English: Ravioli Marinara (Mangia Trattoria)
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Before the controversial Research Works Act of 2011, there was another RWA — one lost in the sands of time. Reflecting a bitter controversy between American farmers and American restauranteurs, the Restaurant Welfare Act sought to make free to all Americans foodstuffs subsidized by taxpayer funds.

Digging into the archival news coverage of the time, the parallels are eerie. A group of gourmands in what one journalist called “fancy-pants East Coast eateries” argued that they shouldn’t have to pay for tomatoes, potatoes, corn, wheat, barley, lettuce, and myriad other foods grown thanks to taxpayer subsidies — after all, they had already paid for these foodstuffs once, and all the chefs were doing was taking these, stirring them about with a few other cheap ingredients, and serving them back to them, the taxpayer who had paid for them in the first place.

Mortimer Mauny, called “Mo” by his friends, led this movement, the Open Eating (OE) movement. Due to their connections with well-placed politicians in the Eisenhower Administration, the OE movement gained traction on a Capitol Hill exhausted by McCarthyism and braced for the Cold War. For many politicians of the day, having a domestic squabble with easy talking points proved too appealing to resist.

“The Open Eating movement seeks to give back to the taxpayer the vegetables, grains, and meats they have already paid for and which nature has provided us,” roared Wayne E. Day (R-KS), who ran on a pro-farm platform. “Not only have the taxpayers paid for these foodstuffs, but the free labor of the farmer, their children, and their horses should not be exploited by chefs and cooks, who do nothing more than add spice, mix ingredients, and put things on plates.”

Citing a study showing that a plate of spaghetti with marinara sauce cost a New York restaurant a total of $1.05 for the raw ingredients, the same plate of pasta could sell from between $3.50 to $22.50 in local restaurants, Day railed against what he called “dining rooms exploiting taxpayer-funded crops.”

“Every American citizen has a right to good food,” Day declaimed at a rally in Albany, NY. “We paid for it once. We shouldn’t have to pay for it again.”

Chefs and others in the food industry were naturally put on the defensive.

“We make food safe and delicious,” said one chef who remained nameless in reports from this period. “Who wants to eat an old tomato over a pile of dry, flavorless semolina? We turn these things into a delicious sauce, delicate pasta, and serve it in an environment the patrons enjoy. There is a status in eating at our restaurants, there is romance, there is identity. Is it wonton or pierogi or dumpling? Only the restaurant and the chef can tell you by how we prepare it. We choose our ingredients carefully, and we prepare it so everyone is happy and safe.”

The OE movement hit some stumbling blocks early on, however. Because farmers could only get to participating OE restaurants by traveling great distances, the movement soon became known as a way for East Coast elites to get more for less. According to press clipping from the period, the OE movement was most popular with university professors, who had proximity to restaurants but salaries they struggled to stretch.

At one point, OE advocates began creating a system in which farmers could use their government subsidies to pre-pay for meals in restaurants who agreed to provide OE meals. These meals would then be free to any patron who ordered them. Because this would have redirected funds from food production, farmers didn’t participate at the level OE boosters had anticipated.

Reacting to their members’ concerns about the RWA, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) went to battle, introducing the Food-chain Reset Point Authorization Act (FRPAA, pronounced “frappé”). This countermanding bill would have cast into law the requirement that all taxpayer subsidies of farm-grown foods be considered ended at the point of receipt — the farmer — and not carry over into the extended food chain. The argument was that once farmers received the subsidies, the obligation and contract with the government was fulfilled, and no carry-over obligations could be imposed on restauranteurs, chefs, or household cooks.

“Imagine what insanity might erupt if a single taxpayer subsidy or grant were allowed to create a chain of obligations throughout any segment of our economy,” a White House spokesman was quoted at the time. “The Federal government enables many economic engines by providing foundational funding. The foundational funds are exhausted once their intent has been met. There is no subsequent obligation or Congressional intent. The proposal that one-time funding created ongoing systemic pre-paid statuses is preposterous.”

Ultimately, the RWA and FRPAA debates (called toward the end “a food fight”) stalemated in Congress as more important national issues surfaced — Sputnik, the space race, and the Cuban missile crisis, just to name a few.

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


117 Thoughts on "Revisiting a Little-Known RWA of the Past — The Restaurant Welfare Act of 1958"

The difference – which also seems to be the flaw in the RWA act – is that restaurants pay for their ingredients. The ingredients should be (and apparently are) cheaper because the farmer received a subsidy.

The difference between the cost of the ingredients and the price of the meal is the restaurants value-add, which can reasonably argued to be the proper free-market value-add given that there is a reasonable approximation to free competition among restaurants. No restaurant has a monopoly on providing meals with subsidized HFCS. Not even McDonald’s!

However in the research case, the products of research are given free to scholarly journals. They do not pay for them. Each one has a monopoly on any particular research result. The journal sells its subscription at a price that reflects both the value of the research and the journal’s value-add, in part supported by monopoly rent, not free-market price.

And then, of course, profit-making companies use the results of publicly funded research for free too, and often create derivation works – such as drugs – that are also sold as a monopoly.

Thus I’d say the RWA attempted to solve a problem that didn’t exist, whereas the issue with publicly funded research is real.

Well, if you’re going to get all serious about this little draught of parody, we can talk about why peer-reviewers vie to peer-review (don’t just do it, but want to do it); why publication in various journals means more to career advancement and is therefore indirectly beneficial to researchers; why researchers trust vetted and edited reports more than raw reports (or why poster sessions aren’t used much for scholarship); and so forth. No journal has a monopoly. There are thousands of journals, and dozens in any field. Researchers submit to the journal(s) that they think will do the best job for them. Most research reports have short lifespans of interest within very specific groups.

I’m always puzzled by statements like “has a monopoly on any particular research result.” Let’s dissect that. A report is not a result. A report is a report. Authors prefer to end research with a report, and then move on. Publishers act as agents to safeguard that report, and ensure its integrity over time. That is what authors and publishers barter around rights, in most cases. Having rights motivates publishers to protect a work, and relieves authors of the burden of administering and asserting their rights from a position of relative powerlessness (inability to monitor infractions, lack of resources to fight off interlopers). A trade is not a monopoly. A report is not a result. As soon as someone reads the report, the result is shared and known, and the idea is transmitted. There is no monopoly on a result.

Some might argue that most economics are non-monetary. OA journals rely on free (volunteer) labor as much as or even more than traditional journals do. They do this as economic entities themselves. Volunteering is an economic choice.

Riiight. You just keep telling yourselves that this is analogous. Enjoy your echo chamber.

So says the man returning to his own echo chamber after leaving no substantive comment.

You honestly need substantive comment to see why this analogy is not just shot through with holes, but is one single hole? When McDonalds make just one Big Mac, and then sell the exact same one over and over again at outlets around the world — THEN you will have an analogy.

Satire will not save you. Resistance is futile. Lay down your editors and you will not be harmed.

I personally like your parody and have used the analogy of the government subsidizing the wheat farmer, yet one has to pay for the loaf of bread. The publisher puts the finishing touches on the hard work of the investigator, disseminating and archiving the resulting article. That does have a cost and all publishers are asking for is the ability to recover their costs. The RWA, just like FCRWA, several years ago was legislation designed to allow that to happen. The problem with FRPAA is that it mandates public access after a defined period of time, 6 months. For many journals, that would mean a loss of subscriptions which would impact on their ability to recover their costs. As we convinced Dr. Zerhouni in 2004, one size does not fit all and 6 months would threaten too many journals. As a result, he agreed to the 12 month embarg of NIH funded research. The same argument still holds with FRPAA – 6 months is too short – and the government should not be dictating how a publisher should operate. Do they do that for other businesses?

Technically FRPAA says no longer than 6 months, which allows for even shorter periods at the agency discretion. No joke.

Marty, I’d go a little further. I think publishers are partners of researchers for the most part, and aligning their interests is a good thing. The same holds for this analogy — wheat farmers do better if people want more bread.The better the science and the more it matters, the better for funding and researchers. The increased importance of journals over the past decade reflects part of this alignment and how journals play a key role. But I’ve always argued that we have to get beyond costs, since if we only recover our costs we have no money to invest in new and interesting ways of distributing or communicating or managing information. Value is what you get; cost is what you pay. I think the overall trend has been rapid decreases in per-use costs with rapid increases in per-use value.

I thought that’s what we wanted to have happen. Involving the government can have unintended consequences for everyone, including OA advocates. Politicians are unpredictable.

If you are set on a culinary analogy, publishers are much more like waiters than chefs.

Kent, Marty et al. Since you are both successful scientists, I find it impossible to believe you are ignorant or stupid enough to believe this analogy. So I am forced to assume that your comparison of publishers and farmers is governed primarily by mendacity. However, since there are people out there who might be taken in by this comparison, somebody needs to point out its absurdity.

Farmers, supermarkets, chefs, etc… deal consumable goods. Every unit of food they distribute has a marginal cost, and thus the only sensible, scalable economic model is for them to charge consumers for each unit of food they produce. It would be wonderful if anyone could eat anything anytime for free. But it’s not even remotely practical.

