Nov 25, 2005

Science only for the elite?

Following this Slashdot story, I arrived at a very interesting article in Guardian (British newspaper).

British Royal Society - or rather academic publishing industry pulling the strings - apparently is scared of the Internet. While they declare that "Funders should remember that the primary aims should be to improve the exchange of knowledge between researchers and wider society" in the same breath they state "We think it conceivable that the journals in some disciplines might suffer. Why would you pay to subscribe to a journal if the papers appear free of charge?".

Why? Wake up. Why should I pay for it, in the first place?

First of all, scientists publish their papers for prestige (fame) first, to get their data to the scientific community second, and for presonal profit a distant third. They get majority of their money in form of wages and/or grants. I have never heard of scientists making big bucks (or any bucks, actually) from their article publications. It's the journal publishers who are profiting, not the authors, and definetly not the public. Paying for a journal made perfect sence in the print and paper media. Now, with online publishing, wikis, blogs and such, the entire technical team can be reduced to one webdesigner (and considering that most of scientific journals have less then 1 editon per month, he can be working part-time). Money saved from publishers greedy hands can be used either to make content cheaper and more accessible to everybody, or to pay the author or the reviewrs/editors (who again very rarely get paid for their work).

Second, isn't science supposed to serve humanity? Barricading itself offline, and charging stiiff prices for your knowledge is not really ethical, yoi know. If you are not affiliated with a university (a Western one, preferably) - you need to pay from 5$ to several times that much for an equivalent of several pages. So if you really want to 'improve communication between scientists and the wider society', stop charging for your articles - especially since the primary contributors don't care either way.

Still, the Royal Society seems not to care: "While some companies do appear to be making excessive profits from the publication of researchers' papers, this should not be the primary factor guiding future developments in the exchange of knowledge between researchers." Pretty, isn't it?

Sure, some business model is needed - but there are many choices 'to have the cake' and 'eat it', as long as you don't think of publishing a journal as a profit enterpise. Live from donations. Use volunteers and trainees. Ask for grants/financial support from the state, related industries or universities. Charge universities for access - but don't charge private users.

I see no problem at all with in the scientific industry moving to free content. In such a move, everbody wins - well, everybody except the publishers. They were needed and did their job before the advent of the net. Now it is time to thank them for their job and tell them goodbye. From a useful tool they have become a parasitic relic of the past - and the sooner academic publishing realises it, the better for all of us.

Let's hope Royal Society stops looking into the past and does something more useful then trying to see who if Einstein is more popular then Newton (and they call this 'science'? sheez). Definetly not a proud day for the Royal Society.

For more info, see developing Google News stories on this subject.

Long live open access! Just watch out for the FUTON bias :)

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