14 July 2010

Annals of Closed Access: A Really Really Expensive Conference Report

I've been falling behind lately on my summaries of "closed access" in scholarly publishing, although I continue faithfully to report the cost of every closed-access journal article that I mention in this blog.

But a post yesterday from John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts points to what seems to me to be a particularly absurd example.

Wilkins points with justifiable pride to the appearance of the published volume of papers from a conference last year in Lisbon on evolution, a volume in which he has a paper.  The papers appear in the journal Theory in Biosciences (vol. 129:2-3, September 2010). The table of contents looks fascinating, if you're interested in the big picture of evolutionary theory (and I am).

One of the papers is explicitly open access: Marta Santos, et al., "Playing Darwin. Part B. 20 years of domestication in Drosophila subobscura." 

Although not explicitly marked open access, the introduction by conference organizer Nathalie Gontier's is also freely available for download.

The rest of the papers, alas, are not.  Here is the rundown (the journal is published by Springer)

Margarida Matos, "Playing Darwin. Part A. Experimental Evolution in Drosophila" $34.00
Melanie J. Monroe and Folmer Bokma, "Punctuated equilibrium in a neontological context" $34.00
Derek Turner, "Punctuated equilibrium and species selection: what does it mean for one theory to suggest another?" $34.00
Jan Sapp, "Saltational symbiosis" $34.00
Francisco Carrapiço, "How symbiogenic is evolution?" $34.00
John S. Wilkins, "What is a species? Essences and generation" $34.00
Filipe O. Costa and Gary R. Carvalho, "New insights into molecular evolution: prospects from the Barcode of Life Initiative (BOLI)" $34.00
André Levy, "Pattern, process and the evolution of meaning: species and units of selection" $34.00
Nathalie Gontier, "Evolutionary epistemology as a scientific method: a new look upon the units and levels of evolution debate" $34.00

Luis Correia, "Computational evolution: taking liberties" $34.00
Ian Tattersall, "Human evolution and cognition" $34.00
Antonio B. Vieira, "Grammatical equivalents of Palaeolithic tools: a hypothesis" $34.00
Jan Verpooten and Mark Nelissen, "Sensory exploitation and cultural transmission: the late emergence of iconic representations in human evolution" $34.00
James Steele and Anne Kandler, "Language trees ≠ gene trees" $34.00
Orion Lewis and Sven Steinma, "Taking evolution seriously in political science" $34.00
Total: $510.00

You're probably thinking, "Well, sure Dexter, but of course there must be a way for you as an individual to buy the complete volume, rather than purchasing all the individual articles separately."

And yes, that's what any rational person (or even I) would think, too.

But if there is such an option, I've been unable to find it, and I've spent a good chunk of time this morning looking for it.  It is safe to say that if there is such an option, it is not at all obvious how to get to it from the contents page linked to above.

Just to reiterate the obvious:  most of the contributors to this volume work for publicly funded institutions, so their salaries are paid by taxpayers in the countries in which they work. The greater part of the funding for the research represented in these articles was also almost certainly public. The contributors probably have not been paid for their contributions to the journal, and they certainly won't be receiving royalties, nor will their institutions receive any compensation.  Even in those cases where the institutions or the funding was private, there will be no compensation from Springer.

Thus Springer, a private corporation, is receiving the entire financial benefit from these articles.  And because it has (very likely) assumed the copyright for them, it has a monopoly on their distribution, and can thus set monopolistic prices (as it obviously has done).

Because most of the contributors have institutional affiliations that cope with the problem of access and payment, they are not forced to confront the idiocy of the terms of access to private individuals. (Because I, too, have had institutional affiliations in the past that gave me access to this kind of material, I know that one is simply grateful to have access at all, and just basically buries one's head in the sand about the wider problem.)

And anyone who knows me or follows this blog will recognize that most of the articles in this volume are of interest to me, and everything from Tattersall's article to the end would count (if I had access) as "must reads."

Could I acquire these articles surreptitiously through friends with institutional access?  Yes, of course.  But the point is that the absurdity of the conditions for access imposed by Springer are forcing me to "break the law" if I want to keep up with research that is, after all, almost entirely publicly funded, and thus should be available to me or to anyone freely or at a nominal cost that would cover production and distribution.,

For-profit scholarly publication is a blight on the progress of science and intellectual endeavor.  It must be changed.
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  1. If I were you I would contact all the authors individually (Springer gives all their e-mail addresses) and test their reaction to a request to mail you their articles.

  2. Or I could have my secretary do it.

    Want to be my secretary? ;-)

  3. Only once as a kind of test to avoid this kind of argument in the future. What about the "visit to the library in the style of our forefathers"? (quote J.S. Wilkins)

  4. Not sure what "argument" you're referring to.

    I'd be delighted if research libraries in the U.S. were "open access." But, largely (and locally) they aren't.

    And even if they were, it would still be illegal to photocopy the articles.

    I go to the Newton library, part of the Minuteman Library System, at least once a week. It is an outstanding public library. But it has perhaps only 5% of the research literature I'm interested in. The Boston Public Library is no better (worse for scientific topics, in my experience).

  5. Writing a bulk e-mail to all the authors would take about 2 minutes ...

  6. If you would like to try to verify your claim empirically, please feel free...