Nature (left) vs. OpenAccess
A number of bloggers, including myself, had recently responded to a news item in Nature by suggesting that anti-OpenAccess and anti-PLoS position taken by the author, Delcan Butler, constituted an attack of one company against another. How silly of us to have done so. Here’s what we should have been thinking instead:

There were also quite a few comments to the effect that the article was self-serving given Nature’s business interests. That completely ignores the overall balance of Nature’s coverage, which in my opinion is broadly supportive of open access even though Nature itself charges subscription fees. The calls for a disclosure of competing interests sound reasonable to me if there really is a danger that any reader might not notice the link. But in that case let’s also have them on all those PLoS editorials espousing open access.

So, everyone can go home now. The show is over. Nature’s “financial analysis” of Open Access PLoS and scathing commentary attempting to demonstrate that PLoS is a failure was just a routine bit of objective journalism.

At least according to this source. Which is…..

…. Timo Hannay, writing for Nascent, Nature’s bog on technology and science.

Hmmm…. I’m going to call foul on this one. Sorry, Timo ol’ boy. You simply are not standing in a position to make this argument credible, and in fact, your effort to make the argument is rather Orwellian.

Timo-baby does make the argument that Nature is not entirely anti Open-Access, and that may be true, a little. Nature has written about this topic from a number of different perspectives, as it should. But Timo takes that fact too far when he suggests that Butler’s piece is just another objective bit of coverage. It is not. Or, if it was, it was so badly done that everyone who reads it, almost, is rather astonished at its self (self = Nature Publishing Group) serving form and content.


Publishers have always eaten everyone else’s young.
So if Butler’s piece really was not meant to be a bald faced anti-OpenAccess and anti-competitor salvo, then withdraw it, rewrite it in a more objective fashion, and republish it. Don’t continue pretending it is not what it clearly is.

And Timo, my boy, while you are working on that, please try not to be such a shit. Your attitude especially rakes audiences in America, Europe, the Middle East, all those places your self serving grand-daddy colonialists settled and mettled for so long. Don’t give us “Declan isn’t anti-open access either. But like me, he’s a realist….” That sort of condescending “let me tell you what is real” crap does not constitute a valid argument, does not serve to advance productive dialog.

And don’t give PLoS any dignity why don’t ya:

PLoS’s original goal wasn’t to show that author-pays publishing can be made to work for low-end journals. (By “low-end” I mean relatively low rejection rate and low editorial input. I don’t intend it to mean “beneath contempt” or anything similarly pejorative – these journals have an important place in the overall mix.)

With these words, you semi-officially declare PLoS to be the nigger of the publishing world. Do you get that? No, probably not. The old grip on reality here may be a little lose. E.g.:

The idea that commercial publishers are inherently evil lingers on. I can understand why, but it’s completely untrue.

Timo, my friend, the corporate entity is inherently evil, do you not know this? We live with the reality when we need to. But only the truly brainwashed do not see this. Yourself for example. You don’t see this. (Which, by the way, I do not believe for a second.)

Timo ends his fawning pawning anti-OpenAccess longing with this:

To look on the bright side, none of this may matter very much in the longer run since truly widespread open access to scientific content is coming about through funder-mandated archiving, not open-access publishing. Nevertheless, the ironies and misunderstandings are just too stark to pass them by without comment.



  1. #1 Randy
    July 5, 2008

    I do not want those publishers eating the kittens!!!!

  2. #2 Bob O'H
    July 5, 2008

    What about the substance of Timo’s argument, i.e. that the economics matter?

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2008

    Timo and Butler are making two different claims. One is that some standard of economics matters, the other is that they have a handle, via the “Nature analysis of the financial” situation of PLoS on what the financial situation with PLoS is. Actually, there is a third implied claim: That their interpretation has relevance and/or validity to anyone else.

    Working backwards, this is a little like telling a hungry person: “I know you like Burger King better but MacDonald’s is in better financial situation, so have Big Mac, not a whopper.”

    (I certainly hope they are NOT telling producers of manuscripts to NOT go to PLoS because their work may some day be unavailable … i.e., I hope they are not using fear tactics of this kind!)

