John Wiley  &  Sons Inc., the global academic publishing house with nearly $2 billion in revenue, recently got embroiled in a Twitter controversy about the efforts of one publication to go open access.

Twitter outrage? Welcome to any Tuesday. Or any part of the week that ends in "day", right? Maybe, maybe not. This was enough it forced the corporation to issue a response. I learned of it when Professor Trevor Branch, of the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences, posted a screen capture of a letter from Town Peterson with his own caption reading,"So this is why most of the editorial board of Diversity and Distributions resigned, and the journal will probably disappear. Interference from Wiley to preserve their profits."

Those of us not blessed with jobs in the academic sector don't get to pretend money falls from trees so we can dismiss his paean to communism - over 5,000 people only have jobs because the company makes a profit. Pretending that is unimportant, or that the journal will go under if a few people quit in a huff, is the naïve wishful thinking of someone who never had a job in the real world. I was more curious about the contents of the letter. 

The short version is that Diversity and Distributions wanted to switch to open access. That is reasonable; a subscription journal requires subscribers and with a 4.83 impact factor, Diversity and Distributions might well be the world leader in conservation biogeography, but it is not going to have a lot of subscribers or advertisers knocking on the door.(1) The cost for an article would be $2,200, the company said. Also reasonable. Not the cheapest, plenty of online journals charge a lot less, but many higher impact publications charge more. And if this is the best biogeography journal around, that has a value. If they make the cost too high, people simply won't pay. These things work themselves out quickly at corporations.

There was some additional concern before they even got going. What about poor scholars who couldn't afford it? Okay, the company said, people who showed need could publish for free. 

Well, that settles that, right?

No, insiders continue to force the issue and declared they do not "trust" the company and wrote a letter saying so, which they wanted published. 

The editor agreed and when the company engaged in dialogue (remember when that was a thing?) with the editor-in-chief, Janet Franklin, about whether or not the op-ed against the company belonged (saying you don't "trust" a company doesn't really qualify as critical thinking or conservation) she resigned, along with some others. Dr. Peterson said he will no longer review for them.

I posted my concern about losing sight of the real goal after reading the comments. There were academics talking about "reasonable" profits. Let's see, in the U.S. the average tenured professor makes almost 400% what the average family of four earns, is that a reasonable profit? I once wrote about a professor at a state school who demanded a raise because his six-figure income was number 18 in his department. He was sitting in an Argentine jail cell for running drugs but he was still writing papers and had tenure, so he felt he had a legitimate case for a raise. And that was just one department in one school at one public university. Journalism professors at New York University average $270,000 (well, the men - women probably get paid a lot less because academia) and all they do is engage in conspiracy theories about scientists
So academics shouldn't criticize corporations if they are ready to demand every dollar they can get, just like any good capitalist - and they are, if you have seen how university tuition has outpaced inflation in the last 25 years. Reading the criticism and then the comments felt like it was a Culture Army looking for a war. Nothing would ever be good enough. Wiley could have made it all free and offered to put a trampoline in every office but if all that is needed is for one person to say that they don't "trust" the company there isn't any way to reach a happy place.

No one wants to lose a reviewer, of course, it is hard getting passionate experts willing to devote their time, but on some level you remove yourself from the conversation by declaring that a $2 billion company must play by your subjective rules or you will go home. And for an editor, the move is even crazier. You have to worry you won't be missed if you resign, because there are a whole lot more people interested in that role. It is a prestige position in a way reviewer is not.

Wiley wrote me back and stated they clarified the issue, writing, "The letter isn't being blocked at all and and we never refused to publish it. We strongly believe in editorial independence." (2)
Of course they do, that is how it got to be a $2 billion company. How disenfranchised are those academics from the real world when they don't realize that? 

I am not criticizing all academics, of course, Science 2.0 is only on the map because academics gave freely of their time. If it had relied on corporations, scientists would still be waiting for permission to write 12 years later, and then their marketing department would want editorial approval while donating no money. We have had 300,000,000 readers thanks primarily to academics.

But despite what some may choose to believe, Open Access is not free. Yes, it is free to read, and I was early in defending it from Democrats who wanted to prevent NIH studies from being read free-of-charge by Americans who pay for academic science, but you have to pay people to do the nuts and bolts, if you don't you get too much variation in quality. Science 2.0 is free to read but it costs money to keep code running and to pay contributors. We don't rely on free programmers.

We stick to making better content and to truth where it lies, including defending Wiley, who've never done anything for Science 2.0, when they have been wronged.

If you like actual independent science, free of editorial or ideological bias, please make a difference with a donation.


(1) Not just because of limited reach but because, you guessed it, academic conservationists hate corporations. And that is who buys ads. 

(2) "The errors were corrected, and the manuscript continued to acceptance. Wiley did raise concerns about the relevancy of the article in the context of DDI's stated scope, but at no time did we indicate that Wiley would refuse publication of the article. The article is indeed being published as planned."