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Open Access founder abandons free science; just go back to “name” journals, he says

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Howard Eisen, a UC Berkeley biologist and a founder of Open Access science journals announces he is giving up the cause. At his blog, it is NOT junk, “a blog about genomes, DNA, evolution, open science, baseball and other important things,”

I co-founded the Public Library of Science (PLOS) in 2002 because I believed deeply that the open access publishing model PLOS espoused and has come to dominate was good for science, scientists and the public. … But in the last few weeks I have had a major change of heart. Yesterday at group meeting I told the members of my lab that they are free to send their papers to any journal they want to – including (and especially) the previously reviled especially Nature, Cell and Science. I am announcing this here today because I have been so publicly associated with open access, and I felt I owe my readers and the community an explanation for why I have made this dramatic change.

Taking a moment to let despair settle on his loyal Eisengard, he goes on:

And, frankly, nobody ever really cared about whether the public could read their papers anyway.

What people do care about is the cachet that comes from having an overworked editor at one of the big three journals decide that their paper is “The One”. I could see it in my students’ and postdocs’ eyes every time we passed by an adoring horde gathered round the latest winner of the great “Science, Nature and Cell” game, listening to them tell tales of how they worked the latest buzzwords into their abstract and buried all their confusing data in supplemental materials. Who am I to deny this joy to the young scientists who have entrusted their careers to me, just because I don’t think it’s “right”?

And who’s to say what’s right anyway …

First of all, the whole idea that the public is clamoring for free access to the scientific literature is a pipe dream. Sure PubMed Central – the free database of papers produced with funding from the National Institutes of Health – gets over 1,000,000 hits a day. But do you really believe numbers from the government? After all, these are the same people who are saying that 7,000,000 people have signed up for Obamacare. The open access lobby can always dig up some people – cancer patients or something like that – who have benefited from open access.

Sure, let’s face it, UD readers, we don’t care whether we can find out for free what is supposed to be science nowadays or whether it costs us a morning’s pay after taxes. The wonderful thing about science is the way it promotes somnolent faith that the System is somehow churning out … what is that stuff it’s churning out just now anyway? Oops, that’d be $64 to find out so … Anyway, here’s Eisen again.

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Hint: Notice the dateline above. Now pour yourself a coffee and enjoy the wonderful satire.

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