    Working from the beginning of their argument, they may not have the analysis correct. Butler provides some numbers and draws some conclusions but but does not provide sources for his information and his analysis is leaving a lot of heads being scratched.

    But I think the main flaw in the argument is that a particular interpretation of financial is being used ad a judgment tool in particular apples are being compared with oranges.

    This all causes me to ask this question: Waht is the financial state of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH? Are they being hurt somehow by PLoS and is this a reaction? Someone should investigate the other publications this company owns to see if there are similar forays into this new method of dealing with the competition, heretofore unknown in our mythology.

  4. #4 Bob O'H
    July 5, 2008

    Greg, did you read the Butler piece? Apparently not very carefully. Read this:


    Got that? He did provide his sources. This is what he wrote:

    An analysis by Nature of the company’s accounts shows that PLoS still relies heavily on charity funding, and falls far short of its stated goal of quickly breaking even through its business model of charging authors a fee to publish in its journals. In the past financial year, ending 30 September 2007, its $6.68-million spending outstripped its revenue of $2.86 million, according to the publicly available accounts.

    (italics in the original, bolding is mine)

    Also, can you also explain what you mean by this:

    But I think the main flaw in the argument is that a particular interpretation of financial is being used ad a judgment tool in particular apples are being compared with oranges.

    I guess you wrote it before your first cup of coffee, but the main thing that I’d like to know is what are the apples and pears here?

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2008


    Yes,I read the piece carefully. Yes, Butler does tell us something about his source, but he provides selective data followed by iffy conclusions. This wouldn’t pass peer review! (which, as a hack job, essentially, Swift Boating if I may use that as a noun, it does not have to pass any review other than that of the VP at Macmillian in charge of Nature’s advertising plan, I suppose).

    Also, I’m trying to avoid saying something out loud that I heard from a pretty good source: The numbers he does provide do not add up. There is something funny about it.

    Since he’s obviously, blatantly, shamefully doing a hit job, am I supposed to take his word for it?

    His analysis is absurd. PLoS is not a “charity” in any usual sense of the word. PLoS may have private doners, but so what? It may well be that OpenAccess publishing, just like OpenSource software needs to be funded externally to some extent, in certain areas. Does this make it a bad thing?

    But this is totally off the topic. Do you not have a problem with the premise here?

    The apples and orange comparison is simple. Nature (to take a randomly chosen example) has an entirely different business model tha PLoS.

    That. Is. The. Point.

    PLoS is trying to do it differently. Butler is holding PLoS to the kind of standard the corporate owners of Nature may hold Nature to. This is irrelevant.

    Look, Bob, I can understand your tendency to defend the people you work for (Nature). But please try to step back a little and see what this really is. Butler’s piece was nothing like the objective let’s all do a “realistic” analysis song and dance that you’all at Nature seem to be trying to claim it is. It was a slap in the face to OpenAccess from a rival using a rival business model. Let’s keep it real.

    This crap that Nature and it’s minions seem to be putting out right now may have an interesting explanation (as a corporate strategy) but in the end I wonder if the negatives are going to out weight whatever gains might have been hoped for.

  6. #6 Bob O'H
    July 5, 2008

    Greg –
    1. First you say Butler “does not provide sources for his information”, then when I call you on it, you admit that yes he does “does tell us something about his source”. Please don’t change your story an then call me an ass.

    Apparently he used numbers which are publically available. If you don’t believe him, go and look them up. If you get different numbers, email him and ask why the difference. Or just email him now and ask him for his calculations. Casting aspersions without giving any evidence looks too close to swift-boating.

    2. On outside donors, again it looks like you haven’t been reading the articles. Both the Butler’s and Hannay’s articles make it clear that PLoS wants to be self-sustaining. Quite frankly, I think this is a good thing, indeed necessary, if OA is to be viable as a publishing model. So, this is very on topic. Indeed it’s the whole point of the Butler article, and it’s encouraging that (a) PLoS now has a business model that’s working, and (b) they think they will stop making a loss in 2 years.

