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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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April 13, 2012

More on the Federation of Independent Scientists: Journal Access

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Posted by Derek

Update: just to make things clear, this is only one aspect of the whole problem, but perhaps an easier one to tackle. More on the rest of the proposals to come!

Yesterday's post brought in a lot of welcome comment, and I want to follow up on the ideas in it. The first problem I wanted to tackle was journal access for entrepreneurs, the recently unemployed, and small shops. Here are some of the comments from the first post, consolidated:

A better bet would be to negotiate a group agreement with DeepDyve. "You can rent the article and view it at DeepDyve for 24 hours or more" for $1. The catch? No printing- you have to read it online (hence the renting not purchasing model).

Something like that might be necessary, because others pointed out that:

I like the idea of the journal access, HOWEVER, you'll pay handsomely for such access. It's no different than a large corp or large library. You have 300 people in your organization? You need to buy a group license.

And also:

OK, how you going to limit access? Is it just single, non-employed people who can get access? Perhaps you'd like to expand it to small companies? What size cut off? 10? 100? 500? Perhaps the mid-size biotechs should join up, and drop their own subscriptions. And maybe the smaller colleges?

And from "Mrs. McGreevy" herself, who kicked off the discussion:

Alternatively, if enough people think this is something the ACS should be doing, and start demanding it loudly and frequently, perhaps the ACS will get around to doing it. Maybe they don't know what to do, either. Cheaper access to ACS publications? That would be nice. Perhaps even negotiating group payment rates or even (*gasp*) subsidies for access to other publishers' papers? I wonder if that's even possible, but I'll bet the ACS hasn't even considered it up until now. Perhaps there wouldn't need to be an independent library if the ACS were willing to take on the job. We should ask them. (In fact, why stop at the ACS? Maybe the unemployed biologists would be willing to pony up some time, money and lobbying power as well.)

Another idea would be to subsidize journal access with website ads as well as membership dues. Perhaps start a paid online directory of consultants or CROs, sort of the Ye Olde Yellowe Pages model. Perhaps there could be a small fee for posting an RFP or a project up for bid, sort of a classified ad business model to help clients, CROs and consultants find each other. Various small fees for various small services ==> money for subsidized journal access.

OK, those are the journal thoughts so far (other than a number of people who agree that it's a major problem, as do I!) Any more ideas on this aspect to add to the pile? I'd never heard of DeepDyve myself, and they sound interesting: anyone have any experience with them, and is there anyone else in that market niche? We'll put together some action points after this round of ideas. . .

Comments (25) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | The Scientific Literature


1. Rick Wobbe on April 13, 2012 7:15 AM writes...

I think Mrs. McGreevy's idea is bigger than just journal access, but I understand the value of tackling the big vision in smaller parts, and journal access is definitely a nagging fundamental problem. I'd just hate to see some of the other implications of "her" ideas left un-brainstormed. I read a few comments suggesting how to foster this broader discussion (e.g. ACS meeting, Facebook/LinkedIn page). Maybe we can discuss how to set that up?

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2. anon on April 13, 2012 7:18 AM writes...

I get access to journals via our local university, in return I agreed to proofread final year grads CV's and also chat to them about intern opportunities.

My impression is that a number of departments are happy to build up these kind of relationships.

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3. Rick Wobbe on April 13, 2012 7:35 AM writes...

I believe that all state universities are required to grant on-site library access to state residents as part of their charter, just like their Ag departments provide low-cost soil testing services ($10/sample for dozens of tests!). It's your tax dollars at work! Copying, remote access and check-out privileges are something else, but at least you can get through a real door, sit at a real table/desk and handle real materials and even meet other laid off colleagues (they're the old ones looking at the back pages of journals).

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4. Rick Wobbe on April 13, 2012 8:36 AM writes...

I apologize if this is bad etiquette (I'm neither Derek nor Mrs. McGreevy and I can be a bit tone-deaf when it comes to etiquette), but for anyone with the time, proximity and interest in shooting the breeze about this, I'll be at the Souter Library at UMass Medical School near Worcester from 10:30 - 3:00 today. I'll be the guy with a blue-striped shirt and a 10th Edition Merck Index beside me (yeah, I'm old enough). Short notice, I know, but maybe this'll prompt future get togethers...

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5. Pete on April 13, 2012 8:57 AM writes...

If something like this is going to work then a number of big challenges will need to be addressed. Firstly, it is not clear that Drug Discovery is still a commercially viable activity. Secondly, a federation of under-employed scientists will have to be creative in how it tries to build a credible negotiating position. Thirdly, the members of such a federation will be competing with each other for a limited number of opportunities. I'd suggest we think a bit about some of these issues (as also suggested by Rick Wobbe #1) rather than focussing on (the still important) problem of journal access.

