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Scientists are talking, but mostly to each other: a quantitative analysis of research

Stavros

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#1
This is not ceph related. It talks about how new knowledge circulates mostly between fellow scientists and never reaches the public.

I don't know how a journal can cover their expenses otherwise, but at some point, knowledge has to be free and accessible to all. With rising tuition costs, it seems that education is targeted to certain groups.

(The irony: this article is also not free).

Journal publication has long been relied on as the only required communication of results, tasking journalists with bringing news of scientific discoveries to the public. Output of science papers increased 15% between 1990 and 2001, with total output over 650,000. But, fewer than 0.013–0.34% of papers gained attention from mass media, with health/medicine papers taking the lion’s share of coverage. Fields outside of health/medicine had an appearance rate of only 0.001–0.005%. In light of findings that show scientific literacy declining despite growing public interest and scientific output, this study attempts to show that reliance on journal publication and subsequent coverage by the media as the sole form of communication en masse is failing to communicate science to the public.
 

gjbarord

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#2
That sounds about right. It can even be more frustrating when scientists are not even able to access the journals for a variety of reasons.

Greg
 

hermissenda

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#3
*laugh*

I wouldn't have noticed this !
(The irony: this article is also not free).[/QUOTE]

That being said, the subject if scientific literacy is a complicated one, starting with trying to define it. I don't know that the general public having access to scientific research would improve the case - especially without first educating everyone how to discern a good study from a bad one (which would be a really good thing!) I do think that with the growth of the internet scientists are able to collaborate more outside of journals. Also, with the growth of so many online databases of back articles a lot more research has been combined to create meta-statistics, and that has to be forwarding science. While it is *intensely* frustrating to not have access to, or have to pay a limb for an article one wants, I think on the whole we have more access to scientific research than ever before.

Cindy in Portland OR
 

OB

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#4
Peer review remains the solid foundation of scientifice knowledge dissemination. I personally am a staunch supporter of open access publishing. For those who are interested, simply start browsing the Public Library of Science journal PLoS1 to get to grips with its benefits.
 

Tintenfisch

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#5
Yes, I have several things I would very much (have) like(d) to make open access, but PLoS1 publication charges are US$1350 per article, and for Zootaxa they would have been $20/page ($3720). A little prohibitive :sad:
 

OB

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#6
Whether your (institutional) library spends its funds on subscriptions, or on allowing its scientists to be published, shouldn't matter wrt the total amount spent: someone will have to pay for the process itself... The main difference is that the subscription based model only allows for limited access, while open access allows access for everyone at the same level of investment...
 

hermissenda

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#7
Tintenfisch;178990 said:
Yes, I have several things I would very much (have) like(d) to make open access, but PLoS1 publication charges are US$1350 per article, and for Zootaxa they would have been $20/page ($3720). A little prohibitive :sad:
OUCH! Prohibitive isn't the word! Maybe extortive? I suppose there is a need for some kind of pain threshold/gateway to maintain some intellectual integrity or risk the Wiki effect. I have always assumed the article price tag was coming from the institutions that funded the research, or the researcher and felt they had a right to benefit from the results. Thanks for the enlightenment!
 

OB

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#8
Open access needn't be vanity publishing, peer review should be severe and sincere, either way!
 

mucktopus

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#9
Many journals can waive publication fees if authors don't have funding (and in the case of PLoS there's a particularly important reason for the paper to be open access).

Also- all publisher links to journal articles also list the contact info for the corresponding author. It's common to write the author directly to ask for for a free pdf reprint if they have one.
 

Joe-Ceph

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#10
I'm only a layman, so for give the ignorance, but who owns the copyright to these papers? The authors? The institutions? The journals? What value do the journals provide that justifies the ransom they demand? Why can't the authors or the institutions just make these papers available for $1 each on ITunes? It seems like a rigged system that uses mostly public money to do research that produces results that are then sold back to the public at an extremely high price, effectively denying public access. Am I missing something.
 

