SCHOLARLY COMMUNICATION ISSUES

An Online Newsletter for the UIUC Community

#4 October 5, 2001


Is the System Really Changing?

A host of librarians gathered recently at Johns Hopkins to hear some of academe's major thinkers discuss the state of scholarly communication in the sciences. While a number of initiatives have been launched, those in attendance found that many of the problems plaguing scientific communication persist. David Shulenburger, provost at the University of Kansas and outspoken critic of the current system, cited huge profit increases over the last decade of several publishers including Wolters Kluwer, Wiley, Plenum, and Reed Elsevier, and noted that prices for journals from these commercial publishers increased 64 percent over the last decade.

But while this story may be a now familiar one, action has been taken, and slowly things have begun to change. Shulenburger and others reviewed dozens of viable and not-so-viable solutions ranging from increasing library budgets and anti-trust litigation against publishers to initiatives like the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). Although the details of alternatives to the old system were familiar to many, there was clearly a new appreciation of the viability of many initiatives that were questioned only a few months ago. Also found in great abundance was optimism that reform would succeed.

The session also showed that many top scholars and scientists are now fully alerted to the crisis in scholarly publishing--and that most are enlisted in the movement to bring reform. For example, Barbara Starfield, who holds the University Distinguished Service Professorship in Health Policy and Management and chairs Hopkin’s Schools of Public Health and Medicine, told attendees of her recent founding of the International Society for Equity in Health (ISEH). When Starfield returned from ISEH's first conference, she noted, several commercial publishers and societies urged her to contract with them to publish a journal for the society, an overture that in the past would have been welcomed. But after much discussion the ISEH decided to publish an electronic journal with BioMed Central, a nonprofit e-publisher of some 50 online journals that offers its journals for free. LJ Academic News Wire, October 4, 2001

How Profitable Are Commercially-Published Journals?

Ever wonder how profitable scholarly journals can be? Publisher's Weekly reports that total revenue at Reed Elsevier rose 13.4 percent, to $2.91 billion for the first six months of 2001. Elsevier's adjusted operating profit increased 11.1 percent, to $626 million, while net profit fell 30 percent, to $101.5 million. The decline in net profit was attributed, among other costs, to the acquisition of Harcourt General. (This purchase was completed July 12 and results were not included in Reed's first half-year performance analysis.) Following these reports, Goldman Sachs issued positive comment on Reed, revising up its forecasts for revenue and earnings for this year and next. SPARC e-news, August-September 2001

Thinking About Producing an E-Publication?

There are now two more places for organizations or faculty who are interested in producing electronic publications to turn for low-cost help.

Stevan Harnad just made it easy to join him in his quest to free the scholarly literature. Download Eprints software from www.eprints.org and build your own repository. Developed by Harnad collaborators Robert Tansley and Chris Gutteridge, Eprints provides a web interface for managing, submitting, discovering, and downloading documents. Eprints repositories are compliant with the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) (www.openarchives.org). Therefore, once a repository is registered as an OAI data provider, OAI-aware information services will be able to discover its content.

BioMedCentral has instituted a process by which organizations can start their own journal using its new journal publishing strategy. This applies to online biomedical research journals that will be financially underwritten by BioMed Central. For further details go to http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/newjournals.asp or email Harvey Shoolman at harvey@biomedcentral.com.

 

In Oldenburg’s Long Shadow: Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the

Control of Scientific Publishing

At last May’s meeting of the Association of Research Libraries, Jean-Claude Guedon of the Universite de Montreal presented a different perspective on scientific publishing. From his introduction:

I will start by moving the analysis back to the point when the system of scientific communication began to emerge, thanks to the novel way in which a few creative individuals managed to harness printing. In this manner, we will be able to retrieve some of the original meanings and intentions of the system itself, as well as the intentions that presided over its inception. Both meanings and intentions have remained remarkably constant over time; the only difference between then and now is that some people have found a way to graft a new and efficient money-making device on the communication system of science. The only difference between the present and the future is that some feedback mechanism appears to be setting in between the communication system and the money-making device, leading to a gradual shift in the very scope and meaning of the ways in which fundamental research results are broadcast and made accessible. In effect, this presentation asks whether the results of fundamental research in science, technology, and medicine—results that clearly stand at a pre-competitive stage if viewed in commercial terms, results that may even, in some cases, save lives—will remain part of humanity’s knowledge commons, or whether they will be gradually confiscated for the benefit of smaller and smaller scientific and business elites.

Read Guedon’s entire presentation at http://www.arl.org/arl/proceedings/138/guedon.html

Collective Action Can Make A Difference!

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has changed its policy on institutional access yet again. As reported in a previous issue, NEJM recently announced it was moving to a system that would allow institutional print subscribers to provide online access only through workstation specific Internet Protocol (IP) addressing. But after a significant outcry from the library community over the policy, NEJM released a new statement from its publishing director, Kent Anderson, saying libraries would be allowed to access the NEJM by password for a limited time.

According to the statement, "for a limited time only, each NEJM institution print subscription may keep its current administrative username and password, but must choose a new password intended for authorized users." The new password of authorized users cannot be openly posted on the web and cannot be systematically or broadly e-mailed or distributed. Future access plans were not discussed, but the announcement was widely seen as an appropriate rolling back of an access policy that was considered unworkable by academic libraries. In August of 2001 the NEJM announced that it would allow libraries to access the NEJM online only from specific IP addresses within the library, with a limit of five workstations. The proposal was met with sharp immediate resistance in the library community, with concerns ranging from not being able to assign IP addresses within the library to the philosophical idea that having to access the journal from a specific site fundamentally undermined the usefulness of having an electronic edition. LJ ACADEMIC NEWSWIRE 8/30/01

ARE WE HITTING THE MARK?

Scholarly Communication Issues welcomes your input. Please let us know what’s missing from our coverage. And let us hear your comments about the issues themselves. Does our current system of scholarly communication need to be changed? If so, how should the academic community go about changing it? Send your comments to Paula Kaufman at ptk@uiuc.edu.