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Bloody Exchanges

I’d like to draw some attention to a couple of papers that form a Debate on Open Access in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis. The first piece is by my colleagues Mark Patterson and Virginia Barbour, the second piece is by Andrew Robinson of Blackwell.

Ginny and Mark go first putting forward “the view of the Public Library of Science”:

The scholarly journals of today are the product of policies and practices that have evolved over several hundred years of printing on paper. For most scientific journals the published work is written by one group of scientists, peer-reviewed by a second set, and frequently edited and collated by a third set. These scholars are rarely paid by the publisher, and yet it is the publisher that has the exclusive right to distribute the work.

the traditional means of disseminating information has a potent alternative. By publishing research articles on the Internet, it is now possible to provide virtually unlimited access to that information, and thus to take a massive step towards achieving the vision of Antonio Panizzi [Principal Librarian of the British Museum, 1836]. The goal that becomes possible with the Internet has been termed ‘open access’

It is almost inconceivable that in 10 years’ time, OA to the primary research literature will not have become the favored model of publishing. The challenge for all with an interest in publishing is to work out the way to get there. Any solution must recognize the fears of current publishers and societies over possible loss of revenue, while at the same time not allow the profitability of the existing model to stifle innovation.

If you want to read the whole text you can as both articles are published under Blackwell’s Online Open option.

Andrew Robinson puts “the view of a commercial publisher” suggesting I guess that PLoS isn’t commercial, hardly credible given the scrutiny our financial health is being put under. He has some very graphic analogies tailored for an audience of haemotologists:

Believers in open access (OA) argue that the subscription-based journal model is like a clot blocking the free-flow of scientific research to vital research organs and the public
believers in traditional journals argue that, with a single cut, there is a real risk that scientific research will leak in an uncontrolled fashion that would be impossible to stem. The end result will be an undifferentiated pool of unreviewed research, which will, because of its lack of structure, not only halt the diffusion of innovation to the same vital research organs, but also challenge the viability of the whole body.

But most of his argument can be summarized by “Before we throw out the ‘baby with the bathwater’, we need to be quite sure that this new model of scholarly communication will be sustainable“.

I’m not going to cherry pick quotation from Robinson as I don’t want to be accused of quoting out of context. My, admittedly partial, reading of the piece is that it is extremely ‘pragmatic’. The ideals of OA are taken as laudable and would be a great goal to be striven for, if it weren’t for the question of the money.

I think I read my five year old a story about some mice in a similar bind to that which Robinson would have us believe faces ‘commercial’ publishers. Unable to put a bell around the collar of a cat because they fear the short term risks. I’m with the Welcome Trust on this one, a strong supporter of Open Access publishing, and also quoted by Robinson:

If any kind of open archive is established, a subscriber-pays system cannot easily survive…in the medium to long term therefore, that is, the time it will take to establish an effective open archive or series of interlinked, searchable open archives… the question facing journal publishers is not whether to offer OA or not, but how to position their journals so that they are able to continue to play an important part in a world in which OA, through an open archive and very cheap or free document delivery, is the norm“.

Hopefully PLoS ONE will help make their “medium to long term” as short as possible.

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