University of California librarians urge boycott of Nature journals

University of California librarians are urging professors not to submit research to Nature or 66 related journals to protest a 400 percent increase in the publisher's prices.

A new contract with Nature Publishing Group would raise the university's subscription costs by more than $1 million, library and faculty leaders wrote in a letter to professors throughout the 10-campus system this week. With recent , UC libraries simply can't handle the higher price, which would take effect in 2011, the letter said.

Boycotting the Nature group would be a huge step for a university that, according to UC estimates, has provided 5,300 articles to the 67 journals in the past six years. Nearly 640 of those articles went to Nature itself, one of the world's premier scientific journals.

"We understand that it's an important journal," said Laine Farley, executive director of UC's California , which manages most systemwide journal subscriptions. "But we can't simply wipe out our savings on one publisher."

In a written response to the university, London-based Nature Publishing Group criticized UC's "sensationalist use of data out of context" and said the negotiations were supposed to be confidential. The pricing dispute is rooted in confusion over whether UC is one institution or many, Nature's response said.

UC has "been on a very large, unsustainable discount for many years, to the point where other subscribers ... are subsidizing them," the publisher said. Nature "stands by its position that (UC) is paying an unfair rate."

This week's volleys represented an escalation of a long-simmering battle between universities and journal publishers, who have been criticized for charging thousands of dollars for annual subscription to some publications. Many titles have been consolidated under a handful of major publishers, including Nature, making it more difficult for universities to negotiate lower prices.

Several UC professors have fought back against publishers, refusing to contribute work to highly priced journals. But a widespread boycott of one of the most prestigious journals would present a dilemma for faculty members under pressure to publish research in order to gain promotions.

The publish-or-perish structure is fundamentally unfair to professors, said Michael Eisen, a UC Berkeley biology professor who refuses to publish his research group's work in Nature's journals.

"The university is forced to give away information for free and then to buy it back at a huge markup," he said. "The whole thing is just completely screwed up. The only alternative the university has is to strike back at what Nature really values."

A boycott of the Nature group would not hurt UC professors' careers, said Lawrence Pitts, the university's provost.

"The reality is that there is a number of quality publications," said Pitts, UC's chief academic officer. "Nature Publishing Group isn't the only game in town."

Some journals, recognizing that universities are struggling to afford them, have cut prices in recent years. Others have invented ways to give away their articles for free.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, makes its contributions available for free six months after publication, said its editor in chief, UC Berkeley biologist Randy Schekman.

"Nature's just being tone-deaf," said Schekman, who is considering writing an article for Nature. "They have to know that California is in a perilous financial state. They can't win this one."


• Amount spent by UC for online journals: $24.3 million

• Number of Nature Publishing Group journals in UC libraries: 67

• Current average UC cost for Nature Publishing Group journals: $4,465

• 2011 cost per journal as proposed by Nature Publishing Group: $17,479

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User comments

Jun 11, 2010
Do what universities always do, raise tuition. The federal government will eventually pick up the tab when the students default on their loans.

Try defaulting on a student loan and see if the federal government picks up the tab.

Jun 11, 2010
... I had something worth while to publish here, but the "Brevity is the soul of wit" monster bit me. So I deleted the whole post.

Suffice it to say, Nature has seen its day.

But beware, PhysOrg, it's not like you're perpetual either.

By the time it dawns on you what poets mean by "life is short", it's already over. You've had it. End of story.

The Brevity Monster keeps me from gloating. (Imagine someone uttering a prophesy towards the end of a horror movie, his insane laughter echoing from the dungeons of the castle. -- And at the very end, the prophesy turns out to be true. The days of PhysOrg are Numbered!)

Whatever.... I still hate the 1000 character limit. It only results in quick quips, moronic blurbs, and illiterate excursions. Anything worthwhile gets snipped. "Quality, who the hell needs that??"

Jun 11, 2010
I see nothing wrong with Nature Publishing Group raising fees. It is a business first, science or what else second. The same goes for Government's taxes, Mafia's and stand-over men's "protection fees" and the like; to keep the machinery moving. You pay for being a cog in the machine, and if the loading is increased, that's the cog fate: take it or bug out. Is that so surprising?

Jun 11, 2010
They do go to the trouble to point out in the article that it is a double-edged sword- Nature publishing gets the articles that make it so widely read for free from academics at institutions that then have to pay for a subscription to read the articles that were university-system funded.

I think that the libraries should get gratis-or at least substantially reduced- subscription rates, for that very reason

Here's why: If the UC system, and a few other premier institutions start sending their articles to another journal- or start a new journal- what happens to Nature Pubs circulation? It declines.
There is your controlling factor- Nature pubs is not the standard publishing model- it functions, in real life, as a semiparasitic organization on the research community.

Jun 11, 2010

Our primitive citizenry simply doesn't understand the implications of 21st century technology.

As I recall, roughly 70% of jobs in America today are non-production. Considering about 1/6th (17%?) of American jobs are medical, this means something like 53% are a combination government (police, fire, and various agencies that grow more and more each year,) lawyers, accounting, and other paperwork and middle man jobs. Virtually all paperwork, accounting and middle mand jobs can be totally replaced by computers shortly.

This will ultimately result in unemployment rates in excess of 25% in the U.S. as there will be no need for workers in most any production job(robots,) or information job(servers and various semi-intelligent computerized accounting and merchandizing systems; think Amazon, or walgreen's pharmacy robo-phone, which works better than a human operator. Heck, combine the two, and you don't even need a pharmacist at all.) TBC

Jun 11, 2010
Some will say get educated in another field.

Well, there simply are no other fields to make up for these disappearing job niches, and as it is, many people are actually vastly over-educated for the work they currently do. As an example, many women in education have masters and p.h.d. in "elementary child education" so they can teach kindergarten, which is a joke: That's right, we send people to 12 years of public school and then college for 4 to 8 more years so they can go back and spend the rest of their lives teaching ABC's to 6 year olds in kindergarten. Very shortly this over-qualified, under-payed job will also be replaced by robotics and computers.

Anyway, doesn't matter if everyone has a double phd, if there is no need for them in the workforce, which will eventually be the case due to automation, then they will remain unemployed no matter what, unless we just make up fake jobs for people to keep them occupied...

I doubt robots will replace kindergarten teachers within the next 100 years.

Jun 12, 2010
If we can only get robots to replace politicians.

If we can only get robots to replace politicians.

A more achievable goal, we do not even need a working AI to do that. =]

Jun 13, 2010
pretty sure you can just use a torrent and save the $17,000 per year.

Jun 14, 2010
Why not move all "scientific" publishing to PLoS (http://en.wikiped...ience)?? ... or could it be like when I was younger.
"Something" became "medical science" in the moment that "something" was published in The Lancet. Later the same "interpretation monopoly" was taken over by the likes of Nature and Science.
Pay, if you want "the stuff" printed on cellulose. Let companies/"global academia"/politicians/media conglomerates and/or the ones paying most fiat currency, decide which "experts" can "peer-review" and "lend credence" ...

Jun 14, 2010
I presume, open source movement will be future of not only software publishing. For example, open access journals and repository are already the primary source of publishing in high energy physics and similar areas, where development is too fast and peer-review process too expensive.

Jun 15, 2010
UC and other premier universities should consider what their law schools do. Law schools have student-edited law journals and almost all legal scholarship is published in those law journals. Why not have a University of Texas Review of Physics? The pricing would more accurately reflect the cost of the content (free articles and free, high-quality editing).

Jun 19, 2010
How bout Universities band together and prohibit faculty from publishing in high priced journals. Let Nature do their own research.
Publish to arxiv.
Free the information.

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