Show me the data!
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TL;DR summary: ESA data papers should be free to read but Wiley (ESA’s new publishing ‘partner’) just charged me $45.60 yesterday to access one of them. They have done this kind of ‘accidental’ profit-generation before, as have other big publishers.

John Wiley & Sons (whom I will refer to as ‘Wiley’ from now on) is not a very competent company when it comes to providing free or open access to research. Don’t take my word for that. Ask the Wellcome Trust: over 50% of articles that they had paid to be open access with Wiley were not compliant with their open access policy. I have also had my problems with Wiley: I caught them selling access to thousands of articles that should have been free to access this time last year. They also paywalled an article I wrote which should have been free to access.

Despite all this, and the detailed letter I sent to the Ecological Society of America (ESA) back in 2013 during their open access consultation process, the ESA decided to switch to publishing with Wiley: a profit-driven company who’s goals conflict with the goals of the society. I was very disappointed with this decision.

 

Now that the switch is complete there are some problems readily apparent. Wiley are selling some bits of ESA journal content for $45.60 (inc. tax) a time that ESA did not previously charge readers to access. I discovered this yesterday on Twitter thanks to Jaime Ashander & Stephanie Peacock. So I made a test purchase to see if Wiley really were charging for access to this free content (they were!). Below are tweets documenting this:

 

Amusingly, the first time I tried to buy access to the article, my bank blocked the transaction thinking it was a suspicious payment to a scammy company! Only after I confirmed with my bank was I actually allowed to purchase access to the data paper – it really IS hard to access research that is paywalled, even when you have the money to pay for it!

ESA have acknowledged the problem on Twitter and will see if I can get a refund on Monday:

Discussion

There is more than meets the eye to this case.

Data papers are still a fairly new concept to most. Thus I honestly didn’t know what I’d be getting from behind the paywall when I paid for access – I did expect more than just the abstract. It would not surprise me if others could also make this mistaken assumption (we are wearily used to abstracts hiding much longer papers behind paywalls).

Charging the authors of ESA data papers $250 with the excuse that this is for “long-term hosting and maintenance” is absurd and unjustifiable. At the very most it should be $120 which is what Dryad charges, with a reminder that Figshare and Zenodo continue to sustainably archive data for free. Charging each and every reader outside the paywall in addition to this $45 to read the abstract of an ESA data paper in PDF format is just ridiculous.

The cost of single-article purchases has now more than DOUBLED since ESA moved to Wiley. Below is a screencap I took from the old ESA publishing platform. ESA articles were paywalled for just $20 and that allowed 30-day access. Now with Wiley, the exact same content is available to me for $45.60 (inc. UK tax) and I only have a 24-hour permitted-access period. This price-hike and narrow access window are utterly absurd and unjustified. Is it any wonder everyone uses SciHub these days?

Does this help raise the awareness of ecological science?

The old paywall was half the price and gave 30-days access, not just 24 hours!

 

 

 

 

 

I’m also frightened that ESA had no idea this was going-on. This is exactly what happens when you give all your content to an unscrupulous oligopoly publisher like Wiley to sell on your behalf. It seems to me that many academic societies are receiving big fat cheques every year from their commercial publishing ‘partners’ and are completely ignoring where from and how this money was generated. It’s well known that the academic publishing oligopoly is siphoning huge margins of money away from research. Why are academic societies so willingly complicit in this racket? It seems to me as if it is a sadly common approach to deal with this impropriety by turning a blind eye: “Take the money, don’t ask questions!” As long as society members benefit (at the expense of the rest of the world), anything goes.

Some final questions…

  1. Does ESA know how much Wiley is charging libraries around the world for subscriptions to ESA’s journals?
  2. Does ESA actually know anything of the real cost of production and publishing services that Wiley provides – not the price Wiley says it costs (inc. unhealthy profit margin) but the actual cost?
  3. How many readers like me (‘the scholarly poor’) outside the paywall has Wiley charged for access to ESA data papers that should have been free to access?
  4. Given Wiley’s lack of transparency, can we trust them when they report back how many others have also bought access to these ESA data papers that should have been free?

Update 2016/04/09: Thankfully, I did eventually get a refund for this article purchase on 2016/04/08, although I still appear to have lost out due to currency conversion issues with my bank:

wiley-refund 

 

 

I’ve written 29 blog posts this year! Still time for one more…

This work relates to my new postdoc at the University of Cambridge in Sam Brockington’s group.

