Thursday, February 21, 2008

Random Browsing: Online Access to Physics Journals

Over the last weekend, I had tried to check out a few papers online from home, without any institutional access. All but a few research papers on physics or astrophysics are available to everyone from the arxiv, of course, but for peripheral topics, say, history of physics or geophysics, this cannot be taken for granted. Browsing around a bit, out of curiosity, I realised that publishers use a big range of different models about what they agree to give away for free to non-subscribers. Here is kind of an inexhaustive overview of what I have encountered:

  • Elsevier, on its ScienceDirect Server, offers a single "sample issues" of each of its journals from the last year. That's of no real interest for Phys.Lett. B, but in the case of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, with just four issues per year, you may by chance come across some interesting stuff, for example about Scalar Gravity and Whitehead Gravity - once considered, but now disproved relativistic theories of gravitation (OK, in this case, both papers are also on the arxiv ...).

    The free sample issue policy is also used by the Taylor and Francis Group (Contemporary Physics, Annals of Science) on its informaworld server, but a registration is required.


  • Springer, on its SpringerLink server, offers some papers via an open access model which they call OpenChoice. In this case, the author, or her/his institution, has to pay a fee of $3000, and the paper will then be given away for free. According to the recent agreement by the German research organisation Max Planck Society and Springer, all Max Planck authors can now publish at Springer under this model. So far, open access articles are rare at SpringerLink (and there is no list of recent open access articles), but that may change in the future.


  • A similar model to Springer's OpenChoice is offered by the American Physical Society. APS's Physical Review papers are usually subscriber-only, unless offered to open access under the FREE TO READ scheme. Here, the fee is less than at Springer, $975 for articles in PR A-E and $1300 for a PRL. However, I have the impression that there are only very few open access articles at the APS journals. That's of course no wonder, since I guess all the papers are on the arxiv anyway. The Physical Review Letters will celebrate its its 50th anniversary in July 2008, and for that reason the APS presents for free a series of selected highlight papers, the Milestone Letters (see the Update).


  • As for the professional societies, the British Institute of Physics (IOP) on its Electronic Journal server offers for free all papers published within the last 30 days. There are a few journals whose papers usually don't make it to the arxiv, for example Metrologia, so that may be a way to effectively read these journals without formal subscription. The SISSA-owned Journal of High Energy Physics, founded as an alternative channel to over-prized commercial journals, is now published by IOP, but with no special conditions of access. And, of course, IOP runs the first general-scope peer-reviewed open access physics journal, the now ten years old New Journal of Physics (article charge: $1280).


  • Other professional societies offer for free their backlist of old journal issues. This seems to be quite common for astronomy and astrophysics and in the Earth sciences:

    There is, of course, the fabulous NASA ADS server with its bibliographic database and links to a huge amount of scanned astronomical papers. The European Geosciences Union allows free access to past articles of its journal Annales Geophysicae (ANGEO) and the proceedings series Advances in Geosciences, the Mineralogical Society of America grants free access to older issues of the American Mineralogist, and the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland offers the back issues of their Mineralogical Magazine for free. Even the American Geophysical Union, whose journals seem to be so elitist that the Frankfurt University has not subscribed to a single one of them, grants unrestricted access to the 1963-2002 issues of Reviews of Geophysics, so that everyone can learn about Geological Constraints on the Precambrian History of Earth's Rotation and the Moon's Orbit, for example.


  • Speaking about back issues, some science journals rely on the service of JSTOR, a "not-for-profit organization with a dual mission to create and maintain a trusted archive of important scholarly journals, and to provide access to these journals as widely as possible." Papers stored at JSTOR have a high chance to show up in google searches, and one can have a look at the first page, but what really annoys me about JSTOR is that it is not even possible to search or browse tables of contents without subscription.


  • Such a displeasure is of course not a problem with peer-reviewed open access journals.

    Founded at the same time as the NJP, the Living Reviews in Relativity, published by the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Golm near Potsdam, Germany, offer free access to review articles on General Relativity. The Living Reviews derive their name from the feature that published articles can be edited to keep them up-to-date. SISSA runs Proceedings of Science (PoS), an open access collection of conference proceedings, mostly in physics.