However, no aspect of the economic model of food production applies to contemporary scholarly publishing. Publication is the last step in the process of transforming a research idea into shared knowledge. The process adds value to this final product (how much is an issue for another discussion), and adding this value costs money. Nobody disputes this. But this cost scales with the number of papers processed, not the number of papers distributed. There is effectively no marginal cost associated with distributing an extra copy of a paper electronically. Which is precisely why it is absurd to compare publishing to food production. And also why it is absurd to use an economic model in which revenues scale with the number of copies of a paper distributed, rather than the number of papers processed. This is all the more significant because the use of a subscription model subtracts immense value from the final product by restricting access to a limited slice of the possible readers and users of the paper.

Publishers provide a service and should be paid for their service. As we have pointed out elsewhere, there are lots of people and industries that add value to products without demanding that they own the product to which they have added value. The most clarifying example is an obstetrician, who provides baby-delivery services to expectant parents. They add value by ensuring the health and welfare of baby and mother. But they do not demand ownership of the baby in return. They charge a fee. And do quite well financially in doing so.

By pretending that charging for access to papers is the only way to fund publishing, and then trotting out ridiculous stories in an attempt to ridicule efforts of the federal government to improve access to scientific and medical knowledge, and make research move faster, you are proving yourselves to not only be cynical and deceitful, but pointing out once again why neither scientists nor the public should trust you to be stewards of the great treasury of knowledge in the scientific literature.


Every distribution of electronic information has a marginal cost, as well. I estimate that if PLoS were to stop publishing, you’d still pay about $28K per year just in the electricity costs to distribute your current papers (http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2012/01/19/the-hidden-expense-of-energy-costs-print-is-costly-online-isnt-free/). This doesn’t include the depreciation of your servers, the rack costs, etc. You should be an experienced enough publisher by now to know that nothing is free.

You say that the cost scales with the number of papers processed, not the number of papers distributed. This reveals a lax editorial approach that emphasizes processing over publication. For rigorous publications, the costs of processing are a fraction of the costs of publication. It probably also reflects the increased administrative burden PLoS incurs because you have to process payments from authors. No wonder it scales with number of papers processed.

Publishers provide more than a service to authors. That’s a cynical minimization of the continuity, care, and work publishers provide to the scholarly knowledge ecosystem.

I don’t think that readers-pays is the only way to pay for publishing. I think it’s the best way, and it has inherent advantages. And don’t call me cynical or deceitful. I didn’t found a company that had to lower its editorial standards in order to publish enough papers to become viable. That’s cynical and deceitful.

Wait, is this another effort at parody? Are you seriously trying to argue that a primary driver of journal economics is BILLING?

I don’t need a lecture on the economics of scientific publishing. I understand that there are fixed costs in running a publishing operation. There are also costs that scale with number of papers accessed, users, etc… However, today, for any reasonably sized publishers, the largest portion of costs scale with the number of papers handled. Processing is one cost. So is overseeing editorial, peer-review etc… And it is because of this it is possible to use an economic model that relies on service charges, rather than subscriptions – thereby achieving the unambiguous good of maximizing distribution.

And, as for the charge of founding a company that lowered editorial standards in order to publish enough papers to become viable, you clearly have your facts wrong. I did not found Elsevier.

Har har har. Aren’t we having fun?

Elsevier doesn’t, as far as I know, publish a “journal” that accepts 70% of the papers it receives. Elsevier didn’t introduce a whole new category of acceptable publication — “methodologically sound.” When Elsevier screwed up with the Australasian journals, heads rolled and apologies were made. And, no, you didn’t found a company that successfully partners with hundreds of scientific societies to distribute their information and sustain their operations, that returns millions of dollars in value to scientific societies each year, that’s publicly traded so more accountable to shareholders and constituents, and that has been around for 120+ years. That could be Elsevier, Wolters-Kluwer, Springer, OUP, RUP, Nature, or more than a dozen other for-profit and not-for-profit society publishers.

PLoS can publish very good journals (Medicine, Biology) when it adheres to traditional benchmarks of quality. However, these don’t make money for PLoS, so your organization had to lower its rejection rates severely and lower standards, two things that are completely predictable in your model if you’re cynical about it. To dress it up as “holier than” any other model is deceitful.

Just as it’s completely predictable that OA publications at some point will have to increase throughput by some means to remain viable, it’s completely predictable in the traditional model for prices to rise with value derived, and for discounting through bundles to occur.

You speak with surprising confidence about PLoS’s history, finances and motivations for someone wholly unconnected with the organization or anyone else engaged in open access publishing. Just to be a good sport, I’ll assume that you are not intentionally distorting facts and making up stories in order to discredit a business model you do not like, and that the misinformed comments above stem from a lack of information. So I’ll take some time to clear some things up for you.

Let’s start with the central issue: PLoS ONE’s editorial model. It is indeed true that PLoS ONE ultimately publishes around 65% of the articles submitted to it. But this is not because we are trying to maximize its finances. Rather the goal of PLoS ONE is to fundamentally alter the temporal relationship between peer review and assessment – to shift from a system dominated by pre-publication peer review in which decisions to publish in a particular journal are based primarily on subjective assessments of impact, to a system in which the decision whether to publish a paper or not is restricted to whether it is a methodologically sound work of science, with peer review performed alongside and after publication.

The idea is simple. Instead of using peer review to pigeon-hole papers into journals, we would add an additional layer to the current peer review that is happening at PLoS ONE. Reviewers would be given two separate tasks. First, to assess the technical validity of the paper, commenting on any areas where it falls short. Second, and completely independently, they are asked to judge the importance of the paper in several dimensions (methodological innovation, conceptual advance, significant discovery, etc…) and to determine who should be interested in the paper (all biologists; geneticists; Drosophila developmental biologists, etc….). This assessment of importance and audience would be recorded in a highly structured (and therefore searchable and computable) way – and would, in its simplest manifestation, amount to reviewers saying “this paper is good enough to have been published in Nature” or “this is a typical Genetics paper”.

If the technical review was positive, and the paper would be published along with the structured assessment. If the technical review was negative, the authors would have the opportunity to correct their work.

We believe this model is better than current practice for several reasons.

First, work will be published must faster. The current system wastes incredible amounts of time as papers languish in peer review and bounce from journal-to-journal in search of the best possible career-advancing imprimatur. These delays slow down scientific progress and, since scientific progress saves laves, these delays kill.

You may think this is hyperbole, but a major justification for spending ten of billions of taxpayer dollars on scientific research is that it ultimately saves lives. If you don’t believe this, you shouldn’t be taking public money to perform or publish biomedical research. But if you do believe the research saves lives, then you have to conclude that delays due to peer review cost lives.

Second, the valuable things that peer review currently does will be done better. Peer review as it exists today serves many purposes, and is believed (incorrectly) to serve several others. The four biggies are: that it prevents incorrect information from being published, that it improves the papers that are published, that it provides an essential filtering function for the readers, and that its results serve as a metric of scientific achievement to be used in hiring, funding and promotion.

But the dramatic increases in speed of publication achieved in this system would not come at the price of assessment – after all, main result of the existing peer review system, the journal in which a paper is published, is really just an assessment of the likely importance and audience for a paper – which is exactly the decision reviewers would make in the new system.

In addition, by replacing the current journal hierarchy with a structured classification of research areas and levels of interest, this new system would undermine the generally poisonous “winner take all” attitude associated with publication in Science, Nature and their ilk. This new system for encoding the likely impact of a paper at the time of publication could easily replace the existing system (journal titles).

Finally, by devaluing assessment made at the time of publication, this new system would facilitate the development of a robust system of post publication in peer review in which individuals or groups would submit their own assessments of papers at any point after they were published. These assessments could be reviewed by an editor or not, depending on what type of validation readers and other users of this assessments want. One could imagine editorial boards that select editors with good judgment and select their own readers to assess papers in the field, the results of which would bear the board’s imprimatur.

Elements of this system are in place at PLoS ONE, but it’s still very much a work in progress. But THIS is why we launched the journal. It is the next crucial step in achieving our long-term goal of speeding up scientific publishing by decoupling publication and assessment of significance and audience.

Of course, PLoS ONE is also a financially successful business. This was an obvious precondition for it to achieve its publishing goals. (And I should add that it’s the height of irony for people at SK to be denouncing PLoS for making money when many of these people were deriding OA at its outset as a naive business model that would never be viable).

Now I expect that you don’t approve of this model. But I hope you will stop intimating that we created PLoS ONE’s editorial model in order to make money, as this is not only offensive, it represents a complete failure to understand what we are trying to achieve.

Publishing as much as you do and foisting criticism off to this imagined “post-publication peer-review” is cynical, because it doesn’t work well. It’s sporadic, incongruous, and ineffective. You’re cynical to believe that it does.

Journals serve two purposes — quality validation and relevance signaling. “Pigeon-holing” as you call it is really finding the most relevant outlet. Quality validation is pre-publication peer-review. You have just admitted that you’ve lowered standards for both. That’s why I believe PLoS ONE needs a different monicker. If it’s a journal, it’s one that shuns the two major functions of journals.

I completely agree that saving lives is a primary driver of scientific research. It’s why I’ve worked in medical publishing nearly all my career. Saving lives, reducing suffering, and improving quality of life are all shared goals. I just fundamentally disagree that the way to advance these important ends is to add noise to the information space, foist review off on users, and cynically overwhelm search engines with undifferentiated marginal works. I believe the best way to advance is to publish carefully vetted scientific reports that embrace novelty, quality, and relevance so that we can trust the literature, trust reports, and save time in getting to answers.

