Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Nature vs. The University of California

 
The various campuses of the University of California subscribe to science journals by purchasing a license that allows electronic access for members of the university community, including students. The average cost of this subscription for life science journals is $4,142 per journal. Total cost for the University of California system is 24.3 million dollars per year.

Nature Publishing Group publishes 67 journals including Nature and all of the various spinoffs. The average cost for a NPG journal was $4,465 but NPG is proposing to charge $17,479 per journal next year. This is a 400% increase.

All this is explained in a letter to University of California faculty members [Informational Update on a Possible UC Systemwide Boycott of the Nature Publishing Group]. The University of California schools are dropping the subscription to all NPG journals because it can't afford such a large increase.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education summarizes the UC proposal [U. of California Tries Just Saying No to Rising Journal Costs]. The idea is not only to drop the subscriptions but to boycott all the NPG journals, including Nature.

Keith Yamamoto is organizing the boycott.
Keith Yamamoto is a professor of molecular biology and executive vice dean of the School of Medicine at UC-San Francisco. He stands ready to help organize a boycott, if necessary, a tactic he and other researchers used successfully in 2003 when another big commercial publisher, Elsevier, bought Cell Press and tried to raise its journal prices.

After the letter went out on Tuesday, Mr. Yamamoto received an "overwhelmingly positive" response from other university researchers. He said he's confident that there will be broad support for a boycott among the faculty if the Nature Group doesn't negotiate, even if it means some hardships for individual researchers.

"There's a strong feeling that this is an irresponsible action on the part of NPG," he told The Chronicle. That feeling is fueled by what he called "a broad awareness in the scientific community that the world is changing rather rapidly with respect to scholarly publication."

Although researchers still have "a very strong tie to traditional journals" like Nature, he said, scientific publishing has evolved in the seven years since the Elsevier boycott. "In many ways it doesn't matter where the work's published, because scientists will be able to find it," Mr. Yamamoto said.
Way to go, Keith!


[HatTip: Janet Stemwedel]

16 comments :

  1. Am I overthinking it, or is NPG actually sinister enough to attempt to "oust" competing journals with the outrageous price? They probably assume that a university library will subscribe to them no matter what, and one in a cash-strapped position would be forced to drop OTHER subcriptions instead. If so, then the Nature boycott should extend far beyond the UC system!

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  2. I read somewhere that scientific publishing is among the most profitable businesses - around 30% profit margin and very low risk. 400% raise is an insult. No honest business can pull this crap without losing all of its customers.

    To think of it, scientists don't even need any of the for-profit publishers to exist. Between authors and reviewers doing all the work, I don't see any added [positive] value coming from publishers.

    There is no need to stick with the 19th century model in the 21st. Time to re-think the whole think. A database of electronically deposited articles will do just fine. Scientists are not stupid - they are perfectly capable of separating kernels from the chaff themselves.
    Advantages: No bullshit credentialing function coming from journals and no travesty of the peer review in its current form.

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  3. What a backwards move by Nature, when so many journals are moving to total, delayed, or partial open-access.

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  4. For some perspective, in FY2009, Yamamoto's institution, the University of California San Francisco, pulled in $550,275,758 in funding from the NIH. The cost for all 67 Nature family journals at $17,479 per journal comes to $1,171,093, which works out to 0.2% of their NIH research dollars. I guess UCSF doesn't think they get 0.2% of their biomedical productivity (ignoring all of the non-NIH research dollars they get from NSF etc.) from having all their researchers get access to all the Nature journals. That's their choice. Personally, I think 0.2% is probably worth it. Maybe they can fire a couple of Deans to cover their increased journal costs.

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  5. I have wondered this before: Why are these journals so expensive? Is it simply supply and demand? Their overhead can't be all that much.

    Glad someone is stepping up to boycott.

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  6. Anon, $1.7 million/year is heckuva lot, and enough to fund about 5-7 post-docs/grad students. UCSF rightly has decided that supporting scientist/scientist candidates is far more important than supporting fatcat publishers. Good move.

    Truti

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  7. Anonymous writes:

    For some perspective, in FY2009, Yamamoto's institution, the University of California San Francisco, pulled in $550,275,758 in funding from the NIH.

    For some real perspective, what is the projected reduction in funding from the state of California from FY2009 - FY 2010? I would guess the state university system has already had to let go far more than "a couple of Deans" in the face of reduced funding from the state.

