Friday, February 29, 2008

Discussion Friday

It's the return of Discussion Friday! (In which hardly anybody discusses, but I am allowed to rant and pose questions.)

This subject is particularly close to me at the moment, but I shall try to avoid spitting more nails. Yesterday was messy.

In scientific publishing, there are pretty much two camps: those who believe scientific information should be free and openly accessible to all regardless of who created and published it, and those who believe that publishers and editors add value to scientific information and should be reimbursed for that value--or at least be able to support themselves.

Guess which camp I fall into?

Let's just say that the "your publications are my right" people are messing with me, and driving me batty. I DO add value. Those publications I release, with the clear, concise prose, consistent grammar and punctuation, and kick-ass layout? Some of those started out as sloppy, muddled reports with grainy images embedded in Word. So why do you think, again, that it's okay to make those available to everyone in the world for free, when our meager sales margin supports my department? Hmmmm?

Okay, I'll stop there before I go into details. I did intend to do a reasoned presentation of the free/not free issue, but obviously I can't just now. Instead I'll put up a poll. I know there are many out there, particularly librarians and researchers, who believe that scientific publishers and editors are money-grubbers, and largely unnecessary. They've told me to my face. What do you think?


Cindy said...

Hi Susan:

At first, without reading the post below, I interpreted the question as whether or not the information itself should be free - independant of the medium. Even then, I was torn.

But should anybody be required (or even requested) to interpret, translate and package that information for the end user at no charge? What? Why should they? As my son would say: "What the heck in the world?"

Lindsay York Levack said...

I don't know if should vote, since I don't need any scientific reports.

But I do find this discussion interesting. On the one hand, I kind of agree with the information being freely available, but on the other, I've met scientific-minds-- *wry g*-- and as an "educator" I know that brilliant scientists don't always have the skills/competence to communicate clearly, concisely or creatively. As an editor, you make them look good. So, my question is, why aren't *the scientists* paying you? I'm confused as to why the end-user should pay you to make the scientists look good.

Although, if this was a fashion magazine, the editors still get paid, too, don't they?

Interesting discussion.

Susan Adrian said...

Cindy: Indeed.

Lindsay: Well, see, I see it as very similar to fiction publishing. The AUTHOR shouldn't pay to be published. The publisher puts value into the material for the benefit of the consumer of information. Thus, the consumer is the one who pays. Author provides content, publisher provides editing, packaging, and distribution. Same deal, to me...

Linda said...

The third choice almost got me -- you really shouldn't wave chocolate under the nose of a confirmed chocoholic {g} -- but I came to my senses in time.

Is it so difficult to realize that if the people who are making the scientific information accessible can't earn a living doing it, they won't be _able_ to do it? Sheesh. It's really quite simple.


Susan Adrian said...

Linda, you disappoint. I was sure I'd snag you with the third choice. :)

DA said...

You snagged me with the third choice, only because I voted before I read the post. Duh.

Deb (using her stuffed sinuses and fuzzy head as her excuse) *hack, hack*

Amy said...

I don't know, exactly. My husband just finished his Ph.D. and has 7 science research papers out with journals. When they accept his papers, then he actually has to _pay_ the journals to have them published in the journals. I suppose, I'd support paying for the journals, if the scientists didn't have to pay to have their research included in the first place.

It's probably a bad analogy, but it sounds like self-publishing to me. The authors pay to be published, then the readers pay to read, and the publishers take from both sides.

I can't imagine this is the case, so can you please explain it for me, Susan. I honestly have to plead ignorant.


Susan Adrian said...


I don't know about that. The journals I worked for didn't charge the authors, and now I work for a geological survey where we publish our own scientists' work.

Obviously it's complex, but "all free" just doesn't seem like a good option to me.

Diana Peterfreund said...

"Free for all" is an interesting term, since the people in favor of it usually mean "no effort on my part."

My version of free for all is funded public libraries. The editors and writers get paid. and people who want the information can get at it.

The other thing about "scientific information" is that it differs from "scientific publications." Once things are published, the information IS out there. Findings aren't copyrightable. I can buy the article, read it, then right up something about said findings and do whatever I want with it.