You say speed to market is vital to your model. It is to many traditional publishers, as well. When I was at the New England Journal of Medicine, we could publish papers peer-reviewed by five reviewers in a handful of days when needed (SARS, anthrax, avian flu). These were important papers with direct bearing on public health, but they had to be right. Speed and quality are not something to trade off. You seem to think the trade-off is inherent. I disagree, and have evidence that it’s not.

If you decouple publication from assessment of significance and audience, you’ve completely lost the story here. In other words, you’re throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks. Thank you for confirming my assessment. And, no, I don’t approve. I think having you put it so clearly only makes me angrier at what kind of charade your groups are foisting off on the scientific community.

I understand what you’re doing. I think it borders on the shameful.

“Journals serve two purposes — quality validation and relevance signaling. “Pigeon-holing” as you call it is really finding the most relevant outlet.”

As a point of information, the relevance signalling part of this is no longer true (though it used to be). It’s now been many years since I read a paper on the basis of what journal it was published in rather than what it contains. Most papers I read, I am hardly even aware of what journal it’s in.

That’s the problem with basing your view of reality solely on your own experience. I know that at least the medical researchers I know and have surveyed, interviewed, or seen in focus groups care a great deal. If something is published in Science, they feel it’s too preliminary for them. If it’s published in a subspecialty journal that’s not their subspecialty, they worry it’s not going to be very informative. Time and attention are scarce.

So, I’d suggest a modification to your statement — “the relevance signaling part of this is no longer true for me.” Even at that, I’d ask you to observe your own behavior over the next week to make sure that’s true. I’ll bet you have some “tells” that might bring this broad generalization into question.

Yes: “the relevance signaling part of this is no longer true for me” would have been better.

Or, more informatively, “for me, or anyone else I know in my field”. But I accept that other fields may vary.

Actually, I’m certain that many many subspecialty and other lower-rung Elsevier journals do have a high acceptance rate, without the benefits of OA. For example, BBRC. In my day as a graduate student (decades ago): it was the place one would send unpublishable work, it wouldn’t get reviewed or barely at all, and many published regularly. It got better, but there are way too many journals in general, and most serve only the purpose of disseminating poor-quality science I’m afraid. PLoS ONE is not perfect, but I wouldn’t feel too bad publishing there, and have quite enjoyed many of the papers in my field that are published in PLoS ONE. As for society journals, well the society in general cares deeply about the quality of its science, but some of those I’ve spoken to would rather change their publication model to one that offer OA exclusively, as it serves the mission of the society much better: get the science out there so that people can benefit from it freely.

I am uncomfortable by the ease at which both Mike Taylor’s Guardian parable and this food-producers-as-publishers analogy attempt to serve to simplify what is, essentially, a complex situation. But, while I feel myself unable to take sides on this, despite mjy own atrocious attempts to weight in on the publisher’s benefit, I think Eisen’s comments so far have, in Mike Taylor’s words (eslewhere) “destroyed” the analogy. To be precise, it is Eisen’s analogy of the obstetrician as publisher that sinks the argument made above. There is little legitimate reason that Elsevier, or other large publishing house, SHOULD own an object that contains intellectual or scientific arguments. Not if, as they claim, they have all rights because they issue the work on their own dime. While it is true they market the papers they publish, this is almost entirely for their own benefit, as they serve to bring in more income providing pay services to their journals. This thus forms the backbone of the argument which, and I agree, makes larger publishing houses COMPLETELY unlike food producers.

I don’t think Eisen has destroyed anything. As I’ve explained on threads like this again and again, publishers and authors have aligned interests in preserving the integrity of the scientific record. Authors don’t want their works distorted or abused, and publishers don’t want their authors abused. Copyright transfer allows publishers to act as agents for authors, and agents that are better equipped both short-term and long-term to preserve the scientific record. Copyright infringements can occur for all sorts of reasons, and in all sorts of setting (different countries, different commercial settings, online and in print, etc.). Authors are ill-equipped to monitor or pursue these. Publishers are in a much better position, and will do it for years after publication. That is why is makes sense for authors to transfer works to publishers. It helps to ensure the integrity of the scientific record.

You also have it backwards, which I find amusing. Larger publishing houses aren’t the food producer in this satire, they are the chefs. So, I don’t know what to say about that.

I wonder if the silence about copyright infringements in the OA literature is merely a reflection of a lack of ability to detect these. I might do a little study of this someday, to see if there’s something going on that these publishers are ill-equipped to monitor. Call me the health inspector.

This comes up all the time. But can you cite me examples of copyright infringement that a) have harmed an author of a scientific paper, and b) where the interests of the author were defended by the publisher?

But we finally have at least one point of agreement here. If you’re going to stick with the absurd food analogy, there is only one role in the process that is remotely like that performed by publishers in the food production process: that of health inspector. It’s actually a great analogy. Do food inspectors own the food the inspect? No. Are they paid as a service provider? Yes. Who pays them? The government. Check. Check. Check.

I’ve been involved in a few of these. I can’t go into specifics because the cases are confidential, but let me describe three. One involved a Web site trying to market a medical supplement using a branded journal article as its home page content without permission, under their “journal” brand, and in a misleading way; one involved a small regional publisher passing off content from a legitimate publisher as their own and charging readers for it again, while changing author attribution; one involved a European journal publisher who was using images without attribution to further their own commercial interests. In every case, the commercial interests and the integrity interests of the publisher and author aligned well. Ironically, the publishers in these cases were more irate and offended about the misuse of content and the authors/editors were more worried about the lost revenues. This is another odd theme I’ve seen in human behavior around journals — publishers are more righteous about integrity and editors/authors are more righteous about money. I can’t explain that.

Beyond these three examples, there have been many, many situations in which a letter, a phone call, or a combination averted the need to go to court. But the key is detection. If you don’t know it’s going on, you can’t write the letter, make the phone call, send the email, or file the injunction. And if you haven’t filed copyright registrations, you can’t recover statutory damages, only actual damages, and those are harder to establish. Authors may have “moral rights” in their copyright, but if they’re not filing registrations for every article, they won’t have much muscle in court even if they detect abuse. This is the Achilles’ heel of Creative Commons, in my opinion.

I don’t agree with the health inspector take, sorry. I prefer agreeing with people, but publishers aren’t paid by the government, they often own what they deliver when they deliver it, and they are more than just a service provider.

“Authors may have “moral rights” in their copyright, but if they’re not filing registrations for every article, they won’t have much muscle in court even if they detect abuse. This is the Achilles’ heel of Creative Commons, in my opinion.”

What on Earth can you be talking about? Why would you think that the choice of the licence under which content is provided has any connection with whether copyright is registered or not?

I’m asserting that most authors don’t bother to fill out copyright registration forms, pay the associated fees, etc. I think they believe they are completely covered by “copyright,” not understanding the different legal standing created by registration. If authors use Creative Commons rather than transferring copyright to a publisher (who is much more likely to register it and pay the fees on behalf of the author), I believe they are much more vulnerable in the market.

So your point is “author who self-publish rather than using an OA publisher should be sure to register their copyright if the article warrants it”? I can’t argue with that.

I also can’t begin to see how “This is the Achilles’ heel of Creative Commons”.

I think it’s the Achilles’ heel of Creative Commons because authors think they’re granting a license while on firm ground. If they don’t register their copyright, they don’t have great legal standing. CC might be (I don’t have evidence of this, just a strong suspicion) reinforcing the false perception that native copyright is sufficient, and then signing the CC license is strengthening their position or at least based on a strong legal position.

“Authors don’t want their works distorted or abused, and publishers don’t want their authors abused. Copyright transfer allows publishers to act as agents for authors, and agents that are better equipped both short-term and long-term to preserve the scientific record.”

Please. Whatever else you may claim here, don’t claim that copyright thefttransfer is for the author’s benefit. Just don’t. The moment you do this, you lose all credibility.

On what basis are your offering this opinion? I’m basing mine on years of experience and author interactions. It’s wrong for you to assert that a contractual transfer is theft. It’s wrong for you to make these accusations without basis or experience. Most authors want their reports published, and then want to move on, assured that their publisher has the ability to defend their works in perpetuity (or close to it). Copyright transfer allows this. Other approaches don’t. End of story. Are you just being obtuse? What isn’t clear about this to you?

You can get all rhetorical about this. Use your staccato voice. Use strikethrough. Act smart. The reality is that there is a broad set of IP laws called copyright, and those laws matter. If you don’t understand them, how to use them to your advantage, or how important they are to the integrity of the scientific record, especially for the materials that are really core to human advancement, you shouldn’t worry about my risk of losing credibility.

“On what basis are your offering this opinion? I’m basing mine on years of experience and author interactions. It’s wrong for you to assert that a contractual transfer is theft.”

I’m basing it on every mandatory transfer-of-copyright form I’ve ever had to sign as a condition of publication. If it was in my interests, they wouldn’t have to make it mandatory, would they?

“It’s wrong for you to assert that a contractual transfer is theft.”

You’re right. I should have said “mandatory coerced seizure of property with threats”. To save time, I will abbreviate this as MCSPT from here on.

