And the rich get richer..

The Gates Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have reached a new deal regarding how Gates-funded researchers can publish Open Access with the Science series of journals. Yippeeee! Progress from both publishers and funders in implementing OA for “high quality” research (their words, not mine), can only be a good thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

Value for money?

The cost of this is partnership is $100,000 for one year, in which the Gates Foundation estimate that they will publish 10-15 articles during that time (source). This works out at anywhere between $10,000 to $6667 for each paper to ‘cover the costs of publishing’. Which puts each paper at around 2-3 times the industry average (source), more than 5 times the cost per article in PeerJ or PLOS ONE, and even more than the coveted Nature Communications (source), with it’s high impact/prestige factor.

That’s a hell of a lot of money for, well, not too much actually. This is all guaranteed income for the AAAS, it doesn’t matter now how many subscriptions they sell or whether that side of the business model entirely collapses, or even if Gates authors choose to publish in AAAS journals.

Overall, the transaction makes very little sense, as all articles in Science can be self-archived immediately upon publication anyway, or after a six month embargo, including uploaded to PubMed Central. That means all the peer-reviewed science, minus the fancy type-setting and copy-editing, is freely available upon publication anyway, without an additional penny being spent by authors or funders.

Will the AAAS offset subscriptions now?

It is not clear whether this money will lead to a proportional reduction in subscription costs for individual journal or as part of package deals – i.e., it is likely that this content will still have to be paid for again as part of the subscription packages that the AAAS negotiates with subscribers.

AAAS believes it publishes high quality research, when in fact the opposite has been shown to be true, that it produces the lowest quality and least reliable of almost any journal out there (source). So this is not really $100,000 to support Open Access. They could have given it the ASAPbio movement to help fund a centralised pre-print server, for example, and used it to support the advancement of science much more effectively.

What this is at the end of the day is payment to not charge access to those articles which would have been freely available 6 months after publication anyway – this is all APCs are, really. That doesn’t seem very sensible to me. In fact, it seems kinda counter to some of the more recent progressive movements from the Gates Foundation recently, as it gives credence to the concept that ‘high impact’ journals, or ‘glamour magazines’ still matter and are worth paying more for as a result. As such, it is sustaining a high-APC model of publishing, as well as the chase for fake journal branding points that we all love.

A much stronger position from the Gates Foundation would have been to demand a zero-embargo period on all of their funded research, and let the AAAS keep the walls around ‘their’ version of articles while liberating the post-print at the same time. Clearly, everyone would still purchase the final version anyway, as Science offers such article-level value that the basic, peer reviewed research is worth very little, relatively. Right?

So, to conclude:

  • Not entirely clear what this money is being spent on;
  • Missed opportunity to take a real stand against publishers at the funder-level;
  • AAAS again demonstrates that they are all for public access to research, but only if you pay through the teeth for it.

Note, this is not the first time we’ve noticed the AAAS being a bit rubbish about Open Access..

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