Stavros

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#11
Some related links to open access journals that OB mentioned above. Each quotation is taken from a different article on the matter.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust announced today that they are to support a new, top-tier, open access journal for biomedical and life sciences research. Continue reading...
This is great news. The more #openaccess journals we have the better. Clearly some of the text here is a dig at existing journals, including PLoS Biology. PLoS Biology definitely needs to work on some things - like transparency (e.g., if your article is rejected, the Academic Editor who advised the professional editors is not names). PLoS Biology is also run by professional editors. Thus it is not run by "active scientists" which is another one of the comments in this press release. Personally I think it would be better if PLoS Biology was run by active scientists. Continue reading...
It represents the triumph of open access. The most amazing thing about the announcement, and the discussions leading up to it, was how it was universally assumed that this would be a fully open access journal. As far as I can tell, at no point was any consideration given to any other possibility. What a change a decade makes. Continue reading...
On peer review:

‘If peer review was a drug it would never be allowed onto the market,’ says Drummond Rennie, deputy editor of the Journal Of the American Medical Association and intellectual father of the international congresses of peer review that have been held every four years since 1989. Peer review would not get onto the market because we have no convincing evidence of its benefits but a lot of evidence of its flaws. Continue reading...
 

mucktopus

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#12
good questions-

‘If peer review was a drug it would never be allowed onto the market,’ says Drummond Rennie, deputy editor of the Journal Of the American Medical Association and intellectual father of the international congresses of peer review that have been held every four years since 1989. Peer review would not get onto the market because we have no convincing evidence of its benefits but a lot of evidence of its flaws."

I don't agree- my papers have been greatly improved by the input of anonymous reviewers, and when manuscripts have been rejected, I've been grateful in hindsight. Editors have a good way of going outside an author's normal circle to solicit reviews, so you get insights beyond what your immediate research group will disclose. There's no shortage of information out there- NGO reports, government summaries, etc. But when it comes down to it, few publication types hold clout like the peer reviewed paper, scrutinized by numerous colleagues and editors-- you know it's gone through the ringer before you read it.

The journal process itself can definitely use a re-vamp. But I'd vote to keep peer review any day of the week.

Journals usually hold the paper's copyright. Authors can use the data, send pdfs, etc. But the whole published paper itself belongs to the journal. As for costs and re-sale- the system needs rethinking. I've seen journal articles for sale on Amazon. Does the author get royalties? Don't think so! Scientists write the papers, review the papers and serve as editors for free. But layout, copy-editing, etc. and even online support of an article does take expensive infrastructure.

Research is paid for in lots of different ways- some through government funding, but lots of research funding is private, either through foundations, private donors, self-funded, venture capital, industry, etc.

But most of all- most of this information is accessible for free if you just email the author and ask for a pdf. Papers that are not available as pdf are harder to track down, but authors may still have paper reprints available to send. Google Scholar is a great resource for obtaining pdfs, and finding out who is researching what/who to contact for electronic reprints.
 

OB

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#13
Joe-Ceph;179723 said:
I'm only a layman, so for give the ignorance, but who owns the copyright to these papers?
The Publishing houses do, in the case of "classical" science publishing. The reasoning is somewhere along the lines of "we put in all the hard work and through peer review ascertain quality and modify content, so we PWN the place".
 

Joe-Ceph

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#14
I think I get it; is this correct?:
The author/scientist typically owns the copyright initially, and could post it for free on the internet or sell it for $1 on Itunes if they wanted to, but the paper doesn't really have value until it has successfully passed through the "filter" that is a scientific journal. The value that the journals add is credibility. Right? We trust the journals to sort out the good science from the bad. An analogy would be the way we buy our perscription drugs through a pharmacy instead of from whomever decides to make and sell whatever potion they've cooked up. We trust that the FDA, and the drug delivery infrastructure has vetted the sources, and that only real and trustworthy medicine gets through. In exchange, the journals get the copyright, and can charge whatever they like.

