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