    Then, there is PLoS ONE (with a publication fee of $1250), the general science open access journal of PLoS, the Public Library of Science. But even after running for more than one year, there are just 20 articles classified as "physics" - and, well, most of them are about physics-related life science topics. And a quite recent peer-reviewed open access venture is PhysMath Central, with the journals PMC Physics A on high-energy/nuclear/astroparticle physics, cosmology and gravity, and PMC Physics B on condensed matter, atomic, molecular and optical physics. Currently, PMC Physics A levies a charge of $1,320 for articles accepted for publication, while "waiving charges for authors from low-income countries". I am not sure if PMC Physics A/B will have a bigger impact for physics than PLoS One, but it seems that they offer the option to comment on papers online, which might be a bonus.

    Publishing comments and replies by the authors could become something quite exciting, and it is of course easier to organise for newly founded electronic journals. The most striking case in point I have come across is Climate of the Past, an "Interactive Open Access Journal of the European Geosciences Union". At this journal, it is even possible to access referee reports and the author's replies - that's transparency in publishing papers.



Open access to peer-reviewed scientific literature is for sure gaining momentum, but it seems to me that "traditional" publishing models might still persist, or coexist, for quite a while. I was quite surprised to find a very large diversity of access models used in different communities and disciplines. But that's a good thing, I guess: It could allow for the evolution of solutions that best fit the needs of authors and their readers.

And in the meanwhile, there is already plenty of interesting stuff freely available to you, in case you have some time to waste.





Update (Feb 22): Originally, I had complained that the Milestone Letters from the PRL's fifty years' history are hidden behind the subscription wall of the PROLA server. I have learned from Gene Sprouse of the APS that the PDF files are freely available when clicking the "Read Letter" link on the "Letters from the Past" page. There seems to be a temporary problem with the most recently added links to the Letters of 1964, which still ask for the PROLA authentification, and somhow my Safari browser does not like to show up the other PDF files, although I can download them using lynx, as I have checked in the meantime. That was the reason for my quibble. Sorry about the confusion!




Declaration of competing interests: I am currently on the payroll of a big commercial scientific publisher.

18 comments:

emaN said...

Thanks, Stefan, this is an interesting list. Do you know of any studies investigating how these changes in scientific publishing have affected subscription and citation habits?

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Stefan,

You certainly have a lot in here. I nearly acquired carpel tunnel syndrome clicking the links:-) As you point out more and more is becoming to be free access. One thing I wish that the older established journals would do and that is to make free and available what I refer to as the older vintage papers. Why not make everything older then say fifty years public domain. I can recall it was only a few years back I shelled out I believe $25.00 for a pdf of the 1935 EPR paper which is only five pages. Five bucks a page is a little steep for something written 72 years ago. If they don’t want to handle the costs involved they could had it over to arxiv or even say Wikipedia. I would think after a half century of milking it they could find it in their hearts to share these with the world at large.

Regards,

Phil

Anonymous said...

Hi Stefan,

Thanks for the links - indeed quite exhaustive!

It seems there are degrees of openness amongst publishers here. A free pdf is ok I guess, but from what I can make out, very few publishers offer free full-text as e.g.MathML/XML for data-mining.

The only ones I can see on this list are PhysMath Central's journals.

This is something which is becoming increasingly important in my line of work (biophysics). Is the same true of your field, or do you see it changing in the near future?

Ken Benjamin, Surrey - UK

Arun said...

If only the brain power to assimilate it all was also free :)

changcho said...

Thanks Stefan - I've used NASA's ADS service quite a bit and, indeed it is a fabulous service.

stefan said...

Hi eman,

Do you know of any studies investigating how these changes in scientific publishing have affected subscription and citation habits?

No, sorry, I don't know of any study. There are probably some market analylses by publishers, but I dont't know more.

Actually, as for the first point, my guess would be that it is the other way round: That subscriptions by university libraries and consortia and their willingness and ability to pay affect the access models offered by publishers. I think the multitude of different subscription models on the market is a result of a tentative adaption to the boundary conditions imposed by the budgets of libraries, at a time where an ideal solution still has to be found.

About citing habits, the relatively easy access to "classical" papers, or relevant papers quaise forgotten because usually buried in library repsotories, may put these papers on the radar again. I guess it could really be intersting to look at this in more detail, but I am not aware of any studies.