If my assessment is correct, it's clear that the journals provide an utterly necessary service, but the opportunity for corruption and profiteering is kept in check only by the existential need for the journals to maintain their reputations. I'd like to see a better system, but I can't think of one.
 

OB

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#15
Open access still involves peer review, it's just more logical from both the financial and the scientific point of view
 

gjbarord

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#17
After reading those two articles, I really do not feel sorry for the person being indicted. He made the choice to do what he did and knew what he was doing. That second article was a bit biased. I do not think that journals are evil companies? I wonder how many people have actually downloaded any of those files uploaded to pirate bay???

Right or wrong, most of the journals are intended for academic circles and universities that can easily (in most cases) afford the fees to gain access to the journals. I would say that the general public interested in these journals is a very small percentage, small enough that their opinions really do not matter to many of the journals and they are unable to influence the price of single articles. Of course, $30-40 for one PDF article seems to be a bit extreme to me but without public and academic pressure on the journals, nothing will change. If most of the population was interested in the journals, the prices would most likely go down.

Oh well. Good thread!

Greg
 

ceph

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#18
This would be an excellent subject for Freakonomics!

Joe-Ceph;179756 said:
If my assessment is correct, it's clear that the journals provide an utterly necessary service, but the opportunity for corruption and profiteering is kept in check only by the existential need for the journals to maintain their reputations. I'd like to see a better system, but I can't think of one.
You nailed it. And I completely agree that the per-review process is critical.

For an example of the difference, earlier today I responded to another observational learning in octopuses post - in the media and even in posts here, keep repeating the same stories over and over again even if there is very good (admittedly less exciting) evidence that casts a lot of doubt on the truth of the original claims. Observational learning in octopuses is likely to live on in popular circles, perhaps for thousands of years. You might think that is an exaggeration but consider that we still occasionally come across the tool use story of octopuses dropping rocks into open bivalves; this one goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks! It also is a great story, it just isn't true. Peer-review helps to weed these things out of at least the scientific literature. It isn't a perfect system but it does helps keep us from repeating the same stories over and over when the data either do not exist or no longer support the conclusion.

Also keep in mind that the scientists that review journal submissions are volunteering their time - they are not compensated. So the scientists write the grants, spend taxpayer (or their own) money to do the work, write the paper, review other scientists papers, make corrections based on feedback and then sign over the copyright of their work to the journals they publish in. Those journals then charge them for copies of their own work (you do usually get a few for free). The publishing costs of small press run printing is very high but with PDFs, that is no longer true. Things are changing, but changing slowly - here is one possible reason why:

All journals are not created equal. Journals have something called Impact Factor - roughly how often papers published in them are cited in other papers. Broad journals that have been around for a long time, like Science, the journal the original 1992 Observational Learning in Octopuses papers was published in, have a very high impact factor. Specialized journals like the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, where the original enrichment paper was published, have very low impact factors. Scientist's publications are often judged by the journals they publish in. Newer journals have barriers to entry as they do not yet have a strong impact factor. On the plus side, the old way of doing things does not sit well with many scientists, especially younger ones. So things are changing.

In the mean time, why wait around? There is TONMO, You Tube and other newer ways to share your science in normal English. . . once it is published. Scientists still have to go through the peer review system first - journals understandably also require that the work be new and not published elsewhere.

Clear as mud?

James



James
 

OB

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#19
Plus, the niche journals have a typical subscription base of anywhere between 50 to 300 institutional libraries world wide. The high prices are fueled by scarcity of demand, combined with the necessity of access. Again, I am in favor of open access publishing, but don't expect many lay persons to be interested in 99%+ of available publications.
 