I’ve been closely examining IUCN RedList data for plant taxa and found some rather odd things.

Out of the 100 or so plant species that the IUCN RedList asserts as ‘extinct’, at least 16 of them are growing alive and well somewhere in the world at the moment.

For some species even Wikipedia notes the conflict between reality and the ‘official’ IUCN assessment e.g. for Rauvolfia nukuhivensis.

Here are the 16 plant species that I think are incorrectly assessed as ‘extinct’ right now by the IUCN RedList:

Astragalus nitidiflorus, Cnidoscolus fragrans, Cynometra beddomei, Dipterocarpus cinereus, Dracaena umbraculifera, Madhuca insignis, Melicope cruciata, Ochrosia brownii, Ochrosia fatuhivensis, Ochrosia tahitensis, Pausinystalia brachythyrsum, Pouteria stenophylla, Rauvolfia nukuhivensis, Wendlandia angustifolia, Wikstroemia skottsbergiana, Wikstroemia villosa

Additionally to the 16 above, with less certainty, I also think the Hawaiian taxa Delissea kauaiensis and Delissea niihauensis might have some individuals still alive according to this Department of Land and Natural Resources ‘Fact Sheet’ from 2013.

 

Why not harness the wisdom of the crowds and/or semi-automated text mining?

 

It’s remarkable that the IUCN RedList still lists some of these as ‘extinct’ when there are easily findable peer-reviewed articles reporting the rediscovery and hence extant status of these taxa. To their credit, many are listed as “needs updating” but still, if there are important updates to statuses why not just go in and make the change(s) to correct the record?   The IUCN RedList page listing Wendlandia angustifolia as ‘extinct’ is possibly the worst example – it was reported as rediscovered back in the year 2000, more than a decade ago! The IUCN has had 15 years to update their incorrect assertion of ‘extinct’ for this taxon!

I can’t possibly go through the literature and check all other IUCN-listed plant taxa myself but this does seem like a great opportunity for ContentMine tools to help the IUCN RedList stay on top of the latest updates about IUCN RedListed taxa. See ‘Daily updates on IUCN Red List species‘ for more on that idea.

 

Below I list sources of information relating to the 16 species that I think are definitely NOT extinct, despite being listed as such on the IUCN RedList.

Wahyu, Y., Wihermanto, N., Risna, R. A., and Ashton, P. S. 2013. Rediscovery of the supposedly extinct Dipterocarpus cinereus. Oryx 47:324.

Martínez-Sánchez, J. J., Segura, F., Aguado, M., Franco, J. A., and Vicente, M. J. 2011. Life history and demographic features of Astragalus nitidiflorus, a critically endangered species. Flora – Morphology, Distribution, Functional Ecology of Plants 206:423-432.

Lorence, D. and Butaud, J.-F. 2011. A reassessment of Marquesan Ochrosia and Rauvolfia (Apocynaceae) with two new combinations. PhytoKeys 4:95+

Viswanathan MB, Harrison Premkumar E, Ramesh N. 2000. Rediscovery of Wendlandia angustifolia Wight ex Hook.f. (Rubiaceae), from Tamil Nadu, a species presumed extinct. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 97. (2): 311-313

Oppenheimer, H. 2011. New Hawaiian plant records for 2009 Records of the Hawaii Biological Survey for 2009–2010. Bishop Museum Occasional Papers 110: 5–10 [notes the rediscovery of Wikstroemia villosa]

Shenoy et al. 2014. Extended distribution of Madhuca insignis (Radlk.) H. J. Lam. (Sapotaceae) – A Critically Endangered species in Shimoga District of Karnataka. ZOO’s PRINT  Volume XXIX, Number 6

Sudhi, K. S. 2012. Rediscovered tree still ‘extinct’ on IUCN Red List. The Hindu. [Cynometra beddomeii]

Missouri Botanical Garden 2012. Umbrella Draceana. [Dracaena umbraculifera might be extinct in the wild, but it is still successfully grown in many botanical gardens!]

 

 

 

 

 

[Update 2015-09-19: since writing this, I notice my open access article has now been unpaywalled at Wiley’s site. No-one from Wiley has reached out to me to explain how, why, or when this happened. No compensation has been offered, nor any apology. I note that all the other articles in the special section, which should also be open access (CC BY) are still on sale, behind a paywall. Selling access to articles that should be open access is very scammy publishing. Shame on Wiley.]

