Why For-Profit Academic Publishers Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/09/18/why-for-profit-academic-publis.html



I haven’t had a chance to watch the documentary, but I look forward to it. Academic publishers were once heroes, when the only way of proliferating scientific knowledge was printing it on a press into books and journals, then putting it out into the world in libraries and universities. Now, they are among the scum of the earth, limiting access to publicly-funded research and charging both the authors and the audience, while most often getting professional review and editorial service for free.


Let’s not forget that they charge the same price without even having to produce a physical object anymore.


“35% profit margin, that’s crazy!?” - still less than Apple.

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Of course, some open access journals like PLoS One are also overflowing with obscene amounts of cash.

I’m not an academic but I am well aware of this. Some years ago I wanted to do some OCR of old books and other paper things I had, to archive them digitally in a searchable format. Many of them were were structured more like magazines than an essay (they had inline images, borders, sometimes backgrounds, various font sizes and weights, etc.) None of the OCR software that I found came close to being able to handle those layouts, and they all needed constant hand-holding even to get the plain text parts done.

So I wanted to find out how image segmentation, segment classification, and OCRing worked, what methods had been tried, what had been researched but not implemented. Maybe I could find a way to process more complex layouts and implement a postprocessing step to automate some of the cleanup (since a lot of it was redundant).

Everything that I could find (beyond basic ‘what is OCR?’ wikipedia-level descriptions) was locked behind expensive paywalls. Not being an academic institution or a billionaire, but just a hobbyist, I was locked out. I was pretty determined, so I eventually found some other routes to get at a bunch of the papers, but it wasn’t easy.

As a result, I spent about half my time on the project reading papers, implementing the algorithms they talked about, setting up experiments to see how different ones handled different input documents, and trying to come up with a plan/design for a system. But the effort just to get at the papers had taken up about half the time/energy I had for the project (or more), so I ended up setting it aside when I had to move on to other things.

The irony was that, while my personal goal was mainly to archive my own collection of stuff, if I’d succeeded, then I would’ve had a nice open-source system that could help other people all over the world more easily take tons of existing information that’s not readily available and make it available (and searchable) digitally. But the biggest barrier was that the information that I needed to do so was not available, even though it was already digitized and online.


Middlemen in Shock Horror Profit Probe!

(Thanks to Jason Schmitt for researching and cataloging this social evil).

What I noticed is that the Angewandte Chemie for this week seems to be like 100% Anniversary Edition (not holding out for Game of The Year Edition, the one-pot syntheses of things that turn CO2 into retin or whatnot are pretty thick in there) Open Access and yet using Opera Beta for mobile it never lets you like, download it, just goes back to simple mode or optimized for nope. So…did they make enough Bearinoc to get later into fall before selling through?

When conservatives read stories like this they immediately sieze on the fact that billions are being wasted in science and research and if we only turned away from science and embraced xtianity our lives would change for the better. In reality, it is the conservative late stage capitalists and vulture capitalists who have made this a viable financial venture, FOR THEM at the expense of everyone else. All the while decrying how horrible science is, while tweeting on their amazing smart phone. When can I get off this fucking ride?

I’d be upset too if my glass never filled no matter how long I keep pressing the button.

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I tend to read an unreasonable number of journal articles and found a legal solution that is somewhat manageable. A lot of universities offer library memberships to the general public at a modest cost. You have to check closely because some don’t include journal access, but others include both online and print journal access. It isn’t a substitute for the systemic reforms we need, but it can help in those weird edge cases.


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