The European Mathematical Society Newsletter has often discussed new developments in academic publishing, in particular open access. In the current issue, it returns to the fray with four somewhat contrasting opinions from a two semi-retired academics, two editors of Zentralblatt MATH, and a mathematical publisher.
Garth Dales is the most uncompromising. After asking “Why is it unacceptable that the author or their institution pays for publishing?” he comments,
Although this seems quite evident, many colleagues do not seem to see clearly the serious dangers of this model,
and proceeds to list some of them. Later, he says,
Another argument comes from a comparison with novels: authors publishing at their own expense are not considered real writers. Curiously enough (but is it that curious?), commercial publishers claim that publishing is a service to authors that will help them in their careers and THUS authors should pay for this! And nobody seems to burst out laughing …
These strong opinions are backed up by facts from the zbMATH editors, Gert-Martin Greuel and Dirk Werner, who are at the sharp end. “The number of OA journals indexed in zbMATH has soared from 180 in 2005 to just short of 500 in 2012.” Zentralblatt clearly does not have the resources to review every published paper, but when there is clear evidence of lack of refereeing – for example, being spoofed by mathgen-produced papers, or publishing “A complete simple proof of the Fermat’s last conjecture” [sic] – they de-list the offending journal. But it is a difficult line: at least one subscription-based journal has also published a paper by mathgen.
Andrew Odlyzko, a man with impressive credentials in electronic publishing as well as mathematics, sees the current situation as part of a process whose end we cannot foresee. He is sure that some form of open access will prevail, and the cost of publishing will somehow be paid in the savings made by libraries. I wish I were as confident that these savings will be redirected appropriately. I have seen too many instances of universities receiving money earmarked for one purpose and spending it on something completely different.
Finally, the publisher, Klaus Peters, raises a number of difficulties with open access which have maybe not been fully discussed. To choose just two examples, self-archiving elimiates the good (as well as the harm) done by copy-editors, and journals who “have invested in the expensive editing process” may be reluctant to give long-term permission for self-archiving of these papers.