Friday, May 11, 2012

Of dodos and scholarly publishing ... a Friday meditation

0000 Dodo Vanilla>Thanks to Richard Urban (@Musebrarian) for pointing out the following dodo debate:

A lively debate has recently taken flight within the pages of the prestigious natural sciences journal Naturwissenschaften. It all centres around the question of whether Raphus cucullatus, a.k.a. the (now extinct) Dodo might have been waddlingly plump or sprightly slim.
Here are some example papers from either side of the debate :

Rather than get into the dodo debate about fat or thin (though I will say that the one dodo I know has tended more towards fat than thin), I'll jump into the topic of "Academic Spring" and say, don't bother trying to click on the links above unless you a member of an academic community with access to Naturwissenschaften through some large institutional subscription. Or, if you aren't, are you willing to pay $34.95 each for these three dodo articles?

I'm certain the authors toiled mightily over these articles and I'm equally dubious that any of those $34.95 dollars and cents made their way to the authors. Now you could, of course, just subscribe, or, er, well, not. Can't seem to find a way to subscribe.

Now, I'm not saying that the world of scholarly publishing can run on thin air and good wishes (as some do), but multiple payments (university pays salary of author, university pays salary of peer-reviewers, university pays salary of editors - perhaps with stipends from publishers -, university pays publication page costs, university library pays for subscription to journal) for the same content. I've seen the arguments from the other side (the publishers' side) and I just can't get the math and economics to really add up.

In the spirit of the Arab Spring, an academic version, "Academic Spring" has sprung up; The Cost of Knowledge website has gathered (as of this writing) over 11,000 signatures of academics who won't author, referee or edit in a particular publishers stable of journals (right now it is one publisher, but to some extent, that is unfairly singling out one of many).

The dodo (fat or thin) was like the world of scholarly communication; comfortable, doing ok, catching some rays in Mauritius. But a disruptive element comes along (hungry Dutch sailors, a disruptive distribution and publishing model) and the dodo isn't so secure anymore.

But in this case, scholarly communication isn't the dodo, it's the commercial publishers that are looking up at a hungry sailor.

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