Maybe a reader knows more?

Best, Stefan

stefan said...

Hi Phil,


about the typical $25, $29, or $30 charged for the download of the PDF file of a single paper, I have at times wondered if publishers could not earn more by reducing the price tag to, say, $5, or even less, because then a lot more people may be willing to actually buy a paper they are interested in.

I understand that for "business-related" papers, on topics in law, engineering, economy, biotech, the current model works, because customers have no problem to invest the $30. But of course, for the typical physics paper, things are a bit different ...

I was really surprised to see that there are so many different ways the backlist of old journal issues is handled.

Scanning, indexing in bibliographic data bases and running a server costs something, and publishers like to offer the backlist issues as a "bonus" for current subscriptions, so this is an understandable reason not to give away old issues for free.

But then, other publishers have no problem at all with offering old journal issues, so, I do not know what is the reason behind. I have the impression that the habits of the respective communities play a big role - for example, if an astronomy/astrophysics journal is not available on the NASA/ADS server, that's probably just because it has not been scanned yet.

Best, Stefan

stefan said...

Hi Ken,

It seems there are degrees of openness amongst publishers here.

Yes, the main lesson I've learned from seeing all the different access models is that there is huge diversity, probably more closely related to the community served than one usually is aware of. I can imagine that this is a bit of a problem for "all-purpose" journals like Science and Nature.

A free pdf is ok I guess, but from what I can make out, very few publishers offer free full-text as e.g.MathML/XML for data-mining.

What do you mean, specifically, source files of the paper, or data used in the paper? And what kind of data mining do you have in mind?

This is something which is becoming increasingly important in my line of work (biophysics).

This is then about sharing data relevant for the paper?

Where I can say something about, Latex source files of phyisics papers usually can be accessed at the arxiv. How journal issues actually are produced today can differ quite a lot form publisher to publishers, and I am not sure if MathML/XML is always produced at some stage, but that may clearly change in the near future.

In this respect, the PhysMathCentral journals may have the advantage that they can start right form scratch with an up-to-date MathML/XML workflow and don't have to introduce that while running the journal.

About adding data sets to the paper (as can sometimes be seen in "supplemental material"), I do not know any details, or journals that make a big point about that. This could also change, for example I remember some discussion about if and what data from high-energy experiment should be give free for everyone.

Best, Stefan

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Stefan,

“I have at times wondered if publishers could not earn more by reducing the price tag to, say, $5, or even less, because then a lot more people may be willing to actually buy a paper they are interested in.”

That would do it. I for one would download a lot more. Perhaps they could put together something like a classic papers grouping. Say like the original quantum theory papers of Plank, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Pauli, deBroglie and Schrodinger. Another set I’d buy would be Einstein’s five 1905 papers. Of course they would have to be translated versions for this linguistically challenged reader.”-) I enjoy reading things as originally presented. As for instance I have Michael Faraday’s 1860 “Lectures On The Physical Forces”. When you read the originals you learn more then the science, for you come to understand a little of the scientist as well. For instance at the close of the above mentioned lecture series Faraday ends by saying:

“I hope that the insights which you have gained into some of the laws by which the universe is governed, may be the occasion of some among you in turning your attention to these subjects; for what study is there more fitted to the mind of man than that of the physical sciences? And what is more capable of giving him an insight into the actions of those laws, a knowledge which gives interest to the most trifling phenomenon of nature, and makes the observing student find

Tongues in trees, books in running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything”

When I read Faraday here one understands what drew him to his interest in science. Then I contrast this to his peers of today and wonder, how many share these as their own reasons?

Regards,

Phil

michaeldcassidy said...

this link is broken: Scalar Gravity; its pointing back to your post.

Plato said...

Stefan,

There is a need for organization changes in the way media is distributed.

Harvard & Open Access by Alex Palazzo

Publish or perish has long been the burden of every aspiring university professor. But the question the Harvard faculty will decide on Tuesday is whether to publish -- on the Web, at least -- free.

Faculty members are scheduled to vote on a measure that would permit Harvard to distribute their scholarship online, instead of signing exclusive agreements with scholarly journals that often have tiny readerships and high subscription costs.