You know, it’s threads like this that break down all remaining sympathy with publishers, and sense of comradeship, that researchers are managing to cling on to. I read words like “The depth of feeling among some in the research community is real and something we take very seriously” in Elsevier’s recent statement on the boycott, and a little flame of hope kindles in my heart that maybe all is not lost, maybe the publishers still have a clue. Then I read your assertion that I want you to stealMCSPT my copyright, and I realise it’s all an illusion. Publishers, or at least those represented in this thread, really are completely isolated from the real world, and without even the desire for redemption, let alone any hope of it.

I have got to stop reading this blog.

(Kent says: you have got to stop commenting on it.)

You can stop reading this blog if you want to. It’s your choice. But I get to reply to this, your perhaps final comment. Copyright transfer is required by many publishers because it makes so much sense. It’s only recently poorly informed opinions like some of those in this thread that have created doubt and some dreamed-up alternative that really isn’t nearly as good as you think — not as good for authors, not as good for integrity of the scientific record, not as good for dissemination (yes, believe it or not).

Are speed limits mandatory and in your interests? Are seat belt laws? Helmet laws? Mandatory often equates to “definitely in your interests.” I don’t understand how you can say that the two are inherently contradictory.

You can keep reading and commenting. But it seems it’s the replies that bother you. I hope you’re learning something. I am. It’s showing me how misinformed some people are. I think Elsevier has learned that lesson, as well. They are being a bit nicer about handling unnecessarily aggressive and almost shockingly uninformed opinions, but there you have it. I run a blog. I can be a bit more direct.

“… but there you have it. I run a blog.”

Yes. And whatever else I disagree with you about, I do want to say I appreciate it that you don’t censor comments here, however violently they disagree with you. Kudos.

Just to add to this — I’ve since discovered that while I’ve been slaving away here answering comments in what I think is a fairly honest and fair manner, I’m being called a “douche bag” and a fecal infection (basically, shit on shit) on Twitter by people aligning themselves with the Elsevier boycott and PLoS.

It doesn’t fundamentally bother me, but I want to make people here aware of what kind of thoughtful, considerate, and mature responses posts like this seem to generate. It’s pitiful.

Kent (why can’t I reply to your comments?) can you explain more about your comments on Copyright and the “Achiles Heel” of CC?

You seem to be suggesting that one needs to register each work in order for copyright to be afforded to each work in full. The implication being that if unregistered, copyright is not fully applied or one would be in a reduced position to enforce copyright. In the UK at least this is not the case; copyright is automatically assigned to each work, there is no need to register anything and indeed nowhere to register it. You can register with a commercial copyright register, which are unofficial registers and who may act to protect your copyright on your behalf for a fee.

You mention “moral rights”; in the UK at least, these are somewhat separate from copyright in that copyright is a property that can be bought and sold yet moral rights always remain with the author or his or her heirs, for as long as copyright would apply (there are some caveats).

So I’m somewhat unclear what point you are trying to make with regard to copyright registration and CC?

I have the same rights to protect and enforce the copyright on my works as A N Other publisher would if I transferred copyright to them instead. Those rights are protected in law in the UK and similar protection occurs in many jurisdictions throughout the world.

CC is an upfront licence for users of my works. I am no more or no less protected under copyright law whether I choose to licence my works under a CC licence or not. A CC licence makes it clear to the user of my works what I do and do not allow them to do with my works. It doesn’t undermine my moral or economic rights under copyright unless I explicitly choose to relax those rights by licencing specific uses under a CC licence.

In transferring copyright to a publisher I loose all (most/some depending on transfer agreement) my economic rights under copyright. How is that in my best interests? At first blush, your comments re CC seem somewhat ad hominem and somewhat disingenuous given that CC is all about making it easier to reuse works by licencing certain usage of ones works that would ordinarily be prohibited automatically via copyright. All CC are providing are licences. No copyright is being transferred. So what is the Achilles Heel here?

I can’t comment on the benefits of registration in the UK. Even in the US, benefits of registration usually escape people until they’re in a dispute, at which point it becomes clear that registering confers clear benefit. Here’s an example. Let’s say that some unscrupulous company copied your article and sold it for thousands of dollars, but to a company that used that article to promote a product you knew to be dangerous. You wanted to stop it. They didn’t have your permission. You file a claim of copyright infringement. So far, so good. You can get an injunction to have them stop. It will cost you a few thousand dollars in legal fees. You want to recoup that because your reputation has been harmed. If you’ve not registered, you can’t get compensated just because they violated copyright. You can only get compensated if you proved actual damages — that their actions actually cost you something tangible and measurable. If you’d registered, their violation would allow you to seek statutory damages — damages just because they broke the law. That’s a big difference, and means the difference between someone taking a lawyer’s letter seriously or laughing it off. After all, if you can’t prove actual damages, you’ll just have a nuisance lawsuit in the courts.

If the CC is not registering copyright for its authors, and authors feel they’re completely protected within CC licenses, then there’s an Achilles’ heel.

“If the CC is not registering copyright for its authors …”

Just a note: no-one expects the Creative Commons organisation to register copyrights for anyone. That is no more their job that it’s the Free Software Foundation’s job to register my copyright when I release a computer program under the GPL.

I agree. See another response on this. Tired of typing the same things over and over.

Kent, whilst the US does have an official register of copyright, it is not actually needed. Under the Bern Convention, to which the US is a signatory, copyright is automatically assigned to a work. There is no compulsion to register your works to gain copyright protection. It is suggested that you clearly indicate that a work is copyrighted using the (C) (proper) symbol. But registration doesn’t gain you any additional rights to protection under the Bern Convention.

Also I think you misunderstand what CC is? It is a licence to use works, not a register of nor protector of an author’s copyright. A CC licence grants users of a work a licence to certain rights to use the work of an author. The author remains the author and holder of copyright, not CC. There is no transfer under CC, just a declaration of what rights the author of a work grants to a user. CC works because of copyright law. CC is there to provide a legal, and tested and enforced in some jurisdictions, framework that protects copyright of an author whilst allowing the author to grant certain rights to re-use.

Whether or not one uses a CC licence, your work is still protected under copyright law as provided for under the Bern Convention.

There is nothing a STEM publisher or copyright register can do to enforce or protect copyright that an individual author cannot do. They may have more resources available to bring to bear in enforcing / protecting said copyright, but they are no more protected under the international law that covers copyright.

I might humbly suggest that you retract your comment about CC seeing as you appear to misunderstand what it is all about.

Thanks. Getting copyright isn’t a problem, but registration provides you with superior legal options, as discussed elsewhere. Unless that has changed in the past few months, I think I’m pretty on-target. You can have weak copyright without registration, or stronger copyright with registration.

I understand what CC does, and am suggesting that because it treats weak copyright as if it’s sufficient to protect a work and allows authors to grant licenses based solely on this, it might be lulling users into a false sense of security without providing actual monitoring, registration, or legal services like a publisher does in the agency role created by copyright transfer.

There is certainly a lot a publisher can do beyond what an author can do to enforce or protect copyright. Do you want to pay for copyright registration for every article you publish? A publisher will do that, and keep the registration on record and updated. Can you detect a copyright violation as well as a publisher? Not nearly. The commercial allies a publisher naturally has provide hundreds of eyes and ears authors can’t muster. Can you call an in-house attorney to assess a violation and provide alternatives by early afternoon? Most major publishers can, most authors can’t. Can you easily afford a modest court case, including some discovery, some litigation? No, but most publishers can.

I would humbly suggest you’re wrong to state that copyright registration isn’t necessary (it grants a higher level of legal status to a work); that publishers can’t do anything authors can’t (see above); or that I misunderstand Creative Commons (don’t think so).

Sorry Kent, but you are deliberately confusing the issue re copyright. There isn’t strong or weak copyright. There is copyright. If I own the copyright on something and someone asks to use it (an image of mine say in a website), I can grant a licence for its use, perhaps charging for that usage. That doesn’t affect my copyright one bit. STEM publishers do this all the time. CC is a means for individuals to licence their works in a legally enforceable way. Authors using CC still retain their copyright but obviously can’t claim infringement for use covered in the CC licence, just as I or a STEM publisher couldn’t if they’d licensed that particular usage of the work with their own licence agreement.

I agree that the individual will rarely have the resources to enforce copyright in all circumstances. I said as much, but you conflate the issue of enforcement with the issue of copyright. Whilst you might say one it moot without the other, I disagree. Some might go so far as to say your statements about CC are FUD. There is one copyright. Transferring it to a STEM publisher doesn’t bring the publisher more rights, just a bigger stick. But at the expense of the author’s copyright.

Given that CC is all about making it clear what rights are and are not allowed, about making it easier to share works on the net, I do find it somewhat disingenuous that you are casting aspersions about it in support of copyright transfer to STEM publishers where the author loses copyright.

And anyway, most authors of papers published in STEM publishers’ journals would have the backing of their institution as the author’s name and reputation would be just as likely to be impugned in the case you mention as that if the author’s institution. Those institutions also have pretty big sticks to wield on behalf of the author.

You’re wrong. From http://www.copyright.gov, as if I need to do this because you won’t look things up yourself or believe me:

“. . . registration . . . provides a legal record of copyright ownership as well as additional legal benefits in cases of infringement.”

I’m not going to argue with you anymore about this. You really don’t understand what you’re talking about.

