The Blood of Science

OK, another bit of bile. Just the thing for a rainy day that raises the gorge.

This time it’s about nerd manuscript publishing. This morning I ran across an article [Link] entitled “Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?”

The answer, from this blogger, incidentally, is TARTARUS, VERO! with apologies for the Anglicized punctuation.

Back when I first entered graduate schule, I was immersed in the refereed journal publication environment as a part of seeking a graduate academic degree. But I have to admit that the part I was shielded from until after matriculation was the financial side. I found out about that when I wrote my first, independent, manuscript.

At that time I was employed by the Yankee Army (sometimes called the Yankee Army of Occupation, but not very loudly in Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill because that occupation was providing most of the economic influx for Nawth Alibam. And still is. But all the attention gets diverted to the Space Cadet Agency which puts in less than 0.1 of what the YA does.) When I was told how much it would cost to publish my jest accepted manuscript in a professional society journal, about a month’s take-home pay at that time, I went into AW, STERCUS! mode. Then I was pointed, by one of the guardian librarians of YA employed nerds to the proper Army Regulation (more binding in Nawth Alibam than real Yankee Government LAW.) 

So I went to my boss and laid the bill on him, respectfully, mind you, and for that I learned three new words of a profane nature. The problem was not that he didn’t have the money for the publication, just that it wasn’t budgeted. So thereafter I made sure to budget a dollop of money each year to pay for publication costs.

Several years later when I got to be a high elected officer of a professional society I did a study on the relative costs of paper and electronic publication. I found out several things. The costs of publication were very unbalanced. Basically, the author bore all the burden of providing a print ready, edited manuscript to the journal. This was in part due to the practice of making other authors edit the subscription. This is sometimes known as peer review. All the journal itself does is pay for mailing manuscripts about and the actual printing and mailing of journals. Their expenses fall into three bins: mail; paper and ink; and printing labor. 

If we change to electronic publication, we replace (USPS) mail with email and we replace paper, ink, and printing labor with a server and a part time IT guy. Cost is about 0.1-0.2 of the paper route.

When I reported this, I found out that the organization wasn’t going to change. They were going to stick with paper. Why? Because they were charging about three times what they needed and were siphoning the two extra times into paying staff to do other society things. And buy luxury treatment for the society officers.

That’s one of the reasons I pretty well left the society when my term was up. 

But I later found out that the for-profit journals, which have much lower standards for publication, like basically the cashing of the cheque, were making 5-10 times what their costs were. 

So basically, the nerd publishing instrumentality is a giant parasite on the planet’s science efforts.

And parasites are seldom beneficial.

And why I basically only publish on-line.