Top Story: June 18, 2010

UC vs. Nature

CC image by Gku

The journal Nature and its 66 other publications (known as the Nature Publishing Group, or NPG) are some of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. Getting published in one is a dream and goal for many scientists.

Unsurprisingly, with such a bad economy, NPG is raising their rates a little more than usual. And, due to the same bad economy, the University of California is struggling financially, as well.

Last week, a firestorm started around these two organizations. According to a statement from the California Digital Library (also known as CDL), the libraries of the UC system and UC Faculty representatives, it started because,

NPG has insisted on increasing the price of our license for Nature and its affiliated journals by 400 percent beginning in 2011, which would raise our cost for their 67 journals by well over $1 million dollars per year.

NPG, meanwhile, says in a statement that CDL has been getting a bargain for years,

If we regard CDL as a consortium of multiple libraries… the CDL discount on list price is 88%. By their own figures, CDL receives average discounts of 55% from publishers. After several attempts, we are now trying to bring them close to a 50% discount (although this leaves CDL on better terms than many other consortia). We do recognise the situation can be viewed from different perspectives, and we remained committed to ongoing discussions.

What's really made the news, however, is that CDL and the UC faculty are joining together in a possible boycott of the publications. CDL claims:

UC Faculty and researchers author a significant percentage of all articles published in NPG journals and are a major force in shaping the prestige of its publications.  In the past six years, UC authors have contributed approximately 5300 articles to these journals, 638 of them in the flagship journal Nature…  Moreover, UC Faculty supply countless hours serving as reviewers, editors, and advisory board members.

Things have now been quiet for over a week, but the UC librarians met Wednesday to discuss what happened and what will happen next, according to Laine Farley, the Executive Director of the CDL, with whom we spoke yesterday. Their existing contract with NPG goes through the end of the year, so any decisions may not be made for awhile.

Contrary to reports, Farley says, faculty leaders came forward themselves to organize a protest to these rate increases. And most of the faculty reaction has been positive to the boycott.

The debate and support in the community has been surprising, Farley continues. But many organizations have felt the pinch with NPG’s rate increase. Reporting in the blog Pharyngula, PZ Myers puts it this way:

Libraries have been struggling with this problem for years, with journal costs spiraling ever upwards… and it's a tremendous chunk of university library budgets. UC libraries are currently spending $300 thousand on just the various Nature journals — increasing that expense for a university system that is already straining to keep up sounds like a nightmare. Of course, not getting Nature is also a nightmare to researchers…so now it's nightmare vs. nightmare. Who will win?

For her part, Farley is hoping for a win-win situation. She believes that NPG is an important publisher for the community and wants to get back to the negotiation table without all of the hype.  “I don’t want it to come out disadvantageous for any of the parties.”



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