    3. Apples and Oranges: where in either article is there anything about a comparison with NPG’s publishing model?

    4. I don’t work for Nature, or any other part of NPG. I blog at Nature Network, but I don’t get paid for doing it.

    5. As you’re giving advice about stepping back, I suggest you re-read this article, and see how much is based on thought out arguments, and how much is just rhetoric.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2008


    Don’t be an ass. It is clear to anyone reading this objectively (which rules you out, sorry) that Butler is pushing an ad for Nature not an evaluation of PLoS.

    You are badly confused in your points 2 and 3. Just go back over it, you’ll get it eventually.

    They don’t pay you? The bastards!!! But yes, you are blogging for Nature Publishing Group. They own Nature.com/Nature Network. Please don’t try to tell us that NPG and Nature Network are somehow unrelated.

    This becomes more Orwellian every moment….

  8. #8 Bob O'H
    July 5, 2008

    Greg – if you’re suggestion that NPG are in any way influencing me in taking you up on this, then you’re simply wrong. And if you think I’m lying, then provide the evidence.

    Please explain why I’m confused over points 2 and 3. On point 2, show me why I’m wrong. On point 3, answering the question would help.

    I’m trying to get to the substance behind what you’re saying, but it’s like getting blood out of a stone.

  9. #9 McDawg
    July 5, 2008

    Before the “show” started, this is what Timo had to say about CC/OA matters generally:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGVH2lNfKwY

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2008

    Bob, my assumption is that you are not being influenced by NPG in any overt way. If I blogged for an organizatin, though, I might have opinions or ‘feelings’ of some kind … not necessarily positive! … so I can’t say about that. Even so, I’m assuming you are being straight.

    You might want to have a look, though. The vast majority of the reaction to Butler is negative except for from those affiliated with NPG in some way. Self selection? Info flow? Attitude? Loyalty? I don’t know. You tell me.

    What I’m sahing is very simple, you are probably just looking past it. I view Butler’s commentary, in part, as a judgment of an Open Access enterprise by standards that do not apply to such an enterprise. He is using the Apple Standard to judge the Orange.

    What is sad about this is that Butler’s paper is a clear salvo, but one that is unnecessary. Nature is clearly interested in Open Access and other models. Most people have a lot of respect for Nature and its output. This decision … to make this particular move (Budler’s paper) was a bad one, and will damage the joint effort of doing and disseminating science.

    McDawg: Thanks for the link. Worth listening to. He speaks about how to do the industry a disservice. Interesting.

  11. #11 Bob O'H
    July 5, 2008

    I view Butler’s commentary, in part, as a judgment of an Open Access enterprise by standards that do not apply to such an enterprise.

    Sorry, but what standards do you think they are using? And why are they inappropriate? As far as I can see, it’s financial stability, and that’s the standard (or one of them) that PLoS is using.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2008

    Bob, they are doing something utterly new. It could take years, decades, for a stable system to emerge. Nature is clearly profit based. They use profit modalities to fund whatever free content they produce, and they use the free content to attract customers, mainly. Whatever good stuff individuals involved in this can do, fine, but this work is strictly bracketed. PLoS, on the other hands, starts with the premise of Open Access. From there they work out the business model. This is an utterly different enterprise. And, they are being successful.

    An analogy may help: This is like a person from Kaplan saying that a private liberal arts school funded by endowments is a failure. Apples and oranges.

  13. #13 JanieBelle
    July 5, 2008

    Bob, you know I love you dearly, I do. Your blog is in my reader, and I love your contributions at AtBC. I would certainly never question your integrity. Please remember that, and take this in that context…

    Butler’s article was a hit piece, and so was Hannay’s. The intent, which seems glaringly obvious, was to disparage PLoS in particular. Fair evaluation or discussion doesn’t seem to me to be even a secondary objective.

    It’s tone drips with condescension and dismissal, and I’m not sure how you’re reading it any other way.