I got invited to review a manuscript by a British Ecological Society journal (MEE) that is published with Wiley recently.

I rejected the request and will from now on decline to review for all Wiley journals. In this post I duplicate my email to the Assistant Editor (Chris Greaves) explaining why. FWIW Chris has handled my letter extremely well and will forward it on for me to where it needs to be seen/read within the British Ecological Society.

Below is the email I sent earlier today in full:

from: Ross Mounce <ross.mounce@gmail.com>
to: coordinator@methodsinecologyandevolution.org
date: 18 August 2015 at 11:57
subject: Re: Follow-up: Invitation to Review for Methods in Ecology and Evolution

Dear Chris,

Thank you (and Rich FitzJohn) for inviting me to review this manuscript.

It looks interesting from the abstract and in other circumstances I would certainly agree to review it.

However, I refused to review this manuscript and will refuse to review any subsequent manuscript for this publisher (Wiley) because I believe they are actively impeding progress in science by choosing to operate a predominately subscription-based business model – artificially restricting access to knowledge that taxpayers (through government funding) and charities predominantly fund. Furthermore they do an extremely poor job of it.

  • They produce but actively withhold full text XML (even from subscribers). Reputable open access publishers have no qualms in making their full text XML available to all. This is deeply frustrating for those interested in synthesis, reproducibility and getting the most from published science in a time-efficient manner. As the manuscript I was just asked to review was principally about ‘automated content analysis’ I find this particularly galling and I am wondering why the authors thought it was appropriate to submit this to such a journal.
  • They use an outdated back-end system: ‘ManuscriptCentral’ which is by all accounts an extremely poor system. Wiley have made huge profits each and every year in the past decade and yet seem completely unwilling to re-invest that in improving their systems. There wasn’t even a free text box to explain my reasons for declining to review this manuscript. Utterly poor, neglected design. Try PeerJ or Pensoft’s submission system. They have clearly worked hard and invested time and effort into making publishing research better for everyone, not just their own profit-margin.
  • Wiley’s hybrid open access charge ($3000) is outrageously expensive and bears no resemblance or link to the actual cost of production or services provided. I am aware of the ‘discount’ levied for British Ecological Society members (down to $2,250). The ‘discount’ is only gained if one of the authors pays ~ $80 to join BES (full, ordinary member rate). That is still far too high. For context, some other open access fees: PLOS ONE charges $1350, PeerJ just $99 per author (the manuscript I was just asked to review has only 4 authors), Ubiquity Press journals $500, and Biodiversity Data Journal is still FREE ($0) whilst in launch phase. This to me is strong evidence of either deep inefficiency or profit-gouging or a mixture of both on Wiley’s part, none of which are excusable. I am certainly not alone in thinking this. See recent tweets from Rob Lanfear (an excellent scientist): https://twitter.com/RobLanfear/status/630523174061342720https://twitter.com/RobLanfear/status/630526920086568960
  • Wiley are a significant player in the modern oligopoly of academic publisher knowledge racketeering. Data from FOI requests in the UK show that in the last five years (2010-2014), 125 UK Higher Education Institutes have collectively spent nearly £77,000,000 renting access to knowledge that Wiley has captured. That’s just the UK. Wiley doesn’t pay authors for their content, nor do they pay reviewers. I don’t know why the British Ecological Society (BES) partners with these racketeers – I find this arrangement severely detrimental to the goals of BES and academic research.
  • Like the other big knowledge racketeers Wiley operate a ‘big bundle’ subscription system. By adding BES journals to this big bundle of subscriber-only knowledge, it makes it harder for libraries around the world to cancel their subscriptions to this big bundle. Wiley know this and hence are actively trying to acquire as many good journals as possible (e.g. ESA journals) to make themselves ‘too big to cancel’.
  • On a personal note, I am particularly aggrieved with Wiley because they are currently, without my consent, charging $45.60 including tax, to ‘non-subscribers’ for access to one of my open access articles that they have copied over from where it is freely available at the original publisher. Charging $45.60 to access something that is freely available at the original publisher is simply astonishing and is just another facet to the lunacy of the many and multiple ways in which Wiley and companies like it seek to profiteer from and restrict access to research.

For all these reasons and many more I simply cannot agree to review manuscripts for any Wiley journal. I am already boycotting Elsevier, and am considering applying the same to subscription-access Nature Springer and Taylor & Francis journals for similar reasons.