Although the outcome of Tuesday's vote would apply only to Harvard's arts and sciences faculty, the impact, given the university's prestige, could be significant for the open-access movement, which seeks to make scientific and scholarly research available to as many people as possible at no cost.


Phil point on Faraday is a very relevant piece of information, because of budding minds that can absorb a vast amount of information, and through it, materialize new hypothesis and theories, for inspections.

These do not mean you set aside rigour works around them.

Scientific responsibility taught, reinforces that every idea needs to go through it's phases before is can become an ideal.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“Although the outcome of Tuesday's vote would apply only to Harvard's arts and sciences faculty, the impact, given the university's prestige, could be significant for the open-access movement, which seeks to make scientific and scholarly research available to as many people as possible at no cost.”

It is interesting to learn that Harvard may be going to open access. What is not clear however is how the peer review component will be maintained, if at all. It will also be interesting to discover if this has a positive, negative or neutral impact in relation to citations in comparison to those of journal content.

“Scientific responsibility taught, reinforces that every idea needs to go through it's phases before is can become an ideal.”

This is a good point you raise, for as I imagined when the internet first appeared, that the locations of learning would transcend the confinement of walls. This of course has one wonder what lays beyond and how will the logistics and infrastructure, plus related checks and balances might evolve to meet the challenge provided by this potential? One of course must understand, that at this point is only a potential and therefore may or may not ever be realized. The outcome will be not only be based on our ability technologically yet also of our intent.

It was only a century ago, when having a high school education was considered to be attainable by the privileged few. Now we stand at the threshold of a potential that could lend the ability for all those only limited by their ability and ambition in attaining the highest levels. How will this be perceived not only by current academia yet also the people, religions and governments of the world. Will it be welcomed and nurtured or suspected and discouraged or worse worked against? I feel that this potential is too great for the latter to ultimately prevail, and the future although challenging, will be thankfully unavoidable. Of course that is only an opinion and as such mere speculation.

Regards,

Phil

Plato said...

Hi Phil,

The corporate ownership of media is undergoing changes as well. Of course we do not want a individual that is not without developing there own involvement, to move to points of view, present new plateaus for consideration. An open space for the individual as well.

Not so much a "blank slate" or a "white board" without prior knowledge, and that of course takes involvement, to move ideas further and continued research.

Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics(SCOAP3)

The Open Access (OA) tenets of granting unrestricted access to the results of publicly-funded research are in contrast with current models of scientific publishing, where access is restricted to journal customers. At the same time, subscription costs increase and add considerable strain on libraries, forced to cancel an increasing number of journals subscriptions. This situation is particularly acute in fields like High-Energy Physics (HEP), where pre-prints describing scientific results are timely available online. There is a growing concern within the academic community that the future of high-quality journals, and the peer-review system they administer, is at risk.

To address this situation for HEP and, as an experiment, Science at large, a new model for OA publishing has emerged: SCOAP3 (Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics). In this model, HEP funding agencies and libraries, which today purchase journal subscriptions to implicitly support the peer-review service, federate to explicitly cover its cost, while publishers make the electronic versions of their journals free to read. Authors are not directly charged to publish their articles OA.

SCOAP3 will, for the first time, link quality and price, stimulating competition and enabling considerable medium- and long-term savings. Today, most publishers quote a price in the range of 1’000–2’000 Euros per published article. On this basis, we estimate that the annual budget for the transition of HEP publishing to OA would amount to a maximum of 10 Million Euros/year, sensibly lower than the estimated global expenditure in subscription to HEP journals.

Each SCOAP3 partner will finance its contribution by canceling journal subscriptions. Each country will contribute according to its share of HEP publishing. The transition to OA will be facilitated by the fact that the large majority of HEP articles are published in just six peer-reviewed journals. Of course, the SCOAP3 model is open to any, present or future, high-quality HEP journal, aiming for a dynamic market with healthy competition and a broader choice.

HEP funding agencies and libraries are currently signing Expressions of Interest for the financial backing of the consortium. A tendering procedure will then take place. Provided that SCOAP3 funding partners are ready to engage in long-term commitments, many publishers are expected to be ready to enter into negotiations.

The example of SCOAP3 could be rapidly followed by other fields, directly related to HEP, such as nuclear physics or astro-particle physics, or similarly compact and organized with a reasonable number of journals.