I know that. By registering you are stating your ownership at a particular date and time. You could just as well pop a copy in a self-addressed envelope and mail it to yourself and leave said envelope unopened and in a safe place. This might help you establish ownership etc., but it is not needed for copyright to apply under the Bern Convention. Your argument is that publishers have a bigger stick; nothing wrong with that argument. Suggesting that CC has an Achilles Heel because it is somehow not full copyright is disingenuous. Here’s the equivalent link to UK law advice (see, I can be bothered to look things up 😉

Usually your copyright work will be protected abroad automatically in the same way that it is protected in the UK.

The UK is a member of many international agreements including the Berne Convention, where the national law of each country automatically protects copyright works which are eligible for protection, under the rules of other countries who have signed these agreements.

Most countries, including all western European, the USA and Russia, now belong to the Berne Convention. Under this agreement, you do not have to mark your work in any way for automatic protection to apply. However, it is sensible to mark your work with the international © symbol, followed by the name of the copyright owner and year in which the work was created.

The USA does have an official register of copyright works, although registration is not actually needed to qualify for copyright protection in the USA (or indeed any country that is a signatory of the Berne Convention).

From here.

So no, I am not wrong. You are just trying to conflate issues and it is here we disagree.

I do see and acknowledge your point about what type of damages you can seek if you don’t register your works in the US. I still contend that this has nothing to do with CC whatsoever.

Thank you for acknowledging my point about copyright. My point about CC is an elaboration — if you are building a license on a soft legal foundation, yet your licensors don’t know this, the license has an Achilles’ heel.

“I understand what CC does, and am suggesting that because it treats weak copyright as if it’s sufficient to protect a work and allows authors to grant licenses based solely on this, it might be lulling users into a false sense of security without providing actual monitoring, registration, or legal services like a publisher does in the agency role created by copyright transfer.”

I am sorry to keep labouring this point, but this statement strongly indicates that you do not understand what CC does. It most certainly is not lulling anyone into a false sense of anyhing, because it does not have the slightest intention of doing monitoring, registration or anything else. No-one at the Creative Commons organisation even knows when someone CC-licenses a work. Nor they should. It just isn’t that kind of an organisation.

So. It doesn’t “treat weak copyright” as anything at all. Whether or not a copyrighted work is registered is completely orthogonal to the license under which it is released.

I agree with you, to a point. My concern is that by not acknowledging the limits of author copyright and piling onto a weaker set of rights with a license, CC is building on sand to a degree.

Thank you for the reply.

I’d like to point out here that there is a very small subset of publishers that serve the purpose you point out. These publishers are either publicly-owned, such as governmental-funded publishers and/or are primarily subsidized by governments (examples include the NRC family of journals, etc.), or are institutional publishers, which operate at a profit, but are subsidized by their institution’s shareholders. These houses serve an “enlightened” interest in disseminating the works of its host scientists or citizens. Elsevier is neither. It is privately owned, and its sole purpose is profit to its shareholders, and gain, like virtually all private corporations, to enrich the shareholders. I am not saying this is a bad thing. My argument has, as I pointed out here, been that Elsevier has all the personal right to be a private business as it chooses. But to claim that Elsevier (or Springer, or Thieme) is purposed to the same goals as the scientists who publish in them is simply false.

They are somewhat at cross-purposes, which brings us to the current debate in the first place: Scientists almost seemingly overwhelmingly either acknowledge the necessity of the NIH Public Access Policy and similar policies in other nations than the US, or regard such open access policies as being “correct.” Elsevier, conversely, is seeking to roll-back the policy, as it has in the past, along with several other organizations, by supporting legislation or legislators that seek to allow it to operate as a business. Scientists are, for the large majority, not in it for the buck (although it eventually translates to better jobs, secure pay, tenure, etc.), so while publishers seek immediate dividends, scientists seek eventual dividends, and the two goals interfere to a degree on what the scientist purposes when he or others actually pay for that eventual dividend, then the publisher demanding even further income from other consumers when they’ve been paid for their end of this little bargain.

Additionally, in direct regard to your analogy: If scientists are the producers of the initial product, then the publishers are NOT the chefs in this scenario. Publishers are those that bring the finished product towards the consumers (diners). In this case, the publishers are the waiters. The chefs are those that stylize and recompose the foodstuffs into “meals,” and in many ways, this characterizes the scientists themselves, if not their peers. Quality control is handled at an intermediate level, and thus corresponds to peer-review and “comments on an earlier draft,” etc., but it is the chefs who qualify the product for consumption, and this cannot happen without the authors (the growers) from actually having a say in the matter. What you are getting, then is growers preparing the meals themselves, with their peers checking the quality before the publishers/waiters take this out to consumers. These waiters then demand the bulk of the proceeds, and occasionally kick back a few bucks to the cooks. Customers are not even given the option of paying the chefs directly for their service.

Now, I may be biased in how this works, because I’ve worked in various levels of food service, both as cook, preparer/quality control, and waiter. In this way, my perspective and my awareness of how the publishing system works and how Elsevier appears to want it to work show the two to be very, very disjointed. The process you are arguing for really does seem like the obstetrician demanding he owns the baby, and in this way I think the argument you make is unsound.

Elsevier is a public company. It is under contract with hundreds of scientific societies, each of which has negotiated a contract it is happy with. Many hundreds of millions of dollars go to those societies each year through Elsevier. Many academic centers own Elsevier stock. Elsevier and most other large commercial publishers are tenacious about getting information out, and much more effective than the icons you want to enshrine. Part of the complaint about Elsevier is bundling, which has proven to be very effective at getting information out, mostly for smaller scientific journals. So you’re wrong on two fronts — Elsevier is a public company, not a private company; Elsevier (and all publishers) are very good at information dissemination, and are seeking to improve discovery, access, and dissemination all the time.

Elsevier also publishes open access journals, but not many. And if you think publishers are the waiters, you think a) too little of publishers and b) too highly of authors. Publishers and editors have to ferret out plagiarism, bad data, fake data, conflicts of interest, and all sorts of dreck from the author pool, protect our good authors, and protect their works. We’re much more than waiters.

As for the obstetrician analogy, when it comes to finished research reports, publishers are more like the mother, with the scientist being the father and taking all the credit for the pregnancy.

Whoa! The mother? Now this is absurd. WE do all the research, paid for by the NIH. Years and years of sweat and tears. WE write the paper. Our peers (again WE) review it, and sometimes our peers are the editors as well (and as consulting editor on a society journal, I don’t get paid a penny; WE again). The journals facilitate the publication, make it look pretty (or in Elsevier’s or Springer’s standard format case, really ugly), and then take our rights away. That’s not even close to a mother giving birth (and all mothers who will read this comparison will be incensed at the insensitivity). WE carried this research for years, and gave birth to it. So waiter, no, obstetrician, yes, maybe, mother: absolutely not.

The OA movement has little interest in copyright because everything should be free. The exception is attribution.

A few changes could make this a better analogy.

The public should subsidise the farmers to both grow the ingredients and cook a specific meal. Restaurants should then receive these prepared meals free of charge (sometimes even making the farmers pay) and ask other farmers to taste them (without payment) in order to suggest potential improvements to the recipe. Once the original farmer has made any necessarily alterations to their recipe and provided the restaurant with the improved meal (still at no cost to the restaurant, naturally), the restaurant can then try and sell the meal to the public. Obviously the restaurant sells these meals at a fantastic profit, they’re a business for goodness’ sake (and it’s difficult not to when you’re not actually paying for any of the goods you sell). Some restaurants are even better at being a business than others, and won’t let you regularly buy a meal you want unless you buy a package deal of expensive meals you don’t need.

you have just reinvented how the big supermarket chains operate. Well done!

This “analogy” is wrong on many levels.

You did not mention that “the customers are also the chefs”. We prepare the manuscripts, the tables, the diagrams according to your journal style. We provide the reviewers and editors for free.

You did not mention that “you cannot choose what you want to eat in your restaurant”. We have to pay either an astronomic amount for a single article or pay high subscription rates for a bundle of worthless journals, because there are some journals of interest in it. This doesn’t leave enough money for journals and articles which are needed.

But the major problem with the text is the neglected difference between material goods, who are available in a finite number, and immaterial ideas, who can be copied indefinitely without loss.

Putting this into your storyline, it reads more like this: The customers cook all meals with their own ingredients and bring them to your restaurant. There you collect all the food and redistribute it to customers in set menus. Unfortunately you get with every piece of meat toxic waste as a side dish. Drinks are not included but you can buy a glass of water for $35. Oh, and you instigated a law that forbids customers to go to the back orchard and pick fruits that grow there every year by themselves.

But no, your text is still no analogy, just a pathetic attempt to ridicule an important topic. You just try to hide the fact that publishers artificially shorten a good for their own profit.

Editors are not free. Reviewers need to be managed over time. Authors aren’t reliable. As cooks, your representatives provide a start. They don’t provide an end product. If they did, reports filed with funders would suffice.

“Editors are not free.” No indeed. For example, a friend of mine who acts as an editor for an Elsevier journal is paid a princely $250 per year, or $5 per week. Since he estimate that he spends five to ten hours a week on his editorial duties, he is paid 50c to $1 per hour — between 7% and 14% of minimum wage.

I’m sure this can’t be representative, though. I would be very interested to know what other people’s compensation is when they edit for non-open for-profit journals.