I urge the British Ecological Society to reconsider their ‘partnership’ with this profiteering entity and to pursue publishing with organisations that are actually competent at modern 21st century academic publishing, particularly those that support and actively facilitate content mining e.g. Pensoft, PLOS, PeerJ, eLife, Ubiquity Press, MDPI and F1000Research, to name but a few.

Sincerely,

Ross Mounce

 

———————————–

I feel relieved to have done this. Having reviewed for Wiley only last month it didn’t feel right. Why would I help them whilst boycotting Elsevier? They are essentially as bad as each other. My position is more logically consistent now.

Many thanks to others who have also publicly written about refusing to review for legacy publishers, these posts certainly helped me in my decision-making:

Mike Taylor: Researchers! Stop doing free work for non-open journals!

Heather Piwowar: Sending A Message

Ethan White: Why I will no longer review for your journal

Casey Bergman: Just Say No – The Roberts/Ashburner Response

PS Having read Tom Pollard’s post on this matter, I might also write to one of the authors to explain why I declined to review their article. I wish them them well and I look forward to reading their article when it comes out.

 

I read some sad news on Twitter recently. The Ecological Society of America has decided to publish its journals with Wiley:

Whilst I think the decision to move away from their old, unloved publishing platform is a good one. The move to publish their journals with Wiley is a strategically poor one. In this post I shall explain my reasoning and some of the widespread dissatisfaction with the direction of this change.

Society journals should not be a profit-driven business

The stated goals of The Ecological Society of America (ESA) are noble and I reproduce them here below to help you understand what the society in theory aims to do:

  • * promote ecological science by improving communication among ecologists;
  • * raise the public’s level of awareness of the importance of ecological science;
  • * increase the resources available for the conduct of ecological science;
  • * ensure the appropriate use of ecological science in environmental decision making by enhancing communication between the ecological community and policy-makers

Source: http://www.esa.org/esa/about/

Reading those four bullet points, it strikes me that a society with this stated mission should be a vanguard of the open access movement. An efficient, well-implemented open access publishing system, supported (and thus empowered) by the ESA would positively address all four of those goals.

Do I need to explain how open access would improve communication among ecologists? It should be obvious to most. Some facts:

Universities around the world do not have access to all subscription journals, not even Harvard. Wiley’s big journal bundle of subscriptions is no exception to this rule. Brock University in Canada is one such notable example. ‘Ecology and Evolution’ is one of two “main themes” of Brock’s Biology Department yet it does not have access to the Wiley bundle of subscription journals.

Furthermore, as the above tweet demonstrates many ecologists are not based at universities. Not all uses or readership of ecology journals is by ecologists, it’s absolutely not sufficient to just provide access to ecologists (alone). It’s vital that policymakers and the public have access to the latest research, no embargoes. Want evidence that policymakers lack access to research? Look no further than this blog post from a recent intern at the UK Parliamentary Office for Science & Technology (POST):

The level of access to journals was far lower than I had expected (it was actually shocking) – I ended up using my academic access throughout my placement.

Source: https://therostrumblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/why-all-phd-students-should-do-a-policy-placement/ (2015-01-12)

If the ESA seriously wants to “ensure the appropriate use of ecological science in environmental decision making by enhancing communication between the ecological community and policy-makers” then making it easier for policymakers like those at POST to access research published in ESA journals would surely be a great way of doing that. How does the ESA expect to “raise the public’s level of awareness of the importance of ecological science” if most of the science that they themselves publish in their own journals is behind an expensive paywall? $20 for 30 day access to one article? Admittedly that’s cheaper than many but it’s simply not supportive of ESA’s mission.

Does this help raise the awareness of ecological science?

Does this unnecessary paywall help raise the awareness of ecological science?

 

Lastly, with respect to increasing “resources available for the conduct of ecological science” the ESA urgently needs to consider the big picture here. Wiley, Springer Nature, Elsevier and other legacy publishers are a major drain on the financial resources available for research. With their big bundle deals they ransom/rent access to libraries for sums that can be up to many millions of dollars, every year, per institution. Money should instead be diverted into efficient, high-quality publishing systems like JMLR, Open Library of Humanities, PeerJ, Pensoft and Ubiquity Press to name but a few. All of these not only provide open access, but also high-quality publishing services at a significantly lower cost. Many provide added extras such as semantically-enhanced full-text XML which would make synthesis of ecological science easier. Wiley does not provide direct access to per article full-text XML even to its paying subscribers! They do half the job for thrice the price. Why would ESA want to help to sustain and enhance Wiley’s famous 42% profit margin? These legacy publishers are strategically merging, and acquiring journals in order to make it harder for libraries to cancel their dross-laden ‘big bundle’ subscription packages. It doesn’t seem like a logical decision to me or others.

