Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Vox: "The War to Free Science" and the high cost of paywalls for academic journals, and the role of the "Books in Print" company

Brian Resnick and Jullia Belluz have a Vox booklet (illustrations by Xavier Zarracina) “The War to Free Science”.  The subtitle is quite telling “How librarians, pirates and funders are liberating the world’s academic research from paywalls.”

The article notes that there are 27,500 scientists affiliated with the University of California.  (Young nuclear scientist Taylor Wilson is affiliated with the University of Nevada in Reno.)

In February 2019 the University of California System ended its $11 million subscription to Reed Elsevier, the largest owner of academic journals.

The company is also known for “Books in Print”, which I got to know pretty well when I got my ISBN log book for my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in 1997.  It was mailed to me on a piece of computer paper for about $200 as I recall.  I should have it somewhere. The imprint at the time was called “High Productivity Publishing”.

I even considered doing a little contract work for them in the spring of 2002 after my “career ending” layoff at the end of 2001 (when I was still in Minneapolis).

Vox goes on to describe the push for some kind of open access, and other funding mechanisms for the necessary peer reviews for academic journals.

Jack Andraka had talked about the problem around 2015 or so after he won his Science Fair prize for his work on diagnosing future risk for pancreatic cancer inexpensively.

He says that access to research journals was a big deal when he started the work.  Fortunately, when he found a sponsor at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, he had access.  But to get access to the articles to even write the original proposal was a problem.

Basic research continues in fields like theoretical physics, where the mathematics of some objects (like Lie groups) gets us closer to an understanding of why we even exist and whether we could become immortal. It all gets peer reviewed.  This is real publishing.
This is a problem Electronic Frontier Foundation could do more work on.

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