  14. #14 Bob O'H
    July 5, 2008

    Greg – now can you answer my question, please. You seem to be saying that it’s OK for PLoS to accept charitable support. Now, I don’t think anyone’s disputing that for the short or medium term, but PLoS themselves are saying that they want to be sustainable, i.e. they won’t need charity. And one of the things the Nature article is saying is that they’ve now got a business model that looks like it’s helping them get there.

    JanieBelle – whatever the tone of the other articles, is it too much to ask Greg to support what he’s saying? Especially when he’s calling someone a shit? He’s just put up another post calling for the moral high ground. Look at the photos he uses to illustrate it with, and decide if he’s doing a good job.

  15. #15 Stephanie Z
    July 5, 2008

    Bob, what question are you still looking to have answered? The new post (with the silly pictures common to many of the posts where Greg is asking people to step back and think) addresses your points in both 2 and 3.

  16. #16 Elizabeth
    July 5, 2008

    Look at the photos he uses to illustrate it with, and decide if he’s doing a good job.

    Bob, your man at Nature is being parodied here. Deservedly so.

    When I saw that puppy, I knew there was to be something ugly underneath it.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2008

    Bob, seriously, I no longer have a clue what you are asking me. I think I’ve answered what I thought you were asking. Feel free to re-ask but be direct, clear, and speak nice and slow so the puppy can hear you.

  18. #18 Matthew L.
    July 5, 2008

    On a lighthearted note, I must know where you got that “publishers through history” photo—is it actually out there in the world somewhere? If so, that’s amazing.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2008

    That is a picture of the founder of Nature Publishing Group, Ekinizer Smythe. Seriously.

    No, really seriously, this is a statue of an Ogre from Bern, Switzerland. This is why Swiss children are so well behaved.

  20. #20 JanieBelle
    July 5, 2008

    JanieBelle – whatever the tone of the other articles, is it too much to ask Greg to support what he’s saying?

    Of course not, Bob. It’s perfectly legitimate to ask him to support what he’s saying.

    Especially when he’s calling someone a shit?

    They are being shits.

    He’s just put up another post calling for the moral high ground. Look at the photos he uses to illustrate it with, and decide if he’s doing a good job.

    I think he’s made his case admirably, Bob, if retaliatory in tone. They’ve demonstrated that they’re not interested in any objectivity, so I’m not sure that it’s warranted or useful in this instance to give an objective, professional critique.

    I am however, willing to listen to what you think such a critique would accomplish, if the NPG isn’t even bothering to listen. I can certainly be persuaded, and if there is a possibility of raising the debate above the fray to a place where reasoned discussion can occur as it should have from the beginning, I’d be all for that.

  21. #21 Dr Vector
    July 5, 2008

    Those who may be confused on the issue of evil vs. non-evil with respect to commercial publishing may want to read this.

    Nice work here, Greg. The photos are particularly wonderful. Butler should have avoided the pretense of objectivity and included some funny pictures of his own. Funny “ha-ha” is usually better than funny “hey wait a minute…”.

    What I can’t figure out is who at NPG didn’t see this backlash coming. It’s one thing to criticize the competition. It’s another thing to be so transparent and inept about it.

  22. #22 Bob O'H
    July 6, 2008

    OK, Greg. Let’s just try the simpler questions, and see if we can get a direct answer:
    1. Apples and Oranges: where in either article is there anything about a comparison with NPG’s publishing model?

    2. Why shouldn’t we use sustainability (i.e. the ability to break even) as a standards by which to judge PLoS? After all, it’s one of the standards they are using

    Janienelle –

    I am however, willing to listen to what you think such a critique would accomplish, if the NPG isn’t even bothering to listen.

    It’s evident that Nature are listening. Not only are they listening, they are responding. Greg’s article is a response to Timo Hannay’s response. And if you look at the discussion of the original article, you’ll see Maxine Clarke responding to comments too.

    A critique would (1) show where Timo Hannay has got things wrong or where there are disagreements and (2) show that it is possible to have a sensible discussion about the issues. This might actually advance matters – if there are misconceptions they can be sorted out, if there are genuine disagreements then the process of discussion will at least make it clear where they are. It also helps to maintain the high moral ground – show that you’re not descending to their level.

