have to foot the bill for this stupidity and greed, and it isn't going to be the politicians or the copyright holders.

Actually, to a certain extent it is them. What happens a legislature passes unreasonable laws is the the populace losses respect for the legislature and for the law. Rampant civil disobedience is the best thing that can happen in that case.

Posting in this forum is limited to members of the group: [ForumMods, SITEADMINS, MEMBERS.]

Becoming a member of LXer is easy and free. Join Us!