So in a sense we see developments happening with Harvard that has begun in other places. This effect will have people moving around in their jobs when it comes to specialization in terms of research, and knowledge disseminations. You can see this happening with groups gathering like Science blogs, Cosmic Variance etc.

Preparing for these changes will require improvisational mediums(blogs) to move information to new "markets ideas."

See "Free for all: Dream Come True."

stefan said...

Hi Michael,

this link is broken: Scalar Gravity; its pointing back to your post.

Thanks, I have fixed it. There was no URL at all attached to the tag, somthing that happens quite often in my posts, as Sabine has told me ;-)

Best, Stefan

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“Each SCOAP3 partner will finance its contribution by canceling journal subscriptions. Each country will contribute according to its share of HEP publishing. The transition to OA will be facilitated by the fact that the large majority of HEP articles are published in just six peer-reviewed journals. Of course, the SCOAP3 model is open to any, present or future, high-quality HEP journal, aiming for a dynamic market with healthy competition and a broader choice.”

I find myself a little thick about what is actually being proposed here. On one hand I hear them talking about centralization of funding/resource and on the other the maintenance of quality through competition. I also see no mention as to how the peer review practice will be carried out. Although centralization brings with it the advantages of potentially maximizing efficiency it carries the danger of limiting the accepted avenues through which ideas are explored. This proposal seems to be more of the revolutionary bend, rather then of an evolutionary one. I think the principles should bare this in mind when considering their course.

Regards,

Phil

stefan said...

Hi Phil,

That would do it. I for one would download a lot more.

I can relate to that - I would do the same. I do not know if actual market analyses have been done in this direction - maybe there are just not enough aficionados who would buy papers. On the other hand, it's funny that this price is roughly the same with all for-profit and professional society publishers.. It could also be a relic from the early times of the internet when "micro-payments" were technically challenging.

Perhaps they could put together something like a classic papers grouping.

That's a good idea!

Since you have mentioned that: Maybe you know already, but the original papers of Einstein are available online here, as far as they have been published in the Annalen der Physik and the Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie der Wissenschaften. You can also download Einstein's Annalen Paper as PDF for free.

Of course, all these texts are in German. The edited and commented translations published by Princeton University Press are quite expensive, but this is understandable, considering all the effort put into this project.

BTW, as you quote Faraday: the publisher I had worked for before had a German translation of his writings on electricity in his program. But I have to admit, I never read anything of it - I've found the texts just way to long...

Best, Stefan

stefan said...

Hi Plato, Phil,


thanks for mentioning the Harvard Open Access Program and SCOAP3. That's good stuff for a separate discussion!

What is not clear however is how the peer review component will be maintained, if at all.

Well, open access and peer review are completeley independent categories, to begin with. To my understanding, the Harvard initiative means that the final version of peer-reviewed, published papers (with discussions going on as to the meaning of final version) will also be made available from a Harvard repository.

In the end, it boils down to the questions, who pays for qualified editorial staff who organises peer review and publishing, and for the running of the databases and repository servers, the authors (as in the open access models) or the subscribers?, and, is it necessary that private equity firms and big companies make good money through the for-profit publishers they own?

Best, Stefan

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Stefan,

Thanks for your response and the additional information. You perked my interest when you pointed to all that Einstein material by Princeton University press. Then I had a look at how much there was, how it is subdivided and in the end if you wanted it all what that would cost. WOW! I’m and Einstein fan and have spent some over the years in accumulating a bit ranging from what he’s written, personal correspondence and biographical material. The cost of the Princeton material would eclipse all of that. Perhaps if a rich relative leaves me some money I might consider it. However, until that unlikely day it will have to remain simply a dream:-)

Then again there are all the subtleties involved in translated material and catching the actual meaning in what is said, if it can at times even be done. I recall a Perimeter public lecture given by Anton Zeilinger, where he went on for some time about how entanglement is viewed more correctly in German because the word used relates more closely to handshake. I never did fathom how a handshake captured the concept any better then entanglement. In fact if one views this as being of holistic consequence it doesn’t cut it at all. Unless there is something intuitive about a spooky handshake at a distance I’m missing :-)

Best,

Phil