There is a recent news article in Nature 399:6731, 6 May 99, p8-9, "Mixed response to NIH's web journal plan," which touches on
the issues raised in the Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues,
No 220. In response, I wrote a letter to the editor of Nature,
concatenating edited versions of several letters I have written
lately to Pat Brown at Stanford, Harold Varmus at NIH, Albert
Henderson at PRQ, and others. I reproduce it below, with
permission to do with it whatever you see fit.
Editor, Letters to Nature
Much nonsense has been written in and about the E-Biomed initiative announced by Harold Varmus at NIH. If it were the case that the "present system" had served science well for 300 years, the continuing swell of outrage over the present state of scientific publishing would not exist. Happily, a worldwide set of dialogues have been underway for some time, involving folk from various disciplines and perspectives, seeking to usefully codify the means by which electronic publishing can be made available to the broadest possible audience. Some new model will emerge from this process, and that model will, in turn, evolve. The harmonization of goals and means in this area is difficult, and benefits greatly from the involvement of the broadest possible pool of perspectives and contributions. In this setting, the initiative of Dr. Varmus is especially welcome, as are the critical evaluations to which that proposal will be subject.
I conveyed some general concerns to Dr. Varmus, and they are relevant here:
"Certainly there are valid concerns regarding the preservation of materials (esp. portage issues), cataloging, organization of materials, provenance (peer review v. no peer review), copyright, economic impact (including access in less-developed areas), and others. However, the experience of so many internet development workers (e.g. ZIG, the Z39.50 Working Group) and other similar groups which have been involved in the construction of open standards for documentation, archival maintenance of e-documents, and related activities, represent full proof-of-concept that such processes yield results with the broadest acceptance, utility, and continuing support. Accordingly, I suggest the following concrete steps:
1. Establish a moderated listserver to initiate documentation and development of the larger community of interest; the NIH would be an appropriate host.
2. Expand the process by inviting the direct participation of a wide range of folk: authors and researchers, archivists and librarians, the net-savvy and the not so net-savvy, publishers and professional organizations, and end-user populations, especially those in critically underserved areas, and interested others.
"I am initially mistrustful of what appears to be (largely) an electronic replication of the existing methods for scientific publication. I suspect that many young researchers may feel this as well. And, while I am convinced by Odlyzko, it must be mentioned that his work remains controversial. The possible definitions of "extraneous" or "outrageous" must also give one pause. I think it would be useful to consider the possibility of the E-Biomed site also hosting papers vetted by "alternative" editorial boards, boards whose composition is publicly stated but whose membership is not controlled by the "Governing Board," and whose individual editorial manifesto is published at the site."
Anyone who has engaged in a similar process will understand that there will be mischief made, and reluctance, and flummery, and passion, and solid unrewarded labor before the process will deliver a draft proposal ready for rigorous evaluation and criticism. I encourage anyone interested in this enterprise to find a way suitable to them to engage their concerns and interests.
Menlo Park, CA
My views are my own and represent no organization.
223.2 E-BIOMED, PUBLISHERS' PRICES, AND WHITE COLLAR CRIME
Albert Henderson, Editor, Publishing Research Quarterly, firstname.lastname@example.org
In terms of price competition, NIH's E-Biomed proposal and LANL's XXX preprint server represent an intrusion of government -- the proverbial 800-pound gorilla -- into a commercial market relatively free of regulation. To the extent that publishers' customers substitute free information for information they pay for, the market changes.
Compare E-Biomed's proposal for free peer-reviewed information with the interpretation of very low prices in another commercial market. Citing the Sherman Antitrust Act, the U.S. government accused American Airlines of driving competitors away with predatory pricing -- usually defined as pricing below cost for the purpose of eliminating competitors and reducing competition. (New York Times May 14, 1999. p. A1) How much easier would the government's case have been if AA had been giving free rides? "Free" distribution of preprints and reprints by LANL is certainly below cost. XXX may be in violation now with its supply of free reprints that have been provided by publishers and by commercial services that must pay royalties and cover operating costs. Much support for E-Biomed and XXX indicates plans to use government agencies as agents of universities, shrouded in idealism, are meant to drive away honest competitors. These competitors contribute specialized service and diversity to the market.
These competitors have no choice but to charge and collect money. XXX and the proposed E-Biomed program would reduce service with the one-size fits all approach that characterizes government programs. Having done away with competition, formal science communication would certainly sink into orthodoxy and a stifling bureaucratic preoccupation with containing costs.
The 1958 President's Science Advisory Committee chaired by W. O. Baker rejected a similar scheme that would have competed with various databases. It concluded, "The case for a Government-operated, highly centralized type of center can be no better defended for scientific information services than it could be for automobile agencies, delicatessens, or barber shops."
There is also considerable documentation of other schemes by universities that probably infringe Federal law. They plan to coerce faculty researchers to dilute the copyright agreements that they make with publishers. According to the 1994 reports of the AAU Research Libraries Project, they have a scheme to purchase one copy of many foreign works, digitize them, and then systematically supply them to other libraries.
About 100 institutions monopolize academic research in the U.S. Their intent, with respect to copyright, tenure, publishing, and libraries appears to be increasing their profits by reducing services. They have gotten away with decimating their library collections. Their lobbying apparently convinced government agencies not to evaluate their researchers' information resources for the last twenty years. Now it appears they also wish to eliminate the thousands of journals and indexes that sort out, evaluate, and disseminate information about research done all over the world.
It would be unusual for the U.S. government to be a party to violations of the law by "nonprofit" organizations. It would raise white collar crime to a new level of conspiracy -- with plans openly published for all to see. However, it is not impossible. I am not a lawyer, of course. But my experience tells me that most businessmen would stay away from the radical course so avidly pursued by university provosts, administrative librarians, and techno-enthusiasts.
Major universities were held in violation of anti-trust legislation in their procedures for agreeing on how much financial aid to offer to applicants. (The Wall Street Journal Nov. 3, 1992. A18) So, as they say at NYPD Blue's 15th squad, they are definitely in the system.
223.3 CONCERN ABOUT PRICING OF RSR
Eleanor Cook, Serials Specialist, Appalachian State University Library, email@example.com
Here is a copy of a letter I sent to the editor of RSR. I
am quite concerned about the way MCB is buying up our
journals. Other recently-purchased MCB library and
information science quarterlies include Collection Building
at $439, Bottom Line at $449, Interlending & Document
Supply at $339, OCLC Systems and Services at $349 (this
used to be $70 in 1995), and Campus-Wide Information
Systems at $629. I will let you know what I hear from Ilene
Dear Ms. Rockman,
RSR, one of our most important library science journals, I see has been sold to MCB University Press. This deeply concerns me. MCB has an established practice of buying reasonably priced journals and then steeply raising the price a year or so after acquisition. They did this with the journal, Collection Building which when published by Neil-Schuman cost $60 per year. The price now with MCB is $439!
When the American Journal of Police ($70) and Police Studies ($70) merged to form Policing, which is now published by MCB, the price of the new journal is $435! (Not in our field, but the same trend.)
Other journals in our field that MCB has been publishing for a while are even more extraordinarily expensive -- for example, they are asking $6,799 for a title called Library Management!
So, now they have RSR and Library Hi Tech and Library Hi Tech News. What is going to happen to these?
Are we going to allow these once reasonably priced, essential journals to our profession to be held hostage?
I hope as editor of RSR you will be proactive in ensuring that the price of RSR stays within reach of our dwindling budgets.
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