Stavros

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#20
How did academic publishers acquire these feudal powers?
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 30th August 2011

Who are the most ruthless capitalists in the Western world? Whose monopolistic practices makes WalMart look like a corner shop and Rupert Murdoch look like a socialist? You won’t guess the answer in a month of Sundays. While there are plenty of candidates, my vote goes not to the banks, the oil companies or the health insurers, but – wait for it – to academic publishers. Theirs might sound like a fusty and insignificant sector. It is anything but. Of all corporate scams, the racket they run is most urgently in need of referral to the competition authorities.

Everyone claims to agree that people should be encouraged to understand science and other academic research. Without current knowledge, we cannot make coherent democratic decisions. But the publishers have slapped a padlock and a Keep Out sign on the gates.

You might resent Murdoch’s paywall policy, in which he charges £1 for 24 hours of access to the Times and Sunday Times. But at least in that period you can read and download as many articles as you like. Reading a single article published by one of Elsevier’s journals will cost you $31.50(1). Springer charges Eur34.95(2), Wiley-Blackwell, $42(3). Read ten and you pay ten times. And the journals retain perpetual copyright. You want to read a letter printed in 1981? That’ll be $31.50(4).

Of course, you could go into the library (if it still exists). But they too have been hit by cosmic fees. The average cost of an annual subscription to a chemistry journal is $3,792(5). Some journals cost $10,000 a year or more to stock. The most expensive I’ve seen, Elsevier’s Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, is $20,930(6). Though academic libraries have been frantically cutting subscriptions to make ends meet, journals now consume 65% of their budgets(7), which means they have had to reduce the number of books they buy. Journal fees account for a significant component of universities’ costs, which are being passed to their students.

Murdoch pays his journalists and editors, and his companies generate much of the content they use. But the academic publishers get their articles, their peer reviewing (vetting by other researchers) and even much of their editing for free. The material they publish was commissioned and funded not by them but by us, through government research grants and academic stipends. But to see it, we must pay again, and through the nose.

The returns are astronomical: in the past financial year, for example, Elsevier’s operating-profit margin was 36% (£724m on revenues of £2 billion)(8). They result from a stranglehold on the market. Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, who have bought up many of their competitors, now publish 42% of journal articles(9).

More importantly, universities are locked into buying their products. Academic papers are published in only one place, and they have to be read by researchers trying to keep up with their subject. Demand is inelastic and competition non-existent, because different journals can’t publish the same material. In many cases the publishers oblige the libraries to buy a large package of journals, whether or not they want them all. Perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the biggest crooks ever to have preyed upon the people of this country – Robert Maxwell – made much of his money through academic publishing.

The publishers claim that they have to charge these fees as a result of the costs of production and distribution, and that they add value (in Springer’s words) because they “develop journal brands and maintain and improve the digital infrastructure which has revolutionized scientific communication in the past 15 years.”(10) But an analysis by Deutsche Bank reaches different conclusions. “We believe the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process … if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn’t be available.”(11) Far from assisting the dissemination of research, the big publishers impede it, as their long turnaround times can delay the release of findings by a year or more(12).

What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning.

It’s bad enough for academics, it’s worse for the laity. I refer readers to peer-reviewed papers, on the principle that claims should be followed to their sources. The readers tell me that they can’t afford to judge for themselves whether or not I have represented the research fairly. Independent researchers who try to inform themselves about important scientific issues have to fork out thousands(12). This is a tax on education, a stifling of the public mind. It appears to contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that “everyone has the right freely to … share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”(13)

Open-access publishing, despite its promise, and some excellent resources such as the Public Library of Science and the physics database arxiv.org, has failed to displace the monopolists. In 1998 the Economist, surveying the opportunities offered by electronic publishing, predicted that “the days of 40% profit margins may soon be as dead as Robert Maxwell.”(14) But in 2010 Elsevier’s operating profit margins were the same (36%) as they were in 1998(15).

The reason is that the big publishers have rounded up the journals with the highest academic impact factors, in which publication is essential for researchers trying to secure grants and advance their careers(16). You can start reading open-access journals, but you can’t stop reading the closed ones.