That’s your friend’s choice. Many editors are well-compensated in their regular jobs and don’t want money from their publishing activities. It’s their choice. My point wasn’t that editors always have huge direct costs — they can cost anywhere from nothing to a few hundred thousand dollars per year studies have shown, so your anecdote pales when faced with data, as most do — but they also need support, administrative staff, systems, and processes. Editors aren’t born to the role. They’re usually practitioners (researchers, clinicians, or both) who have to be trained to be editors. It can take years. It’s not easy. Who trains them? Usually, the publisher. Publishers provide continuity and progress to most fields, something that’s often missed by outsiders who think they’re just so smart they can come in a say whatever they want. That’s arrogance, but publishers are used to facing that, as well.

“Many editors are well-compensated in their regular jobs and don’t want money from their publishing activities.”

Don’t want money? That’s the funniest thing I’ve read in this thread (runner up is the concept anyone can think “too highly of authors”). I’m sure Elsevier offers reviewers higher payment, and they say “No, no, keep your money. I make ever so much as a scientist that I couldn’t possibly require more.”

Keep the laughs coming.

I’m only telling you what I’ve heard first-hand. Reviewers and editors are often at a point in their lives in which altruism is the saner course — fewer complications and a feeling of “giving back” to the field that made them comfortable. Glad you’re so cheerful.

Nobody doesn’t want money. Come on now! I do it for free (very part time), and I would be delighted to be compensated in even a small way (SCOPUS doesn’t count; I don’t get paid in abominations). I don’t believe for a second that more than 10% of editors are so well-paid that they’ll refuse an offer of payment.

Again, I have evidence, you have opinion. I know which I’ll trust. Thanks, though.

No, I have evidence: all the colleagues that I know. That’s dozens if not hundreds of people. Do you have solid numbers based on a survey? If not, then your “facts” are just as solid as mine.

Thank you for the answer – especially the parts you didn’t comment on. This sheds light on things, too.

Reviewers need to be managed? Like picking somebody from PubMed and ending the email with “…if you are not able to review this paper, please let us know, if you know any colleague of yours, who can do it?”

Oh, and for the “start” and not an end product – manuscripts usually get less than 10 comments on the level of “Is this citation really correct?” and “This abbreviation is not in accordance with our journal style.” Added value. (Not to be misunderstood: I don’t want to talk down parts of the publishing process like giving topics a good editorial coverage or providing stable server access.)

Where a manuscript is published is a big part of the sorting journals do. And your experience is only your experience. Many journals have very light editorial processing but heavy selection processes. Some have light selection processes, which are the ones I worry about. Some have heavy selection and heavy editorial processing. You’ve probably not been exposed to those for whatever reason. If and when you are, be prepared to have the crap beaten out of your manuscript. You may even have to go back to the lab to do more research, recalculate your statistics, or validate various parts of your protocol.

As for managing reviewers, most good journals work to attract them, grade them, hold workshops for them, support their efforts, and even fire them when they underperform.

You’ve obviously only seen the tip of the iceberg. The captain of the Titanic made navigational mistakes from the same vantage point.

OK, I have more time now to reply to this (since later you accuse me of avoiding topics because I have nothing to say on the matter, at least that’s how I read it).

Authors write and submit papers for publication for a variety of reasons, few of them altruistic. Either your grant requires it, or your are seeking career advancement, or both. So you’re not exactly being exploited. In fact, the way things are going, with the level of cynicism around publishing these days — especially in some OA zones — one could say quite the opposite.

You can purchase only what you want in the journals economy. Elsevier allows it, all publishers I know of allow it. It’s just cheaper overall to buy more in a bundle. There is more than enough money at universities to support access to information. Just limit athletic scholarships or administrative salaries a little, and voila, there it is.

First, immaterial ideas are not a “who” but a “what.” And seeds are basically information carriers, with mature plants shedding them for the next crop; animal reproduction leads to free new animals. Except, in both cases of ideas and livestock/crops, you need to feed them. Ideas and research are in the realm of people. People need salaries, motivation, and the prospect of progress. Or do you think ideas just _happen_ without communities of people creating them? And journals are part of these communities. Surveys in various fields I’m exposed to show that journals are more important than ever because access has increased dramatically, publishers are doing a better job of getting information our quickly, and sharing is easier than ever. But ideas are finite as well. Copying them is not impressive, and can be called plagiarism.

Your version of the storyline is wrong, plain and simple. By the way, copyright exchange is about aligning author and publisher interests. I’m waiting for the first big scandal around Creative Commons licenses, which will likely involve someone exploiting articles in a way that the publisher(s) with the licenses can’t manage to fight off because they can’t generate a critical mass with themselves and their distracted authors.

I think these topics are important, too. I think I’m not the one trivializing them. I think people who don’t understand what’s at stake and who don’t care about anything than a single, naive end-point that makes scholarship weaker instead of stronger are, as you say, “pathetic.” Traveling back from California just now, I can tell you there’s a price to pay for wanting to have it all but not being willing to pay for it.

Oh so now we’re being insulted. “…for a variety of reasons, few of them altruistic. Either your grant requires it, or your are seeking career advancement, or both” Those are some of the practical reasons that accompany publication, but the reason is dissemination of science to a broad audience of scientists, physicians, and students, so that they learn and benefit from our work. THAT is the reason. Clearly, you don’t value us as scientists, or as authors, which explains completely your attitude towards publication.

Oh and don’t even start with the holier than thou comment on California.

Here’s how much I respect scientists — I work with them, study them, and try to understand them. In doing that for 20 years or so, I’ve come to understand a few things. First, they do care about career advancement and their h-factors and their CVs. Second, publication (rightly or wrongly — I’m not a huge fan of the “publish or perish” culture, by the way) is a major path toward both, and they know it. Third, the next research project is usually more pressing than one completed a year or more ago (usually what’s being published), so attention is divided by the time publication is pending. As a publisher, I want the publication process to be as smooth as possible, but also rigorous (so that right science finds the right audience as soon as possible). I’ve studied authors for years, and while they will sometimes talk about reaching as wide an audience as possible, in a rank-order set of choices, it doesn’t always rank at the top. In fact, it hardly ever does. They want to usually reach other researchers in their field, and have a lot of citations, something else for their CV, and as painless a publication process as possible. Describing reality isn’t insulting, unless you believe you’re 7’2″ and can bench a VW only to be told you’re 5’10” and can’t bench 150. Then, reality can feel pretty insulting.

As for California, I was just there, reading about how students are having to take 2-3 jobs in order to afford California universities, which have had to raise tuitions and fees because various propositions have cut funding into the California system to the tune of $1 billion. These are middle-class or lower-class kids who have a ton of talent and potential, and California’s rather, shall we say, unique proposition system has, in a very well-documented fashion, driven the state into a tough spot, and is currently creating problems for students.

So, on the one hand, you publish to reach students, and on the other criticism of California’s ability to fund education makes you angry. I can’t fathom how you square underfunding education with your publication goals. After all, with fewer students (or students without the time to learn), what good will your publications do in advancing your pedagogical goals?

I don’t know what scientists you have so deeply studied, but they must be shallow and self-serving. As Michael pointed out, we do this to save lives, and we need to spread our knowledge as broadly as we can. That is our mission. Period. Now the system has made it such that publication ALSO is a measure of success, and that is one that will gradually change along with the rise of OA. These practical considerations are a product, or side-effect, of the publication process, not the end itself. So I’m still insulted, especially as you emphatically insist that this is reality. Not mine, not my colleagues’.

Regarding the California comment, I realize there’s an issue, but this is not the subject of discussion nor either of our expertise. I don’t have to square one vs the other; they’re completely unrelated. I never made the claim that I was in favor of underfunding or anything at all; I just made the comment, perhaps unjustified, that we didn’t also need a condescending comment on California finances. I care deeply about the issue, as I have children in public school in Oakland. The University issue is an important one, and UC is doing what it can, and it’s a huge problem, but not one for you to judge.

Scientists at many of the major research institutions in the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia, both directly (as part of various projects) or indirectly (through papers I’ve read or reports I’ve read). I’m on the sincere side, myself, but I understand how researchers on a hot streak can become less interested in the publication process than in managing their labs, recruiting patients, or parsing data on new results. It’s a really amazing line of work, and publication is probably the least interesting part of it, but also in some ways the most important.

California is important in many ways to larger national debates, and a caution in some ways. It’s worth watching.

I like the parody! It conveys a conservative point of view on OA very well, and certainly pulled me into those considerations. It does not, however, strike to the heart if the problem.

OA is one head of the ripping set of changes happening in intellectual property across most of first-world culture engendered by the ubiquitous availability of digital media.

Eventually, I suspect the current system of scholarly publication will break down as it is built upon barriers (information arbitrage, library-centric model of distribution, publication for the achievement of tenure) which no longer apply or are declining. Whether the OA movement, some other adaptation of the current model, or some new model, such as research as openly available, but generally patent encumbered, by-product of industrial work, is a wide open question.

Whatever the solution winds up as, we won’t have a mature legal framework to support it for at least another fifteen years — as folks fluent in the ubiquitous availability of information assume political control. Without that, we’ll be living in a world of overreactions in every direction, and partly considered arguments built upon a system of ethics derived from the model being supplanted.

The current IP model will probably become something students struggle to understand in high school history, and we are at best only about halfway into the upheaval created by general purpose computation and the internet. Interesting times.

