New sauropod discoveries... held hostage.

Posted by Nima On Wednesday, May 7, 2014 5 comments

Just got a nice little heads up from one of my loyal watchers. Two new sauropods have just been discovered and described. Zby atlanticus, a basal Turiasaurid from Portugal, and Vahiny depereti, a derived titanosaur from Madagascar, just hit the press.

The problem is which press. No, not a breath of fresh open-access air like PeerJ or PlosOne. It's one of the usual suspects. Taylor and Francis. And the articles are both paywalled.

We have been here before. NOBODY can access the paper. Both papers. Unless you fork out $15 bucks per article. Which can be as much as $2 per page for some papers. Or a hundred bucks for the whole issue. Or a few grand for a subscription. I am sick from this. The people who wrote these papers are some of the smartest minds in Paleontology. But they are still doing something extremely foolish with their research - giving it away for free to a closed-access paywalled publisher that keeps the exclusive rights!

Now I'm not sure what sort of attractive perks/bribes they are offering professors and researchers in order to keep privatizing the fruits of their publicly funded labor, but Taylor and Francis should not be getting first dibs on fresh discoveries like this. Is a professor of Kristina Curry-Rogers' clout somehow unable to scrape together the grant money to publish in an open-access journal like PlosOne or even cheaper, PeerJ (just $200 for lifetime membership)? And did any of the authors of these papers bother to sign the petition? Science is supposed to be about free exchange of ideas, not some bureaucratic oligarchy hoarding information and selling it at exorbitant prices. These are PDFs, not even print copies. This is publicly funded scientific research, not a privately funded novel. The public pays taxes, they deserve to see the fruits. And the open access model allows the researcher to make and distribute unlimited copies themselves, the paywall model doesn't, as the publisher reserves ALL rights!

These multi-billion dollar publishers (Taylor & Francis, Wiley, Elsevier, Springer) never went bankrupt and never needed a bailout. Yet they are still claiming exclusive profit rights and publishing rights off the work of scientists that WE the public fund through our taxes (government grants, public university money, etc.) And why does this happen? You can blame politicians, or lobbyists, or their corrupt bills like the RWA, but ultimately the author has more control over this process than you think. The author can choose which journals to publish in. Some of the supposedly smartest scientists are GIVING their work away to these privateering publishing crooks. And despite the presence of a better and more sustainable model, they still do it. It doesn't wake a PhD to realize that you and the public are being scammed. And yet I still see PhDs making the same mistake of giving their work to a private for-profit publisher instead of using PeerJ and making it available to the public which funded their research.

I don't know whether to head-butt the wall or start quoting Forrest Gump here.
How many times do we have to say this?

Taylor & Francis is privatizing profits and socializing costs.
Taylor & Francis is privatizing profits and socializing costs.
Taylor & Francis is privatizing profits and socializing costs.

Exterminating polio and smallpox was considered a great victory for science. So why keep feeding today's publishing parasites which are far easier to quarantine? Abandon them, if a true scientist ye be.



Anonymous said...

Yay for new titanosaurs. As for the rest, I won't even bother going over the Open-Access thing. Just know that I'm on the same page a you and the SV-POW crew. Seriously, I can't recall how many Google Scholar results lead me to T&F; I run into them even more then Elsevier.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I just want to let you know that the two articles you reference are free to access (at least through the end of June 2014). If you have any questions or concerns about the publishing process or about articles that appear in Taylor & Francis journals (especially JVP), please email me: (I will follow up this comment with a quick email to you). I'd be happy to answer any questions and I'd especially like to know which articles from the journal the community thinks are interesting and/or important.


Nima said...

@ Amanda

I will make it easy for you. Every brachiosaur, somphosondylian, and titanosaur article is important. But lest you think I am asking for special treatment, consider this:

a) the vast majority of published works in many fields (not just Paleontology) still end up in paywalled journals.

b) there is a SEVERE problem of intelligence arbitrage / asymmetric information with regard to what sort of influences are affecting the decisions of individual authors or research teams to sight away the rights to their papers to a for-profit journal essentially for free. The fact is most of us simply have no way of knowing what sort of incentives, compensation, or grafts a professor with a long-term relationship with certain publishers may receive, in exchange for allowing them the exclusive rights to privatize his or her publicly funded research. Perhaps the perks are many. Or perhaps they are only limited to a department chair in some universities, and mere professors must tow the line if they want to get their research published and have the use of that institution's facilities. Any many of these are public, taxpayer-funded state universities. This sort of monopolistic Saruman-like hold that many publishing marques have upon publicly funded academic departments and university trustees is beyond "crony capitalism". It's crony socialism. And when people are kept in the dark as they have been for decades but to non-disclosure policies and silent contracts, they tend to assume, rightly or wrongly, the worst.

c) None of this in any way changes the fact that many universities have decided to cancel their subscriptions to paywalled journals and switch to open-access publishing. Even Harvard has stated that the long-term costs of paywall subscriptions are untenable for its budget. A private university like Harvard is more easily able (though it's still not easy) to break away from the mold of this form of crony socialism, as it is not under the chumb of state bureaucrats.

d) JVP is yet another paradox. It was founded by the SVP as a "standard candle" for the profession, the semi-official publication of paleontology by which all other were judged. Yet now it's been forced under T&F's thumb due to the increasing dearth (or perhaps mismanagement?) of funds by SVP admin. The development, regardless of any positive impact it may have on the visual and technical quality of JVP, means that the corporate publishing world has been given a crack with which to wedge its way into an essentially non-profit scientific organization. It will be interesting to see how they merge together, or rather how the takeover and privatization of SVP into a corporate lobby will progress in the coming years, to the cheers of a gleefully approving world I'm sure.

In summation, it's not simply something that can be fixed by temporarily making this or that paper open-access. It's a bigger institutional problem that academia and how it disseminates information is fundamentally broken. And this is no accident. Your kind would have far more respect (and perhaps even sympathy) among the more progress-oriented members of the paleo-community if you had a more transparent policy of intellectual property rights disclosure, more transparent profit policies, a profit-sharing structure for scientists perhaps, and an explanation of why prices of publications are getting so exorbitant, to an extent that would make even the most capricious of oil speculators go green with envy.

Nima said...

And as a caveat, you would be wasting your time if you expect to fly past intelligent minds the same baseless "pity us, we are so poor, the pie chart says we only make 1% profit" excuses of the sort that many supposedly public universities (such as the UC system for example) throw out for why their textbooks and tuition are getting so ridiculously expensive. T & F is a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, it has more than enough money, and is well capable of minimizing its overhead costs (and probably already has). There is no legitimate "cost" excuse for the high prices and opaque access policy wording, it is pure profit, which is reflected more for the executive than for the shareholder. There is no credible reason a scientist, struggling as he is on a shoestring budget, sacrificing his social life and sometimes even health for the greater good, should be giving that ilk any charity. Most who do, ostensibly do so only out of ignorance, opaque incentive, or as victims of academic coercion.

You're welcome :)

Anonymous said...

Great News! I've found an open access version of the Zby paper.


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