Comparing this to other recent journal publishing changes

To put into context the ESA move to Wiley, let’s look at three other recent examples of academic societies changing publisher:

1.) Museum für Naturkunde Berlin journals (flipping to open access)

In 2014 all of their journals moved away from being published with Wiley. Their two zoological journals which have been around since before the ESA was even formed(!) transferred to open access publishing with Pensoft. Their Earth Science journal Fossil Record also moved away from Wiley, to open access publishing with Copernicus Publications. Guess what? The sky didn’t fall. I predict the articles in these journals will start being read, downloaded and cited more now that they are open access to everyone.

2.) Paleontology Society journals (switching to arguably a more benign, less profit-driven legacy publisher)

In 2015 PalSoc journals switched to be published with Cambridge University Press (CUP). I’m not super enthusiastic about CUP but if a society really wants to do legacy publishing, without worsening the stranglehold of the big publishing companies over libraries then CUP, or other university presses (Oxford, John Hopkins, Chicago) seem like safer custodians of academic intellectual property to me.

3.) American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (moving to Wiley)

To provide a fair comparison it’s important to look at what happens when a society journal joins Wiley. I know of one such case recently: ASLO journals. The transfer to Wiley was far from smooth or professional. In the few months that Wiley had the ASLO journals, they managed to ‘accidentally’ paywall thousands of articles that should have been available for free (as per ASLO’s wishes) and charged actual readers for reading these older should-be-free articles.  I paid $45.60 for access to one such ASLO article at Wiley – it should have been made available to all for free. Both Springer and Elsevier have also been caught doing this. The ESA currently makes some articles in its subscription journals ‘free to read’ to all, so I shall be closely monitoring the new Wiley-ESA journal websites when they launch, to see if they make the same conveniently profit-generating ‘mistakes’ again.

How did this happen? Who was consulted? Why was this choice made?

I for one was completely unaware that ESA were looking for a new publisher. I would have tried to help if I had known. I have many unanswered questions over the consultation process. For example, the ESA has an Open Science section and mailing list, its members are extremely knowledgeable about the academic publishing landscape and publishing technology.

Was the ESA membership in it’s entirety specifically and clearly asked which publisher they would like the ESA to publish with? Did they ask their membership what features they wanted from their new publishing platform? I would have requested a platform that provides access to semantically-enriched full text XML – Wiley does not provide this. Given a choice, and the vital context and information given above I think few ESA members, policymakers, or members of the public would choose Wiley as ESA’s new publisher.

I gather from Twitter that “any and all” were invited to submit a proposal to publish ESA journals and that Elsevier submitted a proposal. But having a lazy tendering process only biases decisions towards major conglomerates who have the time, energy and resources to make slick proposals – I wonder if smaller but high-quality publishing companies were pro-actively approached by ESA to submit a proposal? In the public interest, I think the ESA should publish the names of all organisations who submitted proposals to publish ESA journals – I think just that data alone might potentially reveal flaws in the tendering process. I’m finding it really hard to reconcile the goals of ESA and shareholder-profits motivation of Wiley. I genuinely think the leadership of ESA is out of touch with its membership and that they may not have been properly consulted about this major change to the society.

This is a long post, and I’ve said enough, so I’ll leave it to a professional scholarly communications expert (Kevin Smith, Duke University), to have the last word about Wiley, and the recent trend towards cancelling Wiley subscriptions:

I don’t know if Wiley is the worst offender amongst the large commercial publishers, or whether there is a real trend toward cancelling Wiley packages.  But I know the future of scholarship lies elsewhere than with these large legacy corporations.

Source: http://blogs.library.duke.edu/scholcomm/2014/12/16/cancelling-wiley/

Postscript

But perhaps we can turn this negative into positive by creating resources and impartial educational guides for academic societies on how to negotiate better publishing deals, and how to start a tendering process with an eye towards the inevitable future of open access? If SPARC or SPARC Europe already provides these resources please do point me at them!