In addition, everything we publish is put on PubMed Central. When I took over as chair of the ASM Publications Board, all our journal content was made freely available after one year through PubMed Central. We reduced that period to six months, and then to four months free, during my tenure. When I left the Publications Board, they increased it back up to six months.
I also would like to remove all copyright restrictions. The only time that I know of that the ASM journals enforced any copyright restriction has been when a commercial publisher has used some of our material without the appropriate attribution. We did not seek to charge a fee, but only to require the appropriate attribution.
I would like to be able to crosslink our content with that of all the other microbiology journals. I would like to be able to link references and tables of contents. I would like to incorporate unsolicited peer review and the gray literature. You can only do this, however, if everything is digital.
I would certainly like to encourage data mining, and I would like to arrange for the development of “critical tables”. This is my pet peeve. Physicists and chemists have critical tables: You can find the boiling point of anything; you can find the molecular weight of anything or the refractive index. For the genome projects, I would like to see a series of “genomic critical tables”. It is already possible for me to click on E. coli and see what pathways it has and so on, but I would like to be able to do more. I would like, for example, to start with something like the enzyme lysine decarboxylase, then click on that and find all the organisms that have lysine decarboxylase in order to find out the map position of its cognate gene. I would like to be able to find out many things about that enzyme and to find out its nomenclature as well as its molecular size, pH and temperature optima, as well as regulatory elements and so much more.
Returning from this ideal world to the real world, I am going to touch on several issues facing scientific publishing, and I will begin with the cost of content.
When print was the only option, the cost of content or of getting access to content was based upon the “three-legged stool” model. The three legs were subscriptions to libraries or institutions, subscriptions to members, and page charges to authors. Now, institutions are rebelling, and everyone is saying the literature should be free. Even members of the ASM find it pricey to pay $235 to get all this content. So, with the advent of open access, the question has been raised, Why not have the author pay the full cost? Here is the problem. Recently Nature announced that it will cost $3,000 to have an article published under open access conditions and, in general, the going price seems to be somewhere between $2,800 and $3,500 to have an open access article published. If you as a researcher publish 10 articles a year, that is $28,000 to $35,000, but even three per year would be costly. No study section at the NIH that I know of is going to give you $35,000 in your grant for publication costs. The NSF is even worse.
When we raised the page charges of certain high-impact ASM journals from $55 to $75 we got a flood of complaints from prospective authors saying it was outrageous and they would never publish in those journals again. Given that the total price might have been around $800, imagine what they would have said if it was $3,000?
So, we are going to have to address this issue. One way or the other, it costs money to publish. So who is going to pay if the authors cannot or will not do it?
Protection against misuse is going to be another major issue. This is something that the organized journals do very well. If, for example, an author ever came to us and said, “I just saw my figure published in another paper,” we would approach the editor or the publishers of that paper and investigate the situation.