The Med Chem & Drug Discovery LinkedIn group might be a good place to get some discussion going since there are a lot of members. It may also be a good idea to think about how something like this might fit with Open Source models for Drug Discovery.

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6. Laura on April 13, 2012 9:23 AM writes...

The Caltech Alumni Association offers a 25% discount to Deep Dyve for their members (

I know I said this yesterday but I'll say it again:

One thing to note about relying on a local university's collection for access- so much has been shifted to online current/archival subscriptions for books and journals that it's really a crapshoot if the library will allow walk-in access to their "public" computers and/or wireless Internet. Many IT departments expressly prohibit guest access leaving folks access only to outdated print collections that are often located in off-site storage. Many publisher license agreements also prohibit walk in use of their products and I only see this getting stricter as time progresses unless academic librarians get tougher in their negogiations with publishers or are willing to pay more for broader access (unlikely). I support the comments from yesterday that encourage more publishing in open access venues.

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7. qetzal on April 13, 2012 10:26 AM writes...

I'd never heard of DeepDyve before yesterday either, so I checked them out. Renting screen views of papers for $1 is a decent potential solution. Unfortunately, when I compared their journal list to my current "to get" list (for my next trip to the library), DeepDyve offered access to less than 10% of what I wanted. I'll keep them in mind in case something pops in a journal they cover, but they're clearly not a general solution. (Note that I'm more likely to target biochem & biol journals, but their chem selection didn't look great either. No JACS, for one.)

I guess I'm quite lucky, though. At least I have a good biomed library within 30 min drive from work, and they do allow me full access to all their online journals.

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8. Pete on April 13, 2012 10:40 AM writes...

One area in which a federation of independent scientists might build/strengthen a negotiating position with journal publishers is in reviewing manuscripts. When I read journal articles, I get the distinct impression that editors really struggle to find enough competent reviewers.

I agree with Laura that it will get more difficult to arrange guest access for journals (e.g. like that outlined by Anon #2). A basic problem with pricing models is that journals assume that all their articles are of equal value. DeepDyve allows you to do quick quality check before spending $30 - $40 on a full download.

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9. John Wayne on April 13, 2012 11:53 AM writes...

In my career I have moved from academia and big pharma to smaller and smaller companies. As I've entered the smaller environment there is a huge gap between journal access that divides chemists into 'haves' and 'have nots.' Some smaller companies have good access via their business contacts, and some have absolutely nothing but some old stacks of Tetrahedrons in a back room.

This is a huge problem, and it is only going to get worse.

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10. David P on April 13, 2012 12:09 PM writes...

NC State offers access to its library to RTP companies/workers. You pay a very reasonable annual fee and get access to the library and, most importantly, with electronic access to journals.

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11. Pete on April 13, 2012 12:36 PM writes...

I'd be interested to know what sort of deal NC State organised with the journal publishers since they are effectively re-selling content to third parties who would otherwise be paying commercial access rates. Normally the journal publishers would regard this a big no-no. Anyone from the journal publishing industry care to comment?

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12. Bruce Hamilton on April 13, 2012 1:25 PM writes...

Here in New Zealand, most university and government libraries belong to a large consortium with similar organizations in Australia. They negotiate with all the large publishers, and the main advantage is that members can access the complete range of journals the members pay/have paid subscriptions for.

The consortium does not include companies, however for an annual fee (us$1200 for me ), a nominated person from a company, or a private individual, can use a public access terminal in a local member library to view and print articles from the journals, with printing fees for some publishers.

I understand that the publishers insist that no remote access is provided outside the member organisation. As a small research company, the public access has been excellent value, as urgent needs justify a trip to the library and routine browsing can occur when convenient.

If anything, the need to use the resource has increased over the last five years, as many of the free abstracts etc have become less informative, and filled with cartoons.

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13. Bruce Hamilton on April 13, 2012 1:41 PM writes...

I should mention that our company also contracts work to/from the consortium member's institution, and I'm not sure whether such a relationship is required to obtain access via their library.

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14. Bruce Hamilton on April 13, 2012 1:41 PM writes...

I should mention that our company also contracts work to/from the consortium member's institution, and I'm not sure whether such a relationship is required to obtain access via their library.

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15. Rock on April 13, 2012 1:58 PM writes...

I wonder how DeepDyve is able to control the printing/saving of articles. Must be the honor system since anyone with just a little tech savvy would be able to get around this.

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16. ThirdWind on April 13, 2012 2:34 PM writes...

