In Support of Closed-access Publishing?

In Support of Closed-access Publishing?

There is no shortage of supporters of open-access publishing, who usually highlight Nature and Science as their evil enemies.


All of our commentaries related to publishing had been along the same line, and we were very receptive about a number of newly founded open-access journals. However, today we were looking for information on open access and came across the following comment from Rebecca Rooney -

I used to be an advocate of “Open Access” publishing. But in my new position as faculty, I’m changing my mind.

Open Access publishing can be very expensive. I recently opted to make a paper “Open Access” at a cost of $3000. In retrospect, I don’t know that it was a wise use of funds. For the same cost I could have hired a co-op student for a term or sent a graduate student to an international conference. Given how hard we work to raise research dollars as new faculty, I am starting to resent all the pressure to spend thousands extra on each publication. Especially when you consider that most copyright agreements allow researchers to archive a pre- print or even post-print version on their websites.

Plus, if any person is curious to see an article I’ve written, all they need to do is e-mail me requesting a copy for research purposes. I am then entitled to share it with them, and generally respond within 24 hrs. Having another scientist contact me directly to request a paper I’ve written is a lovely experience. It connects us and could lead to all manner of fruitful collaborations. When we pay publishers to make our papers free on the internet, that incentive to reach out and directly contact other researchers in our discipline disappears. Maybe with “Open Access” we actually wind up more isolated?

After reading it, we remembered that one of our readers (S. Malhotra) previously made a comment along similar line in “New Bioinformatics Business Model Make Software Free, Charge for Manual”.

Have you tried contacting the authors by email for a free copy of the manuscript? Most authors are more than happy to oblige such requests.

Its not always possible to provide open-access articles. The authors must pay the journal to do this, and not everyone has money to do this. Even if they do, some universities do not allow funds to be used for open-access. Posting a pdf on the website often violates the publishers copyrights. Posting on arXiv has other drawbacks as well.

Thus I dont think the researchers get pleasure in locking up their papers. Its just not always possible to make the article open access, and most authors would be happy to share their article by email.

I do not think it is fair to write a post to call out authors for not making their article open-access. Open access is highly desirable, I agree, but it is not always possible.

Our usual response is to show how much the educational organizations and funding agencies are losing with closed access and so on (the points typically made by Mike Eisen or PeerJ here), but those arguments are not very helpful for an ordinary researcher trying to properly allocate her small research budget.

What will you tell Rebecca Rooney or S. Malhotra to counter - “In retrospect, I don’t know that it was a wise use of funds. For the same cost I could have hired a co-op student for a term or sent a graduate student to an international conference.”? Is closed-access publication + exposure of student at an international conference better than paying extra for open access?


Richard Sever and Lenny Tettleman respond -


‘The fake open-access scam’ link mentioned above can be accessed from here.

We have just enabled Lens-viewing of open access articles on PubChase, in collaboration with Ivan Grubisic1. Lens is an extraordinary step forward in visualization of research. Not only is it infinitely superior to PDFs, but it is even better than reading manuscript printouts. Figures are next to the text and you no longer need to hop around the articles between the text and references, constantly losing your place2. Alas, there is a wrinkle. We had hoped to Lensify all Pubmed Central free content, but turns out that we cannot because only a fraction of PMC content is truly open access; free to read does not mean open access.

The PMC content that we can legally display in the Lens format on PubChase is that which is under the Creative Commons Licenses. Most of these papers are from the PLOS, BiomedCentral, and Hindawii publishers. Unfortunately, almost 90% of PMC articles are free to read as PDFs, but are under restrictive publisher copyrights that make it illegal for PubChase to reformat them. Even author-submitted manuscripts in compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy are subject to the publisher copyright and we cannot display them.

This shocked me. While there has recently been much buzz about scams by new OA journals, especially with the Science Sting by Bohannon, the biggest scam is the one by subscription journals. Many erroneously assume that only open access journals charge a fee for publication, while subscription journals only charge for access. Far from it. My recent paper in PNAS cost $3,500 to publish with the following fees (excerpt from PNAS acceptance e-mail):

Written by M. //