You bring up an important insight — that the model isn’t set. In fact, the driving force feeding my continued skepticism about OA is two-fold — repeated over-simplification of what it takes to publish a good journal (and OA’s inability to sustainably support that model) and repeated assertions that OA is THE future, full stop. Unless you realistically assess the situation, and drop preconceived notions, you can’t see a new alternative. You can’t even realistically assess how far from current dominant models you need to go, and why.

What you call the “library-centric” model of distribution is actually a library-centric model of purchasing. Most libraries have to get IT involved to actually deal with distribution anomalies and/or initial setup. The “crisis” OA is supposedly responding to generally can be described as centralization-qua-visibility, so that once all subscriptions centralized in a library budget via site licensing, costs became clear, but the library budgets groaned under the strain as departments and faculty off-loaded subscriptions onto the library. Many things break in abundance, with most of them being historical treaties and understandings.

A very wise comment, sir. Your penultimate paragraph bears repeated readings.

“The current system of scholarly publication will break down as it is built upon barriers.”

Very economically stated. That is it, in a nutshell. In the long run, no system that is dependent on preventing access can survive in a world where ubiquity of access is a given. The question is not whether the Wileys and Springers can prevent such a world; it’s whether they can change quickly enough to carve out a niche for themselves in that world.

The inappropriateness of the analogy was clear by the end of paragraph 2. For the rest: TL;DR.

For those of us not as hip as Alex, TL DR means “too long, didn’t read.” I won’t comment on the inappropriateness of the semicolon in his Urban Dictionaryesque construction. The post is about 850 words, by the way.

It is sad when an overly serious someone attempts a grammar or usage flame, and fails.

“Too long; didn’t read” is both proper usage and a more effective construction than “too long, didn’t read.”

Bryan Garner: “Fourth, the semicolon sometimes appears simply to give a weightier pause than a comma would. This use is discretionary. A comma would do, but the writer wants a stronger stop—e.g.: “There is never anything sexy about Lautrec’s art; but there also is never anything deliberately, sarcastically anti-feminist in it.” Aldous Huxley, “Doodles in the Dictionary” (1956), in Aldous Huxley: Selected Essays 198, 206 (1961).”

Don’t be sad, though. Like you, a lot of smart people don’t know their way around a semicolon.
If you’re too timid to wade into Fowler, Strunk & White, or Garner, there is help:


Nice try, but you don’t have any reason to use a semicolon there. In any event, I think you’re just covering up a typo with sophistry, so let’s move on.

You attempt a punctuation flame. When your own-goal is pointed out (with reference to authoritative sources) you mumble that your flame was correct (though it wasn’t), and you indicate that we should drop the discussion of punctuation that *you initiated.*

Do you have *any* idea that makes you look?

I’m guessing that you don’t: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect

Nope, you’re right, I’m wrong. I was operating on a small screen at an airport, and didn’t see the semicolon in the examples I looked up. I still think it looks silly, but it’s the standard. Leave it to slang to be silly.

Kent, TL;DR, with a semicolon, is the accepted usage for this expression. A brief browse of Reddit, 4chan, or any number of sites would confirm this.

Yep, thanks. I saw it without the semicolon the first time I looked it up, and was in transit today, so was shooting from the hip more than usual. I love this comment thread. I learn a lot from it.

I was quite astonished to see so many comments here, and such angry comments as well. I may be an electronic resources librarian at a cash-strapped state university, but I quite enjoyed this humorous piece.

Kent, if the way you read and respond to comments here is indicative of how the editorial practices at your journal, then God help us all. Only someone who has decided in advance to attack anything to do with open access publishing, and is willing to cherry-pick in support of their agenda, would read my comment as being primary about post-publication peer-review.

I’ll try again. What we are trying to do does not rely on post-publication review, it merely enables it. Rather it relies on exactly the same system of pre-publication assessment in use today, and only changes how the decision is recorded and how the process is paid for. Neither of these affects any of the things you cite as being important about peer review.

Despite your clear biases and willingness to ignore and distort other peoples’ words to sustain and propagate them, I am happy to engage with you in a discussion of the merits of this system. But please at least do me the service of spending at least a minute trying to understand them rather than discussion them mocking me or dismissing what PLoS is trying to do as a “charade”.

Michael, I’m here as an independent voice, not as publisher of any particular journal. You can talk all you want about this elegant system you’ve supposedly created, but it’s pretty run-of-the-mill on the back-end without the benefit of a strong up-front editorial process selecting for novelty and focused on a relevant readership.

So you’re telling me that nobody there had any inkling that accepting more articles would drive revenues? That profitability and viability and sustainability weren’t goals? And you’ve kicked the review can down the road to enable a business model elaboration that depends on that and on a different/lower standard of acceptance? Finally, you’re saying this shouldn’t look cynical to anyone? It looks cynical to me — take a model that generates quality journals when applied normally (good peer-review focusing on quality, novelty, and relevance), then water it down so that more manuscripts can flow in.

We’ve engaged in a discussion of the merits of the system, and I find your points unconvincing and weak. Just because you don’t come out on top doesn’t mean you weren’t heard or understood. In this case, I just don’t think what PLoS ONE represents — and lower-standard bulk-publishing approaches in general, yours being only the most prominent — I don’t think they are responsible publishing. I think you’ve removed major obligations, not attended to creating the system you dream about, and benefited from it all.

I don’t think these bulk-publishing experiments are in competition with traditional journals, or else submissions to traditional journals wouldn’t also be going up. I think bulk-publishing experiments have tapped into a set of manuscripts that the authors know aren’t their best work, so they go into these nice new citable repositories as second-tier articles (from the researchers’ perspective). My concern is that they are creating unnecessary ballast in the system, and leading to the public perception that scientists can’t control themselves in pursuit of citations and items for their CVs. Talk to everyday people, and they dismiss scientific publications at an increasing rate precisely because there’s too much in the system. Adding thousands of papers per year in PLoS ONE just makes it part of the problem.

The root of the disagreement here is pretty obvious. You think the current system of scientific publishing is just awesome and, if anything, needs to be more exclusive. I, on the other hand, think the current system is maddeningly slow, capricious and cumbersome; pointlessly denies access to countless of people who need and would benefit from it; and does an exceptionally poor job of the things it purports to do for science and the public. You embrace the status quo and will brook no challenge to its supremacy. I think that we can do infinitely better and am willing to think creatively about how we can do that and work hard to make publishing work optimally for everyone. You can just sit here in your echo chamber, and talk about how great it is that there are people like you willing to defend the world from the free and open exchange of scientific knowledge. It gives everyone in the real world a chance to see just how closed-minded and ridiculous you are.

Michael, I find your hyperbole foolish. Kent has done a lot of work here answering specific challenges with detailed facts. Your name-calling speaks volumes about the shallowness of your cause.

Give me a break. What I said stands. This only shows my experience, which informs my judgment, which I apply here as an independent thinker. As you can see, my experience is pretty broad, albeit mostly in the medical space (except for my occasional interactions with chemistry, optical, botany, social science, statistics, mathematics, and physics publishers, none of which is listed on the bio you’ve pointed at). What are you trying to say? You’ve discovered I work for a living, and don’t just blog from a mountaintop in New Mexico? That I have a decent background?

“What are you trying to say?”

Obviously, that you cannot speak as “an independent voice, not as publisher of any particular journal”, because you are not independent and are the publisher of a particular journal.

Note I am not saying that there’s anything wrong with being a publisher of a journal. But by its very nature it means that you can no more be independent in this discussion than Michael Eisen can, and it’s fruitless to portray yourself as such. You have just as much of a vested interest as he does. More, if (as seems likely) a greater portion of your income comes from your publishing work than Eisen’s does from PLoS ONE.

This blog isn’t job-related, it’s vocation-related. I’ve been a publisher for years, but I’m also an author, peer-reviewer, editor, designer, and reader, and have been these things for years, as well.

Kent, would you mind pointing to evidence to support your claim that PLoS has “lower standards” in the sense that you are applying? I mean, can you demonstrate that the works published in PLoS are, on the whole or lower quality than those published in a more orthodox journal?

I put far less faith than you apparently do in the ability of traditional peer review to weed out the rubbish and wrong; I wade through enough rubbish or poorly analysed works on a daily basis in my field and all have been subject to formal peer review. If I could comment post-publication I could at least address the deficiencies as I see/saw them.

Peer-review isn’t a panacea. However, when a publication accepts 70% of what it receives and doesn’t require “scientifically sound” reports but has created a new standard that falls below that (“methodologically sound”), the evidence then comes from the papers. There are some decent ones in the mix, but the vast majority I’ve read have face-validity problems — they’re really low-tier articles. That may be just my impression, but combined with a wide filter and a different standard, one that’s clearly lower, I think my assessment is accurate as a generalization. Just as bad articles can get into good journals, occasionally a good article appears in PLoS ONE.

To be clear, other PLoS journals practice good peer-review and filter at a much higher level. These journals I have no problem with. I don’t have a problem with PLoS, just with bulk-publishing quasi-journals like PLoS ONE and similar (Nature Communications is one that I’m also casting a jaundiced eye at).

Nature Communications is really hard to publish in, and publishes top-quality science. Do you mean Scientific Reports (the NPG PLoS ONE equivalent)? Like I wrote above, many non-OA journals have equally high acceptance rates, and are clear “lower-tier” journals.

Yes, that one too. Both are worth watching for quality. There are a lot of factors driving journal quality. I worry when the business model becomes author-centric, however.

