You know what I don't want to ever hear again? A single complaint from anyone about how efforts to fix science publishing are going to affect their society or society journal. Because far more than anyone else it is scientific societies who are responsible for creating this mess.
Back in the mid 90s when it was clear that the Internet offered an opportunity to make the outputs of science publishing freely available to everyone, scientific societies invented journal paywalls.
In the late 90s when discussions among scientists about how to make a better system led to NIH Director Harold Varmus proposing eBioMed - basically a giant, free, preprint server for all of biomedicine - scientific societies killed it.
When societies succeeded in turning eBioMed into the massively watered down PubMedCentral - they opposed that and most didn't even bother to participate.
When we suggested alternative business models that would let them make their contents freely available, scientific societies said "first show us that it works". When we started @PLOS and showed them that it works, they said, "Nah, it won't make us enough money".
When Congress and the NIH started a push to make the results of Federally funded research freely available, they opposed it and then worked with commercial publishers to back a bill in Congress that would have blocked these efforts (fortunately, it failed).
They nonetheless succeeded in getting the NIH to - absurdly - allow them to paywall articles for years, not because this was good for science, scientists or the public, but because it would make them money.
Over and over and over and over again they have opposed, blocked and undermined pretty much all public at private efforts at reform, and have offered literally ZERO solutions of their own.
When preprints started to gain in popularity in biology, and the NIH proposed that scientists be allowed to use them in grant applications, you know who issued a statement opposing it? You got it - societies. www.faseb.org/Portals/2/PDFs/opa/2016/Interim%20Research%20Product%20RFI.pdf
And meanwhile, while the major societies have had their heads firmly buried in the sand, commercial publishers have been innovating and are cleaning the clocks of society journals.
Some societies have been better than others - and a small number (generally the ones with the least power and least revenue) have been forces for good. But as a group, they have been worse even than the big commercial publishers when it comes to fixing the system.
Societies had such a big opportunity in the 90s and early 2000s to side with scientists and work to make a new publishing future that was good for us all. Their choice to do the opposite and lead the charge against reform slowed reform, but it doomed societies.
Science and scientists need organizations that will advocate strongly for what we need most: stable funding, viable, stable careers, and a communication and reward system that actually functions. But the societies we have today have proven incapable of filling this role.
I write all this because I fear that societies are marshaling to oppose or water down @WHOSTP's far-reaching and fantastic move to mandate open access to papers and data arising from US government funded research.
But if they do so - and everything in the past 30 years suggests they will - they must viewed not for what they claim to be - representatives of the scientific community - but for what they are - dying business begging to be rescued at the expense of the public good.
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