Monday, March 24, 2008

Neuroopthalmology research: for human health - or publisher profit?

Dear Erin McMullan of Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (a division of Wolters Kluwers),

This open letter is in response to your article Open Access Mandate Threatens Dissemination of Scientific Information, published in the March 2008 issue of the Journal of Neuro-Opthalmology, in which you say:

Government interference on the premise that legislating open access is beneficial to the advancement of scholarly research and, by extension, the public good, is
misguided in the opinion of many. The Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine, ‘The Prism Coalition’ ( was formed to educate policy makers and the public about risks of government intervention in scholarly publishing

A quick glance at the list of articles in the Journal of Neuro-Opthalmology and a moment's thought should be all that anyone would need to see why every piece of research published in this journal should be fully open access. The goal of this research is not profit in a publisher's pocket; it is the protection and/or restoration of human eyesight and related health matters. How could it possibly make sense to restrict this to the 1,000 paid subscribers listed in Ulrich's? Share this information with everyone, so that the doctor in a rural area or developing country has the same access to this knowledge as the researcher at the large university.

If anyone reading this needs access to opthalmology research, please note that there are 10 fully open access, peer-reviewed journals in this field listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals. There are also hundreds of traditional journals that actively and voluntarily cooperate with PubMedCentral to make their journals openly accessible as soon as feasible. A blog on open access resources in opthalmology was published last year by Sara Kuhn, a student in my open access class.

As you may be aware, no publisher has openly supported PRISM, while many have openly distanced themselves from this failed anti-OA coalition attempt.

If LW&W is going to fight open access, then please fight in the open. List your name on the PRISM website, so that everyone knows who is behind this. Post this article as open access, so that everyone can read it, not just those who can afford to subscribe to the Journal of Neuro-Opthamology at $685 US per year (institutional subscription), or $386 US per individual.

You talk about how Readers want high-quality articles selected by trusted editors and subjected to vigorous peer review. Then, you go on to present serious errors of fact in your article.

For example, you say: There there is an inherent violation of copyright
in mandating the deposit of the publisher’s copyrighted articles in an online government site for worldwide distribution
(with reference to the NIH Public Access mandate). The NIH Public Access mandate does not apply to publishers, it applies to grant recipients, the researchers. There are many publishers, including both fully open access publishers and traditional publishers not unlike LW&W, whose policies are quite compatible with the NIH mandate. If LW&W does not wish to publish publicly funded research, it is under no obligation to do so. From a business point of view, this may not be a wise decision; indeed, a publisher taking such a stance may be said to be Aiming for Obscurity.

If the Editorial Board finds this policy of LW&W to be unacceptable, there are many options. The free, open source Open Journal Systems is one such option, making it easy for an Editorial Board to quickly set up a new open access journal. Members might wish to contact their local university library to find out whether free hosting services for open access publishing is available, for example.

Kudos to Gale Oren, Mower & Youngkin for much more balanced articles on open access in the same issue of the Journal of Neuro-Opthalmology.

cc: Editorial Board, Journal of Neuro-Opthalmology and the North American Neuro-Opthalmology Society.

Thanks to Peter Suber on Open Access News.