Kent, I wonder what your thoughts are on how PLoS ONE has achieved its fairly healthy Impact Factor (4.411) in four years from a standing start? Surely that doesn’t corroborate your impression that the paper are of poor quality?

“I worry when the business model becomes author-centric, however.”

I worry when it is not about either authors or readers.

I think that may be our fundamental disconnect.

Well, impact factor is a problematic measure of quality. Good clinical journals have low impact factors because they publish for clinicians, who don’t do a lot of citing. Does that mean they’re lower-quality? Also, what does PLoS ONE compare to? Eisen says it compares to almost nothing and almost everything. So is 4.411 good in comparison to . . . ? Anything?

The correlation between impact factor and quality can be elusive. Citations can occur because people are scoffing at a paper, not because there is a positive intellectual debt. And high-quality clinical or practitioner journals often get short-shrift. It’s not a simple number to say anything definitive about.

Well, I strongly agree that Impact Factor is extremely problematic.

So your feeling is that the unexpectedly high IF of PLoS ONE is just an aberration and doesn’t mean anything?

I’m saying I don’t read too much into it. What’s your conclusion? Good? Loaded with meaning? A tacit endorsement? Or just a number that may or may not mean something?

My conclusion is that, very deeply flawed though it may be, Impact Factor has more than zero value, so when it’s healthy for journal the null hypothesis is that it’s doing things right. That can certainly be disproven, but the burden of disproof lies with whoever disputes it.

In the case of PLoS one, I see a flourishing journal that is growing almost by doubling each year, that is turning a profit that nay-sayers said it never would despite offing no-questions-asked fee waivers, that is attracting papers in my field from the best people (and which will get my best paper) because of the objective advantages it offers in terms of length, colour, figure quantity and quality, and so on. I also see PLoS ONE papers discussed in more detail on blogs than those of other journals (including the flagship journal of my field, JVP), and very healthy looking individual download figures. So the IF is a cherry on top of that sundae.

An IF of 4.4 for a journal less than 5 years old, that does not pump up its IF by publishing review articles, and that does not pre-screen for scientific impact, is nothing less than remarkable. By way of comparison, the venerable and highly-respected Journal of Molecular Biology (Elsevier) has an IF of <4.1, while the Journal of Biological Chemistry (ASBMB; full disclosure — I sit on the ASBMB Membership Committee) has an IF of 5.3. The rankings for the latter two journals correlate reasonably well with the more robust Article Influence ranking system used at eigenfactor.org . In other words, there's little reason to think that the PLoS ONE IF score is inflated, and there are good reasons to think that its IF may actually under-report that emerging journal's importance.

I understand that this was an effort at satire, but the reality is that since the 1930s, the federal government has sought to link agricultural subsidies and nutrition programs, primarily school lunches. The program has spawned many debates and can be criticized for sending too much pork and corn into school cafeterias, but its history suggests that many Americans accept the idea that with public subsidy comes public responsibility.

See Susan Levine. School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America’s Favorite Welfare Program. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Kent, you’ve spent so much time deriding PLoS ONE’s editorial standards, but haven’t said what it is about the criteria for publication you don’t like. Here, taken from http://www.plosone.org/static/guidelines.action, are the criteria for publication in PLoS ONE. Comment away.

To be accepted for publication in PLoS ONE, research articles must satisfy the following criteria:

* The study presents the results of primary scientific research.
* Results reported have not been published elsewhere.
* Experiments, statistics, and other analyses are performed to a high technical standard and are described in sufficient detail.
* Conclusions are presented in an appropriate fashion and are supported by the data.
* The article is presented in an intelligible fashion and is written in standard English.
* The research meets all applicable standards for the ethics of experimentation and research integrity.
* The article adheres to appropriate reporting guidelines and community standards for data availability.

Kent is not deriding these standards; he is pointing out that they have opted out of the importance ranking that is the core function of the journal system. This may well be a viable business model, but it is probably a niche, reserved for those for whom ranking is not important. Time, not argument, will tell.

David, you have an interesting sense of the English language if you think the following – “I think having you put it so clearly only makes me angrier at what kind of charade your groups are foisting off on the scientific community” – does not qualify as derision.

Mr. Anderson has made it fairly clear that he views PLoS ONE, and me personally, with utter contempt, and there is nothing in his comments to suggest he is even remotely interested in attempting to understand what we are doing and why. You can agree with him or not. But please don’t try to pretend he is adopting some kind of intellectually neutral stance.

Kent said that PLoS “doesn’t require “scientifically sound” reports but has created a new standard that falls below that (“methodologically sound”)” — I don’t read that as having to do with importance ranking, I read it as a claim that PLoS ONE’s scientific reviewing standards fall short of those used in other journals.

Kent — would you clarify please? If you meant what I thought you meant, can you go into more detail: how do other journals provide scientific rigour that is not required by the PLoS ONE criteria?

Most journals require reports to be novel, high quality, and rigorously done. PLoS ONE requires only methodologically sound reports. Basically, if you said you’d do a study in a certain way, and did it in that way, it meets their criteria, whether or not the results were interesting or robust or helpful. It’s a lower bar. The way I simplify it is that Jack, in stating his intent to jump over the candlestick, having thus done so, and then writing up his experience of candlestick-jumping, would have a paper in PLoS ONE. He said what he’d do, he did it, and he wrote it up accurately.

Same applies to JBC, and a hundred other journals. PLoS ONE just doesn’t pretend that it’s filtering for “hotness”.

To quote from JBC’s homepage (emphasis mine):

The Journal of Biological Chemistry publishes papers based on original research that are judged to make a novel and important contribution to understanding the molecular and cellular basis of biological processes.

I meant in practice. We all know that all journals claim to filter by “importance”, but several just don’t. That was my point.

But, but — that’s not what the criteria say! Or rather — it’s not how I read them. To unpack a bit more:

Novel — if you simply repeated someone else’s study, experiment-for-experiment (and got the same results), would PLoS ONE publish that? I guess the criteria don’t rule it out.

High quality, rigorously done — I take these to mean the same thing, and the criteria specifically state “performed to a high technical standard”, which again I take to cover the same ground.

“whether or not the results were interesting or robust or helpful” — interesting is subjective, as is helpful — whether one likes the model or not, PLoS ONE doesn’t concern itself with those. But “robust” is important — and how do the criteria let results that are not “robust” get through?

I can see that I’m asking “performed to a high technical standard” to do a lot of work here — I’m taking it to mean adequate replication, proper statistics, necessary controls in place. I’d be very interested to see a more detailed set of instructions/criteria that spell out more clearly what is required for scientific rigour; it seems that (like porn) we know it when we see it, but we have a hard time defining it! Do you happen to know of any such definition?

I think it’s plain weird that people think they should be able to read whatever they want, for free, because there were some taxpayer dollars expended somewhere up the road. I might chalk this up to the Ivory Tower effect – academics having no inkling about how the real world works, and insisting on having the benefits of some utopian ideal when it suits their particular interests.

Assuming some of these comments are coming from faculty at public universities (or private institutions that get public grants) – you don’t mind if me and my buddies start sitting in on your courses right? I mean, who can afford the cost of higher education these days? I think tuition has gone up faster than journal prices. And with a publicly-funded institution us taxpayers are paying your salary, for the room you are lecturing in, for the lights to go on… please post your lecture times and locations so we can stop by for our education. After all, we already paid for it once.

That being said, I do wish that anything I might want to read was available for free. If that is important to society, maybe as taxpayers we should be directly funding publication – and not just research – in order to make this possible?

I’d prefer we fund schools adequately and pay teachers a fair wage. Let’s not take our eye off the ball just because there’s a lot of arm-waving from the sidelines.

The notion that “importance ranking… is the core function of the journal system,” is at best wildly incomplete. At worst — read literally — it is a view antithetical to the scientific method, which depends on independent experimental replication, iterative model building, and the reliable documentation, archiving, and indexing of past progress.

“Importance” is, at least as often as not, something evident only in retrospect. And, as the editors of Hendrik Schön’s many papers learned, scientific papers sometimes turn out to be “important” for reasons quite different than the editors had hoped and imagined.

I think a lot of the problems we are having here stem from the fact that Mr. Anderson publishes a trade journal that, by his own admission, is targeted at clinicians and not researchers. The economics of such journals are very different – more like a poetry magazine than a real research journal. It also means that he experiences researchers only in their role as authors, not as readers and users of research articles. So it’s no wonder he has such a distorted view of the research community and its needs.

I’ve published, edited, and managed journals aimed at researchers, clinicians, and a blend of the two. “More like a poetry magazine than a real research journal” — yes, that describes the New England Journal of Medicine. Very insightful. Never thought of a journal with an impact factor above 50 as a poetry magazine. Beyond that and other things I won’t bore you with, I’ve visited researchers in their labs, interviewed them, surveyed them, and met with them personally. But thanks for the thought!

If you’ve reached this point of the comment thread, you can tell that it’s become unwieldy and counterproductive. It’s been one of the more incendiary comment threads I’ve seen here, and it seems endless. To let me get back to having a life, and to help us all move on from what started out as a bit of satire informed by the harmless observation that FRPAA could be pronounced as “frappe,” I’ve shut down comments on this post. It’s the only time I’ve done it on this blog, and I hope it’s the last.

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