    For me one odd thing is that responses to this article could be spun as showing that the OA can work – surely a better message, and one OA advocates would want to make.

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    July 6, 2008


    I think you are absolutely correct in your last point. It is in fact possible that Open Access as a concept grew out of the emerging internet culture of the last couple of decades or so. Good point.

    I don’t think Butler is making an explicit comparison in his piece between NPG and PLoS. I think he is judging PLoS by standards that seem reasonable and make sense, which are not necessarily the NPG model. Indeed, Nature (the magazine) … uses a paper review process that is totally different from everyone else’s so that comparison would be even stoopider..

    Having said that, I believe that the standards that seem reasonable describe a world that is exclusive of, not inclusive of Open Access models. He is looking at the brand new fangled invention, say, the automobile, and complaining because it does not have a place to easily tack on the horseshoes, and when he puts his riding blanket on the top if it it blows off in the wind, and when the neighborhood kids come by to feed his car apples the car just sits there looking dumb. Apples and oranges.

    Yes, of course, PLoS wants to be sustainable. So does Nature. They do it two different ways in relation to who pays but they are doing in other ways different as well. At the moment PLoS is running in part on private money. Butler’s data was old and irrelevant, but if we go back in time and look at PLoS then, one could argue that this is a bad thing. If the company is running on “charity” that is bad.

    But that argument would be silly. If we closed down all enterprises that are not self sustaining from income, and that relied on grants/donations/other streams of money ‘given’ to the entity, then the following would have to be closed down:

    Almost every airline on the planet.
    Every single university. Every. Single. One.
    Every college
    The BBC
    The CBS
    Most other TV, radio systems and news services outside the US
    Almost every major monograph production outside of the medical field.

    And so on.

    And the financial stability of a new publishing entity is an absurd measure. Absurd. Let’s go back to the beginnings of Nature and see how that was funded during its first decade!!!! Go look at that, come back, and attempt to make that comparison. I’m guessing that it was a combination of author-fee and subscription fee and private donations.

    Bob, here’s the bottom line: Butler’s piece was a “so, when did you stop beating your wife” piece of smarm meant to make a competitor look bad. I beleive this was not for you, me, or anyone else to see. It was for the limited number of investors to see. Butler is being used as a corporate tool to manipulate interest in investment among publishing companies.

    You do know, right, that most stuff that is printed other than periodicals is printed as an individual investment covered by consortia. Publishers are conduits for investors investing in specific projects. Look for some big projects coming out of Nature. Webby internety stuff. Butler’s piece was written to be included in a portfolio or folder that will be part of a presentation to investors. That is my guess.

  24. #24 Stephanie Z
    July 6, 2008

    Bob, on point 1, part of the problem is that there is no disclosure in the article of the fact that the business models, and businesses, are competing. Forget scientific standards, that’s crappy journalism.

    On point 2, PLoS is a relatively new business. If it were a publicly traded company, any business analyst who was basing a critique on static data, much less static data more than a year old, would be laughed out of the business. Even without the access to read the article, I can tell you that much.

    As for dialog, “We’re Nature, and you just don’t understand,” (Clarke) and, “I’m not calling PLoS evil, but they’re evil,” (Hannay) are not exactly statements designed to engender the trust needed for open discussion. A simple “We handled that badly,” (which they did) would be much more productive.

    And sometimes, moral high ground is just where you’re put to keep you out of the fight.

  25. #25 JanieBelle
    July 6, 2008

    Thank you Bob, for the info, and Greg and Steff for the continuing of this conversation.

    I’ve fallen a bit behind and will try and catch up this afternoon.

  26. #26 Bob O'H
    July 6, 2008

    Having said that, I believe that the standards that seem reasonable describe a world that is exclusive of, not inclusive of Open Access models.

    I don’t get what you’re saying here – wasn’t the standard Butler was using sustainability? How does that exclude OA models? Or are you meaning some other standards?

    At the moment PLoS is running in part on private money. Butler’s data was old and irrelevant, but if we go back in time and look at PLoS then, one could argue that this is a bad thing. If the company is running on “charity” that is bad.

