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Dazed and Confused

Magazine article Information Today

Dazed and Confused

Article excerpt

Seriously, I am still scratching my head after going through a bibliography rounding up some journal articles for a co-worker. I came across an article from a publication to which we have no access.

To make a long story short, I ended up at the publisher's page where I could read the abstract. However, if I wanted to get the full text, I had one option: For $86, I could rent the article for 24 hours. The internet has an acronym for this sort of thing: WTF?

I was sure that my co-worker did not want to read this article so quickly and so badly that she was willing to ask the manager who holds the purse strings for our organization's purchasing card to spend $86 for a 24-hour journal article liaison. I offered to see if I could get the item via interlibrary loan. My co-worker told me not to bother; however, she was as curious as I was about what possible information this article included that would cause the publisher to think that $86 was a fair price for a daylong peek.

"Do you suppose it contains the secret formula for Coca-Cola?" she asked. Yeah, I know, I'm pretty much preaching to the choir here. Scholarly publishing is out of control and has been for quite a while now.

The Call for Open Access

But the open access drumbeats are growing louder. In the Feb. 16 issue of the Times Higher Education (U.K.), a University of Cambridge mathematics professor wrote an opinion piece explaining why he and several other mathematicians have been refusing to submit their papers to Reed Elsevier journals (www.timeshighereducation.co .uk/story.asp?storycode=419018). Timothy Gowers said most mathematicians use the document preparation system LaTeX to write their papers, which are then disseminated online far in advance of journal publication. And the work is peer-reviewed for free by scholars in the field who volunteer because they regard it as a service to their profession.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

   One might have thought, in the
   light of this, that math journals
   would be very cheap indeed.
   However, university libraries
   are in a weak bargaining position:
   there are some journals
   that are very important to
   some academics, so libraries
   are extremely reluctant to cancel
   their subscriptions to them.
   The result is that the major
   publishers, the likes of Elsevier,
   Springer and Wiley, have
   been able to set their prices extraordinarily
   high. It is hard to
   say exactly how high because
   they typically sell their journals
   in huge "bundles" that run
   across all subjects, and they
   ask libraries to sign confidentiality
   agreements. But if you
   have a chat with your department's
   library representative,
   you are unlikely to find that
   they are happy with the deal
   that has been negotiated.

Gowers decided to go more public with his boycott of Elsevier ("which seems to be the publisher people dislike the most"). Meanwhile, a graduate student at New York University set up a website called The Cost of Knowledge (http://thecostofknowl edge.com) where academics could sign a petition to boycott Elsevier. As of early March, nearly 7,710 researchers had signed the petition, agreeing not to publish, referee, and/or do editorial work for any Elsevier publication. A drop-down menu displays the number of people who have signed the petition from various academic disciplines and who they are.

In the middle of all of this, someone set up a Twitter account (@Fake Elsevier) that self-identifies as "Lover of life and liver of love. …

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