[Taxacom] {Spam?} Re: Monbiot editorial on academic publishing

Wolfgang Wuster w.wuster at bangor.ac.uk
Thu Sep 1 01:25:48 CDT 2011

On 01/09/2011 00:27, Stephen Thorpe wrote:
> actually, journal paywalls may function at least sometimes in "reality economics" as one of the quick and easy ways to spend research money after institutional "overheads" have been taken out, and then go back to the funders for more.

Of course. There is nothing academics love doing more than spending 
money for the sake of it, and then spending months writing grant 
applications that have a 90% chance of failing. We all know that filling 
out spreadsheets detailing how 50% of the hard-earned cash that we 
almost certainly won't get is going to buy plusher armchairs for a bunch 
of accountants is such an incredible turn-on. Sure. Sole reason any of 
us went into research.

> This is the "maximum funding - minimal hard work" business model! Another strategy is to do molecular phylogeographic studies (involves a tour from one end of the country to another to collect fresh material of the species under study for DNA analysis, and doubles as a holiday!)

Who says we should not enjoy our work?  ;-)

More seriously, I take Richard's point: of course you cannot get EVERY 
pdf through an email.

However, at the same time, we forget how much easier it is to get hold 
of literature today than it was previously. Before pdf's and paywalls, 
authors either had to buy hard copy reprints and stuff envelopes, or 
photocopy journals before stuffing envelopes, or fail to respond to 
requests. If the requested reprint did not arrive after a couple of 
weeks, it would be further weeks of waiting for an inter-library loan. 
And those got progressively more expensive in the late 1980s/early 1990s 
as well. And that would apply to older papers in any case, paywall or no 

Moreover, in the world of pdf's, it's rarely hard to find *someone* who 
has a given pdf - there are literature exchange groups on Facebook (and 
it is quite phenomenal how many older papers have been scanned in by 
someone, somewhere!) and as mailing lists, plenty of authors post their 
pdf's on their web pages, albeit illegally, etc.

I am not defending the economic model of academic publishing, but the 
depiction of scientific information as "carefully hidden behind 
paywalls" is no more true today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and 
thanks to infinitely and freely  copiable and emailable pdf's, those 
paywalls are leakier than ever. If pulling out the credit card is 
anyone's FIRST response to hitting a paywall, then they ARE a mug. The 
reason for my original question was to find out whether these paywalls 
actually make a significant contribution to publishers' incomes. 
Unfortunately, it seems like that information is not readily available.

Dr. Wolfgang Wüster  -  Lecturer
School of Biological Sciences
Bangor University
Environment Centre Wales
Bangor LL57  2UW
Wales, UK

Tel: +44 1248 382301
Fax: +44 1248 382569
E-mail: w.wuster at bangor.ac.uk

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