    1. Butler stated he used 2007 data (and compared it to data from previous years – look at the figure as well as reading the text). If you’re going to complain that that’s “old and irrelevant”, then what has changed at PLoS since Jan 1 this year? Or are you saying that he was lying?

    2. I haven’t seen anyone say that PLoS starting out with private help was a bad thing. But PloS, as you acknowledge, want to become sustainable. I would hope everyone would agree that this would be a good thing too. Butler is pointing out that (a) they’re not there yet (despite projecting that they would reach the target by 2006), (b) the model they were using wasn’t getting them there, but that (c) the introduction of PLoS One has changed the situation, and they are now much closer to the target.

    Pointing out that some other organisations need outside financing is irrelevant – PLoS’s target is not to be in that class, and the article is about how near/far they are from it. Again, I think everyone accepts that they needed help at the start, and I haven’t seen anyone criticising them for that.

    It was for the limited number of investors to see. Butler is being used as a corporate tool to manipulate interest in investment among publishing companies.

    By telling them that PloS has got a model that will make it sustainable? That helps PLoS! I would also suggest that relatively few investors read news stories in Nature – it’s not aimed at them. Of course, if you have evidence to the contrary I’m happy to be shown wrong.

    Stephanie Z –

    Bob, on point 1, part of the problem is that there is no disclosure in the article of the fact that the business models, and businesses, are competing.

    The only business models that are discussed in the article are Open Access models – the pre- and post- PLoS One models of PLoS, and the BMC model. Obviously the PLoS models are not competing with each other – they are separated in time. And it is made clear that BMC is another OA publisher, so it should be obvious that there is some competition (most Nature readers aren’t fools).

  27. #27 Stephanie Z
    July 6, 2008

    Bob, journalistic integrity isn’t dependent on whether your readers are fools. The rules on conflict of interest are there for a reason, and the response to this article is a big part of that reason. You’re not exempted from the rules by being one of the top in your class.

    And if you want to stay at the top, you don’t say, “Never mind,” when you’re caught out on one. The writer makes a statement as to how disclosure was omitted. The editors make a statement about the policy change that will keep it from happening again. That is how a publication maintains credibility. That isn’t what’s happening here.

  28. #28 Hank Roberts
    July 6, 2008

    Is there a problem with Nature’s business model?

    Is an informed citizenry important in making political choices informed by science?

    What’s the word people use, when they can’t read papers online?

    Paywall. How often is it mentioned on the web, today?

    Google Results …. about 58,800 for paywall.

    No problem. Not enough voters complaining about lack of access to make a difference in how things go in the world.

    Right, Nature?

  29. #29 Bob O'H
    July 7, 2008

    Bob, journalistic integrity isn’t dependent on whether your readers are fools.

    But in this case, I don’t see the problem. The article was not about the publishing model Nature used – it was about Open Access. The non-open access model is not discussed, and there is no comparison made with anything other than different open access models, and with a zero bottom line (i.e. not making a loss).

    If you’re going to insist that some sort of disclaimer be put into any article like this, then Nature (and Science) would have to put a disclaimer on any report about a scientific paper not published in their journal, saying that they (Nature/Science) also publish papers on scientific work.

  30. #30 daedalus2u
    July 7, 2008

    I find it curious that Nature would raise the issue of charity as if it was a bad thing. How much exactly does Nature pay the authors of the content it publishes? How much exactly does Nature pay for the research that those authors have done? How much exactly does Nature pay the scientists that do peer review? If they are not paid, isn’t that charity too?

    When journals needed to be printed on paper and sent through the mail, perhaps there was a justification for scientists to give their work to publishers to aggregate it and then buy it back from those publishers.

    The business model that Nature has been working under for over 100 years is about to break (I think). Nature has been skimming the cream of scientific publications for 100 years and by virtue of their historic position, has continued to do so. That business model only works if there is perceived to be a sufficient premium attached to Nature content that the cost to acquire that content is perceived to be justified.