As a synthetic chemist, I need the literature to find or refine methodology. From this point of view, access to colleagues can be as as important as access to literature or even more.
I have no competence in library science, am just suggesting that the added momentum from a professional "virtual water cooler" (how organized/rewarded is off topic now) would make the journal investment vastly more profitable.

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17. cynical1 on April 13, 2012 2:47 PM writes...

@ David P and Pete: NCSU allows remote access through their Friends of the Library program that 'costs' $150/yr. from a 'donation' to the library. The problem is that most content we wish to have access to is blocked from remote access like all the Elsevier and Wiley journals. You have to physically go to the library to view those journals. We can get remote access to ACS journals though. The NIEHS is down the road and we can go there as a "guest" and use their access. But you still have to get in your car and drive there but it's a lot closer than the NCSU library.

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18. Cellbio on April 13, 2012 4:26 PM writes...

I think Pete raised an issue worth discussing, namely, the viability of Drug Discovery, and more generally, the big challenges and creativity required to build negotiating power.

It is unclear to me that 100, 1000 or 10,000 displaced workers have negotiating power if the system they were a part of has "displaced" them. Derek's comment invokes journal access across a broader set including those employed in small companies, but to this more fundamental view of our systemic problems, I have no answers regarding how to make more influential the workers deemed irrelevant by the economic reality of drug discovery more powerful. I hope someone else does. How do you make the current system feel any pain?

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19. Pete on April 13, 2012 6:41 PM writes...

I'm not sure how much the journal publishers actually make from individual paid downloads and I'd be very interested if anybody has this information. It is possible that they need to maintain price simply to justify the cost of subscriptions. Personally, I see the scientific journal publishing industry as headed for a Malthusian catastrophe and reckon the cost of a download to be at least an order of magnitude too high. It can be argued that an article in a relatively inaccessible journal is not adequately public and one might even take this into account when selecting articles for citation.

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20. Owen Hughes on April 13, 2012 8:11 PM writes...

I hope it's not too off-topic to ask why these journals charge so much? What is their business model: other people do the research, other people write the MSS, other people review the MSS. The journal editors act as gatekeepers and administrators of the MSS submission/review process. Then some trees get cut down and covered with ink; but even that part is being supplanted by e-publication. So how do the journals justify their prices? Particularly when the journals complain loudly about the pharma pricing model, which (unlike theirs) involves very high real costs; and which (perhaps unlike theirs) involves the production of life-changing goods. Bottom line, I think the journals have a business model that is poorly adapted to the new media environment, and they have no strong moral claim to price as they do.

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21. Chrispy on April 13, 2012 9:40 PM writes...

I've read very few articles worth the $30 or so journals want to charge per article.

And I miss libraries.

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22. dzrlib on April 14, 2012 12:33 PM writes...

Another thought would be to follow the lead of the American Physical Society, who have made their journals (Phys. Rev., PRL, RMP) freely available at public libraries who sign up with them.

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23. exGlaxoid on April 16, 2012 10:10 AM writes...

20. Owen Hughes - "I hope it's not too off-topic to ask why these journals charge so much?"

Because, for years, they simply charged whatever the market would bear, like pharmaceutical companies. Recently, with the cutbacks in all areas, the market will not bear the prices anymore, and almost no one is subscribing to their printed products, and since they have not yet adapted to the new work, they are trying to make up that loss in profits by charging so much for electronic access to archives.

At some point in the future, libraries will have to eventually just say, we won't pay such high fees and the game of chicken will either have the publishers cave and drop the prices, or if they continue to raise them, the libraries and companies will drop them and resort to other means to get articles (inter-library loans, driving to libraries, rentals, or other sources), which will simply drive the for-profit publishers into extinction.

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24. Nate on April 16, 2012 11:45 AM writes...

Here is my totally illegal/unethical/against maultiple TOS solution to this problem. Create a website where people can post what journal article they want, and then mechanical turk style, other people, say college students with full campus/library access, can access said article and supply them. Perhaps a small fee can be charged/disbursed.
I give this scheme about a month before being sued out of existence though... (To say nothing of the penalties a school could impose on a student they caught selling journal articles).

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25. James Ormes on April 17, 2012 9:44 AM writes...

I'm not sure how much the journal publishers actually make from individual paid downloads and I'd be very interested if anybody has this information. It is possible that they need to maintain price simply to justify the cost of subscriptions. Personally, I see the scientific journal publishing industry as headed for a Malthusian catastrophe and reckon the cost of a download to be at least an order of magnitude too high. It can be argued that an article in a relatively inaccessible journal is not adequately public and one might even take this into account when selecting articles for citation.

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