There has been a lot of discussion on the interweb about the support for legislation in the US by the major academic publishers that would place stifling restrictions on access to Government-funded science outputs published in their journals. In effect, the Research Works Act would hand these same wealthy publishers a licence to print money on the back of tax payer-funded research and the tax payer-funded efforts of the scientists required to peer review the manuscripts.
We the scientists do the research and peer review the manuscripts, the tax payer pays for all of this and yet the academic publishers charge upwards of £30 to access a single article and hundreds to tens of thousands of pounds for individuals and institutions to subscribe to their journals. All the publishers add is
- the infrastructure that allows them to track papers in peer review (which is largely web-based and rubbish),
- the typesetting of manuscripts into final journal style form, and
- the websites and infrastructure allowing people to get access to journals electronically (for the proper fee of course).
The major publishers make
20-30% 30-40% profit-margins on their revenues yet contribute little. And yet they want more...! I'm not suggesting that the publishers should add their value without monetary reward, but they are being disingenuous when they claim to be adding significant value, which they need to recoup, to the manuscripts we supply.
So from today I am on strike when it comes to performing peer-review for journals from the stables of the major academic publishers. I will only review for journals that release all papers under Open Access frameworks. As such, I will now only be submitting papers to Open Access-only journals. My first action was to decline a review request that came in a day or two ago. I was waiting on a response from John Wiley in the US before deciding whether to accept the invite or not, but as none was forthcoming I emailed the handling editor this morning to decline. Below is the email I sent setting out my reasons for my action.
Dear XXXXX, Apologies for the delay in replying. I was waiting on a response from John Wiley to some queries I had about their position with regard to the Research Works Act (RWA) in the US and Open Access to research papers in general. I am very concerned that large academic publishers are actively pursuing an agenda that will severely restrict the ability for scientists around the world to conduct science in an environment of open exchange of ideas and results. In particular the RWA would if passed give these publishers effective copyright over the final published record of federally-funded research, allowing them rights to charge exorbitant fees for access to these papers and journals, further deepening their already deep pockets. Having not received any form of response from John Wiley in the US I am now refusing to perform peer review of papers submitted to their journals to demonstrate my general disgust at their support for stifling open access to scientific papers. These publishers rely upon the free (to them, but not to the tax payers that pay the salaries of scientists doing the reviews) provision of peer review and I will no longer perform such duties whilst the publishers make huge profits (upwards of 30% of revenues) feeding off our generosity.As such I must respectfully decline your invitation to review manuscript Ms# o20360. Please feel free to pass this message on to Prof. XXXXX XXXXX, XXXXX Editor in Chief, and your publisher should you so desire. Yours, Dr. Gavin Simpson
Not sure what effect, if any, this will have; I am but a small fish in a very big pond. If more of my colleagues adopt similar strategies to handling peer review requests from the major publishers perhaps they will get the message.
I'll let you know how things progress and post any response I get from the publisher or the editor of the journal in question.
The managing editor of the journal in question has replied to say that they will be passing my comments on to the journal editor-in-chief and the publisher. Will let you know if I hear anything further.
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By Gavin Simpson
18 January 2012
Research Works Act