    I think the writing is on the wall. As reported by Steven Novella:

    Yet, I was still surprised this past weekend at TAM when interviewing Sharon Begley, senior science editor for Newsweek. She told me, straight out, that science bloggers are doing a better job of covering science news and that traditional media can no longer cover science well. She exactly echoed my own opinions, but I was at least partly attributing my opinions to the fact that I am a science blogger, and so it was surprising to hear the same thing from a traditional media journalist.


    For Nature to charge a premium, they have to have premium content, and have to have a monopoly on that premium content. The number of science writers that Nature can afford to have on staff is limited, Nature will never be able to afford the breadth and depth of the blogosphere who give away their content for free. The analysis of the blogosphere is (in my opinion) superior to that of any journal or of any individual organization.

    Peer review isn’t magic. A few scientists in the field looking at a paper before it publishes is better than no review. But a few dozen looking at it and putting up their comments afterward is better still. Bloggers have done a much better job analyzing and critiquing recent papers relevant to the autism debate than have the editors and peers who reviewed them (or not) prior to publication.
    A scientist donating time and expertise for anonymous peer review only gives that scientist good-do-bee points with the editor he/she does the peer review for. Those same comments made non-anonymously can give the scientist standing with his/her peers and actually help their career.

    The problems with the scientific literature are the time it takes to find what you want and the cost of obtaining the paper. Google Scholar is making it easier and easier to find stuff. Ranking papers on a topic by numbers of papers that cite that paper is a far better metric of quality of that paper than how many times other papers in the same journal have been cited (which is actually irrelevant). Once a paper gets to be a year old, it should be pretty easy to have a pretty reliable computer generated measure of how good it is by how many times it has been cited. Once a pretty good ranking system is figured out and implemented, the good stuff will be readily apparent. It already is readily apparent to the experts in the field.

    Once that happens, the only premium content that an elite journal can offer is papers that have been peer reviewed before publication. But the delay introduced by editing and peer review isn’t really necessary. In principle if an author published something and it was commented on by others, the amount of commenting that could occur in the time between submission to a journal and final publication is much larger (in principle) than the commenting done in the peer review process.

  31. #31 Samia
    July 8, 2008

    I’m, uh, getting the feeling you really enjoy Mr. Hannay’s first name.

  32. #32 Samia
    July 8, 2008

    “With these words, you semi-officially declare PLoS to be the nigger of the publishing world.”

    That’s pretty offensive.

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    July 8, 2008

    That’s pretty offensive.

    In what way?

  34. #34 Samia
    July 8, 2008

    I don’t see the point in using a term as historically, politically and racially provocative as “nigger” to describe the rivalry between publishing conglomerates. Of course, I get the feeling Scienceblogs’ readership isn’t terribly diverse to begin with so I may be in the minority here. I think this kind of language takes away from your message. What’s funny is that you and I appear to be of the same mind regarding this open access business.

  35. #35 the real cmf
    July 8, 2008

    Hey Greg: wassup nigger?!

    Samia: is it equally fair to describe CocaCola for what it is “another example of Jewish nepotism and competition come to fruition?” as opposed to Pepsi; or Hollywood and its products? Is it anti-semitic? Or is it just true? Sometimes, we just call a spade a spade….

  36. #36 Greg Laden
    July 8, 2008

    Samia: Ingore him…

    OK, now on to your question. I read your comment just as I was running off to the grocery store… then made dinner … then ate dinner… so I’ve had some time to think about it. I’m not going to answer your question. Instead, I’m going to give you all the answer that a blogger like me could have given you.

    … blame the victim …

    “Samia, I’m so sorry you are offended.”

    … condescension …

    “Young lady, I’m so sorry I offended you. I’ll try to be more gentle next time.”

    … sophistry …

    “Samia, there is a fine line between my use of the n-word in a literary allusion and your use of the n-word in a quote. Which of us is the greatest offender?”

    … arrogance …

    “Deal, baby.”

    … all of the above

    “So, you are telling me that it is perfectly OK for you to use the n-word when quoting me, but I can’t use it in a literary allusion to make a point that I wanted to make very strongly? Or is it just that you didn’t get the allusion? Huh? What about that? ”

    Otherwise I really can’t say much except that I meant no offense to you, get why you are offended, and I’m probably going to use that allusion as long as the memory of John Lennon rattles around in my brain.

