petermr's blog

A Scientist and the Web


The Scholarly Poor: Industry

This is the second in a series of posts about the “Scholarly Poor” – people and organizations who need the scientific literature but who are disenfranchised through punitive pricing and grotesque restrictions. In the last post I highlighted that your dentist probably cannot read the medical literature they need to. Now I highlight the industrialist.

But industry has lots of money, right? Not for information. Most industrialist I talk to – except, say large pharma, have great problems about accessing the literature. Critical problems involve:

  • Diversity. A modern industry does not know where its future information needs are. A mobile phone company needs to know about the effects of microwave radiation, new materials (the UK is in love with grapheme), algorithms, social networks, economics. It cannot possibly subscribe to all relevant journals in these fields. And if it needs, say, the journal Brain Research – that alone will set it back 24,000 USD per year. That’s an absurd amount to pay if you don’t know whether there will be relavant papers.
  • Size. The whole pricing strategy of publishers is based on large rich universities. Things like “The Big Deal” – a bundle of lots of journals from a single publisher. Rather like (say) the old books clubs where you bought a series of books each month whether you wanted the actual titles or not. The Big Deal is a clever , if cynical, way of persuading universities to buy from the large publishers who would then offload or create titles of little value or desirability – but librarians would be convinced they were getting a “good deal”. No, they were buying lock-in.

    The problem is acute for small businesses – with, say, under 100 employees. There are zillions of these round Cambridge UK, and most of my ex-colleagues have gone into them. They will immediately find that they cannot read anything except Open Access papers, Pubmed abstracts (without fulltext), or stolen (the publishers’ term) copies.

I highlighted the case of a (large) industry suffering from information lock-out ( ). Here are two more recent comments on this blog from smaller companies:

Bill Moran says: October 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm 

Peter, I come pre-angered for your convenience.

I belong to a small list-serv group that discusses and experiments with sound frequencies transmitted over a series of plasma tube “antennas” for the purpose of affecting human pathogens without the usual side effects (and dangers) of introducing chemical insults to the body.

We have been so cobbled over the past few years, by the creeping crud of PPV on medical and scientific papers that really serve us only to confirm or deny direction…seldom for anything resembling patentable ideas, that we’ve been reduced to feeling like vultures and “hinting” back and forth to each other, “if somebody could just buy such and such literature” etc., that the group has gotten more and more distant and lost interest because of the rising cost of information. (of all things!)

Who would have thought that the internet would make it MORE expensive to get previously free data??

This is the view from the basement dwelling home experimenter, and if you think that world shaking innovation will ever spring from the data-denied scholarly poor again, I’d love to know how.

PMR: Who indeed would think that the Internet would lock-out information? That’s why Wikipedia is so important – it’s one of the ways in which the Internet culture can spread free/open information. But it’s not taken seriously by arrogant universities and avaricious publishers (who maintain that only closed-access publication of science in any good). Remember how PRISM (Elsevier, Am. Chem Soc and partners in dissing) announced that Open Access was “junk science”. And we pay these people to prosper and build more walled gardens.

The point, which PayPerView destroys, is that most people now surf the literature through Hyperlinks. If I see a paper that looks interesting I click on the link. Within a few seconds I can often tell that it’s irrelevant. Titles are poor measures of full content. Abstracts are often missing. So the buyer (sorry RENTER) has to take a gamble as to whether it’s worth paying for. Imagine that you paid for a video called “Secrets of the night” and when you got it home you found it was about astronomy (when you were expecting the natural history of bats). A video is a few dollars, a paper can be FIFTY dollars (I am working myself into a frenzy of rage).

It makes scientific publishers hated. That’s a fact, not an opinion.

The scholarly poor industrialist has only these options:

  • Not to read the scholarly literature (increasingly common).
  • Steal copies of the literature from friends in academia. Note that even this, whether or not you call copyright infringement stealing, is also very inefficient. Whereas the scholarly rich can click, click , click in a matter of minutes or seconds, the scholarly poor have to find someone to steal the paper, mail them or a site, wait for the reply (hours, days) and then discover whether it was worth it. At least ten time slower than having access to the rich resources.

And here’s Marcus Hanwell – ace collaborator on Cheminformatics visualisation and semantics. Marcus develops Avogadro , a Free/Open source molecular viewer, analyser, manager, etc. He works for Kitware, a company which builds Open Source software and sells solutions. But if he wishes to read my paper in the ACS journal JCIM he cannot. I am not allowed to send him a copy. I am not allowed to post a copy on my web page. I am not allowed to post my pre-review manuscript on the web. (and yes, I have read the contract).

Marcus D. Hanwell says: October 5, 2011 at 2:02 pm 

I was very surprised when I moved from academia to industry too, I also tend to read far fewer papers due to the excessive fees.

PMR: Some of you should be feeling outraged. Others may be feeling guilty.




















6 Responses to “The Scholarly Poor: Industry”

  1. [...] Murray Rust’s excellent ongoing series on “The Scholarly Poor” — Dentists, Industry, The Climate Code Foundation, Patient groups, so many different [...]

  2. [...] would this mean?  Dentists would be able to keep up with the relevant literature.  Small businesses would be able to make plans with full information.  The Climate Code Foundation would have a [...]

  3. [...] Taylor explains, that would mean: Dentists would be able to keep up with the relevant literature. Small businesses would be able to make plans with full information. The Climate Code Foundation would have a sounder [...]

  4. [...] Carolyn Maloney is a Democrat from New York, she ought to know better. Like Issa, according to her Facebook page Maloney has maxed out on friends and isn’t accepting any more. Not surprisingly, things are dead silent there, and mostly just dead. Fortunately you can reach her at her official House of Representatives webpage. Maloney sponsored the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act; since she cares about health care, it would be worthwhile to point out that open access saves lives. One of the rotating photos on Maloney’s webpage shows her touring a small business incubator, so it would also be a good idea to emphasize the plight of the scholarly poor. [...]

  5. [...] I was restricted to gleaning what I could from abstracts and article graphics. I had become what Peter Murray-Rust termed “scholarly poor,” a highly qualified scientist essentially shut out of the scientific process due to the academic [...]

  6. [...] on A scientist calls for open access to research publications, Peter Murray-Rust’s post The Scholarly Poor: Industry. [...]

Leave a Reply