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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Paying for nothing?

Andrew Brown, in the Guardian, writes:

Scientific journals are a notorious racket: because they are essential tools for the professions that use them, they can charge pretty much what they like.

The late Robert Maxwell was the first person to understand this, and though he is remembered as a newspaper proprietor, he built his fortune on scientific publishing with Pergamon Press.

University libraries, and even others that have any pretence to scholarship, now spend fortunes on learned journals. Elsevier, the leading publisher in the field, offered 1,749 journals last year at an average annual subscription price of nearly £2,400, and each one is indispensable to specialists.
Of course, the contributors are paid nothing.The effect of this, as many disgruntled radicals have pointed out, is that the government pays universities to conduct research for the public benefit;the measure of this research is publication in peer-reviewed specialist journals; the peer review is done for free, by academics employed and paid by universities. The results are then sold back to the universities who paid for the research in the first place.

This is bad value for governments. It's also extremely bad for anyone outside a university who may want to learn, and that's a situation the web has made more tantalising. Almost all these journals are indexed and references to them will be found on Google Scholar, PubMed Central and anywhere else you look beyond Wikipedia.

So the truth is out there. But it will cost you. I just paid $32 for a printout of one piece and this is by no means exceptional.
I could not agree more.
Many thanks to Brian Easton, who pointed me at this fascinating opinion piece. I shall be looking for more from Andrew Brown.

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