  37. #37 Samia
    July 8, 2008

    I quoted you in order to clarify the part of your post that bothered me. I was not using the word to make a tenuous comparison between a fledgling science journal and the very real plight of countless brutalized, subjugated, and systematically oppressed humans.

    For the record, I didn’t ask you a question because I don’t see the point in debating what boils down to a difference in sensibilities. I wanted to share my thoughts about this entry because I read your blog relatively frequently and this language truly struck me as silly and insensitive. I do appreciate the reply.

  38. #38 Greg Laden
    July 8, 2008

    And I do appreciate your expressing your point of view, and it is absolutely a matter of differences in sensibilities.

  39. #39 DrugMonkey
    July 14, 2008

    Don’t you get it Samia? Being an OpenAccess wackaloon is just exactly like being black!


  40. #40 Stephanie Z
    July 14, 2008

    What’s the matter, DrugMonkey? Not enough fighting going on at your blog with PhysioProf distracted?

  41. #41 RuthR
    July 14, 2008

    Being an OpenAccess wackaloon is just exactly like being black!

    Which would be an entirely different topic than the one at hand.

  42. #42 Greg Laden
    July 15, 2008


    My intention was not to make a comparison between a journal (or anything) and the “very real plight of countless brutalized, subjugated, and systematically oppressed humans.”

    That would be absurd and quite offensive. The comparison here is in relationships between things. The language that I am hearing coming from the establishment is, as I’ve alluded to in a number of ways, disturbing in a way that is parallel to a lot of racist language. It is the internal structure of the argument that I see developing by Nature’s writers that I’m objecting to. That is my point.

  43. #43 Samia
    July 15, 2008

    I’m not even trying to be an ass, believe it or not…

    I still don’t get it. Nature dude casting aspersions on PLoS’s business model = calling a black person a n*****. Look, we don’t see eye-to-eye on this. I happen to think it’s possible to write an incisive criticism of NPG’s “objectivity” without trivializing the glacks (or bays, whichever you prefer). You felt the need to include some language that I feel trivializes the struggle of a lot of people who are still around today. I commented that I didn’t like that, just to contribute my thoughts. In return I got some weirdness and comparisons to a song about the oppression of women (that biz is still in full swing too, in case you didn’t notice). Maybe your attempt at elucidation makes sense to some others here. I’m failing to see the distinction you are attempting to make.

  44. #44 Greg Laden
    July 15, 2008


    I am truly, honestly, sorry that my words caused you pain or trouble in any way. However, if you are telling me that the only valid response to you is to agree with you, then that is not going to happen out of the box. I mean, maybe we can agree or not, but it requires conversation and it requires listening to each other. I don’t know if that is going to happen or not.

    I have never in my entire life trivialized “the struggle of a lot of people who are still around today.” In fact, I’m more interested in and generally involved in the conversation about racism than anyone else that I personally know or work with, with a single exception (a colleague with whom I’ve taught and written on the subject). It is a day to day thing for me, for a number of reasons.

    I totally believe that you are not trying to be an ass.


  45. #45 Samia
    July 15, 2008

    You know, I was okay with just commenting and leaving things at that. I’d even said:

    “…I don’t see the point in debating what boils down to a difference in sensibilities.”

    And that’s exactly what I meant. I tried to explain how I felt, you explained yourself, and I still don’t feel your choice of language was justified. Fine. I said what I wanted to say. Again, I read your blog with some frequency and thought you’d be interested in what one of your humble readers thinks of your posting style. I’m overjoyed to hear you’re such an active warrior against racism and the trivialization of people who may be offended by words you use. Keep on fighting the good fight. šŸ˜‰

    Damn, I can only fight my natural assy tendencies for so long…

  46. #46 Greg Laden
    July 15, 2008

    OK, but …but.. … what is an assy???

  47. #47 Stephanie Z
    July 15, 2008

    She’s saying she’s being an ass, Greg. Divided by a common language….