Government bodies, with a few exceptions, have failed to confront them. The National Institutes of Health in the US oblige anyone taking their grants to put their papers in an open-access archive(17). But Research Councils UK, whose statement on public access is a masterpiece of meaningless waffle, relies on “the assumption that publishers will maintain the spirit of their current policies.”(18) You bet they will.

In the short-term, governments should refer the academic publishers to their competition watchdogs, and insist that all papers arising from publicly-funded research are placed in a free public database(19). In the longer term, they should work with researchers to cut out the middleman altogether, creating, along the lines proposed by Bjorn Brembs, a single global archive of academic literature and data(20). Peer-review would be overseen by an independent body. It could be funded by the library budgets which are currently being diverted into the hands of privateers.

The knowledge monopoly is as unwarranted and anachronistic as the Corn Laws. Let’s throw off these parasitic overlords and liberate the research which belongs to us.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. I sampled costs in these Elsevier journals: Journal of Clinical Epidemiology; Radiation Physics and Chemistry and Crop Protection, all of which charge US$31.50. Papers in a fourth publication I checked, the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, cost US$35.95.

2. I sampled costs in these Springer journals: Journal of Applied Spectroscopy, Kinematics and Physics of Celestial Bodies and Ecotoxicology, all of which charge Eur34.95.

3. I sampled costs in these Wiley-Blackwell journals: Plant Biology; Respirology and Journal of Applied Social Psychology, all of which charge US$ 42.00.

4. I went into the archive of Elsevier’s Applied Catalysis, and checked the costs of the material published in its first issue: April 1981.

5. Bjorn Brembs, 2011. What’s Wrong with Scholarly Publishing Today? II. http://www.slideshare.net/brembs/whats-wrong-with-scholarly-publishing-today-ii

6. http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/506062/bibliographic

7. The Economist, 26th May 2011. Of goats and headaches. http://www.economist.com/node/18744177

8. The Economist, as above.

9. Glenn S. McGuigan and Robert D. Russell, 2008. The Business of Academic Publishing: A Strategic Analysis of the Academic Journal Publishing Industry and its Impact on the Future of Scholarly Publishing. Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, volume 9, number 3.

http://southernlibrarianship.icaap.org/content/v09n03/mcguigan_g01.html

10. Springer Corporate Communications, 29th August 2011. By email. I spoke to Elsevier and asked them for a comment, but I have not received one.

11. Deutsche Bank AG, 11th January 2005. Reed Elsevier: Moving the Supertanker. Global Equity Research Report. Quoted by Glenn S. McGuigan and Robert D. Russell, as above.

12. John P. Conley and Myrna Wooders, March 2009. But what have you done for me lately? Commercial Publishing, Scholarly Communication, and Open-Access. Economic Analysis & Policy, Vol. 39, No. 1. www.eap-journal.com/download.php?file=692

13. Article 27. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a27

14. The Economist, 22nd January 1998. Publishing, perishing, and peer review. http://www.economist.com/node/603719

15. Glenn S. McGuigan and Robert D. Russell, as above.

16. See Glenn S. McGuigan and Robert D. Russell, as above.

17. http://publicaccess.nih.gov/

18. http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/documents/documents/2006statement.pdf

19. Danny Kingsley shows how a small change could make a big difference: “Currently all universities collect information about, and a copy of, every research article written by their academics each year. … But the version of the papers collected is the Publisher’s PDF. And in most cases this is the version we cannot make open access through digital repositories. … the infrastructure is there and the processes are already in place. But there is one small change that has to happen before we can enjoy substantive access to Australian research. The Government must specify that they require the Accepted Version (the final peer reviewed, corrected version) of the papers rather than the Publisher’s PDF for reporting.”

http://theconversation.edu.au/how-one-small-fix-could-open-access-to-research-2637

20. Bjorn Brembs, as above.
 

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