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 

 

 

[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

 

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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.

 

Roughly ten days after I first blogged about this (see: Springer caught red-handed selling access to an Open Access article), Springer have now made a curious public statement acknowledging this debacle:

Statement on Annals of Forest Science article


Berlin, 6 May 2015

A number of tweets posted by Prof. Luis Apiolaza on 27 April, and by others active on social media, suggest that Springer is charging for access to open access articles published in Annals of Forest Science. After looking into this issue, there is indeed an issue with the status of the article, but this has to do with the background of the journal itself.

Annals of Forest Science is a journal owned by INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique). In 2009, when the article in question first appeared, the journal was being published by another company that allowed readers to read the articles without paying a fee (“free access”). When Springer started working with INRA in 2011 we agreed to add the 2007-2010 archives to SpringerLink, Springer’s online platform, in order to ensure a smooth transition and to give a wider distribution to the most recent articles. Since the copyright was not assigned to the author, and since there is no mention of the licensing used, we incorrectly assumed that the article was not open access.

It is clear that this article was intended to be open access, and it will be made so on SpringerLink as quickly as possible. Anyone that has purchased the article will, of course, be reimbursed.

Please note that we support Green Open Access and we feed all articles from INRA journals to the HAL repository after the 12-month embargo, making the articles freely downloadable there (this is clearly written on the journal’s webpage, with a link to the HAL platform). The article in question can also be found there for free (since 2011).

This has been an oversight, and we apologize for not being more thorough and vigilant.

Contact

Ruth Francis | Springer | Corporate Communications
tel +44 203192 2732 | ruth.francis@springer.com

—————END———————-

I am pleased that Springer are committing to reimbursing all (reader) purchasers of wrongly-paywalled articles, and I shall check my bank balance regularly in the coming weeks to see if they honour this promise.

I am also pleased that Springer see fit to formally apologize for their carelessness of publishing. I note that AFAIK neither Wiley nor Elsevier have apologised for similar incidents this year.

But I’m rather bemused by this wording they have chosen: “It is clear that this article was intended to be open access, and it will be made so on SpringerLink as quickly as possible”

Indeed it seems they chose this wording carefully, because as far as I can tell with my browser, Luis’s open access article is still on sale (see screenshot below).

Update: As of 2015-07-05 13:20 (BST) the article is now no longer paywalled. At the time of writing, as can be seen below it was clearly paywalled.

screenshot

 

Springer SBM as an entity makes nearly a billion euros per year in turnover. Despite the considerable size, wealth and ‘experience’ in publishing, Springer can’t seem to unpaywall Luis’s article. Astonishing.

Today, the author of a paid-for, ‘hybrid’ open access article published in 2009, found that it was wrongly on sale at a Springer website:

FWIW it’s still freely available at the original publisher website here.

To test if Springer really were just brazenly selling a copy of the exact same open access article, I paid Springer to access a copy myself (screenshot below) and found it was exactly the same:

my receipt

I don’t actually care whether this is technically ‘legal’ any more. That doesn’t matter. This is scammy publishing. I want a refund and I will be contacting Springer shortly to ask for this. The author also hopes I get a refund – he wanted his article be open access, not available for a ransom:

 

Frankly, I’m getting tired of writing these blog posts, but it needs to be done to record what happened, because it keeps on happening.

I really think we need to setup a PaywallWatch.com c.f. RetractionWatch.com to monitor and report on these types of incidents. It’s clear the publishers don’t care about this issue themselves – they get extra money from readers by making these ‘mistakes’ and no financial penalty if anyone does spot these mistakes. Calculated indifference.

Are these known incidences just the tip of the iceberg? How do we know this isn’t happening at a greater scale, unobserved? There are more than 50 million research articles on sale at the moment. Perhaps in small part this explains the obscene profits of the legacy publishers?

It’s yet another nail in the coffin for hybrid OA – we simply can’t trust these publishers to keep this content open and paywall-free.

A recap of recent incidents of selling open access articles, without the publisher acknowledging to the reader/buyer that it is an open access article:

Springer (April, 2015) this post

Wiley (March, 2015) link

Elsevier (March, 2015) link

Elsevier (2014) link