I’ve talked in the past about the problem of access to journals. It varies drastically between institutions. Here at JHU, our access is pretty good. However, I’d say it was better, and certainly more convenient, at Washington University in St.Louis. But really, it shouldn’t matter what institution you’re affiliated with. Peer-reviewed research, and especially government funded peer-reviewed research, should be widely and freely available, from the internet, preferably in PDF format.
I’m not saying that anyone has to really give it away. Costs can be shifted around. However, for the sake of scientific review, collaboration, and progress, anyone should be able to access the papers. There’s already an extensive movement toward this standard. The Public Library of Science publishes several open-access journals, and carries out some advocacy of open-access publishing.
This, like the ability of bands to sell and promote their own music without the RIAA, is a threat to the traditional publishing industry. Nature recently published a brief article on the efforts of Elsevier, Wiley, and the American Chemical Society to counteract open-access promotion with their own PR. They’ve hired an expert on the PR-offensive to advise them in this effort. His advice allegedly includes tidbits like this:
The consultant advised them to focus on simple messages, such as “Public access equals government censorship”. He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and “paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles”.
Do you see what’s going on here? Simple, but bald-faced lies, repeated often. Peer review is not at all limited to “traditional publishing models.” PLoS is a great counterexample. Also, public access is not government censorship, especially if taxpayer dollars paid for the research. I’d call that getting what you pay for. The argument is that,
“When any government or funding agency houses and disseminates for public consumption only the work it itself funds, that constitutes a form of selection and self-promotion of that entity’s interests.”
I mean, read that. Should a funding agency pay to disseminate everyone else’s work? Clearly these guys have hired an expert on crafting statements that seem reasonable but are actually quite deceptive and misleading. Based on the quotes from the involved publishers, they’re already drinking the kool-aid, or doing a good job of pretending to do so.
This issue has been covered and extensively discussed on Slashdot.