Research Works Act

January 17, 2012 – 4:39 pm

Scientists’ opposition to the Research Works Act is getting a lot of attention (e.g., here and here). I feel as many scientists do that this bill would make our job of disseminating information harder in order to enrich publishers. That doesn’t seem like a good deal. At this point, it is up to the publishers to convince me that they are providing value for their work that justifies the high prices they charge.

I see scientists writing, editing, and peer reviewing manuscripts. I see publishers facilitating peer review by providing clunky and chronically out-of-date online tools as well as doing a mediocre job typesetting and copy editing our articles. In my experience, these services have been outsourced to overseas companies with poor communication skills. The typesetting and print publishing are also a waste of money since we all have internet. Their online publication systems are also clunky, with poor search functionality, spammy TOC alerts, and cookie-cutter websites.

Finally, it’s insulting when I work for years on a project and then, upon publication, have to sign over my copyright to a journal that then turns around and asks if I want to buy that copyright back for $3000 (that was what Springer asked on my last publication). The only reason I and many other scientists put up with this absurd arrangement is that the industry has been savvy about maintaining control of the high profile journals in which we need to publish to advance our careers.

Hopefully the press surrounding this issue will lead to education and grass-roots action among scientists. It may be easier than we think to submit our work to publishers that we trust to make it freely available and even deny peer review services to the worst corporate offenders like Elsevier.

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