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  8. Keith Yamamoto's total compensation from UC in 2009 was $409,992, putting him 280th place in the UC system.
    Sorted UC 2009 salary data
    Maybe he can kick in a few dollars?

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  9. Anonymous writes:

    Keith Yamamoto's total compensation from UC in 2009 was $409,992, putting him 280th place in the UC system.
    * * *
    Maybe he can kick in a few dollars?

    Looking at page 1 of the sorted salary list, it appears that firing a couple of athletic coaches would be far more effective in raising extra money than firing a couple of Deans.

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  10. Several years ago I decided to stop submitting to for profit publishers. (I had published in Nature several times before that). I hope others do as well. It is silly to waste public funds supporting publishers. US funding agencies appear to provide most of the support for most of these companies. I note the editing at Nature has gone downhill as well. Interesting but wrong" is my take on Nature.

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  11. Yeah, firing a coach or two would defer the problem, but not solve it. This isn't a sudden, one-time crisis -- the prices just keep going up and up and up, with no limits on the rate of increase other than the fact that at some point universities are going to simply stop paying.

    It looks the that point is just about here.

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  12. I don't know how it works at UCSF, but at schools with major athletic programs like Alabama, the athletics budget--including coaches' salaries--is entirely self-sufficient and independent from the academic monies. So firing coaches would make no impact. (Unless UCSF isn't like that.)

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  13. Cathy writes:

    I don't know how it works at UCSF, but at schools with major athletic programs like Alabama, the athletics budget--including coaches' salaries--is entirely self-sufficient and independent from the academic monies. So firing coaches would make no impact. (Unless UCSF isn't like that.)

    There are, according to the most thorough research I've seen on the topic, perhaps a dozen or fewer universities in the USA where the football program runs at a profit. That would mean at most a dozen institutions where it is possible the football program would actually make enough to subsidize the rest of the athletics budget, and most likely the number is lower than that.

    Regarding the University of Alabama specifically, the 2004-2006 stadium expansion cost $47 million, and the 2009-2010 expansion, which was budgeted for $81 million, will benefit from lowered prices due to the recession and will come in at $66 million. That's over $110 million in the last 6 years. That was just for capital costs, not maintenance. Then there's Coach Saban's salary, recently increased to $4.7 million per year, and of course the salaries of assistant coaches and other employees. All those coaches and players need offices and training facilities: In addition to administrative and coaches offices, the football building
    includes meeting, equipment, and locker rooms, as well as a state of the art weight room and training room. It serves as the
    home for Alabama athletes. The recently renovated weight room now encompasses 22,000 square feet and features the most
    modern weight and conditioning equipment. Finishing touches are also being completed on an updated and improved
    administration level.
    That was from a school publication, which doesn't say how much these capital improvements cost. There are the costs of 85 full scholarships each year, plus the cost to feed and house the players, and for the team to travel to away and bowl games (6 or 7 games each year), and a whole bunch of other expenses I haven't thought of or don't know about.

    Now maybe the football program's $38.2 million in annual revenue covers all those costs, and maybe it is even enough to cover the costs associated with the University's 18 other varsity sports. But if so, it's a pretty near thing. If it's that close-cut for Alabama, one of the most historically successful football programs in the nation, then it is easy to understand how for the great majority of U.S. universities, athletics are a cost, not a revenue producer. I would be shocked if athletics were a revenue producer for the University of California system.

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  14. To be fair, the athletic program is a way to keep alums interested in the school, and presumably this enthusiasm has some degree of benefit when the fundraisers call looking for donations to the school's general fund.

    What kills me is the crazy high salaries paid to MDs that once-upon-a-time brought in big patient dollars but now have transitioned to more or less full-time administrative roles. This includes most of the top 10 on the UC salary list.

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  15. Anonymous writes:

    To be fair, the athletic program is a way to keep alums interested in the school, and presumably this enthusiasm has some degree of benefit when the fundraisers call looking for donations to the school's general fund.

    Another beautiful theory slain by the ugly facts. The top ten U.S. universities in endowment funding as of 2008 were: (1) Harvard; (2) Yale; (3) Stanford; (4) Princeton; (5) University of Texas; (6) MIT; (7) University of Michigan; (8) Northwestern; (9) Columbia; (10) Texas A&M.

    Only two of the 10, Texas and Michigan, have been football powers in recent times, and they have quite good academic reputations. (The anomaly appears to be Texas A&M - perhaps there's something about being located in Texas?) It looks like the better path to financial success for a university is to seek academic rather than athletic prowess.

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