Re: ACS Chemical & Engineering News Editorial: "The Open-Access Myth"

From: Jan Velterop <>
Date: Mon, 29 Mar 2004 16:30:13 +0100

On 28 March 2004 Brian Lynch wrote:

> Stevan:
> Dr. Baum has agreed that this editorial may be made available to the listserv
> that you moderate. You may think it appropriate to bring the opinion of ACS
> on open-access to the attention of listmembers.
> The Open-Access Myth
> From Chemical & Engineering News
> A service of the American Chemical Society.

This is a comment on the article above, which has been made openly available

Rudy M. Baum (Editor-in-Chief <>),
The Open-Access Myth (Editorial), in: Chemical and Engineering News, Volume
82, Nr 08, February 23, 2004

Making this editorial freely available is laudable, since it is an
interesting contribution to the open access debate. The reaction to this
editorial by Nobel laureate Roald Hoffman is not, however, seen by the
publishers of C&CN as interesting enough a contribution, and therefore stays
behind the subscription tollgate. Or is it just 'not yet' openly available?
I hope so. (At the end of this message I'm appending an excerpt.)

Unfortunately -- particularly for the authors -- the research papers
published by the ACS are presumably not considered as similarly interesting
to their respective scientific debates, as the editorial is to the open
access debate, and therefore not worthy of bringing out in the open to
everyone who may have an interest. If not, why is mine the wrong conclusion
to draw?

Apart from this there are a few issues mentioned in the editorial that I
would like to address.

Quote from the editorial: "And it's not clear to me what advantage is
conferred by shifting the cost of publishing from libraries to researchers."

If that isn't clear, open access advocates have some more work to do. Let
me have a go: by shifting the costs from libraries (read: institutions,
via libraries and then via subscriptions, with their inherent access
limitations) to 'researchers' (read: funders, often via institutes
and libraries and then via article charges), the advantage (a huge
one at that) can be open access for all, because access restrictions,
needed for subscriptions, are not needed anymore in the 'input-paid'
model. Isn't it wonderful? And no, the cost doesn't go up, either;
certainly not the cost per article in the aggregate. How could it?

Baum recognises the challenges to the STM publishers: "Prices charged
by some commercial publishers are way too high." He seems to be implying
that the more moderate subscription prices generally charged by non-profit
publishers are the solution. He ignores, or rather denies, the endemic
problem in the system: "...the marketplace is responding to those high
prices in a predictable way as libraries make hard choices and cancel
subscriptions." How has it been possible for any publishers to continue
for so long to charge prices that are 'way too high' if there is a market
mechanism at work? There is no market mechanism, or at the very best,
a most inadequate one. Journals are monopoloid. Open access, with its
article charge model, introduces a market mechanism.

A final point. Open access with its 'input-charges' is a new
publishing model. But is exploring " entirely new and unproven
model..." anathema to science? I always thought that was its
essence. Quelle naivete.

Jan Velterop

A few excerpts from Roald Hoffmann's letter:

"[The editorial] is disappointlingly negative."

"[It] loses faith before it starts out."

"[It] lacks vision; to me it sounds like the automotive industry in its days
of fighting catalytic converters."

"Instead of fault-finding, I would recommend that we start with the ideal of
open access: It's at the heart of what we do. And try to think of a way to
make it work."
Received on Mon Mar 29 2004 - 16:30:13 BST

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