Re: The July 6-7 NYAM "Freedom of Information" Meeting

From: Michael Jacobson <mjmd_at_JOURNALCLUB.ORG>
Date: Sat, 8 Jul 2000 20:27:54 -0400

I was also at this meeting, and agree with Barry's assessment. There were
only two people who argued forcefully and eloquently for radically revamping
the copyright status and wresting control from publishers: Barry and Pat

A few other, personal, observations about the meeting.

The PubMedCentral people were strangely muted and gave very little
information about their actual plans. In one of the first talks,
PubMedCentral was stridently attacked by Pieter Bolman of Academic Press who
seems also to be a spokesman for the CrossRef project. CrossRef is
basically a way to make it easier to access on-line articles, without in any
way tampering with the S/L/P system, and seems to be the publisher's answer
to PubMedCentral. The PubMedCentral folks had little to say in reply. I
had the feeling that they are still licking their wounds from their initial
foray into the field, which resulted in a vehement counterattack from
biomedical publishers and a quick retreat to a more "acceptable" position.

The assessment that made the most sense to me came from an editor belonging
to the Physics organization AIP (I can't remember his name). He predicted
that the major, leading journals will continue to flourish and be able to
dictate their terms to authors, simply because of the power of their
prestige. On the other hand, the majority of lesser-status journals, which
currently exist mainly to enable authors to publish, will fall prey to
various open-archiving projects and many will simply disappear.

Pat Brown called upon authors to boycott all journals that don't behave like
"good scientific citizens". I got up and said that I don't think there is a
single scientist who would boycott the New England Journal of Medicine if it
accepted an article, on the basis that the NEJM isn't a good scientific
citizen. He disagreed with me, and said that he, for one, wouldn't publish
in it. Made me feel young again, like I was at an anti-war rally in the

The folks you have to feel sorry for are the academic society publishers.
Their hearts are in the right place, and they're used to being on the
morally "right" side of things, while making money for their organizations.
Now, their economic viability is threatened by the new environment, and they
just don't have the real capitalist competitive fire that commercial
publishers do. Sort of like the not-for-profit hospitals in the US, that
used to "do well by doing good", and are now struggling to survive in the
waters of corporate medicine. Not easy.

Michael Jacobson

Michael Jacobson, MD, MPH
Journal Club on the Web

-----Original Message-----
From: September 1998 American Scientist Forum
Sent: Saturday, July 08, 2000 2:03 PM
Subject: The July 6-7 NYAM "Freedom of Information" Meeting

The New York Academy of Medicine meeting

    "Freedom of Information The Impact of Open Access on Biomedical

was fascinating. Although it was put on by BioMed Central, it had
almost nothing about BioMed Central on the agenda. Fiona Godlee, after
multiple requests, did explain their ideas and model to us, but for a
meeting to bring visibility to themselves, they maintained a very low

You could claim that they set the agenda, literally, and could have
or should have invited known proponents of other models. But very few
of us actually stuck to our assigned topics, and everyone took the
"bully pulpit" to state their positions. When Harold Varmus opened
the program, he clearly outlined that we should be experimenting now
with various models (and be sure to study what we are doing) - no one
suggested there was only one model to follow. (Except perhaps the
entrenched publishers! :-)

I must say though that the issue of author self-archiving was not
discussed in great length. I mentioned it certainly, along with the
whole problem of copyright transfer, but the majority of the
attendees (being from the publishing world) were focused on the
questions of cooperation with PubMed Central, participation with
CrossRef, and the economic uncertainties of the open access world.

One fascinating point came across that we are all aware of but I
suspect is more important than we'd like to admit, at least in the
biomedical world. Pat Brown said the reason authors are not flocking
to the open access alternatives currently available is because it is
like a rat who has always lived in a cage. Just because the cage door
is open does not mean the rat will immediately want to escape the
only world they've known. Peter Singer (U Toronto) said the reason
the rat will stay in the cage is that is where their food and water
are and have always been. Until we ensure that scientists and
scholars will receive the same level of recognition for publishing in
open access worlds, e.g., BioMed Central, then they will stay in
their proverbial cages. Despite the incredibly narrow view on this
issue from the New England Journal of Medicine, few medical authors
would turn down the chance to publish there, even with its
restrictive attitude, compared to the unknown recognition associated
with something like BioMed Central. We are all self-serving creatures
in our own way.

I'm told they will put the proceedings of the meeting on the web.
Several people asked me for a copy of my "slides" (Powerpoint
presentation on disk), so I will be making that available for
downloading shortly.

Barry P. Markovitz, MD
Pediatric Anesthesiology/Critical Care
St. Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine
email: WWW:
voice: 314-454-6215 fax: 314-454-2296
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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