Response from Gordon Nelson, President of CSSP

The following is a response from Gordon Nelson, President of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP), to my open letter. I received this response from Dr. Nelson by email on September 18, 2014. He has granted me permission to publish it here. 

While Dr. Nelson and I may not agree on several points, I am very grateful to him for responding. It shows a willingness to engage in dialogue.  I think it is important others are able to read his views and consider both sides of the conversation. My hope is this will generate discussion that can lead to solutions for increasing access to published research. 


Dear Dr. McKiernan,

Science, mathematics, and science and mathematics education societies over the years have worked hard to enhance journal access. Their journal prices are at a fraction of that of commercial publishers, there are institutional rates depending upon the kind of institution, there are special student and developing country rates for journals. Hybrid journals allow scientists to choose early access by readers if they desire it.  Editors are making key articles available for free.   And societies have worked to eliminate page charges to enhance access to their publications for submission by scientists from around the world.

Open access advocates continue to ignore the impact that proposals like FASTR would have on societies.  The revenues from journals help fund many STEM services including, career services, young scientist mentoring, meetings, awards, STEM education programs, public outreach, to name a few of their services.  The science community will be less healthy in their absence.  Proposals like FASTR provide a one size fits all approach, when data clearly show that journal half-lives vary by discipline.  The health sciences are not a good model for the rest of science and engineering.

What is the impact of $3000-3500 publication fees.  Where will scientists (let alone from developing countries) get that money. Grants are not going to increase. The impact is fewer publications and fewer students getting funding, hardly a desirable outcome.

It is said that “citizens who pay for the research should have free access.”  FASTR requirements would apply even if data cited are not the major focus of the paper. As I talk with colleagues, many papers are written after the grant is over.  The grant is not paying for the writing of the paper.  The agency has received a report ending the grant.

For societies open access has come at a time after a serious recession, and at a time when the US government has many barriers for Federal scientists to attend scientific meetings, thus impacting meeting revenue.

I fully agree that “it will take all of us to find sustainable solutions.”  The first step is to acknowledge that nothing is free. Mounting a journal is not free. Transferring costs from subscribers to authors is hardly a solution.  The second step is the recognition that scientific societies are a different kind of publisher. Pushing solutions where the health of not-for profit scientific societies is significantly diminished and commercial publishers further enhance their market share is hardly desirable.

Sustainable solutions exist based on a two year starting embargo which will allow societies to function, and provide free access to a large and increasing majority of the literature.  Again, societies are in favor of enhanced access.  Open access advocates and societies need to work for a common solution based on economic reality, to provide the broadest benefits for all stakeholders.  Unfortunately, that has yet to happen.


Gordon Nelson
Council of Scientific Society Presidents


3 thoughts on “Response from Gordon Nelson, President of CSSP

Add yours

  1. Dear Gordon Nelson,

    First, a big thank-you for engaging. It’s deeply appreciated, and I very much hope we’ll see you commenting on this post as the discussion progresses.

    Second, while you make a lot of economic points which we could (and hope will) discuss, the part of your original interview that I (and Erin) balked at was: “Frankly, I am unclear what the public access challenge is. Who does not have access?” Can we agree, in light of Erin’s letter, that there is an access problem? If we agree there, then we can fruitfully discuss what can be done about it; but if you truly don’t see the problem then we have a much more fundamental difficulty.


  2. +1 to Mike’s comment. And thanks to Gordon for engaging in open dialogue.

    I agree that the time has come for all to work together to find a new model of society sustainability–and I think it shouldn’t be dependent upon publishing. We don’t *have* to keep knowledge locked down for years so a society can stay afloat financially. It’s just a holdover from a previous era.

    So, how do we seriously address both the issue of access and the issue of society financial solvency? What will CSSP and other societies do to work together with SPARC, etc to find an answer to both problems?

    Also: if anyone with a longer history in OA/more knowledge on the subject would be willing to provide some background on the society publishing and OA challenge, I’d welcome it.

  3. Hello all,

    It appears that Gordon Nelson’s only understanding of open access is that it is achieved through payment for publication. This is a common misunderstanding. A simple act to support open access would be to ensure that society editors are aware of the deposit permissions of their publisher (or check their own if self-published) in the copyright transfer agreement. They need to ensure that immediate deposit of the Accepted Manuscript into a disciplinary or institutional repository is permitted at the time of acceptance.

    If this is not currently permitted then that is the conversation that the societies should be having with their publishers. I discussed this in a blog last year – “Journal editors take note – you have the power”

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